~ The most foreign place in America.
I first visited Chimayo in the year 1974, it was in the spring, blossoms were in the air, the scent of log fires drifted where even no smoke could be seen. Chimayo is north of Santa Fe, in New Mexico, where the USA really began if one counts areas that began before the USA began, but are now in the USA as they are considered a part of the USA by the USA, whatever that means. Chimayo is such a place, old, very old by US standards, which is not very old by Afghan standards, but I’ve made that point before.
Chimayo is a small place, and a strange place. How small? I could look it up on the web, give the government figures, quote the returns from state tax returns and head-counts perhaps. But that would tell you nothing about Chimayo where many do not return the returns, do not speak the language of the head-counters, do not worry much about facts or figures or the written word much less written numbers, never have, and probably never will. But lets just say 500 folks for sake of argument, and there will always be argument about Chimayo.
New Mexico is where people (in the USA) go to leave America, to find a strange and foreign land, to become lost or to maybe find themselves in “The City Different”, or in “The Land of Enchantment”. It is so foreign and remote that New Mexico is where the USA went to build the bomb, the atom bomb, in secret, finding a place so secret that the Germans would never know, even if the Russians did. New Mexico is so lost that even space travelers get lost there, and the records of them being lost get lost. It is a quiet place, quiet valleys, quiet mountaintops, quiet labs quietly creating or recreating things that might make a lot of noise, a big bang, nuclear detonations never heard in Roswell, nor Socorro, nor even places nearby, at least according to the press, a free press, no story.
There of course has been only one nuclear explosion in New Mexico (to date), the first one, the one that has divided the world between the past and now, between before the bomb, and after the bomb, on the day when the entire atmosphere would ignite and burn away all the sins of the world in one gigantic flash of light and burning holocaust, world-wide and instant.
It did not happen that way (yet), the scientists were wrong, the ones that quoted Tesla, or the ones that quoted Chimayo perhaps. Chimayo is a bit west of Los Alamos, lower hills, higher valley – depending on what one thinks of high. It was an easy place to visit, even then, by car or motorcar, a good long walk if one must. Which is what they do, in the spring, each spring in Chimayo, people walk, up a sacred hill, carrying sacred relics, crosses sometimes, big ones while blood gushes from the head or hands or other places on the body, not nuclear sores but older, the sins of sacrifice or penance or the efforts to escape the fires of hell, a burning atmosphere, consuming the whole world.
Chimayo goes back forever, in the minds of New Mexicans, it was always there, the “Sanctorio”, the sand, the sacred earth that heals all, puts things back to their proper place, brings wealth, heals ills, straightens legs, restores the vision of the blind. The chapel is a small place, old, hand-carved and painted beams atop adobe walls where pigeons live and roost and coo and coo – no pictures please, it is a sanctuary, holy ground, no pictures to steal the souls of the living or the dead.
Chimayo is a spooky place, a very scary place with no McDonald’s, no Burger King, no Holiday Inn Express, no TV’s blaring, no internet cafe’s that I ever saw, not now even, not even cell towers atop the sandy hills. There are crosses there, on each and every hill, some visible, some only in the mind, sometimes they stretch for miles, beacons to Chimayo, silent testimonials to a primitive faith in God, an ancient Catholic faith long abandoned and neglected in the parishes of New York and Massachusetts and places like where the Kennedy’s might go, or McCain if he were Catholic, and old, and lived in the Southwest part of the USA or Northwest Mexico or a land somewhere in-between.
There is a Statute of Liberty in Chimayo, draped with Christmas lights, white lights of welcome, artificial candles down the metal gown, wrapped around the torch before moving on to plastic saints and Santas and Virgin Marys (not the drink) and plastic garlands of plastic flowers and devotional glass jars with even more candles burning, this time real. Add stone grottos, pictures of the Gods and Goddesses and all the pantheon of Roman religions renamed each day, each saint, one at a time until one has one church, universal, the only real one, now forgotten in an orthodoxy now so unorthodox.
There should be chickens on the street in Chimayo, one for eggs, one more for sacrifice not unlike in Haiti or New Orleans, lost in time before the Hurricanes hit, washing all sins away, leaving shacks of people with little faith left, if at all. Chimayo is isolated, very far away from far away, from far away Mexico City in the days when it was founded, established, discovered to be so holy, a religious shrine, the healing dirt or dust just blowing in the wind, not yet sanctified, not yet blessed, not yet carried in bags to the far cities of America to bring one hope, when hope was not just a sign, a yard sign, and a word on a teleprompter on some TV.
New Mexico is a complicated place, the old and new, science and superstition, faith and belief and a science to deny it all. There are 600 nukes (or more, or not more) stored on the outskirts of Albuquerque, rotting, waiting, some with new triggers, some with old, some tested, some not so much. The nukes are sitting silently, waiting, as America is waiting in secret places and not so secret places. Some have faith, some do not – sometimes faith is a complicated thing, misunderstood, and sometimes best not understood, not like in Chimayo, or in Los Alamos, or in Roswell as we await the golden dawn, an Obama sign, or just something one might Goggle. I might be wrong.
If one is wishing to explore New Mexico, northern New Mexico or the south even, the place to stay is the La Fonda, in Santa Fe, the word means “inn”, there are other fonda’s, there is only one La Fonda, a Harvey House operation once, on the Santa Fe, in Santa Fe, but not on the route (per se) of the Santa Fe. The hotel is old, quite old, though not as old as Chimayo, updated from time to time (the hotel), not Chimayo. There are ghosts within the walls and halls of the La Fonda, secret stories and stories of secrets and the vibrations and energies of those who have stayed there (within), as they sought refuge from the world without, outside Santa Fe and outside New Mexico. The walls are thick, adobe and steel and plaster and cement, poured concrete even, terracotta tiles upon the floors glistening with age or Ajax or some compound made to quench the dust, which it does.
A meal at the La Fonda will never leave you, the food one digests, the atmosphere is more electric, changes the orbits of electrons, makes an impression that stays there (atomically speaking) or maybe just seems to, as in an urban myth or in faith, or it is just in my belief. For breakfast I had Eggs Benedict, a traitorous concoction if one is a vegetarian or if one thinks of “Arnold”, but I was thinking more of “Benedictine”, more of monks, more of Chimayo and how grateful I was for the distance and the walls, the sanctuary that the La Fonda is, a safe-ground distance from Los Alamos and Chimayo and Albuquerque even.
If America were to end, the whole world with it, skies afire, politicians falling, failing – the world come undone – I can think of few places I would rather be to watch it all, to savor every last remaining minute, to appreciate the past and the future still in store. It did not happen this night, nor last night, nor yesterday a week before – but it may happen, may happen still, the nukes in old Albuquerque are waiting, in Chimayo they’re still watching, at the labs they’re still building for tomorrow as they’ve always done before, day for night, not a movie now.
It is not the bad times that should scare you, it’s the good times, the party, the wiz-bang when money rolls and champagne is free and everything seems so possible, life is not about that, it is more real. For most people in America real life is real foreign, a place far away, a place like Chimayo or Roswell or some other place that no one knew, but is there, waiting…. waiting. May all the Saints be with you.
[2008.10.31 / Friday – Eggs Chimayo]