NOTE: Thanks to all who have been checking in regularly to the blog and might even have gotten anxious in that I am not up to current. Did he go over a cliff in Taos? No. It has been difficult to get internet in some locations, so I am doing some back-tracking, but my daily notes, in my inimitable “chicken scratch,” have helped immensely. Enjoy the journey with me, a bit Henry Miller, a bit Karourac, hopefully not too much Joseph Conrad and “The Heart of Darkness.” Peace
Here we go: Santa Fe about an hour drive, at most. I was in SF twenty-five years ago – don’t remember enough of it - after three years of intensive conservatory training as an actor in Denver, age 25. With another buddy of mine and fellow actor, Jeff Wittman, we were delivering our third amigo, Alfonso Gallegos, back to home base and we flew to our respective destinations east – Jeff (my other buddy) to Virginia, I flew to Chicago - from Albuquerque after couple of days’ exploration of Al’s glorious city, Santa Fe.
Now that I think about it, it’s how and when I first was dubbed “JB.” First day acting class with Sir Jack Fletcher in ’85, going around the room to learn our mates’ names, Jeff Wittman, Jeff Baumgartner. Yeah, Wittman, you will be “Jeff,” and Baumgartner – whatever – you will be “JB.” I was christened. It stuck, I struggled with it for awhile, but it stuck. Which is what it should do, when the moment is right and when given you by friends.
I remember being in the back seat of Alfonso’s pick up truck, 1987, as we loft over a particular vista, Al, driving, turns his head and says something like, “Jefe, you ready?” I am sure to have replied, ready for anything. And then we see Santa Fe; we descend. The hair on my arms stood at attention for the next two days.
Note: “Jefe” in Spanish glosses to “the Boss” - yeah, that’s not gonna happen, but I do like the ring of it…. Surely I can use this in a bar or a café for a cup of coffee in the near future… um, good luck with that; prob’ly end up doing dishes….
Santa Fe has always remained for me one of the three most magical places that ever I have experienced; the other two being Cape Cod , where I spend a summer stock theater season, and Greece where I spend five weeks with a production of LYSISTRATA and a whirlwind tour of the ancient amphitheaters. Glorious.
Fast-forward to present, it’s wild to me that Al calls on cell just as I arrive in Santa Fe on Saturday, as I pull onto Cerillos, the main thoroughfare. I hang up with him and arrive Water Street at the Plaza, which is crazy, because I am already lost, but loving finding my way, know what I mean? I had no plan. And no idea if I really have a destination; seems like a good idea to maybe paint here, it’s all I know at this time, ha. Remember, no expectations, no responsibilities. Wow, I am Henry Miller. Okay.
Opening line of Miller’s Tropic of Cancer: “I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.”
I take a right turn, a left, maybe it’s a right, oh, there’s the cathedral, and, oh, there’s a parking space. A meter, hmm, in Chicago, we simply would jam that with a… wait, where am I? Be respectful. So I score rock-star parking in front of the Cathedral Basilica and pay the meter (Eddie Izzard moment here, if you’ve been paying attention).
I put the standard note on the dash “JB ArtWorks: don’t even THINK about ticketing me - I am a PAINTER, YOU BASTARDS! (breathe) – ‘cuz I just scored Rock-Star Parking, who do you THINK you are”... it usually works in Chicago (Eddie Izzard has a moment).
A gentle visit to the tourist & visitor center where I hope to say hello to a volunteer person there, Ingrid, whom my friends, Clarence & Alberta, have known for 47 years when they met her in Vienna. Mr Izzard, wanna weigh in on this one? ha. Regrettably, she is not working the booth today, shame that.
Did I mention how CRAZY this all gets, interconnectedly?! Patsy Kline is blaring in my head just now. I haul out the gear, I paint. Two hours. I am painting the Basilica (you Google the history, it is pretty darned cool), lot of people coming up to me, cool, telling me about the cathedral – did YOU know they ran out of money, never finished it?, asking me various questions, including of course where you from? Chicago does have a certain sexiness to some folks, have you seen me do this dance, thank-you-very-much ha
*That is a pithy shout-out to my friend, Bohdan, in Chicago who cannot dance a proper lick and has successfully done so since his Andy Warhol days at Studio 54 in NYC and continues to single-handedly amaze as well as clear the best dance floors in Chicago with his avante garde. No disrespect, my friend, I do share somewhat the style of your dance-like moves … but I do digress…
Jeffrey, enough with the Side Bars, already -
Who are these people? Clarence & Alberta, Alfonso, Bohdan, Bob (recurring theme), who’s this Diann, Cathy, Guenther, Tim Tyler & Jen (ah, haven’t heard about them yet, have you! You must wait till Arkansas), your mother/your brother, your sister, these are characters in a Tennessee Williams’ play, right? This how you define yourself, Jeffrey? Ah, interesting proposition.
Couple of guys approach me, ask, Cuban cigars? My interest is piqued. My buddy, Alfonso, loves cigars, wait, he’ll be along in a moment. Shit, these are Cohibas – story just took a twist. Al comes 'round, likes the cigars, buys three, I will buy one from him… you know, when in Rome. The one guy speaks no English, he is Cuban, and holding a box of cigars; the other guy, African-American, serving as interpreter, speaks Spanish quite well. They inquire about the closest smoke shop, presumably to sell the balance of the goodies in the box , Al gives directions, alternating Spanish and English.
I have finished with the cathedral and Al and I head to San Miguel Mission where I will complete the initial sketch that I started in Show Low in front of the Olive Store. I tell Al to time me, I will finish in 45 minutes. Yep, good luck, that’s if you do not TALK!
Three and a half hours later - kidding – I am finished. A good little painting, too. We walk around the corner to a Mexican food place and have dinner and couple of beers. I have become fascinated with the immediate area. Directly next to the mission church (c 1610), which is the oldest church structure in the USA, is the oldest house in the US, dating to c 1646. That is pretty cool. It is believed to be pre-Spanish, the last remnant dwelling surviving from the Pueblo of Analco. Remember, to provide context, both Shakespeare and Cervantes died in the year 1616.
After dinner, Al shows me around a bit, including the somewhat newly-developed park and arts district, that apparently used to be a rather depressed and seedy area of shuttered warehouses. We walk around the park, Al having fired up our Cohibas for us, and we sit and chat about old times and new on a park bench, well after the sun goes down. It must be some two-plus hours and most enjoyable.
As we are going together to Taos in the morning, Al has surprised me by graciously getting a room for me at the Hilton, which proves luxurious, indeed! That way I do not have to drive to Albuquerque tonight and back again in the morning. A less expensive alternative could easily have been my faithful EconoLodge. We agree to meet early and I am thrilled by the prospect of discovering Taos with one of this enchanting state’s native sons.