Up early, the camp host, Tom, meets me at the tent to confirm that I paid my fee (forgot to post receipt on the windshield for the ranger to see, wind kept blowing it off the dash). A brief chat, asks me from where have I just arrived. I reply, Gallup, and, of course, he says, "rough town, Gallup." He tells me to be sure to see the canyons just a spit down the road, a wonderful overlook right here in the camp. I go down to the lake where I painted last night and photograph the scene for posterity and archival purposes. Then to the canyon and it is spectacular! And with that send-off, I head to Albuquerque.
Arrive 1pm, hang out in Starbucks to get on-line. I am to get to new lodgings at 2pm. I will meet my hosts, Clarence and Alberta Giese, in their eighties, as they have arranged that I can pay for, at an incredibly cheap rate, a guest apartment for five days in the retirement center where they reside. I will use the apartment as headquarters so as to conduct day trips to Santa Fe and Taos.
These fascinating and colorful people are friends of my family. My mother and her childhood friend, Sally, with whom she has traveled extensively the last few years, dropped in on them unannounced a couple of years ago. Mom thought it hilarious that Clarence, at that time, had a still and made his own grappa, Italian-style. Sally and Alberta are sisters-in-law.
Now I need to preface this meeting by stating that Clarence, 87, is an accomplished abstract painter and keeps an impressive oeuvre of his work in their home. They lived in Vienna for many years, where he taught art and painted extensively. Moving back to the States, they lived in Vermont for a time and decided a change of life would take them to Albuquerque where they would work with the Navajo Indians there (specifically, in Thoreau), building community, teaching, and helping the Navajo with various issues being faced. In Vermont, they worked one-on-one with people with AIDS, and helped develop and facilitate an effective hospice program. These are, simply, good people showing true human kindness for their fellow man.
My interest was piqued in wanting to know more about them year or so ago and so I commenced a written correspondence with Clarence (remember letter-writing?! - he has no access to nor interest in email or computers). He has insightful advice and commentary on my artwork. As I begin to plan this journey, it will be very important to spend some time in both Albuquerque, as well as Santa Fe, with my good buddy, Alfonso.
So, I check in at the desk, get keys, and head to their apartment. Clarence has walked down the hall to greet me. He gives me a big hug and I say something like, “Seems our meeting each other was destined and inevitable.” I am introduced to Alberta who is lovely and very sharp; she listens very intently and seems to catch all subtleties. Clarence is more like me and attacks the world like buckshot. His hearing is going and he often misses what is said the first time around. They both have a wicked sense of humor. He jabs and I give it back to him in a joyful repartee. He walks down to my car with me, sees how packed in it is and inquires exactly how many months am I staying in New Mexico?
He shows me where to park, I check out the apartment and it is … wow! There is a huge bedroom, king-size bed, big bathroom, huge living room with dining table and a fully equipped kitchen. I am going to get spoiled pretty quickly. I remind myself that last night I slept in my tent on a plot of large gravel. My neck is still a bit stiff from sleeping wrong. No problem. Apparently there is a Jacuzzi and pool downstairs where I can work out any sore neck muscles. Kinda sucks I don’t have those things in my apartment, might want to make a complaint to the facility’s complaint department, why don’t I have a Jacuzzi?
They invite me to join them for dinner. Clarence and I walk next door to the grocery and get a rotisserie chicken; Alberta has cole slaw for us as a side. The still has been given away before they moved into this apartment a year or so ago; therefore, no grappa. But gin martinis are the drink of choice and here we go.
The Emile Zola quote above I have gleaned from a wall on their patio, which serves as a painting studio for Clarence. I felt it apropos.
A whole lotta conversation well into the night. I get suggestions from them as where and what to explore in their fair city insofar as painting ideas and an invitation to breakfast. I decide to throw a party in my new digs, hundreds of people show up and…. just kidding. To bed.