The Land of Enchantment

Ever since losing our mother, Mignon, my sister and I take a week in the spring just for us. We should have done it years ago, with her, but now instead we travel together with her diaries and her memory, painting our fingernails purple and normalizing our eccentricities, making them near trendy, because crazy seems less crazy in a pair.

This year we tried Santa Fe, and after an over-indulgence downtown of shopping and weird dance classes and margaritas, we headed to the mountains for a few days of quiet.

Heather and I grew up with Mignon at sea level on the Gulf Coast of Florida, the Panhandle, the most beautiful beaches in the world, and today we live at that same level, Heather in Tallahassee and me in New Orleans. Here in New Mexico at 7,000 feet, we treat our hands to paraffin wax and complain about our swollen limbs (damn that water retention, because surely it’s not the margaritas!); we pant on our walk up the hill and convince each other that we’ve elevated our heart rates enough for one day; we build tiny snowmen outside our hotel room door in the unexpected late-spring flurries, and we spend our afternoons by the fire, reading the incredulous account of our parents’ high school courtship. Could they really and truly have been that much in love?

In the quiet, while Heather’s off at the spa for an ayurvedic oil drip, I think about our mom, and I think about this blog and what I want to share with you, my reader, what’s not too personal, yet at the same time, honest.

I was shocked by the number of readers and by your response to the story, Mignon’s Flowers. Just like me and Heather, perhaps you also know what it’s like, one’s inhibitions (such as they are) unblocked by these pink and green and blue lands, by a journey away from the everyday, even if it’s the everyday you always wanted, by snow just one week before the month of May, by daffodils and tulips along the highway, by a friend’s jewelry designs celebrating his 400-year old city,

or by another friend’s good fortune to photograph a famous (female!) primatologist. (pictured above, jewelry by Doug Magnus; picture below, Jane Goodall photographed in April 2010 by Dana Waldon)

I never much cared for Aspen, a town for the ‘escaping’ rich and famous and their trailing paparazzi. Yet here’s Santa Fe, also high altitude, mountainous, quaint, remote, and western, and yet so much more America to me, so inspiring, so enchanting, as correctly described on license plates throughout the state. (photograph of Priscilla Hoback by Dana Waldon)

Heather and I visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum this week. It was her first encounter with the original canvases, and despite my warning that they’re “thin and weak” compared to the book reproductions, she was taken with these paintings by a woman artist struggling in the 1930s and 1940s for a voice outside of New York and outside of a famous love affair.

My sister encouraged me to look anew, and even now, as I huddle in a blanket beneath our hotel room’s porch roof, unable to venture too far from the snowflakes and the flamenco guitar music (drifting from the hotel’s restaurant), I think about Ms. O’Keeffe and the way this land, this place, made her pick up her paintbrush again and again. (For more see the post “Rodrigue vs. O’Keeffe“)

(pictured, Heather in the April snow-)

Santa Fe is the closest thing to New Orleans that I know. Agreed, they look nothing alike. They feel nothing alike. But both towns breed tourists. What I mean is, we all happily and effortlessly play the part. (For more, see the story Rosalea Murphy, the Pink Adobe, and Paintings of Evergreen Lake).

In Santa Fe, the locals are more decked out than the tourists, in turquoise and fringe. They plan their summers around the Spanish and Indian Markets, and they burn pinon wood in July in the fireplaces of their adobe houses.

In New Orleans, we go to Mardi Gras parades and Saints games and Jazz Fest. We eat po’boys, boil crawfish, and walk to Café du Monde for coffee-milk and beignets. We live the stereotype. Heck, one recent Valentine’s Day George surprised me with a horse and buggy at our front door for a stop-all-traffic carriage ride to K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in the French Quarter, where our blackened redfish and shrimp creole awaited. We live in the Big Easy, but we’re also its tourists (except we do draw the line at flashing skin on Bourbon Street or the pronunciation “Nawlin’s,” both reserved as distinguishing characteristics of real tourists).

In addition, both towns are magnets for the creative types. George Rodrigue, for example, flourishes in New Orleans, the city where the Blue Dog was born, a city, or rather a state, that’s heart and soul remains with him even as he paints each summer in Carmel, California.

I’ve relayed this story before, but it’s worth repeating: A reporter asked George once,

“Now that you’re painting in Carmel, will you paint the California cypress tree? The Pacific coast?”

And George, surprised by the question, replied,

“Of course not! My landscape is in here (hand to heart), and that’s Louisiana.”

(pictured, Three Amigos, 2010, a silkscreen by George Rodrigue benefiting the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, promoting arts education)

This doesn’t mean, however, that George isn’t inspired by other places. We visit Santa Fe at least once a year, and he always leaves with ideas and enthusiasm, affected not only by the land and history of the place, but also by his artist-friends. These are real companions of his generation who understand his fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants world, because they live the same way, jumping into life with the determination to live as artists, a profession denounced by 1950s parents everywhere, with the possible exception of our artist friend Rosalea Murphy, who encouraged her daughter Priscilla Hoback (pictured, as photographed by Dana Waldon, Santa Fe).

It was here in Santa Fe that George met and photographed Evergreen Lake. It was here that he felt inspired to choose the snow over the swamp. (pictured, Evergreen Lake, painted by George Rodrigue, circa 1988)

For Heather and I, two sisters desperate not to miss a second of quality time together, Santa Fe assuages us. Like most of you reading this blog, we learned that terrible lesson of loss and regret, and we’re determined to heed its warning.

We booked already this same spot for next year, when we hope once again to take long walks through the daffodils, visit artist studios and see creative new projects, make extravagant and irresponsible purchases of cowboy boots and fringed anything, and tiptoe barefoot through the snow in our fresh pedicures…or something else, anything else, so long as we’re together in the Land of Enchantment. (pictured, artist Doug Magnus, Wendy, Heather, Santa Fe, April 2010)


2 thoughts on “The Land of Enchantment

  1. I wish everyone had a sister. The world would be a better place. I'm so fortunate to have such a person to share with.

  2. Love this post…I have friends as sisters…you both are very blessed to share your life together and steal away to Santa Fe! Love that town…Ten Thousands Waves a must! Thank-you for sharing private moments Laife

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