Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Reading Northern New Mexico

My pleasure reading this summer has been all about Northern New Mexico, and I'm surprised to find out how much literature has been set in this area. I've just scratched the surface, but here are a few books I've come across, along with me comments.

Los Alamos, by Joseph Kanon. As literature the book is terrible, but it has a whole lot of information about the Los Alamos Lab, the making of the bomb and all the folks involved in doing it, and it got me very curious about learning more. The book I'm eager to read next is American Prometheus : The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. I drove up to Los Alamos one day this summer and spent the day in the historical musuems. The LANL is definitely alive and running today and is very controversial both here in Taos and in my hometown of Berkeley CA (I believe it is administered by UC Berkeley)

After Los Alamos, I read The Milagro Beanfield War, by John Nichols, a cult novel from the 70s the pains a delightful picture of life in the villages around Taos. Folks say that the life is not much different here today. The characters come alive -- they are lovable with all their flaws. My only complaint is that the book is too long. He could have gotten the point across in half the words. Nichols has written a number of books, fiction and non-fiction about his hometown of Taos. I hope to get a chance to browse through

I heard Chimayo resident Chellis Glendinning read from her new book Chiva : a village takes on the global herion trade. This is Chellis' personal story of her relationship with a heroin addict and her experience living in the village and town that is the number 1 cener for heroin trade in the United States. Chellis is a beautiful writer, but her weaving poetry and politics and her personal story just didn't work for me. Her point could easily have been made without interjecting her political beliefs.

Posted by Picasa


This photo is taken looking north from Taos. The mountains are Taos Mountain and Wheeler Peak. We are headed up there later this afternoon, to poke around the Taos Ski Valley and Valle Vidal Wilderness Area. Posted by Picasa


This photo is taken on the grounds of Taos Drum, a great place to buy drums, rugs, jewelry and other wonderful things with a Southwest theme. But the teepee is just a gimmick -- the native people around here never used teepees -- they were used by the Plains Indians just east of here. Still, it makes a good photo.Posted by Picasa


Hornos Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 24, 2005


Sadly, today begins my last week in Taos. To get ready for reentry to the real world, Jonathan and I bought the Sunday New York Times and we read our way through the horrible news of the last weeks.

Before this morning, I have not read a national newspaper for seven weeks -- nor have I worn make-up or a bra or a skirt, and only wear shoes when I have to.

The sounds outside my door are the magpies, the crows and the constant hum of crickets. The prairie dogs chatter like old women gossiping in late afternoon. During the increasingly frequent storms, hail pelts against my skylights like a drum concert from heaven, punctuated by dramatic booms of thunder which turn a quiet afternoon at home into the likes of a Wagnerian opera. Then there is the wind, and when it blows, it blows strong and constant up the valley, and stops as suddenly as it begins.

I will miss all of this very, very much. I love being so close to the out of doors, I love my casita, and more than anything else, I love the freedom to schedule my own time. I guess summers like this are to reflect and refresh, and to return to real life with vigor and a new perspective. Well, I'm definitely refreshed and my new perspecitve is nothing I'd post on this blog. But real life beckons and back to Oakland we head ....
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, July 23, 2005


Evening shadows Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 22, 2005


El Anciano Posted by Picasa


Rainbow at sunsetPosted by Picasa


Posted by Picasa
I've had less time for blogging recently and here is the reason why. Jonathan arrived last Saturday and has been a welcome distraction from writing. We've been exploring Taos and the surroundings, kicking back and enjoying being together and taking an occasional all-day outing, such as today when we went on a river trip down the Rio Grande.

The trip was pretty exciting -- Jonathan's first rafting trip -- and I got a chance to observe yet another Taos culture, the cult of the outdoors. We started from the old bridge at Arroyo Hondo and rafted sixteen miles through the gorge to Pilar. Our most serious rapid was Class 4, pretty exciting, but we managed well thanks to an excellent guide.

Most of our activities, though, are within walking distance of our casita -- coffee and conversation at the Cafe Tazza, Fiesta Week0end on the Plaza, wine at sunset at the Fechin Inn, and the Farmer's Market early tomorrow morning. What a life! The thought of returning to Oakland is creeping into my consciousness.

So sad ...

Thursday, July 21, 2005


Posted by Picasa
Mabel Ganson Evans Dodge Sterne Luhan did as much to shape the modern identity of Taos as Taos did to save her life and her soul. Mabel was a banking heiress from Buffalo NY, born with the rare combination of good taste, the catalyst for "bringing geniuses together" -- her words--and the money to carry it out.

She was famous for bringing intellectuals and artists together in her Florence and New York salons way before she ever heard of Taos. She came to Taos in 1916 at the urging of her third husband Maurice Sterne. Much to her husband's surprise, she almost immediately fell in love with the culture of Taos and with Taos Pueblo Indian Tony Luhan, and lived happily in Taos for the rest of her life.

D.H. Lawrence, Willa Cather, Emma Goldman, Carl Jung, Georgia O'Keefe and so many more graced her table at the hacienda, pictured above, she and Tony built just a few blocks from where I'm staying here in Taos.

Mabel's story is legend, not only in Taos, but in cultural and artistic circles around the world. I learned something of the legend behind the legend last night from, Roberta Courtney Meyers, a local playwright and storyteller who was personally acquainted with Mabel, Georgia, Frida (Lawrence), and Dorothy Brett. Here are a few facts that make Mabel more human:
  • Mabel was a socialist/philanthropist, and enormously generous, but rarely took credit for her gifts;
  • Mabel had one son from her first marriage;
  • Mabel was manic-depressive from a young age, and spent much of her life in bed in a dark room, even when her home was filled with guests;
  • Mabel stood 4'11''; Tony was more than 6' tall;
  • Mabel was a beautiful and prolific writer and published several books about her years in Taos;
  • Tony had another life away from Mabel, he had a home, a wife and a family on the Taos Pueblo, his religion and his connection to the Pueblo; Mabel agonized when he went away and was filled with ecstasy when he returned;
  • Mabel and Tony died within a year of each other; Mabel is buried here in the Kit Carson cemetery in the middle of town; Tony is buried on the Pueblo.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


Here is an image to send cooling thoughts to most of us except, those in the San Francisco Bay area who have the ocean fog to do the job:

My friend June pointed me to a fascinating website about the photography of snow. Wilson Alwyn Bentley a talented but eccentric Vermonter, who was the first person to photograph individual snowflakes. Be sure to check out his biography, as well as the snow photos themselves.

Sunday, July 03, 2005


Posted by Picasa
Every Thursday evening Taosenos gather in the Plaza to hang out, socialize and listen to the free concerts of mostly local musicians. More than any other Taos event, this is the occasion where everybody mixes -- the old, the young, the tourists, the old-time Spanish speakers, the Anglos, the rich artists, the poor artists, the rich retirees, and everybody in-between. It was my first Taos "social event" a few weeks ago and the first time I saw so many locals socializing.

The Taos Plaza has a VERY long history, but I'll start with the first known European and go backwards at another time. Hernan Alvarado arrived here in 1540 as part of the Coronado expedition. Imagine!! Spanish colonists began to settle in the valley as early as 1615, but the real colonization began in 1796 when Don Fernando brought 63 families to settle on his Land Grant. This period was when the village of Taos was established and the Plaza soon became a political and trading center for the entire area.

I'm leaving out a lot of history, especially about the Native people, but I'll say more another time. But to digress on two points: Taos is supposed to have gotten its name from the Tewa (the local language) Indian word towih, meaning " red willow." Another interesting point is I heard that Taos Plaza was something of a slave trading center, both among the Spaniards and the Indians before them. But I have to verify that.

Back to the Plaza. It was originally built as a defense against invading Indians, as well as a way of keeping in livestock. They say part of the original wall still exists over on LeDoux Street. The businesses surrounding the Plaza served all the needs of a rough and tumble western town -- courthouse, jail, salons, hotels, and a customs house for incoming goods.

Beginning in 1893 artists arrived from the East Coast (and later from around the world), and the Taos Artists Society was active the the early 20th century. Some lived very near the Plaza and brought their own character to the place. The prize business location today is La Fonda Hotel. But that is another story ...


Friday marked the half-way point of my time in Taos, and my window of full-time writing. Despite the troubles of the week before last and my depressing post about it -- overall I feel good about the results of my writing, and very good about the process, and about keeping to a schedule, even if it isn't quite the one I originally set out for myself. (In fact, if I didn't have to earn a living, I'd like to do this fulltime!) Here is a progress report on my book:










    Chapter 8. CATALOGING – 1ST DRAFT






    INDEX – OMIT???

Friday, July 01, 2005


Posted by Picasa

Remember The Milagro beanfield war, the 70s cult novel? It's about a small town called Milagro in Northern New Mexico, where an ordinary guy decided on a whim to divert water from the acequia to grow beans on his own land, and it started a virtual war. No matter that his family had owned the land for centuries -- in Northern New Mexico it's all about water.

Anyway, author John Nichols makes a political statement about water rights and about who really owns the land, with humor and compassion. The fictional town of Milagro comes alive under his pen, and each of the characters, the humans and the animals, create a composite picture of the villages of Northern New Mexico then and now.

I'm reading the book now, for the first time right in the center of Milagro Beanfield War country, and I must admit, whenever I walk through Taos and recognize a surname from the book, I wonder, could this be .... I drove to the village of Truchas, where the movie was supposedly filmed, wondering ... could this be where Jose Mondragan lived? Or Onofre Martinez's, but Onofre"s house, with its astroturf lawn, the fake flowers, the birdhouse, how could I miss it? What about Pacheco's pig -- could he have wandered these very dirt roads? That's how alive the characters are.

I'm glad I waited to read it till 30 years after it was written, being right here where it is happening. The author, in the Afterward to the current edition, says "I've had it with Milagro Beanfield War. I published this book when I was 34; now I'm almost fifty-three. .. Since then I have written 25 tomes; published 12 of them. ... Yet any time anyone introduces me, they usually say, "This is John Nichols. He wrote Milagro Beanfield War.

"I cringe. I want to grind my teeth and scream. Instead, of course, I always shake hands and smile politely and murmur gratitudes when people respond in a properly unctuous manner, telling me how much they enjoyed "my" movie."

This evening I heard author John Nichols (now close to 65 and a survivor of open heart surgery) speak at a local writers' series. In an address that was part autobiography and part tribute to the real northern New Mexico, he kept everyone attention with his funny, witty, and ever so TRUE observations of life and death in New Mexico.


World politics is (thankfully) about as far from my consciousness as it's ever been, and except for Rumsfeld having a house just north of town, those guys in Washington might as well be on another planet.

That's why it woke me up this morning to read this letter to the editor in the Taos News. Hope it wakes you up too:

"Can you imagine working for a company that has a little more than 500 employees and has the following statistics?
  • 36 have been accused of spousal abuse
  • 7 have been arrested for fraud
  • 19 have been accused of writing bad checks
  • 7 have directly or indirectly bankrupted at least two businesses
  • 3 have done time for assault
  • 71 cannot get a credit card because of bad credit
  • 14 have been arrested for drug related charges
  • 8 have been arrested for shoplifting
  • 21 are currently defendants in lawsuits
  • 84 were arrested for drunk driving last year

Can you guess which organization this is? It's the 535 members of the United States Congress ... the same group that cranks out hundreds of new laws each year designed to keep the rest of us in line. Perhaps this info leaked out to the religious political insurgents in the Middle East, along with our military invasion, the killing of more than 12,000 Iraquis and our policy of "Democratization" of the Middle East has caused them to become even more motivated religious political insurgents. But rest easy America ... Runsfeld just assured us that with the help of the competent organization above (and Halliburton), the Middle East debacle should be over in 12 years. If you don't like the above organization, be sure to vote!

Harold Timber