Monday, November 14, 2011

Acequias, Holy Dirt, and Green Chile: A Yummish Pilgrimage to New Mexico

Next time you're driving from Albuquerque to Taos, New Mexico and you see a couple of gabachos standing in the snow on the side of the road, excitedly photographing an ancient irrigation canal, know that John Nichols is to blame.

Though I am a newcomer to the work of this recently canonized Yummish Saint, his 1978 novel The Magic Journey is currently tied with Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow for "Most Mind-blowing Book I've Read." It is the second novel in the New Mexico Trilogy, which also includes The Milagro Beanfield War (on which the Robert Redford film is based) and The Nirvana Blues.” The Berkeley-born* writer has also written about a blue-zillion other books, which I am extremely eager to read. (Great stocking stuffers! Hint, hint... )

“The New Mexico” trilogy is remarkable in many ways, not the least of which are the author's brilliantly complex stories and his extraordinary gift for languages and dialects. Even more impressive is Mr. Nichols' approach to writing about poverty and the impoverished. The characters he has created are both admirable and idiotic, virtuous and flawed, extremely clever and utterly clueless – often simultaneously. To read these stories is to understand that there are no “simple” people living “simple” lives, only people struggling to live, and that the struggle can be as ridiculous and hilarious as it is inspiring. 

Based on my extreme enjoyment of these three books (along with the fact that my brother has recently established a very cozy Yummish Mission in Albuquerque), I decided to take a short trip to New Mexico to sample the culture I'd read about, like dipping a tortilla chip in so much spicy salsa.

Except it wasn't salsa.

It was chile. Green chile. And like so much of New Mexico, it was both different and more compelling than I'd imagined.

I will not even try to sum up the climate, culture, or cuisine of New Mexico. For that, I will direct you to the works of St. John. Instead, I have included some photos from my Pilgrimage to honor this new Yummish Saint.

Fino Chevere, on top of Sandia Peak, Albuquerque, NM.
Factoring in the wind chill, it was about 8 degrees F.
I don't like heights.
I don't like cold.
Yet, I do like this.
Chiles. Not chili. Old Town Albuquerque
Note: I seem to be wearing the same outfit as in the Las Vegas Post.
Note to self: Hie thee hence to H&M. Your wardrobe has gone stale.
High desert, on the road to Taos, looking back toward Santa Fe.
A church in Truchas, NM
Note the icicles. High desert does not equal warm desert.
Wondering if this is what Joe Mondragon's field was like. 
Also wondering if I will ever feel my toes again. 
The only inhabitants of Truchas that we saw.
I saw some of the prettiest, most well-cared-for horses in NM.
The inspiration for Tribby Gordon's Castle of Golden Fools?
I have no idea who lives here, but I am sure that I adore them.
Floodgate of an in-service acequia.
Why do I feel compelled to bust it open with a shovel and plant beans?
Picture it. Two gringos, freezing our white tails off, standing by
the side of the road, taking pictures a wooden aqueduct.
Every time we did something hyper-touristy like this,
we imagined locals driving by, shaking their fists
at the sky and yelling "Damn you, John Nichols."
Outside El Santuario de Chimayo, where we touched holy dirt.
El Santuario y mi hermano, Fino Chevere
Outside Rancho de Chimayo
One bag of green chile. One bag of red. Very Christmas-y.

Inside Rancho de Chimayo.
OK, sometimes there *is* salsa...
and guacamole,
and a roaring wood fire,
and pinon coffee... 

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge with the Taos Ski Valley in the far background.
This is as close as I ever got to the rail.
Me + heights = :-( 
There and back again.
Albuquerque at night from the rooftop bar of the Hotel Parq Central
(Pisco Sour, Sazerac, Caipirinha, and something else I can't recall...
and then we were off to the Two Fools Tavern.)


Today's exercise: Read a John Nichols book... or at least click on the link to his website ( to see if we can drive enough web traffic there for him to notice us.

Next: Something to help you feel better about your family this holiday season... and a little shameless self-promotion.

John Nichols' white rabbit = muse
My white rabbit = Mose

*If anyone happens to know John Nichols personally, would you be so kind as to mention to him that “Beanfield” is misspelled on his website? Gracias.

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