independence day

it’s late afternoon in 1988 and we are in the car – my dad’s AMC eagle with faux wood panels down the sides. no air conditioning, and it’s hot in early july. a dry, still new mexico heat, the kind that makes your hair go all static-y and melts the plastic on the steering wheel if the car is parked too long in the sun. we pile out at santa fe downs – the racetrack my grandfather always took credit for building. as a girl, i imagined my larger-than-life ‘papa’ nailing up planks and dragging dirt, his face shaded by a huge stetson and his alligator-skin boots getting dusty driving a backhoe, though later i came to understand that his claim on the track was merely financial and, like a lot of my family history, complicated.

we pile out and walk for what feels like a year from the car to the entrance, where a giant concrete tunnel seems to pass underground and back up again, right out into the middle of the racetrack, over which looms a covered grandstand. for a horse-obsessed girl of almost eight, standing on the soft soil of an actual racetrack gave me the same feeling i’d later experience standing on the great wall of china and ascending the eiffel tower for the first time.

Girls Ponies 1

my sister is four and being pushed in a stroller by my mother while my dad points out the details.

back behind there are where the horses live.

can we go see them?

not today. he indicates toward a semi truck parked across the grass infield. look, see out there – that’s where the fireworks are going to come from.

the sun drifts downwards west behind the slate blue ortiz mountains, lighting the sky to their north above us in a crayola box of shades. a blanket is produced from the basket on the back of the stroller – an upright, spartan sling on wheels made of plastic piping and synthetic polka-dotted material and with a small pull-out sunshade that had done me no good as a baby and was currently not shading much of my sister.

we sit all evening and get hungry and cranky so that by the time the fireworks start going off, i am in an inexplicable rage and my sister, who’d been gazing upwards at the purple and blue blasts, gets a piece of ash in her eye and has to be bustled off to an ambulance waiting somewhere nearby. (she was fine but we were all traumatised and i wonder now what this experience was like for my parents who, i presume even at that point in their marriage, didn’t really like each other very much).

there were other fourths of july. the hour-long drive to albuquerque, past small juniper trees at the turn off for la cienega and down la bajada hill, beyond the pueblos and then bernalillo, where a ribbon of the rio grande could be glimpsed between rows of cottonwoods in years when there was rain, to the airport. my dad said this was the best place to watch the fireworks, which were set off somewhere from adjacent kirtland air force base, and i suppose the 1980s were a time when knowing you could use the open-air top level of a parking lot for a free family fireworks outing (hopefully one where no one got ash in their eye) was the essence of cool.

july 4th is the only holiday i remember us celebrating as a foursome; hell, one of the only things i remember us doing as a foursome full stop.

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when you’re a kid, people ask you dumb questions like ‘what’s your favorite holiday’ and my answer always was the fourth of july. at fifteen, this was highly idealised: it’s not a commercial holiday. i wasn’t wrong, but then time goes on and your family turns out to be messy and then so does your country and you move away to another state and then another country, and start to wonder how you could possibly have loved such nationalistic nonsense.

it was the shitty hot dogs. being smushed onto a blanket covered in pet hair, fingers smelling of ketchup and potato-chip salt. the wonder of fireworks cracking off against an indigo sky. sucking the last juice droplets out of a deflated capri sun bag through a strangely sharp straw that might slice your tongue. making cut-offs out of your old jeans with a pair of scissors and hoping you might get your first kiss under the cover of all that magic. swirling sparklers into fairy shapes that lingered on the thick air for an extra moment.

i loved that the fourth of july made me feel like, for one night a year, perfect life was possible. maybe my parents could be happy together. maybe i would be a normal kid who would meet an amazing crushable boy who liked her just as she was. that i lived in a great state in a great country where things were safe and happy. realities, of course, are different: my parents were so much better off apart, and as a result so were my sister and i. being a normal kid is overrated and turns out to be boring, and yes there have been several boys and there will be others, and so much the richer life is when you allow people to pass in and out of it in their natural time. there is no such thing as a great state or a great country – these are imagined things, it turns out – but the people that collectively make them up can be great and so can their cultures.

the fourth of july represents the unbridled optimism of childhood and a memorialised version of america – my version. it is nostalgia. but then maybe nostalgia is merely a yearning for things you think you remember having but that never really existed.

it’s late afternoon in 2018 and i set a pitcher of sun tea out to brew in the unusually sunny warmth of this year’s british july and think of my grandmother, who taught me this skill. she loved me but openly hated my cousin and it turns out people are really incredibly complex, and we never see all of their sides, even the ones we believe to be soul mates, or family, parents or anyone else.

it’s hot. i stick on a fan and some ani difranco, and sit down to write.

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the telemarker

it was your head.
cocked glasses, aquarian smile
bag dropped casual-like on a desk, too old for the skater look
you were affected but smart and god i loved it
the boy with the arab strap comes on now
and instantly i’m there
11pm, 2004, october something. we took apart
and rebuilt
an old VCR on the wood slat floor
of your house on…
, oh,
what was the name of the street
and how funny i can still smell you
feel your mouth on mine
in the pagosa springs
, but was it hazeldine road or linda vista?
where i left you, no you left me.
where you dressed as the crocodile hunter
jumped off your roof on tequila and who knows what.
where you let me sleep over and then bought breakfast
while your girlfriend was in denmark.

you are still a fire in my throat
but i can’t recognise your old house
on street view
anymore.

i wanted to fix you
with skiing and a steve earle soundtrack
we huddled close on a stranger’s couch in
a new-build adobe santa fe house.
a stroll around the plaza, the bull ring
i let you smoke
and the smell of red wine linger next to me
we went to bed separately that night
and i think now i was good at being confusing back then.

you needed space
and you went to taos and this was before smartphones
and texting and the constant on.
it was a three-hour drive.
i was thinking of your crow’s feet all the way up the rio grande gorge
past velarde, embudo station, the turn off to truchas.
we drank barley wine
on high bar stools at eske’s – conveniently
tiny enough for three pints of arm-brush butterflies –
and drunk-drove to the strokes,
windows down
rocky mountain nightwind
swirling us round for one last nite.

years later, an awkward dinner at chama river
you tell me about your new wife
new kid
and i smile and i am happy for you
and we drink beer again, not the same,
and pretend
we were not a thing
back then.

poem of highway 14

it bucketed
the day i gifted
the bishop’s passing.
a talisman of wishes,
sueños where i see badlands through ocean rain.
the soundtrack?
feast of wire: dulcet painting, desert noir
that we would lay down to,
find orion.
i put us in a pickup bed
somewhere south of socorro
dusty nostrils, crimson clouds
no…pink! no, azure.
then, squinting, the pleiades –
seven sisters all of a tremble.
we’d drive
the turquoise trail, to where it meets the gold mines in madrid
pastures full of cane cholla, buds about to be may fuchsia
dirt between tufts of galleta and tall feathergrass
brown like your skin
after a summer in wild basins.
this rainless landscape
was always so perfect to me.
but nothing is clear now until a downpour of you.

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driving side roads in northern new mexico

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Cottonwoods rim the two-lane, an alameda out of Española,
a forearm extended into the High Road villages.
Seven miles on, the hand opens to Chimayó,
one palmful of adobe farm homes and a sacred site.

“Martinez,” reads the mailbox on a garden wall.
Packed-earth, the painted wall beams blue.
The Oritz house naps behind a fence of roses, of flames on old vines,
and the Sanctuarario curio shop stands banked by a stone wall
painted Sangre de Cristo red.

Just before the turnoff to “The Lourdes of the West”,
where dirt, rather than water, is sacred when blessed,
a corrugated shed crumples in the weeds
between two fallen companions:
A bulb-headed truck that slumps in the gravel,
a peeling cottage growing gray thorns in the sun.

Across the rusted shed doors, a sign
brushed on in white-paint letters
leaves a forwarding address: Moved to Arroyo Seco.
Moved to Dry Ditch.

Deborah Kelly

santa fe, new mexico sunrise with windmill

rediscovering my home of enchantment (trip report, part 1)

santa fe, new mexico sunrise with windmill
sunrise at mom’s house

it’s been three years since i was back in new mexico. well, that is until three weeks ago, when i finally went home. bill was working out of his houston office, so i took the chance for a couple of days visiting my family and eating lots and lots of green chile.

if you aren’t familiar with new mexico, the first thing you should probably know about is our food. we have very special food. it is not quite mexican, it is not quite native american and it is not quite spanish, but it is definitely a mix of all three. and here’s one for your next pub quiz: new mexico is also the only state in the US to have an official state question, which is, “red or green?”. this refers to our incredible chile sauces, the green derived from unripened, roasted chile peppers and the red from ripened peppers of the same plant.

combination plate at la choza - red and green chile present.
combination plate at la choza – red and green chile present.

i stayed the first couple of days with my mom in my childhood home – a stately little adobe house that sits on a good few acres of lovely, scrubby high desert land with views of the mountains in every direction. we ate at a few of my favourite spots. the first morning was a breakfast of huevos rancheros (eggs with beans, cheese, corn tortilla and chile sauce) at san marcos cafe.

huevos rancheros at san marcos cafe, santa fe, new mexico
breakfast of jetlagged champs: green chile huevos at sue’s.

growing up, this was the only restaurant local to us, as our house is rurally 20 miles south of santa fe. we called it either sue’s (in reference to the owner/chef, susan macdonell), or ‘the feed store’, as there is an actual feed store connected to the back where local ranchers buy everything from hay to halters to live chicks in the spring.

while in santa fe, i also did some touristy stuff – not something most locals get up to. on santa fe’s plaza, most days local native americans from various tribes set up on blankets under the long portico outside the historic palace of the governors (now the museum of new mexico) and sell handmade jewellery, much of it turquoise. growing up in new mexico, wearing turquoise was always something for tourists, but now living away for so long, i really wanted a nice piece to remind me of home. i came away with lovely necklace stone and silver and turquoise bracelet made by a navajo craftswoman – so beautiful.

palace of the governors, santa fe plaza
palace of the governors, where native americans sell jewellery

time goes a lot slower in new mexico than it does in london. there is time to just sit and watch the sunrise. and the sunset. there is the space of the day when dusk falls over the house silently like a blanket of snow. there was time to enjoy that quiet, which i realised i miss a lot. even when london is quiet, the city still has a faraway rumble. and, not least, i got to play with my horsie, ren’ai, who lives at my mother’s house and is a complete dote. some readers here may not know about my past life as a horse trainer, which i did for many years before i became a world traveller and writer.

me and ren'ai chilling out
me and ren’ai chilling out

after not nearly enough time with mom, it was off to a packed day of breaking bad tourism in albuquerque, which is 60 miles south of santa fe, for a work article. my stepdad was the lucky candidate to drive me around the city, where we went from breaking bad location to location, seeing and photographing in the space of a few hours walter white’s house, the infamous “a-1 car wash” (actually the octopus car wash on menaul and eubank) and many others. all of that driving called for a hearty lunch, so we had to stop at my favourite restaurant on god’s green earth: duran’s.

green chile burrito at duran's station, albuquerque
green chile burrito at duran’s station

duran’s has two locations, though the original is literally a cafe in the back of a pharmacy in old town albuquerque where little old hispanic ladies in hair nets cook some of the meanest new mexican fare ever, including homemade tortillas. their second location – duran’s station – opened a few years ago and has become a rival to the original and one much easier to reach, though for atmosphere i still prefer the original. either way, the food is INCREDIBLE and we stuffed our faces.

that afternoon, i was scheduled for a press visit to routes rentals for a breaking bad-themed bike tour. perhaps a bit ill-advised after such a large lunch, but the prospect of beer at one of my favourite albuquerque breweries helped me press to the end. actually, heather and josh (partners and owners) gave one hell of a tour, showcasing the downtown filming locations (such as jesse’s house and tuco’s hideout) and bringing a laptop so we could watch the scenes at their filming locations. the tour ended with a sampler of marble’s heisenberg dark, which i will talk more about on brew travel.

by the end of the day, i was wrecked, but made two last stops: one into the candy lady, to buy samples of the prop ‘blue meth’ used on the show to bring back to colleagues in london, and two into a kelly’s liquor store to buy a nice bottle of wine to bring to my aunt’s house. my aunt just so happens to be a regular customer of saul goodman’s nail salon (breaking bad reference), so we stopped in for a quick pedicure and to chat with the owners about what it was like to have breaking bad filmed in their store.

the evening was topped off family-style, with all of my paternal aunts and uncles turning up for green chile-topped pizza and many bottles of wine on my aunt’s beautiful back patio, overlooking the sandia mountains. there is nothing better than sipping a nice cab in the crisp desert air with family and laughter (and some good old fashioned egenes arguing) all around.

this is part 1 of what will be a 3-part series.

abq in my rearview, prague on the horizon

Photo by M.G. Bralleywe’ve given it 10 long months, but we are saying good by to ole new mexico. for some reason, in the past two weeks since bill found out that he was hired by the prague post (that’s right, in the czech republic), we have done nothing but celebrate and consolidate and i have not been able to pull myself up to this blog and write about it. Continue reading “abq in my rearview, prague on the horizon”

on taking the 66 bus

taking public transport in the western united states is not like elsewhere. in fact, around here, you are lucky if public transport exists at all and, unless you live in the exact right part of town, it probably won’t do you much good.

but we’ve been taking a lot of public transport in albuquerque since we moved into our apartment in university heights and it has served us well. but the 66 bus deserves particular attention. Continue reading “on taking the 66 bus”