Wednesday, December 21, 2016

No Holds Barred: Santa Fe winter

The Hysterical parade of the Santa Fe (N. M.), Fiesta, ca. 1930–1945
by Blair Sabol

For me, Santa Fe in Winter is all about the smell of burning piñon,
the Farolito Luminaria (paper bags with lights) igniting pathways and rooftops, and the overall active creativity of everyone who lives in and around the town.  Forget the shopping!

It’s true that the Summer is all about the tourists shopping for American Indian art and galleries and ethnographic shows and of course, the Santa Fe Opera.  The Winter brings out more of a neighborhood vibe.
Famous Holiday Luminaria on Santa Fe rooftops.
While online shopping is booming, it seems Santa Fe is still surviving on their own form of “bricks and mortar” (“adobe and wood”) boutiques and galleries.  Even though the town is feeling an economic wobble since I was last there 8 years ago, and the whole American Indian art scene has been seriously in flux. Navajo rugs and turquoise jewelry just ain’t what it used to be.
The most popular street in Santa Fe.
Back then, I really went to Santa Fe to power shop the Tesuque flea market, the Cowboy and Indian dealer shows and the ethnographic fold art outlets.  But I no longer shop like that and most of my “ethnic consumption” can now be found at World Market, Kohl’s or Sundance Catalogue.  Global Boho Chic is now everywhere.

So this year I returned for three days just to see pals that live there and to check in on their own kind of “high voltage” creativity.
Eclectic Canyon Road house.
Canyon Road sculpture.
More Canyon Road sculpture.
Gallery on Canyon Road.
More Canyon Road Sculpture.
The town was empty in early December and brutally bleak in the first chill, but it still had that unique charm. Dear friend Ali MacGraw has lived there for 30 years (I think she should run for Mayor because everyone loves her and her devotion to local charities is almost religious). She insisted we “creep around” the city together for half a day, she knew I was no longer into high-end purchases, but window shopping is still a way we could connect, gossip, and rant as old pals.
The view from my hotel — the temperature was 8 degrees.
Normally, I hate shopping with anyone, but Ali has one of the best eyes, and personal style.  She was, after all, a top-notch stylist (this was before the term “stylist” meant “reality show loser”) in New York in the '60s. She’s done it all her life — she loves the Santa Fe tribal look, and supports all of the vendors.  She is the visual Icon of the city!

I reminded her to keep the tour short, as I wasn’t in Santa Fe for a Concho belt, African baskets, or a squash blossom necklace. Maybe a scarf or two (since scarves are the new necklaces). Four hours later I ended up with 10 gorgeous Bandaire scarves (India) from Passementerie, a terrific textile and clothing shop (
Passementerie's Indian Bandaire scarves.
And another Bandhani (tie and dye) version from Gujarat (India) from Origins of Santa Fe. Origins is run by Judy Margolis who has been selling the “Santa Fe look” (I think she discovered it) for the last 35 years. She is the originator of “wearable art” from India, Africa, and the global market. All roads in town start and end with Margolis (  She is still the one-stop shopping paradise in Santa Fe.
Origin's hand Tie and Dye Bandhani from Guarat.
Ali and I ended up at the town’s latest boutique attraction, Chocolates and Cashmere; a beautifully decorated store featuring Haleigh Palmer ‘s Golightly Cashmere and ChocolaChocolaChocolates, confections made with Venezuelan chocolate with flavors like basil-lime (
Ali MacGraw in Chocolate Cashmere arm warmers holding Cashmere Elephant. Karoline Sophie Corral, manager of Chocolate and Cashmere, wearing Cashmere neck gater, sweater and tassel necklace.
But what makes this store unusual is that Golightly cashmere is hand-loomed in Taos, and all styles (from sweaters to ponchos to hats and gloves) are made (with over 50 amazing colors to chose from) and shipped in 3 days.  Ali bought fingerless 15” arm warmers ($95); they also sell a 24” opera length, which is their most popular ($155). They are a much more elegant take on the traditional “fingerless glove,” and are apparently a must-have for smartphone users on cold days. There are “neck gaters” ($155) which are almost better than infinity scarves, as well as the popular cashmere toy elephants ($295 a set). 
Inside Chocolate + Cashmere in Santa Fe.
I passed on the Cashmere and Chocolate and went for a gold garland necklace with tassels for $48 (which I never took off). And here I thought the trip wasn’t about shopping. Santa Fe is risky that way. You can’t keep your wallet closed in this town. I guess I was celebrating the “Trump Bump” the best I could.
Chocolate ... ... and Cashmere.
I think I was saving myself for a visit to Ann Lawrence (, the antique lace and fabric guru in Santa Fe.  Ann used to supply Ralph Lauren with all his Indian jewelry and vintage lace designs – she is still a “Deep Throat” source for many major designers. Lawrence is considered “Keeper of the Threads” for many Tribal dealers all over the world.
Ann Lawrence with armloads of fabrics.
I visited her warehouse, which is thoroughly “hoarded up” with global treasures galore.  Ann is a collector of “too much” and all of it astounding. Ten years ago she (with the help of Ali) created a bedspread and six pillows for me of Indian mirrored fabric and Mexican brocade that changed my life. The red and orange and bling colors got me out of ever being “color allergic.” I now only wear orange, red, pink and green. It started with Ann (and Ali) creating THAT bedspread.
Ann Lawrence and Ali MacGraw's original bed design.
Ann Lawrence's pillow fabric.
Ann showing me another velvet bedspread.
Mexican pillowcase of felt flowers from Lawrence's collection.
Ann Lawrence's vintage clothing collection.
Lawrence collection ethnic jewelry.
Day of the Dead Christmas ornaments.
Now it needed an update, and in an hour Ann performed her magic with some velvet and blinged out Souzani pieces. Lawrence’s lair is perilous if your eye starts to wander or you lose sight of what you came in for. But Ann lives and breathes fabric and I left her the measurements and didn’t have to pray she’d deliver a masterpiece.
Close-up of my new glitter bedspread fabric.
My second day was spent visiting commercial artist Jim McWilliams who was a famous art teacher at Cooper Hewitt, and a personality in the New York Pop Art scene of the '60s. He is now 80, and creating his own art. McWilliams lives with his dogs Bunny Melon and Sonic in a tiny vintage house downtown with room for his computer and his bed. Santa Fe keeps him percolating with ideas. “ I think artistry is in the air here ... just walking around you feel the need to create. I won’t move from here, this is my last stop.”
Jim McWilliams with Bunny Melon and Sonic in front of his art.
Jim McWilliams' burger wrapper art — Fold Up. Wrap Up. Un Wrap. Unfold.
McWilliams' current computer art.
That night I decided to see my writer friend Luellen (Loulou) Smiley at my hotel bar to celebrate the publication of her first book, “Cradle of Crime: A Daughter’s Tribute.” It took her 22 years to write this compelling memoir of her father Allen Smiley’s criminal past – beginning ten years after his death.  Her dad was Bugsy Siegel’s best friend and business partner, and he was seated next to Bugsy the night he was murdered.
Allen Smiley and Bugsy Siegel.
Smiley refused to turn informant despite an order of deportation. The Mafia protected Allen for the rest of his life. Luellen discovers and reveals all of her father’s dramatic hidden agendas. She also discovers herself in the process. She admits that living in Santa Fe for the last 10 years allowed her to finish the book. “This town gave me the focus and the courage to keep on keeping on delving into my personal complicated history.”
Author Luellen Smiley. Inset: Luellen's fascinating memoir of her father Allen Smiley’s criminal past, “Cradle of Crime: A Daughter’s Tribute." Click to order.
My last day was dedicated to the latest creative wallop in town. If Albuquerque was recently popularized by “Breaking Bad” — Santa Fe may become known for Meow Wolf.  Even my great pal who used to be THE driver to the “stars” (now is a site coordinator for the city of Santa Fe) Benavidez insisted I must not miss this.
My pal Oliver Benavidez wearing his Meow Wolf sunglasses.
It is a new permanent art exhibit set up in an industrial district of town. It is kind of an amusement park built by an arts collective called Meow Wolf and largely funded by George R. R. Martin – Author of Game of Thrones and current Santa Fe resident. Rumor has it he spent $27 million to make this sci-fi-art-utopia a reality. They have a 10-year lease on an old bowling alley and the three acres surrounding it. They also house a café, a fun boutique, an orbiting crew of food trucks in the parking lot, and a children’s education art class area.
Giant robot in the parking lot at Meow Wolf.
The entrance to Meow Wolf.
The exhibition is called “House of Eternal Return.”  I have no idea what it was all about, or the meaning, but it is an interactive “rave” type of experience — Somewhere between Alice in Wonderland and Burning Man.

The welcome mat greets you at the door “Beyond here there be Dragons” — who the hell knows — but into the loud heart beat rhythm of a techno soundtrack you go — through doors of haunting holographic mirrors, climb down staircases to mystical forests, crawl through domes of glowing animal eyes and step through sliding space ship windows.
Me at Meow Wolf.
Ali MacGraw at Meow Wolf.
Ali exploring Meow Wolf.
It is up to the visitor to explore the space at his or her own pace, wherever your whim leads.  God help you if you have a heart attack — I don’t know how you get out.  It has that kind of acid trip theme to it. But benches and couches and pillows are provided for people to hang out.  It seems to strike a chord with the younger generation.

Crawling through a family fireplace (you have to be in shape to do this exhibit) you land in a prehistoric cave with a neon glowing 12-foot mastodon skeleton, whose ribcage is a makeshift marimba! Are you following me?  This exhibit makes “multi-media” concepts old hat. You have to “feel,” not just see the exhibit to believe it. (
Meow Wolf neon forest.
Neon Mastodon skeleton/marimba.
Part of the Meow Wolf adventure.
The experience takes 2 hours to get through. I did it in 45 minutes at 10:00 in the morning before the crowds arrived.  Apparently the current show will be changed periodically.

The way it was explained to me, Santa Fe is a city that is “graying fast — with more than half the population over 55.”  Meow Wolf Initiative is a way to “diversify the economy, revitalize a distressed neighborhood, and provide a unique entertainment option for the city.”
Educational area at Meow Wolf.
T-shirts at Meow Wolf boutique.
Creature masks at Meow Wolf boutique.
Boutique toys at Meow Wolf.
Homage to the bowling alley at Meow Wolf. The bowling alley carpet at Meow Wolf.
Apparently it was a collective of over 125 local artists in their 20s who felt out of place in Santa Fe’s high-brow art scene — now with Martin’s infusion, they are becoming the main attraction. Meow Wolf, even having left me a bit overwhelmed, over-wrought and a bit nauseous, is a must-see event.

Afterwards, my old pal and famous rock and roll photographer Baron Wolman (Baron Wolman Photography — another 12-year Santa Fe resident) took me to Harry’s Roadhouse — his favorite eatery in town.
Baron Wolman
I must say, Santa Fe is loaded with a lot of esophagus burning southwest food. Though Harry’s is home to some of that, it is really more about home-cooked meals. I definitely had the best martini, and something called the “Buddha Bowl” made from fresh veggies, quinoa, sweet potatoes, and God knows what else. It was delicious!
Famous Rock and Roll Photographer, and Santa Fe resident Baron Wolman. Photo: Brie Cimino.
For dessert Baron drove me to the famously Christmas-lit-and-draped downtown plaza.  Walking that, I suddenly felt recovered from Meow Wolf. Or maybe it was the martini.  As Baron stated, “Santa Fe offers so many worlds — whether it’s through the clothes, or art, or people — not all of it is meant for us to love and like. But this town makes us at least feel curious, and that’s the most important thing.”

It’s not called the “Land of Enchantment” for nothing.
Santa Fe Plaza, fully lit.