I am sat here in Starbucks on Nobb hill Route 66 Albuquerque the sun is wonderful the place warming up, I am sat just by the door one table along by the window. Every time the door opens the room gulps in a door full of fresh cool morning air. It has seemed that the essence of the person who has entered the coffee shop room has been swept in front of them and I have got to smell everybody before they have reached me. It is early morning so lots of freshness, some wonderful scents, clean hair, some women are startlingly bright, perfumes still clinging closely, clean fresh clothes, an exercise in sensuality. Everybody who passes by is wafting some sort scent or fragrance and most of it is good, not looking up, just enjoying my senses. Some it seems do smell really good. Beauty it seems in in the nose of the beholder.
I’d been out with Sydney Danziger and Zelda yesterday evening, it may be the last chance I’ll get to see Zelda for some time and Syd had been away in Peru last week when Lee and Alan were here. She’s the one who I’ve spent most time with and I would say we have become good friends.
It was a great night, she told us about her remarkable journey in Peru showed us photos of them preparing Guiney Pigs to eat and a funny story about going through a cleansing ceremony with a Shaman there. The group she’d been with had followed his instructions sincerely throughout, then all gathered there had earnestly stepped outside and apparently the heavens had opened up and they’d all got soaked.
The rain had seemed quite appropriate and so Syd had asked him something on the lines of “Is the rain a result of the cleansing ceremony
The Shaman turned to her and said matter of fact
“No it’s climate change, it’s ruining everything” Hilarious.
It had been great to see her again. We’d planed to try and meet up before They’d both offered me a warm bed for the night, I’d told a white lie as a Danziger is a hard thing to turn down, I told them I’d already made arrangements to stay at another friends house, but in fact had planned to sit in Denny’s and write. I could have sat up at Syd’s of course, but actually, truthfully I’d been very English and not wanted to turn up and say ‘Hi Syd, not seen you for 7 years can I stay at yours tonight. Sometimes Englishness can be a pain in the ass, or hips. I left but I knew an opportunity would arise somebody as had whispered
“There will be another chance before you leave”
I will tell them of course, I did get a lot of work done and guess what an opportunity did arise last night. I’d been sat at Denny’s Syd had emailed me as I sat there last thing at night. It is Passover on Sunday and one of their guests dropped out and so I’ve been invited. I had a feeling something would present itself as we’d driven Zelda home last night. Cool
In fact last night was the last night I will sleep in Hummingbird as I am off back to Santa Fe later today and will be back up at Lori’s Mountain Hideaway. I just wanted to enjoy hummingbirds back seat one last time. I’d slept outside Hurricanes on Lomas. It is one of my most familiar haunts I have spent a lot of time writing in there over the years. When I got up I went straight inside, the waiter is still the same after all this time, I have watched his long hair become a pony tail, then become thinner, disappear and now he is wearing a hat, all in stages as I have re entered the port of Albuquerque over and the years. But his manners have remained the same, kind, considerate and gentle.
I had a few things to do, I’d had the legendary Half Breakfast Burrito and apart from the one down at the scrap yard, Hurricanes are the best, just as good as they always were, I should have saved half to go, I was so full, it sat in my stomach all day, in a good way. I honestly didn’t need anything else for the rest of that day and half way through the next
I got a few errands done and then headed up into the westward flow of the I-40 freeway. Hummingbird as smooth as can be going up the great western slope and then onto those wide open spaces, still yellowed and brittle looking, though down in the valley along the Rio Grand the green of spring trying its very best to follow me up and spill out and across the plains. The I-40 is a busy freeway and I think it was around 11.30ish when we finally got going. The great semi convoys cruising along glittering in the sunshine. I kept a close eye on the speed limit as there was a lot of police activity all along there that morning, I’m not sure what was going on, it looked as though they were stopping Mexican looking drivers, there were groups of police 4×4 parked in clusters of 3 or 4, now and again lights flashing, you could see them for miles away across the flat plain and the straight as an arrow freeway.
It’s about 70 miles to Acoma Pueblo. I had wanted to visit there for some time now. I’d once tried on my very first time I’d been heading across to Albuquerque but I hadn’t had the money at the time and it had kind of bugged me to be honest, and every time I’d planned since things seemed to get in the way.
Zelda had said “You should go and take the tour, you’ll enjoy it” I take Zelda’s word on these things. Zelda loves the Indians and has had good relations with san ildefonso pueblo all her life here in Albuquerque.
It wasn’t too long before we were pulling onto highway 23 at Junction 108. I wasn’t really sure what to expect and I was a little apprehensive to be honest. It is a living community and I wasn’t sure whether it was right to be paying to go and see peoples homes, it was quite a short drive along slow quiet road, driving out there, it seemed right out into the middle of the sage plains. I could see the island of towering rocks where the pueblo sat upon ahead, but it blended in so well with the surrounding cliffs that it wasn’t until the road came up close on the left that you realize what your looking at and it was so unusual to my eyes I honestly kept having to have a double take as i approached.
It really is quite a thing to see, we are mostly from urban cities and towns and even if you are from the countryside there will be a familiar village. Acoma is a village but not like anything I am familiar with, it looks remarkable. is what I am trying to say.
I‘d glanced up and seen the square adobe houses high up on top of the flat mesa like a collection of tumbled beaten up brown cardboard boxes a first glance right up to the edge of the 365 feet mesa cliffs. The visitors center is as a brand new feel, modern shiny and clean. There was a very large lady dishing out instructions to an Anglo couple in front of me, what you can do and what you can’t do it, was a living community etc, there were all sorts of prices for all sorts of things and there were to be no pictures inside the church and no pictures of the graveyard, which was a pity as far as my project goes. But fair enough, respect.
It was $20 and a tour bus would be around in around ¾ of an hour, that was ok, I went and watched the film about the history of the pueblo which was sweet and gentle. It mentioned here again that the Acoma people used to live in the valleys below but had moved up onto the pueblo top ‘to avoid the more warlike nomadic tribes that moved into the area’. They had lived up there for more than 800 years though there traditions say they moved into the area over 2000 years ago.
Also looked at some of the exhibition there, that seemed a little thin, but all well done, I contemplated a pair of moccasins, really liked them but maybe at some other time, they were beautiful. I looked down at my hammered Doc’s and thought they wouldn’t last long.
The tour bus arrived people began appearing around the place from out of various alcoves and doors. I think the Pueblo was having a quiet day and I have to say that the little old ladies on the stalls all seemed very sweet, but pottery is not really my thing beautiful and all original it though it was.
I got on the bus and took my seat I think there were around 8 of us in total and then the tour guide arrived. He was as camp as they come and not that care whether you’re as camp as Christmas or a butch trucker, but he was a little odd. I couldn’t decide whether it was an Indian thing or whether he was genuinely odd. It was as though he had two voices that spoke simultaneously. A high pitch one that seemed to be dominating and a lower one that was I thought more likeable. He had jet black shiney hair puled back into two cascading pony tails that came down to the middle of his back, black eye brows painted on and thick coal rimmed eyes. I honestly wasn’t sure at first whether he was an unusual looking woman or he was a gay guy. He began talking perched on the steps of the bus and seemed to take a little while to find his stride.
He was the guide and so we were all looking at him and ready for what he had to say, but he seemed to find that difficult. The bus trundled up along the road changes a gear or two and up onto the pueblo top and it was like going into another time, in fact it was, we did.
The guide began the tour by finding a little rock to perch on not that it helped as he seemed to us all his concentration trying to balance both feet on it. His delivery was rather like a monotone parrot if you can have such a thing, very little warmth and as I say he seemed really uncomfortable. I honestly found it a little irritating. At one point I asked a question as I wasn’t sure what he’d said. so I asked very politely if he could repeat what he’d just said. He looked absolutely flummoxed, went bright red and stumbled trying to remember what he’d been saying, which made it worse and everyone was just looking at him stood there wobbling on a little rock. I noted also that he also completely avoided looking at me. I wondered what I’d done.
We went on a little further and I asked another question. I wasn’t trying to be irritating I was and am genuinely interested and had waited a long time to be there so I wanted to know, I was trying to have a conversation with him. I’d asked which was the oldest building and how old was it I think. He went crimson again and again lost his stride and answered me
“As I said” He said parrot fashion still avoiding looking at me“ I am not able to tell you that”
I wondered why, so I asked him why he couldn’t tell me, you see so far there he’d been quite thorough about what was allowed and what was sacred to his people etc and fair enough, but because of all the rules and regulations I wondered if there was some reason why not he couldn’t tell me. It turned out that they didn’t know because of the new layers of adobe that were regularly applied and so they didn’t actually know. Oh I see, but that’s not what he’d said. After another question and him beginning to get. I just dropped back and left them to the tour I thought I’ll read up later. I thought again, is it an Indian thing? I’m still not sure. It was very odd though.
It was a remarkable place for sure though, no electricity up there, though I did see solar panels, there was no running water and dotted around the place were portaloo’s. The houses were a mixture of older rough and more modern cut stone and crumbling abode, mud plastered over the top of some stones. There were great round timbers sticking out above our heads supporting the roofs and great white ladders that led up to the flat roof tops and the entrances to the Kivas where there religious ceremony’s were performed.
It was obviously a well in tact community and the old ways still vibrant and alive. What was interesting was that it was a matriarchal society and all goods passed down through the female side of a family also I did catch from him that the houses were inherited by the youngest daughter not the eldest son, he said because whist the rest of the family were working in the fields it was left to the youngest female member to take care of the house and all the duties and chores there and so only right she should inherit it.
The tour lasted for around an hour, apart from our footsteps and his voice there was no sound. Now and again little old ladies would appear out of parked cars or out from behind a rickety screened door, their pottery looked nice, they were charming and very gentle and tugged on all my heart strings but I just didn’t need any.
Various points of interest were pointed out, the ancient water catchment areas that were now all contaminated; Acoma is now completely dependent on water carried up from the valley below. There is one tree up there, a few domes ovens where they baked bread and then over to the old church. The Mission of San Esteban Ray. This is where the history lesson kicked in and I had looked forward to it. The Spanish had been particularly brutal, I have already mentioned in an earlier writing about Onates revenge upon the Acoma people for killing his nephew.
500 Acoma men were taken prisoner, there had been a trial and all the men over 25 were sentenced to have their right foot amputated. But in fact it seems that only 24 amputations were carried out, it could be said that is 24 too many. Males between the age 12 and 25 of were then sentenced to 20 years servitude or slavery along with all females above the age of 12 and dispersed amongst the government residences or at the Jesuit missions. It is a terrible story of course. 400 years ago. It was the people who had escaped the massacre who rebuilt the Pueblo as not many returned after their 20 years servitude. Many Acoma still object to Onate being called the founder of New Mexico and as recently as 1998 somebody cut of the right foot of the Statue of Onate with a chain saw in the town of Alcade.
We were guided to the ancient church that now stands unused and empty. I had asked earlier if I’d be able to sit in there. She had seemed puzzled by the request
“There is nothing to sit on” she said
I had presumed hat the church was still used but it was quite empty except for the alter right at the other end. We were kept just in from the doorway behind a little make shift rope divider. As the parrot guide told us what the alter consisted of all the way at the other end. Everyone squinted to see what he was talking about. I could just about make out St Stephen in the dimness. It had freshly painted walls and was apparently only used twice a year September 20th and Christmas. It was an amazing place to visit but I came away feeling a little saddened.
There was the option to get the bus back down or walk down. I opted to walk down via the old access route up onto the mesa top.
It had been flashing vertical lightning out in the valley around us and crows had been swooping and calling down along narrow dusty streets and overhead, all the time we’d been up there, the views from the top are indeed wonderful, it does seem to be a magical place and I’m glad I went regardless of the strange parrot in amongst those chirpier crows.
I driven off back down the road I had come too and called into the gas station bought a cup of hot coffee and then proceeded to spill it all over my legs and the map, very annoying.
“Ouch, ouch ouch”
I had passed along the I-40 the other day on the way to Gallup I’d noticed an old Church up on top of a hill in the Pueblo of Laguna. For some reason it had really stuck with me and I couldn’t get the image of it up there on the hill out of my mind. So I’d thought today if I had time after Acoma I’d go back and see if I could visit as it was only about 10 miles away as the crow flies. I wasn’t even sure whether I would be allowed. All that stuff has begun to wear me down a little actually.
I rolled over the freeway bridge and onto the Laguna pueblo land, drove around and eventually the church came into view it looked remarkable to me and had really drawn me. My ears rung so loudly as I approached, I just knew Cynthia and JC were nearby. I hadn’t heard much at Acoma but here it was almost deafening.
The little white church was up there on top of a hill overlooking the sleepy Pueblo. Painted adobe has a very odd appearance, it looks as if it is in the process of melting and I’m sure even when it was freshly built it looked ancient. All corners rounded off, windows and doors have a lopsided feel. There s something beautiful about them and interestingly I have found them hard to photograph.
I approached a little tentatively as I wasn’t sure whether I would be challenged. I parked Hummingbird up and as I went into the churchyard a lady with a tripod was sheepishly just leaving I smiled at her, I didn’t mind I understood what a beautiful place it was.
It was just past 4pm and the old wooden front doors were locked, there was a wind blowing and the skies were a still little over cast, lightning still flashed out on the plains. I knocked on the doors that were carved with stylized Indian feathers, they rattled but no answer. I’d really felt drawn to be there so I didn’t give up and went around the side of the place looking for another door, I found several and tried them, but all were locked. I eventually came around the back of the church. There were some really interesting shrines and over the other side there were a couple of parked cars so somebody had to be in. A sign on the back door said entrance to the convent. Which surprised me. I just knew I should try, so I stepped into the little porch and rang the bell.
It took a few minutes but then the dearest old lady appeared and I asked very gently whether it would be possible to just go in and sit in the church for a few minutes.
I said “I won’t be very long, but I just had a feeling I needed to come here and just sit a while
She seemed to sense my sincerity as she didn’t hesitate and just asked
“Are you Catholic” I told her no I wasn’t but my grandfather had been.
She must have been about 5 tall with greying salt and pepper hair cropped to just below her ears in an Indian style. She turned out to be called Sister Rosetta. I instantly really liked sister Rosetta.
“Ok go back around the front and I’ll come and let you in”
She disappeared and I walked back around the beautiful white washed walls past the graves of the priests who she later told me had served the Pueblo here for many years and had been greatly loved.
I stood outside the front doors for a few minutes as they rattled and rocked as before with I thought the winds, I tried them at one point, I thought she must be quite frail she’s taking a long time. The doors rattled again, then a little voice came from behind them. It was Sister Rosetta
“Are you there” she called
“Yes” I said
“Well I can’t get the doors open you’ll have to come back around”
So off back around I went again. She was there to meet me at the back door. She said
“You took your time getting there I was waiting for you” I didn’t say anything I just smiled. She showed me into a side chapel. I had to duck down. She said the church was built by the Franciscans in 1699 and was called ‘San Jose De La Laguna’
She said “When you’ve looked around the church you can come back sit in here and pray
I thanked her and said I wouldn’t be long and I’d give her a call when I was finishe
“Ok” She said “Thank you” and left me there
It was so remarkable to be there let alone be left alone in there all to myself. I walked into the little church ducking down again under and through the door and there before me was a jewel, 105 feet long and 22 feet wide. The first thing that struck me were the beautiful colourful Indian paintings all down the length of the church walls, with the doves sitting on the green flowers, the old wooden pews that looked polished and well looked after the Alter behind me and the mud floors
It is the best preserved and most authentic of all the south western Spanish churches because it was built just after the violence of the Pueblo Revolt 1680 and so is the best kept most intact and original of all the southwestern Hispanic churches. The Alter is hand carved from local pines and hand painted greens and Reds by the Indians. Sister Rosetta later told me the red was the colour of the Europeans and the Green the colour of the Indians it represented the blending of the two peoples and cultures. She told me the Indians had prophesized long before he coming of the Spanish that another people would come to these lands and they would eventually come to live peacefully together as one.
The painted figure on the right of the Alter is St Barbara patroness against thunder Lightning and sudden death. On the Left is St John Nepomucene patron of water and in the center the patron of the church St Joseph.
There were statues of Mary Jesus of course but also there were figures of an Indian woman stood in front of the Jesus and Mary. I had presumed it signified the usual symbology of the Christians saving the poor Indians but Sister Rosetta. Asked me later
“Did you see the figure of the Indian Mother?”
It really took me by surprise and it all clicked. The Indian woman was in prominent position throughout the church. She said
“She is our mother she represents the earth where we all came from, it is where we the Indian people emerged from”
Of course she was Indian too. It simply hadn’t crossed my mind. I’d just been so enchanted by her gentleness. She also brought my attention to the doves which represented the souls of those who had served here and were buried outside.
I’d noted also noted the pulpit and the hide painting of the sun and moon and stars up above the alter and many other wonders in the place at my leisure and then went to sit quietly in the in the little chapel and open up.
I think my mind was a little to excited at first at just being able to sit there that I found it hard to let go. I tried a few times but my mind was busy and all I recall were flashes, perhaps I should have paid more attention or in fact not tried to hard and just let them be. I do recall a split second flash of JC radiating light.
I came out of it and recalled ship rock, so decided to move into the church and sit in the front pew and try one more time. My ears were ringing and my hands were buzzing and soon enough I was looking at a man who appeared to be in a cave he was at the back of the cave, I don’t recall whether he was praying but he was crouched over like he was looking at the earth, I was looking down upon from behind him. Then to the left a beam of light flashed into the cave he turned and it struck him in the chest as he stood. His whole chest seemed to break open and the light entered him and flooded out of him, he seemed to be lifted. I also noted there was a little pile of Indian pots stacked at the back and to his right as he stood and turned.
Later I was just getting up to leave when I heard voices from outside. I waited until they’d gone then came out. Sister Rosetta was stood there she seemed tiny. There was something about her. She told me that voices were of some Indians men from the Village who’d come to ask for some money to buy drink with.
I’d said thank you and was just about to turn and leave but she sort of held me and just began telling me about he church and about the way the Indians and the Catholics had blended. It was all that I had really wanted just to have a conversation with somebody, somebody to open and pass something across. She told me her original name was Petra but she’d given that name up when she had joined the convent. She told me that there were only around 120 nuns left now as people were not joining up anymore she said because of what is going on out there
“And” she said pointedly “it is quite a commitment”
She told me about the different pueblos and about the priests who and served them a little of the history and of the meanings of the paintings in the church. It was such a delight.
I Thought I should tell her what I was doing. I said I’d wanted to sit in some of these sacred places and had been doing it where and when I could as I’d raveled across the US and now and again I saw things. I wasn’t sure what to expect from her really, but she visibly perked up. I told her what I had just seen in the Church.
She said “ You were in a cave?” She paused looking at me “That is an emergence you saw, that is where our Indian people came from, from within the Mother earth, the cave is the womb of the Great Mother”
It was a wonderful moment, she went on to tell me that they believed that they emerged from Chaco Canyon. Which is what the information film had said earlier at Acoma. She went on to explain the connections between all the pueblos that many of them spoke the same language and all except (I think she said) 3 could understand one another. It was a wonderful moment, it felt like a real warmth between us just there.
As I was leaving she asked for my name I spelt crudge out for her and said my first name Michael. She looked up again.
“Oh” she said “you are a Michael, Michael’s are special to me I always have a special prayer for them because I was born on the September 29th the same day as St Michaels day. I will pray for you” she said with such a sweet lovely smile.
I think I melted or lifted or maybe both
I shook her hand warmly and said “You will most certainly be in my thoughts too. I will be sending you my very best
“Thank you” she said genuinely and smiled . It had been such a lovely thing to be there and to have met her.
As I write this I remember her hands too they were soft but her knuckles seemed to have the same old gnarled knots I remembered in my Nans hands. I can see them quite clearly as I write this. Reaching out, gently.
Back at the car glowing I was wondering which way to go back to Santa Fe, I checked my phone Lori had called and text and it was just gone 6pm. If I went the back roads as planned it would be around 4 hours back and it would mean I’d arrive on the dark too. Hm
I called Lori and decided I would fly the freeway and could be there before 8pm we’d meet at the cowgirl and have a drink there and catch up. It had been a week or so since I’d seen her.
The drive was great Hummingbird as usual soundless and smooth up the I-25 through the beautiful landscapes climbing up to 7199ft again.
My mind was peaceful with thoughts about the Acoma man, Sister Rosetta and the seeing, an emergence she’d said.