Ed Colby: One of a kind, this is New Mexico
April 8, 2002
After you climb the path that goes past the Stations of the Cross, you come to the chapel on the hill. Behind it, along another winding path, unfinished cast-concrete statues sit on the ground, waiting to be mounted on stuccoed cinder-block foundations.
These are busts of handsome young men with names like Vigil, Ortiz and Velasquez. They wear concrete bow ties and look like 19th-century Spanish gentlemen, which in fact they were. These are the “martiros,” the martyrs.
I tell Linda, “Wow! This is New Mexico!” She corrects me. “No, Ed, this is San Luis, Colorado. We haven’t crossed the state line yet.” I look down the hillside at the crumbling adobe houses in town, at the burning trash in the vacant lot behind somebody’s shop, at the junkyard by the road, and across to the stunning white mountains that nearly surround us, and mutter, “Not the way I tell it.”
We got the first hint of New Mexico at La Veta, Colo., where we stayed with friends. Charlie said, “Everybody here is dirt poor except the retirees. We get lots of Texans.”
We looked around and saw spacious, new adobe houses. They were beautiful. The streets were mud.
We ate breakfast the next morning in San Luis, at Fabian’s Cafe. It was bright and clean. On the wall was a photo of Bill Clinton and a local businessman, with the caption, “I told the president that if he ever gets to San Luis to be sure and try the food at Fabian’s.”
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There was a framed New York Times article about the local Stations of the Cross and an Armageddon-theme postcard that showed a city (not New York) littered with wrecked cars, a plane colliding with a building, and Jesus up in the sky looking down at it all.
Six Anglos walked in right before us, so their orders went in first. We waited 40 minutes for our meal, but we were not surprised – we drank coffee while the cook enjoyed his own leisurely breakfast and talked to the owner.
After the cook went back to the kitchen, the orders came up one at a time, and our waitress used both hands to carry in the steaming plates. Linda and I both ordered huevos rancheros, and when the waitress saw we liked tortillas, she brought more. The food was terrific. This place is for sale for $275,000.
Below Costilla in the bone-dry pinion and juniper hills the road sign reads, “Please don’t drink and drive – In Memory of Dona Collard.” Here the houses are mostly adobe, modular, or trailers. Junked cars are ubiquitous. This is New Mexico.
We like graveyards, and we visited two in Taos. There’s a fairly recent one on U.S. 64 coming into town. Lots of plots are decorated with plastic flowers and pinwheels, the latter something I’d never seen before at a cemetery.
I try not to step on the graves, because I think it’s somehow disrespectful or at least a breach of etiquette, but horses have already been here. Horse pucky is everywhere. Linda asks, “Why would you bring a horse into a graveyard?” I say, “Maybe they pasture them here.” (After all, this is New Mexico.)
We visited Kit Carson’s grave at another, older cemetery, and we stayed in the Kit Carson room at the Dona Luz Bed and Breakfast. Our room is in a part of the building that is 200 years old, but the core of the building dates to 1700.
The Kit Carson room is stucco-finished and tile-floored, with sticks laid diagonally across the beams, or “vigas.” A traditional Indian-style fireplace occupies one corner. Worn Navajo rugs grace the floor and walls, along with animal skins, old photos of Indians and of Kit and Josefa Carson, and impressionist paintings. This is New Mexico.
Back in San Luis, there wasn’t any ready explanation of who the “martyrs” were. Linda asked what I thought, and I guessed they might have been slaughtered in some Indian raid.
Afterward, we stopped by the information desk to find out. The big Latina answered in that singsong New Mexican accent.
“You know about the Mexican War, that one between Mexico and the United States?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Well, those men were soldiers,” she said.
I knew, but I had to ask: “Were they Mexican soldiers?”
She looked me right in the eye. “Yes, honey, they were. They died fighting for Mexico.”
This isn’t the only memorial in this country dedicated to soldiers who died fighting against the U.S. government, so I wasn’t surprised – not really. Besides, this is New Mexico.
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