Sunday, December 30, 2007

Pueblo Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve, I was privileged to attend midnight Mass at the San José Mission Church at the Laguna Pueblo, about 100 miles southwest of Santa Fe. The church was built in 1699 and is a beautifully-preserved gem. When the Indians drove the Spanish out of the New Mexico territory in 1680, they burned the churches erected by the invaders. So this was one of the first mission churches built when the Spanish returned in 1692. The photograph above, courtesy of the New Mexico Department of Tourism, shows the striking white church against the late afternoon sky.

Upon our arrival, a little before 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve, the rooflines, tops of the walls, etc. were filled with farolitos--brown paper lunch bags with sand and votive candles inside, the flames flickering in the cold night air. [1] We weren't allowed to take photographs anywhere on Pueblo lands, so here is a Santa Fe photo that shows what the farolitos looked like--you'll have to image them superimposed on the church image! [2]

We had been told that we would be invited to enter the church at 9:55 p.m., after all the Pueblo parishioners were seated, and that we might have to stand, and we might be outside. We were all long-underweared for the occasion, but when the priest came out to invite us in we found that they had generously saved seats for our group.

It is hard to do justice to the interior of the church without photographs. It is quite small, probably seating about 125-150. The interior walls are adobe with centuries of whitewash rendering them creamy and soft-angled. The ceiling features exposed, closely-positioned, hand-carved beams (known as vigas). There are no windows that I recall, except for one big one in the choir loft (visible in the photo in the front of the church). The stations of the cross adorn the walls as they do in most Catholic churches. Old wooden pews are arranged on the hardened mud and straw floor. Running above the pews and below the stations is a continuous border, larger than the small, wooden stations, painted in an Indian pattern in reds, taupes, golds, and other earth colors.

Behind the altar is a huge image of San José (St. Joseph, Jesus' stepfather) holding the infant Jesus. It's flanked by rough-carved turned columns with the turnings alternately painted red and green. The tabernacle is covered with a wooden board, hand-painted in a folk-art style--also in red and green. Below the altar is the Christmas creche.

The altar linens are white with red and green Indian embroidery all around the edges. The chalices and communion bread bowls are Laguna pottery, primarily white with a red and black design, similar to that in the photo below. [3]

All around the church are small figures of saints painted and dressed as either Pueblo or Colonial Spanish figures. The Virgin of Guadalupe is featured one large panel.

The Catholic Mass was like Catholic Mass in most US churches, but the beautiful, ancient setting made it a unique experience. While the (Anglo) priest used a brass censer for the burning incense, he used a Pueblo pottery bowl with a small branch of evergreen to disperse holy water. Also unique was the end of the sermon where the priest talked about the fact that Catholics still accepted and listened to the Old Testament, while celebrating the New Testament, and that Pueblo Indians still accepted and practiced their old traditional ways while practicing Catholicism. (Which, if you're counting, they have been practicing, in one way or another for 400 years--it's hard to consider them newcomers to the religion!)

At the end of Mass, the choir sang Feliz Navidad (OK--that's Pueblo culture, Hispanic culture, modern Western culture, and rock'n roll--all at once....). Then the priest came down from the altar and asked that all the able-bodied men (and any able-bodied women who wanted to volunteer) move the pews from the right side of the church out into the courtyard.

At about 11:30 p.m. the drummers entered the church and the ceremonial dancing started. We stayed for about an hour and a half; dancing was still going on when we left. Pueblo holiday dances (at Laguna, and at Jemez and Santa Ana on Christmas Day) will get their own post on this site in a few days.

Illustration Credits and References

[1] The Spanish word farolito means "little lantern". Originally, these lanterns were brought by the Spanish from the Philippines, but the flimsy paper didn't survive well in this climate. When the paper bag was invented in the Boston area, and brought to Santa Fe in the 19th century via the Santa Fe Trail, the locals adopted them for the farolito displays, and a new tradition was born. (These lanterns, for some reason, are referred to as luminarias in the rest of the state--e.g. in Albuquerque. Santa Feans use that term to describe the little bonfires that are also part of the local Christmas tradition.)

[2] Photo courtesy of Martin Wright's Santa Fe Real Estate site.

[3] This photograph is courtesy of the Frank H. McClung Museum at the University of Tennessee, from a 1997 exhibit entitled Singing the Clay. According to the exhibit catalog, "one potentially distinguishing characteristic of Laguna pottery is the use of comparatively large painted designs that interlock and completely encircle the vessel."

Thursday, December 27, 2007

River of Lights

For the past ten years, the Rio Grande Botanic Garden in Albuquerque has been the site of the "River of Lights", a holiday-themed display of lights open to the public in the evenings from Thanksgiving to December 30. A few days before Christmas I visited the site, and although it was quite cold (20-ish?), we spent two happy hours wandering around the curving walkways, greenhouse, and water features, viewing the hundreds of thousands of lights, multiple toy train sets, and various singing groups.

Proceeds from the admission fee go to fund the BioVan, an educational outreach program that visits the Albuquerque elementary schools and teaches kids about the Rio Grande, and the plants and animals that form part of its ecology.

I took all these photos at night, without flash--the light and color of the displays is phenomenal, and the photos don't quite do the experience justice, but you get the idea!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Happy Holidays from New Mexico!

Every year during the month of December, the New Mexico Governor's Mansion opens its doors for a series of holiday open houses. Located about 15 minutes from the "Roundhouse" (New Mexico's capitol building in Santa Fe), the Mansion is home to presidential candidate (and governor when he's in town) Bill Richardson and his wife.

According to our tour guide, the 10,000 square foot residence reserves about 4,000 square feet for the first family, and the same amount for its public rooms. The remaining 2,000 square feet is dedicated to the security staff and equipment. The property includes a stable, a tennis court, and extensive grounds.

When we arrived at the Mansion, we were welcomed by the greeter, entertained by musicians, and served hot cider and bizcochitos. We did not see ALL of the public spaces, but we did get a look at the beautiful living room, dining room, and study, which were decorated for the holidays to rival any Junior League Show House! A feature of the living room decor was a guitar signed by the Eagles--apparently Richardson is a big Eagles fan. (We're talking the band here, not the football team....)

So Bill and I wish you a happy holiday season from New Mexico!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Women of the West, Part 3

A brief mention of Maria Gertrudis Barceló (aka "La Tules") in Andy Lovato's Santa Fe Hispanic Culture, one of the texts for the class in the American Southwest that I took this fall, inspired me to find out a bit more about her.

According to Lovato, "Tules" is an affectionate diminutive of Gertudis. La Tules was born in Sonora, Mexico in 1800, and moved into the New Mexican territory as a child with her younger sister and widowed mother. She married Manuel Antonio Sisneros of Tomé in 1823, and in 1825 moved with him to a mining camp near Santa Fe. She started a gambling house and saloon at the camp, which she later relocated to West Palace Avenue, at the corner of Burro Alley, in Santa Fe. According to contemporaneous sources, the "Sala" was an opulent and popular facility, and Doña Tules (the Spanish equivalent of "Miss Trudy") was a renowned Monte dealer. She amassed a fortune from her business dealings during the 1830s and 1840s, which included trade deals and investments in addition to her income from gambling.

She was described as charming, beautiful, fashionable, shrewd, witty, and brilliant. She was also politically influential--during the 1840s she was a close friend (and probably mistress) of Manuel Armijo--the last Mexican governor of New Mexico.

Doña Tules, like a number of other New Mexicans, sided with the Americans when the US declared war on Mexico in 1846. She loaned money to Gen. Kearny to help him meet his payroll, supposedly in return for receiving a military escort to the Victoria Ball at the La Fonda Hotel. She also apparently alerted US authorities to a Mexican/Indian conspiracy in late 1846/early 1847. Her "Sala" undoubtedly provided a cultural bridge between the Americanos and the Nuevomexicanos, and she certainly was repaid her loan to the Army by the gambling losses of American troops!

La Tules died in 1852, leaving three houses, livestock, and cash to various family members, as well as money to the Church and city officials to be used for charitable purposes.

A highly fictionalized and romanticized account of her life is the subject of Ruth Laughlin's 1948 novel, The Wind Leaves No Shadow. The true history is harder to find! In an 1950 article in El Palacio, the historian Fray Angélico Chávez set out to find out the truth about her, which he reported as "new but not sensational." According to Chávez, her fellow Santa Feans (including church and community leaders) were tolerant and accepted her for her good deeds and status in the community. According to Chávez, "to the Latin there was nothing in the law of nature or in the scriptures that labeled tobacco, liquor, or gambling as sins in themselves. . . These activities were pleasant forms of recreation and relaxation and of social well-being."

Note on 12/13/07: A recent biography by Mary J. Straw Cook, Doña Tules: Santa Fe's Courtesan and Gambler, a book I discovered after my original post on this topic, may shed some more light on this fascinating figure.

Illustration Credits

The black and white engraving above of La Tules smoking a cigarrito (powdered tobacco rolled in pieces of corn husk--with all the materials carried in a pouch at the waist) was made in 1854, two years after her death, for Harper's Weekly.

The illustration of La Tules dealing cards at her gambling house was done by Bill Hughes for New Mexico Magazine in 1971. Here he depicts his subject as she was described by Susan Shelby Magoffin in 1846, "a stately dame of a certain age, the possessor of . . . that shrewd sense and fascinating manner necessary to allure the wayward, inexperienced youth to the hall of final ruin."

The illustration at the top of this post is a more recent one by Diana Bryer, commissioned by La Herencia, a magazine of New Mexican heritage and history. Bryer says of her subject: "She was the wealthiest woman in the Territory, a successful business owner, . . . an emancipated woman and a role model for others, although the easterners who came to Santa Fe judged her by their own puritanical standards. I decided to portray her with a cigarette in her mouth because at that time smoking was a symbol of liberation for women. I tried to be as accurate and historically correct as possible in depicting the furnishings and clothing from the era, since Doña Tules set a fashion trend that was admired by many local women, and may well have contributed to the 'Santa Fe Style' still popular today. . . . Her shawl is from Spain circa 1822; at her side is her reputed lover and confidant, Governor Manuel Armijo. Also standing next to her is Padre Felipe Ortiz, the Vicar of Santa Fe. . . . Sitting on either side of the table are an eastern trader and a Native American trapper."