It’s so true: Driving makes you fat.
By the end of 15 days in New Mexico in rented Ford Focus, I felt like a sluggish, sunburned blimp. (The air up there is thin–I got a redneck sunburn on my first long drive, propping my arm on the driver-side window frame.)
Here’s the terrible conundrum of writing a travel guide: I never get to eat at the really good places. I already know that, say, the Frontier is not to be missed in Albuquerque, so I can’t waste my time having a breakfast burrito smothered in green chile stew there. Instead, I have to go the Range, because it’s got mixed reviews but looks cute, and is a little out of the way–is it worth driving to? The answer is no, it turns out, and I waddle to the car just a little more slowly than I did after my previous meal, the third of the day.
I never thought I’d complain about a job that gave me an excuse to eat wherever I want and write it off on my tax return. But I am, and I will continue to do so until NYC bicycling revives my metabolism and stops my gut from looking poochy.
The other weird thing about writing travel guides is that I often end up in situations where I’m thinking, “Um, should I be seeing this?”
I visited this nice little spic-and-span motel on “West Central” (read: the stretch of Central Ave. where no tourist ever goes, so they have to put up big biz-improvement-commission-sponsored neon signs saying “West Central” to make it look important), and ended up getting personal tour of the proud owner’s personal apartment, including his children’s rooms, and the kitchen where his wife was cooking dinner. There was also another kitchen upstairs, he was happy to show me. Along with the laundry room. Being behind the scenes was weird enough, even without counting in the decor: sparkling white shag carpeting, white leather sofas, chrome and shiny black accents (think black glass vase with all-white fake flowers), a spiral staircase, giant photos of the man’s daughter at her wedding (she’s a doctor, doing her residency in California). Glitz-o-rama. But it was sort of sweet that the guy was so proud of his motel (the Sandia Peak Inn, for the record–though it’s nowhere near the mountains) that he couldn’t resist showing me the whole damn thing. And it is a really nice little motel. I urge you to patronize it on your next visit to West Central, Albuquerque.
Another moment where I didn’t know whether to look away or stare in fascination: We’re inside the old Spanish church in Truchas, a tiny village in the mountains north of Santa Fe. This church is rarely open–we’ve snuck in behind a tour group from the folk art museum. The tour leader is up near the altar, talking about all the old folk art, some of which is from the seventeenth century, on display. Some guy raises his hand and asks, “Can you explain why Jesus is wearing a skirt? I’ve never seen that…”
Indeed, there’s a crucifix up on the wall, and it’s dressed in this purple satin full-length skirt, trimmed in gold sequins. The group leader looks, looks again, and forges on: “Well, as you know, the idiosyncracies of each santero [carver of wooden saint figures] are distinct, and this tradition may just have happened in this village as the result of someone’s taste….”
Then, about five pews back, someone pipes up to interrupt the stream of bullshit. It’s the little old lady who’s been taking care of the church for the past 20 years.
“Actually,” she says, “Jesus is wearing a skirt because he has no legs.”
And then she bustles up to the altar and starts pulling up Jesus’ dress. Of course I can’t look away.
Jesus has just stumps–apparently his delicately curved calves and slender ankles were too fragile and snapped off during some clumsy handling or overexuberant procession. (Think how bad the guy who accidentally amputated Jesus’ legs must feel.)
As if that weren’t enough, the woman proceeds to lift the skirts of every santo on the altar, and there are a lot of them: no one is disfigured like Jesus, but there are some pretty nice carvings on Saint Lucy’s and Mary’s nether regions. Who knew? But I don’t suppose it’s appropriate for me to go looking under the skirts of statues next time I’m in church. Better leave it to the experts.
This leads to my next post: pictures that won’t appear in Moon Handbooks Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque…