Fanta Se

On Thursday I learned my former student John is taking a summer break with his family in Santa Fe, at an Airbnb with wind chimes, near Fort Marcy and the Cross of the Martyrs. Although it has been more than a dozen years since my last trip, I did live in Santa Fe for four years (1999-2003) as well as one summer (1992).

He mentioned the town has changed, especially with the growth down Cerrillos. I definitely noticed changes between 1992 and 1999 (most notably, a prairie dog town at the corner of Rodeo and Cerrillos had been bulldozed into a shopping complex, a dirt road had become paved, and more houses were built up Camino Cruz Blanca). I didn’t notice as many changes between 2003 and 2009. I can’t imagine Santa Fe changes as rapidly as New York, the place of my birth, or Las Vegas, where Google Maps can’t keep up with new construction.

During our conversation, my mind flashed to a mental map of the “City Different”. My personal vision of the large white metal Cross of the Martyrs is primarily from the vantage of the Wells Fargo parking lot on Paseo de Peralta; I don’t remember walking the brief pilgrimage uphill to actually visit. Some instructors and students swam in the community pool at Fort Marcy when I directed the Monte Sol Writing Workshop, but I myself have only driven past, on the way to Bishop’s Lodge, Shidoni, or Tesuque Village Market.

It’s a pleasure to be able to travel to a place in my mind’s eye. Of course my own vision of Santa Fe — focused on the college where I worked, the houses where I lived, the places where I shopped, trails that I hiked, the area around the Plaza, various museums and restaurants — involves a personal and privileged map. Santa Fe is a special place yet on some level it feels uncanny, unreal. In some light and angles, the town is as photogenic as a magazine photoshoot; standing in certain spots could sometimes feel like Instagram before Instagram. Another friend, who had lived there and who helped me move out from Chicago, called it Fanta Se.

On Saturday I watched the most recent episode of Better Call Saul, which is infused with Albuquerque. New Mexico is rightfully called the Land of Enchantment, and the cinematographers are marvelous at capturing its stark glory, as well as the variety of architecture — the rundown house of the man being evicted by a bank; the smooth corporate glass and steel of Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill; the small apartment shared by Jimmy and Kim that looks over a parking courtyard; the narrow winding roads of the residential subdivisions; the mannered warm light of an upscale bar; the dodgy Crosswinds Motel (where I think I once stayed); the strip malls of the nail salon and then the  law offices of Saul Goodman; …

As for the episode “Fun and Games”, the entire final season is resolving rapidly to prepare the way for Breaking Bad, one of the few television series that maintained its integrity from premiere to finale. Earlier in the season, we saw the end of Nacho Varga’s storyline, while in the most recent successive episodes we have seen Howard Hamlin, Lalo Salamanca, and Kim Wexler dispatched.

I am confident in the writers of Better Call Saul that they will likewise provide a satisfying conclusion to this series. But I wonder what will happen over the next month, in the last four episodes. The major loose ends have been tied up — with a little pacing to make Kim’s departure less abrupt, “Fun and Games” could have served as the finale — so I’m not sure what else needs to be said.

It would be good to get closure on two other timelines. The first five seasons opened with black-and-white flash-forward vignettes of Jimmy McGill / Saul Goodman in his new identity as Gene Takovic, working at a Cinnabon in Nebraska. At the start of season five, Gene is seemingly menacingly recognized for his former identity as an attorney in New Mexico. He considers reinventing himself, but then tells the extractor he will handle the situation himself. Meanwhile and out of universe, I recently learned that Water White and Jesse Pinkman would appear in this last season. While this doesn’t seem strictly necessary, it will be a real treat to see how and why they would ever connect with Saul Goodman before Breaking Bad.

Yesterday, after swimming at the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa and eating at the Hollar in Madrid (pronounced MAD-rid), the family arrived in Santa Fe. I wish I were with them, to visit together new places like those, but also to see familiar places. Besides hiking in the mountains, I’d like to walk around Shidoni, SITE Santa Fe, and the other galleries and museums around town. I’d finally make that pilgrimage to the Cross of the Martys, and maybe visit Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return. It’s the season for the Santa Fe Opera, as well as outdoor local Shakespeare.

As for food, on a quick search focused on distinctly New Mexican cuisine I was pleased to find many places persist: The Pantry, Tomasita’s, Maria’s New Mexican, Tia Sophia’s, Tortilla Flats. Horseman’s Haven, Bobcat Bite, … Maybe other favorite restaurants are still around too.

When we lived in Manhattan, I always thought we’d get to see more of the city. We certainly had time to explore well beyond the usual tourist places — Arthur Avenue and not just Little Italy, the Chinatown in Queens and not just Manhattan, the Fulton Fish Market when it was still downtown, R.E.M. when they played for the Today show, Broadway and off-Broadway rush tickets, etc. But I still missed out. We lived a block away from Central Park and could have walked there more. I still have never been ice skating in the park or at Rockefeller Center.

Likewise, when we lived in Santa Fe, I should have liked to see season events like Zozobra and the Albuquerque Balloon Festival, or to take trips to Abiquiu, Ojo Caliente, White Sands, Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field, the national parks and sites near Four Corners. I would have liked to witness distinctive pueblo traditions.

One of my late colleagues from the Bard Institute for Writing and Thinking, Paul Connolly, who passed in 1998, advised us to relax when we wrote, to maintain an “illusion of infinite time”, to sequester oneself from the truth that life is short. This embraces writing as a safe and comfortable place. But I am not sure if this is the best advice. Has it really been 24 years since Paul died, since we sang Amazing Grace in a circle? I am bad about judging people’s ages. I suspect I’m less than a handful of years away from his age.

It’s as though I maintain a fantasy, that life will always remain the same. The river of time seems to be calm every day, but I look up and suddenly I’m downstream farther than I realized.

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