Georgia (O'Keeffe) on my mind 

Before I visited New Mexico, I had never heard of journalist Greg Palast, never imagined that 90 percent of a tribe of Native Americans -- the Taos Pueblo Indians, to be specific -- could combine a practice of Roman Catholicism with a 1,000-year-old tradition of Indian religious rites, never thought to include Andy Warhol and Georgia O’Keeffe in the same sentence, let alone see their works of art in the same exhibit.

Now if those are not reasons to travel to New Mexico -- to say nothing of standing at the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge, knowing you could take a rafting trip if you wanted or hearing about someone who looked out her window at a summer storm and saw hail instead -- l’ll eat my okra, which some of us grow for the beauty of the flower, not the taste of the fruit.

I did not know New Mexico has such a huge problem with alcoholism -- although I suspected something was up with the tenor of the billboards driving into Santa Fe. But frankly I was more blown away by the flying wings and modern setting of its opera house, which also sits on the highway.

And, since I’ve given so little thought to this part of the country, I didn’t know that after Ohio’s legal team caved, New Mexico represents the last remaining state to officially protest the 2004 election of Mr. Bush. God bless her little sagebrush, cowpuncher, prairie heart.

This last bit I heard over breakfast from a Santa Fe local, a Harvard University-employed anthropologist staying at the same motel. Her water heater had exploded during a trip to Europe, so while she waited for her plumber -- who has a Ph.D. in Sanskrit, don’t you know - to make the repairs, she was renting a bed away from home and enjoying “the best breakfast in Santa Fe,” which is saying a lot in this food-conscious, moneyed, upscale town.

According to the anthropologist, Greg Palast, whose blog I have since located and bookmarked -- somewhere between Tony Cobitz at racehorse.net and Jim Morekis at connectsavannah.com -- wrote a lot about the election and New Mexico from England, where he relocated after a certain disgust with the temerity of American journalism.

I had no idea New Mexican politics were so corrupt. It’s a who-you-know state, starting with a few Hispanic families that have settled there for generations.

Someone I talked to calls the state the “Land of Entrapment” -- instead of Land of Enchantment. Maybe that’s because the beauty is so enticing, the lighting so seductive, the mountains so mysterious, that it becomes hard to leave. Kind of like when people living in Key West complain about not being able to get “off the rock.” But maybe it’s because the old-timers of New Mexico have everything all sewed up.

“Makes you want to stay out of local politics,” said a clerk in a tile store.

Makes me a little more encouraged about Savannah. Yes, the developers will always have a leg up -- and more money than God to pursue their interests -- but there is still a sliver of a chance for ordinary people to make an impression.

I just wish we had some Native American reservations nearby. The federal law declaring some 100,000 acres of land of the Pueblo Taos as a National Historic Landmark serves to preserve a fascinating chapter of history, along the same vein as Italy’s Pompeii. But the protection also acts as a terrific land trust in disguise, something we could use in the Lowcountry, where open space seems to disappear overnight.

While every square inch of Santa Fe looks to be under construction, this huge stretch of land outside Taos must remain untouched, undeveloped.

While most of the 2,800 Pueblo Indians live elsewhere on the reservation in more modern circumstances, some 50 people live year-round in the adobe and straw houses, where the regulations overseeing the historic Pueblo are more strict. No electricity. No water.

OK, so we had to drive by the requisite casino between the tribe’s herd of buffalo and its ancient ruins -- hey, everyone’s got to make a buck or two. It was still worth it.

So was the morning spent at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum for the current, “Flowers of Distinction” exhibit of O’Keeffe and Andy Warhol. While we’re accustomed to seeing O’Keeffe’s larger-that-life red canna, black iris and dark red hollyhock, it was fun to see the juxtaposition of Warhol’s manipulations of impatiens and other generic flowers instead of his usual soup cans and Coca Cola bottles.

“Singing has always seemed to me the most perfect means of expression,” writes O’Keeffe. “It is so spontaneous. Since I cannot sing, I paint.”

“But why should I be original?” writes the cryptic Warhol. “Why can’t I be non-original?”

From what I saw, New Mexico is both original and non-original.

E-mail Jane at gofish5@earthlink.net


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Jane Fishman

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