Manhattan to Taos, Part Two
Not getting the spiritual part
When I arrive at a new place—whether it’s a town, an office, a party full of strangers—I have the feeling I come across like a big friendly Labrador retriever, tail wagging, tongue slurping, eager to be loved by one and all. I go out of my way to be pleasant and accommodating, which can get me in all sorts of trouble. And yet it seemed people in Taos were in fact eager to meet me. Whereas in New York I was just one of scores of art journalists (or culture reporters) who write for major publications, here The Wall Street Journal and ARTnews seemed to carry a clout I would associate more with The New Yorker or maybe “60 Minutes.” It is a fleeting fame, of course, but I enjoyed it while it lasted.
As for the ongoing quest for romance, even before I arrived in New Mexico, I went on Match.com to scope out the viable males in the area. And immediately stumbled into the ontological and theological brambles. When I asked one fellow in Santa Fe, who described himself as “deeply spiritual,” what he meant by “spiritual,” his hot retort was “If you have to ask, you probably wouldn’t understand.”
Nonetheless, within a few weeks of landing, I had several dates lined up (this is not hard if you’re reasonably attractive and not too picky about spelling and grammar). It seemed men were willing to drive all the way up from Santa Fe to meet a tall blonde, which was highly gratifying until I realized the drive was about an hour and a half and you can’t very well ditch someone right after lunch when he has traveled all that way. And so even as my hopes sank over a plate of tacos, I was stuck for the whole damn afternoon and made trips to the local museum, the John Dunn Bridge, and the cutesy little town of Arroyo Seco. One date thought it would be a lark to venture out beyond the Earthships--a community of wackadoo “biotecture” built from sustainable and recycled materials—to that part of the mesa where an encampment of meth heads had taken root. Yes, perfect fodder for a first date! Another claimed to be writing a book about how the Old Testament prophets operated under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs.
Really, I did try to sniff out the losers and weirdos, but I remained at heart a big trusting sloppy golden Lab, gaily and guilelessly accepting invitations, never inquiring too closely, until I had lunch one day in Chimayo with a gentle retired chemistry professor who claimed some expertise in Southwestern cuisine. He invited me to his home for a meal the following weekend. Which was fine until we drove out into some wild mountainous uninhabited terrain, miles away from any suggestion of human habitation, and I realized: This is how women get brutally raped and murdered.
I felt on safer ground with the Harvard-educated, faintly patrician neighbor of a friend, who did not interest me in any way romantically but who provided a nostalgic tie to my home turf in Manhattan. He has since moved back to New York, but he was then living in a part of Taos the natives call “Anglo Heights,” a couple of miles east of the historic district. In any other part of the world, this would probably be a gated community, an enclave of upscale adobes set among pine trees and gravel roads, largely hidden from view. But here private alarm systems and thickly wooded surroundings seem to keep most of the riffraff away. Dick’s house was built around a garden courtyard, and filled with the kind of furnishings and pictures appropriate for a former director of a decorative arts museum. Though he was single, he was most decidedly not my type. Even if I am East Coast born and bred, I just can’t warm up to the Bermuda-shorts-and-tasseled-Weejuns look. And I didn’t discern that he had much interest in me. But we found enough in common for good conversation and one balmy summer night, met at a local bar and grill to eat outside, behind the historic tchotchke-choked shopping mall known as The Plaza. We took a table on the upper terrace, ordered margaritas, and quickly discovered we were both distant friends of an art historian who divides his time between an apartment in Florence and a teaching job in Virginia. John S. wrote a biography of Michelangelo, which I reviewed for ARTnews; Dick went to grad school with him way back when. We fell to discussing what a genial man he is and what a fine writer and what interesting details he uncovered about the young genius’s early life.
Suddenly, violently, the chair behind Dick screeched against the stone floor, and a 30-ish muscle-bound guy in a baseball cap careened away from the table toward the main dining room. The woman he was with looked visibly pained, almost to the point of tears. I wondered if they’d had a bad fight, and because I could see her face clearly, I caught her eye and silently mouthed, “Do you need help?” She shook her head no.
When he returned, her date was fuming, directing his invective toward us. “Why can’t you guys talk about something important? Why can’t you talk about the Red Sox, fuh chrissakes?”
Dick’s eyebrows lifted above his horn rims. “Welcome to Taos.”
We asked the waiter to move us to a table inside.
Later that night, I called my ex. “What the hell am I doing in this one-horse town?”
“Ann,” he replied calmly, “it’s a two-horse town.”
I fared somewhat better in studio visits, not knowing which might ripen into friendships, but it seemed a good way to get to know the lay of the land and the many excellent artists who call this place home. But occasionally the puppy-dog eagerness can backfire. After I returned to Raven Bear’s house from a press trip to survey the offerings of a gigantic multi-institutional overview of West Coast art since 1945, I phoned one of the “star” artists who had migrated from L.A. to Taos in the 1970s to express admiration for the work I saw at one of the museums. I identified myself and suggested a studio visit. Which inspired him to launch into a ten-minute tirade about how the New York critics had all ignored him most of his career and had no understanding of his rightful place in the contemporary pantheon. Nor did they know much about contemporary art. Nor would I understand the kind of work he was doing now….and where the fuck did I get off thinking I could just drop by? I was told later by local art dealers that when he’s off his meds, he can be truly frightening. I never did make a studio visit, because he scared the bejesus out of me.
And then in November I met Marty—handsome, tall, a musician and a writer charmingly capable of writing a complete sentence.
Top: The downtown historic district of Taos, NM