Thursday, August 14, 2008

New Mexican editorial

On Friday the Santa Fe New Mexican published the following on their editorial page:

Sometimes we see the proverbial light, exposing — in the thicket of our bogged-down, workaday lives — a glimpse of the authentic, unscripted, quintessential Santa Fe. And it looks so good!

Such was the case a couple of weeks ago, when a bubbled-wrapped, bronze statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe arrived (in this usually too-full-of-itself, politically correct town) stretched out on a flatbed trailer, pulled by a working pickup truck, to the joyful outpouring of public gratitude, camaraderie and joy.

The story of the statue's journey along the Camino Real from Mexico City to its destination on a knoll overlooking what now passes for the Santa Fe River is the stuff upon which cultural legends are spun, when they are spun well: rooted in tradition, blooming in the often unyielding soil of contemporary reality, producing good seed for the future.

A Roman Catholic parish with a history that stretches way back in Santa Fe, Our Lady of Guadalupe has had its share of ups and downs, political struggles and discontent (it's a living, breathing body, after all), yet has aged gracefully from a church serving a homogenous Hispanic barrio, to a thriving church that today serves a diverse community, including a large immigrant population and shepherded by a Vietnamese priest.

These parishioners managed to raise enough money to commission Mexican artist Georgina Farias to cast the bronze image of the dark-skinned Patroness of the Americas, and they eagerly awaited its arrival.

Hastened and greeted by local faithful as it passed through towns along the famous camino, the delivery truck bearing "Our Lady" finally stalled at the border, where the statue was searched for contraband and unceremoniously placed in warehouse without notice. The "rescue" adventure that ensued resonated among Santa Feans, who, regardless of ethnic background, religious affiliation or length of residence, recognized it as an evolving piece of what would become shared Santa Fe history.

And speaking of that history ...

Sometime in the late 1780s, renowned Spanish Colonial artist José de Alzibar completed a reredos (altarpiece), a stunning portrait, painted in sections, of Our Lady Of Guadalupe commissioned by a Santa Fe family for one of the many shrines along the Camino Real providing respite to the wayfarers, tradesmen, itinerant priests and migrant laborers who once plied this important route.

The artist then rolled and draped the sections of the painting across the backs of burros for the trek to the painting's new home above the altar at our own Santuario de Guadalupe. In those days, it was common for villagers to venture forth en masse to welcome — with song — important visitors (and artifacts) on their approach into town. It is likely that such festivity anticipated the painting's arrival.

The details of that 1,500-mile journey are now lost to history, but the similarities between the stories of that original tribute to Our Lady of Guadalupe and the one that will be officially unveiled this evening at 5 (accompanied by music, dancing and food because that's the way we have always celebrated here) are stunning.

If, for example, the committee charged with planning and executing the 400th anniversary of Santa Fe decided to reenact the 18th-century event for our cuartocentenario, it would look, sound and feel much like the arrival of the bronze Madonna two weeks ago — sans the red pickup truck and other such 21st century versions of burros, buckskin camisetas and rebozos.

This is the kind of event to which we'd proudly escort the king of Spain, or our grandmother from California.

And there are many authentic events in the offing that demonstrate the real spirit of community. The imminent dedication of the Railyard Park and the Santa Fe Farmers Market are just two that promise to bring long-standing New Mexico traditions, gracefully, into the 21st century.

Unfortunately, our city doesn't yet have a completed official anniversary Web site or even an official calendar of events to showcase the kinds of things that would entice potential visitors and locals alike to share in the 400th birthday. Talk about lost opportunity.

Que lástima.