Only in Santa Fe

Only in Santa Fe

         By Judith Fein

“What is there to do in Santa Fe?” people always ask me. It’s a hard question to answer, because I don’t know if they are interested in culture, wining and dining, art, soft adventure, architecture, history, nature, human nature, shopping, walking, hiking, biking, visiting Native American pueblos, museum hopping, festivals, the farmer’s market, roasting chilis, lectures, sunset gazing or just hanging, being, feeling.

Maybe the best reply would be to tell them what my husband and I did last Sunday. One day in the life of a Santa Fean, but emblematic of many other days.

First, we drove 30 minutes to Rancho de Las Golondrinas. What Williamsburg is to colonial America, Golondrinas is to colonial Hispanic America. The life of the early Spanish settlers is lovingly created and recreated, and their crafts, foods, agriculture, education, religion and architecture can be experienced in a beautiful rural setting. But what draws me to Golondrinas is their special events, and on Sunday it was “Viva Mexico,” an annual extravaganza.

Each year, one region of Mexico is highlighted, and this year Tlaxcala was chosen. Tlaxcala? I knew nothing about it before Sunday, and now I know that the Tlaxcala Indians were among the earliest colonial inhabitants here; they came as servants of the Spanish and became skilled famers and builders. Thirty-two dancers performed for free all day long under an open tent. Wearing extravagant plumage and masks that poked fun at Spanish nobility and landowners, they celebrated their life, music and customs like courtship.

We took a break for authentic Mexican food, home-cooked style, and then shopped for clothes, jewelry, ceramics, masks and straw appliqué art from different regions in Mexico. Soon it was back to the tent for a performance of the highly colorful and talented Mariachi clowns, adorned right down to their cellphonesand musical instruments, in bright green, white and orange.

During the next short break, we spoke to the Tlaxcala dancers. They said they had traveled for almost 40 hours in a bus to get to Santa Fe, and, after their last performance, they would go to sleep, awake early on Monday morning, and drive another 40 hours to get home. They had no plans to see anything in our fair city.

But the Juan Siddi Flamenco Theatre Companytook care of that. A few years ago, Juan Siddi became the heir apparent to the flamenco legend Maria Benitez. With a bevvy of beautiful dancers and singers, top-tier musicians and a brilliant cellist, he has combined flamenco and theatre and created a dazzling, highly imaginative and exciting show that quite literally leaves audiences breathless. In the summer, they perform at The Lodge at Santa Fe, and during the year they tour the U.S.

The 32 costumed dancers from Tlaxcala were ushered into the intimate theatre and seated at tables, where they ordered Cokes and posed for photos with audience members. When the show began, they were agog. “They have such strong feet,” one of them commented about the dancers. “They are like beautiful gypsies,” said another. They had never seen flamenco, never been in a theatre like this, never encountered such rapturous sensuality and raw emotional power on a stage.A "Viva Mexico" artist participant proudly displays his playful ceramics at Las Golondrinas in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

After the performance, they were invited up on stage. It was a historic meeting of Old Mexico with Old Spain in New Mexico. The singers all pulled out their cellphones and captured the moment to bring back home. Then the audience came up on stage, and it was a photofest of color, laughs, and easy cultural exchange.

That was just one day in my life in Santa Fe. Just one summer Sunday.

Photos by Paul Ross.

Judith Fein is a multiple award-winning travel writer who has contributed to more than 100 publications. She is the author of the acclaimed LIFE IS A TRIP: The Transformative Magic of Travel, and she gives travel performances with her husband Paul Ross.