Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Tao of Taos, New Mexico

We’ve been trying to get to Taos since we arrived in New Mexico. But the 2.75-hour drive makes it tad bit longer than a day trip.

Then, as luck would have it, a friend in LA connected us with an old friend of hers who lives in Taos, and we were extended an invitation to come up for a weekend. This is one of many examples of the immediacy of New Mexico. You meet people, they’re incredibly friendly, you become friends with them, you go stay with them.

These new friends, as it turns out, could not have been better guides to Taos. She grew up in the area and works at a prestigious museum. He’s an artist and furniture maker. And together, they know just about everyone in Taos. No wonder we got to attend two parties and a wedding reception in one weekend with them.

Of course, it’s not that hard to get to know people here. In fact, we ran into two people we’d met at our first party while grabbing coffee at World Cup near the plaza. This was clearly a common occurrence that surprised no one. And to top it off, we learned we’d see them both again later in the day for another party.

While exploring the small downtown (including the John Dunn Shops, housed in the infamous gambler and stagecoach driver’s former home), we also checked out the Harwood Museum of Art’s new photo exhibit of the Taos Pueblo from the beginning of photography to present. This iconic UNESCO World Heritage adobe structure has been continuously inhabited for over 1,000 years (chew on that for a minute), and the exhibit features shots from the last 140.

In part, it was this close proximity to a vibrant Native American community that drew so many artists to Taos in the early days to paint the pueblo and its inhabitants. The Taos Society of Artists was founded in 1915 by prominent transplants from New York, Paris and other major cities, and this worldly artistic sensibility continues. (Everyone we met had lived in New York or LA previously, it seemed.)

Of course, they were also drawn to the beauty of the area, with its ancient cottonwood trees, snow-fed streams and grassy valleys. But what really sets Taos apart is the perfect ring of mountains (including Mount Wheeler, the highest in the state) that encircles it, making for breathtaking views in all directions as well as world class skiing, which attracts an entirely different set of affluent visitors.

Maybe that’s why Taos just doesn’t seem like a town of 6,000 people. With its natural pulchritude, famous residents (including Julia Roberts) and international tourists, it feels more sophisticated than a small town…and yet decidedly rural and rustic. I’m still trying to put my finger on it, but the vibe is very distinct, very free, very appealing. Even more than Santa Fe, whose name alone inspires certain lifestyle aspirations, Taos is just cool.

Since I found myself rather drawn to it (okay, full-on crushing on it, let’s be honest), I guess it’s a good thing it’s so far from a major airport. Otherwise, I might have had some second thoughts about whether we should have looked into buying there instead. But given how much my partner’s profession involves travel, it just wouldn’t work logistically. And I guess that’s what keeps Taos the way it is.

Life’s not about logistics if you live there. It’s about…life. In fact, it seems like the kind of place where you have to have your own income or your own thing going on already, be it art or otherwise. Which reminds me - Dennis Hopper, another famous part-time Taos resident (he fell for it after shooting Easy Rider there and was a renowned artist in his own right), loved getting away to Taos so much that he wished it to be his final resting place. Below is the San Francisco de Asis Church in Rancho de Taos, where his funeral was held.

So while I can’t have Taos as my mate, it’s definitely got all the makings of an in-state weekend cheat. I’m dying to get back and see the Taos Pueblo in person, for one. Perhaps I’ll attend one of the religious ceremonies they invite the public to attend throughout the year. I’ve been told that the Procession of the Virgin on Christmas Eve is something special – with bonfires lit everywhere and a blend of Catholic and native traditions.

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