Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas in New Mexico

Christmas is always a magical time of year. 
I've found Christmas in New Mexico especially magical. The scent of burning pinon is in the air, luminarias go up, and everyone makes biscochitos (a delicious cookie best made by your best Mexican friend, if you don't have a Mexican grandma. It's actually the state cookie!).

Christmas celebrations begin the first weekend in December and culminate on Christmas eve. 
My favorite early event is Christmas at Kuaua - the Tiwa pueblo Indian ruin at Coronado State National Monument in Bernalillo. The pueblo ruin is adorned with luminarias or farolitos ("little fires") and there is a bonfire with traditional Tiwa people dances. It's an amazing experience.

Farolitos at Kuaua

Luminarias were reportedly used ages ago as a type of streetlight to light the way for pilgrims coming to Christmas Eve mass. However this story is argued against. Some argue that the luminarias are from Las Posadas (a 9 day holiday celebrated throughout Mexico and Guatemala that is a reenactment of Mary, Joseph and Jesus' journey). In fact, the terms "luminaria" and "farolito" are also a source for argument. It seems that they refer to the same thing but there is a regional preference. "Farolito" is used in Northern New Mexico and "luminaria" is used in the southern part of the state. Farolito means "little light" while "luminaria" once referred to a specific vigil of light that isn't celebrated with much fanfare any more.

Either way, people use these paper bags made heavy with sand and candles as people in the US use Christmas lights. Especially on Christmas Eve.

Albuquerque has at least three very famous displays of luminarias on Christmas Eve. People flock from all over to attend the display in Old Town (a part of Albuquerque existing since 1793) and to attend mass at San Felipe de Neri church. 
This display is exceptionally popular. I attended in 2011 and to my dismay there were so many people that you saw more people than luminarias. This year I took some advice from my adopted abuelita and visited Old Town after midnight. To my amazement, luminarias were still burning strong and very few people were out. It was amazing.

Old Town Plaza Luminarias
Luminarias at San Felipe de Neri

Old Town Albuquerque on Christmas Eve


A patio in Old Town decorated with luminarias on Christmas Eve.

Another famous spot for luminarias is the Country Club.
The Country Club is essentially across the street from Old Town. Many famous movies, and television shows, have filmed in the Country Club neighborhood (*ahem - Breaking Bad*). The area is rich, in money, grass, luminaria display, and police presence. 
It is just as popular as the Old Town display. Again, acting on recommendation, I visited after most people had gotten too cold to go out. It was marvelous.

Country Club Luminarias

 However, the third spot for luminarias is my favorite.
There's a neighborhood known as Ridgecrest. There is a huge boulevard in the neighborhood. The luminarias stretch on for winding blocks and blocks. It's best to park the car, get out, and walk the nearly 3 miles. Many houses have traditional Christmas lights as well and even a few people out dressed as Santa or reindeer. 
It's so much fun that I forget to take photos. But some of the best displays are here.

Ridgecrest Neighborhood luminarias

Now just because this post has been about luminarias in New Mexico doesn't mean that there aren't typical Christmas light displays. Ohhhh no! There are MANY of those too. Some extravagant ones even.
I've even created a Google map charting the best over the top Christmas light displays (
Here are some of those.

The Gingerbread House
Lights in the South Valley

I hope you enjoyed your Christmas in Albuquerque. :)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Día de los Muertos

 Día de los Muertos

It seems that every culture has a holiday to remember their deceased family members and friends. Mexican culture is no different.
 Día de los Muertos is an old tradition native to Mexico dating back 3,000+ years. It was a tradition held by native peoples even after years of eradication attempts by the Spanish. Just as tradition stays the same, it blends with modern culture and times. Although  Día de los Muertos has aligned with many aspects of Catholicism it maintains many of the Aztec traditions, specifically including skulls.

 Día de los Muertos is celebrated throughout the world. Having lived in different parts of the United States I always understood what the holiday was about but never until New Mexico did I fully grasp the mysticism and tradition bound within the tradition. Every place celebrates it differently. New Mexico is a very mystical place and their brand of celebration here is something I'm so happy I've been able to experience.
Some people might make trips to New Orleans for Mardi Gras but I will never be able to celebrate  Día de los Muertos in any other US state. I'll forever travel back to New Mexico or give it up entirely and visit Mexico.

While there are many aspects to  Día de los Muertos, too many to explain here (especially since I'm only as knowledgeable as an experiencer), my favorite part of this holiday is two fold. First, it is a very happy celebration. There is little mourning and much celebration and even more happy remembrance. Second, I love the colors of the calaveras. A calavera is a skeleton, or a skull (there are other related words, but I love this word). People will paint their faces black and white as if they were a skull. It sounds horrifying but their clothes are bright, happy, and uplifting. Marigold flowers are everywhere. I love this part. People will present sugar skulls to their dead relatives and friends (or even their living ones) at their graves or they will add them to a shrine in their home or at their loved one's favorite place.

 In Albuquerque, there is a month long event celebrating  Día de los Muertos. No celebration would be complete without a parade.  I missed the parade the first year I was here. This year I swore it would be the only thing I did. :)

Here are some tons of photos from Albuquerque's 2012 Marigold Parade.

"The dead can't vote but you can vote." This was right before the 2012 election.

Friday, November 2, 2012


Bosque: Forest

New Mexico is a desert. It's lovely. 

The Rio Grande runs through the middle of Albuquerque. The river these days is shrunken and probably not entitled to the name of river, let alone a grand river. Still, geographically the river has played an important role and the effects are easily visible.
One of the most beautiful parts of the Rio Grande is the Bosque. Bosque is a Spanish word meaning "woodlands." In the Southwest, a bosque is the collection of trees growing along a riparian flood plain. Usually the trees are cottonwoods. 
The Bosque provides an ever changing to an otherwise brown landscape.* In spring the trees bloom and unfurl at different paces, a wave of reawakening. In summer the bosque and its towering branches provide shade in the face of the hot 100 degree sun. In the fall, the trees look like they're on fire in the crisp blue sky; their arms reaching toward the fading sun.

All those adjectives. Barf. Still, they do nothing to capture the essence of the bosque.
The following pictures are from this past fall - forget the adjectives and see for yourself.

Cottonwoods in Fall


Reach for the sky


Make a wish
And a selfie for good measure.
My hair matches the colours.

*For the record: I don't think New Mexico is brown. There are amazing greens, purples, and blues here. I'd even argue it is one of the most colourful places I've ever been. There aren't tons of green trees covering up the other plants and their colors. 
Purple was once the color of royalty ("History, Shellfish, Royalty, and the Color Purple
Jul 1, 2002 12:00 PM, Dr. Richard M. Podhajny, Ph.D. Contributing Editor)
and I say New Mexico has enough shades of purple to make it the most royal place on earth.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


I'm going on three years in New Mexico now. It truly isn't like any place else in the US. But everyone says that about where they live.
There's a funny story that is repeated by many Burquenos (people who live in Albuquerque) about how they don't often get mail and hear from the senders that mail was returned because no customs form was attached... as if New Mexico wasn't part of the United States. It's funny but like all funny things, it has a vein of truth in it. It's different here.

You can walk down an alley and find three different religious symbols displayed on any one building. Colours are used in ways that are just tacky in other parts of the country. Small alcoves are normal and statues of Saints are commonplace. Graffiti is an art, usually called murals, found everywhere. Things look run down, but that's because they are. In some ways Albuquerque is modern, in other ways it really is the land that time forgot, as long as time began suffering from dementia in 1959.
A stroll in New Old Albuquerque (the Downtown or Nob Hill areas) is always spectacular. There are so many things to see, so many surprises around every corner or tucked down an alleyway.

Here are some of my favorite photos from several New Old Albuquerque strolls (stay tuned for a post on Old Old Albuquerque).

This is a building. You wouldn't know it. But it's also the REAR of the building... in an alley...

Jesus is an alien? This is New Mexico after all....

Part of a mural in downtown ABQ

New Mexico turquoise and the rust of time. Typical NM colours.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Wind-Up Bird

Besides several of the thousands of books I devoured as a child I can only think of one book that has affected me to my very being in my adult life. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. It has become one layer of my core and occasionally things happen that strike that part of me.
During the school year I'm far too busy to do any serious reading - I have too many other things I like to do. (I can read of course, and I'm not saying you can't read out of doors...) but I hope to read this book again soon.
It's like that learning feeling you get when you stand back and see exactly how much you have learned in a definite space of time. I've grown and changed, perhaps only slightly, but I'm sure a re-reading of this book will make those changes seem immense. I look forward to that feeling.

Here is one of my favorite bits from the book:

"Here's what I think, Mr. Wind-Up Bird," said May Kasahara. "Everybody's born with some different thing at the core of their existence. And that thing, whatever it is, becomes like a heat source that runs each person from the inside. I have one too, of course. Like everybody else. But sometimes it gets out of hand. It swells or shrinks inside me, and it shakes me up. What I'd really like to do is find a way to communicate that feeling to another person. But I can't seem to do it. They just don't get it. Of course, the problem could be that I'm not explaining it very well, but I think it's because they're not listening very well. They pretend to be listening, but they're not, really. So I get worked up sometimes, and I do some crazy things."

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pie Town, New Mexico: A Photo Story

 One of the first things you need to know about New Mexico is that it IS in the United States. You'd not believe how often people don't realize that fact. Second, New Mexico is very rural, even the cities. None of the cities could really be called urban in the modern sense of the word. So when you travel outside of the major cities (Santa Fe or Albuquerque), everything is vast... the sun, the sky, the endless dust but also the stories that come from the land and people who manage to eke out a living here.

During the "Go West, Young Man" era, people pushed their way through western states. Some via gold rush sites, others by rail and the economy that went with the expanding railroad, but others gathered around the building of transcontinental interstates. Some survived, others did not. Highway 60 is one of those that did not survive even though it nearly was the now infamous Route 66. 
People didn't know it then, so thousands came through south-central New Mexico and set up their little towns along the road. One of these towns is Pie Town.

Pie Town, New Mexico.

It  wasn't always called Pie Town, that name came later but not too much later. But what a better name for a near ghost town? It's perfect. One of the people who had dreams of that a transconitnental road would mean set up shop and began making dried apple pies. Soon the town was known for it's great apple pies and eventually became known as Pie Town. Travelers came and went. Roads came and went. Rain and groundwater came and went, so did many people. Once, Pie Town was home to about two thousand people. Now, you'd be lucky to see 208 people there. In fact, the county Pie Town is in is home to just three thousand people. Catron County is nearly 7,000 square miles.  
Remember me saying it was rural? I wasn't exaggerating.
Back when Pie Town was booming and the road was growing, a photographer from some official farm-type of administration of the government was sent to document things going on in this part of the country. The photographer was Russell Lee. I've seen his photographs countless times and they always capture people in that special way. 
Here are some of his photos. All from June 1940.

People still live, work, get married, have children, and die here.
The winters are windy. The summers are hot. The availability of water is unpredictable. 
People are poor. They live off the land, if they can. Neighbors are close in friendship but distant in miles. 
So how can a city run itself when there are 200 poor people? 
They throw a festival.


Every year for one Saturday in September, the population of Pie Town grows to nearly 500. Vendors come from Socorro, Albuquerque, Grants, and even Gallup. All the women get together and make 400+ pies in the week before the event. Each pie sells for $15-$25. The campground is open for visitors. The two pie shops in town hold music events and special pies. The money raised from 1 day of PIE gives the city the funds to keep everything working, including holding dances, suppers, and other community events throughout the year.  But the highlights of the festival are two pie eating contests and a horned toad race. 

 There is a 10 and under pie eating contest and an 11 and older contest. You pay an entrance fee and you get to stuff your face in a pie. This is clearly a brilliant plan. 
People come from all over New Mexico for this. It isn't just your run of the mill state fair style of food eating contests. People train for this, they compete, and the spectators yell and cheer for their dad, their friend, their sister as if someone's life depended on their win. 

Later, you get to watch horned toads race. Kids, usually, catch these horned toads that are all over the place in Pie Town (which makes no sense because there is no water standing around). The kids get marked with a number and the same number gets sharpied on the bottom of the corresponding toad. All the toads get thrown into a bucket and when everyone is ready, the spectators stand outside of a chalked circle, the bucket gets turned upside down in the center of the circle.
Then, the horned toads stand there. Looking at the spectators like "What?" And everyone YELLS at the toads. Everyone stands around for 30 minutes or more waiting for the horned toads to move and eventually cross the chalk line. 
It's the craziest thing I've ever seen.

Having lived in New Mexico for almost 3 years, 2012 was my second Pie Fest. 
I learned about the town from my first visit. 
Since I saw Russel Lee's photos last year, I was determined to capture some nice photos following those from Mr. Lee.

Here are some photos I took this September.

Serious Pie Eating.

Excited Child

Adult Pie Eating Contest.

I loved this lady's face.
Horned Toad  Race.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Introduction to MelanieMorning

Generally, I enjoy reading others’ blogs, so why shouldn’t I have one of my own? I have so many reasons. One of the biggest is that I don’t think I would find the things I have to say very interesting. I enjoy too many topics and none completely fully. This leads to a hodge-podge of events in my life and an interesting web that creates the person I am. OK, when I say it like that it sounds pretty cool. Another obstacle in my keeping a blog is that I am not very motivated to do repetitive things I don’t see a direct and immediate impact in my day-to-day life.  Finally, I’m hesitant to post freely. Why? There exist people who I’d rather not know me, in person or interweby.  Still. I want to connect with new people. I couldn’t possibly be me without finding new people.  

So why else do I want to keep a blog? My dear friend Eleanor,, has a marvelous blog that is my #1 inspiration. She always posts interesting things from art, music, history, and amazing reflections on life and people. I don’t write nearly as well, nor very well at all (I’m a much better speaker), but I hope I can be just as interesting as Miss Eleanor.  She has encouraged me in the past and perhaps I’m just finally listening to the advice of a good friend that should have been followed ages ago but I was just too dumb to accept before.

Hopefully I will try to stick to one theme, at least for a while. I’m thinking photos. Photography is one of my favorite hobbies. Maybe someday I’ll be good at it. I’m sure you’ll let me know. Perhaps I'll include other things here and there.