Pour Me a River
Albuquerque drinks from the Rio Grande
by Christie Chisholm, Weekly Alibi, December 25, 2008
Two roiling basins of water press against each other, divided by a two-story-high concrete wall. One side is a gurgling brown mess of chemical dust—it looks like mud soup. But the other side glistens, clear as glass, tempting a dip of the hand.
The water is connected. The brown goo looks the way it does due to ferric (iron) chloride, which is mixed with the water to act as a kinetic coagulant, smashing into and grabbing hold of stray non-H20 particles. The water then filters at the bottom of the wall through a “weir” (a dam-like structure used to divert flow) and emerges in the other basin, seemingly pristine. This water will find its way to your glass, but as of now, it’s only completed part of the journey.
Even though neither basin signifies the first or last step in the process that is securing Albuquerque’s water supply, together they serve as a lovely visual metaphor: the sediment and cloudy mass of river water on one side, the purity of drinking water on the other.
After both adamant support and vocal dissent [See: Feature, “Parched?” May 31-June 6, 2007, and Newscity, “Down River,” Sept. 18-24, 2008], the San Juan-Chama Drinking Water Project has come online. And from now on, at least some of the water dripping out of your faucet comes from the Rio Grande.
Flow, Baby, Flow
It all begins on the river.
John Stomp looks positively gleeful. After 11 years of shepherding the Drinking Water Project through the minefields of hundreds of permits, dozens of meetings and a court appeal, his baby is about to come to life. His gestures are sweeping as he signals upstream, turns and points to a dam, which has more than 20 moveable gates and remains partially open to allow river flow. If water levels in the river become too low, the gates will be lowered completely.
Here, just south of the Alameda Bridge, millions of gallons of river water are diverted to a pump station a couple hundred yards away. Fish swept in the current are stopped by screens with holes small enough to block minnow eggs then led back to the river by a passage channel.
The morning is hazy and crisp. The trees on the banks of the Bosque stand sepia-toned. Stomp shudders momentarily in his white, button-down shirt as he explains how water is diverted. There are two intake structures, each with fish screens and a giant windshield wiper to clean those screens. An intake structure can hold 90 million gallons at a time, and so if one needs to shut down for maintenance, the other deploys. “We’re engineers, man. We like redundancy,” Stomp laughs.
Some people are concerned about taking such a large amount of water from the river. Steve Harris is a co-founder of Rio Grande Restoration, as well as the original organizer for a group that filed an appeal against the Drinking Water Project in 2001 (a ruling still hasn’t been issued by the Court of Appeals).
Harris and his cohorts argue that removing so much water from the river could have ecological consequences for river life. They also say New Mexico may no longer be able to meet its requirements of the Rio Grande Compact, which orders that the state pass a certain amount of water into Texas.
Stomp argues the state is in no such risk since the water taken out of the river isn’t native; it’s actually Colorado water. In the early '70s, Albuquerque started diverting water from the San Juan River across the Colorado border and into the Rio Chama (making it San Juan-Chama water), which is then channeled into the Rio Grande.
The water travels about 200 miles from Colorado before it reaches the city. Albuquerque gets as much as 48,200 acre-feet of that water a year (about 15.7 billion gallons).
Under the Drinking Water Project permit, the city is allowed to use as much San Juan-Chama water as it wants as long as the river level doesn’t get too low, but it can’t consume a drop of the Rio Grande. Of course, this is all calculated by volume, since there’s no way to differentiate between two molecules of water once they meet. (“There’s no red water and blue water,” says Stomp.)
And so some Rio Grande water is taken from the river at the same time as San Juan-Chama water to create a cushion—but at the end of the line, the same amount of Rio Grande water that was taken out must be put back.
Because all the water comes from Colorado, Stomp says the project will in no way interfere with New Mexico meeting the requirements of the compact. Still, Harris says the state was in noncompliance with the compact for decades before it started diverting water into the Rio Grande. Additionally, the river has evolved to become dependent on the extra water, he says, and there’s no telling what will happen when it’s removed.
Thirty-Five Years and Sinking
Albuquerque used to think its water supply was infinite, a miraculous oasis the size of Lake Superior buried in the desert. It wasn’t until the early ’90s that the city discovered it wasn’t sitting on a lake—it was hovering over a fractured network of vessels with only half as much water as previously thought. And that network is shrinking.
If nothing changes in Albuquerque’s water consumption, it’s estimated that in 25 years, the city will experience severe water quality issues; in 35 years, pockets of land in the city could start to sink. The $385 million Drinking Water Project is supposed to be the answer to that conundrum—or at least a preliminary one.
Through the project, residents will still drink aquifer water, but they’ll also drink river water. Stomp says in the first year, 25 percent of the city’s water will come from the river. That amount will gradually increase to meet about half the city’s demand in a couple years. He estimates that after having the project in place after 40 years, the aquifer’s levels will rise by 25 feet. Drinking river water is the city’s attempt to save the aquifer.
Pump It Up
The raw water pump station is inconspicuous—at least, as far as 15,000 square-feet industrial buildings go. After looking at several designs, neighbors settled on an old Spanish-style church façade, empty tower and all. The only exterior signs that the building is not, in fact, a house of worship are scattered lightning rods along the roof that resemble spent dandelions.
Behind soundproof walls are a dozen mint-green 1,000-horsepower pumps that send river water on its way to the water treatment plant. The building, as are most of the auxiliary Drinking Water Project facilities, is controlled remotely so the city doesn’t have to hire additional workers.
The water treatment plant sits on 90 acres a short distance from I-25 and Montgomery, although Stomp says the city bought 160 acres so it could be expanded eventually without bothering neighbors.
The veneer of the facility was designed to mimic the Sandias in shape and palette and is painted in colors that bring to mind fruits besides watermelon: raspberry, mango, cantaloupe. A shallow moat surrounds the entrance. It will be filled with water, made into a small-scale Rio Grande and used as an educational tool.
As river water is pushed through the plant, it is treated with ferric chloride and other chemicals, cleaned by carbon filtration and hit with ozone twice to strip it of any pollutants. Gravity does the rest, sending it across the city to combine with aquifer water, where it is then pumped into faucets.
Stomp says the treatment process is as good as any in the country and testing occurs frequently to guarantee the water is safe to drink. But concerns have also arisen from groups who are worried about contaminants in the river.
Aqua es Vida Action Team has had discussions with the Water Utility Authority on water quality for two years. It’s asked for a higher level of monitoring on the river, citing that pollutants like pharmaceuticals, antibiotics, perchlorate (an ingredient used in rocket fuel found to disrupt thyroid function), radionuclides and Bisphenol A (an endocrine disruptor) were found in the Rio Grande. The EPA sets standards for about 90 of these contaminants in all potable water, including tap and bottled drinking water.
Stomp says the river is in some ways cleaner than the aquifer—it has less arsenic, less salt and less radioactive particles, for instance—and he says the treatment process should remove any troublesome contaminants that might be found. Aqua es Vida has asked that river water be tested at the parts-per-trillion level (parts-per-billion is the metric used now), but Stomp says he’s not sure such technology exists.
“Now that the project’s up and running, we’re conducting an experiment to see what results we have,” says Rio Grande Restoration’s Harris. “It’s an experiment on the landscape.” Harris says whatever the effect on that landscape, it won’t be seen for several years. He argues that the city doesn’t have a backup plan if the Drinking Water Project causes problems.
Stomp spells it out. “We have a depleting aquifer,” he says, and if nothing is done, not just the city, but the region, is in jeopardy. “We’ll have to go to the river at some point anyway. It’s better to do it now than wait until there’s a public health crisis.” He adds that he thinks the project will protect the aquifer. “It’s a huge environmental issue that needs to be solved.”
No one knows if the project will fix the city’s water problems, but Stomp hopes it will. On Friday, Dec. 5, around 3 p.m., the switch was flipped.
by Christie Chisholm, LocalFlavor Magazine, July 2010
The Box Performance Space & Improv Theatre should have failed. Based on the predictions of any experienced businessperson, the outlook for the upstart theater was grim. Its owners, Doug Montoya and Kristin Berg, had no business plan. They had no capital. They bought no ads. They sent no press releases. It was an unknown venue on an unremarkable block in a desert town. It was an accident.
But The Box didn’t fail. On its opening night, which featured an unpublicized “secret” show, the line to get in overflowed into the parking lot. So many people came, Montoya and Berg had to turn some away. Within a few days, theater patrons the city over were talking about the space. Within a week, the local press was calling. And now, three years later, The Little Theater That Could has done what no one would have predicted: survived.
The Box is no ordinary theater. It’s not exclusionary, and it doesn’t have a sole purpose. It’s not seeking fame, and certainly not fortune. The shows that appear on its stage are of no particular genre. To borrow from an obvious idiom, you can’t put The Box in a box. But that’s not to say it’s without a mission.
Montoya says The Box has a strong mission, which is “to create an environment where children of all ages can feel comfortable expressing themselves.” That’s because The Box is, first and foremost, a children’s theater. Montoya and Berg offer classes and put on shows through their theater company, Cardboard Playhouse Productions—although unlike most children’s theaters, parents don’t have to pay a tuition for their kids to perform. The attitude they embrace also differs from other theaters. “A lot of children’s theater talks down to kids, and they’re smart,” says Berg. “They’re smarter than I think most grownup actors are.” Montoya and Berg expect kids to be smart and treat them as such, and the result is that their productions don’t feel like “children’s” theater—they just feel like theater.
Next on the space’s list of priorities is improv comedy. Along with hosting performances, The Box offers classes for both kids and adults and puts on the annual Duke City Improv Festival, which brings in teams from throughout the region. Beyond that, The Box is a sort of catchall. It opens its doors to outside theater companies, taking a chance on anything that succeeds at being, as Montoya puts it, something that can be not just viewed but experienced. Among the groups The Box has played host to are Tricklock Theatre Company, the Pajama Men, Harrington & Kauffman (in the vein of the PJ Men, a theatrical comedy duo from New York City) and its now company-in-residence, Blackout Theatre.
But Montoya and Berg didn’t plan any of it. And while Berg had worked in children’s theater for years, serving previously as the stage manager at Albuquerque Little Theatre, the last way Montoya thought he’d be spending his life is teaching kids how to act.
Montoya moved to Albuquerque about 14 years ago from Los Angeles, where he’d been involved in the theater scene. He continued working in theater when he came to New Mexico, and a few years ago he was active with the now-defunct Gorilla Tango Theatre (a branch is still open in Chicago). The space was looking to bring in some extra revenue around the holiday season one year, and Montoya came up with the idea to put on A Charlie Brown Christmas. He wanted to use child actors, of course, thinking that any stumbling over lines would only add to the legitimacy of the play. It was a huge success, and soon Montoya found himself planning more children’s productions.
It was during round two that Berg came on to help. Together they put on a kids’ parody calledLOST on Gilligan’s Island, which turned out to be another success. But on the heels of two high-selling shows, Gorilla Tango closed. Parents were upset and encouraged Montoya and Berg to continue with their work, and so the two toyed with the thought of opening their own theater. A month and a half later, they did.
That’s when the idea of “community” theater became tangible. Kurly Tlapoyawa, owner of Burning Paradise Video, told them about an available space on Lomas near 12th Street. When they went to look at it, the landlord said he was going to rent it to someone else the next day but would rather give it to them. If Montoya and Berg could come up with the $1,500 they needed for a deposit within 24 hours, it was theirs. They didn’t have it. But some of those parents did. And collectively, along with other supporters, Montoya and Berg gathered enough donations within a day to secure the space.
Of course, they still didn’t have seats. Or lights. Or a sound system. Or anything else a theater needs. And who even knew about next month’s rent? But the community kept coming through. A friend told them about 60 old seats Theater Grottesco in Santa Fe was giving away. Another friend gave them some used lights and a sound system. And with only a couple weeks to go before their scheduled opening night, and no idea what they were going to put on stage, they ran into the Pajama Men (full disclosure: The author is dating one of the group’s members). The duo said they’d perform for the opening and put out the word about a secret show. They even got New Mexico native Zach Condon of the band Beirut to accompany them. And that’s how Montoya and Berg found a long line twisting around their brand-new building on its very first night.
The Box left its Lomas home last year and moved Downtown to 100 Gold SW, Suite 112. And again, the way the theater found its new location was, as Montoya and Berg call it, “accidental.” Feeling that their old space was getting too small, they called their realtor to let him know they might be looking for something else. But their realtor was already about to call them to talk about an available spot—because the manager for the space hoped they’d move in.
The Box has always billed itself as a community theater, but since relocating Downtown, the space has now become not just a fixture in the theater scene but in the neighborhood as well.
Rick Rennie is the guy who wanted The Box to move to Gold. He’s the asset manager for the Historic District Improvement Company (HDIC), which, among other things, means he’s responsible for the block the theater now sits on. HDIC is leading the campaign to revitalize Downtown, and Rennie is passionate about the tenets of urbanism. He wants to see the neighborhood morph into a “center for creativity and innovation,” he says, where lots of eclectic, smaller spaces continuously draw different demographics to the area. It’s about building a walkable environment that caters to both the young and the mature, singles and parents, businesspeople and those looking to play.
At a time when retail was hurting, Rennie thought bringing in more performance spaces would help invigorate the area, and he was right. “There was an immediate effect, as soon as they moved in,” he says. The building where The Box is located has spaces for businesses on the ground floor but residential lofts above, a number of which were sitting vacant before the theater moved in. But almost as soon as it opened its doors, someone purchased a loft because The Box was there. And the trend stuck. Three of the four ground level corners of the building have been empty for months. But in the last two months, after the theater increased traffic on the block, seven restaurants came to look at the spaces, and Rennie’s now in negotiations with three of them. Rennie says existing restaurants on the block are already benefitting from the theater, which hosts either classes or shows nearly every night.
Most of those classes, which run from improv and acting classes to workshops on filmmaking and theater production, are taught by members of Blackout Theatre, The Box’s company-in-residence. Montoya and Berg have worked with Blackout for the last two and a half years, but the group only became the space’s resident theater this spring.
Jeff Andersen is Blackout’s artistic director. He says working with The Box has been a great boon to the company because their missions align. Blackout, which is also very improv-based, has always put education at the forefront of its work. “They have very similar views to us,” Andersen says. “A lot of places see it as a way to make money, but we want to make it available to as many people as possible and keep it high-quality.”
Montoya and Berg feel the same way. They want to keep classes affordable so anyone can take them. They charge enough to keep the theater open, but there’s not much left over. Both Montoya and Berg have day jobs separate from their roles at the theater. Additionally, the kids productions they cast are tuition-free. Most children’s theater companies charge parents a fee for their kids to be cast in shows, Montoya and Berg say, but that’s not the way The Box operates. Kids who take classes at the space are welcome to audition for parts, but kids who have never been to the theater before can audition, too. And there’s no guarantee that a child who’s taken a class will get in. Roles are cast based on who’s best for the part, says Montoya, because there’s no point in giving something to someone who doesn’t deserve it.
It’s a philosophy that feeds back into The Box’s mission—theater isn’t about ego or oneupmanship, it’s about creating and sharing. “We want to take that ego part out of it,” says Berg. “This isn’t just about you. It’s about the audience, it’s about the rest of the company of actors that you’re working with. It’s not just about Doug and I as directors of whatever we’re doing, it’s about the production as a whole and doing it for the good of everybody else.”
Montoya and Berg, along with the Blackout crew, want the kids they teach to learn valuable skills and gain confidence and eventually move on to other theaters. And with regard to adult theater, Montoya thinks of it as a free-for-all. Whenever their space is dark, Montoya and Berg hit the town, seeing as many shows as they can. They let the parts they love influence their own work, and they hope other theaters do the same.
“We’re constantly changing, we’re constantly adapting,” says Montoya. “I think that you have to be flexible, you have to be able to change. Otherwise, you become rigid, and you can possibly break.”
Turner to Cézanne
by Christie Chisholm, LocalFlavor Magazine, June 2010
Andrew Connors’ office is flooded with paper. Thick stacks of newspapers, forms and pictures collapse into one another, like giant piles of cards being shuffled on a table. Hundreds of art books nudge each other on shelves, vying for wiggle room. Three massive Rolodexes stand at attention, eager to recall names, addresses, numbers. Andrew Connors’ office is like a brain—teeming with information, ideas, images and connections. It’s fitting, because Connors, the curator for the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, believes that art feeds the brain, that it makes neurons multiply and synapses pop.
What’s getting Connors’ brain sizzling now is the museum’s new exhibit, Turner to Cézanne, a 53-piece collection on loan from National Museum Wales. It’s the kind of exhibit Albuquerque rarely sees, featuring some of the great masterpieces from artistic history: Renoir’s La Parisienne, one of Monet’s Waterlilies and van Gogh’s Rain-Auvers, which had never before been seen in the United States, among them. Connors is ecstatic with the potential of the exhibit, which has been three years in the making.
“I hope that people respond with a sense of pride and a sense of wonder at what great inventors have done for us,” he says. “I’d love for their experience to be a little more deep than simply appreciation for beauty. Maybe I’d like their brains to hurt a little bit from thinking hard. ... I’m just looking forward to having headaches from having to think so hard. And then to help the headaches subside, go into the gallery and just sort of celebrate the pure beauty of what all that thinking produced.”
All the works in the show are from, as Connors calls them, “great inventors.” Created primarily in the mid-1800s, the pieces were some of the first to push the boundaries of the popular, academic method of painting of the time and introduce Impressionism. The exhibit displays the works in chronological order, providing not only visual, but also written and aural history lessons through large placards and guided audio tours. The museum has worked to make the show highly interactive, with a side room featuring videos that further expand on the pieces’ history and an educational play room for kids, along with a number of educational programs that will run throughout the exhibit’s life at the museum.
The exhibit is taken from the Davies Collection, formed by Gwendoline and Margaret Davies between 1908 and 1923. The two Welsh sisters were devout philanthropists who volunteered for the French Red Cross, gave asylum to Belgian artists, and founded the Gregynog Press and Gregynog music festival, both named after their home, Gregynog Hall.
They amassed their art collection as a way of bringing great masterpieces to the people of Wales. In 1913, they hosted an anonymous exhibit at Cardiff City Hall to help raise funds to build a museum. When they died, they left their estate to the University of Wales to use as an arts center and bequeathed their collection to National Museum Wales, which is now known for having one of the best Impressionist collections in Europe.
Prof. Michael Tooby, the director of Learning, Programmes and Development at National Museum Wales, has been involved in bringing the exhibit to the U.S. since 2002. National Museum Wales partnered with the American Federation of Arts to place the exhibit in five cities around the country, all of which Tooby visited two years ago to make sure they met the show’s requirements. Obviously, each museum needed to have the technical details to support the show. But National Museum Wales also wanted museums that, while they play a significant role in their regions, don’t often have major exhibits. The Davies sisters were interested in bringing great art to those who didn’t always get to see it, and National Museum Wales wanted to continue in that tradition.
Tooby thinks the sisters would have enjoyed knowing the show is in Albuquerque. “They would be intrigued,” he says. “They would be very excited, very pleased. And it’s important to remember that when they bequeathed their collections to the National Museum, they encouraged the National Museum to share collections.” He says the museum even “double, double” checked this request while planning the tour, re-reading the actual bequest documents. “They were very aware of what you might call access, to use a contemporary term,” he adds. “I think that they were the kind of women that saw the responsibility of wealth and were very aware of social and educational causes.”
The other cities that hosted the show are Columbia, S.C., Oklahoma City, Syracuse, N.Y., and Washington, D.C. Albuquerque made it on the list because of a relationship the Art Museum formed with the American Federation of Arts, which suggested shows to National Museum Wales for the tour. Albuquerque had worked with AFA twice before, bringing Millet to Mattisse here from Glasgow in 2004 and Temples and Tombs from the British Museum in London in 2007. When the Art Museum called AFA to find out what was coming up, it learned about Turner to Cézanne and got on board right away.
Cathy Wright, the Art Museum’s director, says it cost about $300,000 to bring the show here, all of which is paid for through the Albuquerque Museum Foundation. “It’s a really high-quality exhibit that, as far as renting exhibits go, is affordable for museums of our size and a little bigger,” she says. “When you get up to the King Tut kind of exhibits, we can’t do that at all here, those usually only go to really big cities.”
But exhibits of Turner to Cézanne’s caliber aren’t often found in cities Albuquerque’s size, either. “[People] would actually have to travel to Dallas or Houston or Denver to see an exhibit like this,” says Wright, “so we’re very proud that we’re able to bring it to New Mexico. I think the great appeal of this exhibit is that it’s more than just the usual Impressionist exhibit. It has a lot of great historic content to it and it shows an evolution of painting during that period.”
Connors hopes more exhibits like it will come to Albuquerque. He says it’s crucial for the state to have important installations because it’s known as an artistic hub. “There are so many artists in New Mexico. And so rarely do those artists have the opportunity to see the great masterpieces,” he says, adding that if the state is going to maintain its image as an arts center that artists need to be able to see collections of this magnitude and “be inspired by them and learn from them.”
In Albuquerque, Connors says the city administration shows its support for art. “You will find very few cities of this size that have a zoo of our caliber, an aquarium of our caliber, botanic gardens, an art and history museum,” he says. “It’s a good mother ship.” National Museum Wales’ Tooby agrees. “I think it’s a really interesting and rich place—rich in a cultural sense,” he says. “While Santa Fe has a reputation for great museums, great cultural life and so on, I think Albuquerque as a city is a place where an exhibition like this really works.”
Part of the reason why is the way people involved in the arts cooperate here, says Connors. “The arts community knows each other, we speak to each other and we’re fairly classless—meaning without class division, not that we have no style,” laughs Connors. he says that while in other “arts cities” there are distinct lines between wealthy art patrons and working-class artists, here everyone works together and gets along. But there are still plenty of Albuquerque denizens who don’t regularly make a point of viewing art, he says, and that’s an area ripe for growth. He hopes exhibits like Turner to Cézanne, which feature artists with household names, will sway more people toward the museum and art in general.
“I’m thrilled that people have the opportunity to see works of art of this caliber and spend time to hopefully understand why those of us in the art world celebrate these sort of objects,” He says. “Because there are times when people come into an art exhibit and say, The emperor has no clothes. But when you look at these works in this exhibition, people immediately are exposed to greatness and can see the greatness palpably in a way that you never can through reproductions. And that’s why museums exist, because the original is always better than a copy.”
It’s about more than showing art for art’s sake. Connors believes art actually makes people smarter. “The more people are exposed to the great questions of the past,” he says, “the more we might learn to think of proper responses to those questions. Most of these artists in this exhibition are pushing and questioning and experimenting, and taking risks. And in some cases, those risks were mortal.” He cites van Gogh’s death, caused by “his passion for experimentation and ideas and the lack of other people’s understanding of what he did,” as well as the financial setbacks and public ridicule most of the artists faced in their lifetimes. That’s why, he adds, it’s important to celebrate their achievements.
In the U.S., arts programs are often among the first to be cut in times of budgetary crisis. As a result, Connors says, “our arts education generally in the United States is so minimal that we don’t sort of have a national consciousness that art is thinking and art is experimentation and art is good for the brain.”
For many people, including those who cut budgets, he says, art is what people learn about when they’ve already studied “all the real things.” “But art is problem-solving,” he says, “art is invention and experimentation—deep, thoughtful inquiry. So without that rooted in young children’s consciousness, we have to sort of go back and re-educate some of the adults and 1) makes them feel welcome in an arts institution and 2) make them feel that it’s worth coming back.”
Service with a Smile
Sex, the Self Serve way
by Christie Chisholm, Weekly Alibi, May 3, 2007
We were searching for our KI, which, if LuAnn our instructor was correct, was nestled in the midpoint of the lower balls of our feet. We stood, knees bent slightly, pelvis tipped forward, eyes closed and, most importantly, feet hip-width apart, legs anchored to the wood floor.
“Every time you exhale, roots extend out of your KI and into the ground,” LuAnn encouraged. “Breathe. Feel your roots grow.”
“Now take a deep breath, and yell …”
The collective voice was stronger now, arresting. I peeked quickly to see if anyone else looked startled, or if I was the only one still embarrassed to command our would-be attacker to “Stop!” with such gusto. I was apparently alone.
On the third try I got it. And I shouted with such enthusiasm, I felt certain no mugger/stalker/rapist would dare creep up on me in a dark alley.
We opened our eyes and shot each other congratulatory glances. But now it was time for the real lesson: figuring out how to kick the crap out of someone twice as big as you when he has his hands wrapped around your throat.
It almost made flogging seem easy.
Four weeks prior, I stood in this classroom with a considerably larger sense of trepidation. Instead of learning how to protect myself, I was being taught how to inflict pain on others—in a purely pleasurable, nonjudgmental way, of course.
The philosophy behind flogging, according to our black leather-clad leader of the class who went by the name Goddess throughout the evening, is that “flogging is tearing someone down as low as they can go so they can build themselves back up. When you’re in control all the time, when that control is taken away, it’s so nice, it’s an escape. We’re physical counselors.”
I had never completely understood the desire to hit someone or be hit for pleasure, be it with a whip, shoehorn, cane, paddle or, in this case, a flogger. But I’ve also never considered myself judgmental when it comes to the way people choose to express their sexuality, as long as all parties involved are educated and willing. Yet, sitting among a group of potential floggers—some just curious, others entrenched in a 24-7 lifestyle—I felt the boundaries of my apparently much narrower mind being stretched.
Goddess, a former professional dominatrix, also known as a “pro dom,” outlined the elements of flogging. Safety received the bulk of attention since hitting someone too hard on their kidneys, neck or sciatic nerve, among other points on the body, can lead to a trip to the hospital or, in some cases, death. It’s with that in mind that she instructed us to find a partner and practice—clothes on, light strokes.
I watched as those around me paired off with their respective dates. Then I saw him: the only other single person here. I was hoping to pair with another woman, but he was already introducing himself, and he looked nice enough. I explained my terms: I was happy to “flog” (I stumbled on the word), but I just wasn’t comfortable being in a “s-sub role” (again with the stammering), a term referring to the person receiving the flogging. He was OK with the arrangement.
Goddess handed me a long, purple suede flogger and I got into position. He put his hands on the back of a chair and lowered his head.
“Now gently try a figure-eight,” ordered Goddess.
Here we go …
The space where I learned to both flog others (“Intro to Flogging”) and protect myself (“Women’s Self Defense”) is no orthodox classroom. It’s also no orthodox sex shop—although that’s the term that most easily describes it. Instead, Self Serve, a new addition to Albuquerque’s East Nob Hill corridor, embodies the symbiotic relationship between two seemingly paradoxical worlds. It is what it claims to be, printed in smaller font next to its neon sign: your sexuality resource center.
Matie Fricker and Molly Adler, exuberant women who followed unlikely paths to their hard-won entrepreneurship, opened the store in January after years of planning and struggling for funding. Their philosophy is evident not only through the merchandise they sell and the classes they offer but also through the way they talk to customers. It incorporates a holistic attitude toward sexuality, where education is the web that binds it all together.
“It’s not just about sex, sex, sex,” says Matie, sitting next to me last Wednesday on the store’s centerpiece, a white vinyl couch virtually radiating silver glitter. “It’s much more interconnected.”
Molly comes out from the back end of the store where she’s been milling over paperwork and beginning-of-the-day operations. “All these parts of our lives are tied to our sexual beings; they’re all related. To pretend they’re not is lying … and stupid,” she says. “We get to connect these dots.”
The dots Molly is referring to are the subjects of a pile of books that have just been delivered by a stylist at the salon next door, who received the package while Molly and Matie were away. The titles are broader in range than what you’d usually expect from a sex shop: The Survivor's Guide to Sex, for people suffering from past sexual abuse; Deal With It!, a light-hearted, hot-pink reference on sexuality aimed at teenage girls; The Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy for Lesbians; Maybe Baby, a discussion of the desires and conflicts that go into deciding whether or not you want to have a child; The Honeymoon is Over, a book on divorce; Baby Remember My Name, an anthology of queer erotica by women; and, laying on top of the pile like a pink candy bar, “You Owe Me” coupons for new mothers.
The stack of books points to the reason Matie and Molly opened the store. They wanted to provide a forum for people to embrace and learn about their sexuality, and their humanity, in a culture that mystifies and stigmatizes sex, where the resources for discovering pleasure and safety are limited.
“There isn’t anywhere to go,” says Matie. “In a world where you can get designer coffee or choose from 50,000 options in paint color, there’s nowhere to talk about the details of sex.”
The lack of discussion is symbolized by states like Texas, Georgia and Alabama, which upheld laws this last year that ban the commercial distribution of sex toys and obscene material. “There are stores that sell sex toys in these places,” says Matie, “but they rely on selling them as novelty items.” The line is drawn, she adds, when employees tell customers how to actually use what they’re buying, including instructions on safety. It’s a line Matie finds unconscionable.
“I really don’t think there’s a major difference between a woman who fetishizes shoes or handbags or a guy or woman who wants a motorcycle between their legs and the freedom that that gives them versus a vibrator or a book of erotica,” she says. “And I know that the definition of obscenity is complicated, but when you start putting rules on what adults can do in the privacy of their own homes, that doesn’t sound like the kind of state I want to live in.”
Matie and Molly fight against that censorship of sex and, just a short time into its presence in the Nob Hill area, Self Serve is already starting to exemplify their goals. On a Wednesday afternoon, the shop is bustling as people wander in and explore the shelves of products—less than 25 percent of which are considered “adult.” Some eye the displays of imported chocolates, while others peruse the locally made lip balms and salves. “New Mommy” paraphernalia is also visited while many go straight for the good stuff: vibrators (including “the cone,” an innovative sex toy designed to rest against the vulva and mimic a woman’s natural pattern of orgasm through pulsations), harnesses, lubes and condoms. The condoms are worth noting, because Self Serve only offers Japanese condoms, which are made from higher-quality latex than most American condoms and offer increased safety with a thinner material. Molly and Matie have also decided to give all safe-sex items a low markup to make them affordable—“It’s not a question of gravy on the mashed potatoes,” chimes Matie. “It saves lives.”
Watching customers move in and out of the store, I’m filled with the sense of community. In the corner by the window, a young woman is sitting and reading the aforementioned book on queer erotica. She stays for more than an hour, at one point setting down the collection, reaching for a locally made erotic coloring book titled “Magical Men” and shading in one of the pages. Another woman sits by a round coffee table--overcome by books and literature on fetishes, sex education, empowerment and safe sex--and surfs the Internet on a laptop. A man parks his bicycle outside and comes in, asking Matie for advice on cock rings. In another corner of the store, Molly shows two women how to use a harness. “When you’re wearing a harness, it should be super tight, like a second skin,” she instructs while choosing a translucent, purple-hued dildo to demonstrate with. “Now, some people like the ones with padding, because otherwise hair can get caught …”
It’s a scene perhaps worthy of a few blushes, but it’s all evidence of what Molly refers to as the “stories that walk through the door”—like the woman in her 70s who’d never had an orgasm until she was shown how to use a vibrator, or the countless customers who’ve come in and expressed how relieved they are that there’s a place where they can talk about sex comfortably.
It’s what Matie and Molly envisioned more than two-and-a-half years ago when the idea for the store first came to them. At the time they were both managers in a similarly minded sex shop in Boston called Grand Opening. When the atmosphere at the business started to shift in a direction they felt uncomfortable with, they became frustrated.
“One night we said, ‘We could do it better,’” recalls Matie. “A hush came across the room. There may have been a bottle of wine involved,” she turns to Molly and laughs.
With Matie coming from a scholarly path headed toward social justice law and Molly from a background in union organizing and public health, the two never expected their “temporary” jobs at Grand Opening to lead them to establish a sex shop in Albuquerque. But they loved the work so much—which included teaching classes on sex education and safe sex, a couple times even to Harvard Medical School—that when they left the store, they couldn’t imagine leaving the practice. But deciding they were going to start their own business was the first step in a long process, filled with loan denials, refusals to lease them space and, finally, a momentous renovation.
“The floor is all new,” says Molly, scrolling through photos of the remodeling on her laptop. “We took down a wall, starting with a hammer from the dollar store. Then we broke the hammer.”
The work the two put into the place, with the help of countless volunteers from the community, is evident in the catalogue of photos, which show the before stages of a run-down head shop covered in sloppy spray paint and broken bong glass. The expressions captured on Molly and Matie’s faces—plastered in drywall dust—are of happy exhaustion.
“Look at how tired we are,” Molly says.
“No, look at how happy we are,” Matie interjects. “We finally had our space.”
After five months of looking for rent signs and receiving half a dozen rejections from leasers not interested in their “type” of business, Molly and Matie finally found their home. Looking around the store today, it’s nearly impossible to tell it was once anything but what it is: a home not just for the shop’s two proprietresses but in many ways for the community as well.
“Remodeling this place ourselves was a great way to get in touch with our skills,” says Molly, eyes wandering to where the old wall used to be. “It’s the same philosophy we use to tell people about getting in touch with themselves.”
Back under the instruction of LuAnn, I was getting in touch with something—mainly a blocking pad LuAnn was holding up to help us perfect our punches.
I had survived my night of flogging—I was told I had a nice way with the flogger by a woman I practiced on later in the evening—but it didn’t make me feel empowered in the way it did for others. Rather, even in the dominant role, I felt vulnerable, out of place. But that’s just me; it’s something I learned about myself.
LuAnn had worked her way over to me and leveled the blue pad at waist height. I drew my fist down in an arc and … not much. The hit hardly made a sound.
“Put your hip into it,” LuAnn directed.
I raised my fist again, paused to get a really good look at that pad, and swung my arm, this time using my hip to guide the flow of my movement.
The pad flew out of LuAnn’s hand and skid across the floor. “You ripped his arm off!” chuckled one of the other women.
It was a distinct sensation, wholly separate from the feeling of holding a flogger in my hand. I felt liberated, self-reliant, maybe even a little empowered. And, by the end of the lesson, I learned something else about myself: When necessary, I can really kick some ass.
Molly and Matie would be proud.
Talking with street artist Chaz Bojórquez
by Christie Chisholm, Weekly Alibi, September 30, 2010
Chaz Bojórquez has never been caught, but he has been chased.
He laughs when he admits it, because it seems slightly absurd: a world-renowned artist with work hanging permanently in the Smithsonian American Art Museum being pursued by cops for painting something on the side of a building. Such is the life of a graffiti artist.
Even if you don’t recognize his name, you’d probably recognize Bojórquez’ work. He’s most well-known for a skull he designed that’s referred to as Señor Suerte, which he stenciled all over Los Angeles in the ’70s and became a symbol of protection among street gangs. Bojórquez’ cholo-style-graffiti-meets-Asian-calligraphy has inspired generations of street artists and shown in galleries across the globe. It’s hard to imagine he got his start tagging a garage door.
Bojórquez was 19 (he’s 61 now). He says he was so poor, he lived off 14-cent cans of mackerel he’d somehow always end up splitting with a cat. He couldn’t afford a spray can, so his first tag was administered with a squeegee and ink he found.
He wrote his name.
“All graffiti kids write their name,” he says. “This me-me-me mentality.”
But his worldview gradually shifted. A few years later, he wrote about himself and his girlfriend, then it was his neighborhood, then the world.
That final shift was due in part to the year and a half Bojórquez spent visiting and living in 35 countries, where he learned about how the physical representations of alphabets influence cultures, along with the three months he spent studying calligraphy under Master Yun Chung Chiang (who in turn studied under Pu Ju, who was brothers with the last emperor of China).
In an age when graffiti-as-art is still censored, Bojórquez serves as a perfect spokesperson, although he doesn’t perch himself on his soapbox very often.
“If I spent all my time defending graffiti,” he says, “then I’d have no time to going forward with graffiti.”
He says people often ask him whether he’s setting a good example for youth, and his response is always that the best thing he can do is finish his work. He tells kids: “Do more graffiti.” By practicing more, he argues, kids will improve their skills and evolve out of the illegal graffiti world and into the artistic one.
“They’ll buy graffiti magazines, watch videos, go to galleries to meet the players,” he says. “People like me, there are only about three dozen of us over the world; we’re like superstars. Once kids want to be like that, they’re too busy making prints and paintings to do illegal stuff.” He says his job is to show them what they can become, to prove that “making a life with art is a beautiful thing.”
Most of Bojórquez’ work now takes place off the streets, although he says he’ll never stop tagging (hence the chasing). Within the last few years, he’s started designing products, such as some Vans shoes, menswear for Conart Clothing and wine labels for the Plata Wine Company.
“I want to be in culture,” he says.
It’s easy to see that culture and its effects on identity and personal freedom fascinates Bojórquez, who says graffiti is, like any other artistic method, ultimately about expression.
“It’s a need for self-expression, for self-identity, for personal growth,” he says. “Because it’s been a part of our culture since caveman times. It’s part of the human need to be identified, to leave your mark. We’re hardwired for it.”
Bojórquez says people should be able to leave their mark in some way—that if billboards promoting cigarettes and alcohol are legal just because they’re paid for, people should be allowed to leave a sign that they’d been somewhere, that they belong there.
“Who really owns the public space?” he asks. “In some ways, graffiti doesn’t ask permission. We don’t ask for permission; we don’t ask for forgiveness. It’s a passion.”
Diary of a Locavore
Is it possible to eat nothing but local food in a New Mexico winter?
by Christie Chisholm, Weekly Alibi, March 6, 2008
Eggs, milk, peanuts. It didn’t look good.
I had spent the last hour scavenging the isles of La Montañita Co-op, and that’s what I was left with: eggs, milk, peanuts. I was hungry just looking at them. I offered my meager basket to the cashier, pausing to turn around and grab a hauntingly aromatic chocolate chip cookie from the deli counter behind me. If all I had to eat for the next seven days were eggs, whole milk and peanuts, I was going to enjoy my last meal, and I was going to have dessert.
I watched the clock on my cell phone strike midnight, rubbing my fingers together to erase the chocolate from their tips. This was it. For the next week, I would eat only food grown in New Mexico. In the middle of February, I knew it would be difficult. But when I opened my fridge door and saw two cartons and a bag of nuts staring back at me, I wondered if it was even possible. Preparing myself for starvation, I trundled off to bed. Tomorrow I was going “shopping.”
We Are What We Eat
“Locavore” has become somewhat of a linguistic celebrity. The term won the prestige of being named the New Oxford American Dictionary's 2007 Word of the Year. At only two years old, it’s handily worked its way to the top.
A San Franciscan named Jessica Prentice coined "locavore" at World Environment Day in June 2005. The intention of the word was to refer to someone who seeks out food grown within a 100-mile radius of where he or she lives, and it was invented with a purpose: to call attention to the efforts of four women who would strive that summer to eat nothing but food grown within that limit of the Bay Area for a month. They extended the challenge to others and have continued to do so since, developing a website (www.locavores.com) that acts as a resource for those who wish to live the bumper sticker mantra: Eat Local.
Locavorism is spreading. Time Magazine and the New York Times have dedicated top headlines to the trend. Two books that explore ideas of eating locally—Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle—both jumped to the top of the New York Times bestseller lists soon after their releases in the last two years. “Locavore” is in the national consciousness, and it makes sense why.
In a cultural climate thick with concerns over global warming, fuel economy and, that increasingly convoluted term, sustainability, it’s natural that as a nation we would start to think about how those things relate to the food we eat. Food is one of our most basic needs. As plants suck nutrients out of the soil they root in, so we absorb not only the proteins and amino acids but also the environmental, economic and political connotations of the food we digest. We are what we eat—as individuals, and as a culture.
People are exchanging incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescents, gas guzzlers for hybrids, conventional for organic—why wouldn’t they exchange food grown in and shipped from Argentina for something that comes from their own backyard, or their neighbor’s? Ideologically, it’s a superior way to eat. Realistically, it’s a long way from being easy.
Day One: The Kindness of Strangers
I have a tall glass of milk for breakfast. I’m lucky New Mexico is one of the largest dairy producers in the country; it allows me to be selective and choose a brand produced as close to my house as possible: Rasband, which is made in Albuquerque’s South Valley.
My original motive was to limit my diet to food grown only within the city. But the task proves daunting in the desert in the middle of winter, especially for a vegetarian. After my trip to the Co-op, I decided to expand my allowed range. I found a huge number of food produced by local companies waiting in the isles—everything from bread to jam to locally made frozen tamales—the problem is they weren’t made with local ingredients. There’s a big difference between supporting local businesses and eating local food—and one’s distinctively easier than the other. If even the salt in a loaf of bread, or the sugar in raspberry jam, was non-local, it was off limits. And so after combing the ingredient lists on products marked with a big, orange “local” sticker and finding select few foods I could actually eat, I figured I would need to breach Albuquerque limits to survive. By the end of my Co-op search, I decided anything grown within New Mexico would be allowed, with preference given to foods that stemmed closer to home.
Yesterday’s trip was just preparation for today. I hoped to find a hardy reserve of food at the Co-op, the store I figured would have the highest volume of local food (I was correct in my assumption). With such a low yield, I was depending on my mission today: finding victuals from Corrales growers.
The Corrales Growers’ Market only operates once a month in the winter instead of weekly, as it does in the summer, and most of the food available this time of year comes in the form of dried herbs. Fresh fruits and vegetables are unheard of in February, except for the yield of one grower, Rob Hays, who has a greenhouse and puts together an awesome salad mix with dill, mustard greens and eight different kinds of lettuce. I’m told there’s usually a mad rush for beans in the fall, and most are gone by November. I’ve heard legend of local flour, but I’ve looked in all the natural food stores in town and can’t find any. (I’ll finally discover some organic, unbleached, whole wheat local flour lurking in the bulk bins at the Co-op on Day Four, but so far it’s escaped me.) Rations are low.
I decided to try my experiment in this barren time of year for a reason. If eating local is going to expand beyond the definition of a trend and become a societal shift, it needs to be doable any time of year. If I could find local food to eat in February, I could do it year-round.
I found a connection to Corrales growers through Anita Walsh, who coordinates the Corrales Growers’ Market. Walsh raises and dries a myriad of herbs (sold under the label “Anita’s Herbs”), and her boyfriend harvests honey from some 160,000 bees in hives they have in their yard. I meet Walsh at Evelyn Losack’s apple farm, along with lavender grower and soap maker Mary Jane Rodriguez, where I’m served my second meal of the day: apple cider and apple butter.
The three ladies ask me if I’m hungry. They know what I’m about to attempt, and the worry shows in their actions. Losack keeps pushing the apple butter in my direction.
Losack is like a living piece of Corrales history. Her family has been in the area for six generations: Her father helped establish the village library. She helped start the growers’ market. Her spine is crooked and she uses ski poles to navigate her way around her property—after her husband passed four years ago it’s just her on the farm—but she still manages to harvest, process and preserve the massive amount of apples her trees bear every year.
We make our way out to the storage shed in the back of her property, where she loads me with cider, apple jerky, apple chips and a dozen mixed varieties she’s saved from the fall harvest. They’re puckering now and better for cooking with than munching on, but in the state of slow hunger that’s starting to swell through me, they look like a dream. Walsh gives me dried tarragon, alfalfa and some of her boyfriend’s honey. Arm stinging from the weight of the food they’ve just given me, I feel a deeper sense of connection to it. When I drink this cider, I’ll think of Losack ski-poling her way across her farm.
From Losack’s, the rest of my shopping trip is stream-of-consciousness. I’m directed to Rob Hays’ place, where I pick up mixed greens, more eggs (after meeting the 11 hens that laid them) and a sack full of frozen corn, peaches and green chile Rodriguez has dropped off for me. After that I’m ordered to Bob Johnston’s house—whose gate flaunts a sign reading “Trespassers will be beheaded”—who delivers with frozen blackberries, cherries and apples from the fall harvest, along with a couple onions that are growing green shoots but still look good enough to eat.
By now the sun is setting and I still have to drive into the Sandias to retrieve Donna Lockridge and Marge Petersen’s personal frozen reserves of goat milk, goat yogurt and goat feta from their South Mountain Dairy. I’ve still only consumed milk, apple butter and cider today, so I rush home to scramble some of my newly acquired eggs, washed down with another glass of milk, before I head east.
Lockridge and Petersen’s girls (their nickname for their 56 goats) don’t produce milk in the winter. This time of year is like a hibernation for their company, which sells enough the rest of the year to make up for it. I can’t find their products in stores right now, so I’m lucky they’re willing to part with some of their stash. Considering the amount of frozen food I gathered today, I realize how necessary it is to have a large freezer if one plans to eat locally year-round.
Finding groceries took me all day, and I still only have select ingredients—nothing to make a complete meal with. I never would have found what I did without making connections with local growers. Heading home, tired, stomach aching, I feel unbearably grateful to those who planned ahead this year—I am, in the truest sense, relying on the kindness of strangers.
“Cheap and Convenient”
How well do you know what you’re eating? According to Michael Pollan in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the average meal on an American’s plate has traveled 1,500 miles to get there. It’s the kind of number that makes you wonder what would happen if the transportation lines that bring us the food on that plate were severed. Until the last century, people have relied on food grown close to home for survival. Now creating a single meal out of nothing but local ingredients, unless it’s summer, is challenging, or sensually disappointing.
Eating local does make a difference. First and most obviously, it supports the local economy, recycling more dollars into your own community. Most of the time, it also supports small, independent business. But it also makes a difference in terms of food security. Eric Garretson, director of the Downtown Growers’ Market and board member for the New Mexico Farmers’ Markets Association, believes fervently in the practice and philosophy of knowing where our food comes from. He asks how sustainable a city can be if it doesn’t have a local food source.
“We’re importing more right now than we’ve ever imported around the world,” he says. “As a country, we don’t need to import much at all. If we don’t take care of ourselves, how can we take care of the rest of the world?”
But taking care of ourselves is demanding. Even Garretson, whose diet is up to 75 percent local in the summer (and only about 25 percent in the winter, he says), has to supplement his philosophy with imported food. Finding a purist locavore is a rare thing, and it’s not hard to understand why. Eating locally means not eating out. All food has to be prepared at home. If you don’t have energy to cook one night, it means you’re hungry the next day. It also requires extensive planning: growing your own food; frequenting growers’ markets; tailoring your diet around what’s available and in season; freezing, dehydrating, pickling and preserving surplus to last through the winter. It means turning your back on the comforts of technology and globalization and returning to simpler roots. It means forsaking the American dogma of “cheap and convenient” and endorsing a more difficult but ultimately more valuable food system. Is it worth it?
Day Five: The Land of Milk and Honey
I have discovered a new form of hunger. It’s as though my body has given up on trying to warn me that it needs nutrients. Sharp pangs have dissolved into a constant, tired ache. I get lost for minutes in daydreams about breakfast burritos. The little food I have seems so precious I lick my spoons dry.
I accumulated a few more ingredients in the last four days: a jar of peanut butter I overlooked in my first trip to the Co-op, made from nothing but roasted peanuts from Portales; hothouse tomatoes from Alcade; basil grown in Albuquerque; and the most exciting gift I’ve received thus far: a baggie of mixed dried beans from Los Lunas and Albuquerque. Garretson brought me the beans, and I never knew I could experience such exhilaration from so simple a token. I actually skipped around the office as I called out to my coworkers that I had in my possession beans, glorious beans.
But cooking the treasure I’d acquired turned disastrous. I’m unfortunately one of those people who can’t stand the taste of raw tomatoes, although I love them cooked, so I decided to make an easy marinara sauce with one of the onions I’d gotten from Bob Johnston and some old garlic I picked up from Los Poblanos Organics farm in Los Ranchos. But the onion and garlic were too old, foul-smelling, and local salt was nowhere to be found. The simmering tomato sauce exuded a pungent, stinging odor, and I tossed it. I later tried roasting tomatoes with the tarragon Anita Walsh gave me and basil. The end result was tasty, although still a little too tomato-y for my liking, but once the tomatoes cooked down there was hardly enough meat left in them to make a dent in my appetite.
I cooked the beans, but naively believed the instructions I found online that said I only needed to soak them for four hours before cooking them. When the required cooking time had ended and the beans still seemed tough, I left them simmering longer to soften them. But I forgot to add more water to the pot and left them on for too long. The product was charred, slightly crunchy beans. I ate a cup’s worth with some Bueno frozen red chile I’d found, but the chile wasn’t enough to make them palatable.
My failed attempts at cooking land me with little to eat, although the hunger is punctuated with divine moments of revelation. On Day Two I defrosted Bob Johnston’s blackberries. Eating them at my desk, deep purple juice that would stain my palms dribbling down my fingers, I felt like a bear. I laughed as I tried to keep viscous rivulets from splashing on the proofing boards in front of me. Knowing that these berries would usually be forbidden by the elements this time of year, they seemed a magical, freak occurrence. I noticed every sweet, perfect orb.
This visceral experience was followed by a less passionate but still scintillating meal on Day Four, when I scattered remaining berries and a handful of crumbly cow feta I found at the Co-op over some greens I got from Rob Hays and Eric Garretson. This salad remains the only true meal of my week so far—and the first bite was a comfort I can’t describe.
The majority of my calories are coming from my staples of peanut butter, honey and milk. Peanut butter is miraculous with nine grams of protein in two tablespoons. Without it, I’m afraid I’d melt away. But I’m drinking so much milk, water is starting to assume its taste. I can’t believe I still have two more days of this.
Local vs. Organic
The American diet is evolving. If you can’t tell from the organic section at your supermarket or the all-natural Newman’s Own dressing served at Wendy’s, surely you can see it in the surge in natural food stores like Whole Foods across the country. Pollan writes in The Omnivore’s Dilemma that organic food has already created an $11 billion market—it’s a symptom of a yearning for change in our national food landscape. So where does locavorism fit in?
“Local food, as opposed to organic, implies a new economy as well as a new agriculture—new social and economic relationships as well as new ecological ones,” Pollan writes. “It’s a lot more complicated.”
With the rise of locavorism comes the question over which food trend is more important: local or organic? The answer shifts depending on who you ask.
“I just think the eating local movement is a little narrow in its vision. I can point to some horrendous food that’s locally grown.” These are the words of Jo Robinson, founder of Eatwild.com, a seven-year-old site with steadily growing name recognition—garnering an average of more than 5,000 unique visitors a day. “Just because it’s local, it doesn’t mean the animals are being treated well. It’s part of the solution, but as the single criteria, it falls short.”
Robinson, a freelance investigative journalist, started Eatwild in 2001 with the purpose of chronicling all the suppliers of grass-fed meat and dairy products in the country. When the site launched, it listed 49 farms. Now it details more than 1,000, with 11 in New Mexico—a testament to the strength of the movement to eat more conscientiously.
Robinson believes the quality of the food produced outweighs the benefits of buying locally, and she’s not alone. Monte Skarsgard is the managing farmer of Los Poblanos, a cooperative organic farm that works with 15 others in the region, trading food to ensure members get weekly delivered rations. Skarsgard gives credit to the economic benefits of buying local, but finds the argument to buy organic much stronger.
“Things that are grown locally can be harvested at the wrong time, they can be harvested and put in someone’s refrigerator for a week; and at the same time I can get some strawberries from California in two days,” he says. “After something comes off a plant, the nutrient value starts degrading.” (As a side note, Anita Walsh says the produce sold at the Corrales Growers’ Market is harvested the morning of or the night before the market.)
But when it comes to theories over nutrition, many locavores believe there are other, less tangible benefits to eating local food. Eric Garretson explains the hypothesis with the aid of an Arkansas black apple (grown in Los Lunas) he’s brought with him. “It’s not really about the nutrients. It’s how you feel you need to eat,” he says. “The energy put into growing that apple, if it was good energy, if it was done by a farmer who really cares about what’s going on—not an industrial agricultural situation where there’s just a monocrop and a farmer’s out there on a tractor not really paying attention to individual plants—but a farmer that has a small farm and is putting good, positive energy into that food, does that make a difference? You bet it makes a difference. That food is not only going to be better for you on a spiritual level but on all kinds of levels.”
Opinions on this particular debate may be varied, but one consensus that’s been reached is on the status of small-scale farmers and growers: They’re in trouble. Part of this is due the government’s lack of support for non-industrial operations (just last month, Gov. Bill Richardson vetoed a bill allocating $150,000 for a program that would have brought locally grown food into New Mexico school cafeterias, while at the same time signing a bill for $250,000 to go toward research on genetically modified green chile), and part of it’s due to the cultural attitudes toward farming.
“The stereotype is that farmers are the dumbest—the redneck-tripping-over-the-transmission-in-the-backyard, tobacco-spitting, farmer hillbilly. The old Jeffersonian idea of the sophisticated agrarian peasant, that idea is now gone,” says Joel Salatin, one of the nation’s pre-eminent grass farmers as the owner of Virginia’s Polyface Farms. Salatin raises beef, poultry, pork and eggs on his rolling acreage, and believes a healthy, diverse pasture is the key to happy animals and sustainable farming. (I had the honor of sitting down with Salatin, who was featured at length in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, for a couple hours this November to talk about grass farming and the state of meat production in America. To read our conversation, look for the web exclusive next to this article.) Salatin worries about the future of that farming in the hands of the next generation, which is told by society to disdain the profession.
“I remember in high school, when I told the guidance counselor I was going to be a farmer, she would have epileptic seizures over a wasted brain,” Salatin continues. “If you’ve got any brains you’re supposed to go to town to become an attorney or an accountant or an engineer. Who are the heroes of our society now?”
Day Seven: Needs Salt
All I can think about is food. It’s 11 p.m. and I’m counting the minutes—practically the only cognitive task my brain is capable of at this point. I’m second-guessing my decision to wait until midnight to eat again. But I’ve gone six days and 23 hours, and one more won’t kill me. At least I think it won’t.
I tried cooking again in the last couple days. But without basic ingredients—salt the most critical—everything turns out slightly gross. I’ve been supplementing my diet with frozen fruit, apple products and feta, but I’m still primarily sustaining myself on milk, peanut butter and honey, as they’re calorie- and nutrient-rich. But if I have to eat one more spoonful, I’m afraid I’ll never be able to enjoy it again. I’ve reached my breaking point, and I’m mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted.
I’m now faced with answering a question I’m not sure how to approach: Was my experiment a success? I think it depends on how you look at it. Did I last a week of eating nothing but locally grown food? Yes. (With the heartbreaking exception of accepting an offered piece of gum on Day Six—I was a few chews in before the realization of what I just did struck me.) Did I eat a healthful, satisfying and temptation-worthy diet? Absolutely not. Do I understand more about what it would take to lead the life of a locavore? I like to think so.
I hope my experiment doesn’t discourage others from trying to localize their diets. It’s important to remember that I bulldozed into this lifestyle in the middle of February, just a couple weeks away from when the growing season will begin. In fact, Los Poblanos’ Monte Skarsgard told me he thinks it was probably the hardest week of the year to attempt such a task. This was the tail end of the year, and food was simply running out before the first spring harvest.
The only way I was able to make it through the week was due to the connections I made, which is a large part of the philosophy behind locavorism: engaging and sharing in a community. And, even though I spent my week hungry, I found that the further I delved into this community, those connections swelled into a deep reservoir of local growers. Every person I met while scavenging for food suggested five more people I should call. My one regret this week was that I didn’t have the time to contact them all—but then, I never could have.
In the summer it would be entirely possible to eat a complete, nutritious and savory diet on nothing but local food, even without the connections. And, with foresight and effort, anyone could eat a largely local diet year-round, as long as they have a large freezer and preferably a small plot of land (Eric Garretson is adamant that food can be grown year-round here at a low cost, and he has the fresh greens to prove it). Even without a ton of preparation, it’s easy to look for local labels and occasionally stop by a growers’ market. It’s the kind of voting-with-your-dollar that really makes an impact on your local environment, economy and health.
It’s past midnight and I’m driving with a friend to Federico's, an all-night Mexican drive-thru on Juan Tabo. I had my heart set on the Frontier, but it closes early now, which tonight feels incomprehensible. When we pull up to the speaker box, I order a breakfast burrito and a horchata. I’m trembling at the prospect of a meal.
We swerve into the empty parking lot next door and I rip open the foil on my burrito. Salt. I never understood how crucial it was to enjoying most food. I will always remember these first two bites of potato and tortilla. It tastes fine, but this isn’t really about flavor. I just want desperately to be full, to eat hot food. The horchata is sweet and grainy and perfect.
This was one of the longest, and in some ways most stimulating, weeks of my life. I’m happy I did it. I’m proud I did it. And I don’t ever want to do it again. Unless it’s summer.
Ten Years at the Compound
by Christie Chisholm, LocalFlavor Magazine, September 2010
Before he leaves his house, Mark Kiffin pounds back two triple-expressos. It’s the morning ingredient to his pedal-to-the-metal days, in which he somehow manages to be CEO, manager, accountant, father, boyfriend and master chef, all at once. Kiffin appears to operate off caffeine and kinetic, perpetual motion—that, and an utterly transparent adoration of all things food.
Kiffin talks about food the way one might about the great loves of his or her life—with a slow-building yet exuberant passion it’s difficult to not get swept away by. Even if you don’t speak with Kiffin face-to-face, having a meal at his restaurant, The Compound, feels like having a conversation with the entrepreneur himself. Every item on the rotating menu is imbued with Kiffin’s inspirations, tastes and intentions—his grilled beef tenderloin with cèpe O’Brian potatoes and foie gras hollandaise; his Alaskan halibut with summer sweet corn pudding and smoked bacon, tomato and basil; his wild mushrooms and organic stone ground polenta with black truffle relish, shaved parmesan and organic arugula; and, never to be overlooked, his liquid chocolate cake with white chocolate-pistachio cremeaux, mint chocolate wafers and tangerine caramel. Sitting down to dinner at The Compound, which Kiffin has now owned for 10 years, is about feeding the soul as much as it is about feeding the body.
Gastronomes across the Southwest are familiar with Kiffin’s accolades—from being named “Best Chef of the Southwest” by the James Beard Foundation in 2005 to having The Compound featured in Gourmet Magazine’s 2002 “Guide to America’s Best Restaurants” to being mentioned as a not-to-be-missed destination in the New York Times.
Kiffin got his start in the food industry at the age of 15, working as a dishwasher in the mountain town of Evergreen, Colo., where he grew up. Some of his first memories of cooking involve helping his grandmother and mom make holiday dinners. And although his parents didn’t like cooking outside the holidays much, they were both in the travel business and would come home armed with tales of exotic cuisines they had sampled afar, inspiring Kiffin’s mind to run wild.
The young cook didn’t think much about his future in food until perusing college application forms at the library one day. As he flipped though form after form, his fingers landed on one for The Culinary Institute of America, a school (and a career path) he’d never heard of. Fearful that someone else would see it and also apply, lessening his chances of getting in, he took the book. A little more than a year later, he started at CIA as one of the youngest students in his class.
Kiffin’s now worked in the restaurant industry for more than 25 years, partnering with Mark Miller at the Coyote Café in Santa Fe, acting as the corporate executive chef of the Coyote Café MGM Grand in Las Vegas and working with Stephan Pyles as the corporate executive chef of Star Concepts, among a host of other positions. Kiffin has helped develop a line of Southwestern food products, collaborated on three cookbooks and taught his craft all around the world, from Asia to Central America.
When Kiffin bought The Compound in 2000, he was looking for a sizable new project. The restaurant had been open since the ’60s and was ready for a makeover. When its owner was ready to pass it on, Kiffin snatched up the opportunity and set to work updating the building and setting a new pace for the restaurant. “The biggest thing in a restaurant like this is to give it the respect it deserves,” he says. “It had 30-plus years as a functioning operation. The people that came before us, you want to respect them. At the same time, you want to continue that longevity, that life.”
Ten years later after Kiffin took it over, The Compound has grown, with about 60 employees and dining areas that seat a couple hundred. While the restaurant’s previous life was as a French eatery, these days the menu defies stereotypes, although Kiffin does like to base his creations on historical food from the region. “I believe in the history and anthropology of where food comes from,” he says. Kiffin takes a New World approach to his menus, infusing them with Mediterranean flair.
Those menus change every season, introducing 20-some new dishes four times a year. There are some items that stay constant, however, which Kiffin refers to as his Compound Classics. They’re hearty, undeniably and persistently satisfying meals, such as buttermilk roast chicken with creamed spinach and foie gras pan gravy. The idea behind the menu structure is to maintain unchanging, core items that people can come back for time and again but to also always offer something fresh and exciting, so even when people aren’t craving their favorites, they have reason to return.
Kiffin also revels in the joy and experimentation of continuously evolving menus. He tailors his choices to the seasons, following the moods and philosophies of different times of year as well as centering his dishes around what’s ripe. “Spring is peas and fava beans, and spring lamb and new potatoes,” he says, pronouncing each ingredient as though it were poetry. “In summertime, it’s corn, squash and tomatoes. You want things that are lighter, so more salads and lighter presentations. Then when the leaves fall you want heavier, richer dishes. Dried fruit and heavier mushrooms, more pasta and cheese. And then there comes the spring again, and it’s time to wake up. The leaves are coming out, you get the feeling that you want to go outside again—bright, green vegetables are popping out of the ground.”
It’s when Kiffin talks about his ingredients and the moods they incite that his voice comes alive. He is both business and passion. A salesperson and an inventor. He discusses his history and accomplishments like a pro marketeer, but ask him about what he puts in his food and why, and his voice slows, the proverbial lights dim and the artist emerges. It’s because it’s the ingredients themselves, food in its most natural state, that win his devotion. “Great ingredients speak for themselves,” he says. “The more you talk to great chefs, they think about what they can take off the plate instead of what they can add to it.”
There’s a natural and understated elegance Kiffin transfers from himself to every dish that leaves his kitchen, and it’s based in a philosophy that puts whole ingredients on high. What that means is that those ingredients must be perfect, and he’ll search all over the country to find the right ones—he gets naturally raised lamb from Washington, pork from Idaho, and a host of fruits and vegetables from the Hudson Valley in Upstate New York. Kiffin still gets as much local food as possible, but if he can’t find something here, he’ll search the country over until he finds an ideal version of what he’s looking for.
“It’s not just about food,” he says, “it’s also about the philosophy, the flavors, the wine. Right now, all the patios are open, the doors are open, people are dining outside. In the winter, it’s closed up, there are fireplaces and rich food. We take care of you, we warm you up.”
He runs what he calls a “chef-driven concept,” which means everything on the menu is something he’d like to eat himself. “I cook what I like,” he says. “If I don’t like it, I don’t have to put it on the menu. We like to cook the way we eat. If you enjoy it, it starts in your head, it moves to your heart. You transfer that passion through your food and onto the plate.”
Kiffin knows what he likes, and he knows equally well what he hates. He despises the term “fusion,” arguing that the type cuisine forces things together that aren’t supposed to mix and ends up hiding the true flavor of the foods it uses. “I like the classical history of cuisine I was taught,” he says. “Everything is a flavor. Everything gets respect.”
His menus are also based around the notions of movement. “There has to be a flow, from first courses to entrées to dessert,” he says. “It’s like music and theater: There’s the opening act, then the boom-boom-boom in the middle, then the finales, the opera, how it all finishes.”
Perhaps equal to his love for ingredients is Kiffin’s loyalty to family. Even though The Compound is considered fine dining, he welcomes kids and makes dishes specially for them. “My daughter was born while I owned this restaurant. She’s grown up inside it,” he says. “We have families here, families who work hard, and I’ve seen their kids born while they’ve come here. Now I see them running around.”
A love for family dining and the fact that Kiffin was born on Christmas Day means the holidays are an extravagant affair. The Compound kitchen crafts homemade marshmallows and cider for kids, and Kiffin sets up more than 3,000 faralitos on the restaurant’s grounds.
When he’s not at the restaurant, Kiffin is usually with his nearly 8-year-old daughter and girlfriend. The nightly menus he creates in his own kitchen mimic that of his professional one: steaks and salads, roast chicken and root vegetables, fine cheeses and homemade pizza. And, of course, sundaes on Sundays.
Maybe it’s all that espresso in the morning, or maybe it’s his innate drive, but Kiffin has more plans on the horizon. He’s looking for another place to open a restaurant that’s different in nature from The Compound and, one day, he plans on writing a cookbook based solely on his Compound menus. But he’s in no rush. He’s enjoying the process. “This is The Compound, not the compromise,” he says. “I love my work, and I love my family. And together, I’m a lucky man.”
This Guy Ain't Right
Love Song at The Filling Station
by Christie Chisholm, Weekly Alibi, November 11, 2010
There's music in the dark. Someone shuffles onto the stage and sits, but a guitar strum cuts through the silence for a long while, almost too long. Uncomfortably long.
Then a light. Bursting from a small, red, hanging lampshade, it illuminates the face of a man who’s frozen on a wooden chair and backdropped by a wooden wall—and he is scared. The music stays. The wall, bisected, begins to fold around him. But he remains in his seat, breathing faster and faster. His eyes move in a frenzy but his body stays motionless. The walls squeeze closer. The light and sound go out.
The man we have met in this odd and lonely circumstance is Beane, a person who isn’t mentally handicapped but is also not entirely right. He’s quiet, you see, and awkward and unsure, but also overly—and hilariously—analytical. He works in a token booth and lives in a home with one change of clothes, one cup and one spoon. “Sometimes a sweater tells you you’re visible,” he says, “when maybe that’s not the case. Glasses and candlesticks tell you to expect a party, and in my case there’s not a party. I don’t want to have a fork if it’s gonna lie to me.”
Love Song is equal parts comedy and drama, and Beane is our hero. But he doesn’t know it yet. Neither do we.
Peter Diseth is phenomenal in the role. He has found a magic combination of fantastic comedy and fantastically sad inner torment that fleshes out this character in a way that is so rare on stage. Diseth wows with each line and is an utter joy to watch. The same can be said of the rest of the show. It’s another undeniably strong work to come out of Mother Road Theatre Company.
There’s Joan (Kristín Hansen), Beane’s sister, a wine-imbibing businesswoman, and Harry (Mark Hisler), her husband, the kind of guy who orders psychoanalysis kits in the mail. Hansen and Hisler work off each other with exceptional timing and grace, nuancing their characters with so many bits of reality you want to invite Joan and Harry over for drinks. Their chemistry is palpable, whether their characters are arguing or in love. The actors manage to be wonderfully and endearingly funny in every scene. Diseth fits right in the mix—the three ricochet off each other with ease and the kind of familiarity that makes you wonder if they really are family, after all.
As the title suggests, this play is about love. But it’s also about dependence and independence, surrender and self-actualization. And it’s about transformation. All characters evolve through the course of the show in a way that’s relatable, joyous and also heartbreaking. Although the second half becomes predictable and the pacing slows some as a result, John Kolvenbach’s script is a tremendously lyrical and insightful work.
Molly (Lauren Myers) is the one character that doesn’t quite fit. A violent burglar with a disdain for architects, she becomes Beane’s lover. But her role just doesn’t carry the same emotion as the others. Perhaps it’s due in part to the writing, but Myers stays firmly in actor-y territory, enunciating her words too emphatically and never allowing herself vulnerability, which is what ultimately gives a character life. Myers isn’t bad, but she also has a lot to learn.
Almost serving as its own character is The Filling Station. Aside from the audience’s seats, the entire space is used. A kitchen sits on one end of the room, with shelves full of wine bottles and stemmed glasses. The aforementioned wooden chair and wall rest on the other side. Two taupe armchairs face each other in the middle of the room, separated by a rug and coffee table. The pieces in the set are well-chosen and well-placed, and they seem true to the characters who use them. Also—as those who have been to this theater are well aware—The Filling Station has retained its giant sliding garage door, left over from another era. Without giving anything away, I have to say I’ve never seen that door put to such good use.
Love Song is a testament to the fact that Mother Road has easily become one of the best theater companies in town. The works it’s produced this year have been imaginative, precise and emotive, and I can’t wait to see what it puts out next. In a town that’s become increasingly about film, Mother Road reminds us that truly good theater can hold the same, if not more, power to entertain, enlighten and connect.
by Christie Chisholm, LocalFlavor Magazine, November 2010
Das Anastasiou is a fan of cool. In the early ’80s, as a mod Londoner who had a mother with a clothing factory and a personal distaste for all things new, he fled to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district and got a job working in a vintage clothing shop. Instantly, he loved it. He learned the trade, climbed the ladder and eventually opened his own vintage store 14 years ago. Originally called Sparky’s and now called Revolver, Anastasiou and the store, which is co-owned with his wife, have been in Albuquerque for seven years, occupying prime real estate along Central in Nob Hill.
Anastasiou is not a T-shirt-and-jeans man. He owns a single pair of jeans (vintage, of course) and can’t remember the last time he slid them on. He finds the casual clothes most Americans wear as a daily uniform dull and uninspiring, and a bit uncouth. You’re most likely to find him in a blazer, button-up shirt, skinny tie and slacks, wearing “shoes,” as he calls them, never sneakers or, god forbid, flip-flops. He likes his clothes cool.
He likes other people who wear cool clothes, too. That doesn’t necessarily mean dressing like him, he says. It means “having personal style”—being unwilling to look like everybody else and putting care into how they present themselves. He finds modern fashion an oxymoron, believing all true revolution in the way people dress ended with an abrupt halt in the ’90s, when grunge came in and self-respect went out.
And so Anastasiou has surrounded himself with a fortress of cool—sharp, tailored suits and shiny cufflinks, chiffon cocktail dresses and hand-beaded clutches, and a revolving auditory assortment of Donovan and the soundtrack to 1968’s The Thomas Crown Affair. With thousands of pieces squeezed onto racks and shelves, perched carefully in glass cases and dangling invitingly from walls, Revolver is a colorful, crisp confection of cool. And Anastasiou looks right at home.
The hipness of vintage clothing is nothing new; but in the past three years, it’s a trend that has perhaps grown stronger due to the popularity of “Mad Men” (Anastasiou must realize this, as he put up giant signs in his display windows reading the name of the ’60s-based TV show). That cultural meme is aided by the recession, which has pushed more people to buy old rather than new. Not to say all vintage clothing is cheap—the items you’ll find in most vintage shops are usually in excellent condition, and they’re priced accordingly—but, as Anastasiou puts it, “Why go spend $1,000 on a suit when you can go here and find one for $150 that’s the same quality or better?”
Mixed in with the vintage trend is a gravitation toward recycled clothing of all sorts; thrift stores have become an increasingly popular place for fashionistas, especially twenty- and thirtysomethings. But Anastasiou isn’t interested in just anything from the past. He sticks strictly to vintage, which generally includes clothes from the ’20s through ’80s, and he looks all over the country to find the highest-quality pieces possible, estimating that he receives regular shipments from about 10 states. He won’t reveal where he finds the items that make up his massive stock, but he says, almost emphatically, that he doesn’t buy any of it from stores. In more than 20 years in the business, he says he’s gathered vast resources, and they allow him to keep his racks full. “I can make a phone call for men’s shirts,” he offers, “and within a couple weeks, there will be 500 shirts here.”
A portion of Revolver’s inventory is sourced from locals who come in to sell clothing, although because Anastasiou is so selective, he only buys a small percentage of what enters his doors. Many of the clothes he buys from that group originated in Albuquerque; they come from high-end shops in town that closed decades ago, like Paris Shoes, The Crystal Room and Stromberg’s.
Anastasiou also takes pride in the fact that nearly all of his stock is American-made. Aside from some cheap sunglasses made in China (requested by customers), all items, down to their fabric, were constructed in the U.S. Anastasiou finds a joy in buying vintage clothes—like a treasure hunt, he combs through hundreds of articles to find a few standout pieces. Jewelry is his favorite thing to buy, especially 30s celluloid and 40s Bakelite. “I never get tired of it,” he says. “It’s cool. They don’t make jewelry like this anymore.” A number of the items in the store, including a lot of jewelry and sunglasses, are “dead stock,” meaning they’ve never been used—they’re fashion relics finally being bought for the first time.
Anastasiou doesn’t really care for that word, “fashion.” He associates it with an industry that’s sole purpose is to sell, not invent. “Fashion is death,” he says, without the slightest hint of melodrama. “It’s an entity created to buy clothes that in two or three months are out of style.” What’s in style at any given moment doesn’t generate much interest for him, either. “How many embellished T-shirts are you going to see?” he adds with a smile.
The natty shop owner equates the way people dress with the way they feel about themselves and each other, as a culture and as individuals. He’s shocked when he sees young women walk past his shop windows wearing pajamas and slippers. The downward spiral started in the ’70s, he says, when jeans became more popular and T-shirts and sneakers hit the scene in a big way. “Things that were at one point athletic became everyday wear. That’s what killed fashion,” he says. “All the comfort clothing, I think it looks terrible. I see people with a lot of disrespect; they look like slobs. It’s a culture in decline.”
But Revolver isn’t about the devolution of American culture; it’s about discovery. Anastasiou’s favorite part of his job comes in customers’ excitement over finding something they love, something “cool,” something they’ve never seen before or that’s rare. “It’s about sharing,” he says. “When they see it, and they get excited, that’s what excites me.” For the fashion-minded shopper who’s looking for a one-of-a-kind piece, he says, who wants something special and, of course, cool, it’s hard to do better than vintage.
Atrisco's Long Goodbye
Westland Development finalizes sale of land steeped in New Mexico history
by Christie Chisholm, Weekly Alibi, January 18, 2007
It take a minute for the fumes to hit. Before they do, there’s only red. A sprawling pool of red.
“What is that?”
James Aranda stares at it, waiting for synapses to pop.
Then a whiff of paint thinner … but it can’t be paint thinner .
He looks around for the source. There. A hose.
The smell is stronger now, almost headache inducing.
He follows the hose through a tear in a barbed-wire fence, traces it along the dirt, until it reaches a large, pill-shaped tank. On its side, in black letters, he reads: Warning. Red Dye Diesel. Non-Highway.
No one is there. Just a partially drilled well humming in search of natural gas, a few rusty barrels, a hose spilling diesel by the gallon and a sign declaring “Tecton Energy, LLC.”
Aranda walks back to the gathering pool of diesel and crouches. Sand grates under his brown loafers. A hundred feet away, a cluster of black cows low. Diesel pours into hoof prints. His eyes sink to the ground, his ground.
In this moment, Aranda is one of six-thousand owners of that landscape, all 57,000 acres. The land is interrupted on the east end with the occasional small, inconsequential development. But mostly it’s empty—just a vast fragment of land hugging the western edge of Albuquerque.
Aranda knew he was going to lose it. He knew it would be soon. But he didn’t know it would be like this.
The spilt diesel had all the marks of vandalism. A couple days later, Tecton filed a police report as well as a report with the Oil Conservation Division. State investigators visited the site soon after and found the spill backfilled and cleaned.
But Aranda’s chance discovery of the spill impressed upon him a more ominous threat. Within a matter of weeks, he would be forced to sell his part ownership in the land. Whatever harm came to this mesa—whether from hoodlums, oil companies or developers—its fate would be out of his control.
Westland Development sold itself for a tidy price: $250 million. Company heads signed papers in early December, officially transferring the company and all its assets, but news of the sale came a year and a half earlier, on Aug. 16, 2005.
Aranda was sitting in his father’s living room, shaking off a long day of construction on a house his uncle was building in Rio Rancho.
The phone rang.
A reporter from the Albuquerque Journal was on the other end. A month earlier, the two men met at a legislative interim committee on land grants. But on this day, the reporter had some news. Westland had issued a press release, announcing it was thinking about selling. Aranda, a shareholder in the company, was shocked. He had received nothing from Westland—not a letter, a phone call, an e-mail. Nothing. He thanked the reporter for the information and hung up the phone.
The phone rang again.
This time it was state Rep. Miguel Garcia. He, too, had heard from the Journal reporter.
Aranda got off the phone and called a friend to tell him the news. Then he told his father. Simply, frantically, his father looked at him: “We have to stop it.”
That Westland might be sold meant more than the transfer of a company. To Aranda and his father, it wasn’t about money. It was about land, and what that land meant. More than 300 years ago, that land had been given to the Arandas’ ancestors, the people of Atrisco, by the King of Spain, and named the Atrisco Land Grant. After centuries of languid development, the heirs of Atrisco voted to transform their birthright into a corporation, thinking the change would make it easier for them to develop the land to benefit their people.
What the Arandas learned that August afternoon wasn’t just that their company was thinking about selling. They learned that their heritage was in danger. So they formed an organization to try to save it.
Last year marked Albuquerque’s 300th birthday. Reminders are nestled throughout the city: manhole covers emblazoned with our Tricentennial, dedicated twin towers perched off I-40 … countless billboards. Meanwhile, as the border to Albuquerque cuts off to the west, so grows the region of Atrisco, with a history even older than that of our city.
The original people of Atrisco, or Atrisqueños, were Tslascalan Mexican Indians who followed Juan de Oñate into the region from Mexico in 1598. In the years between 1620 and 1660,Atrisqueños migrated to a plump section of land next to the Rio Grande and settled El Valle de Atlixco, named after their old town in Mexico. With this wave of settlers came Pedro Gómez Durán y Cháves, a sergeant in Oñate’s troop.
The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 forced Atrisqueños out of New Mexico. But in 1692 they returned with Diego de Vargas, who declared all previous land claims in the area void. Durán y Cháves’ grandson, Fernando, was a captain in de Vargas’ movement, and petitioned for the parcel of land where he and his family had lived before the revolt. His request was approved, and in 1692 the Atrisco Land Grant was formed, becoming the oldest documented land grant in New Mexico history.
The next 200 years were ripe with war, land deals and power struggles. The United States laid claim over New Mexico, but the Atrisqueños held onto their land. Exactly two centuries after the Atrisco Land Grant was conceived, Atrisqueños petitioned the U.S. government to officially incorporate their land into the Town of Atrisco, and in 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt signed a patent approving their request and granting a total of more than 82,000 acres.
Atrisqueños wanted to use their new position to create rich development that would benefit their people, and so in 1959 they sold a small portion of their land, intending to spread the profits among themselves. But many Atrisqueños complained about the sale, saying most of the profits never reached the people. Development on the land struggled.
A law passed by the New Mexico Legislature in 1967 gave some Atrisqueños hope. The law allowed land grants to be reorganized as for-profit corporations. Heirs to the land grant would become shareholders in the corporation, with all stock staying within original bloodlines, never to be sold or transferred to non-heirs. Slightly more than half of the Atrisqueños voted to go through with the transformation, and that year Westland Development was born. Nearly 20,000 acres of land given to the Town of Atrisco by Roosevelt had since become the unincorporated parts of Albuquerque’s South Valley, and so Westland was left with the remainder of the common lands, 59,000 acres.
Yet the stagnation that had plagued Atrisco as a township continued in its new form as a company. And over the next 20 years, shareholders accused the company’s board of directors of abusing their power. Lawsuits were filed and settled, but in 1989, a reform slate of candidates for the board was elected into office, including Barbara Page, who served as the company’s CEO through the end of 2006.
The new board promised progressive change that would benefit shareholders: a scholarship fund, job opportunities for heirs, smart development that would reap significant profits for shareholders. But the economic growth promised never came. No scholarship fund was created. Virtually no job opportunities arose. Development was scarce—the only major deal Westland made occurred in 2000 when the company sold 2,000 acres to the U.S. Park Service for $33 million to form part of the Petroglyph National Monument. The sale was greatly contested among shareholders, who in the end didn’t see much reward for their loss of land. In the years leading up to Westland’s proposal to sell in 2005, shareholders received no more than $1 per share in annual dividends.
When James Aranda heard news of Westland’s plans, he feared the meager dividends would motivate shareholders to favor the sale. Before the Westland board could sell, they needed a two-thirds majority approval of their shareholders. Shareholders got as many votes as they had shares, and the proposal from the development company who wanted to buy Westland offered hundreds of dollars a share if the sale went through. Those with more shares would get more money, and more votes. Aranda worried that his ancestors’ land, because of Westland’s failure to develop it wisely, would now be developed by someone else.
In the days following Westland’s announcement, Aranda and his father formed the Concerned Heirs of Atrisco with three other shareholders. News of the sale had started to seep into the community, but still no letters or explanations had come from the Westland board. The Concerned Heirs wanted to tell shareholders about the details of the sale and encourage them to vote against it.
Aranda’s group grew as aunts, uncles, cousins and sisters joined among non-family members. Eventually, the group hired a lawyer to get documents from Westland. They contacted the press and advertised their position against the sale. As the Concerned Heirs toiled, other efforts to quell the buyout surfaced.
Nicholas Koluncich has a room full of boxes. And on the side of each of those boxes is spelled: Westland/Atrisco.
If you follow him up to his office, he has more boxes. And a bookshelf filled entirely with big, black binders. And on the side of all of those? “Westland/Atrisco.” Koluncich uses the contents of these boxes to fight the sale of Westland Development. His various clients depend on him to do so.
These days, it may be too late to stop the sale, but in January 2006, Koluncich had hope. So much hope, his phone flooded with calls.
Koluncich had heard about Westland’s proposal and talked to a couple shareholders who were interested in taking legal action against it. He bought an ad in the Albuquerque Journal in December 2005, asking shareholders for information. Dozens of people called, but most wanted the same thing from him: information. Some shareholders didn’t understand the details of the sale and felt they weren’t getting answers from Westland, so they called Koluncich. A number of people wanted to file class actions to stop the sale.
With six separate lawsuits and 15 clients with the same purpose, Koluncich has given up taking cases unrelated to Westland. The depositions, court documents and records kept in his stockpile of boxes are massive. He’s recruited the help of a larger law firm to assist him.
Koluncich’s lawsuits take issue with the way Westland set about selling itself. In particular, the cases outline concerns with the board’s Class B shares. In the company makeup of Westland, two types of shares exist: No Par, common shares owned by heirs, which can be bought or traded among shareholders; and Class B, shares controlled by the board that aren’t accessible to shareholders.
The Westland board created and awarded themselves Class B shares in the early ’80s. Soon after, lawyers told the board shares couldn’t be created or awarded without shareholder approval. And so in 1983 the board crafted a Stock Bonus Plan which would allow such activity and brought it to shareholders for a vote. It was overwhelmingly rejected. The next year, the plan was introduced again, and again it failed. According to one of Koluncich’s lawsuits, the board then forged shareholder signatures to pass the plan--a claim backed by testimony from former CEO Gil Cordova that he discovered many forgeries while hand-checking votes.
The Stock Option Plan disintegrated in 1986 with a letter from the board that said thefv plan caused dissatiffaction among shareholders. Yet for the next 20 years Westland board members continued to issue themselves Class B stock.
Upon the sale of the company, the Westland board made more than $12.9 million on their combined Class B shares alone. CEO Page made more than $3 million on her Class B shares; board director Sosimo Padilla made more than $6.5 million. In early 2006, the proposed sale of Westland included the issuance of 35,000 change in control shares that would be given to the board if the sale went through--an amount that would have equaled $11 million. Koluncich filed a complaint in February 2006, asking to get rid of the change in control shares, and a week later, his request was granted.
Today, Koluncich is still working to take the Class B shares held by the board and distribute them evenly among all shareholders. And, even though final papers in the Westland-SunCal deal have been signed, Koluncich is still trying to the stop the sale.
Most of Koluncich’s clients feel the Westland deal falls short of the land’s true value. The offer to buy Westland, presented by SunCal Companies, was to purchase the shareholders’ 794,927 shares for $315 each, for a total of $250 million. In addition, the California-based company agreed to establish an entity named the Atrisco Heritage Foundation, which would receive $1 million a year for 100 years. The uses for the money haven’t been determined and would be decided by the entity’s board of directors, once they’re appointed. Also included in the deal is the creation of Atrisco Oil and Gas LLC., which would manage any oil and gas revenues that spring from the land. The SunCal deal states that shareholders will receive 100 percent of all rents and royalties from current oil and gas leases, and 50 percent from leases created after the sale.
Yet clients, along with other shareholders like Aranda, believe the land is worth much more than SunCal’s offer. Sitting in the only direction Albuquerque can grow and harboring a potential wealth of mineral, gas and water rights, SunCal bought the land for little more than $4,000 an acre.
On the morning of Nov. 6, 2006, a mariachi band trumpets into a large conference room at the Kiva Auditorium. Following the steel-stringed guitars and violins walks Barbara Page, clapping along to the music as she trots to the front of the room and takes her seat behind a placard bearing her name. To either side of her are Westland’s remaining board of directors, and standing at the podium with glasses and starched white hair is Westland attorney Thad Turk, who calls the session to order.
This is the day. After a year of postponed shareholder meetings, it finally arrived. The fate of Westland and the Atrisco Land Grant will be decided.
The room shuffles. A baby cries. Shareholders work their way to one of two microphones, labeled “In Favor” and “In Opposition.” They each have 90 seconds, if they choose to use them.
Some shareholders go to their designated microphones to voice support. Others ask the board questions.
A man stands up and asks why SunCal was allowed to collect ballots for shareholder votes preceding the meeting. Another wants to know what happened to the ballots SunCal collected.
Page says she doesn’t understand the question.
The man restates it: Where did the ballots go, who has them now?
Page asks if anyone from SunCal is there who can answer.
A few seconds pass and a SunCal representative stands up and makes his way to the “In Favor” mic. He explains the collected ballots were all given to the company Moss Adams, who is tallying the vote.
Later, a woman declares she wants to transfer her allotted 90 seconds to Jerome Padilla, a member of the Concerned Heirs of Atrisco.
Turk calls her disruptive, says her behavior won’t be tolerated. The woman, standing in the aisle, asks again. Turk calls for security to remove her.
Protests rise from seats around the room. Shouts echo as guards guide her away. Then Turk speaks again. She can stay if she behaves herself. The woman sits down.
There are more comments from shareholders, more questions, and eventually Page leans over the podium and announces the meeting has ended.
Commotion. This is too soon , some murmur around the room. We thought we had more time . Page says it again: The meeting is over. Go home.
There’s disruption and some people leave. After a couple minutes, Turk gets on the mic: The meeting isn’t over, just the time for discussion. Shouts come from shareholders. Page gets back on the mic: I’m sooorrryy, she proclaims, stretching each letter.
Some shareholders stay, point fingers at Page, Turk and other board members. The microphones cut out—the noise from the crowd swells. Minutes pass and the microphones turn back on. Page looks relieved. She leans in once again, calls for people’s attention: It’s time to place your votes.
Two weeks later, Westland announces the sale passed. 72.4 percent of common stock voted in favor, as did 97.75 percent of Class B. In the first week of December, Westland signs papers with SunCal, transferring the company and all its assets. Within a few days following, Page retires.
Back on the mesa, Aranda stands up, scuffs the ground with his feet. The stream of diesel is tapering. He didn’t come here expecting … this. He came here to see the land. Feel it. The vote from the shareholders’ meeting was announced a few days before, and he didn’t know how much longer he could call the land his own.
When he was a kid, Aranda would go quail hunting with his dad and brothers on a piece of Atrisco land off Unser. The first time he went with them, around the age of 7, he was too young to hold a gun. But he’d tag along anyway, joining them on trips further south where they looked for bigger game like deer. He doesn’t recall much about those trips, just the cold, and the habit he had of avoiding the bathroom, or the lack of one, while they were out. He could go up to a week. His father would freak out. But he was fine.
When he was around 12, Aranda took his hunter safety classes and joined his family. He learned how to stuff dove with jalapeño and goat cheese, and make rabbit cacciatore.
But it’s been years since Aranda shot a rifle or went out to his old hunting ground, now braced by houses. At the age of 30, he has other things to do.
He stands with his hands in his jeans, leaning back against the wind. The gusts on this mesa would be perfect for harvesting; it could make a nice profit for heirs. But it’s too late for that.
The hour is also getting late—there’s just enough time to drive to the other place he wants to visit today, his favorite place. He gets in the car and heads for El Camposanto .
Down a steep, stone-pocked hill that leads to an Atrisco graveyard from a street off the South Valley, a rooster clucks and gargles amid its harem of front-yard hens. On the other side of the headstones, abutting a 5-foot surrounding brick wall and entrance, loom large, quiet, faux adobe homes. It is near this last entry that a sign, pounded into the dirt, reads: El Camposanto (the cemetery).
Aranda no longer notices the sign as he steps carefully between graves, noting names, wondering which of many unmarked headstones was raised for his great-great-great grandma. Perhaps that one, overrun by a bouquet of cholla cactus. Or this one, here, caving in and dusted with leaves. Maybe it’s one of the graves encased by white iron fences, which are hauntingly reminiscent of cribs.
Aranda never wanted to live by a cemetery, but this one … this one feels like home; he comes here for reflection. He didn’t grow up in the neighborhood, didn’t visit the graveyard as a child, but the place reminds him of something. Maybe it’s his ancestors.
On the South Valley end of El Camposanto runs a street that leads to the main road, called, fittingly, Atrisco. Adjacent to where the street and road merge sits a plot of land that once belonged to Pedro Aranda, an ancestor from seven or eight generations back. The neighborhood is vibrant with the scent of piñon and fried fish, where grandmothers shuck corn on porches and crack the necks of their own chickens.
Up on El Camposanto , Aranda peers into the neighborhood. From here, the smells of the valley are masked, replaced by the musk of old roses.
The valley keeps to itself, and so does the graveyard. El Camposanto belonged to Westland, which was charged with caring for it. The place was neglected. After the sale, it’s unclear who will maintain it. Instead of emptied wastebaskets, fresh dirt and weeded beds, the cemetery settles for more colorful signs of affection: wreaths, weathered teddy bears, paper roses, garlands.
Aranda turns and watches the long shadows in the graveyard stretch longer. It’s hard to pull away, but he knows: It’s time to go.
The Fast Track
Is going foodless a path to health?
by Christie Chisholm, Santa Fe Reporter, September 1, 2010
I’m not sure why I wanted to starve myself.
I like my body, and I take fairly good care of it. Granted, walking my dog is the only exercise I get these days, and the svelte, yogic physique I had once carved for myself has settled back into its natural, softer state, but I’m no body-hater. And, even though most of my meals involve a waiter and the word “smothered,” I don’t gorge myself on anything that comes in a plastic wrapper or a box. So while I’m not the model of antioxidant-charged, gluten-free health, I also don’t feel like a walking pile of trans fats.
Yet while not in dire need of a fast, I found myself wanting to do one anyway in order to recharge, restart and detox. If my hot pants were a little less snug at the end of it—all the better.
I initially looked into the Master Cleanse, which involves nothing but water, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and grade D maple syrup for approximately 10 days. Especially popular a few years back, its proponents claim the cleanse will flush the body of toxins it’s been holding for years, resulting in clear skin, lots of energy and a couple less inches on the waistline.
I was on the verge of buying myself a bushel of lemons when I spoke to a nurse friend of mine. She looked at me sideways as soon as I mentioned the cleanse, and then proceeded to scare me straight with a string of words such as “starvation,” “sick” and “unnatural.”
Then I thought I’d have better luck with juice cleanses. Many juice cleanses tout the same benefits as the Master Cleanse and other forms of fasting but, instead of lemon water, include nutrient-rich smoothies. Being the somewhat lazy takeout eater I am, I looked into well-regarded juice cleanses from Organic Avenue and BluePrintCleanse, which offer salivation-worthy concoctions such as cashew milk and goji berry smoothie. But ordering a five-day cleanse costs approximately $350, and I still wasn’t sure they would make me any healthier. So I decided to ask the experts.
First, I called Gretchen Scott. A registered and licensed dietitian, Scott teaches nutrition at Santa Fe Community College.
“I don’t see any wonderful benefits to fasting,” she says, adding, “I think if you fast for a long period, it can be potentially dangerous.” To Scott, “a long period” is just a couple of days.
During a fast, she explains, the body breaks into its stores of fat and protein so it has enough energy to get through the day. From a weight loss perspective, this means some pounds will be lost while fasting, but some of that lost weight will come from muscle as well as fat, and a lot of it will come from water weight. As soon as one’s diet returns to normal, the numbers on the scale will rise again once the water weight returns, but the muscle will have been burned away. And because the metabolism slows to conserve energy during a fast, Scott warns that repeated fasting runs the risk of making it harder to lose weight. But the really frightening aspect of fasting, she says, is that when the body breaks down fat rapidly to make energy, it can go into ketosis, which can overburden the kidneys and, in an extreme case, cause death.
Scott also clarified the difference between fasts and cleanses, terms that are often—and incorrectly, it turns out—used interchangeably. Fasts refer to periods of time in which one consumes nothing other than water, she says, while cleanses include short-term, restrictive diets in which one still consumes some form of nutrients.
Juice cleanses still provide the body with minerals, nutrients and calories, so the dangers that exist for fasts generally don’t exist for them, she says. But she also says she can’t find any research that supports the view that cleanses (or fasts, for that matter) detox the body. Scott says the body does a remarkable job of detoxifying itself through the skin, liver, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract. The real answer to a healthy, clean body, she says, is via an unsurprising method: eating more whole and organic foods and exercising regularly.
What Scott said made sense, but I felt like there was still a missing side to the story. There are so many health-conscious people heralding the benefits of fasts and cleanses (including a number of my friends), it’s hard to believe they hold no benefits. Maybe I was just looking for an excuse to splurge on an expensive, Manhattan-based juice diet, but I wanted someone to tell me that cleanses can live up to their name. And then I found Dr. Deborah Keller.
Keller is a naturopath and midwife with the Santa Fe-based practice High Desert Naturopathic Care and Midwifery Services. Her long list of accolades includes a doctorate in naturopathic medicine
from Bastyr University, two years studying with curanderos in the Peace Corps and five weeks delivering babies in a women’s free hospital in the Philippines. I figured she would be able to provide me with a counter to the Western mind-set.
Keller identifies the same differences between fasts and cleanses as Scott does. She says pure, unsupervised fasting can put a person in danger of dehydration, nutrient deficiencies, hypoglycemia, poor insulin regulation, cardiac events, kidney disorders, acute gallbladder problems and a host of other scary issues. In her practice, she says she rarely uses it and, when she does, only for short periods of time (three days tops). But when it comes to cleansing, Keller has the mind-set I was looking for: A cleanse can be healthy for anyone, as long as it’s the right one.
This is where Keller’s big disclaimer comes in. She says to only fast or cleanse under the guidance of a practitioner. Don’t buy a kit online; get a program that’s personalized. Also, there are some people who should never venture into the fasting/cleansing realm, and that’s anyone who is pregnant, nursing, diabetic or hypoglycemic.
Who should cleanse? Just about anyone else, but Keller usually treats people who are trying to assuage specific conditions, which include everything from allergies to autoimmune disorders.
The benefits the average person can reap from cleansing include detoxifying. While Keller agrees the body is adept at eliminating toxins, she also says it can be nice to give it a break from toxins and an opportunity to cleanse itself. The biggest benefit, Keller says, is energy and clarity of mind.
For those interested in cleansing, Keller offers a few starting points. The best time to begin, she says, is when there is the opportunity to relax and self-reflect (Keller is a proponent of some sort of meditative act during cleansing).
“Our bodies need time to stop and reflect in order to fully heal,” she says.
She also recommends her clients not watch TV during a cleanse and, if possible, have a friend or someone else around who can help. For seasonal rhythms, Keller recommends cleansing in the spring, when winter’s stores are ready to be shed.
Immediately before jumping into a cleanse, it’s wise to spend three days to a week eating an exceptionally clean diet (whole foods and such) and exercising, and then coming out of a cleanse in the same way. In Keller’s practice, she usually has clients cleanse anywhere from a week to three weeks (remember, we’re talking cleansing, not fasting).
As always, it’s important to drink the recommended daily intake of water (approximately 0.5 ounce per pound of body weight).
If one experiences dizziness, headaches, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, severe abdominal pains or severe allergic reactions while cleansing or fasting, stop.
Where does it all leave me? My pricey juice spending spree is out the window. But Keller may soon find me walking in her door.
To learn more about diet and nutrition, Gretchen Scott recommends finding a registered and licensed dietitian, many of which can be found at eatright.org.
Dr. Deborah Keller’s practice, High Desert Naturopathic Care and Midwifery Services, is situated at 2019 Galisteo St., Ste. E2, 505-670-9042, naturecure.net.
One Flea Spare at The Filling Station
by Christie Chisholm, Weekly Alibi, November 19, 2009
A window swings open. A wiry, crumpled figure flounces into its frame and lurches onto the stage, veiling her face with her petticoat. Out of the silence and flickering candlelight leaps the terrified—and terrifying—voice of a young girl: “What are you doing out of your grave?”
A door creaks ajar on the other side of the stage, and through it staggers a man, who promptly finds a vase and pisses into it. He’s in the throes of drunken relief when the owners of the vase (and the house) barge in. He is caught. And so is the girl, who has revealed her sallow little face and emerged from the shadows.
The year is 1665, and the Great Plague is ravaging the streets of London. In the home where we are stationed, the servants have already died from the plague, with its blood-choked phlegm and rotting pustules. Only the heads of house, William and Darcy Snelgrave, remain. Our intruders are wayward, wounded sailor Bunce and wanton 12-year-old Morse. Minutes after they have all discovered each other, a city guard, Kabe, comes by to board up the house’s exits and effectively quarantine them. And thus we are introduced to Naomi Wallace’s morose One Flea Spare.
The action of the play occurs in one room—the only room in the house no one has died in thus far. It is apparent from the paranoia of our captives and the songs of our meandering guard, who rhymes about festering bodies and tainted riches piling up in “the pits,” that few will escape the plague. The four characters are reluctantly and indefinitely trapped with one another, but their chances of survival are probably better as prisoners than they are on the streets.
Though deeply lyrical and sown with both humor and tragedy, the script is frenetic. Poetics are rolled out in wave after wave. They are equally lovely and disturbing, but they aren’t always granted the pacing they require to sink in. The audience is left with words that should be haunting but are somehow hollow.
The storyline is hard to follow at times, and the play itself feels like it never truly lifts off. Here we are, voyeurs in one of the grimiest, deadliest periods in human history. The plague is at the doorstep, wiping out millions, and arrested inside this room are a sailor with nothing to lose, a seemingly orphaned child and two people who have witnessed the excruciating deaths of those who served them. This is an emotional cauldron. But the narrative lacks build and complexity. Instead, the characters go through the motions, delivering eloquent prose that isn’t impactful. Whether this is due to the choices of the playwright, the director or the actors is hard to tell.
That said, there’s still plenty to see. The audience is divided on either side of the stage, which is mainly composed of a solid wooden floor that’s abutted on one end by a window and on the other by a door. The set is well-conceived and polished. It’s spare—there’s not much more than a chair, a couple pillars and some candlesticks—but it makes sense within the context. The house has been emptied and cleaned to keep disease from spreading, and the room feels intentionally naked. Likewise, the costumes and makeup are a snug fit: Dingy and tattered, the look feels just right.
The best parts of the play come in the actors’ performances. Despite the problems with the script’s pacing, the actors are earnest and fluid. Tabatha Shaun shines the brightest as the impish and frenzied Morse. Shaun masters a balance between Morse’s brazen self-interest and innocence. Morse owes her life to her tooth-and-nail demeanor. She’s treacherous, turning on the other characters at whim, but she’s also a child who has watched those around her drop like flies. She’s frightened and, as a result, lost in her imagination. Shaun is able to carry the delicacy of such a character. Shaun’s also sprite-like in her twists and flips around stage, and it’s a delight to watch some of the gymnastics she unleashes.
Barbara Geary makes a strong contribution as Darcy Snelgrave, a mournful woman who was robbed of her youth—and her husband’s lust—when caught in a fire at the age of 17, two years after their marriage. Her face is the only part of her body that escaped unscathed, and she half-shrouds herself to conceal her disfigurement. The high point of the play is Darcy’s retelling of the night of the fire. The barn had started to burn, and she ran to it to try to free her horse, which had been given to her as a wedding gift. “A horse on fire,” she whispers, “in full gallop. ... It would have been beautiful, but for the smell.”
Joseph West is an endearing Bunce. He cajoles and torments, but in the end he makes for the most likable character. Though Bunce tells horrid stories about his time at sea and the murders committed by him and his crew, West is always able to get the audience back on his side. Played by John Wylie, William Snelgrave is uptight but desperate for a taste of salt air and abandon. He hounds Bunce with questions about a sailor’s life, obviously conflicted by his own demons. Wylie fills him out well.
Shangreaux Lagrave, who embodies the guard Kabe, gives an admirable performance. Kabe is a mischievous minstrel, a peddler, a lascivious snake. But he is also a playful respite from the weight of the show, as when he appears in nothing more than a pair of beige boxers with a pail strapped to his head (filled with charcoal, to “keep the bad air” at bay). Lagrave walks the line between scoundrel and comedian convincingly and effortlessly.
One Flea Spare isn’t an uplifting tale. But it’s also not a downer. You may have to gulp a couple of espressos to keep up with the stream of prose, but there are some well-crafted moments of pleasure to be gained from this brooding work, if you’re willing to do a little sifting.
Tremble, Black Thumbs!
You're about to get greened
by Christie Chisholm, Weekly Alibi, April 1, 2010
The first living thing I remember trying to grow was a strawberry plant. My mom helped me put it in the soil right outside our front door. My mom had a way with plants. She molded massive berms, teeming with pink geraniums, powder-puff-like marigolds and starry daffodils. In our backyard, she nurtured plum trees and guarded heirloom tomatoes, which ballooned into ripe, deep crimson orbs the size of baseballs.
When I was around the age of 10, she let me pick out a tiny pine tree, smaller than me, and showed me how to maneuver it into the earth. She told me we’d watch it grow, and it amazed me that it would take more than a decade for it to stretch into adulthood. And that one day it would tower over us, and by then I would be an adult, too.
But before the tree came the strawberry. I was invested in a measly green tuft that produced berries no bigger than a gobstopper. I was responsible for it, and that responsibility made me feel benevolent and powerful.
Most of us have some sort of experience with gardening, be it in an elementary science class watching seeds germinate or as adults, putting a flower in a pot and hoping we don’t kill it. A few of us stuck with it, becoming avid gardeners like my mom, who could grow a daisy in Antarctica. But for many of us, the Black Thumb People, the activity is ruled by mysterious, otherworldly laws of nature.
The thing about gardening is that it is kind of mysterious. Even if you do everything right, there’s no guarantee you won’t kill that flower in the pot. But there are a lot of guidelines that can help you better your odds. If you’re thinking about joining the Green Thumb People, or if all this moody spring weather has made you want to get your trowel dirty (even if you’re not exactly sure what a trowel is), this one’s for you.
Here Comes the Sun
One of the most common mistakes beginning gardeners make is trying to grow plants in conditions that don’t suit them. Every plant has an ideal environment for its growth—if you can’t give it that environment, you may need to find a different plant. Your best bet is to aim your attention at plants that are native to the region where you live, and therefore the conditions you’re likely to have in your yard. Don’t despair because we live in a desert. There are still plenty of sun-loving species that will allow you to have a lush, vibrant garden.
Cheryl Rosel is an extension horticulture agent with the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service for Bernalillo County. She says to keep an eye on whatever space you want to use for a day or two to estimate how much sun it gets. If sunlight beats down on it without interruption, it calls for plants that like “full sun.” Most urban plots get some shade—if it’s enough to take up a few hours of the day, it’s considered “part shade.” There’s also a chance, of course, that the only plot you have available is always shaded. And in that case, your options may be more limited, but you still have them. Just know the terminology that fits your garden so you can find plants that match it.
If you don’t have any dirt around, you probably still have a place where you can set a pot. Container gardening has some modified rules—it usually requires more frequent watering and you have to consider how large your plants will eventually become. If you’re using pots this year, set them up before you go plant shopping and see how the sun hits them, too—their varying heights may affect how much light they get in a day.
How to Build a Garden
Before you get anything in the ground, you have to prep your soil. Usually all that means is weeding it and then breaking and turning it over with a shovel. If your soil is very poor, you can mix it with compost or fertilizer. If you’re not sure what kind of soil you have and want to know the specifics, Rosel says her favorite gardening tip is to get your soil tested. New Mexico State University does the testing for $26. Go to swatlab.nmsu.edu and download a form to send with two cups of soil. If you’re not sure how to analyze the results, call Rosel at the New Mexico Master Gardeners’ number, 243-1386, and she’ll help you decipher them.
If you’re using pots, you’ve got a simpler solution. Just fill them with high-quality potting soil from your local nursery.
Another option is to build a raised bed. Christianna Kistler Cappelle is the project coordinator for the GardenersGuild, a group dedicated to answering people’s gardening questions. She loves raised beds and especially recommends them for beginners. One of the benefits to raised beds is that you can put them anywhere—even on asphalt.
Here’s the GardenersGuild’s step-by-step guide to making your own raised bed on the cheap:
1) If you’re plopping one on bare dirt, keep weeds at bay by first covering the ground with 7 to 10 layers of newspaper. You can also use a layer of cardboard, but Cappelle says there’s been some debate about the chemicals used in the construction of cardboard leaching into soil. Most newspapers, however, are printed with soy ink these days (including the Alibi, also printed on 100 percent recycled paper) and should be completely safe.
2) Build your walls with cinderblock or adobe bricks. She says the cheapest cinderblocks the Guild has found are at Home Depot, where they’re about $1 a piece. There’s only one place in town where the guild has found adobe bricks for sale, and that’s New Mexico Earth Adobes, where bricks are about the same price. To make a typically sized bed—about 18 inches high, 6 feet long and 3 feet deep—you need 28 cinderblocks. Adobe should be about the same, she said, but you’ll need a few extra.
3) To fill your bed, Cappelle recommends getting your earth from Soilutions, Inc., which will mix soil tailored to your needs. One cubic yard of soil fills the bed in this example and costs about $35.
P.S. Don’t use potting soils with peat moss. Cappelle says it becomes “hydrophobic,” which means once it dries out, it’s hard to rewet. Plus, there’s a lot of debate over the sustainability of harvesting and mining peat moss, the damage done to ecosystems from which it’s taken, and its effect on global warming.
P.P.S. Cappelle warns against using railroad ties in gardening. Creosote leaches out of them to such a degree, she says, that almost nothing will grow within 6 to 10 inches of them. So definitely don’t use railroad ties to wall off your vegetable garden.
When to Plant
You can garden any time of year. A lot of people here have cool-season vegetable gardens—filled with lettuces, spinach and carrots—in the winter. Flower bulbs like to be planted in the fall, while trees can be transplanted any time of year. But most gardening does happen in the spring or summer. And after April 15—the average last frost date in Albuquerque, according to Rosel—it’s a free-for-all.
What to Plant
This is the fun part—falling in love with particular plants and watching them take off. You should grow what you like. And the best way to find out what you like is to wander around your local nurseries and see what stands out to you. Check tags to make sure your selections will work in the kind of garden you have. Rosel suggests making sure the “hardiness zone” number on tags matches our climate. Albuquerque is classified as USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 7, which refers to how cold it gets here. The lower the number, the colder the climate. In Albuquerque, gardeners will have the best luck with plants tolerant of zones 7 and below. So, again, check tags.
Starter plants are usually easier to grow than seeds. But if you want to go the seed route, make sure you follow the directions on the packet for how deeply it should be placed in the soil and how far each should be spaced from other plants. You can start germinating seeds indoors four to six weeks before the last frost date. Also, check the date on seed packages. Make sure you’re using seeds that are labeled “for sale 2010,” since they don’t last forever. And be wary of your seed plots if you have cats, who love soft, worked-over, vacant soil and who might paw your seeds out of their hiding places.
You’re the only one who can decide what plants are right for you. But we asked Wes Brittenham, manager of Plants of the Southwest and a landscape designer, for suggestions on easy plants for beginners. Here are his recommendations.
For Sunny Landscapes
From tallest to shortest:
Russian sage—With blue flowers all summer long, it can also spread to make little thickets.
Red yucca—It blooms at the same time as Russian sage, with 3- to 5-foot-tall red flower spikes.
Desert penstemon—Tall, brilliant, red tubular flowers that attract hummingbirds.
Moonshine yarrow—Gray, feathery leaves are topped by yellow flower clusters that spike up to 2 feet.
Catmint—This blue, ground-hugging flower complements taller plants and has been known to attract cats.
Chocolate flower—Great for kids, these little yellow daisy-like flowers open in the morning and perfume the air with the scent of chocolate. Goldfinches love it, too.
For Shady Landscapes
Coralberry—This pretty shrub has red berries that persist into winter.
Snowberry—A great complement to coralberry, this shrub has bright white berries that also last into the winter.
Golden columbine—Extravagant, 3-inch blooms burst from this variety.
Wild geraniums—Lavender flowers cover this pretty plant in the spring.
Sun-Loving Vegetables: Tomatoes, chile, green beans, corn, potatoes, garlic, onions
Part-Shade and Cool Season Vegetables: Spinach, lettuce, parsley, cabbage, cilantro
Sun-Loving Herbs (for containers or landscape): Rosemary, garden sage, English thyme, chives, garlic chives
Wes Brittenham especially likes strawberry pots for succulent gardens, filled with things like ice plant and sedums, but they’re also good for herb gardens. If you find your containers drying out too fast, try setting an“olla” in them—an unglazed, clay, narrow-necked pot that percolates water gradually. Grasses do well in containers, and so do vegetables like tomatoes, chile, corn, beans and squash.
How to Plant
Don’t dig holes too deep. They should be just deep enough so that the top of roots are right below the surface. Cheryl Rosel says this is especially important with trees, many of which die every year because they’re put too far in the ground. With trees, you can break up the soil two to three times wider than the size of the root ball to give the roots room to move, but you shouldn’t break up the soil below. A wide, shallow hole is what you’re looking for.
Once your plant’s in the ground, sprinkling on three to four inches of mulch can help retain moisture and keep roots cool. Christianna Kistler Cappelle likes the pecan shell mulch at Soilutions, Inc., but you can also use bark, shredded wood, compost, gravel or crusher fines, among a variety of other mulches.
Most native plants are fairly low-maintenance. They need more water their first season, but by their second year, they should be fairly self-sustaining. Here are some of Wes Brittenham’s rules of thumb:
• Always give plants a good soak right after you put them in the ground.
• Most plants should be watered every two to three days.
• Container plants usually need watering every day or every other day (unless you’re using an olla).
• In the fall, slowly start watering plants less often. Too much water content can break cell walls when plants freeze, so back down to every three days, then every four or five days, then to once a week by the end of October. From November to February, one good watering a month is enough. Then in spring, slowly start increasing your watering schedule.
• Hand watering is the least efficient way to water plants. It’s better to get a drip system. These don’t have to be expensive. Black soaker hoses work well for vegetable gardens especially.
• To know how much water is required, push an 8- to 10-inch screwdriver into the ground. If it pushes in easily, your soil’s moist enough. If it gets hard to push part way down, it needs more water. Trees need water to penetrate more deeply, down to the base of the root ball, so long sticks or metal probes can serve the same purpose.
• Plants with flowers at the end of stalks will sometimes re-bloom: Prune back the stalk to its base after the flower has wilted.
Want to learn more? These materials come recommended by Rosel and Cappelle.
• Square Foot Gardening: A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work by Mel Bartholomew
• How to Grow More Vegetables (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine by John Jeavons
• New Mexico Gardener’s Guide by Judith Phillips
• Down to Earth: A Gardener’s Guide to the Albuquerque Area by area master gardeners
• greenzineABQ, a monthly publication put out by the GardenersGuild
• How To Guide to Xeriscaping, put out by the City of Albuquerque
• Xeriscape Plant Guide: 100 Water-Wise Plants for Gardens and Landscapes by Denver Water
All the Wild Horses
The preservation of Spanish mustangs in New Mexico
by Christie Chisholm, Weekly Alibi, January 14, 2010
Carlos LoPopolo is large in stature—and in ambition. His frame seems to dwarf the wooden bench he’s perched on at the Satellite Coffee on University. His height is hard to gauge from a sitting position, but he looms over the table, a studded black cowboy hat bobbing as he talks, which is most of the time. To his right, Paul Polechla serves as his counterpart—a man of average size and quiet disposition, wearing a white cowboy hat and yellow-and-blue checkered shirt, topped with a matching silk bandana tied around his neck. LoPopolo is a Southwest historian and the founder of the New Mexican Horse Project, an organization many New Mexicans know nothing about. Polechla is the group’s biologist as well as a biology professor at UNM.
Though the Horse Project’s mission to preserve a certain kind of horse is simple, LoPopolo and Polechla will tell you the road they’ve been down has been anything but. In the 10 years the organization has existed, LoPopolo has met criticism and fury from horse breeders and cattle ranchers, spent nearly $1 million out of his own pocket, and has even been graced with the occasional death threat. The reason he puts up with it? It’s all to protect a horse most people thought no longer existed.
Horses were native to North America and roamed the American plains for 58 million years, says Polechla, but then went extinct in the region and were absent for about 8,000 years. In the Spanish Colonial period, a little more than 400 years ago, mustangs were reintroduced through New Mexico, Polechla says, and all the wild horses in North America today are descended from that reintroduction. Until about a decade ago, the men add, it was common opinion that the reintroduced Spanish mustang had disappeared.
In 1999, LoPopolo was approached by local photographer Charles Perry, who had pictures of wild horses a local rancher said were old Spanish mustangs. “I didn’t really believe it,” says LoPopolo, “I thought they had been outbred.” But LoPopolo decided to look into it. He did a roundup of the horses Perry captured on film and took their DNA samples. He sent the samples from all 40 horses to Dr. Gus Cothran, one of the world’s foremost equine geneticists, who was stationed at the University of Kentucky. Thirty-eight of the horses, Cothran told LoPopolo, were common, but two had DNA he’d never before seen.
That evidence, combined with “subjective reasoning,” says LoPopolo, convinced him that the horses were the old Spanish mustangs—no longer “pure,” but closer than he’d thought possible.
After this discovery, LoPopolo sat down with his wife Cindy, now deceased, to talk about what they should do. “We had always been around horses all our lives,” he says. They raised Arabians together, and he, in a previous incarnation, had been a rodeo cowboy (then a race car driver, then a business owner, then an artist whose work now hangs in the Vatican—but that’s a story for another day). “We had a six- or seven-hour discussion about what to do,” he says, “and we made a decision.” With the help of some friends, they started the New Mexican Horse Project, which aims to preserve the wild Spanish mustangs they find and ensure their freedom.
The Horse Project operates on two preserves, one on 28,000 acres (lent by Campbell Corporation, where LoPopolo was working at the time the mustang organization started), and the other on 5,000 acres near Socorro. Through DNA testing, the Horse organization has found more than 30 of the Spanish mustangs. The project doesn’t feed the horses because the horses know how to fend for themselves, and that keeps them wild, LoPopolo says. Plus, Polechla interjects, there are plenty of highly nutritious grasses scattered throughout the preserves, and he can talk in detail about every one of them—“I know my grasses.”
The Socorro preserve, named the Cindy Roger LoPopolo Wild Horse Preserve, has double functions. It also serves as a retreat for those who are suffering from cancer. While no one is allowed to approach the horses on the preserve, sometimes the horses will approach people, and LoPopolo says those interactions can be breathtaking.
The decision to establish the preserve specifically for cancer patients came early, more than a year before it was was bought in 2004. LoPopolo and his wife had seen the effect working with horses had on colleagues who had cancer. It helped them relax, they said, helped them feel “normal.” Six months after LoPopolo and his wife decided to dedicate the Socorro preserve to cancer patients, she was diagnosed with melanoma, and nine months after that, she was gone.
LoPopolo says he made a promise to continue on the Horse Project’s mission, and that’s what he’s doing. But eventually he’ll pass the task onto someone else, once it becomes more financially sustainable. As it stands, the organization doesn’t make much money. “We’re lucky if we get $3,000 a year in donations,” says LoPopolo, “but it takes $100,000 to run.”
Money for the project is generated through two stores in Socorro—an art gallery called Wild Horses of the West and Socorro Leather. The stores have no employees—instead, members (mainly LoPopolo) volunteer to watch over them, and all profits go to the project. LoPopolo also finds funding in writing books. He’s authored 27 to date, most on the history of New Mexico during the Spanish period. Now he’s writing a children’s book, Zobo the First Mustang, the first in a series of 10 about the history of horses in the Southwest.
The Horse Project has also gotten some grant money—about $100,000 from the state in past years and $75,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2009. Polechla, who requested the money from NSF, says the funding is a Planning Grant. This enables the Horse Project to craft a proposal that will land the organization a larger grant, “in the low seven figures,” says Polechla, to build a large-scale science education package. He says the goal is to produce a PBS documentary series, interactive website, coffee table book, traveling museum exhibition and teachers’ guide. Previously, a documentary on the project’s findings was released by National Geographic in 2001, called “America’s Lost Mustang.”
All the work the men are doing is for a single purpose—keeping the lineage from dying out. Wild horses in general aren’t well-protected by the government, and the proof is in the numbers. In 1971, LoPopolo says, there were an estimated 1 to 1.5 million wild horses in North America. Today, there are only 22,000 to 32,000. “We should have wild horses in every federal park in the U.S.,” he says, but instead, many people in the States are surprised to learn that wild horses still exist at all. But if LoPopolo and Polechla have anything to do with it, that won’t be the case forever.