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Turquoise

2018-10-01 – WBCCI 2018 Southwest Adventure Caravan – Day 44 – Gallup, New Mexico…

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The figure above is “Kokopelli”, and this image is all over the Southwest USA; in fact, this caravan uses it as the caravan logo.  The oldest images of Kokopelli appeared between 750 and 850 AD.

There are lots of stories of Kokopelli being a fertility deity, holding forth over childbirth, or being an agricultural deity, or being in charge of livestock… My favorite story is this:

A little man named Kokopelli used to travel to the various villages of the Southwest long ago.  He carried a bag of corn seed on his back, and he taught the people to plant corn.  At night, while the people slept, Kokopelli roamed the corn fields, playing his flute.  The next morning, villagers would arise to find the corn four feet tall, and there would be no sign of Kokopelli.  Also, many of the young women of the village would be found to be pregnant…

Today I tried to get caught up on my this blog; the only activity was to visit another Trading Post and learn, again, about the practice of Pawn, and to have the opportunity to buy rugs, pottery, and silver and turquoise jewelry.  No thanks.  Lynda went along with another couple; I stayed and tried to find good internet access, with little luck.

Lynda and the others returned about 5:00 pm.  It was raining, and many people had gone out to dinner.  We stayed in and had a quiet evening…

Tomorrow we return to the Pueblo of Zuni; this is the sacred Zuni Mountain…

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And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2018-08-24 – WBCCI 2018 Southwest Adventure Caravan – Day 6 – Chimaya and Santa Fe

We began the day with a short drive to Chimayo and the Church of the Dirt…

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Legend has it that the dirt beneath the chapel has healing powers.  The Community that has grown up around this church is quite ancient, and a little ramshackle…

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There is much lovely art…

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And the countryside is beautiful…

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We joined the other Caravaners for lunch at Rancho de Chimayo Restaurante, a highly rated “destination” restaurant, even in this remote part of the world…

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As we left the restaurant after lunch, we beheld a a sight familiar to all caravaners…

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After lunch Lynda and I returned to Santa Fe to do some serious shopping.  As we shopped Lynda was stopped by several people who commented on her new shirt:

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(If you can’t quite read it, it says, “Carpe Manana”…)

We bought Lynda some “cute” earrings…

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And, if you are wondering, the turquoise is not “natural”, we did not get a certificate of authenticity, they are not signed by the artist, and they were not made by local Indians.  But you must admit they are cute…!

We also checked out the Meyer Art Gallery.  They are the local representative of the sculptor Dave McGary.  His specialty is sculpting bronze Indians…

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These are “miniatures”, about 36″ – 48″ tall.  He also does “life-size” statues, at 120% life size, in which the Indians are about 7′ tall, with the headdress, spear, etc., making the whole sculpture over 8′ tall…

Back in the olden days, when I was working, I did a custom house, for a German client, in Palm Desert.  He had one life size Indian in the house, in a space custom designed for the statue, another life size on a rotating turntable in the back yard, and a miniature in a niche inside the house.  These are really spectacular pieces of art.  It was nice to see some of them again…

We returned to the RV “Resort”…

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And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2018-08-23 – WBCCI 2018 Southwest Adventure Caravan – Day 5 – Santa Fe

We traveled as a group to Santa Fe today.  Besides some detours on the highway and some miscommunication on where we were to meet, we all finally boarded a tourist trolley to get oriented in and around Santa Fe.

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We had an interesting guide/driver who told us of the history of Santa Fe and showed us the various neighborhoods and significant buildings around the town.  After about 1 1/2 hours we were let off to explore the city on our own.

As usual, I was most interested in the architecture.  Everyone knows “Santa Fe Style”, right?

The regional architecture from which the “Santa Fe Style” draws its inspiration is primarily found in Pueblos of New Mexico and other southwestern States.  In the 1890s, architect A. C. Schweinfurth incorporated Pueblo features into a number of his buildings in California.  Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter’s Hopi House (1904) in Grand Canyon National Park drew heavily on the Pueblo style. The Pueblo Revival style made its first appearance in New Mexico in 1908 at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where UNM president William G. Tight adopted the style for a number of building projects during his tenure. 

At the time, Santa Fe looked like Anytown USA, with French, Italian, Victorian, Bungalow, and Carpenter Gothic buildings, mixed in with New Mexican Territorial styles common throughout the State.  In an attempt to attract tourists and the railroad, the city fathers remodeled all of the prominent downtown buildings to resemble what would be known as the Santa Fe Style.  In 1957, a committee drafted Santa Fe “H” Historical District Ordinance No. 1957-18, commonly known as the Historical Zoning Ordinance.  This ordinance mandated the use of the “Old Santa Fe Style,” which encompassed “so-called Pueblo, Pueblo-Spanish or Spanish-Indian and Territorial styles,” on all new buildings in central Santa Fe.  To be exact, the ordinance require all buildings be earthy brown, include rounded edges, room-block massing, and protruding vigas.  This ordinance remains in effect, meaning the Pueblo style continues to predominate.  The point to remember is that the Santa Fe Style is not something indigenous to Santa Fe, but something made up (by Anglos, not Mexicans or Indians or Spanish) to attract tourists.

So here we have it:  Vigas, Brown, block massing, rounded edges…

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Even giant buildings follow this style, which is more suited to small buildings…

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Even parking garages follow the style…

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The Territorial style shows brick cornices and a little more exposed wood, but otherwise is quite similar…

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I like regional architecture as much as the next guy, and I have commented on how well the architecture here addresses the harsh sun.  My only pet peeve is the religious-like adherence to arbitrary rules, despite all evidence that the rule should be modified or abolished.  Nothing exemplifies this idea better than the vigas.

As I showed in my earlier blog, authentic vigas are extensions of roof beams, projecting through the adobe walls…

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Today, vigas are rarely structural, but are only decoration tacked on to an exterior stucco wall.  There is one problem:  In this dry, hot climate, exposed wood rots:

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This has led to attempts to protect the wood with sheet metal – hardly an elegant solution…

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On the other hand, not ALL buildings have vigas, and they look just fine to me…

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Certainly historic buildings need to be accurately restored.  If the wood rots, replace it with wood.  But if you must have vigas, even fake vigas, why not use steel or some other weather resistant material?

One reason why new buildings, or additions to existing buildings, in Santa Fe’s historic district should sometimes employ modern materials, and even a few tastefully contemporary design elements: A century from now, 2018 construction should be distinguishable from that of earlier times. And if the architecture is exceptional, it also may be prized alongside the old.  It shouldn’t mimic the old so perfectly that you can’t see the evolution of the style.  As soon as everything looks the same and you can’t date it, it’s dead. It’s the vocabulary that’s important, not the material or the technique.

More reasons why the wood vigas, protruding through the exterior wall, is a bad idea:  they break the thermal envelope of the building, allowing cool air to escape in the summer and warm air to escape in the winter. They also break the waterproofing envelope, allowing moisture into the building, creating the potential for mold and other water-related issues…

So enough of my rant about Santa Fe style.  We actually had a very good time in Santa Fe…

We saw the country’s oldest house, built in 1646…

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And we saw the country’s oldest church, built in 1610…

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We saw the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi… The interesting story here is that while the church was under construction they ran out of money.  Bankers in the Jewish community loaned them the money to complete the construction.  After many more years of struggling and being unable to pay on the loan, the Jewish bankers forgave the loan as a gift to the church.  This is memorialized in the top arch stone over the main doors with the Hebrew scrip and the triangle.  Also, the doors have 20 panels in bas relief telling the history of Santa Fe…

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We saw the Loretto Chapel…

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And we saw the quaint shopping and gallery district on Canyon Rd…

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We spent some time shopping in the blocks around the plaza…

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We learned that the New Mexico flag has a circle representing the sun and the Indian’s cultural belief in the circle of life.  The four groups of four rays symbolize the four cardinal directions, the four seasons of the year, the four times of the day and four stages of life…
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And we had time for lunch at The Shed…

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After more window shopping we returned to the RV “Resort” in Pojoaque…

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We enjoyed another Fandango”, meeting new Airstream friends.  And an enjoyable time was had by all…

 

2018-08-20 – WBCCI 2018 Southwest Adventure Caravan – Day 2 – Albuquerque

Our first outing for the caravan is to the Turquoise Museum, in Albuquerque.  The museum has just recently moved out of Old Town to a much larger facility…

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We carpooled with our RV park neighbors, who are from North Carolina.  We drove about 20 minutes to downtown Albuquerque, to an area near the train station.  This is “skid row” according to the locals; it was clean, but shabby.  In the midst of this area is this “castle”, surrounded by a 12′ tall wall and iron gates.  We were let in and we met with the others in the front courtyard.

We gathered and sat in the chairs provided, and we heard all about turquoise, and the role the family that runs the museum has had on the industry.  The Zachary-Lowry family has been in the turquoise business for five generations.  They have amassed one of the largest collections of rare natural turquoise in the world.  In 1993 they opened their museum, in a strip mall near Old Town.  They have just moved into this facility, and it is not yet officially open.

As interesting as turquoise is, I was more interested in this “castle”.  Lynda and I had been in Albuquerque 4 1/2 years ago for a friend’s wedding.  The day after, as we walked around exploring downtown Albuquerque, waiting to board the return train to California, we came across this place.  There were no signs, and no indication what it was.  It just sits here, adjacent to an overpass across the railroad tracks, next to a row of power lines and adjacent to a run-down antique jewelry store and a dive bar.  Eventually we were able to Google it and found that it is, indeed, a house. Construction started in 2006 and was completed in 2008.  Today we learned that the owner/builder, who was also the owner of the adjacent  run-down antique jewelry store, lived here for about four years before she passed away.  The house stood empty until six months ago, when the Museum of Turquoise started moving in.  One of the interesting facts we learned today was that Mrs. Zachary, who built the house, had been briefly married to a member of the Zachary family many years ago – Zachary, the family that has amassed this fabulous collection of turquoise, and who now operates the museum here… apparently the museum leases the “castle” from the estate and descendants of old Mrs. Zachary.

So after we heard all about turquoise, we were able to tour the house.  And what a house it is… A huge mess of a building, typical of houses designed by old people with some sort of idea of what a 500 year old castle ought to look like.  I was intrigued, and I always love to see odd houses, no matter how ugly they might be… One of the more interesting things of this house is the site:

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The back yard features views of the highway overpass, her own billboard, and razor wire atop the back yard fence.

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The sign for the adjacent bar hovers over the back yard fence.

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And the power lines alongside the driveway that leads to the garage.

But the Museum of Turquoise really is a fascinating place, as is the family that runs it.  As we toured the museum there were five or six members of the family – three generations – were on hand to explain and answer any questions we had.

We learned that New Mexico actually has very few turquoise mines; in the US, the most, and best, turquoise mines are in Nevada.  Turquoise mines are also in Iran, China, and other countries with arid regions.  Since the Indians in New Mexico were great artists and crafters of turquoise, they had to trade for it.  This starts to explain the importance of trading posts in the history of New Mexico.

Turquoise is a semi-precious opaque mineral composed of hydrated copper and aluminum phosphate.  About 85% of turquoise is white, with a soft consistency and other characteristics much like chalk.  Only about 15% has enough color and hardness to be called “natural” turquoise.  The word “natural” is key here.  The US Federal government defines “natural” turquoise to be the one true indicator of semi-precious, gemstone  turquoise.  If you buy turquoise and you are given a “certificate of authenticity”, if it doesn’t say “natural”, you bought junk.  It may be beautiful junk, but it is not the semi-precious, gemstone-quality turquoise you might have thought it was.

Turquoise made from the softer, chalk-like substance, has been treated:  it has been dyed, reconstituted, stabilized, enhanced, oiled and/or waxed.  While it may make  beautiful jewelry, it does not have the enduring quality, or value, of natural turquoise.  Interestingly, the most rare and expensive natural turquoise is mined in the US.  However, some of the highest quality natural turquoise comes from China; because of the vast quantities of Chinese turquoise it is available at a much lower price.

There is also imitation turquoise, otherwise known as plastic.  Again, these pieces may be very beautiful, but they don’t have anywhere near the value of natural turquoise.

So how can you tell if the turquoise necklace you just bought is worth what you paid for it?  How can you protect yourself from misrepresentation?  Get it in writing!  Turquoise dealers are required by law to provide an accurate certificate or receipt, truthfully stating what you have bought.  If he tells you the jewelry you are buying is sterling silver and natural turquoise, and was hand made by  a Native American artisan, ask that this information be spelled out on your receipt.  Any reputable dealer will be glad to give you a detailed written confirmation.

After our morning at the Museum of Turquoise we needed a little lunch.  We drove to El Pinto, a New Mexican restaurant in north Albuquerque that is dripping with charm:

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The food was fabulous!

We returned to the RV park and had a leisurely afternoon.  At 5:00 we joined four other caravan couples for the first “Fandango”.  This caravan calls the traditional “Get Acquainted Meeting” (GAM) a Fandango, just for fun…

So we had happy hours, meeting and getting acquainted with these other four couples.  We will do this seven times, so that after about two weeks we will have had a chance to meet and spend time with all 60 caravaners.

And after the Fandango we returned to the Villa. And an enjoyable time was had by all…

 

 

 

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