Emily Ford column – Santa Fe: Old & new

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 8, 2006

I miss it.

As I write this, we’ve been home for 10 hours, but I already miss Santa Fe.

I rarely accompany my husband to conferences, but this one was in Santa Fe.

So we flew in my sister Laura from Portland, Ore., to watch the kids and critters for six days while we experienced one of the most enchanting places we’ve ever visited.

My sister has no children. My sister is not a morning person. My sister does not speak until her second cup of coffee.

However, my sister did such a good job that Clara didn’t ask for me until the last day of our trip, and Nellie cried when she left.

I wrote seven pages of instructions. When to feed the guinea pigs, directions to preschool and piano lessons and Dan Nicholas Park, how to hit the remote control to make it work. I handed them to her as soon as I picked her up from the airport.

She had them nearly memorized by the time we finished our sushi.

Confident that Laura was up to the challenge and armed with an insider’s guide to Santa Fe written by my sister Merilee, we set out.

Merilee, who sewed costumes for the Santa Fe Opera, included tips like “don’t be afraid of the peppers,” “Loretto Chapel — a must,” and “ask for croque madame, no meat — you will die.” She neglected to say “take a warm jacket or you will freeze your butt off.” So I was forced to buy one.

While my husband studied domestic violence and vicarious trauma, I studied museums, galleries, restaurants and shopping.

I thought Salisbury was old. Then I went to Santa Fe.

The oldest house in the country. The oldest church in the country (both adobe). Pueblo Indians settled in the area in 1000 B.C.

Here’s the cool thing. Santa Fe embraces the past but doesn’t get stuck in it. Somehow, Santa Fe, founded in 1607, felt old and new at the same time.

People browsed in a contemporary art gallery next door to a 400-year-old adobe. Fashions straight off the runways in Paris and New York hung across the street from 19th century leather moccasins and pottery crafted in ancient traditions.

“Santa Fe may wear the mantle of great age,” said a guidebook, “but because she also welcomes the new and exciting, she never grows old.”

This juxtaposition made Santa Fe fascinating and welcoming. You really get caught up in the lore and charm. I didn’t even like terra cotta and blue, and then I went to Santa Fe.

Four cultures converged there — Mexican, Native American, Spanish and the Old West — and you can see and feel (and taste!) their influences today. Choose between Mexican enchiladas, Indian tacos, Spanish tapas or western cheeseburgers.

Throw in Italian, French, Mediterranean, Cajun and east Indian, and Santa Fe has a restaurant to satisfy almost any palate. I think my husband and I ate our way around the world.

When we weren’t eating, we were celebrity watching. Our first night, we practically ran into Steven Seagal. I’m pretty sure we saw Andrea from “The Apprentice,” but we just missed Val Kilmer, who frequents a local bar (and frequently gets thrown out) and Robert Redford, who hangs out at a bike shop.

We fell in love with Santa Fe, although we saw only a fraction of what this special place has to offer. I guess we’ll have to go back.

Emily Ford is a freelance writer living in Salisbury.