The Same River Twice


Robin at Now Smell This asked me after my first Santa Fe post whether I had managed to “go home again” with any degree of success, having been away for so long and given my high hopes for my revisit. I’ve given that question some thought, and this is my answer.

On Sunday in Santa Fe, deep into a conversation with an old friend as I parked my cheesy rental car, I got out and locked my keys in the car while it was still running. In my defense, I´ve been driving for 30 years, and this is the first time I ever locked my keys in the car. So I called AAA, and hung out to wait for their arrival (hot tip: telling them your car is still running gets you expedited service). As I sat there, various strangers came by, laughed with me about my predicament, and tried to figure out how to break into the car. A nice man named Larry hung around for awhile and kept checking up on me. Someone else offered to run into the store we were in front of and get me a cold drink. Because, you know, I´d been sitting awhile in the sun.

When I go to New Mexico I have to dial my friendliness way up and massively dial down my aggression. Yes, of course there are things I can complain about related to the Land of Enchantment, and if I were there for six months no doubt I would. But a visit of a week allows me to pretty much focus on all the perks and skip the downside.

Having left almost a decade ago, how was it going back? Was it like going home? Well, no. The most important difference is the lack of framework; I was just another dopey tourist on vacation, taking up a parking space and looking for the best hike on the ski basin road. I wasn´t living there. I wasn´t shaping my day around my kids´ school hours and my work hours, trying to squeeze in a run to the grocery store before picking the kids up from daycare. For the first two days, I admit: it felt very strange.

And then it all became better. Because I realized, and this is a little sad, that in many ways I was appreciating Santa Fe more as a visitor. For much of the time we lived there I had two small children, and a job with long hours. I struggled, as many people do, looking for that famous life/work balance. Most of the time I felt like I was failing as a mother. I had a great career going; it was my parenting that could have used some improvement. And I´ll be honest, that struggle seemed particularly ironic in a city where many people had gone to retreat from their fast-paced lives somewhere else. I had the scenery, but the kicked-back lifestyle often eluded me.

On this trip, I took care of some business we still have there. But the rest of it was given over to pleasure. New Mexicans/Santa Feans are sensualists, one of the great good things about that place that I miss so much. There is time for an excellent meal, for chatting over the wall, for a cerveza and listening to music. There is time for a hike on the Borrego Trail, followed by a lunch you packed yourself, taking in the satisfaction of a long hike, to be followed later on by a brutal/wonderful massage in the building that used to be the grocery store. I scheduled various activities with various friends and not once did it cross my mind to make a backup plan in case they found themselves working late or otherwise confounded by a change of plans. Nobody apologizes for making time for their own pleasure. Feeling good is supposed to be part of your day, if you’re living your life right.  People in New Mexico laugh a lot, and I laugh right along with them.

I came home (wait for it!) with a rested spirit and a renewed sense of purpose, and really – what more could you want from a vacation to anywhere? (Full disclosure: I also came home with tacky souvenirs and an entire extra suitcase of frozen Bueno green chile.) I got to be nice to people who were nice to me, and I´m going to hang on to that feeling while I clean up the joint around here and get some work done. I think I´ll burn some pinon incense and recollect that giant blue bowl of a sky. So, from me to you, with no irony and snark, for just this once – peace, and I´ll be back to sniffing soon.

Canyon Road, Santa Fe:

  • Marla says:

    Geez, I’m moving. That’s my normal setting for life – observe and enjoy. However, in my Rust Belt city and in my profession it’s all about getting to work, doing the work, and getting to the business function afterwards. Chop, chop! It really chafes me – maybe NM needs a creativity and spiritual coach for pets, or one of those other fun sounding jobs that people do patronize out West.

    • March says:

      Yup, I worked with a woman who left her admin job to become a pet psychic and made decent money. “Your dog is depressed because he was abandoned as a puppy and he didn’t know his own father.” People pay good money for that. Past life regression stuff is a real cash cow too.

      • Marla says:

        I could do past life regression – everyone was Cleopatra, Napoleon or someone else famous. No one seems to have been a lowly, stinking, flea ridden peasant who lived an undistiguished life.

        My pet work could also unite my hobby of looking out of the window for wildlife – “that Northern Flicker is the reincarnation of Fifi’s grandmother Bichon (who was owned by Lady Astor, or Cleopatra, or someone famous) – it’s here to tell her that she should move on in her life and love again. Fifi, bark to grandma!”

        • Musette says:


          Interestingly enough I had not one but TWO friends who were lowly folk in their ‘past lives’. One was a whore in the Middle Ages (pretty much the same in this century as well;) and the other was a regular ol’ Civil War soldier (odd because she is now a very lovely woman but that’s what she says she was so who am I to argue). I suspect both of them had fleas.

          OMG! You have managed to combine pet therapy AND pet past-life regression! You are sure to make a mint!^:)^$-)

          • Shelley says:

            Wait a minute…I have fleas in this life…isn’t that why I’m splashing on vetiver by the ounce???

            (Perhaps I am tired tonight, and mixing my lives/metaphors/blogs… #-o 😉

          • March the Silly says:

            Hey, nice going! The dollar sign emoticon!! considering we talk about expensive juice on here a lot, I am not sure I have seen it used. I always like me some fresh emoticon…

        • March says:

          I want the phrase “Fifi, bark to grandma” on a tee shirt!!! Wouldn’t it be great?!?

          Let’s hang out our shingle together. I think you have the skills I am looking for. :)>- I am an excellent baker, not sure if that appeals to you. Also, I have a lot of fragrance samples.

  • MattS says:

    No irony and no snark!!?? Who are you and what have you done with March? :d

  • christine says:

    Wow. What a lovely post. New Mexico sounds amazing. I’ve never been further West than Texas (Corpus and Houston, specifically) and something about New Mexico is very appealing. Good luck with the frozen chiles! Elise from Simply Recipes ( had a great green pork chili that was delicious and I imagine more fantastic with your green chiles.

    • March says:

      I have a couple great green chile cookbooks. Some of the recipes are pretty hilarious — you’d be surprised how often cream of mushroom soup turns up, or maybe not :-s – but the basic stew is amazing. More often than not, though, I use it as a condiment — in the eggs, on the pizza, on the burger…

  • Louise says:

    So glad you had a lovely time 😡 I do hope you can hold on to the glow for awhile…

    I remember so well how magical NM was for me-and I was coming from a pretty peaceful home state, Oregon. But the point you made about not feeling guilty or rushed over simple pleasures is such a fine one. We really don’t remember well how to just indulge our senses leisurely well around here, do we?

    Or maybe that’s what perfume holds such a draw for us-that deep sensory/sensual pleasure that keeps giving :d/

    • Louise says:

      Wow, the big mouth emoticon is eating all the others…:o

    • March says:

      It has been an ENTIRE day after 4.5 hours of sleep last night, and I have not smacked a single person. It’s a miracle! [-o< OTOH my foot's getting tired. I guess I need to take a load off.

  • Erin T says:

    What a lovely-sounding return to NM. You know, I suppose I’ve done a similar thing by moving back to my home province, after having lived “abroad” for 10 years. I do have to say that, while I enjoyed Calgary and love the small town where my parents live in New Brunswick, home is here. Occasionally, I find myself doing routine errands with a big, goofy grin on my face – so, no regrets about the big move back.

    By the way, may I add how much I loooooved “What is the what”? Of course, I may! I had never read Dave Eggers, knowing a little about McSweeneys and the story behind “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”: I guess I thought he was a hotshot, glib po-mo-ist and so I avoided him. What a fabulous, moving book WitW is, though, thanks for the rec.

    • Erin T says:

      Meant to say, too, that I’ve always wanted to go to NM. We have cousins who go almost every year and it’s their fave place in the States: the food, the deserts, some very famous batcave… etc. Now I’m even more determined to go.

      • March says:

        It’s pretty much like going to a foreign country. In fact, a routine experience as a NM resident is discovering that a fairly large percentage of Americans think it IS another country. There was a column (probably still is) in NM Magazine for years called “One of our Fifty is Missing,” with hilarious submissions from readers who were trying to convince UPS or to ship there on the domestic rate plan or what have you.

        So glad you liked the book! I was bullied into reading Heartbreaking Work in a book club years ago, kicking and screaming, because I assumed it would be crap. I was charmed, against all my expectations. What is the What is a different, wonderful kettle of fish. PS Making progress on The Moonstone.

        • Louise says:

          I went almost directly from living in Europe to spending a summer in NM. During my brief interlude back home, I felt distinctly “off”, with a hearty dose of re-entry shock. Then I went to NM, and quickly found the “otherness” I craved-oddly it did feel like another country to me as well, in the best way :d/

        • Shelley says:

          Wilkie Collins -The Moonstone-? Ah, gothic.

  • Francesca says:

    What a thoughtful, evocative post, March. I agree with Sariah on your “Nobody apologizes for making time for their own pleasure. Feeling good is supposed to be part of your day, if you’re living your life right.” I’ve been feeling that way daily on my own vacation in the country, and I think I’m going to print that out and pin it over my computer once I get back to work in NYC, just so I don’t forget.

    • March says:

      That’s the key, Francesca. How on earth do we hold onto that feeling? I am in such a good, cheerful mood, even re-entering the chaos. I wish I could maintain that feeling longer… I know your jaunts out of the city give you that same space to enjoy.

      • Francesca says:

        This discussion is reminding me of the time I returned from a fantastic yoga retreat in a gorgeous place overlooking the Pacific in Costa Rica. I floated through my first day back at work in a benevolent haze. And then that evening on the subway ride home, two reasonably-nicely dressed perfectly normal-looking women got into a screaming, scratching, hair pulling fistfight practically in my lap. That was a crash-landing into reality.

        • March says:

          Wah, that would really harsh the ol’ mellow, wouldn’t it? /:) It’s too bad… I wish I could find a way to disengage from that stuff better. I would think given where you live, you would really have to learn some detachment and develop your own sense of personal space in the face of the onslaught!

  • Lee says:

    But go too far west and it ends up the same old same old, from what I know from my CA-based best buddies, scraping a life out of universal (and university) snarkiness. I’m just glad I work part-time now and have my hands in the soil at some point most days. And soon too, a dog…

    As my perfume interest reawakens with the first real glimpses of summer heat here, I wish you a restful August where you cling on to some semblance of the bliss I’ve felt from you…:x

    • March says:

      I haven’t spent a ton of time in CA, although the parts I’ve been in are lovely. And I guess CA has dopes like everywhere else. I will say that one thing that irritated me (and others) when I lived in NM is that people from CA would move there for the change from terrible old CA, and then get busy and try to change Santa Fe to make it more like wherever they came from. Having said that, moving there in 1990 and discovering that I couldn’t easily find things like, say, brie was a bit of a shock to me too. It’s not that way any more.

      • Louise says:

        In Oregon, the onslaught of folks from California is called “Californication” 8-|

      • tmp00 says:

        We have the same sort of people here. They come here from the East and bitch that it’s not New York. Hello people, notice the palm trees and the Valet parkers?

        I think we tend to be a little more type A than most of the interior of the country. Maybe it’s all those hours on the 405 sucking exhaust fumes. Gaia told me that our traffic is worse than back east and she drives in Manhattan….

        • March says:

          Manhattan they’re crazy but moving. I thought LA was one giant traffic jam? I dunno, I hear DC’s giving you a run for your money in the craptastic commutes.

  • Robin says:

    Your “going home” experience sounds massively better than mine, I’m so glad! I know exactly what you mean about dialing up the friendliness. When I first moved back East after living out West for several years, I was shocked at how unpleasant people were, just as a matter of course. Now I’m used to it again and don’t even notice.

    And while Taos was never my home, I spent a fair amount of time there and would love to go back. Surprisingly given how close they are, have only been to Santa Fe twice, and not for very long either time.

    But no carne adovada? That is the food from NM I miss the most.

    • March says:

      I’m going to localize the unpleasantness even more so — to the DC area (hey, I grew up here, why not?!?) I think people in NYC are, in general, nicer and more helpful, and there’s a bunch of people in a hurry. And the “friendliness” of the west doesn’t cover, oh, say, all of CA like a blanket either! (No offense to CA readers!) I wonder whether there’s some weird shared umbilicus of entitlement and self-importance that links part of the coasts?

    • March says:

      PS Carne adovada I can get a credible rendition of at a Mexican restaurant (along with the occasional tamale)

      But I never get my green chile fix unless I cook it up myself.

  • sariah says:

    March – when I read your post abour Main, I wanted to go to Main. Now I want to go to Santa Fe. They should hire you to write their travel brochures. A place where “Nobody apologizes for making time for their own pleasure. Feeling good is supposed to be part of your day, if you’re living your life right.” has me hankering for a trip! Big cities in the US just don’t seem to work that way. Being from Vancouver, I think the lifestyle was more like that, but sounds like not to the same degree.

    • March says:

      Definitely some of it is just a smaller-town experience. And some of it is a life in a slower-paced place. But some of it HAS to be fewer a-holes. :-w 😉

  • molly says:

    Yay, New Mexico! So glad you enjoyed your trip back. I’ve lived in Albuquerque for 13 yrs, and although it’s no Santa Fe, it’s not far away! Reading your post is a reminder for me to enjoy what surrounds me in the Land of Enchantment. Thanks;)

    • March says:

      Hey, ABQ ROCKS (and look at you, you can even spell it! 😉 ) I love the airport, and I always meet the nicest people in ABQ. Wonderful zoo, too.

  • Musette says:

    One couldn’t ask for a nicer experience! So glad you found such pleasure and peace. I’ve been running like a striped :(|)for way too long and I think today I’m going to take time for a nice lunch and a quick-but-necessary nap. Wednesdays are El O’s golf afternoon….it would be a nice time for me to dial down work issues as well. After all, what’s the point of doing all this is you also don’t take time to enjoy it a little?

    [email protected]};-

    • March says:

      You are definitely overdue for a break. I am hoping we/you get some R&R in Chicago!

      • Musette says:

        Good gravy! I just reread my post and you’re right! I do need a break and I need to stop whining. That’s why Floyd invented Golf afternoons, so I can take a nap without feeling guilty because I’m not working. That’s what I loved about your post – it is a reminder to seize the day in every aspect, even taking a nap!!! I am wearing a sample of A McQueen’s Kingdom, courtesy of ShelleyIncredible and I am hoping it will bring me sweet nap dreams…



        • March says:

          Oh, I hope you had a lovely nap! You deserve it. And yes, instead of gnashing your teeth at your loved one’s slacker ways, think of it as an opportunity to put on your favorite CD that he hates, kick the dogs out and bake brownies in the nude. Not that I’ve ever done anything like that. It’s just an idea. 8-|