All photos by Kate Russell, courtesy of Meow Wolf
Grandparents go there with their kids and grandkids. Tour buses full of Australians and New Zealanders, Japanese and Chinese (basically, people from all over the world and many of them shuttled in via the Road Scholar travel company) arrive almost daily. Locals return again and again. And hipsters, artists, techheads, nerds and outsiders of all stripes practically live (and work) there.
The “there” in this case being Meow Wolf, Santa Fe’s artistic version of the otherwise pure-science-focused Exploratorium of San Francisco. Only here what you get instead of an experiential science learning lab is an immersive science fiction art installation that encourages if not demands to be touched—and run through and around and tugged on, sat on and interacted with in almost every physical way possible.
Built in an old bowling alley, with help from Game of Thrones creator (and Santa Fe resident) George R.R. Martin, Meow Wolf is actually the name of the arts collective that oversees what is their performative coup de grace: their 20,000-square-foot House of Eternal Return, which they debuted as a fictionalized no-matter-where-you-go-there-you-are spaceship back in 2008, but which they updated and relaunched in their current permanent space last spring as a kind of time-travel-y home to the Seligs, an imaginary Swiss Robinson-like family of space explorers. (A family who up and disappeared, and whose mysterious disappearance, mid-supper, so it seems, is part of the allure of this interactive space, and the “job” of all visitors to reconstruct just who it is the Seligs seemed to be and why they suddenly went AWOL.)
So. Now that the House has been up and running for over a year, the Meow Wolf collective, a collaborative of over 100 artists, technicians and performers (all of whom contributed to the House’s creation and construction) have embarked on an equally ambitious summer venture, one in keeping with the Outer Limits vibe of the entire space.
Billed as their “Summer in the Multiverse,” this summerlong vacation destination celebration will feature over 100 different performing artists: musicians, magicians, acrobats, fencers, lighthouse keepers, belly dancers, snake dancers, firewalkers, stiltwalkers, drag queens, and whoever else might fall down from the sky. All there at the Meow Wolf space, in an area now rightfully self-designated as Santa Fe’s Innovation District, from 10:30 in the morning till closing time.
“We’ll have everything from an intergalactic space-bug hunter leading kids on scavenger hunts to Spanish story hour to somebody playing the tuba in the caves for a couple hours,” says Alexandra Renzo, the Multiverse’s artistic director (who also starred in the Adobe Rose Theatre’s recent production of Time Stands Still, with Broadway Drama Desk nominee Kevin Kilner).
“You might bump into a cosmic fortune teller or a Sno-Cone reader (instead of a tea leaf reader),” says Renzo, who has lured back many of the performers from last Fall’s House of Halloween extravaganza as well other entertainers from Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Colorado. Plus, Meow Wolf has partnered up with Santa Fe’s animal-free circus troupe, Wise Fool, who’ll be around 24-7.
“This is for the child in all of us,” adds Renzo. “We’re all about bringing in creative ideas and activities that are offbeat and sci-fi-ish. And we like to combine all these skill sets people have and embrace them.”
As Joseph Campbell put it in The Hero with a Thousand Faces: “Mythology [which is at the heart of what the folks at Meow Wolf are up to] is eminently untragical. Indeed, whenever the mythological mood prevails, tragedy is impossible. A quality rather of dream prevails. [And] as in dream, the images range from the sublime to the ridiculous. The mind is not permitted to rest with its normal evaluations, but is continually insulted and shocked out of the assurance that now, at last, it has understood.”
“To watch adults get excited about doing something new,” says Renzo, “that’s what it’s all about. And when the space is alive, that’s how it’s meant to be.”
Santa Fe has had a long illustrious relationship with tequila. And the margarita. Since its origins as one of the key outposts along the Camino Real (the “King’s Highway” of Colonial times that stretched 1,200 miles from just north of Santa Fe all the to Mexico City), the City Different has long recognized tequila, especially Mexican tequila, as a strong part of its cultural and economic makeup.
Today, what little most people know about this centuries-old “cactus juice” comes to them in the form of the margarita. Most of which are frozen and machine-made. But this syrupy-sweet, semi-frozen concoction has little to do with a real margarita. In its purest form, the margarita remains an excellent showcase for a variety of flavors.
In its traditional form, the margarita adheres to a 3-2-1 ratio: 3 parts tequila to 2 parts triple sec (orange liqueur) and 1 part fresh lime juice. (The rim may or may not be salted.) That’s it. It’s hard to imagine how something so simple could be commercialized to the point that it can come from a machine, a bottle, or a concentrate. How could these ever compare to the fantastic explosion of tastes contained in a properly made margarita? The one with fresh lime juice, the sensuous orangey sweetness of a good orange liqueur, and the fine flavors of various tequilas.
Many theories about the origin of the drink abound. It’s been alleged to have been invented in 1948 by a wealthy Dallas socialite, Margaret Sames, to entertain friends at her vacation home in Acapulco. Her friend Tommy Hilton enjoyed one so much he began to carry them on the bar menus of all the Hilton Hotels. Others think the drink, and its name, originated from the prohibition-era cocktail the “Daisy.” Supposedly a bartender accidentally poured tequila, not brandy, into a Daisy, and—voila!—invented the margarita (Spanish for daisy). Others contend that a Tijuana bartender invented it for Rita “Margarita” Hayworth, who as a teenager purportedly entertained audiences at the Agua Caliente Racetrack in the 1930’s. It could also be a rebranded Picador cocktail, which was clearly a prototype of the margarita. Regardless, the first recorded mention of the cocktail is in 1930 in G.F. Steele’s My New Cocktail Book. In 1953, Esquire designated it their “drink of the month” (saying, “she is lovely to look at, exciting and provocative”).
The origins of tequila itself are much clearer and are steeped in the syncretism found in contemporary North American Hispanic and Mesoamerican cultures. For the early Mesoamerican peoples and the Aztec, the fermented product of the American agave, or maguey, was pulque. This is a simply fermented and mildly alcoholic preparation of maguey sap that was held in great sacred respect and was an integral part of many religious festivals and ceremonies. Following the invasion of the Spanish, the drink was secularized and pulque became a popular libation among the lower classes. The upper classes were oriented to European tastes, so wine and brandy prevailed as their more popular drink.
Distillation of pulque led to the more concentrated and powerful spirits we know today as mescal and tequila (coming from different subspecies of agave). This was made utilizing Spanish technology and techniques to produce a hybridized drink that celebrated the “best of both worlds,” one that echoed the syncretic and hybridized culture that produced it.
Myself, I usually go for straight shots, some lime slices, and salt. (And my tequilas of choice, in the form of a Reposado, are: Patrón, Jose Cuervo Tradicional, and El Tesoro.) But whatever your form of tequila consumption, the Agoyo Lounge at Inn on the Alameda serves them all. Our fine and diverse selection of tequilas makes for an evenly spaced evening of shots, margaritas, or even Jimmy Buffet’s (or the Eagles’) tequila sunrises. But once you get started, our warm and inviting atmosphere will induce you into spending hours in front of our fireplace (in the winter) or, in the summer, relaxing contentedly on the patio.
Add from our menu any or all of these Mexican specialties: guacamole with salsa and chips, empanadas, chicken enchilada casseroles, gordita flour tacos, calabacitas, or Bear’s famous Atomic Frito Pie!
Even better, the Inn on the Alameda and our Agoyo Lounge will be kicking off Cinco de Mayo as one of the top stops along Santa Fe’s inaugural Margarita Trail. The Trail will be offering a “culinary cocktail experience” that shows off the best Santa Fe has to offer, with drinks priced at seven to twelve dollars. We’ll have margaritas of all makes and colors, and our fine selection of top-of-the-line tequilas will have you feeling like John Wayne, who once wrote a letter to the owner of Sauza Tequila telling him that in the Duke’s home, tequila had become “as necessary in our household as air and water.”
But like everything else in life, moderation is the key to happiness. And in the case of tequila and margaritas, to a morning without hangovers or upset stomachs.
I know both Santa Fe and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico very well. Right now spring is arriving in these mountain valley towns. Here, the beauty is so remarkable that, if you were an artist, you would be helplessly drawn to these magnetic norths of human creativity. But today I want to focus on the incredibly beautiful palate of blooming trees and flowers particular to each town. It is amazing how many species were brought to the New World from all parts of the globe, an area where trade was so driven by the markets in Europe that from there, Spain initially was the country that first brought fruits, nuts, and vegetables from most of the world. In fact, trade of any sort with any of the Americas was nonexistent until the 18th century.
At this moment the view from my terrace of San Miguel is covered in the purple blue flowers of the jacaranda tree. This tree can grow to 50 feet and fills out as majestically as any oak I have ever seen. Each year at this time, they burst into an almost indescribably unique purple-blue flower. Not periwinkle blue, not navy, not sky blue. Jacaranda—indescribable. The Spanish brought so many things to the New World: horses, grains (like wheat, oats, and rice), and citrus (from Australia, Southeast Asia, and India). It’s hard to imagine Florida, Southern California, south Texas, and Mexico without lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits. All of this and so much more came here through the ports of Spain, in the days when New Spain held control of access to all of Latin America. But of all the treasures that came to San Miguel, the jacaranda in April is the most amazing.
In Santa Fe, European hybrid grapes for wines and brandy were brought by the monks and settlers, bulb plants of all kinds, lilacs from the Balkans, apricots from Armenia. While no single plant in Santa Fe so completely dominates the skyline (as the jacarandas do for over a month here in San Miguel), spring up north brings a veritable explosion of blossoms of every hue and every variety: lilacs, roses, wisteria, and the same for fruit trees—apricots, apples, pears, plums, and cherries.
How has Santa Fe come to possess such a wide variety of so many plants!?
It was due to an educated and brilliant French bishop named Jean-Baptiste Lamy. This Roman Catholic prelate is credited with giving Santa Fe its unique spring and summer beauty. It is an interesting story, the arrival of Bishop Lamy. After reports reached Europe that self-flagellating extremists from the Catholic Church were moving to the mountain villages of Northern New Mexico, far away from the missions, and practicing an embarrassing, pagan, ritualistic form of Catholicism, the Pope dispatched Lamy and a legion of nuns to re-Catholicize, reform, and educate the people of the Northern Provence capital of New Spain: Santa Fe. With him came huge quantities of dry-rooted plants, bushes, vines, and trees. He knew that beauty and a real feeling for the earth might serve as a small enticement for bringing the scattered flock home to existing towns such as Santa Fe.
So when you arrive at the Inn on the Alameda and have settled in, you will immediately be struck by our landscaping and its wonderful impact on the setting and property. The outdoor patio of the Agoyo Lounge is covered with hanging wisteria, bright ornamental crabapple (accented by blue bee bushes), and colorful ivies and aspens. Come on in, sit down and enjoy the menu, staff, service, and great quality of the food.
The Inn on the Alameda stands poised to begin its 30th year of business in Santa Fe. During that time I have gone from my latter 30’s to my latter 60’s, and my son Michael has grown from 2 to 31. What fortunate blessings have been bestowed upon us and our property. What began as a 36 room limited service property has now doubled in size, abandoned its little portable lobby bar, enclosed the outdoor patio and risen in national stature and recognition. The Agoyo Lounge is now where that patio was, and a new and improved bar will be installed this coming early spring.
Agoyo is a Tewa Pueblo word for star or under the stars which was used by an early Pueblo employee for the patio’s nickname before it was enclosed. Then the night skies were darker since Santa Fe was much smaller and the stars more brilliant than even today, which is hard to imagine. We enclosed the patio because we had completely underestimated the seating capacity at breakfast on inclement rainy or snowing days, when few guests wished to enjoy the town until the early chill had gone. Cramming 72 guests in the small lobby was an impossibility and we always relied on the outdoor patio. Our front Sun Room was leased to the Galisteo News, a very cool espresso/coffee/ croissant precursor to Starbucks, so unlike now, it was unavailable for guests’ breakfast.
Those were very exciting days for many reasons, but the best being was being named by USA today in 1986, our first year, as one of the top 10 romantic destinations in the country. With the brilliant guidance of Alice Marshall, our New York City based publicist, we began garnishing top 100, 200 and 500 hotels awards and acclaim from Conde Nast and Travel & Leisure. Along side our staff and location Alice stands as the 3rd leg of the stool for our amazing climb to even international recognition. Our breakfast room proudly displays the most astounding and notable covers of these two magazines.
As our 3rd decade ends, it is hard not to feel nostalgic looking back at all the wonderful people that have shaped the Inn. Kathy Lynch, our night auditor, has been here since we opened, and many of our people have stayed for more than 20 years. This has allowed a familiarity, warmth and even friendships to grow during this time. As we regularly see in write-ups of guests’ experiences that it is “like coming home”. So at this holiday season, a time of family gatherings, we welcome all of our guests to enjoy a hot drink in the Agoyo Lounge, bundle up, and stand under the brilliant night skies and thank the powers that be for all there is that is still good in the world.
We have just returned from a weeklong trip to the Greater Disney Entertainment Complex in central Florida having thoroughly “done Disney” and, no offense to Old Walt, it only made us appreciate the values and unique attractions of the Inn on the Alameda. Traveling as a family with a nine year old turning ten was an eye-opening and bracing examination of today’s lodging trends. While we were dazzled by Disney the trip truly brought us a renewed appreciation of our home and inn.
Traveling to Disneyworld is an exercise in corporate homogeneity and the contrast to New Mexico is apparent upon arrival. Orlando International is a confusing labyrinth of poor signage and retail opportunities that must be maneuvered before even setting a foot in Florida proper. The Interstate to the corporate state within a state that is Disney is an endless stretch of billboards and novelty shops. There cannot exist an experience in sharper contrast to the stark beauty and endless views of the drive from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, as the wide sky rises up to meet you when cresting La Bajada hill and gazing out at the City Different nestled placidly beneath her clean blue skies and rising Sange de Cristo mountain peaks.
Once in the Disney Complex you are in a vast and all encompassing world of orchestrated consumerism where money is abstracted into the form of a “Magic Band “ with which you just swipe your wrist to charge gifts, rides and meals. Disney seems to have found the highest common denominator for all of America in entertainment and lodging. Here one would believe that the food options are limited to just a few repetitive items, with lots of starch and sugar. This is unfortunately for the Disney visitor an unfulfilling, if filling, dining experience, totally different than one’s experience at the Agoyo Lounge at the Inn where we seasonally change our unique regional cuisine, like our Chicken Enchiladas. At the Inn we pride ourselves on a level of personal service and customer engagement which is reflected is our high numbers of returning guests.
It is impossible to not dwell on Disney’s countless differences with Santa Fe. Few locations in the United States are so deeply entrenched in location, place and history. Cultural contexts in New Mexico are deep and wide, encompassing Anglo-American and Hispanic settlers over hundreds of years and Native Indian occupation over thousands. To travel from the Inn on the Alameda to the Plaza is to walk the same byways and streets that have been walked upon for hundreds of years. You will see independent vendors, shops and galleries offering authentic and world class goods. Santa Fe is no fantasist vision sprung madly from the visions and dictates of a multinational corporation, it’s as real and as authentic a location as you’re likely to find on this continent. We can truly say we’ve “done Disney”, and we are now done with it. What we see when we look at the Inn on the Alameda is authenticity and reality where the guest is treated with recognition and respect, and it is this vision that becomes bracing in its clarity when contrasted with Orlando.
This fascinating two-day celebration at the first of November is not only the oldest American ritual honoring the dead, but the most popular holiday in all of Mexico. The native peoples that inhabited Mexico before the Spanish conquest in 1521 had a deep connection with death and dying. While modern western medicine cannot explain what happens after death occurs, neither could the old healers tell anyone what truly lies beyond the veil of life. So when Catholicism became the religion forced upon the Indigenous People, the Church already had two special days of recognizing and remembering the dead: All Saints Day and All Souls Day.
The appealing concept and imagery of this special day remembering the dead helped the merging of the Catholics’ and the Indigenous Peoples’ histories and beliefs. Dia de los Muertos formed a perfect common and similar union between Catholicism and Mexican traditional days of celebration. Ironically, this is a day for the dead with little focus on the Church, Jesus Christ, nor the trilogy. Instead, candied skeletons, skulls, marigold flowers and photographs of the deceased family members adorn the beautiful and personalized shrines and altars throughout Mexico. It is an invitation from the living to the dead to come and share a meal. Often on display can be found tequila, beers, cigarettes, tacos, mole: whatever each individual dead honoree enjoyed the most.
It is widely believed that the American tradition of Halloween stems from the blending of these two traditional celebrations of the dead’s lives. However, as one might expect from a culture of consumerism, Americans buy our children costumes of spooks, ghosts and skeletons and hustle them off to scare people and ask for candy. One can certainly see the American propensity to commercialize what was at one time a day to honor and remember your people now passed over. On the Day of the Dead, one sees all over Mexico activities such as building altars and shrines, cleaning and decorating graves, listening to strolling musicians, telling funny stories about each deceased relative, now again living for two precious days a year in the cemeteries through the energy, respect and honor of their families. The energy is always joyous, never gloomy. It is ironically a celebration of Life, this Day of the Dead!
Modern American culture has morphed this wonderful celebration of life into children screaming “Boo!” as if the dead came back on All Saints Day to scare people. Give me candy or we will “trick” you somehow in revenge. The real trick would be to somehow culturally re-connect Halloween with the wonderful aspects of the Day of the Dead.
So this Halloween, or the Day of the Dead, please stop by the Agoyo Lounge at the Inn on the Alameda in Santa Fe for a celebratory meal and drink and toast your past family members; and through your memories, celebrate their lives on earth.