Danzantes wearing beribboned cupiles
Las Fiestas de San Lorenzo—Bernalillo
—Margaret M. Nava
San Lorenzo (Saint Lawrence,) the first Spanish saint and patron and defender of the poor, was born in Huesca, Spain, in the year 257. As a Catholic deacon during the reign of Roman Emperor Valerian, Lawrence was responsible for safeguarding the material goods of the Church and distributing alms to the poor. Driven by greed, the Emperor’s Prefect (magistrate) summoned the deacon to his court and questioned him about the riches of the Church. Rather than surrender the Church’s sacred treasures, Lawrence distributed them to the widows and orphans of Rome. Three days later, he gathered a group of lame, blind and leprous people and presented them to the Prefect stating, “These are the treasures of the Church.” The Prefect became angry and sentenced the deacon to a slow death on a gridiron. According to legend, during his torture, Lawrence cried out, “This side is done, turn me over ...”
Prior to the arrival of Spanish explorers, the area now known as Bernalillo was the site of several Tiguex pueblos dating as far back as AD 1300. In 1581, merchants and missionaries began using El Camino Real (The Royal Road) to travel between the Spanish stronghold of Mexico City and the new colony of Santa Fe and in 1598, Spanish colonists accompanied the Oñate expedition and established a string of estancias along the banks of the Rio Grande River. Eager to form a connection to their homeland and possibly educate the native Indians about the Spanish faith, the colonists and missionaries dedicated their churches to patron saints, angels, and religious deities—integral parts of their lives.
Although Fray Estévan de Perea established the San Francisco Mission at Sandia Pueblo in 1611, it along with many others was destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Following the return of the Spanish in 1692, the first church in the burgeoning trade center of Bernalillo was built in the early 1700s. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in the flood of 1735. Having no church of their own, Bernalillo residents attended services at a new mission, dedicated to Saint Anthony, built on the site of the ruined San Francisco Mission at Sandia Pueblo. In the mid-1800s, a new church with four-and-a-half-foot thick adobe walls, 12-inch-thick vigas, a flat roof, and an earthen floor was built in Bernalillo and dedicated to Nuestra Senora de los Dolores, Our Lady of Sorrows.
When Bishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy arrived in Santa Fe in 1851, he set out to create new parishes, build or remodel existing churches, and establish schools throughout the district he governed. One of the churches he refashioned was Our Lady of Sorrows. Adding a sloped tin roof and twin steeples, it resembled the Romanesque churches Lamy preferred. Completed in 1857, the church served the parish for more than one-hundred years until construction of a larger structure was begun in 1969. Faced with the problem of what to do with the old church—demolish or repair it—parishioners chose to save and rededicate it to San Lorenzo, the patron saint of the village’s original settlers.
Held annually on August 9, 10, and 11, Las Fiestas de San Lorenzo celebrates the Feast Day of San Lorenzo with prayers, processions, historical reenactments, live entertainment, carnival rides, and plenty of good New Mexican food. One of the highlights is the performance of the religious dance-drama known as Los Matachines based on the history of Montezuma and the Aztecs.
While there are many different versions of this drama, the one performed in Bernalillo features danzantes (dancers) dressed in black trousers, white shirts, beribboned cupiles (headdresses), and black fringe and kerchiefs worn over the face:
• La Malinche (Montezuma’s guide and translator) dressed in a white First Communion dress and veil
• Monarca (chief male dancer representing Montezuma) dressed entirely in white
• El Toro (representing evil) dressed in a red shirt and black horns
• The abuelos (grandfathers or clowns) who carry chicotes (whips) to maintain order in the dance and torment the bull.
While other versions of this drama-dance are accompanied by only one tune, that in Bernalillo includes several, all played on guitars and violins.
Charles Aguilar, former mayor of Bernalillo (1994-2006) and head violinist for the Matachines de San Lorenzo, explains the origin of the Bernalillo dance:
“In 1680, when the people of Santa Ana warned Bernalillo colonists about the impending revolt, the colonists made a promesa (promise) that if their patron saint, San Lorenzo, were to keep them safe, they would celebrate his feast day every year. The colonists fled to El Paso del Norte but returned safely to their Bernalillo homes in 1692. Every year since then, they and their ancestors have fulfilled the promesa. Nowadays, those who dance do so to fulfill their own promesas, which are different for every person. Some dance as a penance, for a healing, or in remembrance of loved ones. In recent years, we have had so many people who want to complete their promesa that we have had to increase the number of dancers to two squads.”
Los Matachines reenacts the battle between good (Christianity) and evil (paganism), and allows several generations of townspeople to reconnect with their past and provides onlookers with a rare glimpse into the lives and customs of this traditional New Mexico village.
Various religious services are held at Our Lady of Sorrows Church and the Sanctuario San Lorenzo on Camino del Pueblo, the Matachines dances are performed outside the home of the current Mayordomo behind the T&T Market, and town-sponsored activities such as carnival rides, food booths, and live entertainment are held at Rotary Park, west of Camino Don Tomas. Although still photography is permitted, videotaping and filming is not. For more information, contact the Bernalillo Community Development office at (505) 771-7114.
The sacrament of Hello: Our Lady of the Open Road
I come from a culture where people go to absurd extremes to avoid eye contact. They lower their heads, slide by sideways, pretend to take interest in pieces of scrap paper tumbling down the street or act as if they’re lost in reading redundant ads in foreign languages on subway walls. People rarely acknowledge each other’s existence, let alone smile or wave or greet a stranger with a friendly “howdy.”
One of the reasons, of course, is that NY is so filled with people and the streets are so crowded most times that to be that kind of friendly you’d be spending your whole day tipping your hat.
But, even in areas that are less crowded than the city proper, like Westchester County to the north of the city, the ethos of privacy prevails…I see you…but you mind your business and I mind mine. Eye contact and a smile are considered an invasion of personal space, unless you share a fundamental familiarity, like with a longtime neighbor, a mailman, or the owner of your favorite restaurant. Although, in some situations I’ve seen, even that’s verboten.
I have a friend who lives near New Paltz, a small rural and usually hospitable community about two hours north of NYC. He has two acres and his neighbor immediately behind him has three. Every day when he tends his garden, the neighbor will come outside to collect the garbage, let out the dog, or pick up the paper. And every day my friend will wave and say “good morning” or “good afternoon” or “fine day we’re having!” And without fail, his sullen neighbor will look up, nod just sufficiently to not be insulting, then turn on her heel and scurry back inside before she has to engage in any conversation.
My friend says he won’t stop saying good morning until he dies or moves, whichever comes first.
I was unusually fortunate in that I lived in an incredibly tight and warm neighborhood in the village of Tarrytown where everybody really did know your name, and your dogs’ names, and invited you for drinks on hot Sunday afternoons in the garden. With only several thousand families, it was an extraordinary cultural anomaly for the metropolitan New York area.
When a freak snowstorm brought down one of my pine trees with a resounding snap, the response was instant. Like the Amish running over hill and dale for a barn raising, everyone poured out of their homes to make sure we were all right. Since we were just fine, and since we were all just standing around in the snow looking at a fallen tree we couldn’t do anything about, everyone came in for hot cocoa and coffee. Small town life is a beautiful thing.
So when I moved out to New Mexico, I didn’t experience the same level of culture shock a lot of New Yorkers do when they are met with a hello, a wave, a smile, or a hearty good morning from someone they’ve never met before. But it was still different than any place I’d ever lived before.
When we lived in Montana, people were quite nice, but their politeness was not to be confused with the warmth of friendship or an open invitation. And I imagine that makes sense in a world where spaces are vast, the passersby are infrequent, unexpected visitors were always potentially dangerous, and people still carry their guns to use them. An outsider is an Outsider and trust is not given freely. This is not a condemnation of the culture there. It is simply my observation as an outsider. The people I met there were some of the most gracious, Godly, decent and humble people I’ve ever had the good fortune to know. But it took a while to get past their wariness and actually get to know them.
New Mexico, in comparison, is friendly. People smile at you and tip their hats for no reason except that it’s a sunny day and they’re going one way and you’re going the other. They make conversation, sometimes engaging in long ones without knowing who you are. They remember your name (which is a constant, tormenting source of embarrassment for me because I can’t remember the names of my own family members!) and invite you over for dinner as a way of getting to know you.
The neighbors are downright neighborly and don’t hesitate to check in on you if they haven’t seen you out walking the dog as usual or call you to make sure the stranger on your property belongs there. When I moved to Placitas, there was a welcoming committee that came to my house, for goodness’ sake! The last time I heard about a welcoming committee was in Mayberry RFD and Andy Griffith was sheriff.
People here feel familiar. And it happens quickly. For me it’s been sometimes hard to know what to make of it, no less what to do with it.
For instance, there’s the woman who runs up and down 165 every morning waving at every single oncoming vehicle. She smiles and waves whenever a car approaches. She greets every single one! And with enthusiasm.
My husband and I have passed her a dozen times and we’ve always waved back. In the beginning, we didn’t understand what she was doing. We thought it was odd. Then we thought it was funny. Finally we wondered if she was sane and if we should stop and help her.
But soon, we found ourselves expecting to see her, wondering less about her mental status and more about where she was going on her run, how long she’d run, how much farther she had to go, whether she worked or not. We found ourselves connected to her.
And then we got it.
The fear of my friend’s dour neighbor in New Paltz, New York, is the delight of one slender woman in Placitas—connection. It says to everyone on the road, “I see you.”
Which is exactly what the people in big cities pretend to not do: see you. This has a lot of mental health implications and in my practice I see it quite a bit. One patient recently complained how much it had hurt her that no one had ever really seen her. She felt invisible in her own family and that sense of self eventually built into a despair that bordered on worthlessness.
Connection is no minor thing. I can attest to what it does and what devastation its absence can wreak on a life. Which is why this one woman who runs and waves to everyone she sees is so important.
The Lady of the Open Road
I finally had the pleasure of meeting the person whom I’ve been calling the Waving Runner at a July 4th party at a neighbor’s house. Her name is Denise. She is smart, warm, and, yes, genuinely friendly. There is absolutely no pretense whatsoever in her. And she is as sane and solid as a midwestern prairie.
She started running during her divorce. “I had five kids and I didn’t want to go to bars. And one day I told them that I was going to do a marathon. I was 43 years old. And even as I said it, I thought, ‘Oh, cripes, what have I done?’ But I promised them and I live up to my word.”
And so she did. She ran and ran and ran until she ran the Chicago Marathon (3 hours and 40 minutes) and qualified for the Boston Marathon.
The waving, though, didn’t start till she and her husband Dave, who run an insurance company together, moved to Santa Fe.
What changed there?
“The economy tanked and people were miserable. I thought I’d do something for people that would maybe reassure them or inspire them. Maybe that’s not the right word…but I wanted them to be okay.”
Apparently, the littlest passengers were her first and biggest fans. Babies waved from car seats, children leaning on the windows annoyed at having to go to school smiled at the lady running by.
“Teenagers, though, they were tough. They’d flip me off a lot, trying to be cool, but after a while their finger turned into a hand and then the hand moved from side to side and, eventually, they were rolling down their windows to say hi.”
She soon became known as “the Lady of the Open Road” and the police would slow down and encourage her to keep it up.
When they moved to Placitas, her running and waving turned into an art form, just like everything else in Placitas.
“The reception was unbelievable! People came up with new ways of waving, crisscrossing, two-hand flutters, salutes, hand flips, flagging out the window . . . Leave it to Placitans! People even stopped and gave me Christmas cards, scarves, and headbands. One guy gave me a newspaper every week. You look forward to certain cars after a while.”
I asked her what her waving and running has taught her. She said thoughtfully, “I know that I take a risk by waving at everyone, but I’ve found it’s worth it. I learned that people are warm and wonderful and crave this kind of acknowledgment.”
She also said that the waving saved her: “I never would have never gotten through the death of my father without all my waving friends who have given so much back to me. I pray, cry, laugh, and make my peace with God but I need those smiling faces and waves back to make this complete for me. I fell one day and the people who stopped were amazing. They all wanted to help and take me home. I bet six cars stopped and that was when I realized what we meant to each other.”
I agreed, “What you do is sacramental. You are a morning rite that reminds us who we are and the Grace in our existence.”
She laughed, but her husband exclaimed, “That’s it!”
The Sacrament of Hello and the Human Communion
I don’t think it is too far a stretch of the word. A sacrament is a Christian term that is understood to be an outward sign that conveys the existence of Grace. It is understood to be brought about by a combination of the action of the Holy Spirit and a ritual that is consecrated by the participants (usually a representative of the Church). In the Eastern Orthodox churches, however, all encounters with life are sacramental in some sense.
In the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, “sacrament” can be taken in a very broad sense to mean the sign of something sacred or hidden.
“We can say that the whole world is a vast sacramental system, in that material things are unto men the signs of things spiritual and sacred, even of the Divinity. ‘The heavens show forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands’ (Psalm 18:2).”
Through a sacrament, the invisible profundities, the mysteries of beauty and life and death, the subtle grace of the world is more clearly seen and experienced.
Perhaps through the ritual of a simple wave, through the simple act of “hello” we are being introduced to the mystery of connection, by which we receive the blessing of the human communion.
Either way, Denise, whether you are just saying “howdy” or you are serving as the portal for all of us to one another, we’re mighty glad to have you.
The atomic bomb and me
— Paul Krza, Writers on the Range
This year, the bomb and I became senior citizens. We were both born 65 years ago at nearly the same time in different parts of the West. Since then, nuclear reality has come to define everybody’s lives. But for me there’s even more of a connection, because of the radiation still lurking inside my body from a controversial childhood treatment.
I still remember those trips to Salt Lake City about a half-century ago. It was a big deal back then, that jaunt from rural Rock Springs, Wyo., to the big city, where we stayed overnight at the imposing Newhouse Hotel. But it wasn’t for fun; I was there to see a doctor. And not just any doctor, I learned later.
Dr. David Dolowitz pioneered a cutting-edge medical procedure called nasopharyngeal radium irradiation. Into my nose went 50 milligrams of radium, at the tip of a rod I always feared would penetrate my brain. It held a hundred times more radiation than Japanese bomb survivors received –– "Nagasaki up the nose," as a later researcher characterized it.
But back to my birth in Rock Springs, Wyo., on July 16, 1945. Just a few hours later, at 5:29:45 a.m., the world’s first atomic bomb, dubbed Trinity, exploded with the force of 21,000 tons of TNT. The first fallout from a nuclear blast probably even dusted me on my first day on earth, likely blown north by southwest summer winds. Then during the years 1945 to 1962 -- roughly my entire childhood right up to high school graduation -- the U.S. government "tested" 106 nuclear bombs in aboveground blasts in Nevada. That’s about one blast every other month, ranging from the pleasantly named 1.2 kiloton "Sugar," in 1951, to "Hood," a huge 1957 test of a hydrogen bomb that the government kept secret until 1974. Most of the radioactive-laden atmospheric debris -- the H-bomb test was by far the dirtiest -- drifted right over my Wyoming home.
Bomb tests subsequently went underground, but my close encounters with nukes continued. An hour's drive from Laramie and the University of Wyoming where I went to college, Cold War missiles with nuclear bomb warheads were placed in underground silos, always ready for action.
Eleven years ago, circumstances, or perhaps fate, sent me to New Mexico. My spouse, a native New Mexican, netted a promotion that brought us to Socorro, only 45 miles from Trinity’s ground zero. Now I’m living in the state that hosts Los Alamos National laboratory, home to years of bomb research, and lately, where leftover radioactive debris is stored near Carlsbad Caverns. And as I drive back and forth to Albuquerque, I pass by the "secret" U.S. nuclear warhead stockpile that’s buried deep in the Manzano Mountains. One local bumper sticker sums it up: “WMDs: New Mexico, 2,000; Iraq, 0.”
Then there's the nose business. I’ve learned that the radium-rod treatment was developed at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Medical School in the 1920s. It took off during World War II as a treatment for pilots suffering from pressure-deafness. A blast of radiation in the ear apparently took care of the problem. The same method worked to shrink adenoidal tissue, which is where I, and a couple of million other American children, came into the medical picture. The nuclear treatment had become the rage -- the Saturday Evening Post called it “amazing” -- and I guess my parents figured I should get it for my plugged nose. So off we went to Salt Lake City.
By then, the treatment had been refined, delivering doses of radium encased on reusable chopstick-like rods, left inside the nose for 10 minutes or so. Each session -- and I don’t know exactly how many I had nor have I been able to find out -- sent the equivalent of between 1,000 and 10,000 dental X-rays into my head.
Much of the information on the military and civilian use of radiation came as the result of 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning articles in the Albuquerque Tribune, a now-defunct newspaper in my newly adopted state. Later research revealed the unsettling results of radium irradiation: Elevated rates of throat cancer, neck tumors –– even whole sets of teeth falling out.
So far, I’ve had no problems, although my otherwise healthy teeth have worn down, maybe from constant grinding, but maybe not. Thanks to my new proximity to Mexico, I secured 16 new crowns, so I’m OK there. Meanwhile, outside, the atomic threat still lingers. Plutonium is loose across the planet, coveted by terrorists. Just this year, the "doomsday clock" moved up a notch, closer to deadly midnight.
Meanwhile, inside me, my cells tick-tick-tick, seeded with that nuclear "cure."
Hillerman, Strel present three books in Placitas
Join Anne Hillerman and Don Strel for a photography journey in the Southwest on Saturday August 14 at the Placitas Community Library at 2:00 p.m.
A slideshow and talk on three recent books by Anne Hillerman and her photographer husband, Don Strel, will provide a marvelous journey for readers who prefer to stay at home. Their books can also serve as handy guides for those who want to venture through special places in the Southwest.
The most recent book, Gardens of Santa Fe, provides a visual journey through some of the most spectacular gardens of Santa Fe. The private gardens featured, as well as the delightful public gardens, show a surprising diversity of flora. Don Strel’s lovely photographs grace almost every page, while Anne Hillerman highlights specific flowers and gives insights into each garden and its caretaker. The reader can pick up useful tips for turning a personal garden into a desert oasis.
Tony Hillerman’s Landscape: On the Road with Chee and Leaphorn transports the reader into the world of Tony Hillerman’s novels. The book is narrated by Tony’s daughter, Anne, and illuminated by Don Strel’s original photographs. It contains brief synopses of the novels, quotations from the books, and Tony Hillerman’s own comments about the beautiful landscape that captured his imagination. The book includes an introduction by Tony Hillerman, a foreword from Dr. Joe Shirley, Jr., President of the Navajo Nation, and an original, previously unpublished essay of Tony Hillerman. This book will fascinate long-time Hillerman fans and those just discovering Hillerman’s work.
Santa Fe Flavors: Best Restaurants and Recipes won the 2009 New Mexico Book Award. Anne Hillerman takes readers on a whirlwind tour through Santa Fe’s restaurants, offering recommendations on the best eateries and even providing diners and readers the chance to re-create favorite dishes. The book includes dining guidelines, restaurant price information, and cooking instructions for high altitude as well as sea level readers.
Author of eight books, Ann Hillerman has been a journalist for more than twenty years, working as editorial page editor for the Albuquerque Journal North and the Santa Fe New Mexican, and as an arts editor for both papers. She has received awards for her work from the National Federation of Press Women and the New Mexico Press Association. She lives in Santa Fe.
Photographer Don Strel has had his photos published in numerous books and magazines. He has taught art and design at San Francisco State and Northern Illinois University, and has served as the director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of New Mexico. Currently, he is the director of the Southwest Assignments design and public relations agency.