“Woo-hoo” to “Yahoo:” Santa Fe has it all

Toronto Star, April 29: While it’s just a slogan on a T-shirt most places, ‘Dance like no one’s watching’ is pretty much how they roll in Santa Fe. The city of 83,000 nestled between four mountain ranges in northern New Mexico is known for its artists, architecture and acceptance.

Santa Fe is short for the name the Spanish gave it in 1610—The Royal Town of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi — but these days, most people just know it as a creative hub because of its thousands of artists and hundreds of galleries.

Painters with respiratory problems started arriving in Santa Fe in the early 1900s. They came for the dry air and stayed for the crisp light. The artists also liked the adobe structures around town — plain, brown buildings originally made of mud bricks. The “long and low” buildings don’t obstruct the mountain views and light and shadows play on their outside walls.

There was an architectural hiccup in Santa Fe in the early 1900s. Officials were campaigning hard to become a state and thought it advantageous to build brick houses with big white porches to look more like the rest of the country. It worked. New Mexico became one of the United States in 1912 and almost immediately, people turned on the red brick and went back to adobe.

It was the last time Santa Fe worried about fitting in.

While the structures around the city are legislated to be the same adobe style, the people inside them are anything but cookie cutter. Birkenstocks to cowboy boots, uptown black suits to long flowered skirts: People wear whatever they want, which is maybe why everyone is so friendly. Cyclists shout good morning as they speed by, drivers stop as you approach a cross walk and strangers wave for no good reason at all.

Art is everywhere. The landscape. Galleries line Canyon Road. Sleek and spacious contemporary spaces at the Rail Yard. Across the street at the Farmers Market, along with fresh produce, you’ll find jewellery, paintings and pottery. Museums celebrate history, modernist painter Georgia O’Keeffe, Indian arts and culture and the world’s largest collection of folk art. Outside the Palace of the Governors, dozens of Native American artisans sit selling certified hand-made turquoise and other creations.

“Santa Fe has an art fair 365 days a year,” says Javier Gonzalez, the mayor. “Creativity is just really part of the secret sauce of this city.” While there is plenty of new age-y “woo-woo” (as the locals call it) there’s an equal measure of entrepreneurial “yahoo.” People move here and create their own jobs. They’ve done it for decades.

 Take Betty Egan. After her husband died in the early 1960’s, she packed up her four kids and left Cleveland for Santa Fe. She started a guest ranch in the hills with the motto: “Leave your title and status at the door and come in and enjoy good food and good company.”

Now it’s the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado, and platters of local produce and meats are served family style. Egan’s saddle sits just outside the bar and her spirit is everywhere.

In 1974, Georgia Maryol agreed to make the payments on a guy’s trailer in exchange for Tomasita’s restaurant. She had the cook, Tomasita, her killer recipe for green chile (“no cumin, like in Texas”) and one employee. When Maryol could afford a dishwasher she opened the door and shouted to the men at the halfway house across the street: “Who wants to wash dishes?”

A few years later, the restaurant moved to the old railway station where customers line up for “Christmas” enchiladas (served with red and green chile) and the Tuesday special that’s served all week long.

Erin Wade is just one of the latest in a long line of women entrepreneurs in Santa Fe. She started as a farmer, became a restaurateur and most recently opened Modern General, a pretty little café and store with artfully arranged sustainable products. Wade is an example of why Santa Fe was recently ranked as NerdWallet’s “Best Place for Women-owned Businesses” in the U.S.

That statistic doesn’t surprise the mayor. Santa Fe is hardwired to welcome people doing their own thing, whether it’s starting a business, creating art or being an openly gay mayor. “Santa Fe has a strong history of diversity,” says Gonzalez, pointing to 400 years in which the original Native inhabitants, the Spanish and everyone else who has moved to town have learned to live together. “We had to get over our issues early. We accept each other.”

Just the facts:

  • Green chile is a religion here. You can join the faithful at a cooking class with Chef Michelle Roetzer at Santa Fe School of Cooking. She will take you through thousands of years of culinary history, explain that enchilada means “pour chile over it” and proceed to do just that.
  • Spot the fake adobe. On a historical walking tour of downtown Santa Fe you’ll see the city’s history through architecture, including an adobe house that was painted to look like brick as part of the campaign to become a state more than a century ago.
  • Hotel Santa Fe and Hacienda is Native-owned and solar-powered and boasts an impressive collection of Native American art along with comfortable rooms and great coffee.
  • The Drury Plaza Hotel, recently opened in an old 1950’s hospital, has a rooftop pool and bar with lots of room and a gorgeous view of Santa Fe and the hills beyond.
  • There is a lot of great eating: Santacafe, 315 and The Compound are three restaurants to get you started.
  • Morning rush hour lasts from 7:50 a.m. until 8:10 a.m.

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