Saturday, April 02, 2011

New Mexican(?) food & Albu's OK

I got anxious waiting at home for editors to send acceptances of my stories and decided to go down to Albuquerque this month to research background info I need for another novel to homestead the slush piles of NY publishers.

We hit the UNM campus, including a stopover at UNM Press for info on their chock-full spring catalogue pubs I mentioned before. Suddenly, there, in the center of campus, my wife and I were assailed by the huge statue Fiesta Jarabe, done by the late Luis Jimenez.

To be clear, I like at least one Jimenez, El Reflejo del Chuco, so I don't hate his work. (Check videos of his talking about his work here.) And the tejano did bequeath a huge body of work on his interpretion of mestizaje. But Chicanos shouldn't be expected to like everything Chicano anymore than Anglos should be about their works. (You want they should be proud of the Battle of the Alamo? How 'bout Sleepy Lagoon?)

So, I'll say that the Fiesta Jarabe sculpture "impresses" almost as much as the Mustang, Mesteño 32-foot-tall cast-fiberglass sculpture--the largest Jimenez ever did--that challenges tourists to try to forget it after driving in or out of the Denver airport. Experiencing that bright blue, upright caballote with gleaming red eyes can never be replaced by looking at a mere photo. But, back to Albu.

A highlight of the trip was visiting the National Hispanic Cultural Center. A read of their info suggests the "Hispanos" of NM decided they'd had enuf of O'Keefe et al getting all the museum space in town, and must have "suggested" to city fathers it was time to give the Spanish-speaking their own dedicated space, which is better than having not much space at all. And it's a great one--an impressive-looking, vast, concrete spread of culture-centered buildings, with "Arte, Idioma, Cultura & Comunidad" as their slogan.

None of my ancestors were nuevomexicano, nor old ones in the territory's past, so I didn't check out their Biblioteca y Centro Genealógico, but you might want to.

Since I also love creating furniture that doesn't sell--only because I can never get it just-right so it might land in a museum--the "New Mexico Furniture is Art" exhibit was puro suave. From Spanish colonial to modern, yeah, it's just like much of the stuff you see in Taos hand-crafted furniture shops, but you don't have to worry about buying anything or feel like you shouldn't be looking since you could never afford to buy even one chair, plus it's all in one location, so you eliminate having to mall-walk the miles of downtown Taos, in and out of shops where, because you're bronce, proprietors wonder if you carry a shopping bag to abscond with a carved bench and don't know that it only contains cheap-tourist trinkets and free brochures you'll use to write that next unsold novel. That exhibit open until May 29, 2011.

Then we got a bigger treat. We were lucky to have arrived just after the opening of the 1000 sq.-meter or 4,000 sq. feet--depending on which lit you read--Buon Fresco (“true fresco”) created over the last ten years by native nuevo mexicano Frederico Vigil and assistants and interns.

According to the Centro: "Vigil first became involved with the ancient art of fresco during an internship in 1984 with Lucienne Bloch and Stephen Pope Dimitroff, who were apprentices to Diego Rivera." I've seen Mexico's Rivera murals and his influence is obvious in this monumental work. You lose track of time sitting on one side of the interior to take in everything viewable from that angle, and then you move onto another sector for another view, and you never feel like you can see enuf of it.

Rivera was Rivera; Vigil is his own style, but definitely worth the stop and time. The mural is variously referred to as "3,000 years of Hispanic history" in the pamphlet; "Mundos de mestizaje: A Vision of History through Fresco" on their webite, and "El Fresco del Torreón, el viaje de la cultura hispana." so I can't claim I know its title. But, according to the Centro, this does seem to indicate that the heralded "purity" of the Hispanic is somehow congruent to the genetic uncertainty of mestizos. Go figure.

Frederico Vigil took 10 yrs. to complete the mural to this stage, since we heard he still might cover some of the lower 8 ft. of the interior walls. To Vigil, I'd say, "Déjalo." It's enuf. Leave some breathing space for the eyes and mind, because the work is staggering. Enervante, in both languages.

After visiting the Torreón--it is a tower with a domed ceiling--I managed to track down Cesar Chavez--no relation--who was one of Vigil's interns on the fresco. He confided in me and asked me not to mention the following. When the young Chavez and another prospective intern interviewed for the positions, Chavez said, "It was just like in The Karate Kid." The ex-intern motioned for us the fencewashing/painting gestures from the movie, but it didn't turn out exactly like that.

Vigil must be from the original recycle/reuse/regret generation. He'd collected an immense quantity of building materials from tear-downs, remodels and whatever, with which he built his main, large home. What he didn't use he stored at his other place and totally filled its backyard. According to Chavez, Vigil showed the interns his junkyard art collection and instructed them to first "Clean it all up." A month later, after they'd finished, apparently pleased he told them, "Now you're ready to learn fresco."

Chavez, who's still young, probably can provide enough info for another novel, but you'll have to track him down on your own if you want that. And if you track down Federico, ask him--or the Centro's docents--why there's no Moors in the mural. I at least couldn't identify any.

Don't know if there's any good Mexican restaurants in Albu's Oldtown, but I can say: stay away from La Hacienda. Airport prices and flavor. Sure they got "free" sopapillas, but so do others, so maybe that's just regular Albu hype. Gringo/tourist food, I call it. Plus, I'm not sure how well they did on their last food inspection.

Other places recommended to us, but that we didn't get to try:

Monroe's, 6051 Osuna Road NE & 1520 Lomas Blvd. NW. . (They did a chingos better on their last food inspection than you know who.)

Try the empanadas, green chile bread and bizcochitos at Golden Crown Bakery, 1103 Mountain RD NW.

India Kitchen; 6910 Montgomery.

Cajun Kitchen in a little strip mall at 4500 Osuna Rd. NE.

Petroglyph National Monument is a good place for a little bit of hiking and some well preserved petroglyphs. They have a website with info.

The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History is close to the Old Town plaza.

My wife and I took time to have a 37th countdown-birthday (my birth certificate says 63, which means I'm 37 short of a hundred) party of our own at a UNM lounge with Negra Modelo on tap (talk about the benefits of a college education!) and the usual fare of college food. I won't recommend that place because this piece is about the Capital of Hispanicism.

I don't know if what I learned in Albu will make for a marketable novel or stories, but maybe a little of it will help make your next trip there a little more delightful.

While in Albu, listen to 89.1fm KANW for great N.M. music!


msedano said...

did you get into the spelling issue? "alburquerque" v. "albuquerque"? anaya notes it in the first sonny baca mystery.

Anonymous said...

Nope, Sedano.
We were too busy chillin' from the cold, powerful breezes.
Note: Visit Albu after March.

Latino Heritage said...

They biblio has a cool digital history element. They have computers that are available to the general public and images that come from the biblio archives. Gente can go to the collection, pull up an images and make a suggestion as to who may be in the picture. That's the process in a nutshell; there is a more detailed process they need to go through, but this give you the idea.
It might be a technique that could be used in other barrios, cities, and colonias.