Wednesday, October 19, 2011

History Lesson on Occupy Wall Street

How Occupy Wall Street Really Got Started

Meet the international activists who lit the fuse for the populist protest movement that's sweeping the world.

Letter to a dead man about the occupation of hope

Dear young man who died on the fourth day of this turbulent 2011, dear Mohammed Bouazizi,

I want to write you about an astonishing year -- with three months yet to run. I want to tell you about the power of despair and the margins of hope and the bonds of civil society.
I wish you could see the way that your small life and large death became a catalyst for the fall of so many dictators in what is known as the Arab Spring.

We are now in some sort of an American Fall. Civil society here has suddenly hit the ground running, and we are all headed toward a future no one imagined when you, a young Tunisian vegetable seller capable of giving so much, who instead had so much taken from you, burned yourself to death to protest your impoverished and humiliated state.

You lit yourself on fire on December 17, 2010, exactly nine months before Occupy Wall Street began.  Your death two weeks later would be the beginning of so much. You lit yourself on fire because you were voiceless, powerless, and evidently without hope. And yet you must have had one small hope left: that your death would have an impact; that you, who had so few powers, even the power to make a decent living or protect your modest possessions or be treated fairly and decently by the police, had the power to protest. As it turned out, you had that power beyond your wildest dreams, and you had it because your hope, however diminished, was the dream of the many, the dream of what we now have started calling the 99%.

How Deregulation of the Banks Created the Mess on Wall Street


Meet William Black, author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One.  He was Director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention during the Reagan administration and blew the whistle on the scandalous Savings and Loan scandal of the 1980s and 1990s where 747 out of the 3,234 savings and loan associations in the United States failed. His book addresses the current bank crisis, which he says is 70 times worse.
Today he is now a lawyer and economist at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.  He is interviewed by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, which aired on Wednesday, October 19.

Black was interviewed on April 3, 2009 by Bill Moyers.  Here is the link and accompanying transcript.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupy Wall Street -- Collection of the Best News and Videos

U.S. Marine Sergeant Defends Occupy Wall Street Protesters

U.S. Marine Sgt. Thomas tells NYPD to stop harassing American citizens.  "This isn't a war zone," he says.  "If you want to fight, go to Iraq or Afghanistan."  Sgt. Thomas has done two tours in Iraq.


Foodies, Get Thee to Occupy Wall Street

by Tom Philpott
posted in Mother Jones magazine, Fri, Oct. 14. 2011

The Occupy Wall Street protests grew out of anger at the outsized power of banks. But as they've expanded nationwide, the uprisings have evolved into a kind of running challenge to the way power is concentrated in all aspects of our economy—concentrated into the hands of people with an interest in maintaining the status quo.

No doubt, the financial sector is a stunning example. This MoJo chart shows how the 10 largest banks came to hold 54 percent of US financial assets, up from 20 percent in 1990. As big banks gobbled smaller banks and became megabanks, they managed to extract more and more wealth out of the economy. Even after the epochal meltdown and bailout, the financial sector now claims fully a third of US corporate profits. They've invested a chunk of that windfall in what is probably Washington's most formidable lobbying machine—which is precisely how they managed to slither away unscathed despite the economic carnage they caused.

But other economic sectors are similarly concentrated, and have a comparable grip on public policy. Consider the industry I cover. Our national food policy is both in desperate need of reform and utterly trapped under the heel of industry influence. So, as Occupy Wall Street evolves, food policy should be on the plate. Here are four reasons why:

1. The food industry is a big fat monopoly.
2. The food industry screws farmers, its own employees, and the environment.
3. Wall Street's greed leaves millions to starve—literally.
4. Our politicians are in bed with agribusiness.

READ MORE for the details

Danny Glover Speaks to Occupy Oakland

Danny Glover speaks to crowds in Occupy Oakland over the weekend.  His words are inspiring and he articulates the aims of the movement--that has gone global. 


Grace Lee Boggs' Message to Occupy Wall Street

Philosopher and Activist Grace Lee Boggs, who has been an active participant in the struggles for social justice for over 70 years, has this message for the people of Occupy Wall Street and the growing movement across the country and around the world.

This is the start of a dialogue, the beginning of a conversation.

More information on the documentary in progress at and​American-Revolutionary

Occupy Wall Street's First Commercial

Millionaires Control Nearly 40 Percent Of Global Wealth

By Robert Frank of the Wall Street Journal
October 19, 2011

Here’s another stat that the Occupy Wall Streeters can hoist on their placards: The world’s millionaires and billionaires now control 38.5% of the world’s wealth.

According to the latest Global Wealth Report from Credit Suisse, the 29.7 million people in the world with household net worths of $1 million (representing less than 1% of the world’s population) control about $89 trillion of the world’s wealth. That’s up from a share of 35.6% in 2010, and their wealth increased by about $20 trillion, according Credit Suisse.

The wealth of the millionaires grew 29% — about twice as fast as the wealth in the world as a whole, which now has $231 trillion in wealth.  READ MORE

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Occupy Kalamazoo Kicks Off with Downtown Demonstration

“We got sold out.  Banks got bailed out.”

“This is what democracy looks like.”

These were among the chants of the 400 people who came out for the first Occupy Kalamazoo demonstration.  They stood on the sidewalk in front of various downtown banks on Michigan Avenue within a two-block area to attract lunch hour traffic from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The event was planned last week at a gathering in Bronson Park.

Students were among the majority of people to show up and they readily gave their reasons for demonstrating:

“I want people to hear my voice.  The rich people get theirs heard,” said Cody, a Western Michigan University (WMU) junior who also identified as a regular voter.

“I’m pissed that the protesters on Wall Street were arrested and the bankers who screwed us out of our savings were not,” said Ian, a WMU junior.  “Bernie Madoff is a kind of scapegoat for them and that’s it.  He was one out of many more who should have been sent to jail.” 

“The greed (of the rich) and ignorance (of the 99 percent) are two of the biggest problems,” said Matt, a WMU sophomore.  “It’s best to do something.  This is me doing something.”

“It’s crucial to participate,” said Aldo, a Kalamazoo College student.  He added that his parents immigrated from Mexico and that making ends meet has been a constant struggle for them.  So he is pursuing a college education.  However, he is unsure about his future.

Many college students and graduates talked about their debt—and they knew exactly what they owed without hesitation.

Christopher is only in his second year at Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC) and currently owes $20,000.  He wants to be a teacher, maybe a professor and believes he has “decent prospects.”

“I’m smart and good with people,” he said.

Dustin, on the other hand, has racked up $200,000 in debt as he pursues a Ph.D. in philosophy at WMU.  Yet, he believes he will find a professorship after he finishes in two years.

Jamie graduated from Grand Valley State University a year ago and now is $30,000 in debt with $12,000 of that amount in interest.  She was layed off from her job with the public schools and has no job now.

Ryan has been going to KVCC for the past 18 months and has accumulated $10,000 in debt.  He plans to get his bachelor’s degree in fine arts to be a performance musician or composer.

Branden graduated from Olivet College in journalism and mass communication and now faces $33,000 of debt.  However, he can’t find a job in his field so he works for minimum wage in a café.  He is one of the 80 percent of recent college graduates who is living at home with his parents and a younger brother and sister.

“It’s just not really ideal.  I love them to death, but damn it,” said the 22-year-old who wants to be out on his own.  “It’s not what I was expecting when I started college.”

Ian, 22, went to college without having to pay for it because his mother is a professor there.  He has no prospects for a job now but would like to be a teacher. 

Strategies for paying off college loans range from claiming economic hardship to requesting deferments, according to the students.  Meanwhile, they suggested that the economy could be stimulated if legislators cancelled student college debt. 

“Then we could buy a house and a car,” said Jamie.  “Instead, this money is going to the banks.” 

The students blamed the banks, corporations and government for putting them in this financial difficulty.  They were very much aware that fiscal policies were all geared toward the benefit of rich people.

“They have the wealth, the power and the means to keep it,” said Dustin.  “Corporate tax cuts affect students and the rich don’t care.”

Dustin clarified that the people participating in the Occupy movement were not asking to be rich but rather to be prosperous middle class citizens. 

“Economic stability provides for social stability, a critical factor for keeping families together,” he said.  “Where are the family values with these economic policies that favor the rich?”

It was interesting to see this group of students still in good spirits despite their debt and inability to get the professional jobs they prepared for in college.

“I teach in Europe to keep up my spirits,” said Dustin.  “And, I’ve learned that people there pay taxes so that education can be free.  This is an alternative for the United States.” 

“I’m 22,” said Branden.  “I can’t give up yet.”

There were plenty of people on hand to see the demonstration.

Drivers honked their horns in agreement as they went down Michigan Avenue to the cheers of the demonstrators.  Several truck drivers blew a long horn and this made the crowd even more excited.

Construction workers passed by with big smiles on their faces, but made no comments.  

Two well-dressed women stopped and took photos of the demonstrators with their cell phones and said they were supporters of Occupy Kalamazoo.  However, they weren’t the only ones taking pictures.  Several demonstrators used their cameras and many other people were on hand to document or report this event for themselves, a community project or the mainstream media including the Kalamazoo Gazette and WWMT-Channel 3 (CBS).

Police were present but not dressed in riot gear or helmets, nor were they carrying nightsticks.  One officer had a video camera, which he was prepared to use in case any trouble broke out.  There were no incidents reported. 

In the midst of the demonstrators was one man circulating a petition on the emergency financial manager referendum (Public Act #4).  Last spring Governor Synder signed a bill that allows the managers to remove elected officials from office and to terminate collective bargaining agreements.  He succeeded in getting a lot of signatures.

Various organizations in town lent their support to Occupy Kalamazoo including the Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy and Action in the Community (ISAAC), the Michigan Organizing Project, the Community Action Team, the Kalamazoo Nonviolent Opponents of War and We the People. 

There were no political parties represented except for one young woman who was there to promote Ron Paul for president.  Erin, a regional coordinator for the campaign, said Rep. Paul showed up at the Occupy Wall Street demonstration in New York.  Among his positions is to end the wars, dismantle the Federal Reserve and return to the gold standard so the nation no longer has to fund these wars or start new ones. 

She also pointed out that the Occupy movement believes large corporations have too much power, while the Tea Party believes government does.  Ron Paul says that large corporations lobby for the government to have more power and in return the government enacts laws and regulations that favor the large corporations.

Young college students were clearly front and center in organizing, directing and demonstrating for Occupy Kalamazoo, but there were a lot of middle-aged and elderly people who attended as well. 

Mike, a U.S. veteran, believes the economic system “seems designed to keep people in perpetual debt.”  Recently, he lost 40 percent of his 401(k) before he lost his job.  He borrowed money to put his daughter through college and now she is underemployed. 

“I’m pleased to see so many people who came out to demonstrate,” he said.  “So many people have been asleep.  Now they are waking up in Kalamazoo, New York and all over the world.”

“It’s time for a change,” said Beth, an umemployed writer.  “Corporations are not people and we need corporations and Wall Street to be accountable for their actions.  It’s frustrating.”

One middle-aged man let the crowd know that his two children have become professional students because they can’t find jobs.  They are now working at McDonald’s.

One WMU staffer said she just lost $46,000 on her 401(k) plan last quarter.

“I got my statement on Saturday and just started crying,” she said.  “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to retire.”  She said her father retired at age 55 and that’s when he started to live his life well.

Meanwhile, her daughter is in graduate school studying to be a mental health counselor—with no promise for obtaining a job.  Her son is out of high school but hasn’t yet found a job, she said. 

“I’m one of the luckier ones.  So many are much worse off than me.”

A few demonstrators were upset that more people didn’t show up.

“They’re just going on about their business,” said one man as he pointed to the cars passing them by.

Another man supported the cause but believed the demonstration had a long way to go before it would make a difference. 

“When it comes to practicing free speech, give me France any day,” he said.  “They have an effect on politicians.”

Denise, a stay-at-home mom, was more cautionary  about the day’s action. 

“Put your feet and your mouth to the cause,” she said.  “It might not come again,”

She believes the corporations are buying off the politicians and that this is wrong. 

“It’s only gotten this bad because good people have not stood up for themselves for too long.” 

The next demonstration is set for Saturday, October 15 at 12 noon in Bronson Park.

On that same day, there will be a demonstration in Lansing at the state capitol from 10 to 7.


While the banks in Kalamazoo were selected as the site of the demonstration, bank officials said that a representative from Occupy Kalamazoo stopped by before the event to let them know that they were not the targets of their protest.

Tom Schlueter, president of Keystone Community Bank, said he appreciated the gesture and added that he was supportive of the demonstrators’ right to protest and glad that everything seemed peaceful. 

Keystone is a community bank with six branches in Kalamazoo and one in Oshtemo.  It employs 55 people.  It has emphasized this role by putting signs in its front windows that indicate it is a local bank for local people. 

“We’re putting our money where our mouth is,” said Schlueter.

Schlueter has been with Keystone since its founding 14 years ago and before that with National City for 23 years.  He said he, like many others at the bank, worked in larger banks before they came to Keystone.

“I’m a big promoter of local banks.  We make loans to people in the community who qualify.”

Officials at PNC were unable to comment on the demonstration; that was a job for the bank’s spokesperson at its Pittsburgh headquarters.  However, they said that PNC has been a big supporter of local nonprofit organizational programs to the tune of over $1 million per year.  The bank also employs two thousand people, which amounts to millions of payroll dollars put into the local economy.  And, although the name and ownership of the bank has changed several times over the past few decades, many of the same people working for the bank have remained the same. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Travelogue: Santa Fe, a Good Example of Urban Planning

The Railyard
Recently, I visited Santa Fe only to discover that this city has remained true to its character and history as it has adapted to new and ever-changing times.  More importantly, it is a city that has spirit.  And no wonder, the Spanish name of the city means “Holy faith.” 

The Farmers Market is but one of the many tenants located in the historic Railyard, a new and exciting 50-acre complex.  It is also a good example of how progressive citizens work together with local government to benefit the whole community.  Only 25 years ago this area was declared a blighted area.

Santa Fe has had a history as a trade and commerce center since the Pueblo people lived here almost a thousand years ago.  The Spanish conquistadors continued that tradition as did the Americans when they built the Santa Fe Trail.  The city became a center of rail commerce in 1880 when the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company (AT &SF) opened for business.  The railroad also ended the era of travel by horses, covered wagons and stagecoaches on the old Santa Fe Trail and allowed Eastern tourists to see the West in relative comfort and style through its dining and sleeping cars as well as its chain of Harvey House accommodations.

Harvey Girls served the railroad eating houses

  Native American and Mexican artisans found a new market for their pottery, textiles, jewelry and baskets.  New building materials, such as galvanized tin, metal roofs and Victorian bricks were added to the city's adobe style of architecture.  New neighborhoods developed around the train station and the depot became a center of activity where people met and politicians and celebrities held public forums.  During the 1930s Depression, the station was a distribution center where people could get free meat from warehouses.  

Part of what defeated the railroads, however, was the growth of air and auto travel after World War II.  As a result, the station fell into disuse and disrepair.  In 1987, hundreds of citizens and city officials began the process of creating the Railyard Master Plan.  In February 2002, a hundred years since the formation of AT&SF, the plan was approved.  Rebuilding began in 2006.

The essence of the plan was to make the Railyard the hub of city life it once was, to preserve its historic buildings and to emphasize the Railyard's importance as a center of transportation, economics, and culture.  In carrying that out, a vibrant mix of tenants was recruited to serve the diverse needs and interests of the community as a whole as well as to enhance the integrity of the adjacent neighborhoods.  

Besides the Farmers Market are a bevy of restaurants, specialty shops, biking and walking trails, artist studios, space for warehouses and light industrial firms, furniture showrooms, offices, and other locally-owned businesses.  People also have a variety of entertainment venues from which to choose including live performances, exhibitions, films, music, community dances, walkathons and flower shows.

New Mexico Railrunner
Santa Fe Southern

Officials also wanted to feature the city’s railway past so they secured an engine and a few passenger cars from the old Santa Fe Southern to offer excursions to Lamy, NM, an old railroad spur 30 miles away.  Recently, the city added the New Mexico Railrunner Express that provides commuter service between Santa Fe, Albuquerque (including a stop at the airport) and Belen.  And, it has been a hit with area residents.

It is obvious that leaders here have put a lot of thought into making the city the great place to live and conduct business over the past century since New Mexico became a state.  For example, in 1912 civic leaders adopted elements of the City Beautiful movement (popularized at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair), which sought to inspire moral and civic virtue in its inhabitants, awaken a sense of pride and community with fellow urban dwellers and entice the suburban rich to conduct their business and seek entertainment there. 

In 1957 city officials created a building code that required all new buildings to be adobe, a code that is still in effect today.  They developed the “Santa Fe Style” with its thick adobe walls, flat roofs and beams that stick out called vigas.  (Adobe was perfected by the Moors in Spain and the Spanish brought it to the New World.)  In foreseeing conflicts between preservationists and scientific planners, officials set forth the principle that historic streets and structures be preserved and that new development be in harmony with the city's character.  According to Harry Moul, and Linda Tigges (New Mexico Historical Review, Spring 1996), planners also anticipated limited future growth, considered the scarcity of water, and recognized the future prospects of suburban development on the outskirts. 

This focus on community was also considered when it came to decisions about building the Interstate highway system in this area.  While most other American cities thought nothing of putting the new highways through their cities, even sacrificing their vibrant neighborhoods, Santa Fe had the Interstate go around its city’s limits.  The international airport is in Albuquerque 60 miles away.  These are very strange arrangements for a capital city, but apparently it worked for Santa Fe.  The result is that the original city remains in tact and attractive.  Not a bad trade for a little inconvenience!

On the other hand, Santa Fe mirrors the free-spirited sentiments of the West that encourages people to live the way they want and to do whatever they want with their land.  Consequently, there are very few zoning laws here.  My in-laws, for example, live in the outskirts of the city.  They have goats, chickens and a dog that runs without a leash unconfined in a fenced yard.  The houses in this area are not sited in any particular way or according to a development plan, unlike most cities whose houses are neatly lined up and rules are strictly enforced by codes and peer pressure.  

People here seem uncharacteristically polite.  I attribute this quality to the outdoor culture of the place and the abundance of public space where people interact with each other frequently.  Public space warrants a different kind of behavior than private space; it requires that people know how to share and be respectful of each other and at the very least, their presence.  I first noticed this during the crowded Saturday farmers market where parking was at a premium.  People weren’t rushing to capture a space, and if they noticed you eyeing a spot, they yielded and moved on.  

The Plaza is the central park of the downtown area where people congregate almost all the time.  We were there on a Saturday when a disc jockey played music on the stage and anyone who wanted to dance or lip sync was invited to have at it.  The event was an information day for mental health organizations, but I was told that there is always something going on in the Plaza.  Apparently, people want to be there so it serves as a gathering place right in the center of the city.  There's something to seeing other people whether you know them or not.  Then again, it's a wonderful thing to see people you know out in public spaces.

Another reason for this politeness, I think, is the city's multicultural past where different cultures (Native American, Spanish/Mexican and Anglo) have been living together for centuries.  You can see it everywhere:  in the people's faces, the architecture, the food, the art, the music.  I think this quality encourages a respect for differences rather than conflict, although there have been many conflicts in Santa Fe's history.  After spending time in Santa Fe it occurred to me how confused some of our politicians are about multiculturalism.  They think it tears down the community and dilutes what it means to be American.  I think it contributes to a vibrancy in the people and the spirit of the place. It's what makes this city great--and more American than most.

As one of America’s oldest cities Santa Fe has also had a lot of practice in learning how to create a quality of life for its people.  It felt good to be here even though the city sits at 7,000 feet where the atmosphere loses about one-fourth of its density.  This crystal clear air often described as transparent “makes distant objects seem closer and more sharply outlined creating a sense of space and openness rarely experienced elsewhere,” says travel writer Robert L. Casey.  The 300 days of sunshine and extraordinary blue sky have been a special attraction for artists.  The wide-open spaces and long horizon give a different breadth of view.  The mountains surrounding this desert environment are fairly green with clumps of fragrant pinion pine, cottonwood, juniper and sagebrush covering it.  No wonder Georgia O’Keeffe was so taken by it. 

The altitude can play tricks on you, however.  I got a headache on my second day, however, a couple aspirins, rest and a lot of water got me up and going in half a day.  It gets very hot in the summer but by mid-September, it is cool in the morning and evening, enough for a sweater.  Then there were those dreamy nights where I’d look out the window and see stars—including the Milky Way!

On the last morning before I returned home, I quietly sat on my host’s patio and reflected on my stay in Santa Fe.  Two sets of chimes intoned the wind, one of them a constantly tinkling mezzosoprano and the other an occasional tenor.  The bright sun was warm without making me sweat and a fountain gently spilled into a man-made pond providing just enough background sound.  The big Monk-with-Lantern puppet overlooked the patio with his eternal smile and I could smile, too.  This had been a good trip, a worthwhile trip and I was satisfied.  I plan to return soon.

Travelogue: Santa Fe, an Historical and Cultural Wonder

The Old Santa Fe Trail
This article appeared in the Huffington Post on Thursday, December 5, 2012

As the second oldest city in the United States, Santa Fe celebrates its past through art, music and numerous museums.  Georgia O’Keeffe stands out as this region’s most prominent landscape painter and an art museum dedicated to her work is located a couple blocks from the Plaza.  Unfortunately, I was there between shows and the museum was closed.  I did find the New Mexico Art Museum right off the northwestern side of the Plaza and found it to be quite engaging and informative. 

The featured exhibit, “How the West Is Won,” showed the contribution early twentieth century artists made to depict and preserve the Indian culture and way of life that was fast being destroyed as the white Anglo culture of the late 1800s and early twentieth century was moving in.  Other paintings included four or five by Georgia O'Keeffe including “Red Rocks” and window of her house, the latter which didn't move me as much as it did her.  Nevertheless, it was very exciting to see these paintings.

New Mexico Museum of Art
The photography exhibit was more compelling.  It showcased Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter’s works that portrayed the natural beauty of the West.  So popular were their portraits of the region that they inadvertently enticed the rest of America to see it for themselves.  This all led to the tourism industry, which accommodated travelers and their need for food, lodging, transportation and cameras.  Unfortunately, it helped to change the wild landscape into a more commercial, tourist-oriented one. 

Still, the photographs inspired a deeper awareness about land preservation and kick-started the conservation movement and the U.S. national parks system, as filmmaker Ken Burns illustrated in his documentary, “The National Parks:  America’s Best Idea.”  Subsequent photographers then used the landscape to make political statements.  For example, they’d show a trash heap in the foreground and the contrasting beautiful mountains in the background.  Or they highlighted the “mushroom cloud” of Los Alamos, where the atom bomb was tested during World War II.  Apparently the cloud could be seen from many, many miles away. 

Any city sees itself change with the times and in the 1980s Santa Fe began to attract the super-rich who settled on the eastern side of town in full view of the Sierra Gordo (fat hill in Spanish) where goats used to graze.  This area is the southernmost end of the Rocky Mountains and the houses and condominiums built by these people are second and third homes that caretakers watch over full time. 

Santa Fe is also home to 4,000 artisans and 250 art galleries.  A good deal of the galleries are located on Canyon Road, an old Indian trail that connected the Rio Grande to the Pecos River, 15 miles east of Santa Fe.  The trail provided a transportation system for agriculture and trade and later was the site of an art colony.  Today, it is home to the second largest art market in the United States next to New York City and it specializes in contemporary, traditional and Native American fine art.  The shops, boutiques and galleries offer paintings, indoor and outdoor sculptures, glass, jewelry, clothing, accessories, home furnishing, gifts, antiques, rugs, folk art and crafts. 

I stopped at Matteucci's Gallery just off Canyon Road to look around and saw an O'Keeffe painting on sale for $600,000.  In fact, the lowest priced piece I found was a small desk object for $200.  This was not exactly my world.  Nevertheless, the themes of the paintings and sculptures were exquisite.  They centered around Native Americans, the Old West and individual figures of people and animals in action.  An outdoor garden featured bronze sculptures around a pond with several fountains and lent to a peaceful and beautiful setting.

San Miguel Mission
On the eastern side of the city on the Old Santa Fe Trail is the San Miguel Mission.  It was built in 1610 with a blend of Native American and Spanish Colonial architecture styles and is considered the oldest church in the USA along with several other sun-baked adobe buildings in the area. 

The nave is small and narrow with creaky wooden pews on a creaky wooden floor.  It includes wooden sculptures and crosses, engraved tin lamps and old photos of the church before it was restored.  The wooden reredos (altar screen) dates from 1798 and features paintings of Christ in the center flanked by St. Francis of Assisi (patron saint of Santa Fe) and other important saints.  There is also a 1709 carved and gilded wooden statue of St. Michael the Archangel celebrating his victory over Satan.  The San Jose Bell is on display at the entrance of the church with an inscription of 1356, although that date is in doubt.  It was brought by the Ortiz family from Mexico in 1712 and once hung in the mission’s bell tower. 

St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral
Mass is still celebrated weekly.  I was there about 4:30 when two old padres came out to pray before the 5 p.m. Mass.  One of them occasionally stopped and asked visitors where they were from. 

I did go to Sunday Mass at St. Francis Cathedral to celebrate the Eucharist but also to gain further insight into Santa Fe culture.  Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy built the church between 1869 and 1886 on the site of an older adobe church, La Parroquia (built 1714-1717).  An even earlier church was built in 1626 on the same site but was destroyed during the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. The new cathedral incorporated a small chapel of La Parroquia, which is all that remains of the old church.  The two towers in the front are stunted because funds ran short.

Petra, guitarist
On my way to Mass I passed through the Plaza where many people were just milling about casually.  Sidewalk vendors were seated under the shady portico of the Palace of the Governors selling their wares.  It was a sunny, cool and very mellow morning made only more perfect by the music of a wonderful classical guitarist named Petra Babankova.   She is among the 147 professional Santa Fe area guitarists.

The priest was very personable and obviously well-liked by parishioners.  The deacon gave an emotional homily about what identifies a Catholic, which he used to lead up to his new program to get people back into the Church through the marriage sacrament.  Apparently, a lot of people here live together without being married. 

The music was fantastic as about 20 young people played guitars, drums and led the congregation in song with their beautiful and energetic voices.  During Eucharistic prayers they sang the acclamations in Spanish.  As I looked out at the congregation, most of the people were brown-skinned, well-dressed and very beautiful.  I wondered what it would be like growing up in a place like Santa Fe where the predominant culture was Spanish, Mexican and Native American?  This was so decidedly different from the white America I come from! 

It also occurred to me how confused some of our politicians are about multiculturalism.  They think it tears down the community and dilutes what it means to be American.  I think it contributes to a vibrancy and necessary acceptance of differences, especially when all groups are acknowledged and invited to participate in running the city.  This is the spirit of Santa Fe, which has known and dealt with multiculturalism for centuries. 

I also found that the city has a lot of strong, independent women, feminists who are respected and not vilified.  This also applies to gays and lesbians as well.  (This year The Advocate, a national gay and lesbian magazine, named Santa Fe the second “gayest” city in America behind Minneapolis and ahead of San Francisco, which ranked eleventh.) 

Monument honoring the fallen
A monument in the middle of the Plaza illustrates this spirit of respect, too.  It was originally constructed in 1868 to honor those who had fallen in “battles with the Indians in the New Mexico Territory.”  Because these tributes are etched in stone, another plaque has been added to note that the tributes were made in different times, “near the close of a period of intense strife which pitted northerner against southerner, Indian against white, Indian against Indian….Attitudes change and hopefully dissolve.”  While some people would call these sentiments soft, liberal and pandering, I think they reflect the a city trying to come to grips with our times where we have a variety of people from different cultures.  A global economy has brought all these people together and we can no longer run away from the fact or try to segregate ourselves from each other.  Santa Fe seems to be doing that.

Santa Fe has another cultural feature:  the pace here is a lot slower.  Perhaps it is the winding roads, some of which are old Indian and/or buffalo trails.  Perhaps it is the Mexican/Spanish influence of manana or poco tiempo where people don’t worry about keeping to a schedule.  I found it refreshing, however.  What do we really gain by rushing and clock-watching? 

The Santa Fe area was occupied 10,000 years ago by nomadic people who grew corn, squash, melons and beans.  Their mud houses lacked doors or windows so they entered them with ladders that opened on the roof.  This design would endure and later be developed into the Spanish pueblo style with its square or rectangular shape and more durable brown-earth adobe mud (a trick the Spanish learned from the Moors who occupied their lands for nearly 800 years).  Some of these structures still stand today after 400 years, like the Palace of the Governors (located on the north side of the Plaza), the oldest public building in the USA.  More buildings would have lasted had they not been destroyed by the enslaved Pueblo people who rose up against the Spanish in 1680.

Don Pedro de Peralta
One of the earliest known settlements here was a Native American group who built a cluster of homes that centered around the site of today’s Plaza around 900 C.E.  The Pueblo People, who originated from the Four Corners area, founded Santa Fe as a trade and commerce center somewhere around between 1050 to 1150.  When the Spanish conquered this territory in 1598, they established Santa Fé de Nuevo México as a province of New Spain and developed trails, royal roads (El Camino Royale).  The area's third Spanish governor, Don Pedro de Peralta (there’s a downtown mainstreet named after him), founded the present site of the city in 1608, which he called La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asís, the Royal Town of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi.  In 1610, he made it the capital of the province.  Thus, Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the United States and the third oldest American city founded by European colonialists behind the oldest, St. Augustine, Florida (1565)

In 1810 Mexico declared independence from Spain and in 1824 the city became the capital of the Mexican territory of Santa Fé de Nuevo México as formalized in the 1824 Constitution.  Then, in 1846, the United States declared war on Mexico and added New Mexico through the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  This opened the way for thousands of American pioneers whose covered wagons followed the southern route West on the Santa Fe Trail.  (The Oregon trail went north.)  The railroad came through in the 1880s and made the old trail irrelevant, although remnants of it are still visible on the plains east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  An auto tour ( circles the area on the Cimarron shortcut to Santa Fe where you can see wagon swales and ruts, buildings, historic sites and natural landmarks. 

The difficult terrain in Santa Fe made extending the train tracks into the city nearly impossible so the railroad bypassed the city and almost killed it economically.  In 1907, the prominent archaeologist Edgar Lee Hewett founded the School of American Research together with Vera von Blumenthal and Rose Dugan.  They also helped develop the Pueblo Indian pottery industry as an art form.  Hewett also started the Santa Fe Fiesta in 1919 and the Southwest Indian Fair in 1922 (now known as the Indian Market).

Commerce has been a consistent influence on Santa Fe, however, it has not made this city into a Mall of the Americas kind of place.  Instead, it has retained its historical and small town character to offer fine arts and crafts instead of the artificial tourism that so many cities create.  There is little neon in the downtown area as shopkeepers prefer to post the name of their stores on wooden signs.  Even so, Santa Fe has a healthy tourist population of 1.5 million per year and it’s easy to see why.

The Pink on the Old Santa Fe Trail
Recycling and restoring old buildings also seems to be an art form, too.  A 75-minute tour on the Loretto Line, an open-air trolley tram, takes you around the city as the guide tells you that this store used to be a gas station or the galleries on Canyon Road were once homes.  The Shop, which specializes in handcrafted Christmas ornaments, nativities and Santas by New Mexico artists, used to be a funeral parlor.  The Pink Adobe Restaurant (a.k.a. The Pink) was an eighteenth century school run by the Christian Brothers.  The Museum of Contemporary Native Arts was once a post office. Nevertheless, many of the Spanish-built houses and buildings were lost during 1693-96 when the Pueblo people rebelled against their Spanish conquerors and burned down most of the town. 

New Mexico became the 47th state in 1912 and it is already preparing for its centennial celebrations.  Today, many other people have been attracted to the “Land of Enchantment” including yuppies, yoga gurus, holistic and natural healers, New Agers, and people pursuing alternative lifestyles.  There seems to be room for everyone in Santa Fe.

Travelogue: Santa Fe and Its Respect for Food and Sustainability

I was visiting Santa Fe in mid-September just in time for the annual roasting of the chile peppers.  

I never thought about chile peppers, nor did I ever buy them because of their picante kick.  So it was puzzling to see people go crazy over them to the point of stringing them up and displaying them in their houses or patios!  After tasting these amazing Capsicum, however, I understood both their appeal and the unsatiated desire to get more of them. 

The Saturday farmers market provided the best venue for obtaining the peppers and learning how they are roasted.  The chef puts them in a round, wire basket that he cranks over gas-powered flames in order to mix them.  Shoppers have a choice between the spicy hot ones chile peppers and the sweet ones.  I tried both where various market vendors provided plenty of samples.  

The Santa Fe Farmers Market, considered one of the country’s most distinguished and successful markets, began in the late 1960's with only a few farmers selling off the backs of their trucks. Today, over 170 vendors participate to meet the city's demand for fresh, local produce.  The market moved from various locations until it came to the Railyard area in 1986 and to its present location in the renovated and restored Railyard in 1999.  In 2002 it began operating year-round as farmers learned and used extended-season growing techniques.

Festive white tents shade the outdoor vendors who have just about everything imaginable to sell.  The range of what grows in this desert climate is truly remarkable—and the market requires that it’s all locally grown.  Farmers produce many fruit and vegetable crops like beautiful purple Vidalia onions, tomatoes, greens, beans, eggplants, peppers, potatoes, sunflowers and apples and a lot of it is organic.  Also on sale were a variety of ornamental flowers, chile pepper bouquets, herbs and herb products and a bread stand offered delicious combinations of foccacio such as olive, rhubarb-apple, chocolate nut, apricot peach.  Wonderful!  There was even a vendor who sold composting worms. 

The market also has a good-sized pavilion that features a deli counter that had a variety of baked goods (including gluten free), omelets, burritos and sandwiches.  A bean vendor offered a mix of peas, mung beans, lentils and garbanzo beans, which I found to make delicious salad.  Then there was the pasta lady who makes her own whole-grain pasta and tops it off with a homemade curry.  Certified organic meat (lamb, beef and yak) was available as well as churro yarn and homemade soaps.  

People here are very health conscious and the area specializes in alternative medicine.  Consequently, farmers produce a lot of organic food.

As I wandered around the market pavilion I noticed there were six different publications on the subjects of healthy food and sustainable living available for distribution.  The Santa Fe Permaculture Institute, founded in 1996 as the sister organization to the Permaculture Institute of Australia, promotes sustainable living skills through education, networking and demonstration projects in New Mexico/Southwestern region.  This is a city that is serious about preparing for the future!

Poster in the Farmer's Market pavilion
Santa Fe prides itself on its food and for good reason.  Quite simply, it’s good to eat.  And, if you tire of the region's specialty, Mexican food, there are a variety of other venues like French, Italian, Spanish, Mediterranean, European, Latin, Salvadoran, Indian, African, Caribbean, Asian, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, New Mexican, American (Joe’s Dinner is owned and operated by a German) and other things they call eclectic, contemporary, continental, seafood, steakhouse.  Health-conscious patrons also have easy access to restaurants that are specifically vegetarian and serve organic foods.  Of course, there are the requisite number of cafés and ice cream shops of any city.

One of my most memorable restaurant meals occurred during our first full day in the city when my companions and I thought it appropriate to go to a Mexican restaurant for lunch.  We went to Maria’s.  Maria Lopez began her restaurant as a take-out business in 1950 and located it on an 1880s building whose space has since been expanded.

New Mexico Combination Plate
I chose the New Mexico combination plate, which was very different in taste from other Mexican restaurants I've visited.  For example, the taco was served with guacamole and I didn’t have the heart to add salsa.  The chili relienos (roasted and peeled green chili peppers stuffed with cheeses and coated in a special batter and deep fried and then covered with green chili) was an outstanding new taste treat.  Tamales and refried beans just don’t make it for me so I skipped them and saved myself from eating too much anyway.

I loved the sopapillas (fried puffy dough that goes well with honey), which was a first time for me.  Although not much of a drinker, I couldn't resist trying one of the restaurant's 180 margaritas—the basic, simple blend—but felt no compulsion to order any of the 125 tequilas.  Maybe some other time.  Of course, the homemade tortilla chips and salsa (on the spicy hot side) were served immediately. 
While we waited for our lunch, our waiter invited to watch Anna make tortillas.  She worked in an enclosed booth surrounded by windows.  I tried to communicate with her in my terrible, broken, unpracticed Spanish, and she good-heartedly laughed.  I think she understood me when I said that my camera would make her famous.  All in all, eating at Maria’s was a very pleasant experience and I highly recommend it!

For incredible food experiences in all its forms, Santa Fe beats them all!

Travelogue: Jemez Springs

The train trip on Amtrak's Southwest Chief had been a pleasant but long ride of 24 hours from Chicago to Santa Fe will tire anyone.  On our first full day I thought it a smart idea to have a relaxing massage at one of Santa Fe's many spas and then discovered the Jemez Springs Bath House in the Jemez Mountains.  This 100-minute drive west of the city would not only provided a stunning view of the mountains, but it was near Bandelier Monument, a site that hosted the cliff dwelling Native peoples centuries before. I wanted to see that.

After breakfast and a bit of TV news, my two sister-in-laws, Karen and Tracy, and I excitedly headed out for Jemez Springs.  To be efficient in our driving, we took the southerly route toward ABQ (Albuquerque) on I-25 before we headed northwest on US 550.

Colorado Plateau
It didn't take long before we saw amazing vistas where land and sky meet at a faraway horizon and mountains come in green, pink, blue or beige depending on their geologic time of formation.  In this southern end of the 130,000-square mile Colorado Plateau, sometimes the rocks were dark indicating exposure of the Chinle Shale of the Triassic age layed down in lakes, streams and floodplains 250 million years ago.  The striking red rocks came from windblown Entrada Sandstone of the Jurassic age 160 million years ago.  We were in a setting of obvious eternity!

Everywhere we looked, the rock formations captured both the beauty and majesty of the land.  I couldn't help but get excited that these landscapes were the very same ones the early Native Americans, Spanish explorers and American pioneers saw, and now I was here.  The landscape had tied us together and given a new dimension to the meaning of “sense of place.” 

As a Midwesterner used to flat land and “limited horizons,” these vistas also left me a bit apprehensive when it came to driving through them.  Sometimes we climbed or descended a mountain on its winding switchbacks where a couple feet more would fling us over the edge on a sharp, long way down.  Sometimes we drove through roads carved out of the rock. What impressed me most were the mountains' massiveness and their tendency to envelop us as if to invite us to become one with it.  Other times, as we reached the apex of a peak, we were treated to an incredible view of the many mountains that lay ahead. How inspiring for the Native peoples who saw the land as their Mother, yet how discouraging for the pioneers who had just struggled to climb a mountain.

Karen and I pose with Terry (center)
We arrived at Jemez Springs about 9:30 with half an hour to spare before our appointment.  I needed a little refreshment and suggested we find a coffee shop.  The Jemez Stage Stop was a short walk away.  I ordered a cinnamon bun while Karen ordered a piece of pie called Fruit of the Forest (rhubarb, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, and apple).  Terry, our waitress, was the only one there to take care of customers—and the 16 tables in the dining area.  Fortunately, we were the only ones during this early morning.  The Stop serves things like gluten free cookies and gluten free blue corn pancakes, one more indicator that we are in a very health-conscious area.

At 10 o'clock sharp we were back at the Bath House.  Frances greeted us and quickly led us to our tubs.  There were only four tubs so I was glad I had made reservations weeks before for the $105 package deal of bath, wrap and massage.  (This was $10 shy of the new September rate hike.  Sometimes it pays to plan ahead!)

Each three-foot deep tub was made of concrete in a private stall separated by wooden walls and a curtain.  Inside each stall was a chair, some hooks for hanging clothes and towels and a plastic box to carry our things with us.  We immediately stripped down to nothing and ran some cold water to mix in with the six inches of steaming hot mineral water (154 to 170 degrees) that the Frances had already drawn.  This hot water came from the outdoor hot springs.  I ran the water a couple times to keep it hot but was very careful not to burn myself.  The Bathhouse also provides a quart-size bottle of water, which came in handy to replenish ourselves from time to time from the extreme heat.

Our bath lasted 30 minutes and Frances led us to the tables where she prepared our wrap.  A rubber mat filled with hot water lay in the center of the table.  This was where we were to place our backs.  Then she wrapped us in hot towels with the choice of arms in or arms out.  Tracy and I had our arms out and Karen had her arms in.  Frances then put a cold towel on the back of our necks and one on our foreheads and around our heads leaving space for our noses and mouths.  I joked that I felt like a nun.

At first I was afraid I'd feel confined in the wrap but I was so relaxed and concentrating on the healing properties of this whole experience, that I was fine.  Frances came in after 15 or 20 minutes to see if we needed any adjustments.  Suddenly, I felt transported to another plane.  Maybe it was an out of body experience but I definitely felt differently. 

I don't know if bodywork does anything but I love it.  When Tracy and I were in Thailand, we had wonderful foot and whole body massages.  All that oil, heat and rubbing makes you feel good so she and I were continuing that tradition here at Jemez.  If nothing else, we are always game to pamper ourselves and thought Karen would appreciate it, too.  This was our gift to her for hosting us for the coming eight days of our stay with her and her husband, Dan (Tracy's brother).  She had not been to Jemez Springs before but promised them she'd be back and to bring Dan.  Actually, there are a lot of hot springs and massage places in Santa Fe—even a mud bath, which I'd really like to try someday.  They are much more expensive than Jemez Springs and Karen found the intimacy of Jemez Springs more appealing.  The skill, friendliness and service-orientation of the staff made for an enjoyable two-hour morning.

After our half-hour wrap, it was time for the massage.  We donned the provided bathrobes and Frances escorted us to our individual rooms to meet our masseuse.  Shelley was mine.  She immediately asked me my name first and said she liked it and fit my face.  Maybe I have finally grown into that name.

Shelley has been doing massage for 22 years.  She is a tapestry artist whose subjects are landscapes, trees and some portraits.  She is a petite woman with strong hands, one of the first things she told me—and warned me should I not want a deep massage, which I didn't.  Before she began the work, she asked if I wanted to concentrate on any particular part of my body and I instantly pointed to my knees.  For all the work we do on our feet, she claims our knees have not adequately evolved.  She asked me if I had arthritis and I said I didn't call it that.  “Good for you,” she said.  “Don't give it any power.”  Shelley turned out to be the first of many strong, independent women I would meet on this trip to Santa Fe.

Most masseuses let the client do the talking but Shelley did most of it with me.  It might have been annoying had I not been more interested in hearing about local people and their lives.  She told me she helped start the library on the Jemez Springs Plaza with her librarian husband.  After he left her and her four-year-old daughter, the library employed her.  She took classes in massage and asked the Jemez Springs Bathhouse for a job.  They said they didn't have any jobs for her at the time.  Then she prayed to God to find her work.  Soon afterward she received a phone call from the Bathhouse and has worked there for the past 25 years. 

Shelley is a Sufi and told me about the Sufi dancing fest that will be held in Santa Fe that Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at the Friends House on Canyon Road.  The $10 donation helps pay for people like her to go to conferences to learn new things about Sufi ways so that they can teach others.  This sounded like a great opportunity but it didn't work out.  Maybe next time.

Shelley asked me my astrological sign, as if she were diagnosing me like a doctor. 

“Sagittarius,” I said.

“You need to eat meat, fruits and vegetables and avoid grains unless they are whole grains,” she said.  “The carbs produce sugar and that's not good for your body.” 

This would be the first wellness prescription I would get on this trip.  My acupuncturist brother-in-law would tell me more.  At this stage in my life, especially when I am paying for an expensive individual health care plan, I am suddenly more receptive to such advice.  Nevertheless, healthy living and eating is a big part of the Santa Fe experience and it is available in many forms to suit any and all tastes.

Shelley also told me that she is a “mountain woman.”  I puzzled over what this meant.  To explain it, she told me about a conflict she was having with a neighbor who insisted on trespassing her two-acre property.  She threatened to use her gun on him if he didn't cut it out.

“You have a gun?” I asked suddenly taken aback.

“I have a shotgun and two other guns,” Shelley replied nonchalantly. 

I sure knew I was out West.

Shelley grew up in Denver, Colorado, and later moved with her family to southern California.  At age 17 she ran away from home because she longed for the mountains.  Eventually, she got herself to New Mexico and here in Jemez Springs, which she claims is the “heart of the area.”  To prove it, she said the area's red rock and hot springs have attracted various religions groups (Buddhist, Catholic monastery of Precious Blood, Sufi, etc.) here over the years.  Shelley firmly believes that her heart is here and that's why she has made it her home for over 20 years.

Tracy and Karen at the Laughing Lizard
It seems that Jemez Springs is an off-beat, out of the way place and not something you'd easily run into unless you weren't headed for it.  However, the variety of things to do here make it a destination town and apparently it receives a lot of visitors.  The main drag (towns are built where water is accessible and along highways) has several restaurants.  Shelley recommended the Laughing Lizard Cafe because it features healthy food.  Since Tracy had already suggested it (I think she liked the name), we went there.

The building is 100 years old adobe and stone structure with three-foot thick walls, tin ceiling, and hardwood floors.  It started out as a mercantile for this area and has had other incarnations as a cafe and bar and community center.  It also has an inn to accommodate travelers who come to the area to hike the Jemez Mountains Trail, a scenic byway that passes geologic rock formations, ancient Indian ruins, a pueblo and abandoned mining, logging and logging operations. 

There was only one man there to wait tables, clean up and cashier but it all worked out well since a group of three men were finishing up when we arrived and a four-person group sat down by the time we left.

Tracy had a spinach burrito and Karen had a grilled chicken sandwich.  Because it had been a few days since I'd had any vegetables, I ordered a Greek salad with raspberry dressing.  It was not exactly Greek but I liked the dressing.  Delicious!

We left the Lizard after an hour or so and Karen took the northerly route back to Santa Fe through canyons, mesas, tent rocks, hot springs and Bandelier Monument.  Unfortunately, last summer's drought and the Las Conchas Fire had affected over 20,000 acres of Bandelier’s 33,000 acres.  Some areas were scorched to mineral soil and other areas lightly burned, according to Theresa, a park ranger there on her blog.  The area also suffered flash floods.  Many parts of the park had also been closed to visitors.

The skeletal trees and dark, scorched ground were very sad to see.  Many people think that the drought was caused by climate change and I couldn't help but think that even in this beautiful land we were encountering one of its consequences.  That makes the debates over whether it is man-made or natural silly because climate change is something we will have to deal with probably for the rest of our lives as the earth changes. 

Even if the park were open, however, I found myself too tired to go there.  I nodded off to sleep for half of the ride and could kick myself because I wanted to see this area.  Maybe the massage and the winding roads had made me too relaxed and drowsy.  Maybe this mystical land had put me into a trance.  Whatever it was, thank God I wasn't driving!

Overhead view of the caldera
One particularly beautiful but eerie place I did see was the Jemez Caldera, which encompasses the 89,000-acre historic Baca Ranch.  Now called the Valle Caldera National Preserve, the U.S. government purchased the ranch in 2000 to conduct a unique experiment in public land management.

The 14-mile wide caldera was the seat of a former volcano.  When this one erupted, it affected the land west of the Rio Grande, which runs north and south in New Mexico before it forms the southern border of Texas and drains into the Gulf of Mexico.  The volcano also spewed out hundreds of feet of ash as far as Kansas and Oklahoma and hardened into a honeycombed rock form called tuff.  Nature acted on the tuff and created caves, the dwellings of the first Pueblo peoples.  For all the violence that went on here before, the caldera was all green and looked like grass.  There was nothing in it, just a vast plain.  We drove over the lip of the old volcano, into the Caldera and then out of the lip again.  The roads, of course, were all switchbacks but nicely paved.  

The West is a fascinating place and the geology alone makes it something worth studying.  I would like to read John McPhee book on the subject titled Annals of a Former World.