In the interest of fending off incipient crankhood and occasionally writing something positive and not critical, I am hereby inaugurating the “Things I Like” series. Ingrid and I were in Santa Fe recently for a family gathering: I was very struck by the city, which I’d never seen before, so I’m going to start there.
Santa Fe completely surprised me. In the course of about three days, it went from a city that I had almost no feelings or opinions about whatsoever, to one of my very favorite cities and a place I’m dying to go back to. Mostly because (a) it’s extremely beautiful, and (b) it’s extremely beautiful in a way that I’m not at all familiar with.
Most beautiful cities I know are beautiful in a pretty similar way: sparkly lights, magnificent towering architecture, gingerbready Edwardian/ Victorian/ Georgian houses with lots of fiddly little details. Santa Fe is beautiful in a completely different way from that. The architecture is simple, yet striking and distinctive: all smooth surfaces and rounded corners, with a style that seems both space-agey and incredibly ancient.
And it’s uniquely harmonious with its natural surroundings. I’ve never in my life seen a city that seemed so much like a natural outgrowth of the land: like a geological formation, or an odd form of plant life.
Plus it’s lousy with museums, and the food kicks ass.
A few high points:
The Museum of International Folk Art. The main gallery of this place is simply astonishing. It’s an immense, insane, exuberant jumble of brilliantly colorful folk art from every part of the world. The displays are set up less like standard museum displays and more like dioramas, giving them a look that’s alive and welcoming. Many of the displays aren’t even organized by country, but by theme — toy trains from around the world, or fake food, or angels and devils — again, giving it a feel that’s less like a museum and more like a visual version of a mix tape.
And just when you think you’re done, you look up, and you see more art hanging over your head.
It’s a subsuming, overwhelming experience, one that completely envelops you in astonishing, hilarious, wildly inventive, brilliant beauty. It made me want to laugh out loud the second I walked in, and made me want to applaud when I left.
Kakawa Chocolate House. This is the chocolate shop that makes me want to spit on all other chocolate. It’s almost more like a living museum of chocolate history, recreating hot chocolate drinks from both European and Aztec history. You have to be adventurous — the flavors are spicy and strong and often quite unusual, with flavorings like chili, agave, pepper, rose, orange blossom, and cardamom. Ditto the truffles. Let me put it this way: our favorite truffle was the rosemary.
It may sound weird. But it completely works. The chocolate — both in hot chocolate and truffle form — is intense and vivid, yet delicately balanced. It’s chocolate that makes you sit up and pay attention, chocolate that makes you savor it, chocolate that reminds you that you’re alive. It was chocolate with the power to astonish and delight. It was a completely unique experience.
Ghost Ranch. Not so much the center itself, which was closed the day we were there. But the landscape in the area was a revelation. Like the city of Santa Fe, it was not only beautiful — it was beautiful in a wonderfully unfamiliar way. It wasn’t the beauty of lushness, of green forests and mountains and oceans. It was starker, and stranger, almost like another planet. I could see why so many artists get so ga-ga about the place. It looked like it had been sculpted and painted. It was magnificent.
Four stars. Greta-Bob says check it out.