A Day in Questa and a Faux-Fur Coat!

So I’m hanging my hat these days in San Cristobal, New Mexico, which is about halfway between Taos and Questa, with the Taos Ski Valley being another point of the triangle. These are all dramatically different worlds, and I’m the monkey in the middle.

Until yesterday I hadn’t spent much time in Questa. Five weeks ago when I was on my way to the cabin, Questa was the last spot of civilization that I hit. Then I arrived at the Huxley Cabin, which wasn’t what I expected though it turned out to be just what I needed. {love.}

It was a love-hate with Questa upon first sight. It was dark that night–my head ached from whiplash, my eyes throbbed with all the uncertainty–and I couldn’t see much. I saw bars and gas stations with hand-lettered signs. I saw gated up shops, bars on windows, dogs in the street, and a lot of busted up pickups. I felt like I’d departed my country, and because I was deep into writing a memoir largely about living in Honduras it seemed appropriate, but wrong. Not what I wanted, but just what I needed. 

Since then I’d gone up to the Family Dollar and the Questa Supermarket, and another time drove through. I tried to go to church there once, but got the schedule wrong. Yesterday I decided to get a little deeper into Questa, and man I’m glad I did.

I went to the Questa Credit Union to see if they are in the Co-Op network with Missoula Federal Credit Union. They’re not, but the ladies were so nice and gave me a lollipop anyway. It’s a darling place, hand painted sign and all:

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I went to the Family Dollar (score!) but after that I wasn’t sure what to do. The town was sort of alive because of Valentine’s Day, and a shop advertised flowers and crafts. They sell ice, art, jewelry, drinks, firewood, snacks, and showers. Sounds like my kind of store! It didn’t look open, but they did say they had roses and had hung a Valentine decoration on the window. “What’s the worst that could happen,” I thought, but before I went in I took a shot (from the car as you can see) of the outside of that shop.

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Now, I’ve stumbled upon some awesome music since I’ve been here, but when I walked into Rael’s shop I was stunned—there was a craft fair going on, chili and baked goods for shoppers, and a guy playing guitar. When I opened the door he was playing Bob Seger’s “Still the Same” and a lovely woman named Patsy Archuleta said, “Hi Honey!” And I jumped right in. {what a song, what a welcome.}

Patsy is a painter who has moved into making jewelry. She shows her paintings at a shop on the plaza in Taos, but had a binder with photos of her oil paintings. Patsy’s good! Better than good, really. I wish I could link you to her website but she doesn’t have one.  She paints images of the Southwest, including a lot of the area churches. She wants to get up to twelve so she can do a calendar. She started doing the jewelry because her dad is in an old folks home and hauling paintings back and forth was unreasonable. This is a lady committed to her craft. Most of stuff was too flashy for me, but I bought a pair of earrings she made from an old concha belt. “The turquoise in the middle is real,” she told me, “But not the rest of it. Ten bucks?” Sold, Patsy.

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I also fell in love with a turquoise and mother of pearl necklace, but that vendor wasn’t present so I had a chance to meet Cynthia, the owner of the shop. “Twenty bucks,” she said, “No tax.” I told her I’d come from Montana and we don’t have sales tax there, so thanks. She asked me to sit with her and have a complimentary cup of coffee in the living room area of the shop, and I’m no fool.

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I told her I loved the rug, but it wasn’t for sale. While I was there two people asked to buy some of her father’s memorabilia in the back corner (cash register, card filing cabinet) and also, “Not for sale.” If you need anything for your Kodak 100—including a flipflash—Cynthia might be able to hook you up.

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She asked me where I’m living and how I like it and I said, honestly, “I love it,” which was not a surprise to me but it felt good saying it out loud. She asked when I arrived and when I told her, she said, “Oh! It must have been terrible arriving when it was so cold.” And that made me feel like less of a wimp. Win.

We talked about my book and she showed me her father’s book. She couldn’t give me her last copy, but said she’ll print more. Then she showed me another book—Treasure of My Valley—by Lucia Vallejos Gonzales—a local writer who is apparently a real trip and writes exactly like she speaks. I was sold when I read the back:

“I wanted to write this story for the next generation, about being conservative, about conserving for a needy time, about learning the hard way, about learning by doing. That you can’t get everything or that you get something through hard work and being a little stingy. We didn’t have help. We learned to tackle things ourselves. Success for us was to save. We learned about saving, about not using everything. About recycling. We didn’t throw anything away. I mean anything. I think that’s hard for this generation to understand. We recycled everything, clothes, food. We were self-reliant. We asked for the help of God. We accepted everything. It was a good experience having nothing.”

Right?

Then Cynthia husband, Armando, and grandson, Robert, came into the shop. Armando told me the easy way into Cabresto Canyon, but only after he’d already told me the tricky way to get there. I guess he decided he liked me. Robert was the show stealer of the day:

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Then Patsy gave me a copy of February’s menu for the senior center.

It was awesome at Rael’s and I felt good contributing to Questa’s local economy. I stopped at the grocery story, which is pretty awesome for a miniature grocery.

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Making good use of the space–a car next to produce!

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Hooter’s hot sauce doesn’t belong here!

…and then one last stop at a thrift shop. You know, just to see. I guess I’d paid it forward and the good luck was already coming back to me, because I scored a faux-fur coat from Marshall Field’s for $5. And it just so happens I have a dress-up party to go to tonight in the Ski Valley and it’s going to be cold. It doesn’t close, but it wraps around and it has a hood. I love hoods.

Speaking of hoods…I couldn’t pass up these shots on my way home.

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Mostly Millicent

I’m keeping it short today. This blog has become a bit way too verbose, and I’m really trying to finish writing this book of mine, so need to cut that baloney. Besides, this is a blog, not a book.

So (for today) I’m limiting myself (at this venue) to a few bullet points and photos and I’m not even going to worry about tying anything together. I’m just going to tell you a few “fun facts” about where I am.

  • Millicent Rogers came here in 1947 with a heart broken by Clark Gable. Before she died in 1953 at age 51 she wrote a letter to her son:

    “Dear Paulie, Did I ever tell you about the feeling I had a little while ago? Suddenly passing Taos Mountain I felt that I was a part of the earth, so that I felt the sun on my surface and the rain. I felt the stars and the growth of the Moon; under me, rivers ran…”

  • The rain today has been something else. I look forward to the return of the blazing sun, but today it actually feels refreshing in this climate that is so dry it makes Missoula seem like Seattle. As a friend said of high-altitude desert living, “Night cream becomes day cream.” Or you could use BijaBody all day everyday, like I do. I honestly don’t know where I’d be without the serum and the treatment, and I’m not ashamed to plug my friend’s company because her products really are all that. 
  • But let’s get back to Millicent. She was married three times, with six months or less between marriages, and her second marriage dissolved in 1935 due to “extreme cruelty” from both sides. I’m not sure why 1935 is an important detail to me, but it is. I guess I thought “extreme cruelty” was a modern cause of divorce.
  • In addition to Clark Gable, she dated two princes as well as authors Ian Fleming, and Roald Dahl.
  • But it was Gable who broke her heart so badly she retreated to the desert.
  • Her heart never was in good shape after she had rheumatic fever when she was eight years old, and her life expectancy was ten.
  • She was not a simple woman. At the time of her death she had close to 600 couture gowns and an extensive collection of accessories that her family donated to the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
  • The Millicent Rogers Museum is here in Taos, and because I’m a “resident” I get admission gratis. Woot! The museum contains thousands of pieces of Hispanic and Native American arts and crafts as well as almost 1,000 pieces of Native American jewelry. I wonder if the gift shop has reproductions? {Note to self: you do not have a paying job right now.}
  • Millicent is just one of many interesting characters that have called this area of New Mexico home. One of them, Aldous Huxley, lived and wrote in this same cabin where I’m living and writing though I’m pretty sure he only had the one room without the kitchen and bathroom. Yesterday I opened my email and saw an email from Finest Quotes, which I somehow got signed up for. Yesterday’s quote came in at 12:34, an auspicious time, and said:

    Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you. – Aldous Huxley

  • Huh.
  • Son of a gun, right? Because that, my friends, is precisely why I’m here.

Now I’ll show you a few pictures of where I am.

You get off Highway 522 and turn onto Old State Road 3 toward San Cristobal you get a great view of the Sangre de Christo (Blood of Christ) Mountains.

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It’s a quiet street….But what a welcome home! Here’s the inside of the cabin:

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There’s the man of the house with our starter woodpile:

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Jose keeps an eye on the place and brings wood whenever he notices I’m running low. He so quietly delivered wood this morning and I woke up to this beautiful stack:

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When I arrived at the cabin exhausted and broken, Jose pulled in behind me in his camouflaged-paint-jobbed truck wearing his “cold weather gear.” He was so nice and friendly that it scared me a bit, but now we’re buddies. Image

The man has a heart of gold, but more about Jose another time.

It’s too rainy to see the moon tonight, but last night it was unbelievable.

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We hope the snow comes back!

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