This was our Santa Fe city day, since we reasoned that it would be less crowded on a Friday than on the weekend–and we’re leaving Monday. We slept ok (it was a little warm but had cooled down by morning), were up by 6:30, and had coffee and lovely croissants with home-made jam that Laurie and Randy had brought for breakfast. We were out of the house by 8 for an exploratory walk from the casita to the Santa Fe historic downtown, with the plaza/town square in the middle and all manner of beautiful adobe buildings all around. It was wonderful to see all of this in the morning light as the city was just waking up and only the first handful of tourists and vendors milling about. What I especially liked (compared to Taos) was that the plaza itself had quite a bit of green, some nice outdoor seating, and at least partial traffic restrictions. We walked from there to the Cathedral of St. Francis (looks old, but was built in the 1880s on the site on a church first built in 1610), and to a mission church that is actually really old and therefore much more modest-looking. We also saw the capital, a few cooler old buildings from the 1930s, including a restored theater, and lots and lots of art, jewelry and rock & fossil shops. I love the architectural style, but it is very hard to date things, because the city has an ordinance that makes everybody cover pretty much everything in adobe or stucco that looks like it (aka faux-dobe, as we learned from Wikipedia), and add the features that are typical of the traditional architecture of the pueblos, like the wooden support beams sticking out of the walls, and the rainspouts that make little windows.
At a little after 9, we ended up at the Georgia O’Keefe museum, for which we already had tickets, and decided to visit it right then, when there were still relatively few people there. It was a good museum, but smaller than I had anticipated, and with fewer of the paintings from the southwest that the landscape here reminds me of. But there were several paintings of her favorite mountain (the one she could see from Ghost Ranch), some of the famous paintings with skulls, and some beautiful flower paintings. There were also some early “exercises” from her art school days, before she was introduced to abstract art, and I got a refresher on her biography. Some artifacts, specifically her paints and brushes, were also fun to see. But it was really just an hour’s walk to see it all. We then had some coffee/ lemonade and a muffin in a cafe next door, and walked home, which literally took us five minutes.
We then set out for the big adventure of the day that we had known basically nothing about until I looked it up the other day–we went to an interactive art exhibit by an art collective that calls itself “Meow Wolf” and is comprised of about 100 artists, as I understand it from around SF. They had done a few exhibits and events, but then hit it big when George R.R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones series, gave them over $2 million to create this interactive exhibit and creative /art education space in an old bowling alley in an unprepossessing part of town (Walmart down the road, auto repair shops all around, fast food–that sort of thing). The major part of this is “The House of No Return,” an exhibit that opened March of 2013 and has dozens of “art rooms” (if you even want to call them that) to explore. It is very hard to describe but combines a mystery-solving game with art viewing, a jungle gym and a sci-if storyline. The draw is (and it was packed from the time we got there about 11 to when we left after 2 pm) that all visitors walk into this fake home of a modern-day family, an updated Victorian house full of family clutter that hides all kinds of fascinating clues to a mystery: the family that lives there has mysteriously disappeared, and the visitors are “agents” (whose?) who need to find out how and why. As we go along, we figured out this and that through the contents of the house, which includes letters and other documents, books with secret messages, family photos, a newspaper to sift for information, a safe that can be opened, various computers with accessible and inaccessible information. But first we noticed a few very strange features–in particular, access “portals” (including the fridge and the dryer, but also a closet and a fireplace) to another part of the exhibit that was either a crazy multiverse of other spaces/planets or the inside of someone’s head or some other “alternative” world, with sci-fi features, but also surreal versions of such things as: the front of a school bus (flipped vertically), a neon-lit Asian downtown, a teenager’s room from the 90s, the human-size inside of a fish tank, or a kitchen that looks like a black-and-white drawing from a Tim Burton animated movie. There were ice landscapes with strange ganglion-like features, a geodesic dome filled with big eyes that were each a foot in diameter, rooms that offer various ways of making music, including on a laser harp and on the rib cage of an enormous dinosaur skeleton drenched in pink neon light. There were plastic plants and fabric plants and paper cutouts of plants. There were staircases and slides and second-floor overviews and places to look up into the second floor. There were “rocks” that turn out to be soft because they are actually carpet covered shapes that “give.” There were huge white metal trees with illuminated tree mushrooms that made sounds and shift colors when we touched them. There is a video game arcade and there are “stations” to watch parts of a cartoon that gave us an alien’s view of the alien culture’s interaction with “the anomaly,” which we gradually figured out provides some sort of connection between the aliens and the humans that disappeared. There were rooms that looked very “manga” and figurines that looked like they came out of a Miyazaki film. And there were so many art details that there is no way I can remember even the half of it–with over two hundred people working on this stuff as per the credits, how could I? But what I loved better than anything were the many, many things that were done with paper cutouts, often “Day of the Dead” style, but also in many other styles. And Mark was especially fascinated by the tech–not just the actual computers set up for visitors to explore, but also random or not so random parts lying around, a plexiglass case with various types of massive robotic hands, some of them steerable, and the fact that you could “play” the vertical schoolbus like a first-person shooter video game. And the best thing of all was how much fun people had hunting for the story and how riveted they were–pretty much everyone from 10 years on up. We got all caught up in it, and so did many families, with kids reading the secret clues aloud, people sharing coded messages they found about the mysterious family. We actually hit a jackpot and didn’t realize that we did–the story doesn’t really fully cohere and has lots of gaps, and unlike some people, we were okay with that and just admired the collective wonderful imagination of the artists–visual, audial, technological, narrative, etc.–but we did decode a web site name and just wrote it down for later. After we had gotten home (after a late lunch at a Mexican food chain called Tortilla Flats) for a little rest, we checked on the site and the story told there (from the perspective of the father of the family) confirmed many of our theories about what happened, and added a good bit more strange detail that was only “half there” when we explored the space. I don’t want to give it away but I need to remember the website, so don’t go there if you want to see the exhibit, but here it is: www.ihearmusicfromouterspace.com.
After resting for a while, we went back into the downtown area just to get a bit more of a walk and visit a couple of stores that hadn’t been open in the early morning. We got back to the casita about 6 pm, and I made a salad for all of us, which we had with wonderful cheese and cold cuts and Randy’s bread. Mark and I also got to taste some pastries from a French bakery for dessert. We stayed at the table and chatted for a good two hours, and didn’t get to bed (given blogging duties and photo selecting) until after 10, when it had gotten nice and cool.