Sunday, July 15, 2007

Santa Fe

God it's such a drag flying these days - especially when going through US airports. Flying from LA to Albequerque yesterday I strip down to essentials for going through security - slip ons, shorts, a loose shirt, minimal luggage. But it's still not easy: a queue about 70 yards long with all kinds of hysteria at the top of it as late arrivals try to jump it for their impending flights. The security staff are hardened to it though and no one bucks the system. I arrive at the gate and warn the virago in uniform that my metal hip will go off. She immediately calls in the male search squad and I'm removed to an adjacent area for the usual tedious pawing and frisking with a metal detector. "Any idea why we are alarming today sir?", are his immortal first words.

And so to Albuquerque from where we're driving to Santa Fe. A debacle at the Budget counter where I luck out and get the trainee. She asks me for my details at least 4 times before a merciful colleague comes over to assist. However, she has made such a hames of it that eventually she need the whole team to sort out the mess - all the other customers being long since departed. Eventually we get on the road. Huge thunder heads are building up around us as we set out and there is one huge cylinder of cloud touching the ground in the distance with gigantic flashes of lightning emanating from it. We wonder are we in cyclone country - it looks like those twisters you see on the National Geographic channel. And then the hailstones start. Maybe we should have stayed in Santa Barbara. Shaken we eventually make Santa Fe and start hitting the margaritas.

First stop the next day is the Georgia O'Keefe Museum. This is a first-rate collection of her work and makes IMMA's recent show look very paltry indeed. As well as a good assortment of her flower paintings, they have a lot of her less well-known abstract works. A Texan sunset and some dark pieces suggesting cross sections of a tree stood out. The place is patrolled by the most fascist security team I've ever encountered in a gallery - they were constantly hassling people for getting too near the paintings (all behind glass by the way) and even had the temerity to scold me for sending a text message.

There are galleries everywhere in Santa Fe and their contents range from the most exquisite and expensive craft work to generic Indian (sorry Native American) tat. The town itself is pretty and low-slung - with faux adobe the prevailing motif.

Inspired by the O'Keefe museum we head off to the Ghost Ranch and her latter home in Abiquiu - some 50 miles north of Santa Fe. We arrive at the office in Albiqu that arranges tours and are told that we should have booked last January. Nothing daunted we head off for the Ghost Ranch. This however appears to be a conference centre for fat Baptist lesbians - who are hanging around the grounds munching cookies and talling about some impending hymn session. We make enquiries in the office and sure enough the former O'Keefe residence is now private property and you can maybe book a tour an eon or two in advance.

But you know it doesn't matter. Why should we want to visit a musty mausoleum when just by looking around us we can get much closer to what made her the artist she was. In the distance looms the Pedernal (which inspired O'Keefe like Mont Saint Victoire inspired Cezanne) where her ashes were scattered). Above us are the towering cathederals of cloud that inspired her cloudscapes - and again a flash of lightning in the distance. And all around us are the red rugged mountains and deserts of New Mexico where she roamed and gathered her source material.