Meet the Hemptress

ruth

Originally published in Taos News

Ruth Fahrbacht bought a hemp guitar strap from a vendor in Kit Carson Park back in 1997 and loved its durability and strength.

“It was not like any other strap I had owned,” she said.

From that moment on, she started researching and learning as much as she could about hemp.

“I began to study hemp and marijuana relativity and irrelativity,” she said. “In the process, I found out the many uses of hemp.”

In 1998 she attended the first Hemp Expo in Santa Cruz, California.

In 1999, after returning from a hemp research trip to Thailand, Nepal, India and Tibet, Fahrbacht decided to create her own hemp company, Taos Hemp LLC.

The business allowed her to combine her Buddhist philosophy with the work of her hands.           Taos Hemp began its cottage industry on the West Rim Mesa of Taos, in an off-grid, solar home.

Today Fahrbacht sells her own brand, called Dharma bags, made of 100% hemp. She is also known as “the Hemptress.”

“With the emphasis on no stress,” she said. “Oh, by the way, it also accounts for ‘great tress.’ Hemp fiber tresses are the strongest and longest on the planet.”

Fahrbacht considers herself a natural person. She lives and works in an eco-friendly way.

“My hogan (in Dine hogan means ‘blessing way’) is built out of straw bale, adobe, stone, and wood,” she said. “It has passive solar and active solar. The solar panels, with a kilowatt of electricity, run 2200 square feet of dwelling.”

Why hemp?

Fahrbacht describes hemp as “a miracle plant that can heal the Earth.”

“I like to say hemp covers it all,” she said, “from food, clothing, paper, shelter, medicine, fuel, and plastic composites to remediation of toxic soil. Also, economic recovery: it can provide jobs for farmers and individuals in a cooperative setting.”

Hemp is the second highest protein next to soy, high in vitamin E and magnesium. Hemp oil is also used in the cosmetic industry.

“It is a superb moisturizer and detoxifier at the same time,” Fahrbacht said.

A Taos-based skincare company, Nabis Naturals, uses hempseed oil as an active ingredient to produce a moisturizing serum and a cream.

Hempseeds contain Omega-6 and Omega-3, essential fatty acids with anti-inflammatory properties. They can also be used to make butter, milk, and protein powder.

The legal fate of hemp

Fahrbacht points out that hemp is not a drug.

“Hempseed has very, very little amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), just .03%. THC is the primary ingredient in marijuana cannabis,” she said. “Using hemp products will not give anyone a high!”

It is not legal to grow hemp in New Mexico right now. But Senate Bill 94 (SB94) would authorize the farming, production, and sale of industrial hemp in New Mexico, if successfully passed. Under this bill, New Mexico residents could be licensed to produce and distribute hemp.

“The Federal 2014 Farm Bill allows hemp, when individual states pass the pro hemp legislation,” Fahrbacht said. “Then they can safely do pilot studies and test plots to determine the correct cultivars.”

There may a long way to go, though. At federal level, hemp is still classified as a Controlled Substance Schedule 1— along with heroin and its cousin marijuana.

“In 2013 twenty-one states introduced industrial hemp legislation, but current federal policy still places a barrier on production,” Fahrbacht said. “The irony of this is that more industrial hemp fiber, seed and oil is exported to the United States than to any other country.”

Hemp history

Hemp is one of the oldest cultivated plants. Its use can be traced back to 8000 B.C.

“Hemp was known by the ancient cultures of China, Egypt, and Persia,” Fahrbacht said. “It was used to make textiles and for cosmetic purposes.”

However, we don’t have to go that far in time. Hemp it is also part of American history. The United States’ declaration of independence was written on hemp paper.

“Washington and Jefferson demanded that the colonists grow hemp for their clothing, food, and maybe building materials,” Fahrbacht said. “Hemp paper requires no bleach, no heavy dioxin like the tree pulp industry which has polluted our rivers and cut down our virgin forests for paper.”

Hemp production was endorsed by the government in the 30’s and during World War II because it was needed to make ropes for Navy ships.

“Henry Ford made a hemp car and ran it on hemp fuel,” said Fahrbacht. “The question is: what became of Ford’s idea? Guess he was run off the road by Dupont (plastics), Eli Lilly (pharmaceuticals), Hearst (paper), Andrew Mellon (friend with Hearst) and Harry Anslinger (chief of Narcotics Bureau). We still have huge lobbies against hemp in these arenas today.”

Despite the obstacles, Fahrbacht is convinced that a green future will include hemp.

“It will propel us into the age of self-reliant, self-sustaining livelihoods,” she said. “Let’s get together behind the production of the strongest fiber crop on the planet.”

Not just horsing around: the healing power of equines

Star and Buck, rescue horses

Originally published in Taos News

Photos taken from Equine Spirit Sanctuary’s website

Horses and kids tend to do well together. Equine-assisted therapy produces exceptionally good results due to the social and responsive nature of the horses and the natural curiosity of kids.

“There is just something about the horse,” said Ruth Bourgeois, owner and director of the Equine Spirit Sanctuary. “Horses hold a special captivation for persons of all ages, that we don’t seem to outgrow. If a simple picture of a horse has the power to emotionally move us, imagine the strength and effect of an actual interaction.”

To facilitate such interaction, Bourgeois created Horses Helping Kids, a program that combines equine-assisted learning and therapeutic riding at Equine Spirit Sanctuary. The program includes grooming and leading exercises as well as riding.

Two happy riders

Danny O’Rourke has been part of the program for over three years. He is eleven years old.

“Horses have huge hearts and are so good with kids,” said his mother, Karin Johnson. “No matter how Danny is feeling before we get to the Equine Spirit Sanctuary, he is always so happy there…that’s a high point in his life. Ruth and all her volunteer staff are doing a great job. We hope they can build an indoor arena so the lessons can take place year around.”

O’Rourke goes riding once a week during spring and summer.

“I love Dustee,” he said. “He’s an old good horse! But I like Hava, Kat and Elvis too.”

Miquella Brown is nine years old and also enjoys her rides, which can last up to thirty minutes.

“This is the only therapy she really likes,” said her mother, Josephine Brown. “She is nonverbal, but she gets the biggest smile when we are driving toward the sanctuary.”

A lesson

A typical lesson is one hour in length and consists of preparation, grooming, and riding—the most fun part of it, but also one that requires the most preparation and care.

“The riding part includes warm-up, stretching, balance and flexibility exercises, games on horseback, and learning basic riding skills as appropriate for the client’s age and abilities,” said Bourgeois, PATH, Intl. accredited therapeutic riding instructor, who directs and supervises the program.

“The objective is not to teach extensive horsemanship skills, although horse handling and riding are part of the program,” Bourgeois said. “The focus is on more on personal growth and life skills, with specially designed exercises to improve self-esteem and self-awareness, combining body awareness exercises with motor planning and verbal communication, in a supportive setting.”

Fulfilling a need

Bourgeois recognized the need for a therapeutic riding program in Taos County when she looked at the figures.

“Currently there are around five hundred learning disabled persons between the ages of three and twenty two in the special education classes in the Taos School system, according to data from the schools,” she said. “We care about these kids and want to offer them something special that they cannot get through any other local program.”

She sees kids and horses as “a natural combination.”

“And for children with disabilities, animal companionship is particularly invaluable, as they may have trouble making friends with kids their own ages,” she said. “Horses give children an opportunity to connect with another living being, which is extremely important to any child’s development.”

The Sanctuary

Equine Spirit Sanctuary is a non-profit, volunteer-based healing center, founded in 2005. The organization’s vision is to provide horse rescue and programs for people.

“It is the culmination of my dream to bring people and horses together,” she said. “Since I was a child, I have loved horses. I have a degree in horse husbandry and worked for years in the horse industry until I came to Taos. Here, all my life experience and horse background came together, to create a sanctuary for these beautiful and intelligent animals.”

As a nonprofit organization, Equine Spirit Sanctuary depends on the generosity of its sponsors and volunteers.

Healing with horses

Equine Spirit Sanctuary offers an equine-assisted learning and therapy program for persons of all ages in addition to the Horses Helping Kids program.

“I am most excited about the potential of this program. Horses have a natural healing power that has been proven effective in physical, mental, and emotional therapy,” said Bourgeois. “Besides the innate healing energy that they possess, interacting with horses has many other benefits.”

One of them has to do with the most visible trait of a horse —its size.

“Horses are big, often intimidating animals,” said Bourgeois. “Because of this, interacting with a horse immediately challenges issues of fear and confidence. Horses are also incredibly responsive to human emotion and action. By working with them, people learn about leadership, taking responsibility, and teamwork. By honoring and respecting the spirit of the horses, they then are a source of joy and inspiration to the people whose lives they touch.”

A dream come true

Writer and designer Susan Washburn interviewed Bourgeois for her book My Horse, My Self: Life Lessons From Taos Horsewomen.

“I was nearly moved to tears by what she told me about her life, which was, to put it mildly, filled with obstacles, from difficult relationships to a bout of intractable fibromyalgia,” Washburn said. “I believe Ruth’s personal suffering and the healing influence she felt from her own horses are the wellspring of the deep compassion she has for both equines and humans. Equine Spirit Sanctuary has been a lifelong dream of hers and it is so gratifying to see it come to fruition with the acquisition of a permanent home for this wonderful interspecies community.”

That dream has become a reality. In May 2015, Equine Spirit Sanctuary was able to buy the property they had been renting for over seven years.

“Now we have a forever home,” Bourgeois said, “and we are looking forward to being able to do more with our programs, for more people.”

Equine Spirit Sanctuary is located at 13 Los Caballos Road Ranchos de Taos

Phone: (575) 758 1212

http://www.equinespiritsanctuary.org

Dustee, lesson horse

Chef Dillon Tisdel: “food is the great connector”

Dillon Tisdel

Originally published in Taos News

Photo taken from Chef Tisdel’s website 

Chef Dillon Tisdel is a big advocate of plant-based food. Inspired by Ayurvedic teachings and macrobiotic philosophy (eating grains and local vegetables, and avoiding highly processed foods and most animal products) Tisdel uses a holistic approach in both her kitchen and her life.

“I like to draw on the wisdom of ancient systems such as Ayurveda,” she said, “but I am exploring how we can effectively bring that knowledge forward to our current context. We don’t live in ancient India so I am trying to apply these systems in a way that is sustainable and relevant.”

Tisdel has been a pastry chef and a private chef for five years and has also cooked for small retreats.

She still cooks for local retreats and works with individuals who want to change their diet.

“I help people incorporate more plants into their daily menus so as to function and feel better,” she said. “Food and health are interconnected. The way we eat definitely influences the way we feel in a manner that we are often unaware of.”

Though she eats mostly vegan food, Tisdel doesn’t call herself vegan or vegetarian.

“I prefer not to use labels,” she said. “I eat high-quality goat cheese and local eggs occasionally and that works well for me, but it may not be right for others. There is no one-size-fits-all diet. You have to discover what kinds of foods are best for your body and find tasty, nutritious recipes in which to use them.”

A very special plant—holy basil

Tisdel’s website http://www.ohholybasil.com offers plant-based recipes, resources and tips. She named it after a plant considered sacred in India and often used in Ayurvedic medicine.

“Holy basil belongs to the same family that the common basil, but it has a distinctive, unique flavor,” she said. “It is adaptogenic, which means that it adapts to fight different kinds of stress in the body. It’s kind of a miracle plant.”

Holy basil can be used as tea or for seasoning.

Favorite gadgets

Like many other chefs, Tisdel likes her collection of cooking knives, but she is also fond of a Vitamix blender.

“It is a very powerful blender,” she said. “You can even make almond butter with it!”

Food and spirituality

Though she had been interested in food since an early age, Tisdel had seldom cooked for others until she moved to Hawaii to study with a spiritual teacher.

“He held retreats for people who came from all over the country,” she said. “I was inspired by all of the produce that grew locally—coconuts, papaya, avocados—so I started cooking. Not only I felt happy because I had found a purpose, doing something that I really loved, but my health improved as I stopped eating wheat and began a diet that relied mostly on plan-based food.”

After leaving the spiritual retreat in Hawaii, Tisdel realized that she had found her true calling. She attended the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City, founded by Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D.

“The teachings are based on seven core principles: food should be seasonal, local, whole, traditional, balanced, fresh and delicious,” said Tisdel. “It was a great learning experience that helped me create my own culinary style.”

A career in three states

After graduating Tisdel got a job in Mas, a Michelin-starred, farm-to-table restaurant located in the West Village.

Later she lived in Silverton, Colorado, for a few years, where she worked as a private chef.

She moved to Taos in 2010 with her husband, environmental lawyer Kyle Tisdel.

“After I had our baby I decided to continue my education in nutrition,” she said. “I graduated from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in February 2015.”

While taking care of her son, Tisdel plans to cook for retreats offered by the Contemplative Leadership Development Institute founded by her mother, Jan Birchfield.

“My plan is to integrate cooking classes with health education,” she said. “Beyond that, I want cooking to be a vessel to share love, connection and community. Food is the great connector. I like to make amazing meals for people and watch them have the experience of feeling different (amazing!) after the meal, versus just telling them about the benefits of healthy food.”

Advice from Chef Tisdel:

Start your day with a glass of warm water with lemon. It is really important to drink water before putting anything else in your body: coffee, tea, or food. Warm water with a good squeeze of lemon will rehydrate your colon and flush out toxins that have accumulated in the night, while preparing your system for digestion. By alkalizing your body, it will help it to maintain a healthy pH.

I am not of the mind that dessert should be abstained from. I enjoy something sweet on an almost daily basis, but not all sweets are created equal. White sugar is toxic, plain and simple. Everyone that I have supported in getting off refined sugar reports having more energy, less food cravings and a clearer state of mind. The most commonly used sweeteners in my house are real maple syrup, dates and coconut palm sugar. Molasses is another good option and is a lot less expensive than maple.

To find out more about Chef Dillon Tisdel visit her website http://www.ohholybasil.com

Recipes:

Chocolate Chip Cookies (Gluten-Free + Vegan)

Ingredients:

1 cup oat flour

2/3 cup hazelnut or almond meal

1/2 cup rolled oats

3 tablespoons chia seeds, ground in a coffee grinder or 6 tablespoons chia powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup coconut palm sugar

1/2 cup almond butter

1/4 cup almond milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325°.

Combine the oat flour, hazelnut or almond meal, rolled oats, ground chia, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.

In another bowl, whisk to combine the coconut palm sugar, coconut oil, almond butter, almond milk and vanilla.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and fold together until almost combined. Add the chocolate chips and fold them in.

Scoop the dough by the heaping tablespoon onto parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake for 16-18 minutes or until edges are just starting to brown.
Homemade Almond Milk

Ingredients:

1 cup raw almonds

1 date, pitted

tiny pinch of sea salt

1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract

4 cups of water
Soak the almonds for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.

Drain the almonds of their soaking water and give them a rinse.

Put all of the ingredients in the jar of a blender and cover with the 4 cups of water.

Blend until the almonds have broken down and a smooth milk forms, about a minute.

Strain the milk though cheesecloth, a nut milk bag or, my favorite milk-straining implement, a nylon paint strainer (which can be found in most hardware stores).

Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Raspberry Chia Breakfast Pudding

Makes one hearty portion

Ingredients:

1 cup almond milk

1 date, chopped

tiny pinch of salt

1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1/3 cup fresh or frozen raspberries

3 tablespoons chia seeds

In a blender, blend all the ingredients, except the chia seeds, for about a minute.

Pour the raspberry milk over the chia seeds and whisk until no lumps remain. Whisk frequently for 5 minutes and then let sit for 20 minutes, whisking a couple more times.

Garnish with berries and cacao nibs, if desired, and serve.


Photo taken from Chef Tisdel’s website 

Cuba in pictures: a photography retrospective at Taos Artist Collective

Jade Anaya 003

The photographers at Taos Artist Collective

Originally published in Tempo, a Taos News publication

With the upcoming changes in Cuba, photographers Jeremy Landau and Marcus Best decided it was about time to showcase their work of several years, which documents current life in the island.

“We thought it would be interesting to display our images of a place that seemed frozen in time, a place that undoubtedly will be changing quickly,” said Best.

Taos Artist Collective will host a Cuba Photography Retrospective reception on Saturday, June 6th, from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. featuring the work of Best and Landau.

“Marcus and I want to showcase a beautiful place through some beautiful photography which we hope people will appreciate,” said Landau. “And to highlight the accessibility of Cuba as the embargo disappear and before US commercialism messes things up.”

The reception will include Cuban food, like chicken and beef empanadas, and, of course, Cuban music.

Landau’s book “¡Cuba, La Isla Bella!” will be available for sale, along with a special edition 2015 Cuba calendar.

First encounters: medicine and curiosity

Landau’s interest in Cuba dates back to 1997, when he traveled to the island to attend the Caribbean AIDS Conference.

“Following that time, I was asked by colleagues to work with a humanitarian project which came to be called AIDS Treatment Access Cuba, supplying donated medicine and doctors relief through Partners in Health,” he said. “It continued for six years until the Bush administration forced us to quit. It was tragic and I fell in love with the place and the people.  Their healthcare system thrives and is one of the best in the world.”

As for Best, he visited Cuba for the first time in 2004.

“I had always been curious to spend time in a country that was so close to the United States but seemed to be worlds apart,” he said. “At the time, I thought it wouldn’t be long before Fidel Castro stepped down and there would be a change of leadership, and I wanted to be in Cuba while Castro was in power.”

Landau was in and out of Cuba for six years.

“I was mostly in Havana, though I traveled extensively throughout the country,” he said.

His pictures of old cars have captured the old funky vibe of the vehicles. No wonder, as he was quite familiar with them—he once drove a blue Chevy, an early 1950’s model, from Havana to Pinar del Rio.

“The best part of the whole was the people,” he said.  “And the architecture.  And the rum.  And the real Cubano coffee!”

Best enjoyed getting to know the people and exploring their country with them.

“That is almost always the case when I travel,” he said.

Best’s images capture souls and expressions, from a proud gallero holding a rooster to a pensive bookseller in Trinidad.

Looking back: challenges and obstacles

Best recalls getting out of the airport when he arrived as the most challenging part of his Cuban experience.

“I spent about an hour in a small storage room with four armed guards while they questioned me about my reasons for visiting Cuba,” he said. “They wanted me to explain exactly how far I could see with each of my camera lenses and why I had black and white film. It was a nervous introduction to say the least.”

“For me, the biggest challenge was overcoming the obstacles the United States government put in our way at the time,” said Landau. “However, we managed to maintain licensed travel for six years.”

Landau wishes he had had more time to be in Cuba and be with his friends there.

“I took hundreds of photographs and this show represents only a small part of that—the best of it,” he said. “I also wish I had photographed more people, they certainly were very open to it. I was just not so into that, back then.”

Still, he managed to get some stunning portraits like one of a small musical band with traditional drums and bongós.

“I also wish I had more time in the far reaches of the island, Guantanamo, Baracoa, and Santiago de Cuba,” he said.

Ballots and baseball

Best was in Cuba during two significant events that left big impressions on him.

“One was the reelection of George W. Bush,” he said. “It seemed like Cubans anticipated the results as if it the ballots were being counted for their own presidential election, and when Bush’s victory was announced, what I heard most from Cubans was: ¡Hay que aguantar cuatro años mas! (We have to put up with it four more years).”

Baseball, la pelota, is Cuba’s national sport—and passion. Best was also there for the end of the baseball world series, when the Boston Red Sox won.

“I’ve never seen such fervent support for a sports team before, and such interest in the game by an entire country,” he said. “I brought a few official Major League baseballs to give as gifts, and the lucky few who received them were beside themselves with gratitude.”

The photographers’ work will be on display through the month of June.

Taos Artist Collective is located at 106 A Paseo del Pueblo Norte

Phone: 575 751 7122

http://www.taoscollective.com

“No ‘tude in Taos!” Why writers keep coming back

Faculty

Originally published in Tempo, a Taos News publication

Many people have come to Taos on a literary quest, since the times of D.H. Lawrence and Willa Cather. There are writing workshops, salons and conferences going on year-round.

The most famous is perhaps the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference that celebrates its 17th anniversary this year. It will take place from July 12th to 19th at Sagebrush Inn Conference Center.

“In the early years of the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference, most of our good news concerned the accomplishments of our instructors—many of whom were publishing new books and winning well deserved awards,” said the Conference founder and director Sharon Oard Warner. “These days, our writing instructors are still winning accolades, but so are our participants. Even more telling: some of our past participants are returning as members of the faculty.”

Matthew Pitt, author of Attention Please Now, is one of them. He received the D.H. Lawrence Fellowship to attend the 2013 Taos Summer Writers’ Conference.

“I had heard terrific reports about the conference from prior attendees, faculty, not to mention a former D.H. Lawrence recipient,” he said. “It seemed to be one of those ‘50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong’ moments. And it was: the conference was the highlight of my summer. When you start with a backdrop as stunning as the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, how could it not be?”

Pitt’s says that the week was full of good cheer, expansive conversations, and side excursions.

“Somehow, I still managed to shoehorn in a twenty-five page rough draft of a new story, along with a scene from a play,” he said. “The faculty is incredibly gifted and generous—Robert Boswell, Antonya Nelson, Pam Houston, and Trey Ellis were among the roster the year I attended, and I am humbled to be part of the group convening this time around.”

Pitt will lead a weekend workshop called “Off the Starting Block” for fiction writers of all levels.

“I’m hoping it will ignite the imaginations of those who feel a bit intimidated by a blank page,” he said. “Before the course actually convenes in Taos, I’ll provide a number of openings for the class members to pursue on their own. We’ll be examining those, writing a lot more, and talking about the myriad ways a new narrative can be unlocked, and what advantages, challenges, and opportunities each might provide.”

Richard Vargas was an intern at the 2010 Taos Summer Writers Conference. The following year he returned as a graduate of the UNM Creative Writing program and the recipient of the conference’s 2011 Hispanic Writer Award.

“I attended a week-long workshop of my choice and was a featured reader,” he said. “My past experiences with the conference have provided many great memories, creative inspiration, networking opportunities, and the basis for invaluable friendships. I look forward to returning as a member of the faculty in 2015.”

Though his weekend poetry workshop is geared for the beginner, Vargas says that anyone interested in coming together with their peers to write, and provide and receive feedback, will enjoy The Mas Tequila Poetry workshop.

“The motto of my biannual poetry magazine, The Mas Tequila Review, is ‘Poetry for the rest of us,’” he said. “We will have fun and write poems that are pertinent for the times we live in.”

Registration

From Nebraska to Placitas

Hilda Raz’s involvement with the conference has had a profound effect on her life.

“I’ve taught several times at the Taos Writers’ Conference, maybe six times over the years,” she said. “Their brilliant director, Sharon Oard Warner, invited me to be a member of the faculty.  Four years ago we moved to Placitas, New Mexico from Nebraska, where I taught at the University of Nebraska and edited the magazine Prairie Schooner, all because I fell in love with New Mexico during those weeks teaching in Taos for the Conference!”

She is now the editor of the University of New Mexico Press poetry series and the poetry editor of Albuquerque-based Bosque magazine.

“My offering for this summer’s weekend class is ‘Writing in Short Forms,’ prose poetry, short short stories, flash fiction, very brief essays, etc.,” Raz said. “Poets and writers of all genres should have a very good time.”

A local writer’s perspective: Taos feeds the soul

Taos-based writer Summer Wood has been teaching at the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference since 2008.

“It’s a highlight of my year,” she said. “Two things make this conference really special. On the one hand, there’s the spirit of generosity and dedication shared by the writers who teach and the writers who attend. And on the other? Taos itself. People come from all over the world to really dig in to their writing for a week in this beautiful and historic place. For many, I think the rich culture and amazing landscape of Taos spark a level of creativity that really feeds the soul. I know it does for me.”

Putting pen to the page

Warner quotes a former participant that described the ambiance of the Conference as “Breadloaf without the attitude.”

“There is no ‘tude at Taos,” she said. “My hope for everyone is that the Conference experience will renew and deepen the singular joy that comes from self-expression. Regardless of whether our work finds a readership, it is important to simply take the time to put pen to the page. Recent research confirms my own abiding belief that those of us who write are healthier and happier for it.”

The another worldliness of Taos

The Mabel Dodge Luhan House, a National Historic Landmark, has also been a hotbed of literary activities and today is home to many workshops that cover everything from watercolor painting to collage making to writing.

Patrice Vecchione was there in April to teach “Imagination & Inspiration in the Southwest: A Writing Retreat” right after the publication of her new book, Step into Nature: Nurturing Imagination & Spirit in Everyday Life.

“I’d been to Taos once before, some years ago, and I had wanted to return,” she said. “The Mabel Dodge Luhan House was even better than I’d imagined. From the accommodations to the meals, from the classroom to the setting, no place could have been better. Taos has another worldliness about it, a place not stuck in the mundane world, that lends itself to imaginative thinking so it was the right spot in that way also.”

To find out more about the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference visit http://taosconf.unm.edu

To find out more about Mabel Dodge Luhan House http://mabeldodgeluhan.com

About The Conference

Images taken from the official site of Taos Summer Writers’ Conference http://taosconf.unm.edu/

Anne Hillerman in Taos: book signing and talk at Moby Dickens

hiller

On Wednesday May 20th Taos News editor Joan Livingston will interview author Anne Hillerman at Moby Dickens Bookshop at 6 p.m.

“I will interview Anne about her new book Rock with Wings,” Livingston said. “This is her second novel using the characters of Joe Leaphorn, Jim Chee and Bernadette Manuelito made famous by her late father Tony Hillerman. She is carrying on the tradition of her father who set his mystery novels in Navajo Nation.”

Spider Woman’s Daughter, Hillerman’s first novel, received the 2014 Spur Award for the Best First Mystery from Western Writers of America. The book also received two New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards for Best Book of 2014 and was as Best Mystery of 2014.

The novels will be available for sale and Hillerman will sign copies.

Moby Dickens Bookshop is located at 124 Bent St, Taos, NM 87571
(575) 758-3050

Moby Dickens Bookshop - Taos, NM, United States. Entrance to Moby Dickens Bookshop (located in the John Dunn Shops area of Taos)

A graduation photo and a story

IMG_6735 (1)

Now that it is graduation time, this is my graduation from middle school in Havana, in 1980.

Here is a story (in Spanish) about those times

http://www.diariodecuba.com/de-leer/1371945803_3888.html

El día que volví a ayer

Originalmente publicada en Diario de Cuba

Casi todas mis compañeras de la secundaria se enamoraban platónicamente de actores de cine, deportistas y cantantes famosos. En Cuba se decía “meterse con ellos” aunque, en principio al menos, no se metiera ni se sacara nada material.

Entre las estrellas que provenían del otro lado del Atlántico brillaba Alain Delon —era a fines de los setenta. Luisita Fraga había pegado un afiche enorme del francés en una pared de su cuarto y todos los días le prendía una vela, como si se tratara de un muerto familiar. “Esta chiquilla comemierda va a quemar la casa con sus inventos”, rezongaba su abuela, pero la Luisa, terca ella, no cejaba en sus ceremonias de adoración.

Mi comadre (que entonces no era todavía mi comadre) adoraba a Los Beatles, y como no se había decidido por ninguno en particular, se metía cada mes con uno distinto. Otras meteduras tenían como lejanos objetos del deseo a celebridades del patio: el cantante Alfredito Rodríguez hacía furor con su melena larga, trajes con cuello y corbata y baladas románticas que resultaban una mezcla fuera de lo común, casi contestataria, en aquella época de exaltación al trovador sudado y a un ritmo autóctono llamado mozambique.

A la exhibición de la ya arqueológica comedia Abbot y Costello contra los fantasmas, producida en 1948 y reestrenada en los cines de La Habana en el 79, siguió una repentina oleada de interés en los vampiros similar a la que ahora recorre el mundo con la saga deCrepúsculo, pero a escala isleña. Las muchachitas empezaron a suspirar por la pálida masculinidad del Conde Drácula y me parece que hasta el Hombre Lobo, encarnado en Lon Chaney, consiguió algunas seguidoras también. Otra amiga, Yarmila, idolatraba a Béla Lugosi, probablemente sin saber que este había pasado a mejor vida en el año 56, diez antes del nacimiento de su fancita cubana.

Yarmila fue la primera de nuestro grupo que se hizo mujer, para usar un eufemismo de entonces, y tuvo a bien enseñarnos a todas sus amigas la almohadilla sanitaria (íntimas las llamábamos) teñida de un líquido rojo y de olor áspero. Yarmila se hizo auxiliar de enfermera y terminó tomándoles muestras de sangre a los pacientes del hospital Hermanos Amejeiras.

En cuanto a mí, bicho raro que siempre he sido, nunca me interesé por las luminarias inaccesibles. Mis fantasías eran con seres de carne y hueso a los que veía con regularidad. Sin embargo, no resultaban menos platónicas que las de mis amigas. Una de mis primeras meteduras fue en el hueco dialéctico de un maestro de marxismo de noveno grado a quien apodaban El Quique. A pesar del aburrimiento mortal causado por la asignatura que enseñaba, o puede que debido a este, me pasaba los turnos de clase sumida en una plácida duermevela en la que yo (pero una yo más alta y desenvuelta, que lucía un traje blanco como el de Claudia Cardinale en El Gatopardo) regresaba a la secundaria muchos años más tarde, para fundirme en un beso de final feliz con El Quique.

Mi imagen mejorada iba con los ojos al aire libre. La verdadera llevaba ocho años clavada a la cruz de una miopía feroz y obligada a usar unos espejuelos horribles, con armadura de pasta, que me habían granjeado los apodos de Lechucita y Cuatro Ojos. Para colmo, ni siquiera me permitían ver con claridad. Fuera por la mala calidad de los cristales o por una medición inexacta de mis dioptrías de menos, yo andaba por la vida a puros tropezones. Subir los cuatro pisos que conducían hasta el salón de clases implicaba un resbalón en los días buenos; en los malos, una caída en la que arrastraba el fondillo hasta parar en un descanso. Por fortuna me hice amiga de Lázaro, el ascensorista, un negro viejo y bueno que se compadeció de mí y me evitaba la fatiga de patear escalones casi a ciegas, aunque estaba estrictamente prohibido que los estudiantes tomáramos el ascensor.

La secundaria estaba situada en un edificio bastante traqueteado de la Manzana de Gómez, frente al Parque Central, y ocupaba los pisos tercero y cuarto. Abajo había varias tiendas de ropa, una zapatería y la farmacia donde trabajaba mi madre, que subía en los recesos para llevarme un pan con cualquier cosa, lo que provocaba infinitas burlas de mis condiscípulos. (Entre las gafas y las visitas maternales, me da ahora la impresión de que pasé mi adolescencia con un coro de carcajadas como background.) Pero eso no importaba; la merienda era imprescindible porque yo estaba flaca y tenía que “desarrollarme”, al decir de todos en casa.

El objeto de mi pasión tampoco pasaba por un modelo de belleza masculina. Era bajito, flaco y tirando a feo. Un tipo desgarbado, de pelo corto, a lo militar, y que ya empezaba ralearle. Luisa, a quien le confesé en secreto mi metedura con El Quique, me había dicho con una risotada:

—Ay, hija, pero si el tipo está malísimo. Y con esa ruleta en el güiro que tiene, en unos años se va a quedar más calvo que la rodilla de un viejo.

Para rematar, El Quique usaba unas camisas a cuatros azules o verdes que se consideraban el colmo del cheísmo, esto es, de la falta de gusto más elemental. De entre las veintitantas muchachitas de la clase, yo era quizás la única que lo encontraba sexy, como dirían aquí, o bueno, que era la palabra de moda en Cuba y que nada tenía que ver con la condición moral de la persona.

Pero el amor es ciego —o miope como yo. En tanto El Quique disertaba sobre la correspondencia entre las fuerzas productivas y las relaciones de producción, me imaginaba a los dos, a él y a mí, paseando del brazo por los largos pasillos de la secundaria, siempre olorosos al orine que salía de los baños, cuyas puertas de madera estaban carcomidas por los años y la humedad.

Nunca llegué a hacer realidad mis ensueños. Puede que El Quique me considerase su mejor alumna (procuraba sacar las más altas calificaciones en los exámenes para que se fijara en mí) pero estoy segura de que no se enteró de que lo adoraba en secreto con la misma pasión que Luisa profesaba por Delon y Yarmila por Lugosi. O si se dio cuenta, le importó cuatro pitos el descubrimiento. Vamos, no es que lo culpe: a más de tímida, flacucha y espejueluda, yo era en extremo desculada. Esta falta de uno de los mayores atractivos de la mujer criolla me colocaba en grave desventaja a la hora de atraer las miradas masculinas. De modo que, a diferencia de otras parejas de  alumnas y profesores, frecuentes en una escuela donde los maestros eran a veces solo ocho o diez años mayores que sus estudiantes, El Quique y yo nunca nos besuqueamos en uno de los huecos de las escaleras que daban a los entresuelos y que se conocían como los túneles de amor.

Así transcurrió mi noveno grado en la secundaria José Antonio Echeverría: metida con El Quique y añorando un mañana lejano e impreciso en que dejaría de ser flaca y tímida, cuando regresaría vestida de blanco y ya sin espejuelos en busca de mi antiguo maestro, a quien encontraría detenido en el tiempo, enseñando su clase de marxismo…y esperando por mí.

Esto sucedía a principios del año 80.

La Manzana de Gomez

Quince años después, en el 95, La Habana se debatía en medio del período especial, un tiempo surrealista en que los ómnibus se convirtieron en camellos y las íntimas en trapos viejos. La carne de res se transmutó en pasta de oca y el pan con algo en pan sin nada. La falta de vitaminas nos volvió más pálidos que el personaje de Lugosi y muchos cines cerraron a cal y canto sus pantallas; no había electricidad para Abbot, Costello, Delon o sus sucesores en el favor del público y de las fancitas.

El verbo resolver se conjugaba mucho en esos tiempos. Se resolvía (o no) jabón de baño, un pollo, un par de zapatos o una botella de aceite para cocinar. Se resolvía con dólares, porque el peso cubano había perdido lo que El Quique llamaba su valor de cambio y la moneda extranjera (que además era ilegal, aunque todo el mundo la usaba) comenzó a determinar la correspondencia entre las fuerzas productivas y las relaciones de producción.

Yo había “resuelto” mi problema del período especial y la obtención de dólares de una manera muy pragmática: me había casado con un californiano y aquel mes de diciembre de 1995 ya tenía el pasaje para San Diego. Me había librado de los espejuelos con armadura de pasta, sustituyéndolos por lentes de contacto, y miraba feliz al mundo detrás de unas coquetonas gafas Persol moradas, muy ligeras, que me había regalado mi marido. Era menos tímida que en mi época de adolescente, pero seguía siendo bajita, flacucha y desculada. Al llegar a Estados Unidos me enteraría de que en este país los culos grandes no vuelven locos a los hombres, tema que documenté alegremente en mi cuento El retrato astral. Pero allá en Cuba me encontraba en desventaja, y aquello de que me matrimoniara con un extranjero había puesto rojas de rabia a mis amigas y enemigas.

Como me espetara en mi propia cara la Luisa, graduada de francés en la facultad de Lenguas Extranjeras: “Dios le da barba al que no tiene quijá”. Yarmila fue más gráfica: sustituyó barba por marido y quijá por culo. No les guardo rencor. Luisa soltaba los tacones de sus puyas punzó paseando el Malecón noche a noche, esperando encontrarse con un francés que le recordara a Alain Delon, pero lo que pescó fue una gonorrea que le trasmitió un sesentón nativo de Belice. Yarmila había dejado su puesto en el Hospital Amejeiras para trabajar como cocinera en un restaurancito clandestino donde “resolvía” diez dólares a la semana a cambio de pasarse ocho horas cada día friendo hamburguesas tintas en sangre, hechas con carne de conejo, de gato o lo que se terciara. Se comprende que ninguna de las dos estuviera de humor para andar repartiendo parabienes.

Para entonces la escuela secundaria José Antonio Echeverría había desaparecido. En los bajos de la Manzana de Gómez había dos tiendas y una cafetería por dólares; los altos estaban ocupados por oficinas y me parece recordar que había empezado a funcionar una escuela de idiomas en uno de sus pisos. Yo no pasaba por el lugar desde hacía varios años, pero cuando mi comadre (que ya era mi comadre) me pidió que la acompañara a hacer una gestión allí, sin pensarlo dos veces le respondí que sí.

No sé por qué lo hice. Nunca he sido sentimental y tampoco guardaba recuerdos precisamente agradables de mi época de secundaria. Fue el frío de la tarde de invierno, el aburrimiento tal vez… Al bajar las escaleras del edificio donde las dos vivíamos, escuchamos una canción proveniente de la grabadora de una vecina. Era la voz de Willie Nelson que cantaba “I’d trade all my tomorrows for just one yesterday”. Traduje mentalmente “cambiaría todos mis mañanas por un solo ayer”.

Me eché a reír. Nunca se me hubiera ocurrido cambiar mañanas por ayeres, aunque los mañanas en lontananza no se anunciaran con sonrisas de cumpleaños. La gente recordaba con nostalgia los años en que se podía comprar un cake de merengue en Centro, la antigua tienda Sears, sin la libreta de racionamiento, o comerse un pargo asado en El Emperador pagando con pesos cubanos, ambas cosas del todo imposibles en los noventa. (En los duros noventa, cualquier tiempo pasado era mejor.) Pero, de todas formas, yo me iba. Mis mañanas no estaban en La Habana sino en aquella ciudad con un nombre tan español, San Diego, en la distante California.

Dios me había dado barba a falta de quijá.

Llegamos a la Habana Vieja. Mientras mi comadre hacía cola frente una oficina del segundo piso de la Manzana, a mí se me ocurrió subir a donde estuviera la secundaria. Se me antojaba ver de nuevo, y acaso por última vez, las aulas y pasillos en que habían transcurrido tres años de mi juventud.

Me coloqué las gafas en la cabeza, a modo de diadema, lo que en mi opinión me hacía parecer chic y evitaba el tener que guardarlas en la bolsa, donde no se podían lucir. (Unas gafas Persol, durante los noventa en Cuba, constituían algo así como un título de nobleza pacotillera.)

Subí las escaleras ya sin temor a tropezones. Lázaro había muerto; los elevadores estaban clausurados por falta de piezas de repuesto. Sentada en un descanso, una vigilante —CVP las llamaban— ocupada en limarse las uñas, no advirtió mi presencia.

En el cuarto piso no había ni un alma. Anduve aula tras aula, pasillo tras pasillo, sorprendida de encontrar silenciosos y desiertos aquellos sitios que recordaba repletos de muchachos gritones. Ni aún los baños olían; al acercarme a uno noté que estaba clausurado también. Una nata de insectos muertos alfombraba los escalones que conducían a los túneles de amor. Se respiraba el polvo acumulado. Aunque era poco después del mediodía, los corredores estaban envueltos en penumbras. En el aire flotaba un humo gris.

La ambientación perfecta para una película de Lugosi.

Nerviosa, me dispuse a regresar a las oficinas. Fue entonces cuando escuché por primera vez un rumor de voces. Caminé un par de metros y me encontré ante un aula llena de estudiantes en uniforme de secundaria. Frente a ellos peroraba una figura que me pareció vagamente familiar.

Sorprendida, examiné la clase desde el pasillo. En la primera fila había una muchacha que llevaba espejuelos con armadura de pasta y mordisqueaba un lápiz mocho. Tenía los ojos fijos en el maestro. Este era un tipo desgarbado, de pelo corto, a lo militar, y que ya empezaba a ralearle.

Aquel hombre no podía ser El Quique. En primer lugar, porque la secundaria no existía, y en segundo, porque en tres lustros mi antiguo maestro debía de haber cambiado algo, al menos su vestuario. ¡Si hasta llevaba una de aquellas camisas a cuadros azules, de las que habían desaparecido también con el adviento del período especial! Además, lucía de treinta años, cuando en realidad andaría por los cincuenta y pico largos. No, aquel hombre no podía ser El Quique.

Pero lo era.

Retrocedí y me apoyé en la pared. Me restregué los ojos y estuve a punto de sacarme el lente izquierdo de su sitio. Las piernas me temblaban tanto que rocé con las rodillas el borde del vestido. No era el de Claudia Cardinale en El Gatopardo pero daba el plante: era de afuera, como se le llamaba a todo lo que no provenía de Cuba. Y también era blanco, como el de mis ensueños, con apliques de muselina en el escote.

Aquella era la magia en los tiempos del hambre, la oportunidad de satisfacer un antiguo anhelo tantas veces acariciado… Di un paso hacia el aula, pero me detuve a medio camino y me fijé mejor en el objeto de mi metedura de adolescente. ¡Qué desgarbado era, qué flacucho, qué feo! Me llevé las manos a la cabeza y rocé las gafas Persol. Casi sin darme cuenta, me las puse. La oscuridad de sus cristales, sin embargo, no favoreció al Quique, que me pareció más delgado e insignificante que nunca. Luisa tenía razón: la ruleta en el güiro le cogía la mitad del cráneo.

El encanto de aquel pasado amor se hizo pedazos entre dos oraciones sobre las fuerzas productivas y las relaciones de producción.

Salí corriendo rumbo a la escalera. Por el camino advertí que los pasillos habían comenzado a poblarse. En uno de los túneles de amor descubrí a Luisa abrazada a un Alain Delon idéntico al afiche que adornaba su cuarto. Más allá, junto a la puerta del baño clausurado vi a Drácula, es decir, a Lugosi, morderle la garganta a Yarmila, que con los ojos cerrados como Lénore Aubert en la comedia americana, suspiraba contenta y lo dejaba hacer. Vi a mi comadre abrazar a Los Beatles, en ordenada sucesión, empezando por John Lennon y acabando por Ringo Starr. Vi a una chica colgada del brazo de Alfredito Rodríguez, y más allá a otra besuqueando al mismo galán —un caleidoscopio de Alfreditos melenudos y en traje había aparecido de improviso en los corredores antes desiertos de lo que fuera la escuela secundaria José Antonio Echeverría.

Dejé escapar un grito y me abrí paso a codazos y patadas por entre aquella multitud de pesadilla tropical. Pasé como un bólido ante la vigilante, que esta vez me soltó un oiga, compañera, dígame a dónde va con voz de comegente pero no me detuve. Seguí corriendo hasta llegar, sin aliento y despeluzada, al segundo piso.

Las oficinas estaban cerradas. Mi comadre no andaba por allí. No había nadie. Bajé el último tramo de la escalera de mármol sintiendo el latido de la sangre en las sienes como el retumbar de un tambor a ritmo de mozambique.

En el Parque Central ya se habían encendido las farolas. Alguien me dijo que eran las siete de la noche. Según mi cuenta, yo no había permanecido en el cuarto piso más de quince minutos, pero de acuerdo a los relojes del resto del mundo habían pasado cinco horas.

Mi comadre, a quien llamé por teléfono desde uno público, que por milagro funcionaba junto al cine Payret, estaba preocupada por mi desaparición, y molestísima conmigo. Había regresado a su apartamento después de esperarme tres horas.

—¿Y ti qué coño te pasó? ¿Se puede saber dónde estabas?

No sé qué excusa le inventé, o si no dije nada. Recuerdo que colgué el auricular,  volví al Parque Central y me dejé caer en un banco hasta que uno de los camellos que habían sustituido a la ruta 65, jadeante y echando humo por el tubo de escape, se detuvo ante mí.

Ya “resuelto” el transporte, cerré los ojos detrás de mis gafas Persol. Me diluí en la masa compacta y sudorosa que me rodeaba y no volví a mirar al exterior hasta que intuí que había llegado a la parada del hospital de Emergencias. (Había hecho tantas veces el trayecto que podía calcularlo sin mirar por las ventanillas.) Subí en silencio el tramo de escaleras que llevaba a mi apartamento, con piernas que me temblaban por el inusitado sube y baja a que las había sometido aquella tarde. Mi vecina, que cuando la cogía con un casete no dejaba de escucharlo durante horas, seguía todavía a vueltas con Willie Nelson.

I’d trade all my tomorrows for just one yesterday.

“Yo no lo haría”, pensé. “Cualquier tiempo futuro tiene que ser mejor.”

Me quité las gafas y las guardé en mi bolsa antes de abrir la puerta.

No había vuelto a recordar al Quique ni al incidente de la secundaria hasta el día de hoy, cuando encontré unas gafas Persol, moradas y ligeras, en una tienda de segunda mano aquí en Taos.