Entrevista en el Nuevo Herald

Dovalpage Blackandwhite
por Luis De la Paz
Originalmente publicada en el Nuevo Herald
Teresa Dovalpage nació en La Habana en 1966 y ahora vive en Taos, Nuevo México, donde se desempeña como profesora en la universidad local y columnista para el periódico Taos News. Tiene un doctorado en literatura y escribe indistintamente en su lengua materna como en la de su país de residencia. Es sin duda, una de las autoras de más rápido ascenso y reconocimiento en el marco de la literatura cubana. Quizás parte de su éxito radique en el humor, en la alegría y en el positivismo que siempre transmite. Dovalpage es una escritora con recursos que sabe emplear bien y lo hace con soltura y a fondo.

Tu carrera literaria toma impulso en Estados Unidos. Si ya habías comenzado a escribir en la isla, ¿qué determinó que no publicaras en Cuba?

Los pocos intentos que hice para que mis libros vieran la luz en Cuba no tuvieron éxito. Una vez fui a un taller literario y lo que encontré allí me hizo salir de estampía –realismo socialista a pulso y cuidadito con las desviaciones ideológicas. El segundo intento fue llevar en persona un manuscrito a la editorial Gente Nueva. Ah, la santa inocencia. Jamás me contestaron. Tal vez no insistí demasiado, o tal vez lo que escribía entonces era muy malo, pero siempre me ha parecido irónico que me tomara ocho años en Estados Unidos para publicar mi primera novela, A Girl like Che Guevara, en un idioma que ni siquiera es mi lengua materna, mientras no pude publicar ni una línea en Cuba durante veintinueve años.

En el 2004 publicas dos novelas, Posesas de La Habana y A Girl like Che Guevara. En una abordas el mundo de la familia, y en la otra el de la juventud en las becas. Parecen ser temas antagónicos, ¿qué te proponías al examinar casi simultáneamente estas realidades?

En realidad, los libros no se escribieron simultáneamente. Terminé Posesas… mucho antes de escribir A Girl like Che Guevara, pero no sabía cómo publicar en español aquí, de modo que decidí escribir una novela sobre un tema que no se había explorado mucho en inglés, las escuelas al campo en Cuba, y dio la casualidad de que encontré editor para los dos casi a la vez.

¿Qué novela crees que te definió mejor como escritora?

Es una pregunta difícil. Creo que los libros son como los hijos, se supone que una no tenga preferencias, pero si tuviera que elegir mi novela favorita, sería Posesas de La Habana porque es la más personal. Y la primera publicada en español.

Escribes cuento, novela y teatro, ¿en qué género te sientes más a gusto?

Con la novela, definitivamente, pues no tiene las restricciones de espacio de los otros géneros.

¿Qué piensas sobre los eBooks y las nuevas tecnologías de edición?

Aunque no creo que logren reemplazar a los libros tradicionales, los eBooks resultan una comodidad innegable. No es lo mismo viajar con un tomazo de 400 páginas en el bolso que con un Kindle que no pesa una libra. Claro, al tomazo no se le acaban las baterías en el momento más interesante. Varios de mis libros se han editado como eBooks, entre ellos La Regenta en La Habana, el romance de una cougar literata, con Eriginal Books, a cargo de la experta editora Marlene Moleón.

Ejerces también el periodismo, con su lenguaje y características particulares. ¿Qué encuentras en el periodismo como medio de expresión?

Primero, disciplina: una no puede sentarse a esperar por las musas cuando hay que entregar un artículo antes del cierre. Segundo, conocer a gente interesantísima, que luego suelen convertirse en personajes. Y siempre se aprende algo nuevo. Hace poco me tocó hacer un reportaje para Taos News sobre “chicos asados al horno” (mazorcas de maíz cocidas en un horno de barro). Como el título sonaba un tanto canibalístico en la versión en español, tuve que agregar un párrafo aclaratorio para que no pensaran que aquí nos devorábamos unos a otros.

¿Cómo es vivir en Taos?

El paisaje, marcado por las montañas Sangre de Cristo, es impresionante; estamos a siete mil pies sobre el nivel del mar. Es una región rural donde abundan los huertos familiares. Esta primavera mi marido y yo plantamos coles, pepinos, tomates, calabazas, cebollas. ¡Nunca habíamos comido tanta ensalada! La vida cultural es muy rica. SOMOS (la Sociedad de la Musa del Suroeste) es una organización que invita a escritores de todas partes a dar conferencias; hay muchos grupos de teatro, como Metta Theater, con representaciones prácticamente cada semana, y una rama de la Universidad de Nuevo México. Sunset Magazine ha elegido a Taos como “uno de los diez mejores lugares para vivir (y ser feliz) en el Oeste”.

Eres tan cubana que sólo te faltaría vivir en Miami. ¿No te entusiasma la idea de establecerte en la más cubana de todas las ciudades fuera de la isla?

Me encantaría si pudiera manejar con soltura en medio del tráfico de Miami. Cuando pienso en todas las cosas interesantes que suceden allí, en mis amigos, en los restaurantes (ay, croquetas y café con leche del Versailles) me dan ganas de hacer las maletas ahora mismo. Pero soy paragüera hasta la pared de enfrente y no me entusiasma la idea de destrozar el parabrisas contra la primera palma que no se quite del camino para cederme el paso.

Si sintieras nostalgia de algo, ¿de qué sería?

Si te refieres a Cuba, confieso que no siento nostalgia ninguna. Llevo diez minutos rascándome la cabeza y no me viene nada. ¿Las guaguas? ¿El calor? Gracias. ¿Las palmas? Bueno, hemos plantado diez pinos y un montón de álamos en el jardín, así que por árboles que no quede. Ojalá pudiera responder con algo que demostrase más sentimentalismo, patriotismo o cualquier otro ismo de buen gusto, pero ¿a qué decir mentiras sin necesidad?

Quiero cerrar con tu novela Orfeo en el Caribe. ¿Qué nos puede decir de ese libro enmarcado en el género de novela negra?

La verdad es que no se me había ocurrido catalogarla como “novela negra” hasta que un crítico la definió así. Orfeo en el Caribe y mi última novela, El retorno de la expatriada, publicada en España por la editorial Egales, son dos gemelos separados al nacer. Las tramas transcurren a la vez y comparten varios personajes. Ambos tratan sobre amores que tienen que luchar para imponerse, como una pareja lesbiana en El retorno… y una chica feúcha en busca de su príncipe azul, que resulta ser el mulato ojiverde y buenmozo protagonista de Orfeo en el Caribe.

¿En qué estás trabajando ahora?

Preparo una colección de varios libros bilingües patrocinados por el Programa de Artistas Visitantes en las escuelas de Taos, que recoge materiales escritos por los estudiantes en inglés y español. Hemos publicados tres en papel: Somos taoseños, Leyendas nuevomexicanas en escena y Tesoros familiares, todos con Eriginal Books, y seguimos adelante con la colección, que pronto estará disponible en línea. El bilingüismo es la sal y la pimienta de la vida en el suroeste.

Read more here: http://www.elnuevoherald.com/vivir-mejor/artes-letras/article2704221.html#storylink=cpy

Taos secret underground

Photo: Tina Larkin

Story and image originally published in Taos News

Doña Luz Lane is a whimsical street located just a few steps off the Plaza. Among the many shops that line it is Red Cat Melissiana, a folk art and antique store housed in an old adobe. The front entrance is decorated with honeycups; an inviting turquoise stable door opens to the main room. Judging by its exterior, nobody would guess that the shop hides a secret inside—or, more appropriately, under it.

Two tunnels in a cellar

There are two tunnels that run under Red Cat Melissiana. One is supposed to go to the bandstand in the Plaza —where the town jail used to be— and the other to the house of a friend of Father Martinez’s.

Store owner Melissa Serfling says that she has inspected carefully the space around the tunnels’ entrance.

“I have seen the old pillars, supported on logs and big rocks,” she said. “They look like they are falling down and it’s very likely that the walls have caved in between my shop and the Plaza.”

They don’t seem to be safe to explore so Serfling hasn’t ventured in.

“I am not too good underground,” she admits. “If the tunnel collapses on me, then I would become another one of the many spirit in my cellars.”

The Church connection

Next door to her shop is the restaurant El Gamal, which is believed to have another tunnel that goes directly to the place where Our Lady of Guadalupe Church used to be. According to Serfling, the space where El Gamal is now was a speakeasy then.

“Considering that there were also several brothels on this street, one can assume that all sorts of things went on here,” she said.

At the time when the tunnels were in use, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church was located in what is today a parking lot, across the street from Doña Luz Lane.

“The Church burned down in the 60’s and they paved over the cemetery to build the parking lot,” said Serfling. “I imagine that the spirits of the people who were buried there didn’t like that at all!”

An underground network?

Serfling says that there may be many more tunnels in the area.

“Some old neighbors have told me that all downtown Taos is catacombed with passages under the streets,” she said.

Benina Roybal is the owner and manager of Bella’s Mexican Grill, also located on Doña Luz Lane.

“I’ve heard that there are tunnels under the restaurant,” she said. “But I haven’t seen them.”

Douglas Patterson, president of Living Designs Group, owns the building where Bella’s is located. He says that he has been in the cellar several times, but has never seen the tunnels either.

Possible origins

The majority of the houses on Doña Luz Lane were built in the 1880’s and the tunnels probably date from around the same time. One of the most prevalent theories is that they were used as shelters, to protect Taos residents from the Comanche raids.

Serfling, however, doesn’t agree with it.

“I think they were a convenient way to go from one place to another without being seen, whether people were visiting their ‘nighttime friends’ or just going to the Plaza,” she said.

A street with a past

Dona Luz Lane has an interesting and somewhat tarnished history—it was once the red light district of Taos. Doña Luz was the name of the brothel madam. There were also several small shops along the street that sold liquor during the Prohibition times.

Today, many businesses there are owned by women.

“And so we call ourselves ‘The Ladies of Doña Luz,’” said Serfling.

Spirits in the tunnels

According to Serfling, the tunnels, and other places in the neighborhood, are often visited by spirits and some may even reside here. She also tells me that her bloodline leads back to a Salem witch, so she is used to dealing with esoteric presences.

“I greet the spirits in the morning,” she said. “Sometimes they are mischievous and like to tip things over, but in general they keep quiet. However, they let their presence be known: I have been in the cellar at night and heard footsteps above, though there was no one there.”

Fortunately, the spirits don’t bother Red Cat Melissiana’s patrons.

Serfling has owned the store for five years, and says she has never felt apprehensive when she has been alone at night in the shop.

“On the contrary, I get a feeling of acceptance from the spirits,” she said. “But they have been hostile to some men, like a construction worker who found his tools unexplainably moved away from him.”

Serfling believes that some ghosts are the spirits of women who were prostitutes on Doña Luz Lane.

In the cellar

This article wouldn’t be complete without a personal visit to Serfling’s cellar. Dionne De La Cruz, an employee at Red Cat Melissiana, leads me down a wood creaking staircase that ends in front of an enormous Kiva fireplace. Then she shows me the tunnels. The entrances have been blocked and the whole place smells slightly damp. It is ninety degrees outside but down here it feels cold.

I’m happy to go back upstairs.

Kat Pruitt, a writer and retired educator who also works at the store, tells me that she is planning a mystery novel based on the tunnels and their resident ghosts.

“Go for it,” I say. “I bet it will sell well.”

Master sculptor John Suazo celebrates 40 years of art

Photo: Tina Larkin

Photo and story originally published in Taos News (Tradiciones)

Taos Pueblo sculptor John Suazo has received multiple awards and distinctions. His sculpture “Waiting for Grandfather” was installed at the University of Arizona in Tucson in 2013. His work is in numerous museums and galleries throughout the country and has also been exhibited in Russia and France.

Art runs in the family

John Suazo’s grandfather, Jim Suazo, inspired the novel The Man Who Killed the Deer by Frank Waters. But this isn’t the only book about the Suazo family. Pueblo Boy, a children’s book by Sylvia Starr and Joseph B. Wertz published in 1938, contains pictures of Suazo’s mother and grandparents and details of their everyday lives in the Pueblo.

“All this is part of my history,” Suazo says, “and what motivates me to do my art.”

Suazo went to college expecting to become a teacher. He had excelled in sports and considered being a coach.

“But I kept changing majors,” he said. “I really didn’t know what I wanted to do until one day, during my fourth year of college, when I came home on a Christmas break and started carving. Right then, I knew I had found my true calling. My uncle Ralph encouraged me to follow that path. ”

His uncle Ralph Suazo was also a sculptor who had promoted the Native American art movement in Taos in the 50’s 60’s.

“Our whole family is artistic,” said Suazo. “Around the same time I began carving, first in wood and then in stone, my mother, Juanita DuBray, started to do clay figures too.”

In 1985 DuBray was invited to do a show at the Smithsonian Museum. She has also exhibited at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, the Museum of New Mexico, the Wheelwright Museum, and the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe. Suazo’s niece Dawning Pollen Shorty is also known for her micaceous clay creations.

“My son Warshaw is a great carver too,” said Suazo. “Now he is going to engineering school in Gallup and has made the honor roll three times.”

Though he didn’t pursue a career in education, John Suazo is still interested in teaching and preserving his ancestral culture.

“I welcome those who want to come to my studio and watch me work,” he said. “I have gone to many schools and talked to the students about the art business and the importance of creativity.”

The Rockefeller connection

Suazo’s great-grandfather, Rafael Gomez, was the war chief in 1924 when John D. Rockefeller and his three sons came to visit the Pueblo during the summer. Gomez and other Pueblo men took them to the mountains and they all had a picnic.

“They also sang some Indian songs for them,” said Suazo. “When Rockefeller went back to New York, he wrote a thank-you letter to my great- grandfather and sent him a turquoise ring and a silk handkerchief in appreciation for the wonderful time they had had. About five years ago, his grandson David Rockefeller came to visit Taos and I showed him the letter. He ended up buying a mountain lion that I had just carved.”

Sources of inspiration

Suazo’s inspiration comes from his ancestors’ history, his personal experiences and surroundings, and his three grandchildren.

“I see the smiles on their faces and they never fail to inspire me,” he said. “I love to reveal through my sculptures this feeling of security, peace and happiness that my grandkids radiate.”

Though Suazo has done many traditional pieces, today he tends to use a more abstract and experimental approach in his art.

“I am giving it a more modern feeling,” he said. “I even carve aliens now. There is something attractive and mysterious about aliens; most people love them.”

One of Suazo’s collectors just ordered 18 sculptures of aliens, four to five feet high. They will be partially buried into the ground to make them look as if they were coming out of the hills.

“It will be quite a sight,” Suazo said.

He also carves ancient villages that have been abandoned for centuries.

“I use my intuition and add ghost dancers and other figures from the past,” he said.

Giving voice to stones

For his outdoor pieces Suazo uses limestone from Colorado, Texas and Kansas. For the indoor ones he prefers gray, pink and white alabaster from Colorado and orange alabaster from Utah.

He likes to make knives and swords. The blades are carved out of Moroccan selenite, a translucent stone that is supposed to have healing properties.

“As a kid, I collected the knives that my father and uncles would give me,” he said. “That went along with being a man. Now they are used mostly for decoration. I have fun experimenting with them, but I prefer to focus on larger pieces.”

One of his larger sculptures is called “Eagle Shield” and weighs close to 300 pounds. Another is “She Walks Elegantly” that represents a Navajo woman with her hair done up in a classic Navajo bun.

“It took me about four days and forty years to make it,” Suazo said. “Forty years to learn how to complete it in four days.”

He never draws or plans his work in advance.

“The stone talks to me,” he said, “and then we work together creating a story that fits it.”

“She Walks Elegantly” is a sheepherder who lived in the 1800 and is proud of her life and herself.

“The beauty of life makes her walk gracefully,” Suazo said. “I reflected that on the sculpture. When you see my pieces, I want you to think of a particular time and place, and how life was back then.”

To buy Suazo’s pieces, call him at 575 758 1275 or visit the Taos Pueblo Shops and the Jane Hamilton Fine Art Galleries in Tucson and Santa Fe.

Chef Dooling: using food like a painter’s palette

Photo: Tina Larkin; image published in Taos News

Story originally published in Taos News

Chef Adam Dooling remembers being keenly interested in food since childhood. One of his first kindergarten projects was to write and illustrate a Chinese menu.

“My mom still has it,” he said. “And I was always helping her and my aunts in the kitchen.”

Originally from New York, Dooling moved to Taos when he was eleven years old and graduated from High School here. The first place where he worked was Orlando’s, where he started as a dishwasher and later learned the basics of cooking.

In 2003 he went back to New York to attend the Institute of Culinary Education.

“I got my degree there and was lucky to start immediately in the high end of the cooking industry,” he said. “I worked in Spasso as chief of cuisine and executive sous chef.”

He also worked in Marea and Alto, under Chef Michael White.

“Though I was fresh out of culinary school, my years of experience in Taos counted,” he said.

Dooling spent ten years working as a chef in New York. He says that, though he enjoyed the vibrant city life, he also found it too intense, stressful and competitive.

“There was a moment when I felt ready to come back to Taos and enjoy a slower-paced lifestyle,” he said. “I wanted to take a break, recharge my energy and bring my skills and knowledge back to this town.”

Dooling didn’t have a job when he moved back but a few weeks afterwards, he happened to run into Orlando Ortega, who needed a chef for Station Café, a new restaurant he was planning to open.

“It was fate,” Dooling said.

He started working at Station Café in May 2013.

“I make simple food, but it is consistently good,” he said. “That’s what people expect.”

He is always challenging himself and learning new techniques.

“The culinary world is changing constantly,” he said. “Therefore, you have to change with it.”

A special spoon

Like most chefs, Dooling considers the Robocut as one of the most useful appliances in the kitchen.

“I also like prep blenders, but when it comes down to creating works of art on a plate, my number one utensil is a Gray Kunz spoon,” he said. “I like its light weight and the volume it holds, around two and a half ounces of liquid. It also fits in the hand so perfectly that it becomes an extension of my fingers.”

The Gray Kunz spoon, made of stainless steel, is also known for its ergonomic design, tapered edge, and measurement precision.

“A chef with a spoon is like a painter with a brush,” Dooling said. “The dish is our canvas. And we have a huge palette too!”

Temperamental dishes

As for favorite dishes, he enjoys the challenges presented by pasta.

“It’s a very temperamental dish,” he said. “It has to be cooked at a very specific temperature and the sauce has to be perfect also, not too watery, too dry or too oily. It’s all about finding the exact timing and making different cooking techniques come together for a great dish.”

He also enjoys working with chile in its many permutations.

“I like green chile so much that, when I lived in New York, I would have it shipped from New Mexico,” he said. “I also love the smoky, earthy qualities of chile poblano, the best to give a deep flavor to marinated meat or grilled pork. Chile is not as temperamental as pasta, but you still have to be very careful when using it.”

Life in a restaurant

The most difficult task for a chef today, Dooling says, is managing his time and having a life outside the restaurant.

“Having a personal life, not just a professional one, isn’t easy when you spend most evenings in a restaurant’s kitchen,” he said. “But I also get a wonderful sense of satisfaction when I make people happy with a well cooked and beautifully presented dish. I feel so accomplished when someone thanks me for a special meal!”

And then there are the funny, quirky situations that often happen in a restaurant setting.

“When I worked at a New York steakhouse, there was a patron who invariably ordered one of the most expensive cuts of meat, a whole pound of it, and ate it totally raw, cold out of the refrigerator,” he said. “He only seasoned it with olive oil and sea salt and seemed to like it very much.”

Dooling also enjoys the rush of adrenaline that he experiences in busy nights.

“There are times when you have twenty things to do and have to figure out which one comes first,” he said. “Your mind is always racing, but this is awesome. That’s the life of a chef for you.”

Taqueria El Torito brings Mexican flavor to Valerio Plaza

Photo: Tina Larkin, published in Taos News

Originally published in Taos News

Tacos and burritos are among the most popular Mexican comfort foods. Taqueria El Torito, a taco cart located in Valerio Plaza, offers them in many permutations that go from the mildly spicy taco de asada, made with steak, to a really hot burrito de chicharron en salsa verde—fried pork rinds smothered in green chile. In between is the vegetarian burrito, prepared with beans, cheese, lettuce, avocado and tomato.

The taco (and more) operation is the work of Chihuahua natives Yadira Valerio and Merced Bustillos.

Carving a new life

Varela and Bustillos came to the United States in June 2009. They are from Nicolas Bravo, a small village in the Chihuahua Mountains. Like many other immigrants, they wanted to carve a new life for themselves and offer a better future to their children.

“We came to Taos looking for work and found it in Rosita’s, helping Don Pepe make tortillas,” said Varela. “I am very grateful for the opportunity that he gave us because we didn’t know anybody here.”
Later they both took jobs at La Chavelita, where they learned to prepare traditional New Mexican dishes.

Varela also worked with Tina Leonard, the owner of Tina’s Burritas, for two years. She considers Leonard her mentor in the food business

“Tina loves to help others,” she said. “She didn’t only teach me about cooking, but also about time management and budget planning. It all came in handy when we launched our Taqueria.”

In the meantime, Varela and Bustillos started attending the UNM-Taos Adult Learning Center to take English and general education classes. Varela received her GED diploma in 2012 and wants to thank all the instructors and staff members, particularly her teacher Paula Oxoby-Hayett.

Gracias, Taos Food Center

Varela and Bustillos opened Taqueria El Torito in February 2013. They began their business with the help of the Taos Food Center at TCEDC, where they prepare and store their food.

“We had thought about having a taco cart for a few months and their encouragement motivated us to take the first step,” said Bustillos. “Since the Taos Food Center is a certified kitchen, we can make everything there and be in compliance with all the food safety regulations.”

“Their training, marketing and product development classes have also been very valuable,” Varela said. “We are so grateful for their support.”

The chef and his familia

Though Varela helps her husband in the kitchen, Bustillos is the designated chef. He has always liked cooking, but it was here in Taos where he decided to make a career out of it,

“Everybody at home likes my tacos and burritos,” he said, “so I thought, ‘they must not be too bad… we’ll see what other people say.’”

It seems that others like them too because clients keep flocking to the Taqueria.

Bustillos and Varela have been married seventeen years and have three daughters. The youngest, who just celebrated her second birthday, is now in daycare.

“I miss her, but I have to be here,” Varela said.

Amy, who is sixteen years old, goes to Taos High School, and Daisy, who is twelve, attends Middle School. They are now at the Taqueria, eating tacos de asada.

“We come by every day after class,” Daisy says.

I ask them if they help their parents with the business.

“Not really,” Amy answers. “We just come here to eat. My dad’s taquitos are the best.”

What to order

The Taqueria’s menu includes tacos, tortas and burritos. They can be prepared with different kinds of meat like asada (steak), al pastor (pork), chicken, or ham, or be totally vegetarian.

Tacos and burritos come wrapped in tortillas while tortas are made with bread.

“A torta is basically a sandwich,” Bustillo said. “But the chile and our special homemade salsa make them very Mexican.”

La torta del Chavo

El Chavo del Ocho is a popular Mexican television sitcom about a poor orphan named Chavo, who is often hungry and whose favorite meal is a ham and cheese torta.

“So we created la torta del Chavo,” said Varela. “Of course, it comes with lettuce, tomato and avocado.”

And there are chilindrinas, puffed flour fritters. They are also called chicharrones de harina, flour rinds.

“By the way, there is also a character named Chilindrina in El Chavo del Ocho,” said Varela. “She is a freckled, precocious girl who has a crush on Chavo.”

The mero-mero tacos

Armando Medrano has been eating here since the first week the Taqueria was open.

“I drove by and saw the name, El Torito, so I stopped to find out what the ‘little bull’ was all about,” he said, laughing. “It turned out to be great! Merced and Yadira know how to make very good burritos, with the best seasoning and salsas.”

Martha Rostelli is from Veracruz and says that she is delighted with the tacos she buys here twice a week.

“I used to own a restaurant in Playa de Carmen and know what a good taco is, and I can tell you that these are mero-meros,” she said. “They are super tacos, in fact.”

Taqueria El Torito is located at 1803 Paseo del Pueblo Sur, in Valerio Plaza.

It is open Tuesdays to Fridays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Taos Mountain Warrior Fitness promotes health and teamwork

Carmen

Originally published in Taos News

Don’t wait until New Year’s Eve to make the resolution to get in shape.

“It’s better to start now, so you are in shape by New Year or as early as Thanksgiving,” said trainer Carmen Medrano-Ruiz.

Medrano-Ruiz and her husband Daniel Ruiz, of Taos Mountain Warrior Fitness, offer fitness classes Monday through Friday from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Taos High School gym. They have Cross Fit Level 1, Cross Fit Mobility, Cross Fit Olympic Weight Lifting and Cross Fit Strongman certificates.

“Getting in shape is a process that takes time to complete and you just have to start somewhere,” said Medrano-Ruiz. “We take any level of fitness and work with what you have. If you are committed, you will see results very soon.”

“Taco stand to restaurant” approach

After living in Taos for several years, Carmen Medrano-Ruiz and Daniel Ruiz moved to Albuquerque in 2009 so he could get an engineering degree. She started learning Cross Fit—a strength and conditioning program that includes Olympic weightlifting, high-intensity interval training, cardio routines and strongman gymnastics.

“At first, I couldn’t even do push-ups,” she said, “but I kept at it and got better and better. Finally, I became a certified instructor and began teaching. It was a natural process for me.”

They came back to Taos last summer, after Ruiz graduated from UNM School of Engineering.

“Lots of people from Taos leave and never return because they feel that there are no opportunities for them here, but we wanted to stay and contribute to the community,” Medrano-Ruiz said. “Though we would like to open a gym, we need to use the ‘taco stand to restaurant approach’ because we don’t have money to rent our own space now.”

They both helped the Taos High School football team with strength and conditioning classes.

“Now we are working with the volleyball team and taking on the basketball team and the cheerleaders,” Medrano-Ruiz said.

They use the High School facility but also have their own “traveling gym.” All their equipment (weights, bars, and jump boxes) is in a trailer. Medrano-Ruiz also works with Taos Paramedics, training them at their place of work.

“It isn’t always easy, but we are determined to go on,” she said. “I hope more people see what we are doing and decide to do the same thing—stay here and help our community live to its fullest potential.”

A successful fundraising campaign

Medrano-Ruiz organized the Flex Your Chest Throwdown, a fitness competition and fundraiser event in support of Taos Cancer Support Services that took place on September 6th and 7th.

“It was a success,” she said. “Ninety-five athletes participated and most of them came from out of town, some even from Colorado and Clovis. They stayed here and spent money in Taos. That helped our economy as well.”

The value of teamwork

Medrano-Ruiz believes that working out in a group setting outweighs going at it alone since people tend to motivate each other along the way.

“They push each other harder because there is that element of competition,” she said. “Though, of course, they are mostly competing against themselves, to make themselves stronger. And it is also social time: participants get to know each other and become friends. Many of them stay in contact after the class is over.”

Medrano-Ruiz advice to stay fit:

Be gentle with yourself. Getting fit is a continuous process. As long as you build good habits you can always go back to them, even if you slip briefly.

Set achievable goals, making sure that they are specific and fit in your daily or weekly routine.

Pay attention to your body. Sometimes you may need to lessen the intensity of your workouts and others you may want to push yourself harder.

Make sure you eat five times a day, proteins, vegetables and carbs. Yes, carbs. Don’t cut them out completely. After a strong workout, root vegetables like potatoes, beets and carrots are good because you want to put sugar back into your blood.

A perfect breakfast

Medrano-Ruiz stresses the importance of a balanced diet for overall good health.

“Breakfast is very important and you shouldn’t skip it,” she said. “You need energy to start the day properly.”

In the mornings she often fries an egg in coconut oil, then sprinkles it with kale and turkey bacon.

But she isn’t on a diet. She only follows an “eat-to-perform regime.”

“I don’t count calories nor try to make myself skinny,” Medrano-Ruiz said. “I eat to be strong and healthy so I can enjoy life and take care of my family.”

The experience of group fitness

Participants in Medrano-Ruiz’s classes say they enjoy working together and have started noticing positive results.

Lisa Martinez works out and spins regularly but she hasn’t done any kind of Olympic weightlifting in ten years.

“That’s why I began taking this class,” she said. “I want to be strong and healthy and to set a good example for my two boys. I’m happy I did because I have much more energy now.”

Celia Pacheco wants to learn better weightlifting techniques.

“I also want to lose weight,” she said. “And I am enjoying the classes. Carmen is such an inspiring instructor that she makes it fun for everyone, though we all work hard.”

Josiah Cardenas’ main goal is to be fit.

“I’d like to gain more muscle strength,” he said. “My push-ups are already getting better.”

Mateo Sandoval and Matthew Gonzalez were in the football team that Medrano-Ruiz coached a few months ago. They both agree that their performance improved because of it.

“I am very satisfied with the results,” Gonzalez said. “I am now stronger and faster. It was worth the effort and the sore muscles.”

To join one of Taos Mountain Warrior Fitness classes, contact Medrano-Ruiz at 505 730 4701 or message her through their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/TaosMountainWarriorFitness

Corn harvest: a feast of horno-roasted chicos

Originally published in Taos News

On Friday September 5th at 4 p.m. students from Eno

s Garcia Elementary School and Chrysalis Alternative School met at Parr Field. They harvested red chile and corn, led by Miguel Santistevan, executive director and founder of the nonprofit AIRE (Agriculture Implementation Research and Education) and a teacher at Taos Municipal Schools.

They were joined by Jason Weisfeld, Pamela Pereyra, Jo Carey and William Roth, among other volunteers. Jamie Rivera, a Chrysalis graduate who now attends UNM-Taos, was there too.

“It feels good to come back and help Miguel,” said Rivera.

Santistevan used to teach at Chrysalis and helped start the school’s agricultural program.

“This is the third year we have a corn harvest at Parr Field,” he said. “The project is a collaboration of AIRE with Enos Garcia students, who planted the seeds last year, and Chrysalis students, who came through the season to work in the fields. I also want to thank all the organizations that have helped us like TCDEC, Red Willow Center and Not Forgotten Outreach, among many others. Muchas gracias.”

The photo contest

Last May the participating students received seeds from Parr Field so they could plant them and start their own gardens. AIRE is sponsoring a photo contest again and Santistevan encourages the young farmers to submit photos of their gardens. First, second and third places will be awarded.

“Please, send your pictures soon,” Santistevan said.

La milpa

The Parr Field Garden Project contains a milpa, a combination of native sweet corn, local purple “green” beans and native squash.

“They are also called the three sisters,” said Jason Weisfeld, a fifth grade teacher at Enos Garcia and one of AIRE’s ex-board members. “The process is known as companion planting and is based on the fact that the three crops benefit from each other and also feed the soil, which results in a very productive harvest.”

Weisfeld hopes that projects like this one encourage more people to learn how to grow their own food.

“Last year we had a Thanksgiving feast at Chrysalis with products from the milpa and the school’s garden,” he said. “We had pumpkin pies, bread, chile, beans, chicos…”

“And everything was yummy,” said his daughter, third grader Ilana Weisfeld, who was also picking corn—and eating a few ears in the process.

Her brother Kosmo, who is in kindergarten, was helping out as well.

Berna Valerio, a tenth grader at Chrysalis, says that this is one of her favorite events in the whole year.

Horno cooking

After picking the corn and the chile, students and volunteers headed up to Chrysalis to start the chico-making process.

The school has an horno, or mud oven, funded by the McCune Foundation and built by AIRE and Chrysalis students and teachers. Edward Gonzalez, of the USDA National Immigrant Farming Initiative, fired up the horno, where wood was burned for three hours— one hour for each wheelbarrow of corn, Santistevan explained.

In the meantime, students, AIRE members and volunteers feasted on chile, beans, salad and lamb stew made by Margaret García, Juliet García-Gonzalez and Pamela Pereyra.

Later, the fire was drowned with water (to create steam and pressure) and the corn thrown inside as fast as possible.

Once the last ear of corn was in, the oven door and the chimney were covered in mud plaster or zoquete.

“We must watch it for at least half an hour,” Santistevan said, “because at around 400 degrees the horno becomes like a pressure cooker. We need to make sure that there are no leaks.”

The corn stayed in the oven until the following morning, when it was opened at 9 a.m.

“There were around thirty people,” said Pamela Pereyra. “We ate lots of chicos and took some home. This is an amazing project, a great way to reconnect with the land and to show kids how food is produced. They need to know that it doesn’t come out of a plastic bag from the supermarket. Someone has to work hard for it!”

There were also plenty of chicos left. They were tied into ristras and hung to dry so they will be ready for Thanksgiving.

“Then we will have another feast,” Pereyra said.

A message from Santistevan

Santistevan is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Biology at the University of New Mexico. He is a Taos native whose family has lived in northern New Mexico for hundreds of years.

“We need to study and apply our elders’ agricultural methods,” he said. “Taos Pueblo is the oldest civilization in the United States and it is the oldest for a reason—they figured out how to live in balance with their environment. They were delicate on the land; they grew beans, corn, squash, lentils, garbanzos, and onions, using a secano style of agriculture (dry land farming). Let’s learn from them to take our food from field to table and grow staple, hardy crops that will allow us to have a healthy diet.”

Santisevan is a firm believer in sustainable agriculture

“We also need to recharge our aquifers and feed the soil with sane agriculture,” he said. “Home-scale sustainable living can solve so many problems…and the solution is right under our feet.”

To learn more about AIRE visit its website

http://solfelizfarm.wordpress.com/aire/