“Tony, Tony look around! Something’s lost and must be found!” In the beginning there was only a slender ribbon of water snaking its way down the hill and into the desert. At the end of the last ice age, prehistoric … Continue reading
I’m not the first one to make a movie about the matachines dances in San Antonio, New Mexico. The event has been well documented on local television and by museums in the area. “But,” as San Antonio’s mayordomo Chris Jinzo would say, “it goes back even further.”
San Antonio was featured in John Ford’s Grape’s of Wrath and there is even a rumor that Thomas Edison came up this side of the mountain to shoot some footage after filming Indian Day school. Today a rich movie making tradition continues along the Turquoise Trail.
Before there were cameras, there were drawings. During the Civil War, the South planned to secure the vast mining network of America’s frontier territories. The campaign culminated in one of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles at Glorieta Pass, dubbed “The Gettysburg of the West.” Along the way, Confederates stayed a night in San Antonio and one soldier sketched the Sandia’s gentle, slopping peaks.
Before American illustrators, the Spanish mapped out the outposts along the Camino Real, including the ojo grande water source at San Antonio. The pueblo and plains Indians have marked the land with pottery shards scattered in the earth, matates carved into the ridge, tipi rings in the meadows, and arrowheads in the shadow boxes of local collectors. Further up the hill, the leftovers of the prehistoric Sandia Man‘s dinner once littered a cave.
All of these artifacts are here because the water is here. The purity and flow of the little stream behind San Antonio church runs because of hundreds if not a thousand years of stewardship. Even as encroaching development endangers this precious natural resource, ancient forces have been successful in preserving the acequia.
“No man steps in the same river twice,” Heraclitus wisely remarked. The ojito may look the same as when our ancestors first encountered it, but it is still evolving, continuing to be shaped by human impact over time. What will its future hold?
This movie Acequia captures a nostalgic moment in time for me. In the background of some of these scenes I can see and hear my parents and neighbors participating in the day’s festivities. These are the mountains of my youth and where I return to whenever I run out of green chile. I’ve since grown up and moved away from the area. Like so many who have rested at this spot, it turns out that I was just passing through. I’m may not be of this place, but after drinking from the stream, part of me will forever remain under the shady cottonwoods of the ojito. I hope that this movie will continue advocate for the preservation of the acequia at San Antonio. My wish is that it remains the way I remember it for several generations to come.
Later in the afternoon the tourists get bored and move on up the road to the next Tinkertown novelty. The priest is long gone, probably already back in Santa Fe. Only the original families remain to say good-bye to the old mayordomos and to greet the new custodians of the church. The exchange of stewardship is marked by La Entrega, a series of songs about community members and verses that sum up the fiesta.
Ramon Martinez, the guitarist who writes the music says that kids today, “think our music is so passé, that nobody listens to it, but this is part of our tradition and once they realize what it is I’m sure they’ll come around.” Maybe. Panning my video camera from the choir loft, I was surprised that the number of teenagers in the congregation equaled the number of octogenarians. It seems like the matachines dances will be around for at least another generation. Continue reading
Chris Jinzo is a kind of folk hero in our community. My dad remembers coming home from work one day and seeing the bulldozers and police cars along the side of the highway. Jinzo, the acequia mayordomo, was wedged in between them with a shotgun. His family was one of the first to settle in the area in the 1800s. When Mike Knight, a local developer, tried to buy up the village of San Antonio, New Mexico without the proper permits, Jinzo stood his ground. In doing so he protected the water rights of the spring that his family had drank from for centuries. Knight backed down and the residents of San Antonio partnered with the Bernalillo County Open Space to preserve the area. Jinzo’s actions that day have inspired newcomers, including my father, to protect the unique landscape and culture of the Sandia mountains.
When Walmart enters a new town it is often met with a local resistance. The retail store strong-arms its way in anyway and muffles dissent. Yet, when construction on a new super-center was proposed a mile down the road from San Antonio it was met with such a fiercely coordinated opposition that ground was never broken. Attempts by other big box stores to move into the East Mountains have met similar demises. Years ago, Blockbuster managed to open up a store here, but no one patronized it and it withered away. Strangely, even after streaming video providers like Netflix pushed that business to bankruptcy, East Mountain Video, a mom n’ pop joint run out of the back of a house, continues to rent VHS and DVDs down the road from us. For some reason small businesses flourish along the roadside, as big retail chains struggle to establish themselves. Continue reading
New Mexico’s dry environment does a good job at preserving artifacts. It’s often hard to tell if something is new or old. Everything just blends together in the bone-bleaching sun. One summer afternoon I was taking a walk from my house to the post office. I went a little further on my route than I should have and came across a section of burnt trees on the side of the trail. Deciding to investigate, I walked a few yards down the ridge and stopped. Rectangular patterns of rocks were carefully arranged on the ground. They almost looked like a foundation of a house, except that they were just single stones resting on top of the dirt.
What I found was obviously man-made, but I was baffled by what exactly I came across. A couple of weeks later I attended a lecture by Chuck Van Gelder, the East Mountain’s resident historian, who is featured in the video above. He spoke of the huge populations of Apaches and Plains Indians that setup camp in the area. Being nomadic, they didn’t leave a lot of physical evidence behind. However, some of their tipi rings remain. These rings are patterns of stones that were used to stake down the animal skin hides of the cone-shaped tipis. Continue reading
There is time a during every fiesta when the sun grows larger in the sky, stomachs grumble, and everyone takes a break. No feast day would be complete without a bowl of green chile stew and a tortilla to chew on when the heat becomes too much. As the afternoon drones on, the community settles into their lawn chairs and lethargically squints out at the play that has resumed on the plaza.
Kicking up dust in the center of the courtyard a cowboy lassos a guy in a bull costume and then frolics with a cross-dresser. The crowd cheers and chuckles. It’s fun to watch the same neighbors that you run into at the grocery store clown around, but what does it all mean? Everything is open to interpretation.
According to the church bulletin, the Ensaye is a play that comes from the village of Santa Fe, near Granada, Spain and was written in 1503. It tells the story of how the Spanish converted the Muslims to Christianity after they tried to steal the Holy Cross. The conquistadors performed the dance in an effort to evangelize New Mexico’s Native Americans, but instead, the Pueblos infused the spectacle with their own culture and beliefs. Throughout the years the role of each character has flip-flopped between good and evil to reflect the preferences of the performers. Continue reading
Growing up out West, I’ve become adverse to sticking solely to the trail and one day I got lost. I was descending the steep face of Sandia Peak and midway down I found myself chasing mule deer tracks into the desert.
I could clearly see Albuquerque, my destination, but without shade, water, or a clear path to guide me, I soon succumbed to a dizzy wandering. In the glaring midday sun my vision became impaired by stars and a mirage of halos. I like to believe that my guardian angel led me to that 7-Eleven at the edge of town where I quenched my thirst on a slurpie and brain-freezed myself back to life.
Eventually anyone who spends some time in New Mexico gets heat stroke. You forget to drink water, your lips get painfully chapped, and you end up looking like a sunburned Zozobra. The only remedy to a fever dream is to wake up in an ice cold bath.
Sandia is Spanish for Watermelon and at dusk the mountain turns pink on the arid west side. The green forested rolling hills of the east side becomes the rind. It’s cooler in the higher eastern elevations and the stream at San Antonio is an oasis. Native Americans, Spaniards, and Gringo’s alike competed with the rest of the animals in the woods for a drink at the spring. One party after another gained control over its access, but the others have not gone away. The acequia at San Antonio fuels diversity. Continue reading
“Tony, Tony, look around. Something’s lost and can’t be found.”
The Lash of the Penitentes is a 1937 oddity that is both a documentary and a B-movie. The circumstances surrounding the production of the film are shrouded in mystery and only a few scenes have survived, but it illustrates a murder mystery that took place in the Sandia mountains where I grew up.
The film depicts the penitente brotherhood as a secret, self-flagellating sect and, to this day, the order lives up to its reputation. The pilgrims who walk north to Chimayo every Good Friday still whip and crucify themselves along the way. Through self-imposed suffering, they atone for their sins.
Back in the old days, San Antonio was a remote village and the priest only came down from Santa Fe once a year to hold a service. It was up to Los Hermanos Penitentes to care for the church and uphold Christianity at the edge of the frontier. Continue reading
The ojito is not haunted to my knowledge. I’ve never heard any La Llarona stories, about this place, but that’s not to say she’s never been spotted here. Don’t get me wrong, you feel a presence in the mountains where the acequia tumbles down, but it is more like a whiff of prehistoric history.
The summer I videotaped these scenes, I bushwacked alone up sugarloaf, the first big hill behind the stream. I took a break in the arroyo carved out over the years from the water flowing into the ojito. As I sat on a giant boulder I could easily imagine my resting place to be a prehistoric campsite. The hills felt eerily familiar to me. It was as if I had encountered them in a past life.
Before I was here the Spanish had come and given San Antonio its name. Before they arrived there was an Indian pueblo. Prior to that settlement, hunters and gathers came to the stream to drink. And they have been doing that for a long time. Ever since human beings found a way to migrate into North America they have been coming to San Antonio. Continue reading
The first time this movie was screened it was on the back wall of Tijeras church for the East Mountains of New Mexico’s Centennial Celebration. It was ten minutes before the start of the show and the entire building was packed. Just under a hundred people crammed inside the church; others peered through the doorway like it was Las Posadas.
Five minutes before my screening, the local historical society, who had organized the Centennial Celebration, made a hasty announcement. Continue reading