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.
A Confederate soldier’s depiction of the Sandias. Photo: EMHS
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.
Law of the land.
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?
Flowing with memories.
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.
San Antonio de Padua, Sandia Mountains, New Mexico.
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.
The original Route 66.
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 →
Time is a funny thing. It’s malleable. You can look back at an event in the past and reinterpret it in present day terms. Post 9-11 it’s not hard to read into the closing paragraphs of E.B. White’s 1948 essay “Here is New York”.
The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now; in the sounds of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest editions.
All dwellers in cities must live with the stubborn fact of annihilation; in New York the fact is somewhat more concentrated because of the concentration of the city itself, and because, of all targets, New York has a certain clear priority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm.
When I came to New York shortly after 9-11. I found out about a design that was submitted to the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition. As the big firms presented models in the Winter Garden one entry was absent from the competition. This architect was far better known and loved than any of the others. Why wasn’t his building on display?
For one thing, he’d been dead for 75 years. In 1908 the Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi designed a skyscraper to be built on the site that is now Ground Zero. It was to be a grand hotel with trading floors for the seven continents of the world. It would be a true world trade center. Unfortunately, Gaudi was struck by a street car and died before he could further realize his idea. The land at the edge of Battery Park sat more or less vacant until Yamisaki decided to build the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
This American patron of Gaudi was an extremely affluent financier who actually owned the land bounded on the north by Vesey Street, on the south by Liberty Street, on the east by Church Street, and on the west by West Street (which later became connected with the West Side Highway).
…At first Gaudi was extremely enthusiastic to be part of the American Dream, to such an extent that he felt destined to design the hotel. He made some preliminary sketches of a structure reaching a height of 1016 feet, composed of clustered, catenary-formed parabolic towers of varying heights, grouped together like engaged columns around a central, soaring shaft. But somehow the sketch plans never progressed to the design-development stage…
This is where the story takes on a Roarkian twist straight out of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Paul Laffoley was fresh out of architecture school when he arrived in New York City. He landed a job with a firm contracted out by Minoru Yamisaki to design the interiors of the World Trade Center. Laffoley spoke out and proposed to build bridges across each of the twin towers to add structural integrity. He was promptly fired. Yamisaki didn’t want anything to disturb “the prism purity” of the “vibrant visual space”.
If Laffoley’s ideas hadn’t been dismissed, the towers would’ve stayed up a lot longer after being hit. That possibly would have given the occupants more time to cross the bridges to safety.
“… No two materials are alike. No two sites on earth are alike. No two buildings have the same purpose. The purpose, the site, the material determine the shape. Nothing can be reasonable or beautiful unless its made by one central idea, and the idea sets every detail. A building is alive, like a man.”
Afterwards, Laffoley became obsessed with structural integrity. He started designing physically alive architecture based on the poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Primordial Plant House. Laffoley’s projects started to become more visionary in scope. At one point he theorized on how to build a time machine.
These ideas were incorporated into Laffoley’s reinterpretation of Gaudi’s “Grand Hotel for New York City”. He submitted his plan to the memorial competition and, while it received some attention from NPR and a conspiracy reader, it was largely ignored by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.
Laffoley wanted to essentially go back in time and erase the devastating events of recent history by implementing Gaudi’s posthumous drawings. The historical building would act as a band-aid over the site, while at the same time usher in a new era of architecture.
To those who don’t believe Gaudi isn’t American enough to foot the bill for the World Trade Center memorial, I’d like to reiterate that a Japanese architect designed the original twin towers. Not far away there is a statue out in the harbor sculpted by a Frenchman. The Statue of Liberty is probably the most American of icons. She is an anthem to a defining moment in our immigrant heritage. If Lady Liberty is a symbol that grew into our notion of the American Dream, then the September 11th memorial calls for a monument of equal scale.
About the Movie
This video is an excerpt from a feature length documentary I made on Paul Laffoley called “The Mad One”. The process took two years. It started after I told filmmaker Susan Steinberg about the NPR story and she suggested I cold call Laffoley. Steinberg was a tremendous help in producing the interview portions of this film. In those days I used to work at what is now Three One Design in Times Square making digibeta dubs for MTV and Nickelodeon producers across the street. In the evenings I’d stay late at the office and teach myself After Effects. That’s how the animations came about. My pal Sean “Friday” Barry at Skinnyman did all the sound design. All the music is original and comes from my musician friends Matt Walker, Zsolt, and Dave Baron. In the end this movie happened because of Laffoley. On days off I’d take the Chinatown bus up from New York to hang out with him at The Boston Visionary Cell, his one man think-tank. I sat in Laffoley’s studio as he worked on a painting and he’d give me his take on the universe. Afterward he’d take me out for Eggplant Parmesan.
You can watch “The Mad One” in its entirety below.