The Gospel according to Manny: Chapter 1

The desert is the kind of environment that requires an adaptive strategy.

People and plants are at the mercy of the elements here, and have to endure times of feast and times of famine - both of which can be fatal. And just like in those elementary school movies featuring lizards with strange plumes coming from their heads, and snakes shedding their skins, and birds hiding inside a spiny cactus, desert dwellers, particularly those of us who were not born here, can be a motley and tragically beautiful bunch.

Our adaptive strategies, born from the necessity of an extreme environment, are uniquely extreme. We are the hipster circus girl whose retreat from normal was born from tragic pain. We are the goddess astrologer who struggles with her own humanity. We are the aloof mechanical geek wizard, the truck driver, the artist. We sometimes hide our adaptations, and we sometimes flaunt them.

The desert is a crossroads: and those of us who live here know it. We see a lot of different people come through, but few have the stomach to stay. Those of us who stay, stay because we have to.

In Africa, almost every cultural group has its own version of the crossroads god: Legba, Ellegua, Elegbara, Eshu, Exu, Nbumba Nzila, Pomba Gira. In Santa Fe, the city of holy faith, the crossroads gods are patrons for those of us who were not born here. They are are embodied in the strategies we don, like mardi gras archetypes we put on for protection: the holy type-a mother of eternal distraction, the white taoist nature guy from the east coast, the back to the land wiccan lesbian mechanic, the nice Lutheran couple in the house down the street with their tree-swing and their treadmill and their garden, the bored heiress wanting to do something worthwhile.

And then there's Manny. Manny was born in Mexico, and came to Santa Fe as a younger man. He was featured in the local food and wine monthly a couple years ago (the chile special edition) along with his boss who is the chef of 'La Boca', a very upscale restaurant featuring old authentic Spanish cuisine. La Boca's chef met Manny when he was the head chef at El Farol in Santa Fe. Those of us who know Santa Fe understand that this is a big deal.

Manny was the chief maître d' at La Boca, and what is remarkable about this article is that the few small columns of words are flanked by Stonehenge sized black/white images of the owner seated alone and humbly on the right hand page, and Manny on the left, hair slicked back masterfully, and mesmerizing two of his clientèle seated before him: like a Magus. It is clear that there something very deep being played out here in the fact that the image of the chef/owner and the image of his maître d' are given equal emphasis.

Manny has mastered the art of being un-intimidated by people: fearless. Not to mention deliciously devious. And the restaurant patrons, who are all treated like patrons, know that they are being given the experience of being a king or queen, literally. Manny is the archetype of a court jester: jovial, sincere, a rich blend of honesty tempered lavishly with diversion. Manny's job is to work a room of very special patrons, and give them all the experience of feeling entertained, and met, and nourished.

There is a long tradition of the court jester archetype that is certainly Spanish, but that goes even deeper into a common ancestral cultural genome. In the presence of wealth, so many people loose their character, and this is boring and cumbersome for those who are 'lucky' enough to have money and never really know who they are interacting with. Wealth makes some people mad at you by default, it can make people grovel, it seems to encourage the compromise of integrity in exchange for 'security' of one sort or another; and people will go a long way for security.

But not Manny. He's the real deal, and the upper crust patrons, who are so tired of crusty, can smell him coming a mile away and adore him. There is a reason that, along with his boss the chef, Manny is an equally featured personality in the article about La Boca: his presence there is as exquisite as the food.

I have the great fortune of knowing Manny, and have been given permission to turn some of the stories he tells me into fiction. This is the first chapter of the Gospel according to Manny.