The wars we wage against ourselves are probably the only wars that are truly holy - truly blessed. Maybe because they are the only ones in which winning is even possible. It feels like I am probably in the middle of one such war, or maybe just a particularly nasty battle. I trust that I am destined to win eventually. I feel blessed on days when I understand that there is no other outcome possible. It can be hard keeping the faith sometimes.
Which brings me to the Santa Fe Flea Market. My good friends Mano and Bett took me there this morning thinking that shopping always makes everything feel better. I like to think that I am above the consumption (inside joke), but I think the origins of that just gone shopping high-pro-glow are not as much about Empire and Capitalism, as they are about all that time we spent as hunter-gatherers. Our ability to spot exactly what we need out of the corner of our eyes, and barter, and hold a cool poker-calm exterior when we see something we can't live without is probably almost singlehandedly responsible for many of our ancestors surviving the Ice-Ages.
The first thing I noticed, other than the tattooed gentleman who waved us in, was the band near where Bett was sitting – a husband and wife ensemble. He was an old white guy who looked like he's had about 65 years of hard living under his barrel chested belt, and with a voice like Merle Haggard and velvet and cigarettes with good tequila. He had pictures of himself on his CDs wearing boots and a shirt with American Flag stripes and blue. She looked like she had Mexican heritage, about 40 years his junior and wearing these white wrap around plastic sunglasses and a straw cowboy hat and white leather boots with strings of white leather bouncing around the cuffs as she danced. She was accompanying his guitar and amplified recordings of other instruments with two congas painted like the American Flag and was slapping them with a sort of buoyant pinach that was more about not wanting to break her nails, and dancing, than it was about drumming. You could tell that he writes all the songs.
As many of you know, I was born in Mexico, the daughter of an American father, and a Dominican mother. I know that this fact does not absolve me from prejudice, and like all people I struggle with the judgments I make. They were the spitting image of a stereotype I know well having grown up in this part of the country. Or maybe it's bigger than that. I felt like their co-mingling was somehow distinctly American made – ex-Patriot meets his brown-eyed girl, and all on the 9th anniversary of the WTC towers coming down...
We kept walking past enormous logs of petrified wood that might as well have had 'Property of the Painted Desert' spray painted on them, and rusty tools, quilted covers, antique knives, and the obligatory 1 or 2 booths full of plastic sunglasses, leather belts, cell phone holsters and wallets, baseball caps with bling, and roach clips.
One vendor had a bunch of old antique jewelry and old tin snuff boxes. There was one piece in particular that caught my eye. It was a hollowed out woody stem covered in old leather that had been also formed into a necklace (pictured above). It had clearly been worn as the long loop of leather where the string would have gone through was slightly curved as if bending slowly towards the wearers neck. It was beautiful, and when I asked what it was, she told me it was the Holy Koran (or had an inscription of a prayer from the Koran inside it), and then followed that by saying, “...don't burn it. Not today.” I haggled her down to 15 from 30, but gave her 20 because it's value to me was more than 15, but I didn't feel like I could afford 30 for something so small and that I did not 'need'. I might not have survived an Ice-Ages with an attitude like that, but I felt better. Right then, and maybe in general right now, good feelings are at a premium. Besides, what better way to mark this anniversary?
We kept walking. Among other treasures that I felt I could not pass up: 5 marble-sized turquoise skull beads, and about a minute's worth of heavy petting with a particularly sweet puppy I saw.
At some point I became aware that I no longer was in possession of my cell phone. In an already vulnerable state, things like loosing a cell phone can feel like retribution from God. I remembered in particular having made my mom and dad attend so many parent/teacher conferences when I was in elementary school, and I silently repented. It's amazing what a low-grade fever can do. We scrambled around calling my phone and asking vendors if someone had turned it in.
Eventually that brought is back to the food booths, and back to the distinctly American couple: Hank and Nancy Webster, the husband and wife ensemble. Mano decided that she needed food if we were going to be looking much longer, and while we were sitting down, we heard Hank say, “This next one is for the beautiful woman sitting next to me right now.” He started singing this song called 'Brown Eyed Girl' that was full of so much authentic gratitude, and vulnerability, and depth. It was the purest, sweetest valentine I have ever heard. He clearly truly adores this woman. She was smiling but not gushing, and playing drums next to him: proud. It taught me a lot about love, and judgment.
Eventually I found my phone, and Mano drove me home. I like to think that good friends, the Holy Koran and some turquoise skulls made the difference for me today, but I think I would be ungrateful not to give big props to old Hank, and his pretty wife Nancy. I hope they stay together for a long time. This blog goes out to them.