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NEW YORK CITY – “You Can’t Go Home Again” was the title of Thomas Wolfe’s 1940 novel, published posthumously.
Maybe Wolfe was right. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe home comes to you.
“Make your mistakes, take your chances, look silly, but keep on going. Don’t freeze up,” is a quote from the book.
After spending a large part of my adult life in the Land of Enchantment, I’ve found that even when you leave physically, New Mexico presents itself, and not just in thoughts about hiking to Williams Lake above the Taos Ski Valley or running into old friends like Taos rafting guide Steve Harris at Ohori’s Coffee Roasters in Santa Fe.
The tentacles of New Mexico stretch far. Roaming the East Coast for several months serves as a reminder.
Never been in the iconic New York Public Library, with its white lion statues on guard along the Fifth Avenue steps? Foods booths line 42nd Street, and tables in front are filled with people relaxing, eating and chatting.
Try it next time and venture to the magnificent third-floor Rose Main Library Reading Room. It re-opened in October after a two-year renovation project. Walking the perimeter around the tables, with students’ and other patrons’ heads down, you can take in paintings of local dignitaries and captains of industry.
“One of New York City’s most iconic locations, the majestic Rose Main Reading Room measures 78 feet by 297 feet – roughly the length of two city blocks – with 52-foot-tall ceilings displaying murals of vibrant skies and billowing clouds. This breathtaking Beaux-Arts space weaves Old World architectural elegance with modern technology,” states the New York Public Library website.
“For more than 100 years, the reading room has supported many internationally renowned writers, journalists, historians, Nobel Laureates, and Pulitzer Prize winners, as well as inventors, activists, and students in gathering information, advancing knowledge, honing their craft, deepening their understanding of the human experience, and advancing knowledge,” boasts the website.
If you were there from March 24 to June 28, New Mexico was there, too.
Off the reading room, a gallery exhibition, “View Points, Latin America in Photographs,” caught my eye. The exhibit contained works by such luminaries as Margaret Bourke-White, Walker Evans and Martín Chambi. I had just written about the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art in Santa Fe and Latin America has drawn me for several trips.
So why should I be surprised when two other wanderers with ties to Taos should be represented with their photos?
One is John Collier Jr., who split his time between Taos and the West Coast, and did anthropological photographic studies in New Mexico, Peru and other places. His son, Robin, started KCEI-FM radio station in Taos just a few months ago after years of struggle. Robin and the whole family lived in Peru when Robin was a toddler and the photos are from Vicos, Peru, circa 1955.
Collier Jr., who died in 1992, was “a member of the renowned documentary photographic project of the Farm Security Administration of the Depression era” and was “best known for promoting the use of photography in anthropology,” according to his New York Times obituary.
“His book ‘Visual Anthropology: Photography as a Research Method’ (1967) is widely regarded as a classic treatment of the subject. A revised edition, prepared by Mr. Collier with his son Malcolm, was published in 1986 by the University of New Mexico Press,” the obituary states. Two images from the book are included in the exhibit.
Collier Jr. drew inspiration from his photographer friend Paul Strand, whose work is also part of the library exhibit. He’s known for his Taos photos, including those of the famous San Francisco de Asis (Ranchos de Taos) Church whose muscular architectural shapes have attracted the eye of numerous artists over the years.
On the train to New York, a station stop piqued my interest. I googled Cos Cob, part of Greenwich, Conn. “Nobody knows what it (Cos Cob) means,” said a 2002 New York Times article.
Turns out that Englishman Ernest Thompson Seton, author and one of the founders of the Boy Scouts of America, who later founded and built his “castle” home at Seton Village outside Santa Fe, had a 100-acre farm and home in Cos Cob. After a fence around his property was vandalized, the story goes, Seton invited boys from a local school, taught them woodcraft and camping, and the seeds for the scouts were planted.
“Ben Hur” sighting
Back in the city, I walked 50 blocks from my hotel to the Knickerbocker Bar & Grill on East 9th Street to meet a high school friend for lunch. As I walked through Times Square, I approached a trio of New York City police officers standing nearby. NYPD Officer Miosotis Familia had been assassinated days earlier (on July 5) in the Bronx as she sat in a command vehicle writing a report.
“Watch your back,” one officer said to another as I approached and one quickly dropped his hand onto his sidearm. “Excuse me, I just wanted to offer my condolences for your fellow officer,” I said. They thanked me and relaxed.
At the Knickerbocker, I ran into novelist Bradford Morrow, whom I had met the previous year. Morrow, who teaches literature at Bard College, grew up in Denver and has spent time in New Mexico. His novel “Trinity Fields” is partially set in Los Alamos. His latest, “The Prague Sonata,” comes out in October.
At a Connecticut antique market, I spied a quintessential New Mexico-related treasure I decided I needed. It’s a framed, illustrated piece of sheet music of a composition called “Ben Hur” dedicated to the book’s author, New Mexico Territorial Governor Lew Wallace.
Even catching the 1962 award-winning movie “Requiem for a Heavyweight” starring Anthony Quinn on the Turner Classic Movies channel during moments of relaxation, New Mexico has a cameo. Punch drunk Quinn’s character is Luis “Mountain” Rivera, who hails from New Mexico. In the opening scene, he gets knocked out by the then Cassius Clay, appearing as himself.
What are the odds that I would stumble on two old movies set in New Mexico in the same week? I happened on the 1943 RKO horror vehicle “The Leopard Man” that makes clear its New Mexico setting early. A black leopard escapes in a small town after a publicity stunt and mauls to death a woman before the human killer in another death is captured after hiding in a black-hooded penitente procession. The movie is sprinkled with Spanish terms and portrays a very posh nightclub for a rural New Mexico town. Although low budget, the movie got decent reviews.
Maybe crossing an ocean to a New World when you were five years old, as I did, destines you to a life of movement. But wherever you go, you can be pretty sure New Mexico is not far behind, or ahead.
Northern NM is never far away, even in the Big Apple