SANTA FE, N.M. — Think you know the City Different? After reading “100 Things to Do in Santa Fe Before You Die,” you may have to think again.
Local author Jeff Berg, who has been promoting his guide at bookstores and libraries in the area, said he has “stumped the audience” at every presentation with one of his “bucket list” recommendations.
Berg said he has yet to meet a Santa Fean – native or transplant – who knows about Astronomy Adventures. Operated by Peter Lipscomb, Astronomy Adventures offers one- or two-hour views of New Mexico’s night sky. Lipscomb uses a large Newtonian reflector telescope located 15 miles south of Santa Fe on Hwy. 14 that allows visitors to see a lot of detail of the moon, planets and constellations, depending on weather and cloud cover.
This is Berg’s third book about New Mexico, where he lived from 1995-96 and to where he returned in 2012. In it, he celebrates the weird and the wacky in Santa Fe, and takes readers off the beaten path.
However, he seems to go out of his way to ignore the unique culture that has emerged over more than five centuries from the cross-pollination and frequent clashes between Spanish traditions and Native customs. Conspicuously absent from “100 Things to Do in Santa Fe” are the Fiestas de Santa Fe, Las Posadas and the Baile de Cascarones, not to mention the dances held at local pueblos to celebrate New Year’s Day and patron saints.
Perhaps there was a conscious decision on the part of the author to distance himself from religion, but in doing so he has missed splendid pageantry that has helped define Santa Fe and that is also free to watch. Who can forget the sight of the devil on top of the Catron Building taunting the young couple dressed as Joseph and Mary as they search for a room downtown during Las Posadas?
In his defense, Berg said in an email that his publisher dropped Las Posadas from the book. He said he steered clear of Fiestas because of the controversy surrounding the depiction of the reconquista in the now-defunct Entrada.
Fair enough, but Fiestas consists of many events, and everyone should see the Pet Parade at least once, especially in an animal-crazy town like Santa Fe.
The author notes that his bucket list includes the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, El Museo Cultural and San Miguel Church, to name just a few.
Berg’s previous books were a history of the state’s movie theaters and an exploration of movies made in the state between the silent film era and 2005. His showbiz mojo is apparent in “100 Things to Do.”
Among his movie-oriented picks are trips to both Santa Fe film festivals, visits to the Eaves Movie Ranch and Bonanza Creek Ranch, both filming sites for countless Westerns, as well as excursions to Garson Studios and Santa Fe Studios, which have enjoyed booming business due to the state’s film tax credits.
It could be argued that the author could have gone a step further by encouraging readers to play an extra – known in the industry as “background” or “BG” – by checking out the Facebook page New Mexico Actors and Extras, or the pages run by such casting agencies as Sande Alessi, Lorrie Latham or White Turtle. But, hey, not everybody was born to be in pictures.
Berg reveals hidden gems, such as the Ralph T. Coe Center, a nonprofit private museum focused on indigenous people. The museum, at 1590 B Pacheco St., offers free tours by appointment or on the first Friday of each month.
Also welcome are the itineraries organized by season and by interests, such as ”filmophiles,” “the adventurous” and “historians.”
Where Berg’s book really excels is identifying restaurants with superb vegetarian and vegan food. A resident of Eldorado and a vegetarian himself, Berg makes no bones about his favorite restaurant in the area: “My choice for the best of the best? Harry’s Roadhouse. I’m a vegetarian leaning vegan and it covers the gamut. It has a full bar, the best patio in the area and a great list of daily specials,” he writes.
Berg sings the praises of the butternut squash casserole at Cowgirl, the papa rellena (a “feather-light mix of mashed potatoes, olives, onions, raisins, mushrooms and spices”) at Sabor Peruano in the DeVargas Center and the loroco omelet at La Plancha in Eldorado, which includes the flowers of the loroco plant, spinach, scallions, mushrooms, tomatoes and cheese.
When it comes to Southwestern food, Berg names Mucho Gusto on Paseo de Peralta as his favorite eatery. He urges readers to skip all those “beaneries that cater to tourists and look like haciendas.” In one fell swoop, he has dismissed the usual Santa Fe suspects, including Plaza Cafe and its cousin Plaza Cafe Southside, not to mention The Shed, Tomasita’s, Maria’s, Atrisco Cafe, Coyote Cafe, Blue Corn Cafe, El Parasol, Cafe Pascual’s and Horseman’s Haven. Surely one of these chile-laden restaurants deserves a spot on Berg’s bucket list.
In terms of fine-dining establishments, Berg includes Geronimo, while snubbing Canyon Road neighbors The Compound and El Farol, as well as Santacafé, a Santa Fe stalwart on Washington Avenue that recently got a new owner and a new menu, and perennial James Beard Foundation award finalist Restaurant Martín.
Like any good author, Berg pays tribute to the city’s bookstores, notably Collected Works. But he skips the intellectual scene in town, including lectures and conferences hosted by the School for Advanced Research, the Santa Fe Institute and Southwest Seminars. Surely, taking in a geeky lecture by an archeologist on the Chaco Canyon is something to do in Santa Fe before you die.
Berg deserves a tip of the hat for steering readers to the New Mexico State Capitol, where there is an enviable collection of art that is open to the public for free. At the Roundhouse, outsiders can rub shoulders with politicos and lobbyists during the legislative session and observe the process Eric Redman once called “The Dance of Legislation” in his landmark book about national politics.
The dance Berg gives short shrift to is flamenco. The Spanish import is thriving in Santa Fe, thanks to the talents of native New Mexican Maria Benitez, who founded and directs Teatro Flamenco with her husband Cecilio, and promising newcomers, such as La Emi, who recently finished a residency at the Lodge, to name just two.
In any event, you’ll find plenty of offbeat suggestions for Santa Fe excursions, including the Harrell House Bug Museum, the Museum of Encaustic Art (a private museum on Agua Fria Street that specializes in photography, paintings and sculpture using heated wax) and the Video Library, which still rents VHS tapes in an era when most people have long moved to digital streaming on their laptops or TVs.
But while the burning of Zozobra and the July 4 feast known as “Pancakes on the Plaza” are unique Santa Fe traditions that have more than earned a place on Berg’s bucket list, one could argue so does the Holy Week pilgrimage to the Santuario in Chimayó and the Hanukkah celebration on the Plaza. Santa Fe’s vibrant Jewish community shares a genetic inheritance with descendants of Spanish Inquisition victims who ended up in northern New Mexico and converted to Catholicism. The City Different’s multiculturalism runs deep.
Where Berg’s understanding of Santa Fe is particularly evident is in the dedication of his book to all those who work in animal shelters and his bucket list entry for adopting a pet at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter, where the author is an on-call adoptions counselor. There are few places on the planet where humans love their pets as much as they do in the city whose patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi, is also the protector of animals.