Denver is so beautiful from the air it crushed my heart. I stayed glued to the window for as long as I could manage, resenting my own breathing as the cold of the glass fogged from my breath. So far in the sky, the small plane that carried me would barely be visible from the ground, yet I could see down into streets, houses, everything. Bridges seemed like running rills of glowing LED jewels, even though the entire thing looked organic, as if the city were a vast glowing creature hidden within the darkness of a velvet cave.
Santa Fe is odd in that it feels perhaps smaller than it already is because all of the buildings are low, styled identically, and everything is the same three shades of tan. The ground and the architecture and all but the sky all seem the same tones, all taupe and dust and matte adobe, as if the city is an attempt to camouflage human habitation from some great predator. There is barely any colour in public, excepting a few painted window sills on what are obviously art galleries or the homes of eccentrics. (I am told that traditional adobe houses have doors and trim painted “virgin mary blue”, the actual name of the turquoise, in order to ward off witches, but I have yet to see any). I think of drones and how lost they might be in this place, unable to source a target. I imagine flying over in daylight and only seeing half of the buildings. It makes for few landmarks, and locals navigate by the shape of mountain ranges and give directions like, “turn left at the #restaurant-name”, instead of “at the green house”. I can sense the reasons for this might be deep and fascinating and potentially religious, but I am not certain if the questions that lead to that understanding are the sort that might occur to me to ask or try to answer.
(I can already tell I would not want to live here, though I like that the mountains are far enough away to allow for the illusion of a horizon).
The place I am staying is a double-wide mobile home, decorated inside like a cross between an unconventional shah’s palace and a set from Twin Peaks. I imagine anyone from this place who is not familiar with my godmother, Silva, would be actually stunned upon entering the home. I am told it is a mobile home because it is a structure with a Vehicle Identification Number, as a car might have, but there is no way to tell from the inside. The interior matches nothing of the surrounding culture or landscape. There are small, startling still life scenes scattered about, (a silver vase of metal roses alone on a blue chest of drawers, isolated and knife sharp in front of a wall painted the same blue paint; a menorah perched on a tiny shelf mounted close to the vaulted ceiling, perfectly framed against a blood red plate of small, shimmering tiles and haloed with five antique ornaments detailing five stories that melt Buddhism and Taoism together), and all the walls are richly ornamented with wall hangings of massive sequined tigers or hand-painted wooden panels that look like they might have been stolen from either a very expensive Asian restaurant or a First Nations history museum. The whole kit and ensemble is lush and gorgeous and profoundly unlikely, yet presents together in perpetually interesting ways. Silva has always nested in opulent surroundings, so it feels immediately familiar.
Outside the land is bleak. Across the frozen mud lane is a high security penitentiary and base for the National Guard. Nearby are other small houses, but not a lot, and many of them have cement brick shacks or broken down cars in what passes for their yards. Trees are scarce, all of the plants are dead, and the only breaks in the lines of the land are rocks.
The snow, however, is beautiful. We are so high that the snow come down shining like flakes of mica, each one separated from the others by a foot or more. It is as if a great hand were shaking glitter down from the clouds to slowly and deliberately hide the scarred ground with a blanket of soothing white.