May 10, 2011
It has long been observed that we can travel just about anywhere in America and imagine that we are anywhere else. I remember the first time I went to a meeting in Dallas near a large shopping center not far from the airport. I might well have stayed in Northern Virginia, which apart from Alexandria and parts of Arlington always seemed to me to be one big suburban sprawl. Not terrible. Just not terribly distinctive. Those who work to conserve, preserve and restore historic buildings have my vote as do those who, like the Midtown Alliance in Atlanta, seek to develop livable areas of genuine character.
I found myself thinking about distinctive places to live during a recent visit to New Mexico. I stayed just outside Santa Fe at a place that was slightly run down in some respects called Bishop’s Lodge. (See here for a photograph of the chapel.)The Roman Catholic diocese of new Mexico was established officially in 1853 with Jean Baptiste Lamy as its bishop. Later he bought a plot of land outside Santa Fe where he had began building St. Francis’ Cathedral and built a small retreat chapel and dwelling. Those are still there in the midst of the severe, almost desert-like and inhospitable landscape.
I was able to drive to Bandelier national Monument, a park around the ancient ruins of people who lived in small communities and hillside dwellings that included caves and were often three stories high. The ruins have been preserved there and in one or two cases, restored. Apparently when Francisco Vasques de Coronado led an expedition from Mexico, all he found were these fortified Indian villages which he called ‘pueblos’ or town. These towns then gave their name to the Pueblo people who still live in various pueblos in the area and who honor the spirits of their ancestors who dwell in Bandelier and elsewhere.
It was really good to be ‘away’, dislocated, (with poor cell phone reception from any carrier). There is something about being in a place that is clearly ‘different’ from whatever is our norm that helps allow new perspective. Such a move need not be geographic, although that helps me. It could just as easily be a genuine place of retreat as it must have been for Bishop Lamy, a place with different rhythms of life from whatever is our norm and so a place in which we can begin to see ourselves and our world in anew way, remembering what is of true and ultimate importance.