I've done a lot of complaining about Santa Fe in nearly 10 years of writing a weekly column in the Santa Fe Reporter. A lot of that has been complaining about complainers—lamenting the pervasive whining that too often drowns out meaningful civic dialogue or proactive implementation of steps to improve the quality of life around here. There's always someone to add another layer, complaining about complaining about complaining, a sort of Russian nesting doll of crybabyism that is sometimes fruitful, but often just white noise.
But the truth is, I love Santa Fe. Here’s why:
Access: Having a casual chat with the mayor can be a real ordeal in many cities. In Santa Fe, every mayor has his or her quirks and personal level of availability, but grabbing a few minutes is pretty easy, no matter who you are or what you do. I’ve been in towns of 5,000 people where it’s harder to talk to an elected official. Accessibility holds pretty much across the board—city councilors, legislative representatives, department and division heads—and also is the case for most of our institutions. Want to chat up the director of a major museum in New York or Los Angeles? Good luck. Want a moment with the director of a state museum in Santa Fe or the director of SITE Santa Fe? Not likely to be a problem. Just remember to occasionally thank these folks for what they do, rather than always complaining about what they don’t do.
Art and Culture: One of the foremost whiny refrains you’ll hear in Santa Fe is that there is not enough to do. I’d challenge anyone to actually prove otherwise. I’ve never felt that way. Give a glance to the event listings in SFR’s culture pages and see if you can come close to taking advantage of just 10 percent of the offerings in a week. Lectures, exhibitions, dance, theater, live music, readings, activism—we’ve got it all, from high-brow to low-brow, from above board to underground. True, larger cities—especially the coastal culture capitals—may technically have more going on, but that just translates to less that any given person can actually take advantage of.
Food: Any Santa Fean too long away from home becomes desperate for a chile fix. Our distinctive New Mexico cuisine is a source of both traditional comfort food and wild culinary exploration. Santa Fe’s status as a destination, and the curiosity and adventuresome nature of so many of its denizens, also make it a reliable chow town for meals ranging from filthy tacos to multi-course chef’s tasting menus. It is fun to travel to cities with the wider breadth of cuisine provided by tremendous ethnic diversity but, while traveling is fun, returning also is always comforting.
Youth Culture: Kids in Santa Fe receive all kinds of short shrift, from being labeled as undereducated dropouts, reckless partyers and gang members to feeling victimized by police, the judicial system and a civic society dedicated to the arcane and incomprehensible needs and machinations of “adults.” The truth is, Santa Fe’s youths are engaged in endeavors that span from culture to activism, and we have more than our fair share of auxiliary educational programs and institutions dedicated to empowering kids. We spend a lot of time fretting about youth attrition, when all we really need to do is open our eyes and notice them.
Self-Invention: Santa Fe can be a tough place to find a job with a pay scale that matches the high cost of living. But the people who really thrive here are the ones who invent a role for themselves, who create the life they want to live. The city is full of entrepreneurs, inventive businesses, freelancers,nonprofit workers and genuinely independent spirits who don’t need a road map to find their way.
Neighborhood Values: As onerous and overprotective as some neighborhood associations can be, Santa Fe is still a city where neighbors talk over fences, kids play basketball in the street, and you can borrow a cup of sugar or ask someone to look out for the UPS truck while you run to the store. This is a city built on relationships, and that translates to genuine community.
Small Details: Some of Santa Fe’s best qualities are the bits that go unnoticed. The missing office buildings that would block the wide skies in any other city. The lack of invasive advertising billboards that would lead to a homogenized urban aesthetic. The ban on the blinking, neon, overlit signage that shocks the streets of other cities and fades the stars (although, yes, a small complaint could be lodged that enforcement in this area appears to have grown lax). As snide as we can be about the City Different moniker—Santa Fe really is different.
Thank you, Santa Fe.
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