SELECT title FROM cont_articles WHERE id='' LIMIT 1 Santa Fe Reporter

Morning Word: Independent Ethics Commission Proposed Again

Governor hasn’t decided whether to put it on her agenda for the 2016 Legislature

Morning WordWednesday, November 25, 2015 by Peter St. Cyr
Bold Ethics Proposal
Democratic lawmakers, according to Steve Terrell, plan to propose ethics and transparency legislation with the goal of “overhauling the state’s campaign finance and lobbyist reporting system, toughening the forfeiture law for corrupt officials and giving some of the secretary of state’s election duties to an independent ethics commission.” According to Deborah Baker, the legislators' ethics proposal will also target the pensions of corrupt officials.

Food Stamp Fraud
Dan Boyd reports Joseph Martin Padilla, a former analyst with the New Mexico Human Services Department, faces five years in prison after he pled guilty on Tuesday to illegally processing food stamp applications for 25 people, including himself. Padilla will also have to pay $181,398.76 in restitution.

Bishops Support Refugees
Syrian refugees headed to the US have the support of New Mexico's three Catholic bishops, who are encouraging residents to write to the president to ask him to expand the administration’s resettlement program.

Coal Divestiture
Peabody Energy, a publicly traded energy company, is shedding its investment in coal in New Mexico and Colorado.

Vote Halts Town’s Incorporation
An effort to incorporate Santa Teresa, on the border with Sunland Park, has hit a snag. Diana Alba Soular reports, “After two closed-door sessions and rounds of legal debates,” Doña Ana County Board commissioners have voted to halt the process. Proponents have wanted to annex their own boundaries and claim Sunland Park can’t provide the services they need.

Tribal Water Problems
It’s 2015, and there’s still not enough clean water on the Navajo Nation, according to a new report. According to Vice News: 
The problem with contaminated water can be traced back to uranium mining, decades ago. Many wells are contaminated and not safe for consumption, which means many residents must travel miles to get water for their homes. 
Rideshare Regulations Considered
If you plan to connect with an Uber driver to get to the airport, you’ll save the hassle and costs of parking, but some are still questioning if there’s enough oversight of the ridesharing company and how it should be regulated in the future.

Holiday Traffic Safety
New Mexico State Police officers are ramping up patrols ahead of Thanksgiving Day to prevent deadly collisions.

We hope you all have a safe and fun Thanksgiving. We’re taking the next four days off, so we’ll see you back here on Monday.

Wax On and On

Encaustic demonstration is continuation of old medium

PicksWednesday, November 25, 2015 by Cole Rehbein

Angel Wynn took her first encaustics workshop about 10 years ago, but the practice has been around for a bit longer than that. Egyptians experimented with the method of painting with melted beeswax in the fifth century BCE, the Greeks picked it up, and it eventually flourished into the medium of choice for Byzantine icons of Jesus, Mary and the saints before it diminished in popularity in medieval times.

With encaustic art once again on the rise, Wynn creates icons of a different sort. She moved to Santa Fe from Idaho four years ago, looking to continue her career in photography and experiment in encaustics. Given the plethora of photographers in the City Different, she wanted to do something more—something unique.

“I’m pushing myself as an artist,” Wynn says. “I’m making magic.”

For now, she’s transforming old stock photography into a sort of underdrawing for the encaustic wax. One of her favorite motifs is the American bison, which she portrays through thick coatings of pigmented beeswax on top of black-and-white photos. The wax gives a soft, translucent effect to the forms, like the shape of something remembered. For her, it’s an icon of the America she knows, a symbol of humble resiliency against all odds.

As Wynn leads SFR on a tour of the Encaustic Art Institute, a nonprofit that moved from the village of Madrid to a spot on Agua Fría in March, it’s clear that encaustics can take on all forms and styles—contemporary abstracts, collages of objects embedded in the wax and delicately detailed portraits hang alongside each other.

“This is the center of the universe for encaustic art,” Wynn says, gesturing broadly across the gallery. She’s one of the 250 members of the institute, which continues to grow­—doubling, in fact, since the move.

Wynn has offered demonstrations and workshops for three and a half years now to further expose the public to the broad world of this ancient artform, while continuing to paint. “People have a lot of positive interest,” she says. “You want to do more.”

Using Photos with Encaustic Wax
1-3 pm Saturday, Nov. 28. Free.
Encaustic Art Institute,
632 Agua Fría St.

3 Questions

with Craig Moya

3 QuestionsWednesday, November 25, 2015 by Alex De Vore

Beer, schmeer! Or so local cider expert Craig Moya would have us believe. That’s why this week, he opened the New Mexico Hard Cider Taproom in the Luna complex (505 Cerrillos Road). You beer-lovers can just relax, though, because in addition to four different ciders on tap (with the promise of more to come), the new venture, which opens daily at noon, also features 14 beers you probably can’t find anyplace else in town, as well as an assortment of local wines. Moya and his wife have teamed up with the Bang Bite food truck during limited hours, so all you cider freaks can get a great meal while you learn about apple-based booze. (ADV)

Cider seems to be skyrocketing in popularity of late. Why might that be?
I think that cider has such a wide range of things you can do with it. It is a revitalized category, and people want to try it. The local ciders are a far cry from the mass-produced ciders. They’re less sweet, have no artificial flavors or colors, and the apples are all locally sourced.

What are the benefits of cider over, oh say, beer?
Why eat an apple when you can have three per glass? All the ciders are gluten-free and vary in flavor in ways that can rival even wine.

Will this new space also host music or other events?
We will show sporting events and plan to have lots of music. Luckily, we have the option to use the entire 3,000-square-foot patio for events, so we are starting to plan things for when the weather warms up.

Know Your DJs International Edition 2: Back in the Habit

DJ from the UK is sure to slay

Music FeaturesWednesday, November 25, 2015 by Alex De Vore

UK-based house DJ Nick Warren is about the strongest contender for most realistic DJ I’ve ever interviewed. I mean, this dude has international acclaim, a staggering eight releases in the celebrated and ever-expanding compilation album project Global Underground—which has also featured DJ Dave Seaman, who I interviewed awhile back here—and perhaps most importantly he’s, like, super-good looking but still has a sense of humor about the vast world of electronic music and himself. Thank the Lord, then, that he’s coming to Skylight to perform alongside DJs Mayrant and Melanie Moore and that he likes interviews.

I read you’re especially looking forward to playing smaller markets, and you named Santa Fe specifically. Why is that, and do you plan to focus on these smaller towns in the future?
It’s not so much about the size but about the fact there are several places on this tour that I don’t usually get to visit. Everyone has very good things to say about Santa Fe, [and] I am a big fan of New Mexico: the people, food, etc.

How would you describe what you do in one sentence?
I play melodic house and techno with emotion and energy.

You came up in an era when it was necessary to utilize actual, physical equipment. How has the growth of technology affected your job and your creative process?
I did use my laptop for DJing and found it quite a dull experience that lacked energy for me. With the Pioneer CDJs, you can use a USB stick but still mix in a physical way, just as we did on record players, so I find that fun and much more interesting. On the plus side, it’s so much easier to make music on the road or at home on the laptop, which I love to do.

Electronic music can seem confusing, what with endless means of discovery and consumption. How does one make a name for oneself in today’s DJ landscape?
Let’s face it, a chimpanzee could be taught how to DJ (Author’s note: This is meant to be tongue-in-cheek). The skill is in the selection and striving to be original. Always play the music you love and admire. If you follow others or just play music you think will be popular, then you will probably have a very short career. Be true to yourself, and if you are good enough, you will be noticed. Also, producing your own music is a very important part of being a DJ these days.

How would one win over people who are primarily interested in instrument-based music?
There are incredible electronic artists…John Hopkins, Nils Frahm and Four Tet, to name just three. And also incredible, deep and emotional electronic compositions from every corner of the globe. As in all styles of music, you need to delve a little deeper to find the treasures, but it’s well worth the time.

Any advice for fledgling fans who are maybe feeling overwhelmed?
There is a confusing amount of electronic music out there, with a huge selection of genres. My advice is to use the Internet to your advantage. Radio stations such as Proton and Frisky give a good range of styles and genres. Use websites in the same way we would use a record store. Look at artwork and see what grabs your attention and then listen to artists online. is one of my favorite sites to find new sounds.

In a recent Vice piece titled “I Fooled the World into Thinking I Was a Successful EDM DJ for an Art Project,” writer/musician Nadja Brenneisen shed light on how marketing is almost more important than content. She stated that in the beginning of her “career,” she rarely, if ever, played original tracks. Do you think authentic creation matters as much as it once did?
I think it’s silly to underestimate people and their hunger for inventive, forward-thinking music. Of course, you can pretend to be a DJ, as you could pretend to be an actor or writer (Author’s note: He’s on to me!), but Nadja’s experiment was about her and the commercial side of music. EDM is like the fast food of the scene—a Big Mac rather than an organic grass-fed steak. In my music scene, it is very different. If I started playing the style of music that she did, I would soon lose my entire fanbase.

Is there a question you always wish an interviewer would ask?
“Would you like to know every cool place to eat in my city?” would be a great one. Ha ha!

Nick Warren with
Mayrant and Melanie Moore

9 pm Saturday, Nov. 28. $10.
139 W San Francisco St.

Take This Giblet and Shove It

Making the case for dining out on Thanksgiving

Food WritingWednesday, November 25, 2015 by Rob DeWalt

One of my most memorable Thanksgivings was spent with a friend in Seattle, eating turkey on bagels while roaming the empty streets of the University District. We hadn’t made reservations anywhere, and we were broke, to boot. And once, when I was a teenager, my mother and stepfather took my brother and me to a fancy-schmancy hotel-resort in Phoenix for the annual feast.

It was then that I developed a taste for the finer things in dining-out Turkey Day life, although most years, for my family and a handful of friends, it’s traditionally a stay-at-home affair. As the only chef in in the brood, there are, of course, high expectations—but I don’t mind it a bit. There are times, however, when I would rather leave the apron at home, ditch the giblet-fiddling and spend Thanksgiving at a real restaurant. Hell, I’d even do the turkey bagel, if I thought I could get away with it.

"There’s this lingering myth in Santa Fe that Thanksgiving dinners at restaurants here are too expensive."

There’s this lingering myth in Santa Fe that Thanksgiving dinners at restaurants here are too expensive, and I think it stems from the heft of wine dinners offered year-round—many of which can launch your meal well into the triple digits. Sure, there may be some restaurants serving super-expensive dinners on Nov. 26, but when it comes to dining out on Thanksgiving here, don’t believe the myth.

The American Farm Bureau released a new report this month placing the median cost of a traditional at-home Thanksgiving dinner at $50.11. per person. Add even more scratch if you’re into heritage turkey, gluten-free bread, catered desserts and organic produce.

I couldn’t weasel my way out of the at-home holiday this year, but as a service to SFR readers, I scoured the local landscape to find a few restaurants serving Thanksgiving grub at or lower than $50 per person. Tax, gratuity and beverages aren’t included here, but just think of that added expense as a replacement for rotting leftovers, having to sit at the kid’s table (which I do every year by choice) and washing all those dishes.

Posa’s El Merendero
3538 Zafarano Drive, 473-3454 and 1514 Rodeo Road, 820-7672

OK, so it’s not a full Thanksgiving meal, but each year around this time, Posa’s rolls out one of its many secret weapons: the turkey tamale. Stuffed with turkey, calabacitas, chile and cheese, these little envelopes of seasonal love may make you swear off a big holiday meal for life…or at least a year. You can’t precisely duplicate my bagel experience in the Emerald City here, because the tamales are only sold by the dozen ($22.69) and half-dozen ($14.02). Is it worth it? You bet your sad-looking, burnt pumpkin pie it is.

Camel Rock Casino
17486A Hwy. 84/285, 984-8414

I know, I know. You’re thinking, Who wants to eat a Thanksgiving feast at a casino? Well, for starters: gamblers, travelers, people on a tight budget, state and Pueblo cops on break and my people-watching-addict lazy ass. Promising all the fixings, the price clocks in at $9.95 per person. And no, it’s not a buffet. The meal will be served in the Pueblo Artist Café as a sit-down affair from 11 am to 7 pm.

Osteria d’Assisi
58 S Federal Place, 986-5858

Leave it to owner Lino Pertusini and his chefs to go the Italian route this year, from vegetable antipasti to Piedmont-style turkey, roasted lamb shank, roasted NY strip with mushrooms, breaded eggplant, soup or salad and a selection of desserts served with vanilla gelato and whipped cream. It’s a steal at $48 per person.

Estevan Restauranté
125 Washington Ave., 930-5363

The newest venture by longtime local culinary legend and former Franciscan monk, chef Estevan Garcia’s eponymous restaurant is situated in the upper floor of Hotel Chimayó de Santa Fe. Free-range organic turkey, rib eye steak with Santa Fe Farmers Market butternut squash soup and red chile demi-glace, atole with New Mexico blue cornmeal, tres leches cake with strawberry-cream icing…damn, check the website for the full prix-fixe menu that costs an even $50.


229 Galisteo St., 989-1919

L’Olivier just oozes that welcoming vibe, which you will hear about more soon, and for Thanksgiving, they’ve cooked up something special. You can get the traditional turkey plate with stuffing, gravy, cranberry relish, mashed potatoes, green beans and acorn squash ($27), or hit the “Turduckey” ($30), a generous slice of turkey stuffed with duck, served with duck meat on the side and the same sides mentioned above.

Literary Libations

Kiss My GlassWednesday, November 25, 2015 by Natalie Bovis

“I like to drink martinis, two at the very most. Three, I’m under the table. Four, I’m under the host!”—Dorothy Parker

Writers and booze are longtime bedfellows. Whether hard drinking is a byproduct of the creative lifestyle or a little liquor lubricates the muses’ journey from ether to pen, scribes and their sips are, in themselves, the stuff of lore. Favorite drinks of famous authors is my topic this week, as a toast to the local writers who submitted entries for the 2015 SFR Writing Contest.

Ernest Hemingway
“I drink to make other people more interesting.”

Hard-drinking Hemingway was known for his travels and exploits of both a noble and vile nature. Among his favorite haunts was El Floridita, a bar in Havana, Cuba, where several versions of this drink were created during the 1930s:

Hemingway Daiquiri

  • 2 ounces light rum
  • ¾ ounce lime juice
  • ½ ounce grapefruit juice
  • ½ ounce simple syrup
  • ½ ounce maraschino liqueur
  • Garnish: lime wheel
  • Shake, with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass.

Tennessee Williams
“Life is as much a merry tavern as a sad hotel.”

Invented in the early 1900s, in New Orleans, one of Williams’ favorite cities, this drink is one of the most delicious and indulgent, and considered by some as the perfect “morning after” drink:

Ramos Gin Fizz

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1 ounce heavy cream
  • ½ ounce lemon juice
  • ½ ounce lime juice
  • 1 ounce simple syrup
  • 6 drops orange flower water
  • 1 egg white
  • splash club soda
  • Garnish: orange slice

Vigorously shake all ingredients, except club soda, for at least a full minute. Add ice, and shake vigorously again, for about two minutes. Strain into a highball or Collins glass. Add splash of club soda. Garnish with orange slice.

Edna St. Vincent Millay
“Who cares what tripped a fallen woman?”

One of the free-spirited writers of early 1900s, Millay is known for being the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, as well as for her bawdy behavior. She spent a lot of time in Paris, and this drink, a riff on a sidecar, suits her well:

Between the Sheets

  • ¾ ounce brandy
  • ¾ ounce light rum
  • 1 ounce Cointreau
  • ¾ ounce lemon juice
  • Garnish: lemon twist

Shake, with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass.

John Steinbeck
“Only lust and gluttony are worth a darn.”

Famous for his books Tortilla Flat, Of Mice and Men, and, of course, The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck’s career as a screenwriter and gritty humanist, with a glitzy Hollywood lifestyle, are summed up quite nicely in this drink, using a form of rough apple brandy as a base:

Jack Rose

  • 2 ounces applejack
  • ¾ ounce lemon juice
  • ½ ounce simple syrup
  • ¼ ounce grenadine

Shake, with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass.

Hunter S Thompson
“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”

There’s little doubt as to Thompson’s zest for spinning bad decisions into fodder for public entertainment. Rumor has it that his one attempt at healthfulness required eating a lot of grapefruit, and he was known to always have a few with him. So what if a little vodka fell into the juice?


  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 5 ounces grapefruit juice
  • Pour into a tall, ice-filled glass. Stir gently. Drink briskly.

Want more? I used a fab little book called Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide to Great American Writers as reference.


The true story of a gifted writer who was kind of a huge jerk

MehWednesday, November 25, 2015 by Alex De Vore

About halfway through Trumbo, viewers encounter a scene wherein the titular hero, the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, played to tedious and almost Seuss-ian heights by the usually electric Bryan Cranston, stands outside a courtroom alongside his fellow screenwriter/frenemy Arlen Hird, a bumbling and out-of-his-depth Louis CK. They are awaiting a verdict after a protracted series of court dates and hearings for their Communism-Lite ideals, and it’s in this moment that Hird unceremoniously announces he has been diagnosed with lung cancer. Sadly, what is surely supposed to be a moving exchange that finds Trumbo empathizing and sympathizing with his fellow man and in turn solidifies his humanity, the moment falls so painfully flat it only serves to make one thing perfectly clear—there’s no gravity to the seemingly terrible things happening to these people.

Everything occurs too fast, and that’s a shame, because the promise of the harsh yet exciting facts surrounding the mostly true story of Trumbo, the scribe of such timeless films as Roman Holiday and Spartacus, as told by the same Hollywood that once turned its back on him, suffers from a bad case of too much information-itis. The results are a stilted two hours-plus of confusingly accelerated timelines, unlikable personalities and disappointing performances.

Although it’s true that Trumbo was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee, served time in prison and ultimately spearheaded a sort of ghostwriting program that found work for his fellow commie writers under assumed names, the ultimate issue with the film version of his life is that it mostly seems like he was an insufferable prig rather than heroic crusader for political freedoms.

“You talk like a radical but you live like a rich guy,” Louis CK tells him in an early scene, as they debate whether or not to stand up to Congress for their beliefs. Trumbo doesn’t do a thing to dispel this notion, and we as an audience never fully recover from the “Seriously, dude!” reaction enough to start caring about him.

What follows is a mess of super-cute nods to the golden age of film and tired tropes about true friendship, the importance of family and risking everything for what one believes is right. All the while, the story stays laser-focused on Trumbo himself. Not only does this mean we are given lackluster performances from Diane Lane as Trumbo’s wife Cleo and Boardwalk Empire alum Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G Robinson (though he does look exactly like the guy), it also means that actors like the always-brilliant John Goodman or the hugely underrated Stephen Root are criminally under-used and fade into the background, somewhere between Trumbo’s penchant for making every goddamn thing he says a sonnet-caliber speech and his obsession with rightness, even to the detriment of the lives of everyone he apparently loves.

Oh, but it isn’t all bad. Helen Mirren provides a delightfully asshole-ish take on gossip columnist/weird hat enthusiast Hedda Hopper, even if her motives amount to little more than hating Communists simply because she has family in the military, and the era of alarmist politics that found regular Joes behind bars just because their personal politics skewed outside the norm is a fascinating chapter in American history. That said, Trumbo never truly decides whether its hero is inherently good, and by extension, neither do we. Is this a tale about being true to oneself no matter the odds, or is it the story of a selfish bastard who seemed to put just about everything in his life ahead of his family? It’s way more the second thing.

Directed by Jay Roach With Cranston,
CK, Lane and Goodman
Violet Crown Cinema
124 min.

Are You Ready

'Creed' is a knockout movie with a rocky premise

YayWednesday, November 25, 2015 by Alex Falcone

Rocky is almost entirely a good movie. Most of the sequels are mostly good, while some of them are almost not bad. Creed—the seventh movie in the Rocky franchise—is more like the original Rocky than its sequels because it’s mostly good, but also because it’s almost entirely the same movie as Rocky.

Creed centers on Adonis Johnson Creed, the son of Rocky’s enemy-turned-friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), who died in the ring in Rocky IV. That was the one where Rocky has a pet robot and defeats communism by flipping over tractor tires. Adonis was born of an affair that Apollo had and kept secret. He ends up a Faceless Man bouncing between foster homes and juvie, where he fights a lot because this movie posits that boxing is genetic.

It starts to feel a lot like Rocky when the reigning champ’s match gets scrapped at the last moment and he goes looking for a young challenger In America who he can easily beat. He picks Adonis Creed, who asks a grizzled Rocky Balboa, “Can You Take Me Higher?” Rocky reluctantly agrees to train Creed from Human Clay into the chiseled marble of a real fighter. Creed falls in love with a girl during training, runs through the streets of Philadelphia, asks “Who’s Got My Back?” and then puts up a Good Fight against the champ. As his girl runs to the ring With Arms Wide Open, we’ve come Full Circle in this uplifting story about the champion who lives Inside Us All.

Normally it would annoy me to see a movie that is such a blatant copy, but in this case, Creed feels more like an apology for the mediocre Rocky movies we’ve endured. It’s more like a series reboot than a sequel, featuring a stronger young actor in Michael B Jordan (the kid in The Wire, who really should’ve stayed at his grandma’s house). And it does all this while still paying respect to its predecessors, even the bad ones. Sylvester Stallone’s aging Rocky holds his own, returning the character to his charming, steak-faced mumblecore roots that went missing for a couple of decades.

Here’s the real problem, though: The world is different now. Boxing’s popularity has continued to decline, ranking behind hockey in America. How can a sport be less popular than Canadian ice polo? And the decline seems justified. It’s a sport from a different era, with a referee in a bow tie, a blood bucket and a guy whose entire job is to cut open the swollen eyes of competitors.

And yet, this is the second boxing blockbuster of the year, after Southpaw. Both wrapped in HBO Boxing promotion, they’re long advertisements for a sport that’s at least gross and at most too immoral to support. When Creed’s trainers help him subvert required safety measures, it’s designed to show his dedication, but it mainly shows wilful disregard for the lives of participants. Then, the classic outdated sportscasting makes a joke of Creed’s concussion symptoms: “He doesn’t even know which corner to go to! Ha-ha.” Ha-ha, brain damage!

Maybe in the ’70s, when Rocky first came out, a boxing movie ignoring chronic traumatic encephalopathy was fine. But we know too much now. Creed succeeds in restoring the former glory of a sport with a blood bucket, but maybe it shouldn’t have.

Violet Crown, Regal,
132 min.

Animated Alternate Reality

Take the kids to see 'The Good Dinosaur' for goodness sake

OkWednesday, November 25, 2015 by Brianna Stallings

Disney/Pixar’s latest animated flick is also the first feature-length animated film from director Peter Sohn, best known as the model for chubby scout Russell in Up. Its premise, addressed in the first 30 seconds, presents an alternate reality where, 65 million years ago, the asteroid that took out the dinosaurs instead missed Earth entirely. In this world, dinosaurs exist as frontiersmen in the unhumanized landscape of the western United States —which may explain why all the characters speak with a countrified twang.

Our hero, a young Apatosaurus named Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), lives in the valley below Clawtooth Mountain. He does his best to help out on the family farm with Momma (Frances McDormand), Poppa (Jeffrey Wright), and his brother and sister. Although eager, Arlo is graceless and easily spooked, running in terror from chickens and breaking out in a cold sweat when a firefly lands on his snout. During a walk along the river to track what’s eating all of their corn, Poppa is swept away to his death.

Arlo’s quest for the critter lands him in danger and puts him on course for a classic hero’s journey. As he navigates a treacherous world on his way back home, Arlo befriends a doglike cave boy named Spot (Jack Bright) and encounters loads of adventure. In this world, Pterodactyls are crazed scavengers, while T. Rexes are cowboys herding buffalo. Voice talents include AJ Buckley (Justified), Anna Paquin (True Blood), and the legendarily mustachioed Sam Elliott.

Platitudes about fear, work, loss and independence abound; there are moments that hearken back weakly to other Disney and/or Pixar fare (think The Lion King and Finding Nemo). Still, the soundtrack is chock full of warm, folksy music, and it’s surprisingly not at all jarring to see these cartoonish characters set against a photorealistic landscape, based on images made with USGS data. Gorgeous and heartwarming, if not exactly new.

The Good Dinosaur opens with Sanjay’s Super Team, a short about differences between father and son in a vibrant exploration of faith, imagination and family. 

Violet Crown, Regal,
100 min.

Hands in the Clouds

Carving away a day in the life of Isabro Ortega

Local NewsWednesday, November 25, 2015 by Thomas Ragan

Work, he said, was a first-rate medicine for any illness.”

It’s what a guard tells a prisoner in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s novella, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich—about a Russian wrongly sentenced to a decade of forced labor during the Stalin regime.

In one scene, guards order a unit of prisoners to build a brick wall on the second floor of the prison’s power plant, in the dead of winter, and the main character, Ivan Denisovich, becomes so obsessed with the job that he loses track of time in his quest for perfection.

Isabro Ventura Ortega, a longtime carpenter and woodcarver in Truchas, isn’t working in subzero temps, and he’s certainly no prisoner. But as a chilly Thanksgiving dawns in Northern New Mexico, there’s no question that he’s lost track of time in his quest for perfection and great detail.

Only Ortega’s obsession is with wood, not bricks, and for more than three decades, he’s been working on the house he built from the ground up, starting in June 1984. He’s still hard at it, with no end in sight to most of the unfinished work on the inside, where he’s turned the entire first floor into a workshop for his customers and his artwork.

And it all happens here, at the Casa de las Nubes, or House of the Clouds, off to the right just as you enter town. You can’t miss the mansion, which hangs over the valley.

“I built this house when I was drunk, and to tell you the truth, I don’t think I could’ve built it if I wasn’t drunk,” says the 63-year-old Ortega, who adds that he hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol since Jan. 4, 2007, when he buried his best friend, Rudy Rael.

With sobriety, he takes greater pride in his woodwork, which has become a part of the Truchas landscape. That window frame down the block is his, with its hundreds of tiny notches and zigzags. That doorway there, with the Kokopelli figure, that’s his too.

Even the crosses in the local cemetery have his name on them.

“It’s the least I can do when people are dying, and I don’t charge a penny,” says Ortega, who grew up poor in Truchas, the second-youngest of nine brothers and sisters.

His mother had always wanted him to be a priest, says Ortega. “But I’d always wanted to be a rich and famous woodcarver. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but maybe. You always gotta hold out hope.”

Still, no better place to ply such a trade than Truchas, a region rife with woodcarvers. Their backyard is a national forest of aspen and pine and firs. Nobody ever taught Ortega. He figured it out on his own, borrowing his father’s pocketknife one day, plucking a piece of cedar from the family’s wood-burning stash, then making a tiny heart, which he sold to a girl in his fifth grade class for a quarter on Valentine’s Day.

Since then, he’s become a one-man factory, making the 18-mile drive to Peñasco to buy the lumber from the Wagon Wheel Mill, stopping off at Victor’s Drive-Inn for breakfast afterward, before heading back home with a truckful of lumber waiting to be reborn.

He figures out what he wants to build first. A wooden case to hold his old-school radio? A chest for the firewood? A patron saint to stick in one of the nichos? When the light goes off in his head, he runs the wood through the planer, which turns it from raw to smooth. Then he takes a sandbelt to it and then, bowing before the altar of his 10-inch electrical saw, whittles it down to size.

And that’s when the tedium comes in. He pulls out his trusty pocketknife and cuts notches into the grain, occasionally saying prayers, as though each hole were a bead on a rosary. Design before its time is essential. The ceiling in his upstairs bathroom, for example, was carved long before it was ever installed, one skinny plank at a time in what has become an overhead jigsaw puzzle.

Wayward visitors, and there have been many, have told him his work resembles that of the Moors, but Ortega laughs, saying, “This is ‘Truchas style.’ My style. I’ve never been to Spain, I’ve never been to Rome, never been to France, I’ve never been to Europe.”

But he has been to Santa Cruz High School, where he refined his trade and graduated in 1971. He tried his hand at stenography after graduation but didn’t like “the whole suit-and-tie thing,” and bailed after a year. He ended up building cabins in the Taos Ski Valley, then before long hightailed it back to his hometown on the High Road.

He’s a carving machine. He doesn’t just carve so that people can see. He carves in places where no one can see—inside the kitchen pantry, in the dark of a chicken coop out back, underneath the cages where you need to crane your neck and use a flashlight.

He’s even left his artistic imprints on the toilet paper dispensers in his bathrooms.

There are no shortcuts to his work; the mechanics are flawless, born from constant repetition, and he says he’s never, ever cut himself. Ortega hopes to carve until the day he dies, he says, because it offers him sanity in this “dog-eat-dog world.”

He plans on building his own coffin for when the time comes, but if the Grim Reaper should appear out of nowhere in the middle of the wood-burning night, Ortega says he’s ready. He says he wants his ashes spread around the foundation of the house.

“Just open the morada and pray me a rosary,” he says, referring to the private chapel across the street, built by the penitentes centuries ago. “I don’t need much.”

But until that time, and hopefully way later than sooner, if you’d like a tour, Ortega would love to give you one (call 689-2581). A half-hour session costs $15, but you get to walk away with one of his wooden crosses.

Morning Word: Independent Ethics Commission Proposed Again

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