Santa Fe: Road Trip 2011

The older I get, the more I like places I have been — and I return, year after year.  I love Santa Fe:

The places I stay at get nicer and nicer, too . . . .  as in, do I really need a Wolf range in my rental?  And Asko appliances?  And radiant floor heating?  Well, probably not — but it’s Santa Fe, and I like my comfort.  This trip I decided to stay on East Palace Avenue, pretending to myself that I could afford the neighborhood:

The old Palace Grocery, currently on the market for $900,000, in case anyone needed space for an art gallery (what else?), a restaurant, a coffee shop.  I suppose the possibilities could be endless.  Me?  I would love to live in it.

From my favorite stonemason and ceramic artist — Joshua Kalkstein and Stacy Guinan of Clay + Stone, on Canyon Road.

And on to Trinidad for a quick stop at the Safeway — and across the parking lot?  A church located in a quonset hut, of course.

South of Pueblo, a wind turbine . . . .

. . . . and the Evraz Rocky Mountain Steel “mini-mill,” owned by a Russian steel corporation.  The short story: Colorado Coal and Iron Company, a Bessemer steel plant, joined with Colorado Fuel Company to form Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I), the infamous company responsible for the Ludlow Massacre.  Part of the old plant site is now owned by the Bessemer Historical Society and houses the Steelworks Museum of Industry and Culture as well as the CF&I archives.

In Pueblo, we stayed at the Edgar Olin House Bed and Breakfast, where a wardrobe is not always what it appears to be :


Red Chair Reads: The Charing Cross Mystery

Yesterday, DH informed me that Villiers Street was named after George Villiers, the 1st Duke of Buckingham.  He has been reading The Three Musketeers — quite surprisingly enough, for the first time — and every now and then would make some remark about the stupidity and ineptitude of various characters.  It would seem the only person having any fun at all in the book is Cardinal Richelieu — and maybe Milady.  Anyway, I had been reading J. S. Fletcher’s The Charing Cross Mystery (1923), and while the mystery was reasonably interesting, I was inordinately pleased that I knew some of the streets and landmarks mentioned in passing.  So …  a young barrister of independent means is going home late one night when two other men enter his train compartment.  He can’t help but overhear bits and pieces of conversation, and is intrigued.  Then, as the train pulls into Charing Cross, one of his fellow passengers drops dead.  The other man runs out of the station saying he would get a doctor, and is last seen heading for Villiers Street …  And that is how we tied a mystery novel written in the 1920s to The Three Musketeers. 

J. S. Fletcher was a lawyer, and also a prolific writer.  The Charing Cross Mystery was actually quite entertaining and generally well-written, both reasons enough for light reading.  But it’s like vintage fur: if a coat has a fur collar, can I justify buying it, despite the fur collar, because the coat is 70 years old?  Thus far, I have not been able to talk myself into ignoring the fur — and my qualms about J. S. Fletcher (and many other writers) has to do with his anti-Semitic sentiments.  In this particular work, the racial epithets are not just in passing — I can usually dismiss the occasional comments as “product of the era,” and after all, even my beloved Henry James indulged in those — but when one of the central characters is referred to repeatedly as “the creature” with all the imagined stereotypical attributes of “that race” . . . .  well, I get squeamish.  Or is it just the all-pervasive culture of political correctness?

Opie, the P. C. Pig

Red Chair Reads: Seven Keys to Baldpate

When the Teenager was six or so, we took her on a hike on one of the trails near Lily Lake.  It was a level ramble, with just one short but somewhat steep climb at the end, and then a short walk to the Baldpate Inn.  We had never been to this mountain lodge before, and have not been back: the brunch buffet was much praised in the area, but I was underwhelmed (I hate having to look for the fruit in fruit pies), and though I love a historic hotel, I am past the age of being willing to share bathroom facilities with strangers.  Chief among the Baldpate Inn’s claims to fame is its 20,000 key collection, but back then I did not know the history of the inn or the genesis of the key collection.  Now that I know, I wonder that the original owners thought it an honour to name their hotel after the book.

One of the joys of having a Kindle is being able to download free and out-of-print books — lots and lots of them.  Unfortunately, there is a reason why most of them are obscure, but I keep trolling through ManyBooks, in the hopes of finding some hidden treasures.  Seven Keys to Baldpate, by Earl Derr Biggers, would not be one of them.  I should have known better — I’ve not had much luck with books by writers with three names …  The book is meant to be a madcap farce, but it is not a particularly engaging one, with strange interludes of philosophical musings that would not be so objectionable if they were not completely trite, uttered by people who really ought to be charming but instead are merely annoying.  The novel is a product of its time (1913); the Progressive Era was in full swing, and it was a time of social and political instability.  Biggers would seem to have been a cynical — and perhaps uneasy — observer of contemporary reform movements, for beneath all the prattle and slang, the book reflects an undercurrent of fear and uncertainty.   The heroine (if she could be viewed as such, for the book is completely male-dominated) is meant to be the embodiment of the New Woman; we learn at the end that she is a reporter who volunteered to go on the dangerous mission of exposing the handover of bribe money.  But, when first seen, the New Woman was crying her eyes out, and when last seen was in the arms of her husband-to-be — and in between, spent her time expecting the hero to do her work for her.  And then there is the Corrupt Boss, a man who knew what he was and presented himself exactly as what he was, in sharp contrast to everyone else around him who all had secrets and hidden selves; corrupt he may be, but he was strong and got things done, and in the end, Biggers allowed him to walk free, undefeated, the man of resource and action.

As a work of fiction, Seven Keys to Baldpate is a failure; I can’t help but wonder if it is in print only because of The Baldpate Inn, which sells the book and runs mystery and book club weekends centered around the work: “our namesake book,” they proudly proclaim.  But, the book is interesting as a historical text of the Progressive Era — how much more interesting and relevant our seminar discussions could have been if it had been offered as an adjunct to the required readings!

Opie, the Red Chair Book Critic