the Art of the Senses
“You’re always one decision away from a totally different life”
At age 26, I had the opportunity to move to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Santa Fe is a rich cultural community with a wealth of sensory experiences that heighten all five of your senses: from seeing the varied art galleries; tasting the southwestern blend of spices; inhaling the aroma of roasting Chile; hearing the familiar sounds of the Markets; and touching the beautiful adobe buildings that envelope you.
I was overjoyed to find an old adobe pueblo built in 1911 as my new home. It was the ideal post card setting for the experience I was envisioning to have in New Mexico, and it was a prime location- one block off Canyon Road, in the heart of the artist district of downtown Santa Fe. I moved into my new home in June, at the start of a breathtaking summer season.
I embraced my new lifestyle with evening walks to the many renowned restaurants, and weekends spent discovering the many art galleries of Santa Fe. The Farmers Market became a favorite weekend tradition where I basked in the variety of New Mexican Chile and spices, and I thrived on conversations with local farmers and restaurant owners, discovering the flavor of Santa Fe through their artistry.
The community of Santa Fe was a unique blend of locals, part-time seasonal residents, and tourists. At the time I was there, Santa Fe had an acceleration of tourism and hotels were consistently sold out of rooms. This created even more demand as Santa Fe gained momentum as a top destination to visit. Santa Fe attracted a unique blend of artists, spiritual enthusiasts, nature photographers, musicians, and chefs, creating an enchanting blend of artistic talent to behold. I was in awe of the diversity of creativity and the “Art of the Senses” surrounding me and quickly became embedded in the community.
New Mexico Chile is an education in the “Art of the Senses.” The Chile grown in New Mexico is a fantasy of naturally dense color – Green Chile, Red Chile, Pintando (rainbow mix), and an interesting blend of varietals – Big Jims, Barkers, Rio Grande, Sandia. For the first 60 days after my arrival, I struggled to adapt to the levels of Chile heat, which seemed to vary between “hot”, “wow this is really hot”, and “I can’t breathe.”
All food in Santa Fe had an influence of Chile – from eggs at breakfast, to enchiladas at lunch, to southwestern grilled chicken for dinner, and dessert. I humbly bowed to the constant firing up of my senses, and started carrying a box of tissue with me to all lunches and dinners. I gave up attempting to gracefully adapt, and just embraced the experience. Chile is habit forming. It’s puzzling when your body responds strongly to the fiery invasion while craving more at the same time. You find yourself inhaling a long breath to process the heat while ingesting another mouthful at the same time.
There is a science behind the craving for Chile. Capsaicin is the compound that makes the Chile spicy, and creates the same effect on our pain receptors as heat. Capsaicin also causes the body to release endorphins, which is a pleasurable experience. In other words, Chile makes you happy. I marveled at how quickly my craving materialized and how happy I became constantly eating and thinking about eating Chile.
I still smell the heady aroma of roasting Chile that wafted throughout Santa Fe during Chili season, and hear the cracking of Chili roasting at the Farmer’s Market. Currently, my lifelong Chile addiction includes shipping freshly picked Hatch Green Chile overnight from the farm when in season, and shipping frozen packages of roasted Big Jims for the remainder of the year, to my home. A freezer dedicated to New Mexico Chile can become a topic of conversation for visitors to my home. Fortunately, I can rationalize the situation with scientific experts. After all, its just science.
The charm of my post card adobe home did fade slightly with the introduction of winter. As winter became formidable at times, I discovered the absence of central heat to be a fundamental misstep. My contrived heating system consisted of a wood stove in the kitchen, a strategically placed electric heater in the bathroom, and an electric blanket. The strategic placement of the bathroom heater unveiled itself as the temperature dropped and snow began to fall.
Surprisingly, when the air temperature fell, the window in my bathroom no longer closed, which resulted in a miraculous compiling of snow and frost in the shower every morning. My morning routine adapted to include a trip to turn on the space heater, a quick scamper back to the electric blanket, a courageous dash into the shower, followed by an animated water dance while the tile unfroze. A suspect addition into the “Art of the Senses.”
Christmas in Santa Fe was magical, and one of my favorite “Art of the Senses” experiences. On Christmas Eve, I ventured towards downtown to meet friends at our favorite restaurant for dinner. As I approached Canyon Road, there were farolitas (paper bags with tea light candles inside) lining the edge of the road on either side. Campfires were in the street in front of many of the art galleries, and hundreds of people had gathered to share holiday drinks and sing carols together. I unexpectedly stopped in my tracks to soak the entire setting in. It reminded me of a Norman Rockwell painting, and I was absorbed into the scene as it came to life all around me.
It’s a privilege to live in an artist community and be consistently surrounded in creativity. You seek out ways to continue stimulating your heightened senses, which becomes an “Art.” I found myself driving home down Canyon Road every evening so I could enjoy the evening lights and artwork in the darkness through lit gallery windows.
Carole LaRoche Gallery became a favorite, and her haunting Red Wolves would stare out at me as I drove by. There was something knowing in their gaze that gave me goose bumps. At the time, I could not afford the art pieces I fell in love with, however, years later I flew to Santa Fe to purchase the Red Wolves that eluded me years before. My companion wolves are still one of my favorite memorable pieces and they continue to cast their knowing sensory gaze my way everyday.