A few places on earth consistently bring out a different side of me. Japan brings out a child-like curiosity. New York City makes me more serious and focused.
If you were to ask me which place brings out the most happiness, I would say New Mexico. Dubbed the “Land of Enchantment”, this state was where my mother’s family first landed when they all moved from India.
While Japan, New York City, and New Mexico are all quite different, they share something similar in my heart. They are places full of deep personal meaning.
The moment I step off the jetbridge from a plane into the Albuquerque Sunport feels like releasing a cork. I immediately remember the summers and Christmases I would spend there with family. I recall the one year we lived there when I was a child, going to school with the kindest teachers and classmates I have ever met. Nearly every memory I have of New Mexico is filled with positivity — happy faces of family and experiences out in nature.
Our recent visit, the first in many years, was a cathartic step towards post-pandemic normalcy. My entire immediate family flew from across the US to meet up in Albuquerque. Later in the trip, we drove to Santa Fe, the center of New Mexico’s art scene.
Albuquerque is the home base for my family. When there, our activities revolve around my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. This trip was no different.
With my parent’s help watching our kid, my wife and I were also able to get away a few times to visit local attractions by ourselves.
The first is the New Mexico Hispanic Cultural Center. Designed by Antoine Predock, the site blends bits of indigenous buildings and modernism à la Luis Barragán. Inside, we found a modest gallery exhibiting contemporary pieces by local artists.
Later, we found ourselves coincidentally at another work by Antoine Predock, the Rio Grande Nature Center. A tunnel in a hillside serves as the entrance to the main building. Inside is a small natural history museum, describing the geology, flora, and fauna surrounding the building. In the end, a large panoramic window overlooks a little reservoir — a prime place for bird watching. Outside, photograph-like cuts in a concrete wall frame the landscape, drawing in sightseers and photographers.
After our time with my extended family, my immediate family packed into a few cars and drove to Santa Fe for some time alone.
The city is both the New Mexico state capitol and the Southwest art capital. The central plaza downtown attracts tourists and locals alike. Ristras, arrangements of dried red chiles, hang from light poles where you may see banners or wreathes in other cities. Native American artisans sell their handiwork — jewelry, pottery, and more — crafted using indigenous techniques and materials. Every building conforms to a strict Pueblo Revival architectural style.
Just a short walk from the square lies an important landmark, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Before she passed away in Santa Fe, she spent months every year there exploring the desert landscape in solitude, collecting items that would later grace her still lives. Much of that work is on display at the small, yet packed gallery.
A few blocks away is another stucco-clad edifice, this one more than a century old. The New Mexico Museum of Art is state-run, showcasing a wide collection of American and indigenous art.
We later visited SITE, a contemporary art museum housed within a renovated railside warehouse. Outside, the former railyard was converted into a beautiful park a bit like New York’s High Line.
In addition to the older art establishments, we couldn’t help but also visit Meow Wolf. This immersive art installation must truly be experienced, so I won’t attempt to describe it here. If you can’t make it to the original in Santa Fe, there are also other, albeit very different, installations in Las Vegas and Denver. Two more sites have been announced near Dallas and Houston as well.
Even though we didnt experience any music or dance, we of course indulged in Santa Fe’s culinary scene. Paper Dosa served up exquisite South Indian food, balancing authenticity with a New Mexico twist. Tomasita’s is now on my list of all-time favorite New Mexican restaurants. I can’t wait to go back.
On one of our walks around the city, we also stopped at the Santa Fe School of Cooking to pick up some dry ingredients to take home.
As I look through my photographs and write these words, that feeling of calm and nostalgia has returned. It’s a feeling unlike anything else.
In other places — the Bay Area, New York, and Texas — the happy memories are joined with just as many memories of struggle, self-talk, and conflict. Looking back, I can’t find a single negative memory in New Mexico. Perhaps that’s why I feel that the Land of Enchantment is the one place I can truly call home.
Thanks to Q for reading drafts of this.