SANTA FE'S STATUS SYMBOLS
Other Articles by Richard
society has its own status symbols, and, of course, its status
seekers. So is it also with Santa Fe-except that here, the status
symbols are loony. They defy logic and common sense, and to casual
observers, they defy comprehension. No wonder they call this "The
Santa Fe's status symbols are also fun.
the matter of dirt roads. Anywhere else in the country, it would
be an embarrassment to admit that the street in front of your
house was unpaved. But in Santa Fe, everybody wants to live on
a dirt road-dust, mud, ruts and all. When word gets out that the
city is planning to pave a street, residents actually band together
to block such progress. And the narrower, twistier, harder-to-negotiate,
the better. You see, that's real Santa Fe charm.
to say, to have any class at all, your house on the dirt road
must be built of-dirt. None of those practical, durable houses
of brick, stone or wood will do. The only homes that count in
Santa Fe are those made of mud, or adobe, as it is officially
called in these parts.
houses require almost constant attention, or they will quickly
disintegrate back into dust. But when replastering outer adobe
walls to protect them from the elements, it is important not to
do too good a job. So that everyone will know your house is REAL
adobe-and not merely cinderblocks with a fake adobe skin-you must
studiously leave some big cracks in the plaster, to let the adobe
bricks show through.
the houses should have curves instead of angles, even around the
windows and doors. No self-respecting adobe house can have neatly-squared-off
corners or, God forbid, right angles. This undulating construction
does, to be sure, make it hard to get doors to close tight or
windows sealed against the cold, but what's more important, efficiency
or social standing?
the house must be old. The older the better. A truly status-conscious
Santa Fean would die before moving into a nice, sound, all-new
building, in which everything worked. It is far preferable to
contend with a drafty old rundown mud hut, which wasn't put together
any too solidly when it first was built, 200 years ago. In such
buildings the heating, plumbing and electrical systems seldom
work the way they're supposed to, if at all; but of course that's
the point, and a small price to pay for prestige.
having an ancient, decrepit, chipped and malfunctioning adobe
shack on a tortuous dirt trail is only the first step toward gaining
acceptance in Santa Fe's better circles. Once you've found such
a place, before paying your $250,000 for it, you have to make
sure that the neighbors are poor. It doesn't do at all to be surrounded
by others of your own socioeconomic group. In Santa Fe, that's
so, well, "unauthentic." No matter how lavishly you fix up the
interior of your own place (making sure that your marble fountain
and bronze statues are not visible from the street), it needs
to be set off against the tarpaper roofs of genuinely poor neighbors,
preferably on welfare.
one thing you don't have to worry about, status-wise-speaking,
is a luxuriant lawn. Far from it. Such an unnatural growth in
any socially correct part of town would mark its cultivators as
coarse intruders without the slightest appreciation of the way
things are done. In all matters of landscaping, the only acceptable
Santa Fe approach is the natural one. Real dirt.
When it comes to cars, however, Santa Fe does not differ too much
from other places. An impressive car is essential to make the
right impression on the right people. The only thing to remember
is those nasty, narrow, little streets, which of course make the
big Cadillacs and Lincolns so loved by Texans and Albuquerqueans
somewhat impractical here. But even if the model must perforce
be compact, it is quite proper-nay, expected-that you put a lot
of money into your automobile. The Mercedes has long been THE
Santa Fe car, but equally acceptable are BMWs, Porsches, Alfa
Romeos and even Jaguars. Just don't try to get away with a Rolls-Royce.
People would think you were showing off.
the local automotive scene resembles the national norm, clothes
decidedly do not. The operative word here is "casual," and Santa
Feans with all the money and social standing their friends can
stomach are careful to dress as though outfitted by Goodwill.
blue jeans are acceptable anytime, if not de rigueur on
many occasions. Except in a couple of the more pretentious restaurants,
blue jeans and a white T-shirt are perfectly acceptable attire,
and many a local millionaire has dined out dressed that way. Unironed
work shirts are also "in." As for footwear, work shoes and cowboy
boots will never be out of style, whether entertaining at home
or going out on the town.
surprisingly, the women of Santa Fe are usually about as casually
attired as the men, although from time to time they do get gussied
up to the eyeballs, presenting a startling contrast to their scruffily-clad
husbands and boyfriends, who could care less.
Another status symbol peculiarly "Santa Fe" has to do with the
local cuisine. Longtime residents take great pride in a high threshold
of pure, raw heat when eating New Mexico chile dishes. Green chile
has slightly more cachet than the red, but it's a personal choice,
and those who prefer red are not looked down upon. What really
counts is the heat level.
that leave tourists gasping for breath and steaming out the ears
are downed without a blink by the locals, who scorn the tenderfeet
and seek ever-hotter plates. As time goes by, their tolerance
for the hot stuff reaches truly impervious levels, and renders
them incapable of even detecting the nuances of, say, French food.
Attaining this level makes Santa Feans very self-satisfied, and
not a bit remorseful over their burned-out taste buds.
track of Santa Fe's labels and customs bamboozles newcomers, some
of whom never figure things out. But in the end, for all their
peculiarities, the town's status symbols are harmless, even benign.
Best of all is the status symbol that Santa Fe DOESN'T have. Upon
meeting for the first time, Santa Feans seldom or never size each
other up, once and for all, with that big-city question, "What
do you do?"
Santa Fe, what counts is who you are.
Articles by Richard McCord