Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve at Taos Pueblo and at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House

Throughout her life in Taos, Mabel attended various Pueblo celebrations. Of all of the holiday events, Christmas Eve at Taos Pueblo is one of the most special. The Pueblo people gather pitch pine, cut it to various lengths, and stack it criss-crossed to build ricks of wood from one foot to twelve feet high. These are lit just after dusk, and the whole area between the North and South houses come alive with bonfires. The fires light the Christmas Eve procession around the Taos Pueblo plaza that follows mass at the San Geronimo church. It's magical, as a description from D.H. Lawrence conveys:

Never shall I forget the Christmas dances at Taos, twilight, snow, the darkness coming over the great wintry mountains and the lonely pueblo, then suddenly, again, like dark calling dark, the deep Indian cluster -- singing around the drum, wild and awful, suddenly rousing on the lost dusk as the procession starts. And then the bonfires leaping suddenly in spurts of high flame, columns of sudden flame forming an alley for the procession.*

Over the years my friend Judith Bronner has photographed this event (here, the plaza in front of the North House at dusk, just before the procession), and I share one of her pictures with you.

"Christmas Eve", Taos Pueblo © 2010 Judith Bronner

When guests at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House return after the Pueblo festivities, a cheery fire and steaming bowls of posole await them. This spicy hominy stew, a dish for celebrating life’s blessings, is served throughout New Mexico. It can be made either with red or green chile. The recipe here (below), made with pork and using dried red chiles, is quite traditional. However, chicken, turkey, or vegetable protein may be substituted for the pork. Enjoy.

Adios for now,

Photo courtesy of Judith Bronner. Thank you, Judith! 

* Quote from "New Mexico" typescript, D.H. Lawrence Papers, AC 131-p, Angélico Chávez History Library, Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe.

Posole Recipe:
12 dried long red chile**
3 pounds boned pork roast cut into 1" cubes
1/2 head of garlic peeled and chopped
A large pinch of Mexican oregano
1/2 large onion, chopped

1 large (industrial-size) can hominy 
Salt and pepper to taste

1.Break open the chiles and remove the seeds and veins.
2. Put the chiles to cook in a medium sized pot. Cover with fresh water and gently boil until chiles are very soft.
3. Let the mixture cool and using a favorite method, blend the chile and the water to make a paste and strain.
4. Put the cubed pork, oregano, garlic, onion and salt into a large heavy pot and cover with water. Boil meat gently for 30 minutes.
5. When the meat is soft, add the chile and hominy and cook for 15 to 20 minutes until the mixture is boiling nicely. Add oregano, and salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, ladle the posole into heavy bowls and serve with thinly sliced cabbage and radishes, quartered limes, and fresh corn tortillas.
This recipe serves 20-24 people. 

**Using frozen or powdered red or green chile eliminates steps 1-3 -- the preparation and cooking time for the chile mixture.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mabel Dodge Luhan's "Winter in Taos" -- and Solstice 2010

In reading parts of Mabel’s book, Winter in Taos, it occurred to me that she arrived in Taos in December 1916 – one hundred and four years ago. My reading turned up a section by Mabel that seems appropriate to this holiday season:

Tracks in the snow at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House

It is so good to ride horseback in the snow... the snow crunches under the horses hooves, and it is bright and sparkling to make one's eyes ache; but in the shadows, it is a vivid blue....From far away, down in the valley, we can hear a motor racing, or the high-school bell, or sometimes a rooster crowing out of the usual hours; we can see the smoke curling up from the cozy houses and it is pleasant to warm one's heart by these signs -- but sometimes when we are out riding, the snow begins to fall, softly. The sun goes and all the color. There is no wind and the big flakes come down in a leisurely way, turning over and over. Then there are no sounds to be heard except those very near us. We can hear our horses still crunching in the snow, and the dogs breathing, but we cannot see them a few feet away, for a snowfall shuts out the familiar sounds of life.

Among the Christmastime festivities celebrated at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House are a Winter Solstice sit and tea ceremony held before dawn in the classroom at Juniper House. My husband Skip and I attended last year. People arrived in the dark to luminarios lighting the walkway outside and a few candles burning inside on the stage and around the corner fireplace. After an opening ceremony, we sat in the still darkness for some twenty minutes, then did walking meditation. Sitting again, we watched as the celebrant began the tea ceremony. Just as he started whipping up the first cup of powdered green tea into a fine, delicate froth, the sun rose to illuminate the fragrant steam as he poured it—a truly magical moment in time.

This solstice will be marked by a full eclipse of the moon. It seems like an auspicious time. I hope, in the midst of busy preparations for the holidays, you will join me and take a moment for stillness, and to reflect on Mabel’s words:
Yet, if one listens, there is something else one can hear in the silence, something very different from the homely noises of the distant village. Another world is opened up to one in the cessation and the stillness, another music that is hidden deep within the world, that is usually inaudible and that is impossible to describe.
May you, on the occasion of this winter solstice, welcome the return of the Light, hold it and let it warm your hearts.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Introducing Frieda Lawrence

Some time ago I promised to write something about Frieda Lawrence. Since then I have discovered several archival sources that have brought new insights on Frieda—for example, she served as an associate editor for the “New Mexico Writers” page of The New Mexico Sentinel newspaper in the latter 1930s. Although I have read some works on her, I am eager to discover more writing by her. Frieda was a fascinating woman. In The Genius and the Goddess, Aldous Huxley wrote that she was “Hera and Demeter and Aphrodite gloriously rolled into one.” In admiration, Tennessee Williams called her "a valkyrie…a real woman." Intriguing, to say the least. 

Frieda Lawrence, 1938 Courtesy of Jenny Vincent

In my quest to discover the real Frieda, I am following several leads, including setting up interviews with local people who knew her. In the meantime, for those of you who don’t know about her, I provide a few introductory paragraphs from an overview that Karen Young compiled before I became blog host. (Thank you, Karen.)

Frieda von Richthofen was born into an aristocratic family in Metz, Germany. In 1899 she moved to England after marrying the much older, Ernest Weekly, professor of French at the University College, Nottingham. After giving birth to three children, Frieda met the author D.H. Lawrence in March, 1912. Two months later the couple eloped to Europe.

After marrying in 1914, the Lawrences returned to England. At the outbreak of the First World War the authorities became concerned that Frieda was a spy. The couple settled at Zennor in Cornwall, but local people reported that the Lawrences were using the clothes hanging on their washing line to send coded messages to German U-boats. After searching their cottage, the authorities forced the Lawrences to leave the area.

 When D. H. Lawrence was diagnosed as suffering from tuberculosis, the couple went to live in Sicily. Over the next few years they also spent time in North America, Mexico and Australia. Novels published by Lawrence during this period included Women in Love (1920), Aaron's Rod (1922), Kangaroo (1923) and The Plumed Serpent (1926). He also wrote Lady Chatterley's Lover but unable to find a publisher, he had it printed privately in Italy.

New Mexico was the place in North America where the Lawrences spent the most time. In 1919, after British authorities relinquished D.H. Lawrence’s confiscated passport, he and Frieda eventually landed in Sicily. In November 1921, while the couple was living at Fontana Vecchia (“Old Fountain”) in Taormina, D.H. received a letter from Mabel Dodge Luhan inviting him to come to Taos.

After a side trip to Ceylon and Australia, the Lawrences finally arrived in Taos on September 11th, 1922 – on D. H.’s thirty-seventh birthday. Both were struck by the beauty of the landscape, as Lawrence would later write: “In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico, one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly and the old world gave way to the new.” *

Frieda echoed her husband’s words in her memoir, Not I, But the Wind: “A new life for us – and we began it straight away. Out from the pueblo to the east of us, a few miles away, came the feel of the Indians, so different from anything we had ever known.”

Frieda and D.H. Lawrence spent months in the Taos area in 1922-1923, 1924 and 1925. I will report on this time and the influence that northern New Mexico had on Frieda during this time of her life as soon as I complete my research.

Adios for now,

* This quote originates from D.H. Lawrence's article, "New Mexico", first published in Survey Graphic in 1928.