Globetrotting with Push
With your host,
Raji "Push" Pushparajah
7/10/03 - Santa Fe, New Mexico
The Land of Enchantment began to work its magic on me with a one-hour
ride up from the airport in Albuquerque to the beautiful state capital of
Santa Fe. My driver revealed an uncanny ability to negotiate the tortuous,
suicidal maniac-infested roads through the piņon-covered hills made famous
by the many watercolors of Georgia O'Keeffe, especially considering his
alcohol-impaired state. But I and much of my breakfast arrived safely at the
historic Santa Fe Plaza, center of social life in the City of the Holy Faith
of St. Francis of Assisi.
My visit was planned to coincide with the Santa Fe Festival, an event dear
to locals and tourists alike. Every year, the three cultures that make up
historic tossed salad that is the Santa Fe population -- Native American,
Spanish and American -- come together to celebrate their diversity and unity
in a series of colorful, and often spectacular, events. Easily the most
spectacular is the Burning of Zozobra, a 20-foot-tall effigy of Old Man
By paying a small fee, I was able to join the crowd watching the festival
committee assemble the effigy on the morning of the event. New Mexicans are
well-known for their laid-back, unhurried attitudes, and I was able to see
this relaxed approach expressed first-hand in their quaint, ineffective
efforts at crowd control. After a few minutes, I found myself jostled to the
front, mere inches from the hideously comic visage of Zozobra himself.
Taking this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a close-up of Gloom
personified, I pulled out my camera. At that exact moment the assembly crew
chose to hoist the huge papier-mache head into place -- and the crowd chose
to inadvertently push me onto it.
For mercifully brief seconds, I hung upside-down from Zozobra's maw, barely
enough time for the contents of my pockets to be dumped into the crowd
below, who, caught up in the spirit of festival, were laughing vigorously.
The crew then thoughtfully dropped me to the fortunately grass-covered
ground, a lucky break my head, upon which I landed, appreciated.
I was not about to let minor abrasions and a sprained neck keep me from the
burning itself. I arrived early, when twilight was just falling, yet
unfortunately not before a large crowd of people had already gathered.
Looking through my field glasses, I noticed a vaguely familiar-looking
bluish square in Zozobra's mouth. Only when the ceremonial lighting was well
under way did I realize it was my passport. Making my way through the crowd
and through the distracted security people, I managed to get almost to Old
Man Gloom, who was now aflame, and, in keeping with tradition, moaning
loudly and piteously. Just as I realized that I had no way of reaching my
now-smoking passport, gravity solved the problem by bringing it, together
with the flaming, moaning head, to me.
The burn unit at St. Michael's is underrated, in my opinion. The
pine-scented air that wafts in through the windows is as calming as the
staff is invigorating. They have been relentlessly cheerful, often laughing
out loud, ever since I arrived, and have comforted me with the knowledge
that I should be largely healed by the time my replacement passport arrives.