Every Tuesday, our writers group meets in Taos, New Mexico.
These little towns look poor, according to our way of thinking: small, squat adobes in bare dooryards, some house trailers, a few abandoned barns. There are no flowers outside these houses, and the big 18th-century church in Las Trampas is usually shut up tight. As I passed, though, a group of people was beginning the work of re-stuccoing the large western wall; a man on a ladder was using a sharp spade to slice off the old, cracked stucco, revealing for the first time in decades the original adobe bricks, large and rough, glinting here and there with bits of straw.
There are no cafes in these long valleys, no movie houses or libraries, and the only place to eat is an amazing bistro, Sugar Nymphs, planted right beside the road.
This bistro, the work of two women who moved to Penasco to start a restaurant, shares an adobe building with The Peñasco Theatre housing Circus Luminous—which usually performs in Santa Fe—and several other local acting groups. The building was put up in 1940 by a local man who must have longed to see live theatre; its fourteen-foot thick adobe walls were made out of dirt from his backyard.
Sugar Nymphs can seat about two dozen people in a pale yellow room where an assortment of painted chairs serves the overflow. The walls are hung with paintings of the landscape, probably by a local artist, and the menu, which is simple, organic and delicious, advertises “City Food in a Country Setting.” I often stop here for lunch on my way home from Taos where my writing workshop meets every Tuesday evening.
The bistro is always full with what I’ve come to call Refugee Tourists, men and women of a certain age who look to be fleeing from highways, motels, retirement homes, fast food, and who knows, maybe even from Donald Trump.
Wednesday at noon, Patsy Kline was wailing on the stereo as the two women seated at a table next to me spread out a recent edition of The New York Review of Books—and suddenly my past and my present collided.I was a beginning writer, newly arrived in New York with my husband and baby son, when the newspaper strike of 1965 alerted him and several other literary people to the possibility of filling the gap with a book review monthly, featuring European and East Coast writers, which has been flourishing ever since—a totem of sophistication at least here in the remote Southwest.
My connection with the Review was brief. Before the first issue went to the press, my then-husband asked me to spend some days stuffing advertising flyers into envelopes, addressing, stamping and mailing them—the old way of doing it and quite labor-intensive. I worked in a small, un-air-conditioned room on West 57th Street—needless to say, without pay. I didn’t want to do it, but in those dormant days of the modern women’s movement, I had no one to tell me I didn’t have to obey.
Now here I was decades later in Penasco, in Northern New Mexico, devouring my home-made tomato bisque and goat cheese salad and feeling absolutely delighted that I no longer have to concern myself with big city literary affairs. I couldn’t help wondering if my neighbors were actually going to read the Review—it has been most recalcitrant about publishing reviews of books written by women—or if it was a badge of sophistication, for them, like a good haircut.