Thursday, October 4, 2007

Las Cruces and the Suspension of Disbelief

“Does anyone know of a good curandera?” I was having lunch in the Teacher’s Room of a southern New Mexico elementary school, and one of my co-workers was asking for advice. Curandera? I looked to my friend who usually helped me when I didn’t understand bits of the Spanglish that was commonly spoken there. “It’ a white witch, someone who can heal you,” she whispered. The other teacher went on, “It’s for my wife, she is bewitched.” By this time, I was pretty sure that this was all a joke and became even more convinced when he went on to explain that for the first 15 years of marriage, all went well; but for the last 15 years his wife has not been herself. Ha! I thought to myself—this is going to turn into one of those funny menopause stories.

I was very wrong. Everyone, it seemed, had a curandera to recommend—a friend of a cousin, a neighbor’s auntie, someone in an adobe house just around the corner from that little butcher shop on Rio Grande Street… I looked from face to face, amazed that I was hearing this conversation from these well-educated people.

I should have known better. When we first moved to Las Cruces in the late 1990s I was convinced that we had come to another world, maybe even another universe, given the wild desert and mountain landscape that was so different from our sheltered New England hills. The more I got to know the people, the more I really believed that I was somewhere far, far away from all that was familiar.

Our butcher, for instance, sold the best meat in the world. It all came from nearby ranches. You could practically cut the steaks with a fork and the flavor was unbelievable. He was a mesmerizing character who told stories to us the whole time he was putting together our order. We would just stand there, gazing at him and nodding, our hands hanging loosely at our sides. We spent a lot of time in that shop, listening to strange tales of people lost in the mountains, or thrown from their cars in horrendous accidents. Then we would gather up our bundles and say goodbye. When we went outside into the glaring sunlight, we would shiver a bit and look at each other and say, “Did you notice how sharp his teeth were?”

It is a strange and otherworldly place, Las Cruces. All of New Mexico has an indefinable mystery about it. That must be what they try to express by phrase “The Land of Enchantment”—but those are just words. You have to come here to experience the eery and unearthly sensations. Come with an open mind and be ready to be amazed.
Places to visit in Las Cruces:
For a discussion of curanderismo:

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