Funny thing. I’ve lived in Albuquerque since December, 1995, and I keep encountering versions of the city that certainly aren’t the one I live in. Now, if I lived in New York City or Los Angeles or one of the huge megalopolises I could understand the disconnect but, when you compare those cities by size, Albuquerque doesn’t come close to measuring up.
The 2012 Census put Albuquerque’s population figure at 555,417 and rising. Still, even when all the surrounding residential areas (many of which aren’t particularly proximate) are lumped in, the entire population is smaller than many of the boroughs of New York City. Manhattan, for example, has a population of 1,626,159 (2013 Census) – almost as large as the entire state of New Mexico, which, based on the 2012 Census, is just barely over two million.
So, what are some of the Albuquerques I’ve encountered recently?
The first was when I picked up a copy of Albuquerque: The Magazine when I was in the waiting room at my vet’s. In this glossy publication, I read about nightclubs, boutiques, and restaurants I’ve never even seen. I read an article about how hard some restaurants strive to ensure that the seafood they serve is fresh – a major challenge in our landlocked, hot and dry state. I’d always assumed that, when I went to El Mariscos Altimar for their lovely “Seven Seas” soup or seafood chimichangas, the ingredients were frozen. Apparently, not – or at least not always. (That dish wasn’t one of the ones examined in detail.)
I also read about the struggles of a local boutique to supply cutting-edge fashion at “Albuquerque prices.” (Are there really places where “regular” people pay $400.00 for a blouse without a second thought?)
I’m a jeans and tee shirt person. I haven’t been to a nightclub for about twenty years – and that was for a promotional event, so I wasn’t really surprised that I didn’t know much about these aspects of the city. I’m more likely to go hiking or to a museum than to a spa or boutique.
This past weekend, Jim and I went to the State Fair. One of the things that had startled me about that issue of Albuquerque: The Magazine was how many of the things it focused on had little to do with the rich, multicultural fabric that influences Albuquerque the city, as well as the state of New Mexico as a whole.
In the Hispanic Arts building, I was drawn to a dramatic, unsettling painting on display in one corner. It depicted various scenes of dissipation and violence. A man snorted cocaine. Another was indulging in some drug I couldn’t identify. At the bottom, a burly man with a wolf’s paw on his hat was backed by two howling wolves – one of which appeared to be weeping. Almost hidden amid this was a little girl with three sheep. The words “Prey” and “Pray” were written between the wolves and the little girl. What fascinated me were the spirit figures near each human, stylized and seeming to blend Indian and Spanish influences.
The painting was called “Chronicles of Burque.” This was an Albuquerque as alien to the one of Albuquerque: The Magazine as could be. I suspect it might be familiar to viewers of the popular television show Breaking Bad, which was set and filmed here. But once again, this wasn’t my Albuquerque.
So what is my Albuquerque? I live on the Westside, which – at least as I must judge by the snide comments of one fellow I encountered at a meeting a couple weeks ago – is still considered by many of those who live on the east side of the Rio Grande River to be a barren wasteland, filled with nothing but tract homes and chain shops. That’s true to a point, but it’s not the whole picture by far.
Jim and I don’t eat out often but, if we do, we have a wide selection of locally-owned restaurants from which to choose from – many of which have been in place since before I moved here and which continue to do thriving business, even as new chains – attracted by the 2012 Census figures – mushroom up.
Ours isn’t a rich area. It does have its share of crime but, when we ride our bikes through the streets of interlocking residential neighborhoods, we are frequently greeted by our neighbors. I still chuckle over the fellow who said: “If you’re out biking, it must be Spring!” If I bike alone, I’m often asked where Jim is…
When we go to the grocery store, we’re greeted warmly. Charley, the greengrocer, has been known to cut a slice from some newly-arrived fruit and say, “Try this. It’s really good!” We can count on being told how hot the green chile is this year – and often are offered a bit to take home and test. These aren’t the sterile samples offered by latex-gloved professionals with frozen smiles, but examples of small town friendliness. At another store, our usual checkout clerk will say, “You’re early today,” or “Running a little late, eh?” Anywhere, it’s easy to strike up a conversation with a stranger.
We live within walking distance of Petroglyph National Monument and a short drive from the Open Spaces Center, both of which offer good hiking and history combined – hardly the image that those east of the river seem to hold of a culturally-sterile void. Our local library branch is bustling and busy. Kids play soccer in the flanking fields and dogs socialize in the dog park. I could go on, but I hope you get the point…
My Albuquerque may not be fashionable, but neither is it creepily criminal. It’s a friendly and relaxing place to live. I wonder if every city has as many faces?