What City is This?

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.

Open Spaces Center

Open Spaces Center

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?

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14 Responses to “What City is This?”

  1. Peter Says:

    I don’t know about *every* city, but this has certainly been true of every city I’ve ever lived in. It’s not just neighbourhood (which is often a code-word for socio-economic status), either, although that’s often a major signifier. Where I went to high school the people whose parents were affiliated with the university lived in a different city than the people whose parents were stationed at the military base or worked at the military college (think North Point, eh?), and they in turn lived in a quite different city than the people who worked in the prison system, even if they all owned houses on the same block. And this was a city of a little over 60,000 people.

  2. Louis Robinson Says:

    Your description of “Chronicles of Burque” made me think instantly of Hogarth [William, to be precise]. Who, in fact, managed to illustrate all the facets of his London at various times – often in the same image, even – so you don’t even need to look in different places to see the diversity, and the divergences.

    I don’t think any settlement worthy of the designation ‘city’ has ever been one-faced. Not for the last 3000 or so years, at any rate.

  3. Heteromeles Says:

    Didn’t some of the old Puebloan settlements often consist of more than one “ward,” each apparently occupied by a separate group? And I’m pretty sure it was the case in Mesopotamia, come to think of it. Settlements are often diverse.

    • Peter Says:

      This was certainly true of a lot of European and Middle Eastern cities (see “ghetto”. Also “dhimmi”.). More recently see the creation of “Chinatowns” (or, conversely, the “Concessions” of Western countries in major Chinese cities.)

      • Louis Robinson Says:

        for Chinese cities, look up Tang or especially Song Chang’an.

      • Peter Says:

        I had in mind more the English (or Italian or French or what have you) cities-within-a-city, complete with their own police force, government, and even currency. Chang’an is quite intriguing, having looked it up.

      • Louis Robinson Says:

        I see what you mean, but that’s going rather beyond what I think Jane had in mind. As with the situation in the Middle East under the Ottoman [which continues to some degree to this day, at least in Israel], separate communities were socially, culturally and legally distinct. To the point where you really can say they weren’t living in the same city.

        In a lot of ways somewhere like Classical Rome or Constantinople or Chang’an or the modern urban schmozzle is much harder to deal with. An Ottoman governor could haul in the Jewish, Armenian and Christian qadis, say, and tell them to get it together or get the chop; they had the authority within their communities to make it stick. The mayor of LA or… ummm… Vancouver [i was going to say Toronto, but let’s not go there ;)] can’t do that, in large part because he doesn’t have anybody to say it _too_. He has to persuade everyone to adopt his definition of ‘getting along’. And _then_ he has to persuade them to actually do it!

      • Peter Says:

        Leaving Mayor McCrack out of it is probably just as well 😉

        I get your point, although depending on the community there may be a form of central authority – even in countries that don’t require resident aliens to register their domicile with the authorities the threat of a a sweep by La Migra can have a definite bracing effect.

        I was just reminded of this blog post last night. I’m already accustomed to the idea that in some ways I live in a different city than most of my Chinese colleagues (most of them couldn’t find the grocery store that caters to expats with a map), but yesterday I discovered that not only do I live in a different city than my Chinese neighbours I also live in a different city than some of the other expats in town – my wife and I got together for drinks with some German friends, and discovered that there’s a whole parallel German-speaking expat city in addition to the English-speaking expat city we were already (somewhat) familiar with.

    • Jim Says:

      I can only speak for the Historic Pueblos, since we really can’t reconstruct prehistoric settlement patterns to the degree needed to define who lived where and when. But Historically, there is some evidence that when new groups moved in to established villages, they tended to live in an enclave. But this situation didn’t always last, because there would have been a lot of intermarriage to integrate the newcomers into the village. However, if a single family joined a village I don’t think they would be placed in any particular section of the village that was reserved for newcomers.

      Sometimes, newcomers would be settled in their own villages. A good example of this is the Tewa migration to the Hopi mesas that occurred after the Spanish reconquest of New Mexico. Rather than being integrated into existing villages, they were settled in a separate village just outside the Hopi village of Walpi, to serve as (guards.”

  4. Chad Merkley Says:

    The area of Washington State that I live in is called the “Tri-Cities”. It basically consists of three cities of about 40,000 people each, plus several small towns tucked in around them. Recently, the local economic development council announced an effort to create a “Tri-Cities brand” apparently to promote tourism and attract businesses (I think?). The brand is appears to focused around wine tourism and motorized river sports. This does not appeal to me at all. To me what matters locally is all the science and research that happens around here (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is here), the local ecology and geology, the local music scene, and that kind of thing. As far as local growth and development goes, I think what we need is a full university (Washington State University does have a campus here, but it’s limited to a few programs, and focuses mainly on grad studies), with all the cultural and community benefits that can bring. Also, I think in the long term, all these different communities should incorporate together, which would even out the tax base and allow the smaller towns better access to school and transportation funding. On the other hand, a recent mayoral candidate in my small town ran on the slogan “Preserve our Rural Lifestyle”. He didn’t win, but he had a lot of support. Different people have different views of what their communities are and what they should

    • janelindskold Says:

      A frequent question asked of New Mexico writers is “Why are there do many SF/F writers live there?” And the answer often comes down to the very things you’d like to see promoted in your area. We also have a lot of science (Los Alamos and Sandia National Lab). This, mixed in with a very multi-cultural population, means there’s a general openness to new ideas.

      • Peter Says:

        I’d assumed that the answer to “Why are there so many SF/F writers in New Mexico” was “Because there are a lot of SF/F writers living there.”

        (This isn’t quite as tautological as it sounds – I don’t know how much influence it may have had in this particular case, but if you look at migration there’s a pattern of people relocating to places where they already have friends and family or at least where there already exists a community of people like them.)

  5. Paul Says:

    What a nice tribute to the place where you live.

  6. janelindskold Says:

    I enjoyed the comments a great deal… Certainly what people choose to do will make them see their city in different ways.

    I certainly prefer “my” Albuquerque to the ones most people would find in mass media and even on the city’s own website.

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