SANTA FE SOJOURN
by Jane Scovell
Picture this: Judy Garland in the classic musical The Harvey Girls, standing amidst a bevy of MGM beauties, belting out “On the Atchison, Topeka and the ‘Holy Faith.’” The song does lose something in the translation. Still, in English or Spanish, Santa Fe really is something to sing about.
Founded in 1610 as the seat of Spain’s colonial province of New Mexico, Santa Fe is the highest (more than 7,000 feet above sea level) and the oldest state capital in the United States. With a population equally divided among Native Americans, Hispanics, and Anglos, the town reflects the essence of America’s southwest. Stringent laws have preserved its unique adobe architecture, and any additions must conform to the original design concepts. The enforced consistency has resulted in a remarkable harmony. Strolling through the spacious tree-lined central Plaza or by the Palace of the Governors (the oldest public building still standing in the U.S.), or along any of Santa Fe’s quaint streets, one gets a feel for what this place was like centuries ago.
No matter what “civilization” has brought to this thriving community, ultimately Mother Nature steals the show. Awesome vistas high-lighted by staggering, hue-imbued sunrises and sunsets abound. Despite the serene ambiance
Santa Fe bustles, especially in summer when it emerges as a peerless cultural center. Here, visitors will find a renowned opera company plus an equally esteemed chamber music festival.
I was introduced to Santa Fe’s charms through a customized travel organization founded 11 years ago by Leshek Zavistovski and Toni Rapport, two members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and dubbed, quasi-eponymously, Zara Arts International. Three years ago, after untold summers spent soaking up Santa Fe’s multicultural diversity, the Zavs (as Leshek and Toni are known affectionately) retired from the Met, bought their dream house and settled down ... sort of. Now concentrating their energies on travel, the Zavs personally guide groups throughout western and eastern Europe and the United States. Santa Fe, however, remains the jewel in Zara Arts’s crown. The Zavistovskis dedicated themselves to promoting their “hometown,” and if two more erudite, caring or delightful guides exist, I’ve yet to find them.
Recently I joined their four-day Santa Fe excursion along with a dozen or so participants, including a group from Japan. Zara Arts, in fact, was founded in part at the insistence of Japanese friends whom the Zavs met on Met Opera visits to the Orient. Thus, most of their trips bring together a diverse group of strangers from the East and West who wind up as friends.
The first evening we took a short walk to the Lensic Performing Arts Center to attend a concert given by members of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. The participants — a who’s who of classical artists — included Gary Graffman, Pinchas Zuckerman and Lynn Harrell. The Chamber Music Festival, under the direction of Mark Neikrug, a celebrated pianist and composer in his own right, has become an integral part of a musical scene once dominated solely by the opera company. Following the concert, Zara Arts held a private welcome reception at our hotel where, fortified with margaritas, we retired for a deserved and welcome sleep.
The next morning, Leshek conducted a relaxed walking tour of historic Santa Fe, pointing out places of primary interest. Our amble ended at the Museum of Fine Arts where, mouths agape, we wandered through a dazzling exhibition of the private possessions and artifacts of Tsar Nicholas and his Tsarina, Alexandra. Lunch was served at the Casa Sena Restaurant, a long-time Santa Fe favorite.
After a post-prandial catnap, we enjoyed a private reception and showing of works by Native American artists at the Lewallen Gallery. Following a spectacular dinner in the Wine Room at the Old House Restaurant in the Eldorado Hotel, a motor coach whisked us off to the Santa Fe Opera House and a performance of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra. The stunning outdoor theater has been fortified with a protective roof just in case Mother Nature decides to throw a climate curve ball.
Next morning, we attended the Fifth International Biennial Exhibition, “Disparities and Deformations: Our Grotesque” (curated by Robert Storr, a preeminent critic and scholar) at SITE Santa Fe. Katia, our knowledgeable and lovely docent, led us through the “grotesqueries,” explaining the what, how and why of remarkable works. Katia just happens to be Toni and Leshek’s daughter. Matter of fact, everything about the Santa Fe tour with Zara evinced a personal note.
Avid art collectors themselves, the Zavs have formed lasting friendships with major artists, a few of whom graciously welcomed us. Especially notable were visits to the homes and studios of two prominent artists, James Havard and Mary Neumuth Mito. Havard’s hillside house, garden and studio uncannily evoke the Tuscan countryside, while Mito’s Canyon Road area residence exemplifies the grace of contemporary Santa Fe.
Having devoted that afternoon to art, we turned our concentration to music in the evening. We dined at the Opera’s pre-performance buffet before a presentation of Bellini’s La Sonambula starring internationally acclaimed Natalie Dessay. Handel’s Agrippina and Mozart’s Don Giovanni filled the other evenings.
The next morning we toured the School of American Research, a well-stocked repository of Native American art and artifacts. You never saw such fabulous woven baskets — both ancient and modern. Next, we were guided through the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum; later we took a private tour of this singular artist’s home and studio in nearby Abiquiu. O’Keeffe made this extraordinary location her home for years, and her distinctive paintings reflect the area’s essence.
A Santa Fe sojourn would not be complete without a trip to one of the many surrounding Native American pueblos. Nearly every summer weekend, one or another of these clay towns observes a feast day in honor of its patron saint. We stopped at Santa Clara Village where the Singing Water Gallery arranged for a pottery-making demonstration, topped by an Indian taco meal. Trust me, these delectable real McCoys bear no resemblance to pallid assembly-line versions slapped together by commercial purveyors.
Zara focuses on elegant dining too. I happily remember a lavish buffet set up in a private home (housing a dazzling collection of contemporary art) in Casas de San Juan. The highlight, though, just might have been dinner at the Zavistovskis on our last evening. Toni, well-known for her culinary skills, and Leshek, a sommelier par excellence, exude hospitality. The idyllic combination of glorious food, excellent wines, lively company and a scintillating sunset ended our Zara Arts outing on a high note.
FOR MORE INFORMATION about tours offered by Zara Arts International, Ltd., contact them at: Tel: 505-955-0990; Fax: 505-955-0991; E-mail: ZaraArts@aol.com
TRAVEL TIPS – SANTA FE
• Motorcoach shuttle service runs hourly from the Albuquerque airport to Santa Fe.
• Santa Fe averages 300 sunny days a year. Since the town lies in the high desert, days are comfortably dry, not sticky and humid. Attire reflects Santa Fe’s casual atmosphere. Because evenings can be cool, warm wraps are recommended, especially at the opera.
• Winter is also a lovely time to visit. At Christmas, candles or electric lights placed in pierced containers of paper and tin (called farolitos) decorate the central Plaza and buildings.
• Visitors are encouraged to take side trips to ancient Native American pueblos including San Ildefonso, home of the famous potter Maria Martinez. The thriving and picturesque community of Taos should not be missed.