Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas in the Land of Enchantment

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — The mystical aroma of roasting green chile wafting through a cozy adobe and blending with the smoky scents emanating from piñon logs on a kiva hearth will make you forget about chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
Christmas in New Mexico offers so many treats and blessings missed by culturally-deprived souls in less fortunate and less imaginative parts of the world.
In fact, a season or two here could make you wonder if the Three Wise Men might have foregone the frankincense, gold, and myrrh in favor of piñon, turquoise and green chile if they’d had a chance to stock up on supplies in this part of the world.
Christmas in New Mexico will show you why they call this the Land of Enchantment. Once you’ve experienced it, it stays in your soul forever, and even pre-conversion Grinches and Scrooges are swayed by its sweet, spicy and spiritual delights.
And sometimes, its eccentric surprises.
You can find beach bonfires and high desert lighted boat parades at Elephant Butte.
We enjoy weeks of innovative and traditional holiday music and dance.
There are pageants whose roots go back centuries.
For the Gran Posada, Mary, Joseph and a donkey, generally borrowed from the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, lead a procession on the Downtown Mall and search for room at the inn, followed by piñata whacking and a little nosh that stars our official state cookie: biscochitos.
Six local families have joined for generations to continue annual presentations of Los Pastores, a colorful morality play filled with diablos and angels and humor and pathos and uplifting messages.
This is the year I gave up on trying to do a total count of the number of luminarias fielded for Mesilla Valley displays ... at Winterfest, NMSU’s Noche de Luminarias, Fort Selden State Monument’s Luminaria Tour, the Friends of Rockhound State Park Festival of Light, the Weekend of Lights Festival, Luminaria Beachwalk & Floating Lights Parade in Elephant Butte and Truth or Consequences and the Christmas week plaza displays in Doña Ana and Christmas Eve in Mesilla.
Christmas is never really Christmas for me without a visit to Mesilla. I love the tree with ornaments handmade by elementary school kids, and beautiful San Albino Basilica and the gazebo and old adobe Mesilla Plaza buildings decorated for the season, reminiscent, many say, of the best of old Santa Fe in its golden era.
But Mesilla has a style all its own, too: The large nativity scene perched above a portrait of Billy the Kid, for instance.
And my frequent visitors always clamor for a return pilgrimage to see the three Ps —the live piranhas, parrots and poinsettias — flocked together at the entrance of La Posta restaurant.
I visited this week and was told there is currently just one piranha in residence. The glittery gold fish in surrounding tanks looked especially joyful. Their chances of peace on earth this season are vastly improved with the diminished piranha population, since the goldfish are their Christmas dinner.
While you’re at La Posta, don’t miss the beautiful, hand-painted, larger-than-life nativity figures and scenes created by Kathy Groves and Beverly Chavez Floyd, who also created imaginative Borderland-inspired Christmas trees festooned with colorful Mexican paper flowers, silvery punched tin ornaments, parrots and puffs of Mesilla Valley cotton to simulate snow.
The nativity figures, gathered in vignettes in rooms throughout the historical adobe complex, also feature distinctive Borderland folk art style and unmistakable New Mexico influences.
Silver, punched-tin birds fly over the head of baby Jesus in his folk art crib, nestled in a cloud of cotton. In a bright orange room with a swatch of exposed adobe brick, a shepherd in a robe festooned with a red chile ristra abides over his flock, which includes a lovely turquoise-colored sheep accented with motifs of red, orange, purple and green.
Ah, Christmas in New Mexico. May its creative and loving spirit linger with you through 2010.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at, (575) 541-5450

Tis the season for extreme clutter

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — This holiday season, I was finally going to clean out all my closets and cupboards and that pile of stuff in the garage and donate everything I haven’t worn, sat or slept on, decorated or cooked or created with in the last year to someone who could make better use of it all.
Those were my good intentions, my early New Year’s resolutions.
That was before I gave at the office.
They chose this joyous season to renovate the Sun-News, so we were asked to clear our decks (and desks) as we were moved around to various exotic locales, including what used to be our advertising department.
Having unearthed several artifacts, I’ve had occasion to remember my first day here, back in 1994, when, as usual, I arrived early. I asked for a suggestion about where to perch from then-colleague Pam Angell, another earlybird, and she pointed to the desk that for the past 16 years has been my home-away-from-home. In fact, I’ve spend more waking hours there than at any one location in any of the homes I’ve occupied since.
I came from opulent Palm Beach, Fla., where one of my offices was nearly the size of the entire newsroom area I have shared with 17 to 30-plus people over the years.
It was a major feat to even contemplate the dismantling of the complex of subterranean and above-ground storage devised over the last decades at my work station, to say nothing of the Lego-like engineering involved in my wall of art. Finally, I gave up, packed what I could in boxes and took the more fragile pieces home.
There, I struggled to find storage space amidst the Christmas chaos. In desperation, I assigned everybody on my gift list a canvas tote or two, scrounged to find yet more packing boxes and shipped off all the out-of-town stuff early.
Usually, I wrap each gift individually with a witty little personal comment or instructions. This time, I didn’t. I should have.
The confused e-mails began trickling in.
“Re: The hoodie, mask and cardinal; I confess I may have to call for further instructions. I see great potential in this outfit, but need further enlightenment,” Dr. Roger e-mailed.
I panicked.
There were three hoodies in that shipment of packages, but none of them were supposed to go to Roger. Would this be a repeat of the holiday in which a brand new shipping clerk sent packages destined for Iowa, Florida and California, all to my son in Portland, Ore.?
I frantically sent out descriptions of all the Christmas hoodies and found that all were present and accounted for.
Roger had been confused by a travel set that included a combination pillow and blanket and a sleep mask, all designed to help insomniacs catch a few winks on a jet. The cardinal was a clip-on, feathered bird I thought would make a festive addition to his hat or tie.
Most of the gift confusion has been resolved. Now, I must get all my office boxes out of storage and figure out how to fit it all artistically into the old space, without marring or clashing with the freshly painted walls, new carpet and ceiling tiles.
Meanwhile, at home on the high range, I should be celebrating boxing day with the rest of the world, packing away the holiday decorations and making room for the new presents.
But maybe I’ll wait awhile. As I said, I gave at the office.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

You and Bing can have your White Christmases

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — I’m not dreaming of a White Christmas.
I grew up in Michigan and I’ve done my time.
Icy, bone-chilling, soul-numbing, snowy, hard time.
In fact, getting away from snow was a major reason I decided to move to New Mexico.
And then out of northern New Mexico, after a year when the snow season lasted from November to the following May in Santa Fe.
After a seven-year detour to Jamaica and southern Florida, where I learned there are far worse things than snow (hurricanes and alligators on the patio, for starters), finally, I got it right and moved here.
In Las Cruces, Jack Frost may, very rarely, nip at your nose, but chances are, he’ll never go full-tilt polar vampiric on you and drain all the warmth from your bones.
We may enjoy a winter wonderland snowfall once or twice a year, but after coating the desert with a fragile layer of icy lace and posing for a photo op against the intensely lapis blue sky, it’s likely to melt away that same day in the gleaming sunlight.
It might hang around for a little longer in the mountains, frosting the Organs and providing a spectacular backdrop without inconveniencing us a whit, as we go about our business at lower elevations.
Snow rarely outstays its welcome, just another reason we love winter in southern New Mexico, where we can usually also expect a few balmy 70-plus degree days here and there.
I used to dread snow. I’d even be inclined to call it a phobia if I didn’t know that the correct definition of phobia is an “irrational and abnormal fear.”
If you’ve done hard time in snow, you know that fear is rational and normal.
Decades later, even after a long and happy hiatus in the desert and the tropics, I can see a weather report and find myself mired in a blizzard of flurry flashbacks, still suffering from PTSS (Post-Traumatic Snow Syndrome).
Even as a very small child, I can remember musing that there had to be a better way of life somehow, somewhere, some way, as mom bundled us in insulated underwear, sweaters, zip-up snowsuits and hats. And more. I still remember the drill: the mittens that were clipped to our sleeves, the muffler tied around our faces, covering our red little noses and our chapped little lips and cheeks.
And yes, I remember the treats, too: making snow angels and snowmen and the thrill of sledding down a powdery hill. The sweet syrupy icicles that dripped from the maple trees in our front yard. The snow ice cream mom showed us how to make by pouring a little milk, sugar and vanilla in a big bowl packed with fresh snow.
And the snow sports: Skiing and ice skating and snowshoeing through the pristine white wilderness.
But that’s not what I remember most when I think of winter. The snow sports and treats just weren’t enough to override the memories of the sheer terror of learning to drive on icy roads, and those frigid daily walks to school, the cabin fever, and yes, all those toddler-through-college snowsuits, the feeling of being confined — trapped, even — for what seemed like more than half the year.
This past week, I realized that a couple of decades in New Mexico — the good, mostly one-day snow part of the state — have healed some of my wounds.
I didn’t even grumble too much when we got twice our usual annual quota of snowfalls in a single week.
It even seemed kind of appropriate to have actual winter weather for Winterfest this year.
But I’m good to go now, and no, I’d just as soon not have a White Christmas this year.
Two 2009 snowfalls are quite enough, thanks.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mary Christmas thoughts

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — She was faithful, loyal, prophetic and a very brave teenager. She has been revered through the ages as the ultimate mother; a saint, in fact, and more: the Mother of God.
Like her son, she has inspired faith and reverence for more than 2,000 years and, like her son, has appeared many times, over the centuries ... to a young girl named Bernadette in Lourdes, France, in 1858, to a humble Indian named Juan Diego, near what is now Mexico City, in 1531, and reportedly to many in our own times, in forms that range from tears on a statue to an image on a tortilla.
Whatever the truth of the apparitions, no one can dispute that her story has provided inspiration through the centuries.
Who is the real Mary?
Like most of us, my memories of Mary date back to earliest childhood, to scenes of the nativity in churches and schools, and stories told in bible school lessons and elementary school pageants, back in the days when there were no barriers to religious displays in public schools.
I remember going to see an old movie, “The Song of Bernadette” with my cousins when we were little kids and having discussions about what we’d do if we saw Mary. We all hoped we would.
I still do. And somehow, in the Borderlands, particularly, and especially at this time of year, Mary seems very close to us all.
We see her image on banners and statues and shirts and dancers’ headpieces at the Guadalupe Fiesta celebrations at Tortugas and St. Genevieve’s. After 16 fiestas here, I still muse about why there was a rift between the two fiestas. This year, I’m saying a special little prayer to Maria —I’m sure it’s not the first — that they resolve their differences. But maybe it’s a way of spreading the attention we pay Our Lady, from the top of Tortugas Mountain to Downtown Las Cruces, where the first Our Lady feast day celebrations were held over a century ago. I’ve heard that God creates by establishing diversity which we must work to resolve.
There are so many art festivals honoring Mary here this year that I’ve termed this month Guadalupepalooza.
There’s an art show at the Branigan with photos of Guadalupe Festival celebrations and several shows that incorporate interpretations of the now famous Guadalupe image and regional screenings of a documentary about the festival.
And our oldest and newest galleries have December shows dedicated entirely to art inspired by Our Lady.
“Gualdalupe/Lupe/Lupita: Images of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Transmutation, Transformation, Transcendence” is the featured exhibit at the brand new Galería Tepín at 2220 Calle de Parian in Mesilla.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Art: A show of Guadalupes, religious symbols, churches, saints and crosses by 15 local artists runs though Dec. 31 at The Cutter Gallery, 2640 El Paseo Road.
I love the images and the pageants and music celebrating Mary, but somehow what always comes to mind is the very approachable young woman herself. Some traditions have it that she was an immaculate conception herself, groomed through eons of tradition among a devout community to fulfill her vision of bringing forth a savior.
Even so, I wonder at her bravery, welcoming a pregnancy that could leave her abandoned by her fiancé or even stoned to death if her condition came to light, or executed for blasphemy if she proclaimed her child the Savior and son of God.
The young mother and her husband courageously faced so many dilemmas. How to travel to a distant town and give birth in a stable at a time when the infant mortality rate was so high? How to escape to a foreign land to save your newborn baby from mass slaughter?
Even with supreme faith and the support of her community, even with the knowledge of what it would mean for mankind, how to reconcile mission and a mother’s heart, faced with the knowledge of the interim fate of a beloved child? How to prepare him for a mission that would involve cosmic trials and temptations and a brutal crucifixion? What mother would not rather be crucified herself than see her child suffer such agony and abuse? How to endure and transcend that, to keep the faith? How to support a risen Christ and Savior and nurture a young church?
Mary did. And maybe those moments we remember this month, the sages and shepherd and angels who came to visit a new mom and her firstborn in a sacred manger, helped strengthen and inspire her to endure as they inspire us today.
This week, as we dance and pray, make pilgrimages and pledges, as we sacrifice and celebrate, I will be remembering the woman who made the season of light possible. It will sound the same as I share the traditional joyful greeting, but I’ll be thinking: Mary Christmas.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Don’t get caught under the mistletoe with anyone born after 1950.

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — As the holiday social season heats up in this special season of love, family, friends —and flu— maybe it’s time to rethink some of our warm New Mexico traditions.
I’ve written a lot over the years about our greeting customs, with lots of input from you.
We’ve debated the merits of besos, from L.A.-style air kisses to French two-cheek salutes and full-on lipsmackers.
We’ve discussed ubiquitous hugs. And I’ve explained that never before, in all my decades as a journalist, have I encountered so many sweet souls who seemed moved to end our interviews with spontaneous hugs. (The fact that I went from political and investigative reporting in my earlier career to arts and entertainment after moving to Las Cruces might be a factor, but maybe we’re just naturally more affectionate here.)
Trendy greetings have also been covered over the years, including the decline of high-fives in favor of a then-new innovation I described as the pulled-punch knuckle-knock. It’s since gone mainstream under a pithy and more apt name: fist bump.
In a couple of columns, you’ve shared your wisdom about venerable New Mexico traditions surrounding proper hand signals for greeting amigos and unmet friends when you’re both in cars, when one of you is in a truck and the other’s a pedestrian. And we’ve covered the variations that apply, depending on whether you’re in the city or in the “country” (defined as one block or more from a town’s plaza).
As I recall, various areas of the state differ on full palm vs. two- or three-fingered salutes for various road and pedestrian, town and country greetings. But it seems that any road rules will be OK in terms of current contagion concerns, since mobile greetings aren’t a contact sport.
But what do we do about the swine flu during the peak holiday social season?
If we’re all supposed to be coughing into our elbows, is it reckless to join our germy elbows in holiday hugs?
Does it make sense to compulsively Purell and wash our hands until they’re raw and then wantonly and promiscuously go around shaking hands and sharing high-fives and low-fives and bro-hug-double-tap-fist-bump combos at the office party?
And yes, air kissing seems superficial and cold, but if we want to avoid colds and flu, the French cheek salutes and lipsmackers seem contraindicated.
I was sharing such dilemmas with a friend who once took me to a Las Cruces mosque to pray and I remembered that we both reached out to shake hands and were gently instructed it was against Islamic customs for men and women just meeting to have any physical contact.
I later witnessed a nice, heartfelt greeting reportedly common in the Middle East that involved placing one’s hand upon one’s own heart, Pledge of Allegiance style, and gently patting while facing the person being greeted.
The gesture is similar to the one in a nationwide campaign to thank military men and women when you see them. For more info, go to www.gratitude campaign. com, or visit and click on this column in Lifestyle and Sunlife or Las Cruces Style in the Blogzone.
It might be a good ecumenical and practical gesture to adopt over all the holiday season, particularly when encountering pregnant women, small children and other high risk groups.
Maybe, if you were born before 1950 and are otherwise in an immune or low-risk group, you can skip the H1N1 vaccine AND go for the Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa lipsmackers and full-body hugs with your peers.
At last, a perk for getting old. Flirting is no longer a blood sport and you’ve survived long enough to qualify for safe public displays of affection.
Still, it seems an odd twist to offer advice like this to members of the protest generation whose motto was once, “Don’t trust anybody over 30.”
But here it is, the manta for the new millennium, or at least until H1N1 runs its course:
Don’t get caught under the mistletoe with anyone born after 1950.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style

Hot to cool: A societal temperature shift is due

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — Let’s talk temperature.
I’m not talking Fahrenheit — or Celsius.
What interests me is social temperature.
Just when did it become cool to be hot? Are we due for another societal shift? I feel a nip in the air — and not just because it’s December.
When I was growing up, in the height of the post-war Baby Boom. That’s World War II, I’m sad to have to point out, since we, like our parents during World War I, were told the global devastation that came just before we entered the planet was the war to end all wars.
As we know, it didn’t turn out that way.
But back to those temperature trends.
By the 1960s and 70s, being dubbed “cool” was the ultimate compliment, the best of everything in categories ranging from fashion, furniture, art, music and dance to sex appeal, hair, and most of all, attitude.
In fact, if you had the right attitude and the confidence to project it, you could be the coolest person in the room even if your skills sets were lacking in just about every area.
Marshal McLuhan even acquired an international reputation upon a communication theory built around the concept of hot and cool media.
I’m not sure when the reign of cool began. The parents of baby boomers still thought that being “hot stuff” was a great tribute, and even those into cool jazz admired musicians who contributed hot licks.
But somewhere along the line, cool became king. It was, I suspect, sometime, around the 1950s, about the time of cool jazz and rock and roll.
And, of course, the Cold War, which wasn’t cool at all. Maybe it was the protest generation, railing against that, the Vietnam War, Watergate, the military industrial complex, et al, that finally solidified the commitment to cool.
And I’m equally unsure about when the shift began to hot. There were serious inroads as early as the 1980s, with the advent the Me Generation heating up extreme consumerism and the economy, and movies like “Body Heat” setting the standard for steamy sexuality. (Though those of us who actually lived in the movie’s muggy Florida location know it was much more romantic to spend an evening in cool, air-conditioned comfort.)
But when it comes to complete conversion to the upper reaches of the societal thermostat, I think I’d call it sometime around the advent of the new millennium, when “hot” clearly constituted about half of Paris Hilton’s vocabulary. (The other half was “that’s,” as in “That’s hot.”)
I sympathize. Even for the Greatest Generation and the Protest Generation, who’ve been through quite a lot, it was hard to remain cool when the Twin Towers were falling, wars were heating up on too many fronts, the super-heated economy was tanking, and global warming was melting the polar icecaps.
Of course, that’s exactly when cool heads should prevail, and I begin to see signs the Gen Xers and their younger Y and Z siblings were beginning to gravitate to cool.
I saw rappers wearing fedoras and plucking up posters, music and the general ambience of the Rat Pack. Though Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter and Joey weren’t really part of the cool Baby Boomer generation, they were among the first of our parents’ generation to be given the “cool” nod, our ultimate compliment.
And they embraced and embodied it with a style and élan that most of us Gen-Protest kids had a hard time emulating.
Flower power and much of the hippie culture, and certainly Jack Nicholson were very cool early on (Jack never lost his cool and remains the perpetually cool gold standard today.) But again, things heated up, with the wars, struggles against racism and political corruption and drugs ... and free love, that turned out to be not so free after all.
What will the new cool model turn out to be? Just fedoras and retro cocktails and a reprise of ugly green and orange decor, or something more?
If cooler tempers and rationality prevail over the hotheads in these hot and tumultuous times...
Well, that’s cool with me.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Friday, November 13, 2009

Doug Rains' Legacy continues

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — For more than two decades, Doug Rains made it his mission to help needy kids get brand new winter wardrobes. The holiday Dress-the-Child shopping sprees represented a chance for kids — for many, the first opportunity in their young lifetimes — to have brand new garments and shoes that really fit.
Doug used to refer to anyone who offered the slightest bit of help as one of his “angels.”
Doug died Sept. 24, but his program lives on through angels who want Doug’s legacy to be another 500 kids with new clothes before Christmas.
“Actually, we might be able to make it 510 this year,” thanks to an outpouring of support in reaction to Rains’ passing, said Doug Boberg, who is “carrying the torch” as the new Dress-the-Child chairman.
Now, Boberg’s looking for angels to help kids shop for their new winter wardrobes at sessions that start today. The kids have been prescreened and qualified by the Salvation Army here.
The “dressing” events will be at 6:30 p.m. today at Sears in the Mesilla Valley Mall, 9 a.m. Nov. 22 at JC Penney in the Mesilla Valley Mall, 7 a.m. Dec. 5 at Wal-Mart at 571 Walton Blvd., and 6:30 p.m. Dec. 6 at Kohl’s, 2500 S. Triviz Drive.
Volunteers may show up at the events with a hand-held calculator. If you’d like more information, contact Boberg at (575) 644-9469 or e-mail
And it’s not too early to think about becoming one of Doug Rains’ 2010 angels. If you’d like to help, checks should be made payable to "Dress-the-Child” and sent to First New Mexico Bank, Att: Julie Koenig, 3000 E. Lohman Ave., Las Cruces, NM 88011, or Doug Boberg, Dress-the-Child Chairman, 141 Mimosa Lane, Las Cruces, NM 88001.
Rains, who died “peacefully in his sleep” just a few weeks before what would have been his 84th birthday, was thoughtful and organized to the end, managing to “turn over his practice” to Boberg and arranging to make the Rio Grande Rotarians the fiscal agents for the program.
“It was full circle. The program started in 1986 with the Rotarians. About three years ago, Doug asked if I could take it over and this year, he asked me to shadow him. As I was following him, I found that he was very organized. He worked hard and recruited good people and thought everything through. He probably wouldn’t have left if he hadn’t had all his ducks in a row,” Boberg believes.
He recalled some of Rains’ inspirational anecdotes about the joys of helping kids.
“It’s a tremendous program and I’m honored to be a part of it. Doug told me about one little boy who was just so happy to get a new pair of jeans. It was all he wanted and more than he could ever hope for when he got another pair of jeans, socks and other clothes. And we talked about not just what it does for the child, but the relief on their parents’ faces, what a huge help it was for both the children and their parents,” Boberg said.
Doug was the ultimate “dad” and, I learned over the years, had a lot in common with my own father: both were Army Air Corps veterans (Doug served on a B-17 crew flying missions over France and Germany during World War II), both were Masons, both married educators. Barbara Simmons Rains, a professor at Texas Tech University when they married, and later a dean of NMSU’s College of Education, died just seven weeks before Doug left us.
His career in radio, TV, public relations and advertising included gigs as an on-air sports director in Texas and later as KRWG-TV’s development director. He retired from NMSU in 1994, about the time I met him, and then “unretired” to become vice president of business development for Community First National Bank, retiring again in 2000. The retirement again failed to take and he worked in public relations for the New Mexico Department of Agriculture until his death. And, of course, for a multitude of community causes that included the Salvation Army, Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce, Doña Ana Work Action Council, the Whole Enchilada Festival, Masonic Lodge, Las Cruces Rotary and the boards of Keep New Mexico Beautiful and the Community of Hope. His honors included Conquistador of the Year and Las Cruces Citizen of the Year, and he was named Distinguished Citizen of the Year by the state of New Mexico.
He was the father of three, grandfather of five and great-grandfather of one.
He was an angel to thousands of children, who might not have known the name behind the gently smiling face, but who will remember for a lifetime the gifts of brand new wardrobes and holidays filled with hope.
Every year, when I interviewed Doug, working full-tilt during his busiest fundraising efforts, he’d talk about how those shopping sprees got him into the holiday spirit.
If you’d like to share some of that spirit, volunteer to be a shopping escort. This year, I’m willing to bet you’ll have an angel as your co-pilot.
It’s likely he’ll be there in spirit, but don’t expect to hear a lot of bells.
I’m pretty sure angel Doug already has his wings.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Thursday, November 5, 2009

City changes for the better

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — The only constant is change.
As Phyllis Franzoy and I reminisced this week about our first Las Cruces International Mariachi conference meeting in the Sun-News publisher’s office 16 years ago, I thought about the little seeds planted then that resulted in more than 12,000 students of Mariachi music and folklorico dance who have gone on to form groups, breath new life into old traditions and in some cases, even come back to teach this year’s classes themselves.
That same year, ArtsHop, another venerable tradition, was born.
Not long after, they were joined by other innovative programs and institutions, things that have become traditions: Court Youth Center and Alma d’arte, Border Book Festival, the Black Box Theatre, the renovated Rio Grande Theatre, the Las Cruces Art Museum, the Railroad Depot Museum, a burgeoning cluster of galleries on the Downtown Mall and sites around town...
Last week, I wandered down the yellow brick road on the Downtown Mall and wondered if we could save some of those bricks for some interesting art project.
My favorite mall block is looking pretty naked as they tear down the old arches, but, as in the Rio Grande Theatre block, the process reveals and showcases some beautiful architecture in museums, theaters and old adobe storefronts.
The almost-compete new city hall and federal building still seem out of scale with our cozy, adobe, mostly one-story downtown, but I’m keeping an open mind.
I had great trepidations about moving the Las Cruces Farmers and Crafts Market across Las Cruces Avenue, and there are still some issues with shade and shelter. But I’ve been surprised how fun and upscale it all seems, how it brings life to the renovated block that never seemed quite finished or alive until the market came there.
We’re starting our own potion of the Downtown revitalization effort this week, as part of the newsroom in the old Las Cruces Sun-News building moves to another part of the building while they paint and replace ceiling tile and lay new carpet. Advertising has already completed its spruce-up and my part of the newsroom will be next.
I’ve been sorting through boxes of negatives from the 35mm days, news clips, files, business cards, tapes and CDs, and an old Rolodex that was already bent and ancient when I arrived in 1994.
For you whippersnappers, Rolodexes were those old hard-copy contraptions, like little leather address books, that most of us had in the days before everybody stored everything on their phones and PCs. And the low-tech backups still come in handy, I’ve found, when someone in your office or family suffers a PC crash or lost cell phone.
I flip through the old Rolodex cards and, like the kid in “The Sixth Sense,” I see dead people. There’s a card for Thelma “T.I.M” Medoff, Mark’s mom, and I think back to our first early morning conversation, when she called the newsroom to complain that the bridge column wasn’t in the morning paper.
And our last conversation, when she called to tell me my review of her son’s play was “exemplary.” She went to see it and had a good time, she reported, and then went home and, sometime that night, crossed over to that great theater in the sky.
In between those conversations, we became friends.
There are a lot of cards like that: Artists and musicians and novelists and poets and journalists and editors who have moved on, to other cities and countries and new and next lives.
I miss those who have moved to realms accessible only by prayer and dreamtime. But I’ve been around long enough to remain convinced that when we leave this plain, good souls go to a better place, and I feel blessed to have known so many who clearly qualify for Heaven.
After awhile, I realize that I am going to have to stop reminiscing or they will end up having to leave me on my own unrenovated newsroom island, mired in 16 years of nostalgia.
The only constant is change.
As we enter the month of Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that in my querencia Las Cruces, the changes are so often for the better.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Yippee-aye-yay, Yippee-aye-yo...Ghost writers in the sky

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — Almost ready to move on to Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and other year-end holidays?
Not so fast.
The costumes aren’t over for another weekend, if you’re planning to dress up in really-really retro-wear for Doña Ana Arts Council’s Renaissance ArtsFaire Nov. 7 and 8.
And it looks like we aren’t ready to bid adios to the ghosts for awhile yet, either. Maybe never, the way several of our local haunts are attracting attention, fans, and paranormal investigators.
Generally, we can count on the ghosts taking a rest after Halloween and Dia de los Muertos events, continuing today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mesilla’s Plaza and ending with the final Day of the Dead candlelight procession from Mesilla Plaza to San Albino Cemetery at 6:30 p.m. Monday.
But is that really it for the year?
Lately, I feel like I’ve become ghost writer ... not the kind that writes under someone else’s name, but someone who devotes a growing amount of time chronicling ghosts and ghostly issues.
In recent months, in addition to the burgeoning number of Halloween and Day of the Dead events, exhibits, posole parties, balls, bobbings, et al, it seems like a regular ghost beat has developed, starting with a summer field trip to artist Josh Bond’s “confirmed haunted” historic old adobe complex in Cuchillo. Neither grandson Alex the Great (a confirmed ghost aficionado) nor I experienced any ghostly phenomena, though we did share a spookily-close bat flyby in the old Cuchillo Bar.
I’ve written about two local ghost hunting groups, Southwest Paranormal Investigations and Las Cruces Paranormal Investigators (formerly Las Cruces Ghost Hunters) and attended two “reveals” of audio and visual allegedly paranormal activity at the old Tortilla Factory and the Double Eagle in Mesilla.
I’ve done stories on the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum’s annual Ghosts of the Past Tours, which focused more on real-life historical figures than the ghostly part, with a few exceptions, like portrayals of La Llorona.
I interviewed Joan and James Burnett, who just opened the new Metaphysical Life Enrichment Center at 2600 El Paseo Road. They said they have done some work with ghostly and paranormal activity.
Some of the paranormal investigators, here and on popular TV shows, seem to have little interest in “busting” or dispatching ghosts, but would rather focus on gathering material proof of ghostly activities.
Josh Bond, on the other hand, has a laissez-faire approach to the whole haunting biz and, except for the occasional drained battery or electrical disturbance, seem to enjoy casually hanging out with his resident spirits. Artists are used to muses and it’s probably not that much of a stretch.
And I’ve talked to some brave individuals who have worked alone, investigating some pesky hauntings, including the Rev. Martha Turner. Like Jennifer Love Hewitt on “The Ghost Whisper,” Rev. Turner feels we should concentrate on helping lost ghostly souls to go into the light and on with their spiritual journeys.
I agree.
I wrote my first book, “Tenny Hale: American Prophet,” about one of the most documented psychics of our time. Hale was also a parapsychology pioneer. She thought much of what we consider to be poltergeist activity was actually manifestation of displaced adolescent energy and sometimes older (living) souls who had not learned to handle their psychic powers.
Maybe that’s a good thing for the paranormal aficionados. With all the proliferating ghost hunters and apparently more efficient and skillful ghost whispers these days, we could run out of ghosts pretty quickly, as they move into the light or get irked at all the spook stalkers and refuse to come out to play.
On the other hand, we’ll probably never run out of teen angst, so we can count on an inexhaustible supply of poltergeist activity.
To each his own.
But frankly, I’d rather move into some new seasonal activities and spend my time communing with a trinity of spirits who’ve proven themselves over the eons to be boon companions and infallible fountains of faith, love, sound advice and hope — the Father, the Son and my all-time favorite ghost: the holy one.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Monday, October 26, 2009

Whio ya gonna call?

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — Are ghosts or paranormal phenomena haunting you? Who ya gonna call?
Actually, you have quite a few choices these days. It kind of depends on what your ghostly encounter preferences are. Do you want to bust or hunt? Would you like to photograph or record visual and audio proof of your haunting? Help the spirit into the light or just get the pesky poltergeist off the premises and keep it from interfering with your TV reception or knocking things off your shelves?
Las Cruces has two — count ‘em, TWO — groups specializing in paranormal investigations, plus a new metaphysical center that traces your personal ghostly history with both past and also “between-lives” readings, plus several free agents who focus on ghostly issues and an artist who’s put part of his “ghost town” holdings up for sale on e-bay, in case you want a haunt of your very own.
Read about Southwest Paranormal Investigators in today’s SunLife Section or check out their Web site:
I interviewed members of the other local group, Las Cruces Ghost Hunters, in 2008 and I understand they are now known as Las Cruces Paranormal Investigators (LCPI).
“Most people never tell their stories because they are afraid that their friends and family might ridicule them. It’s important for those people to know they’re not alone. We want to let Las Cruces know that we are out there and we want to help in any way that we can," said Mary Russell, a member of the group, who told me surveys indicate that “80 percent of people believe in ghosts.”
She said her group includes members “from different backgrounds, religions, and races. We have a psychic, an exorcist and people who are more interested in the scientific side of it. We aren't professionals, but we are a well-trained group that does take our investigations seriously. The toughest part of our job is to going into each investigation acting and thinking like a skeptic. We have to be open-minded and examine all the facts of logical explanation. We try to be fair, rational and always search for logical explanations and want to uncover the absolute truth,” Russell said.
To find out about LCPI meetings and activities, call her at (575) 405-6357, e-mail or visit online at
I’d say the Rev. Martha Turner of Heart of the Dove, who has worked with Mary’s group, is more of a ghost whisperer than a hunter or buster. She’s identified and communed with assorted spirits in Mesilla and has also done grief counseling and worked with people who are dealing with issues related to departed loved ones.
“One of the reasons I was drawn to do the paranormal work again is that with the veils so thin, there have been so many individuals having experiences. I wanted to be able to assist them in understanding what is really happening. We have been the advisors for the LCPI for almost a year. We have been teaching them the laws in the universe, how to release spirit and the difference between ‘hunting’ and ‘serving’ the important aspects of our ‘soul brothers and sisters’ who require moving on,” said Turner, who reports she has been involved with ghost work “since 1974. It was the biggest part of my work for years: House readings, releasing and communicating with them. I am now moving back into that work. I really think bringing loved ones thoughts and wishes and (getting issues) resolved for family members is super important so I AM on the job again.”
Contact her at (575)-644-2321 or e-mail
Want to get in touch with your inner ghost? Visit Joan and James Burnett, who just opened Metaphysical Life Enrichment Center at 2600 El Paseo Road, former home of Patio Art Gallery and Rio Grande Antiques. They told me that they have done some work with ghostly and paranormal activity. But if you believe cleaning up ghostly issues truly begins at home, you might want to try Joan Burnett’s intensive past life regressions or “between life regression therapy” which aims to delve into some really deep-seated issues that may be haunting you, lifetime after lifetime. Visit or call the center at (575) 647-0300.
Or maybe you’d like your very own haunt. When I interviewed him in July, Josh Bond was offering overnight lodging at his “haunted” abode in Cochillo, near Truth or Consequences. And he’s recently posted a “confirmed haunted” adobe home on an eBay auction that ends Oct. 31. The home is among his restoration projects in Cochillo that include a whole haunted complex of buildings that once housed a hotel, post office, stables, general store, bar and more.
Josh said he was skeptical of the ghost rumors at first. But he has now hosted enough paranormal investigators and unexplained phenomena to feel “blessed to have a building that has benevolent spirits. I often find them offering help in little ways with my preservation” projects, he reports.
Other than occasionally lousing up his TV reception, draining his batteries and other minor pranks, they have offered few real problems and attracted a lot of attention from assorted investigators ... including the West Coast Ghost and Paranormal Society ( and TV and documentary producers. If you’d like to learn more about Josh’s haunted digs, contact him at
I have a feeling I’ve just scratched the surface of our burgeoning ghostly resources. If you have some helpful sources, let me know, and I’ll post them on my blog.
And happy Halloween and Dia de los Muertos.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Speaking the language of the dead

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — Día de los Muertos has been called “a day when heaven and earth meet” and “a celebration of lives well lived.”
In Las Cruces, it has become a beloved tradition, a time when Borderland cultures blend, showcasing and sometimes creatively combining Spanish, Mexican, American Indian and Anglo customs and beliefs.
Día De Los Muertos “is not a morbid holiday but a festive remembrance of Los Angelitos (children) and all souls (Los Difuntos),” according to a statement from The Calavera Coalition of Mesilla. “This celebration originated with the indigenous people of the American continent, the Aztec, Mayan, Toltec and the Inca. Now, many of the festivities have been transformed from their original pre-Hispanic origins. It is still celebrated throughout North America among Native American tribes. The Spanish arrived and they altered the celebration to coincide with the Catholic celebrations of All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2).”
Continuing an annual Las Cruces Style tradition, here is a guide to some important terms and concepts relating to Day of the Dead celebrations, collected during 16 years of commemorations.
alfeñique: Molded sugar figures used in altars for the dead.
ancianos: Grandparents or elderly friends or relatives who have died; ancestors honored during the first (north) part of processions for Day of the Dead.
angelitos: Literally “little angels,” refers to departed children and babies, traditionally honored during the first day of celebrations, Nov. 1, and the third (south) part of processions honoring the dead.
anima sola: A lonely soul or spirit who died far from home or who is without amigos or relatives to take responsibility for its care.
calascas: Handmade skeleton figurines which display an active and joyful afterlife, such as musicians or skeleton brides and grooms in wedding finery.
calaveras: Skeletons, used in many ways for celebrations: bread and candies in the shape of skeletons are traditional, along with everything from small and large figures and decorations, skeleton head rattles, candles, masks, jewelry and T-shirts. It’s also the term for skull masks, often painted with bright colors and flowers and used in displays and worn in Day of the Dead processions.
literary calaveras: Poetic tributes written for departed loved ones or things mourned and/or as mock epitaphs.
Catrin and Catrina: Formally dressed couple, or bride and groom skeletons popularized by renowned graphic artist and political cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada.
copal: A fragrant resin from a Mexican tree used as incense, burned alone or mixed with sage in processions in honor of the dead.
Días de los Muertos: Days of the dead, usually celebrated on Oct. 31 through Nov. 2 (the official s date for Day of the Dead) in conjunction with All Souls Days or Todos Santos, the Catholic Feast of All Saints. Various Borderland communities, including Las Cruces, have their own celebration schedules in October and November.
Difunto: Deceased soul, corpse, cadaver.
La Flaca: Nickname for the female death figure, also known as La Muerte.
Frida Kahlo: Mexican artist who collected objects related to the Day of the Dead. Her photo often appears in Día de los Muertos shrines or retablos.
Los Guerreros: Literally, “the warriors,” are dead fathers, husbands, brothers and sons honored in the final (east) stop in Dia De Los Muertos processions.
marigolds: In Mexico, marigolds or “cempasuchil” are officially known as the “flower of the dead.” The flowers are added to processional wreaths at each stop, with one blossom representing each departed soul being honored. Sometimes marigold pedals are strewn from the cemetery to a house. Their pungent fragrance is said to help the spirits find their way back home. Sometimes mums and paper flowers are also used.
mariposas: Butterflies, and sometimes hummingbirds, appear with skeletons to symbolize the flight of the soul from the body to heaven.
masks: Carried or worn during processions and other activities, masks can range from white face paint to simple molded plaster or papier-maché creations or elaborate painted or carved versions that become family heirlooms.
Las Mujeres: The women who have died are honored during the second (west) stop of Day of the Dead processions. After names of dead mothers, daughters, sisters and friends are called and honored, it is traditional for the crowd to sing a song for the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Náhuatl poetry: Traditional odes dedicated to the subject of death, dating back to the pre-Columbian era.
ofrenda: Traditional altar where offerings such as flowers, clothing, food, photographs and objects loved by the departed are placed. The ofrenda may be constructed in the home — usually in the dining room — at a cemetery, or may be carried in a procession. The ofrenda base is usually an arch made of bent reeds. It is ornamented with special decorations, sometimes with heirlooms collected by families much like Christmas ornaments. Decorations may include skeleton figures, toys and musical instruments in addition to offerings for a specific loved one.
pan de muertos: Literally, “bread of the dead.” It is traditionally baked in the shape of a skull — calavera — and dusted with pink sugar. Here, local bakeries sometimes include red and green chile decorations.
papel picado: Decorations made of colored paper cut in intricate patterns.
Posada: José Guadalupe Posada, (1852-1913), the self-taught “printmaker to the people” and caricaturist was known for his whimsical calaveras, or skeletons, depicted wearing dapper clothes, playing instruments and otherwise nonchalantly conducting their everyday activities, sometimes riding on horse skeletons.
veladores: Professional mourners who help in the grief process in several ways, including candlelight vigils, prayers and with dramatic weeping and wailing.
Xolotlitzcuintle: Monster dog, sometimes depicted as a canine skeleton, sometimes as a Mexican hairless breed. Since pre-Columbian times, this Día de los Muertos doggy has, according to legend, been the departed’s friend, helping with the tests of the perilous crossing of the River Chiconauapan to Mictlan, the land of the dead.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Fiesta camouflage season

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — Fiesta camouflage.
It’s the time of year when you can slip on a pair of feathery angel’s wings and still go relatively unnoticed in the right crowd.
Donning an outfit festooned with bones and a macabre skeletal mask will generate smiles — maybe even joy and a pat on the back. After all, you’re demonstrating a kind of Dias de los Muertos patriotism, Borderland civic pride.
During FTFS (Full-tile Fiesta Season), costumes are practically a necessity for all ages and every member of the family, including infants and good-sport dogs and cats.
With a nod to tough times, we’re noting in today’s story that you can pick out a few relatively inexpensive accessories and build a costume, based on, say, clown shoes or goofy glasses.
Grandson Alexander the Great proved you might even get by with what’s already in the closet.
During his recent visit, he disappeared for a few minutes and came back in full regalia. Over his jeans and T shirt, he’d layered a long, midnight blue robe, with a leather vest embossed with a horse head, and topped everything off with a star-spangled, pointed hat from the costume closet and an old light saber from the saber and wand jar.
“I’m a cowboy wizard,” he announced, skulking mysteriously around my adobe patio walls and posing for a picture which he made me promise not to use. (Shortly thereafter, he turned 13, and I sense that the time has come when I shouldn’t share even his most creative antics in print without his permission.)
And I realize not all households have wings hanging on the wall, a saber and wand jar, and a costume closet. In fact, the costumes have now taken over most of the hall closet and the gift closet.
Maybe, I’ve been thinking lately, I don’t really need that giant Dilbert head mask, elasticized slip-on bird beaks and all those masks (at last inventory, the stock included a dolphin, a crow, King Tut, a few kachinas and two ETs).
And the hats. A fruit and flower covered Carmen Miranda chapeau. A little silver cap bristling with pipecleaner lightening bolts. Cowboy hats in every style from vintage Stetson to white lace and a brand new acquisition covered with a brightly-colored Mexican striped serape in a style I call fiesta camouflage.
Hmm. Actually the cowboy hats are year-around everyday wearable here, I reassure myself. And I did have the best King Tut mask at the Branigan Cultural Center’s King Tut exhibit opening a few years ago. And everybody still enjoys posing for pictures in the Carmen Miranda hat.
But maybe I could let one of the pointed wizard hats go, though they all got a good workout when the cousins gathered this summer.
The point is, even if you don’t have a fiesta camouflage collection of your own, resourceful souls can work with what they have.
My favorite childhood costume was a Viking ensemble my art teacher mom conjured from rummaging around the house: a garbage can lid transformed into a dramatic shield with painted crosses and fleurs-de-lis, an old baseball shirt that became a tunic, and killer accessories that included a cardboard sword with a tinfoil blade and an impressive helmet made out of a stainless steel bowl from the kitchen with horns shaped from repurposed toilet paper rolls. The homegrown costume won prizes and was such a hit that my sister and brother and I all wore some version of it over the years.
And it’s hard to beat the classic, old-sheet ghost costume. All it takes are holes for eyes and respiration and a thoughtful accessory or two. Sunglasses, gold chains and an upscale baseball cap for a rapper ghost. Sewn-on dangle earrings and maybe an old designer sheet for a glam ghost. A battered cowboy hat, boots and a star badge for a old-time cowboy sheriff ghost.
You get the idea. It’s not the big bucks you invest, but the thought that counts, when it comes to creative fiesta camouflage.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Vein of recent art news runs through Las Cruces

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — From premieres of movies and plays to breaking, national news with surprising local ties, September has been a newsy month.
In fact, there doesn’t seem to be time and space to fit in some of the most interesting tidbits.
Could Las Cruces end up with two Academy Award nominated writer-directors in residence, for instance?
It’s been a busy summer for our original hometown triple-threat movie ace, writer-director-producer Mark Medoff, a Tony Award winner who has twice taken plays from Las Cruces to Broadway. His “Children of a Lesser God” earned a screenwriting Academy Award nomination for Mark, and Marlee Matlin won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Medoff’s tormented deaf heroine.
Medoff directed and shares writing credits with Phil Treon for “Refuge,” starring Linda Hamilton, filmed here this summer, and this week debuts a new version of his “The Same Life Over,” at the Black Box Theatre.
I thought of Mark when I heard Patrick Swayze had died after a brave bout with pancreatic cancer.
The two worked together when Swayze starred in “The City of Joy.” Mark wrote the screenplay for the 1992 film, based on the novel of the same name by Dominique Lapierre.
“We enjoyed working together,” Medoff said. “I haven’t been in touch with Patrick since ‘City of Joy,’ but at that time we had several conversations — which included his wife, Lisa, who was his coach — about the character and the script. My sense of him was of a generous man who cared deeply about the work.”
Guillermo Arriaga, another Academy Award-nominated writer (for “Babel”), was in Las Cruces again this month for a preview of “The Burning Plain,” which was filmed in Las Cruces and Oregon in late 2007 and early 2008, and went into limited national release on Sept. 18 and will be screened Nov. 6 through 12 here at the Fountain Theatre in Mesilla.
Since the Sept. 11 “Burning Plain” benefit screening, its images have haunted my mind and I thought about Guillermo’s comment that “being a parking lot film is the worst thing that can happen to a film — by the time you get to the parking lot, you’ve already forgotten it.”
No danger of that for the “Plain.”
It fact, “The Burning Plain” was a hot topic on The View, Sept. 17, generating comments from all the hosts, including Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg and guest host La Toya Jackson.
“I have to tell you, in the opening of the movie, she’s totally nude,” Jackson said, as she welcomed the film’s star Charlize Theron.
“It’s an incredibly beautiful film and for me that was one of the most beautiful openings I’ve ever read in a script. To me, it was like, ‘Who’s this woman?’ And as a reader (of the script), I wanted to take that journey with her,” Theron said.
Theron and Arriaga appeared together on the Charlie Rose Show the same day. I missed it, but I heard reports that both had praise for Las Cruces and their filming experiences here.
“Charlize has a crush on New Mexico. She loves it,” Arriaga said.
Theron’s film credits in our territory also include “North County,” filmed in 2005 in Silver City.
Both times I’ve interviewed Arriaga, the Mexico City native has said he wants to make more films here and stressed that he’s serious about buying a home in Las Cruces.
Rumors have been afloat (if rumors can do that, in high desert county, here in Hollywood on the Rio Grande) that two major motion pictures are contemplating filming here soon. One rumor was confirmed last week, when a casting director put out a call for 100 drivers and their cars to appear in “Due Date,” a new comedy starring two-time Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis and Michelle Monaghan.
Maybe we’ll see you — along with many of the rest of us, and the always photogenic Organ Mountains — in the movies.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Movie News and more

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — From premieres of movies and plays to breaking, national news with surprising local ties, September has been a newsy month.
In fact, there doesn’t seem to be time and space to fit in some of the most interesting tidbits.
Could Las Cruces end up with two Academy Award nominated writer-directors in residence, for instance?
It’s been a busy summer for our original hometown triple-threat movie ace, writer-director-producer Mark Medoff, a Tony Award winner who has twice taken plays from Las Cruces to Broadway. His “Children of a Lesser God” earned a screenwriting Academy Award nomination for Mark, and Marlee Matlin won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Medoff’s tormented deaf heroine.
Medoff directed and shares writing credits with Phil Treon for “Refuge,” starring Linda Hamilton, filmed here this summer, and this week debuts a new version of his “The Same Life Over,” at the Black Box Theatre.
I thought of Mark when I heard Patrick Swayze had died after a brave bout with pancreatic cancer.
The two worked together when Swayze starred in “The City of Joy.” Mark wrote the screenplay for the 1992 film, based on the novel of the same name by Dominique Lapierre.
“We enjoyed working together,” Medoff said. “I haven’t been in touch with Patrick since ‘City of Joy,’ but at that time we had several conversations — which included his wife, Lisa, who was his coach — about the character and the script. My sense of him was of a generous man who cared deeply about the work.”
Guillermo Arriaga, another Academy Award-nominated writer (for “Babel”), was in Las Cruces again this month for a preview of “The Burning Plain,” which was filmed in Las Cruces and Oregon in late 2007 and early 2008, and went into limited national release on Sept. 18 and will be screened Nov. 6 through 12 here at the Fountain Theatre in Mesilla.
Since the Sept. 11 “Burning Plain” benefit screening, its images have haunted my mind and I thought about Guillermo’s comment that “being a parking lot film is the worst thing that can happen to a film — by the time you get to the parking lot, you’ve already forgotten it.”
No danger of that for the “Plain.”
It fact, “The Burning Plain” was a hot topic on The View, Sept. 17, generating comments from all the hosts, including Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg and guest host La Toya Jackson.
“I have to tell you, in the opening of the movie, she’s totally nude,” Jackson said, as she welcomed the film’s star Charlize Theron.
“It’s an incredibly beautiful film and for me that was one of the most beautiful openings I’ve ever read in a script. To me, it was like, ‘Who’s this woman?’ And as a reader (of the script), I wanted to take that journey with her,” Theron said.
Theron and Arriaga appeared together on the Charlie Rose Show the same day. I missed it, but I heard reports that both had praise for Las Cruces and their filming experiences here.
“Charlize has a crush on New Mexico. She loves it,” Arriaga said.
Theron’s film credits in our territory also include “North County,” filmed in 2005 in Silver City.
Both times I’ve interviewed Arriaga, the Mexico City native has said he wants to make more films here and stressed that he’s serious about buying a home in Las Cruces.
Rumors have been afloat (if rumors can do that, in high desert county, here in Hollywood on the Rio Grande) that two major motion pictures are contemplating filming here soon. One rumor was confirmed last week, when a casting director put out a call for 100 drivers and their cars to appear in “Due Date,” a new comedy starring two-time Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis and Michelle Monaghan.
Maybe we’ll see you — along with many of the rest of us, and the always photogenic Organ Mountains — in the movies.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Friday, September 18, 2009

It’s time to tout tours in Southern New Mexico

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — Las Cruces has plenty of attractions to tout, tour and celebrate at the upcoming WHAT’S ART? convention.
After we ran a story about Jackie Clark’s spectacular project, designing 46 stained glass window for Mesilla Valley Hospice’s chapel, I got a nice note from artist Jo-an Smith.
She wrote that “Jackie is one of our state’s and region’s unsung art heroes. The huge widows she created for NMSU’s Engineering Building would have been an unusual achievement, not to mention the churches and many, many privately owned windows” the 86-year old artist has created.
“As Las Cruces comes into its own as a New Mexico arts destination, I believe Jackie’s windows will be an important element to draw people here,” Jo-an said.
As it happened, I’d been thinking about taking my own private tour: Clark has six windows at NMSU.
And we have a wealth of glass treasures by other artists, too. There are those spectacular windows at Unitarian Universalist Church, including nine ecumenical “windows of faith” designed and created by the late Rev. John Trantham. And the church’s Tombaugh Gallery stained glass biographical panorama dedicated to the legendary astronomer and discoverer of (the maybe-drawf-but-still-a-planet-dammit) Pluto.
And that’s just a sampling of some of the great stained glass here, enough to warrant a stained glass tour.
In fact, we have enough hot stuff in Las Cruces now to warrant several tours. Historical tours. Garden tours. Home tours. Ghost tours. Culinary tours. Wine tours. Museum tours. Church tours. Dance tours. Lit & poetry tours. Theater tours. Historic plaza and neighborhood tours. Space history tours. Agricultural tours. Chile tours. ¡Fiesta tours!
And lots and lots of art tours, from this month’s annual ArtsHop tour of galleries to a burgeoning number of studio tours during February For the Love of Art Month. And in recent years, some downtown artists’ colonies have organized their own little tours, too. (The next one, coordinated by Ouida Touchon, will be over Thanksgiving weekend.)
In fact, we have so many attractions to tout now that tours might be a focal point for the growing number of arts marketing-oriented groups and projects.
How about some specialized tour brochures, a tour Web site, or even a tour bus or fleet?
I’ve always kind of longed for a Las Cruces arts tour bus, or even a limousine fleet during ArtsHop, even before it got so big. It would’ve been particularly nice during this month’s rainy ArtsHop 16. I hear plans are afoot to bring a double decker bus here for Winterfest, which last year offered horse-drawn carriages for downtown tours.
We could have a bus tour of artists’ studios, or even artists’ groups, with dozens of organizations that range from grandmom of them all, the Doña Ana Arts Council, to the Las Cruces Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, and CAPA, the group that showcased regional artists, whose original works adorned the wall surrounding our new Las Cruces City Hall during construction.
A group that joined for an arts marketing brainstorming session convention in 2008 is getting together again this year the 2nd Annual WHAT'S ART? Convention Oct. 2 and 3 at Court Youth Center/Alma d’arte Charter School. Court Street will be blocked off on Saturday, Oct. 3 for the Street Fest portion of the event.
John Villani, author of “100 best Small Art Cities” will speak at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 2 about “communities creating themselves as centers of art, creativity and livability.” Sabrina Pratt, executive director of the Santa Fe Arts Commission will also join the discussion.
“We’ll have workshops all day Oct. 3 and free Street Fest events from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. We’ll have music, dance, theater, art to sell, and lots of activities for all ages.,” said Irene Oliver-Lewis.
There will also be some tours: The street festival will feature storytelling tours of the Alameda and Mesquite neighborhoods and Mesilla by expert historians and activities for all ages.
For information, contact (575) 541-0145, e-mail, or visit online at
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

The Burning Plain debuts in Las Cruces

See “The Burning Plain”
Limited National Release Date: Today
Local screenings: The Fountain Theatre in Mesilla, Nov. 6-12
Regional: Santa Fe: CCA Cinematheque Oct. 9
Video on demand: Check with your cable or satellite TV provider
Rating: R-17, nudity and language
Closer look
• Plot: A woman on the edge takes an emotional journey back to the defining moment of her life. Oscar-winner Charlize Theron plays Sylvia, a beautiful restaurant manager whose cool, professional demeanor masks the sexually charged storm within. When a stranger from Mexico confronts her with her mysterious past, Sylvia is launched into a journey through space and time that inextricably connects her to disparate characters, all of whom are grappling with their own romantic destinies.
In Mexico, a young motherless girl, Maria (Tessa Ia), lives happily with her father and his best friend until a tragic accident changes it all. In the New Mexico border town of Las Cruces, two teenagers, Mariana (Jennifer Lawrence) and Santiago (JD Pardo), find love in the aftermath of their parents’ sudden deaths. In an abandoned trailer, a housewife, Gina (Oscar-winner Kim Basinger), embarks on a passionate affair that will put Sylvia and the others on a collision course with the explosive power of forbidden love.
• Writer/ Director: Guillermo Arriaga
• Stars: Charlize Theron, Kim Basinger, John Corbett, Joaquim De Almeida, Danny Pino, Jose Maria Yazpik, Jennifer Lawrence
• Primary locations: Las Cruces and Portland, Ore.
• Producers: Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald
• Executive producers: Todd Wagner, Mark Cuban, Charlize Theron, Alisa Tager, Ray Angelic and Marc Butan
Source: Producers of “The Burning Plain” and Magnolia Pictures

“A powerful, compelling and shocking drama that will keep you hooked from beginning to end. Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger deliver explosive performances. A certain must-see this fall!”
Pete Hammond, Los Angeles Times/The Envelope

“The various parts of the story converge perfectly, like the pieces of a puzzle. Guilt is uncovered, emotional hang-ups addressed, and meaning restored to life.” Philadelphia Inquirer

“A full-on, Oscar-booking keystone performance by Charlize Theron and a revelatory turn by young newcomer Jennifer Lawrence steer this potentially over-the-top tale ... the games ‘The Burning Plain’ plays with its audience are amply justified by the emotional punch of the film's denouement.”
Lee Marshall of

“Two teenagers, whose parents burned to death in bed, don their loved-ones’ night clothes and climb into the sack together. It’s all done with po-faced seriousness and obviously meant to be profound, but in fact it's a load of rubbish ... So the biggest surprise in ‘The Burning Plain’ is how two beautiful Oscar-winning actresses ended up in one god-awful movie.”

“You may be ahead of the curve in figuring out the connections between the characters and the storylines, but that doesn’t mitigate the depth of feeling the film captures. Inevitability doesn’t subtract from the power of fate. ‘The Burning Plain’ is immensely satisfying story-telling, and a film in danger of being lost in the rush of fall releases. Don't let it get away from you.”
Marshall Fine,

Online extra: To see the trailer for “The Burning Plain,” go to and click on this story.

'Burning Plain' arrives amid passionate reviews

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
MESILLA — Internationally-renowned writer and director Guillermo Arriaga said he plans to make more movies in Las Cruces and hopes to someday buy a home here.
“To be making a film here is to be blessed. I love it here. I love border towns,” said Arriaga, in Mesilla for a Sept. 11 screening of “The Burning Plain,” which goes into limited national release in the United States today. It was filmed principally in Las Cruces and Oregon in late 2007 and early 2008.
The film, which stars two Academy award winners, Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger, has garnered several positive reviews.
Novelist and screenwriter Arriaga, who was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for “Babel,” makes his directorial debut with “The Burning Plain,” which he also wrote. He was nominated for The Leone d’Oro (Golden Lion) Award, the highest prize given to a film at the Biennale Venice Film Festival, where actress Jennifer Lawrence won an award for her portrayal of a tormented teen in a border town (Las Cruces).
During a Sept. 10 interview in Mesilla, Arriaga put down his cell phone and reported that his family, including his teenage son and daughter, “are really excited to hear I’m here. We had a great time here. I love this place. I love the people and I hope they’re happy with us. I think Las Cruces looks beautiful in the movie.”
A friendship with Gov. Bill Richardson and an extensive tour of the state was not enough to entice him to shoot the film in northern New Mexico, he said.
“I suppose the right thing to do was to shoot in Albuquerque. But it was not the kind of landscapes I thought would work for the movie. I was mesmerized by your place — the Organ Mountains, the flavor, the light, the neighborhoods.”
He said he had to adjust the budget to bring in professionals who would have been available at other locations.
“But it was worth it to sacrifice shooting days to film in one of the most beautiful places on earth,” he said.
Arriaga, who still makes his home in his native Mexico City, said he wanted “to honor this area. I wanted to realistically portray life here and its contradictions. I’m tired of seeing the Borderlands portrayed as only a place of crime and illegal immigration. It’s not the only reality. This is also a place of love stories.”
He said the film “has done very good box office in Italy, Spain and England” and finds that critics “either really love it or really hate it. I like that. When a movie causes reactions so intense, it’s because it’s so alive.”
He said the production hired several local crew and cast members during production in Las Cruces, including students trained at New Mexico State University’s Creative Media Institute.
A full house packed the Fountain Theatre in Mesilla for the early screening.
Jeff Berg of Las Cruces, a longtime movie buff and critic, called the film “a very good thinking person’s romance. There’s nothing fluffy about it.”
Rosemary McLoughlin noted that a scene filmed in the doorway of her Mesilla adobe home had apparently been left on the cutting room floor, but concluded it was all for the best.
“I think the ending he (Arriaga) chose was more effective,” she said.
“I loved it. The story of the little girl was so touching,” said Patricia Bartlett of Las Cruces.
“I’m very proud of the movie. I’m very happy with it,” said Arriaga, now on a promotional tour for the film that took him to Sweden the day after his Mesilla appearance.
“My books have been published in Swedish and translated into eight languages. I was a novelist way before I got into cinema,” said Arriaga, 51.
His works include international best sellers “A Sweet Scent of Death” “Guillotine Squad” and “The Night Buffalo.” His film honors include a 2005 Cannes Film Festival best screenplay award for “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.”
Arriaga said he enjoyed working with Basinger “who was introspective and just right for this part” and with Theron, whose portrayal in the film was characterized as “Oscar worthy” by a critic.
“Charlize has guts," Arriaga said. "She’s pure talent. And she has a crush on New Mexico. She loves it.”
He said he’s superstitious about speculating on awards and future projects, but admitted ideas were percolating during his visit.
“There is such a diversity of landscapes here. My mind has been thinking of shooting in the pecan trees. And your downtown has a very strong, intense flavor.”
The Sept. 11 “Burning Plain” screening was a benefit for the Mesilla Valley Film Society, which will show the film for a weeklong run beginning Nov. 6.
Russell Allen of Allen Theaters said the regional chain has made inquiries about the film.
“But so far, it’s only in limited release and not available. If the film does well, we’ll keep trying to get it,” Allen said.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Friday, September 11, 2009

Big changes for Las Cruces Downtown

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — The crowds were dancing and sampling salsa in the middle of the street. And, as it happened, it was the street that we’d worked so hard to reopen to traffic.
It took years of planning and controversy and millions of dollars to complete that model block on the Downtown Mall between Las Cruces Avenue and Griggs Avenue.
I thought about that and other changes I’ve seen in the last 15 years as I walked from the thriving Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market in its “old” home to its future home on the block that now houses the restored state-of-the-art Rio Grande Theatre. (The historic landmark is also New Mexico’s oldest adobe theater.)
The mood on the block I’d left behind was definitely “last hurrah.” Some vendors were doing their best to accentuate the positive, but many were sad and worried and some told me they were throwing in the towel and not inclined to make the move.
The first weekends in the new location will be an adjustment and many of the artists and vendors will miss the opening transition since they had already planned to participate in regional festivals during the long Labor Day weekend.
I’m a market regular and hope other regulars will keep the faith during the transition, and that all the farmers and artists we come to see will hang in there, too.
I walked from the soon-to-be-transformed block (always my personal favorite) flourishing in full-tilt fiesta mode, to the recently revamped block, hosting enthusiastic crowds enjoying the brand-new, very promising MainStreet SalsaFest.
Would someone time traveling from 20 years ago recognize downtown Las Cruces today? In fact, will we, in another couple of years?
After decades of stagnation, things finally seem to be happening very fast ... and in a recession, too.
At least, that was the opinion of a museum expert who came here to interview Las Crucens, me included, about plans for a Las Cruces history museum in the old Amador Hotel.
I haven’t heard about the final report yet, but I did turn the tables and ask her about her impressions. She said she was amazed at all the construction going on in the downtown area and around Las Cruces, like nothing else she’d seen in her travels around the country during these tough economic times.
I thought about all the new things that I see now that didn’t exist in my first ambles down the Downtown Mall in the mid-1990s ... from stylish lampposts and benches to the behemoth, burgeoning silhouettes of the new federal courthouse and Las Cruces’ almost-complete new city hall.
And I thought about things I no longer see that I saw then: Inebriated and homeless people sleeping in doorways, sometimes including migrant moms with small children asking for a dollar.
We didn’t have the Community of Hope or Jardin de los Niños then.
We had some of the same buildings in other forms, too often, crumbling. What was then Court Junior High was a decaying haven for druggies and some pretty scary characters before it was transformed into the Pueblo Revival showplace and home of Alma d’arte Charter School. The Railroad Depot was there but it wasn’t a restored museum. And it would be some years before a major asbestos removal program would make the Las Cruces Museum of Art possible.
We gained some and lost some. A gallery burned down years ago, and White Raven, Griggs & Reymond and most recently IN EFFECT are among downtown galleries that have closed their doors. But several new art galleries have sprung up: Main Street and The Big Picture, UnRavel, Blue Gate, M. Phillips, Art of Life, Justus Wright and the brand new Tierra Montaña, plus the Cottonwood Gallery in the Southwest Environmental Center, Ocotillo Roasters Evergreen Gallery, and two galleries in the Rio Grande Theatre. And Ceil and Peter Herman gave us not only a brand new theater, the Black Box, but also a gallery with rotating exhibits.
The little Log Cabin Museum left the mall, but the next museum move will be a big one, when what was once the modest Mesilla Valley Mall’s Las Cruces Natural History Museum becomes the Museum of Nature and Science, 8,900-square-foot showplace in the old Bank of the Rio Grande Building on the Downtown Mall.
Forms are changing, but the city’s alma y corazon, heart and soul, appear to be growing stronger.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Friday, September 4, 2009

Querencia double rainbows mark a soul’s true home

By S. Derrickson Moore/Sun-News reporter

LAS CRUCES — I was looking forward to the end of a 12-hour day at the office.
I admit I was a little crabby as I headed to a press conference that was late in starting.
It was an outside event with no shelter. It was hot and muggy. Then it started to rain. After almost two decades in Oregon, I always have at least four umbrellas, but that day, I’d left them all in the car, parked a few blocks away.
“How could this day get any worse?” I was thinking, when suddenly it got a lot better.
I was coaxed out of my refuge under the arches of the Rio Grande Theatre by a chorus of “Ooooo”s and “Ahhhhh”s.
Arching across the sky was one of the most spectacular double rainbows I’ve seen. One of the ends, at least from my perspective, seemed to glow around the crosses of the ethereal, skeletal St. Genevieve monument.
I’ve always taken rainbows personally. They are clearly messages from heaven.
I know some cultures see them as dire omens. But not mine. After the devastating floods, in Genesis 9:12-13, God tells Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”
And who could ignore a double rainbow?
Even people who never stop to smell the roses would find it nearly impossible to pause for a rainbow display in the Land of Enchantment, where I’ve seen the best rainbows in a life of global travels.
New Mexico is the only place I’ve seen a snowbow, a pastel milagro I spotted early one winter morning when I was headed to work in Las Cruces in a haze of crystal flurries.
This state is also the only place I’ve glimpsed a full moon rainbow, again in Las Cruces, and at least half a dozen triple rainbows.
There was one the day I left Santa Fe for Florida, a break in the midst of a major deluge, and I saw another triple rainbow seven years later in Las Cruces, when I moved here.
Maybe a rainbow’s meaning is not always crystal clear and maybe, like so many messages from a source of greater wisdom, we inadvertently or willfully misinterpret them.
But a rainbow can compel the most obvious among us to pause, and as noted, a double or triple rainbow definitely gets my attention.
Does a rainbow portend a leave-taking or a homecoming? Is it time to park the ark and settle down or sail on for greener shores? Sometimes I take stock and realize many of the people I love most in the world live hundreds or thousands of miles away, including a half dozen erstwhile Las Crucens who have become my dearest amigo-soulmates, discovered in the Land of Enchantment, whose lives and duties called them elsewhere.
There are moments to ponder, even among those of us who feel we have found our querencia. And I think about that lovely Spanish word that conjures a soul’s home, a very special, even destined, relationship between a person and a special place.
Can a city, a querencia community, be a soulmate in itself? I’d say so.
I’d think at the very least, I might be able to reassure my friends at the Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market that it’s okay to move to the Rio Grande Theatre/St. Genevieve block, at least for a little while.
That is, after all, where the double rainbow seemed to end.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A blanket endorsement for Las Cruces Style

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — We have our own sense of style, our own symphony and ballet. Dances and symphonic works have been inspired by and named for us. Las Cruces boasts creative museums and art galleries, a growing colony of renowned artists, writers and filmmakers and a burgeoning national and international reputation that acknowledges our distinctive blend of art, chile-infused cuisine, multicultural influences and multimedia fiesta attitudes.
And now we have our own blanket. I was tipped off by a Las Cruces Style reader who prefers to remain anonymous that Pendleton’s fall catalog features “a tribute to us:” a Las Cruces blanket.
I leapt online and sure enough, there it was, next to a picture of a pretty blanket in hues of desert sand, adobe red and turquoise: “The name Las Cruces (‘the crosses’) references the historic city in New Mexico where Hispanic and Native American cultures meet culturally and artistically. Earthtones reflect the ancient landscape along the Rio Grande.”
I felt elated, vindicated in my tastes and querencia choice. I thought back to that day in 1994 when I first proposed the Las Cruces Style column.
“Does Las Cruces have style?” mused our then-managing editor Harold Cousland.
I did some research and made my case with a full-page feature that summed up our style bona fides from the dawn of creation through the mid-1990s.
And I was not without authority for the task, having written some of the first newspaper articles on Santa Fe style during the dawn of the City Different’s mass-marketing frenzy. I knew and interviewed many of those who first popularized Santa Fe’s image in the 20th century, from Stanley Marcus (of Neiman Marcus fame, a savvy marketer and Santa Fe resident), to artists like Georgia O’Keeffe and tastemakers like the Pink Adobe’s Rosalee Murphy.
In short, I knew where Santa Fe Style came from, and I realized Las Cruces also has the right stuff.
In fact, enough of it to keep me in Las Cruces Style columns and news and features (and to contribute to features in magazines and a couple of books) for the next 15 years.
And as any style maven, pundit or arbiter will attest, getting our own Pendleton blanket is a big deal.
I grew up with some of those artistic and historic blankets at my grandparents’ resort in Michigan.
And as fate would have it, I would get to see where the legendary blankets are made, early in my career, as features and city editor in Portland, Ore., which was then corporate headquarters for some big names in style: Jantzen, White Stag and Pendleton.
I caught Bob Christnacht, Pendleton’s Home Division Manager, just as he was leaving for an August visit to the Santa Fe Indian Market. Their design teams make regular trips to the Southwest for inspiration and he’s personally familiar with Las Cruces, he said.
Designers agreed they’d come up with a blanket that captured our je ne sais quois and joie de vivre. Or, as Christnacht put it, “We decided it felt like you guys down there.”
It should also be noted that I did an extensive site search and it seems that neither Santa Fe nor Albuquerque has a Pendleton blanket to call their own.
So curl up and enjoy our blanket endorsement. Our time has come.
¡Viva Las Cruces Style!
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Pendleton warms up to Las Cruces Style

About the Las Cruces Blanket
Introduced: 2009
Manufacturer: Pendleton Woolen Mills
Pattern: Based on Pendleton Archival patterns from the early 1900s
How much? Queen: $288, King: $338, Sham $98
Las Cruces Robe/Shawl: (Available in 2010): $198
Info:, (800) 760-4844

Pendleton’s history
Source: Pendleton Woolen Mills history,
The company’s origins date to English weaver Thomas Kay, who came to America in 1863 and opened his own Oregon mill which began making Indian trade blankets in the late 1800s. His daughter Fannie learned the mill business and married retail merchant C.P. Bishop. Their three sons founded the business that was to become Pendleton Woolen Mills. For six generations, the Bishop family has owned and operated the company.
From the 1909 purchase of a scouring mill at the railhead along the Oregon Trail in Pendleton, Ore., through lean years during the Great Depression and the war years when the company produced blankets for the military, to the present time, the Bishop family has produced Indian blankets, robes and shawls which are highly prized by much of the Native American population. The company operates eight facilities and 75 retail stores. Pendleton products are sold in the U.S.A., Canada, Japan and China.

Pendleton warms up to Las Cruces style

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — We’ve been developing our own distinctive style. And now, we have our own blanket. The legendary Pendleton Woolen Mills has produced the Las Cruces blanket, a tribute to the city of crosses.
“The name Las Cruces (‘the crosses’) references the historic city in New Mexico where Hispanic and Native American cultures meet culturally and artistically. Earthtones reflect the ancient landscape along the Rio Grande,” according to a description in the 2009 Pendleton Catalog.
“It’s a woven, banded type of pattern. It’s a really cool blanket,” said Bob Christnacht, Pendleton’s Home Division Manager, in a telephone interview this week from the company’s headquarters in Portland, Ore.
“It was designed in-house by Jessica Camblin and Wintour Dewey,” who were inspired by a visit here, he said.
“We sell more blankets in the Southwest than anyplace else and we make a trip out there every year. We saw this old pattern in the shop of one of our blanket collectors,” Christnacht said, and it influenced the final Las Cruces blanket design, described in the catalog as a “reinterpretation of a timeless banded pattern from the Pendleton archives.”
The inspirational blanket dates back nearly a century, he said.
“It was a very early design from the 1900s, probably in the teens,” Christnacht said. "We didn’t name blanket designs back then. But when you consider the colors and the crosses in the pattern, we decided it felt like you guys down there. It’s a really interesting place.”
Designer Connie Hines of Connie Hines Interior Design in Las Cruces thinks the nod from Pendleton is another indication that Las Cruces is developing its own distinctive style image in the world.
“I keep telling people that the style is not so locked in, but if you’re here for a while, you’ll pick up the essences,” Hines said. "The cross patterns are a very fitting look for many reasons. This is a very spiritual place and everyone picks up on that. There’s an artsy approach. We have our own spin on just about everything: we turn it a little and massage it until it feels like Las Cruces."
The first Las Cruces blankets were produced in April and could have a shot at becoming a classic.
The colors are desert sand, a rich adobe red and turquoise, with lighter colors dominant on one side and darker hues on the reverse.
The blanket is a blend of “82 percent pure virgin wool and 18 percent cotton with Ultrasuede trim,” and it’s in Pendleton’s top-of-the-line blanket category, selling for $338 for king and $288 for queen bed sizes. A matching Las Cruces sham is available for $98.
And for those who think New Mexican and even Southwestern style begins and ends with Santa Fe, it’s worth noting that the 2009 online Pendleton catalog offers no Santa Fe items in the “blanket” category, though the City Different is acknowledged with a vase, embroidered towels, sheets and pillowcases.
But no blanket.
And in 2010, the Las Cruces pattern will be introduced in the company’s most popular “robe” or “shawl” form, the size of a standard twin-size blanket, for about $198, Christnacht said.
The robes can have a very long life in continuous production, and lasting appeal for blanket aficionados.
“We’ve been producing the Chief Joseph robe since 1927 and the Harding since 1924,” Christnacht said.
The blankets are also enduring favorites with collectors and have proven to be sound investments fetching big prices.
“There’s a huge market now for the old ones. If you could find one of the original blankets (that inspired the Las Cruces blanket design) it would fetch at least $3,000,” Christnacht said.
Las Cruces — the blanket and the city — will get international exposure through the company’s marketing, which includes an online catalog, eight facilities and 75 retail stores as well as specialty shops and boutiques. Pendleton products are sold in the U.S.A., Canada, Japan and China.
“We’ve already had inquiries about the Las Cruces blanket,” said Robert Ramirez of Galeria on the Plaza, 2410 Calle de Principal, in Mesilla, the only shop in the Las Cruces area that carries Pendleton blankets. He said the shop will special order the blankets on request.
They are also available online at or call (800) 760-4844 to request a catalog.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at, (575) 541-5450.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

It's Full-Tilt Fiesta Season

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
Ladies and gentlemen, y todos los niños, get out those maracas, dust off your sombreros and Carmen Miranda hats, unfurl your folklorico skirts, shine your dress boots and gently buff your turquoise and silver squash blossom necklaces.
We’re heading into Full-Tilt Fiesta Season (FTFS).
It’s hard to believe that this will be my 16th Las Cruces FTFS, proof positive that time flies when you’re having fun.
And apparently we all are. Fiesta spirit seems to endure even after the hits of recent years, which have included floods, droughts, fires, those explosive gas price hikes and more recent economic woes.
It’s true that the Hillsboro Apple Festival called it quits, but like many artistic endeavors, including art galleries, the tendency has been to regroup and reopen. Faced with a quixotic local apple crop and time slot jammed with festivals, the town simply decided to funnel that energy into other events during less crowded times of the year.
Of course, finding that kind of time period is getting increasingly tough. There are still a few fiesta dead zones here and there, in the most oppressive heat of summer after Fourth of July blow outs and during a post-holiday fiesta burnout period the first of each year.
But right now, we’re heading into prime time of FTFS, which starts not with a bang or a whimper, but a quack, at this weekend’s Great American Duck Races in Deming. Las Cruces is upping the ante with another early entry in the FTFS sweepstakes, the brand new MainStreet SalsaFest from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. next Saturday, along Main Street between Las Cruces Avenue and Griggs Street. Hopefully, it will help encourage local fiesta fans to follow the migration of one of our longest-running weekly sources of community fun, the Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market, as it moves to a new location in that block.
From then on, we’ll be pretty much going full-tilt through New Year’s. Labor Day weekend attractions include the New Mexico Wine Harvest Festival, Hatch Chile Festival, Franciscan Festival of the Arts and many other regional attractions (see today’s SunLife feature).
Tour galleries, meet artists and see their latest wok at the Doña Arts Council Arts Hop Sept. 11. Then it’s on to Fort Selden Frontier Days, and the Diez y Seis de Septiembre Festival in Mesilla, both on Sept. 12 and 13, the White Sands Balloon Invitational Sept. 19 and 20, The Whole Enchilada Festival Sept. 25 through 27, and the Southern New Mexico State Fair and Rodeo Sept. 30 to Oct. 4.
Fiesta planners have adopted a new strategy and in October we won’t have to try to cram all that wine and song into just one weekend. This year, the Mesilla Jazz Happening will be Oct. 3 and 4 at the Mercado Plaza and the Mesilla Plaza, and the La Viña Wine Festival will be Oct. 10 and 11.
Deadheads and RenFaire fans get the same kind of break this year, since two of our most popular celebrations don’t fall on the same weekend.
But you may be able to multipurpose your Halloween costume — especially if you’re an angel or a calavera (skeleton)— for Dias de los Muertos celebrations around Las Cruces and from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 on Mesilla’s Plaza.
November highlights include what’s billed as southern New Mexico’s largest cultural event, the Doña Ana Art’s Council’s Renaissance ArtsFaire Nov. 7 and 8 and the Las Cruces International Mariachi Conference Nov. 13 through 15, which includes concerts, a Mariachi Mass and the Parque Festival.
December is packed with festive and spiritual celebrations, pageants and festivals, some with historic roots that stretch back centuries. The Tortugas Pueblo invites the community for events that include a pilgrimage up A Mountain, dancing ceremonies and a traditional albondigas feast during their Virgen de Guadalupe Festival, always held Dec. 10, 11 and 12. There are traditional luminaria displays at NMSU and Doña Ana Plaza, and the Christmas Eve lumniarias and carols on Mesilla’s Plaza.
There are holiday concerts, church events, bazaars and bake sales, holiday Downtown Rambles and lots more.
And there are always a few fiesta surprises, I noted again when I was writing about the 2009 Great America Duck Race for today’s feature.
This year the GADR surprises were, like God, found in the details. On the entertainment roster, I discovered a performance described as “Honky Tonk Gospel,” a musical genre new to me, plus an appearance by “the Deming Varsity Mariachi Group Amistad, under the direction of Albert Valverde.”
Having arrived here just in time for the birth of the Las Cruces International Mariachi Conference, I can’t tell you how pleased I am to now be able to say that I live in a state where mariachi is a varsity sport. I’ve been musing ever since about what a mariachi varsity letter sweater would look like. I know I want one.
¡Viva Full-Tilt Fiesta Season!
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How do you explain the magic of the Land of Enchantment?

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — Lately, I’ve hosted a steady stream of visitors and have been fielding a lot of inquiries from long-lost friends, relatives and colleagues who are suddenly intrigued by New Mexico.
Is it another harmonic convergence?
Or maybe a desire to escape from hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, urban flight, urban blight and assorted other disasters rare in high desert country? (Maybe God figures being the birthplace of the atom bomb and a repository for so much nuclear garbage was more than enough.)
I’ve found myself hard pressed to even try to explain why this is my querencia, my favorite spot on the planet.
And frankly, there are some ungenerous days when I don’t want to, when I remember a few years ago, when it seemed I could get anywhere in Doña Ana County in ten or 15 minutes. Heading home at rush hour, I muse whether it’s really a good idea to name a major thoroughfare after an infamous death march ... or could it be a great strategy to discourage faint-of-heart newcomers?
And a weird ditty from my wild youth floats through my brain, from “Do You Believe in Magic,” that immortal Lovin’ Spoonful hit: “I’ll tell you about the magic, and it’ll free your soul... But it’s like trying to tell a stranger ‘bout rock and roll.”
How do you explain, in an e-mail, a brief visit or a column? How do you convey the magic of the Land of Enchantment?
A visit to an adobe plaza or two helps, along with a few scenic churches, a pueblo or the right museum or art gallery.
Chiles must be involved, but it should be a full-spectrum sensory experience. You cannot answer our official state question (Red or green?) until you understand the multimedia implications. The sight of red chile ristras against warm adobe walls and lapis blue skies. The aroma of roasting green chiles wafting in open air markets. The euphoric endorphin high resulting from a healthy diet with all the basic food groups: chile rellenos, chile cornbread, chile enchiladas and tacos and chile-enhanced wontons and teriyaki and molé and sundaes ...
Fiestas are a big part of the equation, too: Heart-warming, pulse-raising festivals that celebrate harvests, fast ducks and slow-simmered giant enchiladas and loving (and sometimes slightly eccentric and whimsical) altars and parades honoring our dear departed and their lives well-lived.
If you don’t believe in magic now, chances are you will when you see how we can infuse entire communities with transcendent Christmas spirit, armed with nothing more than a bunch of brown paper bags, little votive candles and handfuls of one of our infinite desert resources: sand.
The same magic prevails in our visual and performing arts. A hunk of wood evokes a saint. People, places and things come alive with personal meaning though an artist’s investment of insight, time, pigments and brush stokes.
Centuries of passion can be distilled and conveyed in the flash of a folklorico dancer’s skirt, the spirited song of a mariachi musician.
I’ve seen strong—and normally unsentimental— men and women get teary at the sight of a sunrise or sunset over the Organ Mountains, the wistful howls of a coyote chorus, our vast indigo starry nights, double or even triple rainbows and that first bite of a piquant chile pepper.
And it’s tough to explain the drama of lightning and thunderstorms echoing through desert canyons, or the aroma of mesquite and profound gratitude that permeates the desert during a cloudburst after a long drought.
It came as no surprise to me to learn that “Singing in the Rain” was written by a Southern New Mexican: Nacio Herb Brown of Deming.
Explain the magic? Maybe, you just have to be here.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.