Sometimes philosophy comes from unexpected events.
A few miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, there are three pueblos: San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, and Taos. Now, I happen to be a big fan of pueblo pottery, so a recent visit to Santa Fe practically had to include those three.
One might call it something of a pilgrimage, as the grandmother of modern pueblo pottery, Maria Martinez, lived her whole life in San Ildefonso. She and her husband and son are buried there, in the dry, adobe-walled cemetery.
Once upon a time, the Indians used to sell their pottery to the tourists at the railroad stations for maybe 25 cents a piece. Today, a good Maria Martinez pot would cost you thousands of dollars. Sadly, over my lifetime the price has always risen faster than my resources.
But the pueblos are still there to visit, and some of the current artists fall into the affordable price range.
The pueblos are especially interesting as, while being superficially alike, they are vastly different. They are all starkly barren, and even in spring the weather foretells that they would simply bake in the summer. The core of each is a collection of one and two story adobe buildings, looking surprisingly unchanged compared to the old photos from the 1920s.
But whereas San Ildefonso is small and rustic, with many crumbling adobe walls and uninhabited buildings (and with some of the nicest, most hospitable people you’ll ever meet), Santa Clara is big and bustling with a new recreation center and large areas of modern homes. The old adobe core is still there, but you get the feeling it’s mostly there for the tourists. And even inside the adobe homes you are as likely as not to find 55-inch flat-screen TVs.
The difference: casinos.
It’s arguable that our greatest national sin was our treatment of the Amer-Indians. If so, we are obviously paying our reparations at a handsome rate. Huge hotels and casinos dot the highway north, singing a siren song to the freeway weary.
But the third example, Taos, is stranger still.
Taos has the most beautiful site of all, with a mountain guarding over it, and has been occupied for a thousand years. Like Sedona, it is famous as a spiritually electric place. It is also famous among the local Indians as being the most conservative pueblo of all. In their pueblo, there is no running water, no electricity, although they have made a grudging concession to propane. They are religiously conservative, too, with their kivas as centers of worship.
They, too, rake in money from the hungry tourists at their casino. And while the pueblo adobes are bare and stark, the people only live there part time. They have other houses located out of sight. I hope I may be forgiven for suspecting 55-inch flat-screen TVs and running water there. And this cool spring day, Taos pueblo was also full of tourists. For me, the spiritual element of the place was either invisible or just plain missing.
At this point of my column I took a break, fiddling with some files to speed up my system.
When I rebooted…nada. Windows couldn’t start.
Now, my computer is a new Dell unit, so I called (in something of a panic, I’ll admit) their Tech Support line. There I got a nice, barely comprehensible lady boasting the name of Juanita, despite her obviously Indian English. She informed me she was speaking from Mumbai.
She tried lots of ways to restart my computer, at one point asking me nicely if I was fully backed up as we might need to wipe my hard disk (!%%#??).
Eventually I was passed on to a more understandable gentleman named Sajid, in the Hardware Department. He told me that Plan A was for him to send me a set of Windows 7 disks (they’d decided to omit them from my original package). That way I could reload Window without disturbing my data. The disks would arrive in 3 to 5 business days.
So at this moment I am grumpily working on my (old!) backup computer and awaiting my disks.
But all this got me to thinking.
The West’s record with the Indian subcontinent is not a lot better than our record with the Amer-Indians. True, we didn’t accidentally gift them with tons of diseases that drove them to the edge of extinction. Rather the reverse. One of the many places the British called the White Man’s Grave, India’s fertility with infections was legendary.
Still and all, we treated the natives as primitive, child-like sub-humans who needed to be managed with a paternal firmness. (“Take up the white man’s burden…”) Since they clearly couldn’t govern themselves, we generously made them the jewel in the crown of the British Empire.
So here I sit, contemplating the new pot I bought at San Ildefonso and waiting for my disks ordered from Mumbai. It seems to me I was seduced by the one and am subordinated by the other. Character is fate, I know, but it also seems to me there is something darkly ironic that it is not our sense of fairness that is making us shovel money and jobs to both kinds of Indians. Instead, justice is being fueled by occidental greed and parsimony.
Hoist with our own petard, indeed!