Tathagata Café in the Rancho Viejo Village Center was a place we almost didn't enter because, sometimes, there's an initial hurdle between us and trying something new. Kind of surprising, huh?
For two people changing "home" on a weekly basis, you'd think we'd be master experimenters when it comes to everyday living in different locations. But, we're learning that our inclination is to become creatures of habit rather easily. In each city, we find a Starbucks we like with excellent wifi (always with the free wifi), and we log our work hours there in the company of the locals, saving our adventuring for the evening. We befriend the Starbucks staff and they seem to remember us quickly (we must appear to be new residents, soon-to-be regulars whose custom beverages will remain unchanged for years to come); by Tuesday or Wednesday of the week we're in town, they're penning our names across paper cups without having to ask. It's nice, that swift belonging.
So, when a random, mid-week internet search yields several five-star reviews for a local, one-off café, there's some risk involved. I mean, it's just coffee, so how much risk could it really involve? But, still. We know Starbucks is good (enough). Going there doesn't entail newness or unknowns. It's the predictable, home-like place during the weeks of changing scenery and a dearth of familiar faces.
We gambled. We traded comfort for excitement and parked the car in an empty lot, in the middle of an adobe subdivision, stones and lavender bushes where East Coasters put blankets of manicured grass.
We met Rachel, a barista moonlighting as a sculptor, who made our coffees with an artistic lack of urgency (I mean that as a compliment) and rang us up only when we were about to leave two hours later and asked what we owed her. We talked with her about wooing the muse (by practicing your craft on a daily basis), how even visual artists fear the blank page (I didn't know this), and what she was reading (some sort of sculpture theory book, for pleasure). And then, on a whim, I asked her where she recommended we visit while in Santa Fe. I mean it when I tell you that Rachel spent the next hour mapping out ideas for us on a page from her sketchpad, considering all the places she'd discovered and loved in her eight months in town. She gave us a popsicle recommendation and vouched for delicious Vietnamese fare in Albuquerque; she noted a location thought to contain holy dirt (tierra bendita) in Chimayó and a chapel staircase in Santa Fe believed to be miraculous; she included the details of a weaving shop, a restaurant decorated in the style of "crusty Americana," and the museums she likes the best, plus her two favorite local radio stations.
This is what happens when you open up and expand. Or, at least, it's what happened when we did. There's a good chance nothing will remind you of anything else, and there's a good chance that will be the exact right thing for you to try next. So, in addition to following her suggestions, we're looking to frame Rachel's list, because it looks a whole lot like art to us.
Notes from the week of September 13
CAMPED AT NRA WHITTINGTON CENTER & SANTA FE SKIES RV PARK
+ mourning doves
+ more bunnies
+ pronghorns (white bottoms!)
+ New Mexico whiptails
+ bizarre beetles
+ grasshoppers (they'd crash into my legs repeatedly during our morning walks)
MEALS EATEN, DRINKS DRUNK
+ El Salvadoran pupusa
+ tamale wrapped in a banana leaf
+ hibiscus agave wine margarita
+ roasted veggie & ricotta quesadillas
+ carrot cake
+ Malvasia bianca wine from St. Clair Winery in New Mexico (found, by chance, in Trader Joe's!)
+ Baja style fish tacos
+ mole enchiladas
+ plantain chips with avocado & jalapeño dip
+ The Don Juan Latté (cashew milk, espresso, caramel, and cinnamon)
+ nachos, twice
LOCAL COLOR EXPERIENCED
+ trapshooting (full disclosure: I shot once and then cried)
+ Tune-Up Café
+ Café Pasqual's
+ Coyote Rooftop Cantina (not our favorite)
+ Tathagata Café
+ Plaza Café
+ Station Café 3 One 6
+ Paseo Del Pueblo Norte (the main drag in Taos, which we walked for the shops and galleries)
+ Taos Pueblo
+ Camel Rock
+ papel picado (paper garland)
+ painted tin cactus magnet