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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Santa Fe

Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe New Mexico

The Evanston IL branch of the G clan headed west to visit the eldest offspring and only son of Mr. G. Ben has settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his girlfriend, Bianca. She is a native Santa Fean, and her parents live in the city.

Santa Fe is one of the most unusual places in America. It is not a large city - around 70,000 residents - yet it attracts between 1 and 2 million visitors each year. Oceans of wealth have flooded the city, generated by the tourist tsunami. Whenever this happens to a smaller city, the outcome is mixed. Santa Fe's median home price is over 50% higher than the US average; the median family income is a tad lower than the US average. Property taxes are marching upward. Long-time homeowners of modest means are struggling to pay the taxman. Wealthier homeowners are pressuring for more amenities and neighborhoods are changing for the better in many ways (better schools, parks, etc.), and for the worse in other ways (poorer residents forced out, more fences and gated communities, etc.). There are scads of art galleries, high-end shopping destinations, luxury accomodations and other trappings to encourage well-heeled visitors to part with their cash. The official unemployment rate is low; apocryphal evidence suggests that many folks are under-employed and struggling to cover the costs of living in such a popular town. The population has grown at a slower pace than the number of housing units; many of the new homes are owned by non-residents that visit for relatively brief periods.

Santa Fe is one of the oldest cities in the United States and has a long history. The town is a mix of Native American, Spanish, Mexican, and European-American influences.

In spite of its cachet as a spot for movie stars and the rich & famous, Santa Fe retains an undercurrent of edginess. My son, Ben, has found interesting things to do in the town. From African drumming/dance classes to winter snowshoeing expeditions in the mountains, Santa Fe accommodates Ben's broad range of interests. Ben and Bianca are thrifty, hard-working and resourceful, so they are doing well in spite of the high cost of living in Santa Fe. During our visit to the city, we hung out at Ten Thousand Waves, a terrific Japanese spa in the mountains above Santa Fe. My womenfolk loved it. Ben and I went on an excellent hike in the mountains among the aspen groves and rushing streams swollen with snowmelt.

There is a blues joint in Santa Fe - Willies Blues Bar - but I missed the Monday night blues jam. Santa Fe is famous for the Santa Fe Opera and there is a solid symphony orchestra. Lots of country music and tejano music, but not much blues or jazz. The town has excellent public radio stations that cover a broad range of musical genres.

We will be back to Santa Fe.

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