[This book excerpt is contributed by Elisa Parhad, creator of the Guide For the Eyes travel guide series. A cultural anthropologist at heart and by trade, Ms. Parhad is passionate about exploring place, space, design and culture. For more information on Ms. Parhad, and her Guide for the Eyes series, please visit the Eyemuse Books website.]
Visually focused, packed with cultural insight, and sized for portability, Guides for the Eyes celebrate the local traditions and visual vernacular that surrounds us. Operating at the intersection of art and anthropology, each edition in the series explores place through 100 of the most notable features of a region. Vivid photography and informative text provide insight into the significance of each topic, covering regional architecture, design, flora, fauna, food, crafts, folklore, landscape, and other facets of local identity and style. Ranging from the obvious to the obscure, these distinguishing elements define a locale as somewhere as opposed to anywhere.
As one of the most unique and colorful regions of North America, New Mexico is the first subject of the series. Throughout thousands of years, the state's striking landscape has inspired the art, design and traditions of three cultures: Native American, Hispanic and Anglo/Western. These distinct groups continue to blend and evolve, infusing the rustic land with a compelling vibrancy, unrivaled in its beauty.
The following is a brief excerpt from "New Mexico: A Guide for the Eyes."
Home to a large military presence engaged in top-secret projects, it's perhaps not surprising that New Mexico has a reputation as a spawning ground for conspiracy theories and news of the weird. Among the most famous of these are the unproven claims of Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) sightings and alien encounters.
In 1947, the southeastern town of Roswell made international headlines after mysterious wreckage was found outside the city. The United States military released initial reports of a "flying disc," but officials later claimed the remnants were actually pieces of a weather balloon. These conflicting official accounts spurred intense speculation, charges of a massive government cover-up, and rich fodder for science-fiction writers.
In 1994, in an attempt to finally quash the unceasing interest in the matter, the Air Force released a report that concluded their story was a cover-up, but not for extraterrestrials. The wreckage, the U.S. military claimed, was debris from Project MOGUL, a top-secret program to detect evidence of Soviet nuclear tests. This explanation however, hasn't quieted alien believers for whom, some 60 years later, the mystery continues.
With glass bottles honeycombed into rammed earth walls, futuristic Earthships have the look of a utopian vision made real. And in many ways they are. Constructed with natural and recycled materials and unconnected to city electricity or water supplies, Earthships offer inhabitants low-cost, sustainable housing that is completely "off the grid." Self-sufficiency is achieved with passive solar panels, thermal mass construction, wind harvesting, self-processed wastewater, and rainwater collection.
Mike Reynolds, founder of Earthship Biotecture, created the first Earthship in 1989 outside Taos. Dozens of Earthships now dot Highway 64 outside the town, most of which belong to the Greater World subdivision, an alternative housing community.
Earthships - which have made some inroads around the globe - are only one of the latest advancements in a long tradition of alternative architecture in New Mexico. Equally influential techniques and projects which were born or developed over the last 50 years in this arid land of abundant sun include geodesic domes, zomes, trombe walls, and of late, the nation's first straw bale post office and bank-financed straw bale home.
(Biz-koh-CHEE-toh) Based on a long culinary history in New Mexico, biscochitos (or, bizcochitos) were proclaimed the official state cookie in 1989. This sugar-and-cinnamon-sprinkled shortbread was brought to the New World by Spanish explorers, along with the anise seeds that give the tasty pastries their distinctive flavor. Known as mantecosos in Spain, the name biscochito comes from the Spanish bizcocho, meaning "biscuit."
A celebratory cookie, biscochitos in the shape of a fleur-de-lis are said to have commemorated the defeat of the French by the Mexican Army at Puebla in 1862, an event we now celebrate as Cinco de Mayo. To this day, biscochitos are rarely absent from holidays - especially Christmas - and other celebrations, such as baptisms and weddings. Their common shape is a simple square, diamond or circle with scalloped edges.
Coveted family recipes, some of which include wine and other secret ingredients, are handed down from generation to generation. Most traditional recipes require lard, which helps to create their beloved light and flaky texture.
Article and photos, © 2009, Elisa Parhad. Permission is required for reproduction.