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Santa Fe Restyle

This afternoon while the construction crew was off for the weekend, I walked through the ruins of my neighbor Eduardo’s old house. He lived across the street from me, one of three brothers who grew up on this end of the block. For 17 years when I went down to my mailbox, I’d see him working in his yard. He told me stories about the old neighborhood — gathering firewood in the Arroyo Chamiso, swimming in the river, or ice skating on the frozen reservoir on the hill behind his house, the one where the fashion designer Tom Ford is still building his mansion. When Eduardo died about a year ago, the last of the brothers to survive, the neighborhood was diminished. His house was sold to a couple from Houston, and a few months ago the parade of backhoes and construction trucks began.

The digging has been relentless: eight-hour shifts of jackhammering, the mechanical scooping and dumping of tons of rock to be hauled away. The work had been going on for so many weeks that I imagined they were excavating a swimming pool, a wine cellar, some vast underground chambers. But no. All of this commotion was just to make room for a foundation so the back of the house could be expanded into the hillside. I wondered if the contractor (“Your Green Building Experts”)  knew that they would be chipping inch by inch, dollar by dollar, through solid bedrock.

Eduardo, a very shy man, had never invited me into his house. Now with the doors and windows removed and the walls stripped bare, I took a walk inside. It had been a charming, modest home, built of real adobe made on site — you can see the rocks in a few spots where the outer walls have been exposed. If the new addition to the house is also adobe, the bricks will be carted in readymade from a factory. All that earth hauled away so that different earth can be hauled in. Nobody used to build houses this way. What Eduardo had owned and lovingly cared for was true Santa Fe style before it became commoditized.

Every morning after it rained, he would be outside with a shovel scooping his driveway back onto the hill. Now his son, another good neighbor whose house is behind his father’s, has taken over the task. After last week’s downpour, I was getting ready to drive downtown when I saw him out in the street combating the erosion. The new owners, a husband and wife, had come by to check on things, and the man had picked up a shovel to help fill a deep rivulet. “Nice rain,” I called out as I backed my car onto the street. The woman grimaced.

I had only meant to be friendly. There is much to learn when one moves to Santa Fe: how rain is not something to complain about, and a driveway on a hill might always be a work in progress.

George Johnson
The Santa Fe Review