On the way to the outlet center in search of some cheap Hawaiian shirts, I was punching buttons on my car radio — Sunday morning on the airwaves can be pure hell — when I alighted on KBAC’s weekly three-hour infomercial, Transitions Radio Magazine. The mellow hosts (“your whole brain radio team”) were enthusing about Dr. Leva Wright, a holistic dentist who promises to readjust your energy meridians to give you a healthier mouth and soul. Each tooth, you see, resonates with a different bodily organ. Your eye tooth with your liver — everything is connected.
Next came an endorsement for “zero-point” technology: “Imagine detoxifying water as well as returning its life force and promoting the health of plants and pets with a tricorder-like device as on Star Trek. Yes, it exists. It can be proven . . . I have one in my right pocket.”
I was about to jump over to KUNM, hoping that the hour-long Indian chants had not yet begun, when there was an advertisement for the Santa Fe Holistic Fair (“the place to clear your chakras and aura and learn about earth changes as we head for 2012.”) It was happening at that very moment at the Santa Fe Railyard, a detour I couldn’t resist.
It cost $5 to get inside where rows of New Age carnies were plying their wares: kirlian photography (for capturing images of your aura), reflexology, kinesiology, biomagnetic healing, angelic channeling. There were psychics and crystals galore. The mix of magic, esoterica, and quackery wasn’t much different from what I first encountered as a reporter in Minneapolis many moons ago. As science advances, the wisdom of the ancients remains stubbornly unchanged.
A woman from Colorado was selling Salt Lamps, “powerful natural negative ionizers that rid the air of dust, pollen, and bacteria, and neutralize EMF waves emitted by electronic devices.” The perfect remedy for those cell phone headaches. The Richway Amethyst Bio-Mat healed with “Far Infrared Ray technology” (also known as heat), while at the other end of the spectrum the BleachBright lady whitened your teeth with a shining blue light and (the active ingredient) hydrogen peroxide paste. (I was surprised to learn later that light near the ultraviolet range can indeed be a catalyst for oxidizing reactions, but I suspect that the BleachBright lamp was there just for show.)
With the vendors outnumbering the customers, Wonder Bob (Soul Guide, Spiritual Coach, and facilitator of Infinite Consciousness) was running a special: 10 dollars for 10 minutes of Channeled Sound Blessing and $60 for an hour-long “bars session,” which sounded like a new plan from Verizon. Coincidentally Wonder Bob was also a sales rep for something called InTouch Cell Phone Service, and I imagined at first that his two businesses were connected. Every day when the moon and stars were in proper alignment, Bob (or maybe his computer) would send a signal to your mobile perfectly modulated to sooth your brain.
The actuality was less interesting. “There are 32 different points on the head that correspond to different areas of your life.” (Those are called “access bars,” and I bet they also correspond to each of your teeth and organs.) “By running energy through these points we are dissipating electromagnetic disturbance that is AFFECTING YOUR BODY and YOUR LIFE!”
Some people might read all this and say, Oh that is sooo Santa Fe. But it’s not. Like the old traveling medicine shows of the Wild West, these New Age carnivals move from town to town, preying on the hopeful, the credulous, and the just plain stupid. The Santa Fe event was the work of a Colorado promoter called Alternative Change Productions, which had just organized a similar show in Casper, Wyoming.
Though few outsiders know it, Santa Fe is better distinguished as a city of science. At the Santa Fe Institute physicists, biologists, anthropologists, and computer scientists confer with one another — and with their colleagues nearby at Los Alamos (which does far more interesting things than bomb making) and the School for Advanced Research. Throughout the year these institutions offer a lineup of public lectures unmatched anywhere. Through its Science Cafés, the Santa Fe Alliance for Science brings the intellectual excitement to the schools. We have The Santa Fe Complex and The National Center for Genome Resources.
As I write this, 46 students and five instructors from all over the country (and from Canada and the United Kingdom) are arriving in town for the annual Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop, which my colleague Sandra Blakeslee and I started 15 years ago. Wednesday evening beginning at 5:45 p.m., some of us will be giving a public reading at Collected Works Bookstore.
Maybe all these efforts are paying off. Attendance at the Holistic Fair was sparse. Two men with towering turbans chatted in the deserted lunchroom where the organic buffet went begging. Sitting at a card table, a woman dressed like a gypsy stared into space waiting for a fortune to tell. In an anteroom a psychic named Tallkat was giving advice on “Talking With the Dead.” The next step will be figuring out how to charge their credit cards.