“We didn’t take a single photo.” I pulled my phone from my pocket before sitting on it as I hopped into the truck.
“I know…I’m glad.” Rene navigated her way out of the tiny parking area for Santuario de Chimayo, and we headed back toward our free boondocking spot where we left the trailer at Camel Rock Casino.
It was our fourth visit to Chimayo, where we first met the magical Mr. Medina in 2008. We left feeling blessed, honored to have shared time being enchanted by the Chile Man of Chimayo once again. And we did not take a single picture. I’m okay with that.
Slow Down to Enjoy The Journey
On an earlier visit, I once asked Carlos if we could record and share the mesmerizing way he presents his chile for tasting. He wasn’t so keen on the idea, so I respected that. I still do apparently, and it made our most recent visit even more meaningful.
Turn off your phone. Put away your camera. Pack up the drone. Take a breath and be present. Focus on enjoying the moment instead. Your memories may only remain in your head, but you may also be surprised at the rewards you reap. Honestly, I would still love to capture the way Carlos describes the various male and female chile seasonings, or how he crafts crosses from old pieces of rusted tin roof. There is just no way I can do him justice with my writing. But I must try, since we were treated to some extra special Medina Magic on this pilgrimage.
More Magic from Mister Medina
While enjoying all the spices he had to offer, complete with the usual pistachios and specific tasting instructions, Carlos had some more words of wisdom to share with us. As on our previous visits, he was enamored by Rene’s smile. No wonder, it’s the reason I married her after all. “She doesn’t have the Lion Face,” he says to me. He then proceeds to explain why, “95% of women, they have the Lion Face.” He forces a frown in a long drawn pouting face.
“Time today, it moves so fast.” Carlos puts one hand out in front of the other, then repeats the motion. “Years, they go by like months.” His hands speed up. “Months go by like weeks, weeks pass like days!” His hands now running along after each other. Then he reaches up with one and pulls his face into the frown. “That’s why they have the Lion Face. They get stuck, caught up in it all…they don’t understand.” We then get into a deep conversation about time being made up, a construct we allow to control our lives. “They don’t know how to slow down. To be happy.”
“Me gusta la sonrisa,” I tell Carlos, pointing to Rene’s smile. He grins, winks at me, and nods. Soon we are talking about happiness. After reminding him how we live in such a small space together, for so long – with such little stuff – he suggests, “You don’t need much to be happy.”
“You wanna know how to be happy?” He asks.
“Si, of course…” I’m all ears.
“You have to make it a practice,” he explains. “Every moment you must enjoy, por que it is a gift.” Me gusto his soft Spanglish dialect. “You have to carry it with you.” He places his hand to his heart. “When you sit down to a meal, pause. Stop to enjoy it, and be happy you have what you have…”
I could talk to this man all day. We have only seen him four times in nearly twelve years on the road. But there is something that draws us back – his character, and the chili of course. We tell him how we have come all the way from Alaska this time, most recently stopping is Alamosa. He raises his brow…remind me to tell you how Alamosa got its name, according to Mr. Medina.
His hermana has already asked him to close up the shop, and Wyatt is waiting, but we haven’t yet stepped inside. I ask, “How is the artwork? Have you done anything new?” His eyes light up and he gestures with his arm for us to head inside, rather than lead the way. We enter the old adobe building and he turns on lights, but the gallery is still dimly lit.
I tell him, “If we had a big house we would love to have one of your paintings.” He knows he may not be making a sale today, yet he spends another twenty plus minutes with us, telling another amazing story…
A New Beginning
The piece is beautiful, and nothing like anything he’s painted before. The colors are dark, with high contrast, but very vibrant. A small figure stands in shadows between two tall walls looking upon a pueblo under the night sky in the distance. On one side the solid wall is large, made of massive dark blue and black blocks. The other is smooth and brightly lit with yellow and orange hues, but it is obstructed by a shorter black wall with one window allowing more light to shine through.
“This came to me in a dream.” Carlos takes the twenty four inch square wood-framed canvas off the wall to show us it in the light. The colors and subtle detail come to life. When he places it back on the low hanging nail, he spreads his hands slowly out flat in each direction. “I was standing in a field. Looking around, at nothing but grass. But it wasn’t green grass. It was brown. I didn’t know which way to go.” He wets his finger and holds it up, “So I went like this”
“You ran with the wind?” I shut up and let him go on. He nods, with his classic Medina raised brow.
“So I start running. And the grass, it’s very short you know.” He starts pumping his arms in a running motion. “And I start running faster. And as I run faster, the grass it get a little taller.” He spreads his thumb and finger apart. “So I run a bit faster.” His arms thrusting again, and he pumps up his chest. “And I start to feel stronger.” He spreads his fingers further apart. “And the grass grows even taller. I start to feel stronger, so I run faster.” His arms now swinging farther in slow motion. Then he reaches down to his knee. “By now, the grass is up to here. And I am feeling stronger, and running faster. Then it is up to here.” He holds his hand at chest level. “And I feel fast and strong. I am pushing through the tall grass.” He swings his hands in front as if running through tall reeds. He stops, and steps next to Rene, holding his open palm just behind her head.
“Then I feel this presence.” His hand floats behind my left ear. “You feel that?” I did, like when you know you’re being watched. “I’m running fast, but I know something is there, so I stop.” He looks over his shoulder. “But there is nothing there…then I hear it. This voice, it yells: ‘Caaarlos…'” He cups his hands over his mouth and raises his voice. “‘Carlos!” It is now shouting, with this big voice from above.” He pauses, and I’m waiting for another punchline, but this is no joke. “He tells me: ‘I can’t bless you.'”
His eyes get wide and his lips part with wonder as he looks to the sky. “Whaaaaat?” He looks at us with intent. “I don’t understand,” he says. “With such a big voice, I mean, you can do anything…” He rolls his eyes and looks across the ceiling as if searching the sky. “‘I cannot bless you,’ it tells me again. I wonder why.” He shrugs and says, “So I ask, Why Not?”
“He tells me, ‘I cannot bless you because you carry yesterday with you. You must leave the past behind. Look forward to tomorrow.’ So I think…” He turns to hide from the voice, and motions with his hands as if forming a large ball, near his chest. “And I go like this,” he then reaches back as if to pitch the ball. “But I don’t throw it this way.” He winds up and pitches the past behind him, toward the voice. Surely, this man is now blessed.
“And then I wake up!” He straightens his back with wide open eyes and explains, “When I wake I’m not lying down. I am sitting on the edge of my bed.” He rubs his face as if waking up. “Then I yawn, and I see this vision.” He points to the painting. “I close my eyes, and I see it again.” He opens his eyes from being shut tight. He points at the two walls, and then to the open doorway of the dark hut in the distance. “I know where I have to go. But I have to get past this,” motioning up and down the big dark wall.
He pauses and turns to us. “I call it: A New Beginning.”
I wish I had a picture of the painting to share. Better yet, I wish I owned that painting, and perhaps some place to put it someday. I tell him, “You should print this up on some nice art cards, with that story on the back.”
His eyebrows raise once more. “That’s a good idea,” he says.
A good idea indeed, one which would be hanging on one of my small walls right now.
After sitting quietly in the old cathedral for a moment, we are walking away with our chile and discussing how magical Chimayo – and Mister Medina – makes us feel, when Rene adds, “That’s just crazy.”
“I know, right” I totally agree.
“No, really,” she explains. “All last week, everything was all about the past. Everyday, I was thinking about our first few years on the road. I was remembering Jerry, and where we set him free, making his tribute video…all those memories were just making me so sad.”
After our time with Carlos, we soon remembered, everyday is a new beginning.