Not just leaving town, but century

By Helena Rodriguez

It’s always nice to go out of town for a few days and get away from it all. Last weekend, I had an opportunity to take this to the extreme — in more ways than one — when I went with the Graduate Student Association of Eastern New Mexico University to Albuquerque.

We not only escaped from town; we escaped from this century for a short while.

Besides the welcome change in scenery from our flat Llano Estacado to the mountains of northern New Mexico, we took a journey back into time. I’m talking spinning wheel and all here. Our cultural journey began the minute we stepped onto the UNM campus and were welcomed by a colorful, fiberglass sculpture, “Fiesta Jarabel” by well-known artist Luis Jimenez. Later that evening we also got a real taste of India.

The plan for our weekend getaway was to meet with the Graduate Student Association at the University of New Mexico, get some research and studying done at the UNM library and, if time permitted, enjoy some of the perks of the big city.

Let me back up a bit now. We didn’t actually get away from it all. Not with our cell phones to keep us in touch with folks back home who couldn’t function without us for a weekend. But we did manage to get a bit of research done at UNM. Instead of venturing out into the city lights at dusk, though, we wound up at the home of our host, Buckner Creel, and his wife Brooke.

We walked from the Creels’ home down the street to the Taj Mahal, a restaurant that serves cuisine from India. I had the spicy curry chicken and we all enjoyed naun, a bread similar to tortillas but only thicker and spiced with garlic.

This homecooking reminded me of the chile, beans, meat and tortillas Mom makes at home. The curry was spicy like the comino or cumin that my Grandma Chaya uses in Texas and my curry chicken was in a gravy that I saw one grad student dip her naun into. I could just picture my dad dipping his tortillas into mom’s carne guisada.

We walked back to Buck’s house and Brooke treated us to a demonstration of her old-fashioned spinning wheel that she keeps in her living room to spin yarn. Sitting there in the Creels’ small living room watching Brooke spin yarn out of fibers, we made references to Rumpelstiltskin and one of our grad students, Jonathan Weems, said, “I feel like we’re on ‘Little House on the Prairie.’”

Brooke also showed us her drop spindle, a spinning tool that preceded the spinning wheel, which was invented somewhere around the 13th century.

Buck is working on a doctorate in astrophysics at UNM, but he and his wife live a simple life at home. They don’t even own a TV. Brooke knits shawls, socks and hats that they wear and the Creels spend a lot of time reading and playing board games.

That night we sat around their simple kitchen table and played card games. I played the first game, “Check up,” but was quickly eliminated and became a party pooper after that. The others stayed until 3 a.m. playing a prolonged game of Phase 10, a card game similar to Rummy that’s really not supposed to take that long.

After an exciting night in the city that was spent with a spinning wheel and old-fashioned card games played by hand (not computer or video), we ended our weekend getaway by having lunch at The Olive Garden. Yes, The Olive Garden can be very cultural, too. Actually, some of us wanted sushi, but some stomachs were not up for raw fish following a night of excessive Phase 10.

You know how wild graduate students can be.

Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at: helena_rodriguez@link.freedom.com