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Old Town, Old Friend

So last time I had us in Old Town. We had entered Old Town from the East, going through an elaborate arch that leads in from the parking lot and into a cluster of shops, one of many such clusters you’ll find in the area. Here, for instance, there are gift shops and art shops; Old Town Olive, a store which specializes in olive oil (rather strange for New Mexico, but what the heck? Why not?), a restaurant or two, and, of course, women’s clothing shops.

Following that, we moved onto San Felipe Street, which borders on the Plaza. We went left here and walked South so that we could visit what is technically called the “Old Town Portal Market.” This is a shaded area on the east side of the street which has been for many years the place where local vendors spread out their wares--jewelry, pottery-- on blankets and sell to tourists and other passer-bys.

Traditionally, the vendors have been Native Americans, and most of the ones you see there still are. Though, I gather, you don’t have to be. In any case, if you care to apply to be an outdoor vendor at the Portal (and space is limited), you may do so at a special site on the city’s Webpage. (1)

We moved along, checking out the blankets of the vendors. We saw several nice pieces of jewelry and I tried to convince Martha to let me buy something for her -- a bracelet, perhaps. Or earrings. But we didn’t see anything that really appealed to her. I usually buy her silver and turquoise, but right now she is interested in spiny oyster--something which, in fact, we discovered at another shop in Old Town some years ago.

Spiny Oysters, a.k.a. Spondylus, are a kind of mollusk, which happens to have a gorgeous red-orange shell.(2) They have been used in Native American cultures for jewelry and art for, like, ever. They've recently found their way into Southwestern crafts, and Martha thinks they are terrific. So, of course, I do, too. But, that day, while we did find a few pieces that combined silver, turquoise, and spiny oyster...a bracelet, a necklace...they were simply too big for Martha to wear. So, with a (spiny) sigh, we passed them up and went our way.

Two today. First, Martha looking stunning in a pair of Southwestern ear rings. This is important because she wearing both turquoise and Spiny Oyster. Note that the lower half of the ear rings are bright orange-red. That’s the Spondylus/Oyster.

We then moved west along South Plaza street. The Plaza was to our right, and to our left were a variety of shops and stores--most jewelry, women’s clothing, and gifts. But there is also a book store (I’m always glad to see a bookstore), specifically, Treasure House Books and Gifts. Among other things, Treasure House features local and Southwestern authors.

Of course, by the time you visit (if you haven’t already) that might be all different. As in any tourist area, shops come and go here. There used to be a restaurant in this block that we ate at once or twice. The owners advertised the fare as fine, genuine New Mexican cooking, and implied it was all fresh and locally sourced. Then, one day, I ordered the Burrito Plate and it duly appeared at my place. The burrito itself was under a heavy layer of sauce. It looked strange to me. I poked at it with a fork...

...and discovered that it was still inside a plastic wrapper. The “scratch” burrito has been prepared somewhere else, then cooked, then frozen, then trucked into Old Town, and then heated in a “Rethermalizing Oven.” Only, the “chef,” had forgotten, or didn’t care enough, to remove the plastic it came in. I had been given a “gourmet meal” that was just this side of gas station sushi.

The waitress at least had the good grace to be embarrassed when I showed it to her. But, we never ate there again. And I wasn’t surprised when the restaurant went out of business a few months later.

But, anyway, that day in August, we continued on our way along South Plaza Street. We entered a couple of shops, and we thought about visiting others. But, Martha said she was getting hot and tired, and, by that time, we were already quite a ways along. We had come to the intersection with Romero Street, which is the west boundary of the Plaza itself. And we were both in the mood for something cold to drink. Or maybe ice cream.


We had an appointment with Connie.

Which we had no intention of missing.

More to come.

Second, here’s a photo of one of the little passage ways that lead off from the Plaza in Old Town. This is the section known as “Nick Garcia’s Plaza Shops.” Well worth a visit.


2. See Wikipedia entry on the Spiny Oyster here:

3. A Rethermalizing Oven is one which is designed to reheat frozen food very quickly, and in such a way that it does not promote spoilage. The restaurant and food services supply company Wasserstrom has an excellent guide to them (and distinguishing them from warmers) on its website. Scroll all the way down the last section of the page to get to ovens, as opposed to water and steam-bath based rethermalizers. The site is here:

Copyright©2024 Michael Jay Tucker


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