Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Chile Ristras and Petroglyphs on the Volcanoes

These are chile ristras.

This photo is from the Petroglyph National Monument website, which has lovely ones on display at their Visitor Center.

If you ever get to Albuquerque, do make a point of going to the Petroglyph National Monument.

You may not know it, but New Mexico is one of the most volcanic states in the union. There are three volcanoes here in Albuquerque. They're examples of fissure eruption ("curtains of fire," like from Kilauea).

Into this volcanic rock some 400 to 700 years ago, Ancestral Pueblo Indians carved petroglyphs. Or scratched. Chiseled. How they made the petroglyphs is actually unknown. These images were spiritually important to them.

Spanish settlers saw the designs and added their own (easily identifiable Christian iconography). You can walk multiple trails of varying difficulty to see these cultural symbols (both Puebloan and Spanish) in their natural habitat.

But back to chile ristras.

Colonial settlers on the east coast of North America used the pineapple as a symbol of hospitality. 

You'll find pineapples (some more stylized than others) on entryways, staircases, and in dining decorations.

In the same way, chile ristras came to symbolize hospitality in the southwestern Spanish colonies. 

Originally, the chiles were strung together and hung up to dry for future consumption, but this utilitarian storage solution meant one had beautiful bright red garlands hanging on one's porch, and the more you had, the more bountiful your future feasts would be. 

So it's easy to see how the display of numerous hanging ristras about the entryway could become associated with generous, welcoming hosts. 

Unlike pineapples, which are now associated with antique decor, chile ristras are still used in modern decoration in New Mexico. Consequently, they had to be mentioned in DESERT TRYST

Any Bed & Breakfast worth its chiles would have a ristra or two out front. I hope touches like this help make the story feel authentic for the reader.

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