"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Red hot!

"Red Hot," 5 x 7 watercolor, 140 lb. Canson cold press paper

is a "hot" color, a "warm" color for artists...but not when you grow up in New Mexico.

There, every fall, ristras of drying red chile peppers hang from vigas, from doorways and other places...some functional, all decorative.

If you think I've misspelled any words in that sentence, you simply no comprende.


First, "chile" is a variant of "chil" from the Nahuatl Axtec dealect. The conquering Spanish added an "e," the correct Hispanic spelling. English speakers, gringos, changed it to an "i." 

That word  most often refers to a mismash of beans, meat, no telling what, that is the state dish of Texas. It's a common menu item in many states, including Oklahoma, but...regardless of the degree of heat, it's basically bland, and  not real "chile." 

While some form of "chili" powder is a basic ingredient of such "Mexican"  food, it is not New Mexican food. Most of that food, regardless of degree of heat, including the so-called "Tex-Mex" food essentially is bland and tastes the same, no matter the fancy titled restaurant, including Oklahoma. 

The reason I know is I grew up in New Mexico, and looked this stuff up. New Mexicans consume more chile per capita than any other group in the United States. 

Now, as to ristras, strings of drying chiles.  The word was first recorded in 1895-1900, from the Spanish, meaning literally, "strings," from  old Spanish riestra, rieste, from Latin restis “rope, cord.”

You don't see many ristras here in Oklahoma. I tried bringing one home once, hanging it by a lamp. Soon I smelled something. The chiles were rotting in the humidity, rather than drying. That's why they're such a powerful image to me, hanging on an adobe wall in the dry New Mexican sunshine. 

By the way, you haven't tasted hot, until you've had a meal in New Mexico doused with real red, or green, chile, if you don't ask for milder. Red hot.

Thus today's watercolor, for In Your Eye Studio and Gallery's "Red" themed show in February.

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