Petrichor, Gallupers, Gallupians & NavajosSunday, July 24, 2011
|Rain on our way to Gallup, New Mexico, iPhone|
One of the pleasures of not reading a daily paper (and it is one of my most treasured pleasures, nontheless) is to return home to find a 3 week pile of Vancouver Sun and NY Times on my den sofa.
I started by removing from the pile the three Sunday editions of the NY Times and the three Saturday Vancouver Suns. That kept me busy for about two days as I read up on all I had missed.
Most of my friends (former writers and journalists) are constantly telling me how they do not read the Vancouver Sun because it is a terrible paper. I mostly disagree with them as I like to read some of the Sun's excellent columnists and occasionally they have editorials that apply to life in Vancouver, BC and Canada that I would never find in my NY Times.
But I must say that I was still blown away by the cartoon Adam (I am an avid follower of Rex Morgan M.D. which is currently dealing with a new employee, computer versed whose daughter resembles my surly Rebecca). Adam used a word I had never heard before. The word was petrichor. A sort of definition (the smell of rain on dry earth) was given. I have a Canadian Oxford (a real book with bindings and pages) under my night table. I picked it up and looked up the word. There was no word. Here is the Wikipedia definition:
Petrichor (pronounced /pɛtrɨkər/; from Greek petra "stone" + ichor the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology) is the name of the scent of rain on dry earth.
The term was coined in 1964 by two Australian researchers, Bear and Thomas, for an article in the journal Nature. In the article, the authors describe how the smell derives from an oil exuded by certain plants during dry periods, whereupon it is absorbed by clay-based soils and rocks. During rain, the oil is released into the air along with another compound, geosmin, producing the distinctive scent. In a follow-up paper, Bear and Thomas (1965) showed that the oil retards seed germination and early plant growth.
Who would have known that I would have been dazzled by a word that so aptly describes one of the singular pleasures of anybody who possesses a good olfactory sense (that’s me!). It is a word that I would hasten to observe must have a translation into the Navajo and any other culture that has to face continued droughts. While Argentine pampas are not especially famous for extreme drought I can still remember the smell of rain when it began to descend on a dry pampa in my summer stays in youth camps that my parents sent me to after the Christmas holidays.
It is a smell I acutely was able to enjoy as we approached Gallup, New Mexico and rain began to fall intermittently and then quite heavily on our Malibu’s windshield.
From the moment that I had the idea of driving to Texas I thought of Arizona and New Mexico and their intimate connection to the Navajo and the Hopi that Tony Hillerman had written in his novels featuring the Tribal Police Officer Jim Chee and detective Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn. When I had read every one of his novels I had been mesmerized by names of the town such as Gap, Gallup, Tuba City and Shiprock. I had imagined the wonder of rain about to fall on the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and enjoyed Hillerman’s descriptions of the mountains, the sound of the infrequent rain or the boom of the thunder that followed the frequent sheet lightning (but alas with no rain!). In fact when I got home I took out all my Hillerman novels to look for a quote where either Jim Chee or Joe Leaphorn go to Washington DC and are astounded by the action of windshield wipers during rain while staking out a suspect’s house. I have not been able to find the quote so I am no thinking that it must all reside in my imagination.
As we were approaching Gallup and the rain we asked Rebecca to choose a restaurant. We also wanted her to select one that would be on the iconic Route 66 as this would please their father. The place chosen was Virgie’s Restaurant & Lounge. The rain had stopped when we arrived and the heat was stifling.
When we entered the restaurant I saw quite a few patrons sitting at little rectangular tables but further in there an area with booths. We sat there. As I looked around I immediately noticed that this was not really a Mexican restaurant. I might serve Mexican faire but the staff and the patrons were definitely nothing but Navajos.
Next to us there was an older woman with four young girls. I guessed she was the grandmother. Adjacent to them was another booth occupied by two men. One of them said nothing but the other was loquacious speaking in Navajo to the grandmother I assumed was his wife (and I was right, I was to later find out). The grandmother spoke, infrequently, to her girls in English. The girls were well behaved. The other man was as silent as can be. I was curious and I wanted to talk to them but I knew from my Hillerman novels that Navajos rarely talk except when they have to say something that is considered important. Finally I threw caution to the wind.
I asked the grandmother if she was a Galluper or a Gallupian. The loquacious man, with a very straight face, answered for her, "No we are Navajos.” I the told the grandmother that my Rebecca was admiring the extremely black hair and braids of her granddaughters. She smiled and immediately the loquacious man, who now was smiling and most pleasant, asked me where we folks were from. The conversation immediately shifted from the frequent Vancouver rain to the fact that it had not rained in those parts since October. The man then told me that they were in town to watch a bull riding contest. They were from further down the road to Albuquerque, in a place called Church Rock near the town of Wingate.
The food was Mexican but oddly and wonderfully different. We left with smiles in our faces after having such a pleasant conversation with the first Navajos we ever met.
|Nikon FM Fisheye, 800 ISO Colour neg|
As for what the folks from Gallup call themselves there seems to be no consensus. I found a couple of messages in a small town Yahoo! group:
I'm still pretty new to Gallup, from Rhode Island. Just wanted to say hello and see if there are other Gallupers around?
I've heard it as "Gallupian" I'm also a carpetbagger ;) , relatively new to Gallup myself....