It is not true that Rastra is some West Indian devil worship and it is not true that coon cats are crosses between raccoons and cats. Read on!

Just outside of Santa Fe, in the hills above the city, our friend is building a new house. We visited the site where the walls are just going in, A pile of ten rastra forms, dach about two by eight feet, waiting to be built into walls of the new home. Rastra blocks as delivered to inspect the building technique he has chosen.

From the Rastra Web site comes this definition: "RASTRA is a concrete form system which provides a permanent framework for a grid of reinforced concrete that forms load-bearing walls, shear walls, stem walls, lintels, retaining walls, and other components of a building. RASTRA provides excellent insulation, soundproofing, fire protection and is also resistant against frost and heat radiation. It does not entertain mold or attract nesting insects. 85% of its volume is recycled post-consumer polystyrene waste."

After seeing so many housing developments in our travels, with half-finished houses of pressboard and light wooden braces, the concrete blocks and re-bar pipes seem massive. When the house is finished, the outside walls will be covered and colored so that the building will have the soft edges and "earth-tone" colors typical of the attractive New Mexican architecture. A view of the construction showing how reinforced concrete is added to the rastra walls Thick reinforced concrete

We think that Rastra would be an ideal building material for many places, especially the fire-prone hills of Southern California, but its use apparently is still limited to Arizona and New Mexico. The contractor told us Rastra had been tested against flames to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.

We've included some photos we took at the work site. If you are interested in more information, let us know and we'll put you in touch with our friend.

Leaving the house site, we stopped in the center of Santa Fe to watch a team from New Mexico State University who are excavating a portion of the central plaza, just across from the shaded walk where the Native American vendors sit behind blankets covered with turquoise and silver jewelry. The city is replacing the gazebo at the center of the park with a newly constructed, historically correct Victorian era gazebo, according to one of the archaeologists. When they removed the footings from the old building, they found some pottery fragments, so the university has had a limited period for exploratory digging. They have a limited space for their excavation as well - OSHA regulates the depth to which they can go. It appears that potshards (a word seldom pronounced in conversation except by archeologists) will be their only treasure -- this time.

The next day, in Albuquerque, we joined a former colleague for lunch at one of the major regional restaurant chains - Garduno's thrives in the Arizona and New Mexico area, justifiably famous for the quality of their New Mexico cuisine and service, and for the over-the-top architecture and Indian merchants sit around the Santa Fe Plaza, their merchandise on blankets spread out in front of them Santa Fe plaza merchants decoration of each restaurant. Today the topic of conversation centered on Maine Coon Cats. Our friend is a registered breeder of this, the only native American long-haired domestic cat.

Maine Coon Cats are beautiful, sociable, intelligent creatures. The two kittens we met this day were multi-colored, with amazingly silky fur. Their large ears sport great tufts of white whiskers. Their tails, already long and thick, will become noticeably larger than that of the average cat. These large kittens, only three and four months old, were interested in their surroundings but not nervous as they were picked up and moved about.

Maine Coon Cats do not hunt raccoons, nor do they look like raccoons. The name comes from the state where they were first officially bred, from the appearance of their tails (long, thick, and often striped) and from the name of one of the people who first publicized the breed. They are definitely indoor cats, a better looking and less finicky (we think) alternative to the Persian.

For our final lunch in Albuquerque, we followed a recommendation from our niece, and found a restaurant we recommend highly. Sadie's Dining Room, The cat has black and grey stripes and a long bushy tail Maine coon cat (from the web) on 4th Street near Solar, began about fifty years ago as a hamburger joint which moved next to a tire place and later next to a bowling alley - diners would bowl a line while waiting for their orders to be served. Sadie and her Lebanese-American family have perfected the art of delivering classic New Mexican food, with everything, from the salsa to the sopapillas, made from scratch. Now the restaurant is large and busy but well-organized, so that our wait, at Friday noon, was remarkably short and the service was attentive and pleasant.

Now tell about the food! We munched on the best chips and salsa ever while waiting for our lunch to arrive. Bob had the enchilada platter and Elsa had the chile relleno platter. Each was a large plate, with beans and some of the best chile we have yet had, surrounding our entrees. Elsa's dish included diced home-fried potatoes, which gave the impression of croutons as they were mixed with the chopped fresh tomatoes and shredded lettuce. Each luncheon or dinner in New Mexico typically includes a basket of sopapillas, fluffy pastries, rather like cream puffs without filling, which you drizzle with honey from the omnipresent bottle. Our reaction: Yum yum!

We'll be leaving New Mexico tomorrow, after a most enjoyable stay.