In Marfa, Texas, nothing is quite as it seems. Not in a PBS murder mystery kind of way, but literally.
Almost every building here seems to have been converted from something else, in most cases an old gas station or grain store. And the gas stations that still look like gas stations can’t be entirely trusted. You have to peer inside first, just in case you’re bumbling into some modern art installation that everyone but you knows about it.
And that’s how Marfa feels to me. Like everyone knows but nobody tells. It’s a cool town but with a real ‘take or leave me’ vibe. There’s few concessions made to tourism – the restaurants, if you can find them, don’t post any business hours and when they do, there’s a good chance they’ll have been changed. ‘Open on sundays? Yeah we used to, but now it’s just the first sunday of any month starting with a J’
I blame James Dean. This is the town where Giant was filmed and the whole cast and crew stayed at the Paisano Hotel. Clearly James Dean set the tone for Marfa and instead of selling tacky souvenirs to commemorate him, the Marfians chose attitude. It wouldn’t have happened if they’d shot some dorky film like National Lampoons Vacation. Nobody would come here just to stay in the same bed as the Griswolds or drive around looking for the exact spot where the family had the hilarious encounter with the hitchhiking pig.**
After James Dean came Donald Judd, minimalist artist who pretty much seemed to own the town as his name is on virtually every building. Not being a big fan of the whole modern art scene (preferring a nice bit of IKEA circa 1990 myself) we skipped the Chinati foundation and the Prada store and found our own incongruity in a dive bar with old pinball and Atari games, that also served fantastic food.
Judd came to Marfa from New York and obviously inspired other New Yorkers to do the same. The restaurant Cochineal is listed as a must for dinner. The owners’ former restaurant in New York earned a Michelin star but Cochineal has yet to receive one, perhaps due to its unwillingness to post hours or employ staff that dare to make eye contact.
But for all this, I’m fascinated by Marfa. The architecture is amazing and we spent the morning wandering around taking photos of nearly every building we passed. The streets are incredibly wide and there’s little traffic or noise. We did laundry this afternoon in the least depressing laundrette I’ve ever been in, which is also attached to a coffee shop serving Bluebell ice-cream. I rather like the fact that we can’t quite figure the place out. I even like my inability to come up with a suitably witty rhyming word for Marfa. I may also have to watch Giant again.
Our next stop is Guadalupe State Park for a bit of camping. Our original plan was Big Bend but we’re a bit concerned about the high temperatures. When I write high temperatures, I really mean Mexican bandits. Being kidnapped and/or shot is my new fear, ranking second only to having my ear ripped off by a bear. Most likely my right one, due to it’s protrusive nature.
**That may or may not have happened in the film as I’ve never made it through the whole thing. And I know you may have that loved that movie, but it inspired ‘RV’ with Robin Williams, so shut it.