MARFAlous

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Apricot Crisp

For those of you who do actually read my blog (mom), I’m sorry I’ve been so long between posts. I have a couple of good excuses, I think. First, I moved from one house into another, and it took a while for me to get my new kitchen in order. Second, it’s been freaking hot. And my kitchen, being on the west side of the house and with no shades over the very large windows, has been the hottest part of the house. It’ll be great in the winter, I’m sure, but right now I’m doing everything I can to avoid turning on the oven.

So, wah.

Finally, yesterday, there was a bit of a reprieve from the heat, and the kitchen felt great. On top of that, my colleague and neighbor invited me to pick some apricots from her tree, which apparently has not produced fruit in several years. She said she walked outside one day and suddenly realized the tree had beautiful apricots hanging heavy from the branches. Glenn and I picked about a pound in the rain (RAIN!) yesterday afternoon.

I told Glenn we’d be eating the apricot crisp for dessert, but I’m sorry (or not) to say it didn’t make it that far. By the time I finished it yesterday evening, we found ourselves eating apricot crisp for dinner with some yogurt on the side and a glass of wine while we sat in front of the television to finish season 5 of The Wire. What a great way to watch Jimmy McNulty and Marlo Stanfield go down (sorry, The Wire reference).

The nice thing about apricots is that you don’t need to peel them, and they are small enough to pull open with your fingers without having to use a knife. This crisp took about 15 minutes to prepare, and its sweet smell in the oven was hard to resist (evidenced by the fact that we couldn’t even hold it till dessert…that, and we simply have no willpower around here).

I told my neighbor I’d be making something delicious for her in return for allowing me to pick apricots from her tree. Well, um…that might have to wait till next weekend, because I’ve successfully both picked and eaten all of the apricots with a little help from Glenn and this guy…

Apricot Crisp (not changed one bit from smittenkitchen.com save for the fact that we ate it for dinner instead of breakfast)

Fruit Base
1 pound apricots
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon flour
Grated fresh nutmeg, a pinch

Crisp Topping
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons, 2 ounces) butter, melted
6 tablespoons turbinado or regular sugar (turbinado, also sold as Sugar in the Raw, gives an excellent crunch)
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (or a mixture of whole wheat and all-purpose flour)
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons sliced almonds

Prepare fruit: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pull apart apricots at their seam, remove pits, and tear them one more time into quarters, placing them in a small baking dish (one that holds two to three cups is ideal). Stir in sugar, flour and pinch of nutmeg.

Make topping: Melt butter and stir in sugar, then oats, then flour, salt and almonds until large clumps form. Sprinkle mixture over the fruit. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes and serve warm.

As smittenkitchen advises, we ate this with vanilla yogurt on the side. It was absolutely perfect, though I’m sure ice cream or whipped cream would make it more of a dessert.

It’s not just Javier Bardem’s Haircut that’s Scary

My lonely days and nights in Marfa came to an end this past week. My husband and dog are now permanent residents here (numbers 2,123 and 2,123.5). But before they got here a good friend from Baltimore visited me for a long weekend. I have to admit that getting her out here was a little selfish–I really wanted to explore a couple of places I hadn’t yet gotten to because I was all by myself, and I knew she’d be up for an adventure or two. So, our first jaunt was to the Chinati Hot Springs. Don’t be fooled by the Chinati Hot Springs address…it says it’s in Marfa, but it took us over two hours to get there. Why? Because it is more out in the middle of nowhere than I’ve ever been IN MY LIFE. Go ahead. Scream. No one will hear you.

And first let me say that we took the *easy* way–driving all the way down to Presidio and then back up the mostly-paved road to the Hot Springs. The *hard* way–if you dare–is to drive on an entirely unpaved road from Marfa to the springs. But my Subaru Outback (yes, my SUBARU OUTBACK…you know badass like Lance Armstrong, all-wheel drive, can get you through impassible back roads during blizzards) was not tough enough to handle the hard way.

Even on the easy way, though, the last several miles of road is completely unpaved and near no town, village, or hamlet, thereby forcing you to pay close attention to the last time you saw a house, a ranch, or a structure of any kind in case your car decides to overheat or your tire decides to deflate on one of the many many sharp objects that grow on plants around here (see my goatheads post). Let’s face it, Far West Texas does NOT want you to drive on it, bike on it, or walk on it without thick-soled shoes. It is by nature one giant puncture waiting for your clumsy step.

So, imagine my surprise when–having gotten home from the Hot Springs alive and unpunctured–driving to Marfa from El Paso after taking my friend to the airport, my check engine light came on. And, not only did the check engine light come on, it came on when I was driving the 100-mile stretch of near-nothingness between Van Horn and Marfa. Where there’s no cell phone service.*

So, I was driving through the desert picturing myself quadruple-marathoning it to Marfa No Country for Old Men style with Javier Bardem chasing me with that freakish haircut (surely I would be able to get the coin toss question right), hoping that each truck that passed me was Tommy Lee Jones. I didn’t dare pull over and check under the hood because a) I had no water, b) I had no oil, c) I don’t know anything else to do besides put in water and/or oil, and d) what if I couldn’t start up again? So, I kept going.

When you’re out in the middle of the desert with a check-engine light on, everything seems so dire. Suddenly 65 degrees seems like 115. You’re certain you can hear your alternator belt loosening. The air coming out of your vents seems so hot and smells funny. What if your car is about to explode?! Why don’t they have a “your car is about to explode” indicator light?!

And then, when you finally get to Marfa, and you’re back to some sort of civilization…

…and you see the Dairy Queen sign over the hill…

…and you think about how refreshing a cookies and creme Blizzard would taste right now…

…and you want to give yourself a treat because you made it all that way without breaking down OR being killed by Javier Bardem, which would have surely happened if you had broken down…

Well, suddenly the car can wait till tomorrow.

*This should say “Where there’s no AT&T cell phone service.” Because I think there might be cell phone service for everyone else. If you ever find someone lying in a ditch on Route 90 between Van Horn and Marfa, it’s probably because he or she was an AT&T customer.

Sky Shots

Lots of very compelling people seem to make their way through Marfa. Last week, at The Food Shark alone, I met a Californian motorcycling from Nicaragua back to San Francisco, two journalists from two different travel magazines doing stories about Marfa, and a photographer driving his RV all the way around the US border, Australian Sheep Dog  in tow.

The photographer commented to me on how difficult it is to photograph the southwest, particularly the sunset. “Why’s that?” I asked, “It seems like every shot would be a good shot.”

“That’s exactly the problem,” he answered. “It’s so beautiful that everyone photographs it…everyone has photographed it. It’s almost a cliché.”

He couldn’t be more right. How do you photograph something that’s been photographed a thousand times and make it fresh? Different from everyone else’s work? Different from anyone else’s family photo album? It’s like anyone who’s ever photographed Niagara Falls or The Grand Canyon…by, say, the third time someone snaps a picture of it, it ceases to be new anymore.

But to visit those places…it never gets stale. Yesterday as I was out riding around on my bike I found myself trying to take pictures of the vast sky (on my little iPhone no less, which is wholly inadequate) while at the very same moment realizing how inferior each photograph was compared with the real thing. It’s like being in the middle of the ocean and feeling the depth and largeness of it all and then trying to capture it in your little lens…it’s impossible.

When I got home after feeling completely overpowered (in a good way) by the sky, I was putting my stuff away and I heard a knock at the door. It was a local guy who is helping with the 2010 Census for Marfa, and he verified my address and gave me the official Census packet before moving on to the next house. It seemed ironic to me that I had just come from staring at an enormous sky, trying to record one tiny piece of it on my little camera for posterity or art or something, and feeling so small; and now to find out that my presence in Marfa will bring the official population from 2,121 to 2,123 (counting my husband, too, of course)!! Hey, in a place like Marfa, two more people is kind of a big deal. Yes, *I* am number 2,122 and *Glenn* is number 2,123. We’re suddenly kind of important around here. 

This is a little place–a very very little place–inside a big place–a very very big place.

Running

Sunday morning as I was running along Ranch Road 2810 (a.k.a. Pinto Canyon Road) toward the U.S./Mexico border, the sound of nearly nothing was so overwhelming that my shoes slamming against pavement and the blood rushing steadily behind my ears seemed inconceivably loud. “Has the blood in my veins always been so, well, piercing?!”

But I soon realized that I had never run anywhere so quiet, so agreeably lonely. I had never really noticed the racing blood and the plodding shoes (I’m not a very graceful runner, people)–noises that become so distinctly apparent in the utter silence of the Chihuahuan Desert.

It’s so quiet that you start to hear strange things. You start to think strange things.

What you think, at first, is the wind, isn’t the wind at all, but the sound of a car motor maybe two miles away coming from behind. It starts faintly, not seeming to move closer at all. But it, being the only *thing* at all in the empty landscape besides you, gets louder and louder, and you can feel it approaching–now only a mile away. 

You start to think that it might be chasing you.

You turn to get a look at it. It looks normal enough, a gray truck like any other gray truck. But what does it want with me? you think. You feel your pocket for the penknife your husband forced you to carry with you. Yeah, the one you protested about. You start to wonder if your cellphone has service way out here, and you even think about a preemptive call for help. 

As the truck gets closer, you notice yourself running a little faster and a little faster and a little faster, as if you could outrun it if you needed to. The engine gets louder and louder, and while you expect at any moment it will swoosh past you…it never does. The hum just goes on and on, and you actually start to think you may make it over the hill and into town first. You try to make yourself look bigger (someone told you to do that when you meet a bear on a hike), and you start to run with an attitude…with bravado. Yeah, you can scare them off with your toughness, you think. No problem.

Then, just as your anxiousness reaches its peak, just as you plan your cunning escape camouflaged by the nearest field of grass (even though you’re wearing your ever-so-fashionable bright red Nike running jacket), the truck finally reaches you and, at only mediocre velocity, whooshes past you without so much as a pause. It sends your long, straight hair into a wild frenzy in its innocent wake…and then, just as you begin to let the breath out of your lungs and your clutching fingers off your penknife, a hand, ever-so-faintly from behind the lightly tinted glass of the gray pick-up, reaches up in a friendly wave. A cowboy hat tips toward you. An unseen smile forces your own, and you watch the truck drive into the distance, getting smaller and smaller, quieter and quieter, until it disappears.

Then, the silence returns, and the sound of one foot after another hitting the pavement.

 

 (I lived in Baltimore way too long.)

 

Stuff to Know About Marfa Before You Move Here!

Last weekend–my first weekend in Marfa–I decided to go for a bike ride around town to see what was what. It was a beautiful day, sunny and about 65, as I stopped for breakfast and coffee and drove up and down Marfa’s streets looking at the neighborhoods.

As I pulled up to the bookstore, I noticed my front bike tire was going flat. So, I found the closest gas station and filled it up with air. No sooner did I get back on to ride away when I noticed the tire was quickly deflating again. I thought I had better start riding home because apparently I had a serious leak. I was riding home with one tire nearly flat, when I felt something strange about the back tire. I looked behind me and, sure enough, the back tire was almost completely flat as well.

“Shit,” I thought.

Well, Marfa is small and no matter where you are, you aren’t far from home. So, I got off the bike and began to walk it…I was only about 5 Marfa-blocks away.

As I walked quietly along, minding my own new-person-in-town business, I heard the yap yap yap of one of those little miniature lap dogs. I looked toward the yapping and out of the yard of an adobe casita ran a teeny Chihuahua, yipping at me as if its little shivering life depended on it.

The funny thing about this creature was that some person, who apparently was lacking constructive things to do, had dressed it up in a pastel striped cowl-necked Liz Claiborne sweater. As the well-dressed Chihuahua was coming at me with all the anger that evolves out of an unsatisfying wardrobe selection, I nearly fell over trying to get back on my busted bike to get away from it.

“Shit,” I thought.

I hobbled back onto my bike thinking what an idiot I must look like trying to pedal away from a dog the size of a handbag, and I took off on the rims of my hopelessly flattened tires as Satan’s own Chihuahua nipped at my ankles. Already drawing the unwanted attention of Marfans standing at their doors pointing and laughing (in my mind, anyway), I had somehow managed to switch into a lower gear. So not only was I pedaling furiously away from a screaming sweater-clad Chihuahua, but I was doing it Ms. Gulch-style on my low-gear bicycle, my legs pumping much faster than I was actually being propelled forward.

The extraordinarily short rotation of each tire forced me to pedal faster and faster until I finally made it home, where I hid behind a locked door and peeked out through a crack in the blinds, paranoid the dog, which in my mind had become a pit bull wearing a leather bomber jacket, had followed me home.

Later that day, while staring at my sad little bike, I remembered passing a small bike repair shop in Alpine, a town about 25 miles east of Marfa. Alpine is bigger than Marfa with a small college, two fairly good-sized groceries, what seems to be a gi-normous hardware store (comparatively), and a Sonic (you know, just in case one needs a pineapple shake). I called the guy who runs the shop–and is known as “Bikeman”–and told him I was new to the area and had two flat tires. He responded knowingly and told me to bring the bike in. When I got there and introduced myself, he disappeared for a minute and reappeared holding a small piece of wood, about 4 inches long by 4 inches wide, on which lay at least a half-dozen tiny artifacts, glued to the surface in random formation.

“These are goatheads,” he said.

Wha?

“Goatheads,” he repeated. They are part of a plant that grows in Far West Texas (and apparently New Mexico) that wreaks havoc on your bike tires. You can read about them here, but they look like little spiky thorns and they don’t care about your bike tires or that you’re going to be chased by a tiny mean Chihuahua. Bikeman told me that the solution is to install some kind of special goo inside the tire (along with a goathead-repellent tire tube) and that should do the trick. Yay Bikeman!

Let’s just add goatheads to the category “Stuff to know about Marfa before you move here.” Other items in that category include:

1. goo for bike tires

2. sweater-wearing, bike-chasing mean Chihuahuas

3. where to bike/run if you don’t want to be chased by said Chihuahua or other dogs running loose.

I asked around and was directed to the road in the pics below. Not bad, eh?

 

The New Girl

After my first day of work on Monday, I went to our local gourmet shop, The Get Go, to buy some cheese and make myself feel better about my husband flying back to Birmingham so soon, thereby leaving me alone in this strange land at least for a little while as he wraps things up back at home.

Anyway, I’m at The Get Go buying cheese (okay, and maybe some balsamic vinegar and ginger ice cream…I was really missing Glenn, see.) when a man walks up to me, his arms full with three bottles of wine, and says “You’re new!”

Wow.

“Yes,” I said warily (I’m from the Northeast, and people just don’t do that there. Hell, they don’t even really do that in Birmingham).

“I just moved here,” I continued, picturing this strange man following me home in his grungy pick up.

“Well,” he said, “I’m Pete and my wife is standing over there and I just like to know who’s new to town.”

Really?!

“Oh, okay, well it’s nice to meet you,” and I offered my name.

“Where are you from? Why are you here? What kind of wine do you like? I like Pinots. That’s my wife over there and she’s wonderful. I’m deaf so speak into my left ear.”

Wow.

I answered all his questions and by the time we were finished introducing ourselves I had made what seemed to me at that moment to be my best friend in the whole world.

Honestly, up until that point I had been feeling a little shell shocked. The landscape, the neighborhoods, the whole atmosphere of this place is so different from any other place I’ve ever lived. Moving from Baltimore to Birmingham seemed, at the time, like a minor culture shock; but even then I moved from a city to a city–from an urban area with a large population of people and big grocery stores and Targets and coffee shops to another. Last weekend as Glenn and I drove around Marfa exploring, making sure we knew what hours the *one* tiny grocery store was open, making note of the two coffee shops in town, and planning our trips to El Paso (200 miles away) for things like electronics, car service, and pet supplies, a feeling of discomfort hit me. I knew it would. Because in my mind I was aware of all of these things before I moved here. But the reality of living here full time and weaning myself off of the things that normally make me comfortable (as much as I might not want to admit it) made me feel decidedly anxious.

But there, in the speciality cheese section of this tiny little store where I now knew three out of the four people inside (a coworker was also there), I was happily welcomed into a tiny community of people, recognized as the new girl.

I’m not completely comfortable yet. I’m realizing new things about this place every day that I both like and dislike (like anywhere, of course). It’s incredibly beautiful when it isn’t raining (which is most of the time); it’s god-awful when it is (mud. just…mud). Most of the time you don’t need much heat; but when you do need it, it’s probably broken. There’s no Target; there’s no Target. See?

Off to eat the rest of that ginger ice cream…

Welcome to MARFAlous

My husband Glenn and I are moving to Marfa, Freakin, Texas. While many people are happy for us, many others–people who are truly concerned for our welfare and mental health–are a little wary. Marfa, which is located about 180 miles southeast of El Paso and about 45 miles north of the US border with Mexico, is kinda…how shall I put this…out of the way. It’s remote. It’s hard to get to. It’s out in the middle of nowhere.

Though I’ve spent the last 20-or-so years of my life in larger or at least medium sized cities–Washington, Taipei, Baltimore, and Birmingham (an eclectic mix, I know)–I am moving to a town (village? hamlet?) with a population of around 2,000. A good friend asked me if I had ever lived in a town so, well, small before. The answer, I’m happy to say, is YES! I spent most of my childhood in a little western Maryland town called Smithsburg. I remember looking in my dad’s Rand McNally when I was a girl and memorizing the population of Smithsburg, which at the time (early-to-mid 80s) was 1,112. So, I have, in fact, lived in an even SMALLER town than Marfa. I do realize that in a small town you make your own entertainment. You do not go to the symphony. You do not go to the theater. You probably don’t even go to the movies. (You do, however, have Netflix and buy your J.Crew online, thank god.)

I admit, though, that Marfa is quite different than quaint little Smithsburg, Maryland. VERY different. Take the landscape for instance. As I’ve told many friends and family, there are trees…just not a lot of trees. Okay, I think there’s like one tree. The succulent landscape I’m used to–the green hills of the Appalachians–is non-existent. Marfa is dry, it’s arid, it makes me kind of thirsty, I need a Nehi Grape soda. It’s the town where they filmed Giant and No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, which are all very stark movies to say the least. Most importantly, and perhaps most noticeably to me, it has miles and miles and miles of sky.

There is something about West Texas…something about Marfa…that is totally and altogether refreshing to me. And it’s all about the sky. While the east is green, lush, tree-filled, and packed to the brim with stuff (both good and bad–meaning, say, The New York Public Library and Walmart, respectively ), West Texas is practically empty. The emptiness, the giant void, makes you realize the unmistakable presence of a completely overwhelming expanse. Sometimes blue, sometimes black, the vast, so-big-it-makes-you-feel-kind-of-scared-and-insignificant-and-alone sky is everpresent. It is a sky that will unforgivably suck you up where you stand and send you careening through space. It is a sky that makes you perceive gravity for the first time in your teeny weeny inconsequential life. In West Texas, you are one 5’5″ (and a half, thank you very much) body standing on a giant round ball in space: you are vulnerable,  tiny, and completely accessible to the gods. I find this very very tantalizing and marvelous (er, Marfalous, that is) because sometimes its just nice to remember there are forces out there other than–and I’m going to guess bigger than–yourself. I love that.

This is why Donald Judd, minimalist and conceptual artist, moved to Marfa and eventually came to create The Chinati Foundation, which is where I’ll be working. Though I won’t be talking about my work on this blog, I do want to point out that whatever force brought Judd to Marfa, that same force is taking me there, and has taken many an artist, philosopher, and wanderer to Marfa for one reason or another. I hope you’ll enjoy reading this blog as I discover everything Marfa has to offer, even if everything is nothing.*

By the way, thanks to my friend Kateri for naming this blog. As I told her, I’m terrible at naming things. She, evidently, is not. Thanks K!

*I’m totally serious here about “nothing” because I’ve recently discovered that Marfa does not have two things: a. mail service (you must get a PO box) and b. stop signs (they are all yields)