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The Road to Marfa: A History.

Photo of the Marfa Welcome sign from ‘The Local Palate’.

Early Saturday morning, I’m taking yet another trip that’s been on my bucket list for many years and am heading west to Marfa, Texas.

Marfa’s slogan is, “Tough to get to. Tougher to explain. But once you get here, you get it.” Before I take to the road, I’m going to attempt to share all of the reasons why I’m heading to this small town, what I’m going to do there, and what I’m hoping to get out of it, all this week on the blog in a series I’m calling, “The Road to Marfa”. I hope you’ll join me.

Today, I want to talk about how Marfa came to be.

Marfa was established in 1883, and served passesrsby as a water stop and was the freight headquarters for the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway. It has been said that the wife of a railway executive was reading “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyoder Dostoyevsky, and named the town after one of its characters.

Another version of the story claims that the town was named for the character Marfa Strogoff in Jules Verne’s “Michael Strogoff”.

Marfa is at the junction of US Highway 90 and 67 in the northeastern part of Presidio county. To the north are the Davis Mountains, to the southeast the Chisos Mountains, and to the southwest the Chinati Mountains. Marfa lays semi-protected within these escarpments on a great highland plain known as the Marfa Plateau. It sits at an altitude of 4,830 feet above sea level in a semiarid region.

Photo from the ‘Dallas Morning News’.

By 1885 Marfa had one or two saloons, a hotel, and a general merchandise store—Humphris and Company. Poker bets in the saloons were often made with deeds to town lots. Traveling salesmen stayed at the St. George Hotel, who came by train, established their headquarters in the hotel, and from Marfa made stagecoach trips to Shafter, Fort Davis, Valentine, and Presidio to show their wares.

In 1886 Marfa was now home to churches, a school, and a newspaper. C. M. Jennings began publishing the “New Era”, the town’s first weekly newspaper. Over the years, it changed hands several times until the weekly finally merged with the “Big Bend Sentinel” under the management of T. E. Childers.

In 1900 the population of Marfa was 900. Eventually the town had literary clubs, fraternal organizations, telephone service, and a bank.

Marfa’s population reached 3,909 in the 1930s, and in the 1940s, the government housed the Chemical Warfare Brigades, and soon built a prisoner of war camp nearby. Marfa Army Air field was also created near town, and when all of these military camps closed, it hit Marfa economically.

In 2016, Marfa’s population was 1,747.

The Stardust Motel sign in Marfa, Texas.

Until the 1970’s, Marfa was best known for the ghost lights and the film location for James Dean’s final picture the “GIANT”, also starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and Dennis Hopper. The classically beautiful Hotel Paisano, served as the center of activity during the making of the movie.

In 1971, Donald Judd, the renowned minimalist artist and sculptor, moved to Marfa from New York City with the intention of permanently installing his art. He purchased several acres in Marfa, including the buildings of Fort D. A. Russell, and established galleries for contemporary art.

Before Judd died in 1994, he’d acquired an army base and filled it with art, which is open for tourists.

These beginnings eventually led to Marfa’s growing reputation as an artists’ community, and support for the visual arts has been carried on by the Chinati Foundation and other groups. Various art museums and galleries attract creative spirits as well as tourists and have garnered international attention.

In 2009, The New York Times started publishing several features on Marfa – the art, and the food scene. At the start of 2013, the internet freaked when Beyonce visited Marfa and posted pictures on her social channels. Natalie Portman, Robert Pattenson, and Jake Gyllenhaal have also made the trek to Marfa.

Remember how Marfa claim it’s hard to get to? It’s about 3 hours from El Paso, Texas, near the Texas/Mexico border. It’s about 7.5 hours from Dallas to Marfa, in fact, the nearest city is 170 miles away, and it’s in Mexico.

Talk about remote!

Tomorrow, I’ll be talking about what there is to actually DO in Marfa.

Sources: Visit Marfa, Texas State Historical Association, NPR

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BBC: ’99: Stories of the Game’.

I feel like every single day this week kicked my behind – it was the holiday, the chilly weather, and yeah, I just wanted to stay in bed! At least it’s Friday, because I’ve got huge plans to sleep in this weekend and make tortellini soup. How cool am I?

Basically, it’s the perfect season to read a book about HOCKEY. And that’s exactly what Blanche’s Book Club did, as we just finished “99:Stories of the Game” by Wayne Gretsky.

I was really excited when I saw this book on the shelf in the library, because it was just released in November! I snatched it right up and got to reading. Here’s the official description from Amazon:

From minor-hockey phenomenon to Hall of Fame sensation, Wayne Gretzky rewrote the record books, his accomplishments becoming the stuff of legend. Dubbed “The Great One,” he is considered by many to be the greatest hockey player who ever lived. No one has seen more of the game than he has—but he has never discussed in depth just what it was he saw.

For the first time, Gretzky discusses candidly what the game looks like to him and introduces us to the people who inspired and motivated him: mentors, teammates, rivals, the famous and the lesser known. Weaving together lives and moments from an extraordinary career, he reflects on the players who inflamed his imagination when he was a kid, the way he himself figured in the dreams of so many who came after; takes us onto the ice and into the dressing rooms to meet the friends who stood by him and the rivals who spurred him to greater heights; shows us some of the famous moments in hockey history through the eyes of someone who regularly made that history.

Warm, direct, and revelatory, it is a book that gives us number 99, the man and the player, like never before.

As the description says, this isn’t really a book about Gretsky, but moreso a book about the game of hockey and its history. It’s loaded with interesting tidbits – about how long players went before even considering to play while wearing helmets, how the size of the rink affects the game, and how the league was formed.

Of course, there is plenty of information about Gretsky’s story; I had no idea his first professional team was in Indianapolis (Hooooosiers!), and that he spent lots of time practicing on a frozen river, learning to play while dodging frozen sticks and uneven ice… and he often wore skates that were many sizes too small, just for a certain edge in the game.

What I love about sports stories is that they’re really inspirational. There’s lots of hard work; tough stories, and often hard-fought victories. And while coaches and players can often move us with their voices, sports writing is another craft.

I will not say this book is phenomenally written, because it isn’t. But the stories are really interesting and worth the read – perhaps if you’re into audio books, it’s available in that format (check it out, here). Besides, who better to explain the history and the best moments of the game than Gretsky himself?

If you’re a hockey fan, or even just a sports fan, this is definitely a book you’re going to want to check out. The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “One True Loves” by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Read it with us by following me on social media @OrangeJulius7 and chatting!

Have a great, great weekend everyone, and I’ll see you right back here on Monday!

‘Hamilton’ & the magic of inspiration.

Siiingin' in the raaain.

Siiingin’ in the raaain.

No, I did not see “Hamilton”, and no, I do not have tickets. But what I DO have is loads of inspiration after watching “Hamilton’s America” on PBS (which you can stream thru 11/18) last weekend.

I’ll preface the rest of this by saying that I was not immediately sold on “Hamilton”. I thought it was hype, and I didn’t get it. Buuut, then I started seeing lots of people I knew who saw it and they said how great it was, and then he hosted SNL:

…And I was all… ok Lin-Manuel, I SEE you! So when I heard PBS was showing a documentary about the most-successful Broadway musical, I was in. I recorded it, and watched it immediately, as I shoveled takeout noodles into my dropped jaw.

Why? Because what I’d heard previously was true: Lin-Manuel Miranda picked up Ron Chernow’s book, “Alexander Hamilton” in an airport on his way to the beach for vacation, and was inspired to write a hit musical.

Uhmazing.

 The documentary explores the creation of “Hamilton” before most of it was even written – and it took several years to write, given there are 55 songs squeezed into a show that’s less than three hours.

What did I find so cool about this story about a man who wrote a musical on one of our founding fathers? Well, lots of things.

For starters, the fact that Miranda was so inspired by history in this small instant – his vacation – and also that he put a huge twist on it (hip-hop). And then there’s the fact that most people don’t make money on  Broadway. Creating a musical based on history was completely a passion project that turned out to be H-U-G-E.

I’m also dazed by the amount of work and research that went into the musical, as Miranda really wanted it to be historically accurate. No wonder it took nearly seven years to make.

I stumbled across an article in Fortune magazine which featured an interview with Miranda and he talks about what he learned from creating “Hamilton”:

You can have good ideas when you take a break from what you’re normally doing and don’t just go 100 miles an hour. Two: Really trusting my gut. I won a Tony with In the Heights. I got offered movie adaptations of musicals. I got offered a lot of Latin-theme stuff. But I had faith that the idea I was chasing with Hamilton would be worthwhile.

It takes years to make a musical. So I’ve got to choose projects knowing that even if they open and close in a day, I will not regret the time I spent on them. And so you can’t choose on what you think is going to be a financial success. You’ve got to pick the idea that excites you and inspires you to write.

I don’t want to give too much away, because you really should just watch the PBS documentary. Here’s the teaser:

So, now I’ve got Ron Chernow’s book on reserve at the library (I think I’m #10 in line), because I want to read the same thing Miranda read and see what’s on the pages. Will I see what he saw? Highly doubtful, because I know basically nothing about Broadway, and not much about musicals other than I wish I lived inside one.

In general, I live for these bits of inspiration. There are things that are likely to inspire us all – stories of rags to riches, those who’ve made something out of nothing. But perhaps there are things that oddly inspire you, which may not inspire the person beside you. Why?

Of course, we are all driven by different things. As a writer, great writing inspires me whether it’s in the form of a great song, an awesome TV show, a good movie, or the perfect book. Sometimes, just the thought of the light at the end of the tunnel inspires me: picturing a lazy Sunday morning when I’m knee-deep in work on a Tuesday helps me realize that the end is coming and I’m working toward those quiet moments.

Sometimes, I’m simply inspired by nature: the changing leaves of fall, every single sunset, a rare sunrise when I’ve dragged myself from the covers in time, flowers, mountains, or even green fields.

I’d love to know what inspires you – and what you do to keep that inspirational juice flowing in order to get things done. I know I’m always looking for more inspiration, and I’d love to know where we can all find it. And with that, I’m just going to leave you with this…