Monday, January 27, 2014


Over the holiday weekend, James and I made our way to West Texas.

Our first stop was in Fredericksburg, where James got talked into a free tasting of the world's hottest hot sauce ("The Source"). They gave it to him on such a tiny little toothpick though, I didn't get to see any panting or tears. 

I think the sauce is made through some kind of intense distillation process that makes it hotter than peppers found in nature, which kind of sounds like cheating. I love spicy food, but I'd rather taste things than just look for pure spicy.

After Fredericksburg, it was onward to Marfa:

A display outside The Wrong Store (art store) in Marfa

In the early seventies, Donald Judd left New York to get away from the constrains of the urban art world. There's something very cool about driving way across Texas and getting to see a bunch of concrete cubes sitting in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert. We also saw a Warhol display and half a dozen other small exhibits in town.

On our first night, we went to a bar in neighboring Alpine (cheaper hotels) and when James gave the bartender his ID, the guy pulled his own out from under the bar - a fellow Alaskan!

Not only that, he'd gone to Dimond High School too! He was about four years younger than us, and had moved to Texas to play soccer. He was finishing up his degree at the university in Alpine and then hoped to move back to Anchorage to coach club soccer.

It's always so exciting meeting fellow Alaskans. We didn't get to talk to the guy much since the bar was busy (forgot to even ask his name!) but we bonded over the ho-hum Texan tap water, and we learned that the house he grew up in Anchorage was essentially walking distance from James'. Too funny how you can live in a country with 300 million people, drive out to the middle of nowhere and meet a neighbor you never met before. I think that says something about the age we live in, but I'll withhold the philosophizing.

Donal Judd installation at the Chinati Foundation
On our first touring day, we stopped at the visitor center and chatted for about half an hour with the lady there, she'd lived in Marfa her whole life. When we got to asking her about the whole art scene and the tourism that's come with it, she rattled off half a dozen celebrities she'd met. She once picked Jake Gyllenhaal up at the airport. She met the Twilight kids. She didn't recognize Elijah Wood when he came into the visitor center.

There are so many sad, declining small towns in the U.S. The lady at the tourist center admitted there were old people in town who didn't like all the artists crashing the place, but it's a huge economic boon and a such a unique transformation of a really remote place: the movie theater in Alpine was only showing two films, which we weren't interested in, and the next nearest theater that we could pull up on our phones was 2.5 hours away in New Mexico.

This is Prada Marfa. It was not commissioned by Prada, but they did provide their shoes for display to the artist free of charge. It's controversial because of the commercial aspect. But I like it. I'm not much of an art critic though, I like just about anything that has a touch of humor and doesn't alienate me.

It's located about half an hour outside Marfa, so you actually have to drive through Valentine - which is a teeny place on the razor edge of becoming a ghost town - to go see it. When we got there, there was one other car stopped, another tourist. That man left, and another car pulled up carrying another pair of tourists, a young couple like us.

I can't speak to the artist's intention, but I think there's something incredibly funny about driving way the hell out in the desert to photograph a Prada store and then when you get there you see people who look just like you doing the same thing - young, probably educated, fancy camera - taking a picture of  a store you've probably seen in a dozen cities anywhere in the world.

On the way to Prada we spotted this blimp thing. We stopped on the way back to take some pictures, then saw at the gate where it was a military science-y weather-monitoring something or other, which makes my brain immediately go: "Oh Science? BO-RING. Whatever." and forget about it. Shameful, I know. As Popeye would say, I yam what I yam.

But then James stumbled on this article via a Facebook link. The blimpy thing we saw looks an awful lot like this blimp thing:

Now, the thing we saw may very well be what it purports to be on its signage out in the desert. This thing though is a military surveillance blimp that's going to go over Baltimore and it will be able to surveil the crap out of all kinds of stuff as far as dozens of miles away. Techno-surveillance dystopia is upon us. Time to start working on my tin-foil hat. 

After Marfa we drove south and then drove along the Rio Grande - so everything south of the river here is Mexico. 

Texas - Rio  Grande - Mexico
I guess they don't need a fence because the territory is so inhospitable. But we did pass two border check points where border agents check people heading north into Texas.

This was taken at the Contrabando Movie Site, where several nineties westerns were filmed.

In other news, I am working and writing. I am no longer worried about not having enough work, I have repurposed that worrying for stressing over whether the work will evaporate (ah, freelancing). I'm writing about tech startups for a local website and I've scratched out a little more work related to my beloved (subject - not actually beloved) North Korea. Plus I'm doing a bit of commercial blogging and I have a riveting business dictionary-updating gig.

I'm a couple weeks off from a full draft of my novel. I always feel better about it when I'm not actually looking at the screen. Maybe not a good sign? 

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