Road Foodie

Some people drive simply to arrive.

Whatch-yew See is Whatch-yew Git

Posted By on February 26, 2009

Marfa, Texas. 0 miles.

This confection of a courthouse graces the central square.

This confection of a courthouse graces the central square.

In addition to wrapping my chompers around some good grub, I like to wrap my head around the zeitgeist of a community I pass through. reader Mel Green of Los Angeles, who owns a house in Lajitas (this is near Marfa, at least in Texas terms), advised me to watch out for the issues caused by a high percentage of absentee homeowners in Marfa. Having lived in a resort town on the coast of Spain for three years, and living, now, in a community that is increasingly made up of weekenders from New York City, I’m aware of all the potential problems.
So I’m not shy when it comes to pumping the people I meet here for inside information (I can’t think of a time when I am shy, actually). At dinner with a full-time resident, an artist who migrated to Marfa from Manhattan six years ago, I put this question to him directly.
A pretty, habited house (see Texas star detail on fence).

A pretty, habited house (see Texas star detail on fence).

“Is there an atmosphere of resentment by the long-time locals against the artsy newcomers?” Maybe because I’m just passing through, he gives me a frank assessment, and it comes as a pleasant surprise.
“When my wife and I first got here, I worked for a time helping to open the renovated Thunderbird Hotel,” he tells me. “In that capacity, I supervised ten women who were born and raised in Marfa and never progressed beyond high school.”
What he discovered was that a person’s character—ie, if he or she was a good guy, or not so much—dictated these women’s opinions and attitudes. It had nothing to do with how long they’d been here, or how much money they had.
This puts me in mind of empirical thinking, a mind-set that’s sometimes been associated with Texas. In my aforementioned, seminal book Cowboy Cocktails I explored the concept thus:
“T.R. Fehrenbach observed in his book Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans that “empiricism” was a key feature of the early Texan’s way of thinking. The “empirical mind” sees things only in terms of cause and effect – i.e. not how things might be, but how they are right here (rat-cheer) and right now. Taking the concept even further, you might say that all knowledge must result from experience, none from theory (i.e. if you haven’t seen a man walk on the moon with your own eyes, then it didn’t happen). This stubborn mind-set was probably a side-effect of trying to create a civilization in a harsh, unforgiving environment. So, the next time you meet a stubborn Texan, just agree with him or her, then smile privately to yourself and blame empirical thinking.”
Habited, too. With Texas star, too.

Habited, too. With another proud Texas star.

In other words, what you see is what you get—not a bad philosophy, in my book. It’s a mind-set that has, on occasion, been the subject of spirited discourse (ie argument) between C and me. This is not much fun to reflect upon on day 30 of our 55-day (self-imposed) separation, but my stubborn insistence on seeing or hearing (from a respected authority) things for myself has sometimes caused him to chafe like a brand new pair of boots.
Of course, this does not fully address Mel’s concerns about the effects of a bunch of absentee homeowners. It’s true that many houses are empty, but lots of those are not really habitable anyway. Of the artfully-renovated, Venice-bungalow-esque homes, some are empty, some are rented out to folks like me, and some are happily habited. In my neighborhood east of Marfa (who knew Marfa was big enough to have neighborhoods?), most all of the live-able structures are occupied, and I’m in the minority by having only one vehicle and one dog in the yard.
Reading now: The Gay Place by Billy Lee Brammer. This novel about a spirited Texas governor named Arthur “Goddam” Fenstemaker in the very early sixties is so transparently about L.B.J. that his image is on the cover. Thanks to Holly Powell-Wright for the loan.
Listening to now: Some of the artists that will be performing at the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Alpine this weekend (on Marfa Public Radio). I’ll be there!


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