Mon Jun 10, 2013
Large American cities breed complacency. We grow up in the suburbs, we move to the cities after college, we get jobs and buy apartments and curate routines. We find comfort in the monoculture of coffeeshops, the ubiquity of free wifi and indie periodicals. College students flip through biology textbooks, their thumbs skimming over blue-framed iPhone screens.
The small town of Marfa, Texas subverts urban complacency. The streets are hot, desolate, effortlessly dusty. Buildings arranged sparse like haiku lines. A lone gas station on the corner offers only two varieties of bottled water.
Upon closer inspection, a startling fraction of the blank-faced single-story buildings in Marfa reveal themselves to be contemporary art museums.
At night, the heat departs the sidewalks reluctantly like rising angels on their way to the dentist. Warm lamplight floods the streets, supplanting the blues and purples of a late desert sunset. We walk to a bar down the block, where a high school graduation party is underway. The high schooler is nowhere to be found, but his family members run plentiful. 2-4 middle-aged couples dance the macarena as the DJ shuffles windows around on a laptop.
At 11:20 pm, an old man hands us beers and drives us down a dark lonely highway in an obnoxiously loud bus. He herds us out into a field of moonlit grass rife with ant hills. As we shiver in the stiff breeze, he points into the distance at a pair of faint pulsing lights, orange and yellow, bobbing on the horizon. The Marfa Lights, he says. Nobody knows what they are, not even the scientists from Austin who came and studied them for months. Some say aliens; others say cars on the highway.
“What happens if you look at them through a telescope?”
“Well you see the same thing, only bigger.”
The next day, we are fed sweet French toast and taken to art. We walk from bungalow to bungalow, gazing. There are rows upon rows of aluminum blocks whose gleaming surfaces cast geometric deceptions, chaotic multicolored masses of twisted metal, rooms suffused in unearthly neon light, cartoonish paintings of tesselating women, and an abandoned Soviet schoolhouse left in disarray.
Marfa feels like an alien outpost in the morass of stereotypes that is America.