Downtown Marfa Texas // Summer 2017 Travel
When we finally reached downtown Marfa, I knew little would be open – not a ghost town, but not much open. It was a Tuesday, and 5 oclock-ish, in August. I’ve been told that even on weekends the stores are fickle in how they keep hours.
On any day, it appears the hotels are the only businesses reliably open in the downtown area. We passed through the lobby, shops, and bar of the El Paisano, which is an old-school, quintessentially West Texas hotel. We perused the downstairs bookstore, lobby and bar area of the Saint George, which is a modern, overtly pretentious experience. I recognized fewer than 5 titles in the bookstore of the Saint George, but I expect the cocktails would have been delicious, and I would have stopped at the bar, had my 7-year-old not been in tow and hyper-focused on exploration.
After 6 hours in the car that day, it felt good to walk downtown, even with most of it shuttered. We knew there were galleries, and obscurely placed exhibits, and such, in and around Marfa, but at least in our limited experience, the town had not rallied behind any effort to easily guide visitors to these spaces. Instead, we meandered, and I took pictures.
There was a moment early on in our meandering when I thought of a quote we keep on the wall in our kitchen, from Old Man and the Sea, of “Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is“. While Marfa is not anything close to resembling a “life in peril” situation ala Old Man and the Sea, the lens of perspective offered by the quote was one that was helpful for me that day.
I also began to notice, a few minutes into our walk, that I frequently saw my own reflection, along with my son’s and husband’s. The angle of the sun and the weather that day turned most of the windows into mirrors, which were transparent in the spaces where our reflective images created portals into the other worlds inside.
As we walked and I saw more and more reflections, I was reminded of a spiritual practice I recently learned from listening to Professor Christena Cleveland speak on a podcast. Cleveland described that one of the ways she engages students, and in particular those who may have very different views from her, is to consider approaching these students with an internal greeting of “the image of God in me greets the image of God in you.” I view this as an active acknowledgement of the spirit and soul that are engaged when we converse with another person – valuing the humanity of the other. I’ve tried to adapt this practice in many spaces, and in particular, when thinking about or talking with people who have opinions that I ardently disagree with. It is a beautiful practice that focuses me on applying belief to action, and in particular, applying my belief, from teachings in the book of Genesis in the Bible, that I and all other human beings are God’s image bearers, connected to one another, and here to reflect God’s character throughout the earth.
The reflections in the windows visually reminded me of something I have learned since starting this spiritual practice – that when I greet others as bearing the image of God, whether we are in accord or not, I am simultaneously more aware of myself and the other person, at a soul level . I am more aware of how much energy I am bringing into the conversation and I often times get to see into a piece of the other person’s world that was previously hidden. I am more aware of God’s presence reflected by others.
In the stillness and quiet of Marfa, and the lack of anything that we needed to see, anywhere we needed to be, or anyone we needed to meet with, I found very needed, long moments to pray and to breath. I reflected on what I would pass along to the next generation and what I hoped the next generation would be freed from.
As we walked along, we peered into windows of nondescript, unmarked buildings, only to find incredible works of art sitting in giant, open spaces. In many ways, this is what I expected Marfa would be, though having traveled to many a West Texas town, I was still surprised by each discovery.
My son’s attention span started to wane after 30 minutes or so of walking. Fortunately, we happened upon a laundromat on a side street, which seems to be open most of the time, and has a coffee/ice cream spot connected. We stopped for a quick treat and then continued to walk.
Somewhere thereafter, my husband made up a game with my son called “look it’s art!”. The game consisted of pointing to seemingly ordinary things, which were then magically transformed into art when viewed within the context of Marfa, and its acquired reputation as one giant curated exhibit. We laughed a lot.
We walked past buildings that cut against the sky. The clouds that day were surreal. The architecture in Marfa is beautiful, and intentional.
I stopped and noticed the unique aesthetic of each of the churches we passed by – creating quiet, tranquil spaces. I felt invited to step closer and take deeper breaths.
I stopped and took about 200 pictures of the Marfa Public Radio building, and the band waiting to perform live on air. I reminisced about a season in life when my husband and I owned a record label. None of the pictures I took turned out to show everything I wanted to capture about that moment, and I eventually acknowledged it not possible that a photograph alone could remember all the memories that had rushed to the surface.
Eventually, we all felt we’d seen the town. We drove the short distance back to El Cosmico, and our teepee, for a picnic dinner, some star-gazing, and a good night’s sleep. (for more about our stay at El Cosmico: http://www.hotspicedtea.com/marfa-tx-el-cosmico-summer-2017/)