While most people were running away from the Mexico border, this past week my mother and I found ourselves barreling toward it. We were headed for the Marfa Film Festival. After two flights where we were surrounded by people wearing medical masks and obsessively “sanitizing” their hands, we landed in El Paso and drove 200 miles into the Texas desert.
We drove past heavily armed border patrol checkpoints and a giant blimp that first looked to us like a space ship or an art project, but turned out to be a multi-million dollar border patrol “drug blimp” known as a Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS). TARS are designed to catch drugs being trafficked across the boarder and locals told us that the blimp, hanging 10,000 feet above highway 90, was responsible for one confirmed arrest since it was launched in 1989 — so at least we know its working.
Marfa is a cultural and political island that sits 5000 feet above a sea of desert sand in marfa horse2West Texas, 50 miles from the Mexico border. The town has a population of just over 2000 and represents one of the few congressional districts that voted overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008.
When we got to town, my mother and I were taken to a converted garage on a horse and donkey farm on the outskirts of town where we would be sleeping for the next three nights. Tige, our gracious host, had lived in New York briefly during the Great Depression where she worked in the horse stables of Central Park and at the Catholic Worker with Dorothy Day, back when subway fare was a nickel.
We were honored that Disturbing the Universe was the chosen to be the closing night film at the Marfa Film Festival. The marfa qaday of the screening, everything was running about a half hour late and as we waited to enter the theater, a local man sat down on the theater steps and proceeded to skin a snake in the hot Texas sun. We have never had such a pre-show performance.
The audience was terrific. According to Tige it consisted of “all the West Texas lawyers in a 300-mile radius and a bunch of horse people.” Our film was preceded by an inspiring and important short documentary by John Hubbell called I Am a Man, about the 1968 sanitation worker’s strike in Memphis that proceeded Dr. King’s assassination.
Following the screening, the Festival, along with the Rotary Club of Marfa, put on a Cinco De marfa chickMayo street party complete with a mariachi band, a raffle for a baby goat, and chicken bingo. Feeling lucky, I went for chicken bingo and patiently waited for a pair of sister hens to relieve themselves on one of the five squares I put money on.
By the time it clear that we had lost both bingo and the goat raffle, the only place open for dinner was the gas station, where we had a choice between fried chicken gizzards (different chickens) and fried okra. After chicken bingo, the gizzards were out of the question. We brought the okra back to the horse farm and ate them under the stars.