Everything is cooler in Marfa, Texas. The small West Texas town at the foot of the Chinati Mountains has long been a hotspot for artists and hipsters, and it just looks like a West Texas town is supposed to look. “Giant” was filmed in the vicinity, as were parts of “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” more recently. Marfa’s is a sparse beauty, but in my book it is definitely beautiful. (If you go, I hope you like landscapes that are thousands of shades of khaki and almost nothing else.)
The minimalist sculptor Donald Judd bought Fort Russell just south of Marfa when it was decommissioned by the U.S. Army in the 1980s. He turned it into the Chinati Foundation, a massive art installation that provided the perfect backdrop for a large collection of his brushed-metal and concrete boxes, along with the works of several other sculptors and painters. It’s probably my favorite place to look at art, and it’s the main reason that Marfa has registered on anyone else’s radar screen. By itself, it created a critical mass of hip art lovers with cashflow–just the sort of folks you’d want around if you opened a great bookstore like this one.
We visited Marfa this past weekend for the first time in about 15 years. It hadn’t changed in fundamental ways since the last time we were there, but there were some obvious transformations afoot. On the downside, the hipsters have driven real estate prices through the stratosphere. But on the upside, they also support the Marfa Book Company.
The MBC has a children’s section that is worlds better than anything available to us in Fort Worth, a city that has, according to my calculations, a population roughly 300 times the size of Marfa’s.
It also has an art and design section that’s better than anything I’ve seen in a bookstore outside of Manhattan. (This amazing book in the photography section captured my attention–how had I never heard of it before?) And the best Texas history section I’ve come across in the last few years. Plus perfectly good standard fiction and non-fiction sections. And a really cool gallery space. And hats and t-shirts for sale. All in all, it’s a remarkable place.
Special double bonuses: Just down the street, you can pick up a great cup of joe and a nice used book at The Brown Recluse, which is owned by a poet who happens to be an FOB (Friend of the Blog). Awesome accommodations in Marfa are available at the newly refurbished Hotel Paisano, whose interiors were featured in “Giant,” and the Thunderbird Hotel, which is owned by the couple that runs the award-winning and way-cool Hotel San Jose in Austin. I highly recommend the Indian Lodge, about 60 miles north in Fort Davis. Marfa is about 90 miles north of Big Bend National Park–so make a week of it. You’ll be glad you did.