CHRISTMAS EVE IN MARFA

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I had an idea that it would be fun to spend Christmas in Marfa, Texas.  Jae and I drove there from Tombstone on Christmas Eve.  I had somehow gotten the notion that Marfa was the sort of tourist destination that would attract holiday revelers from distant places and welcome them festively.  I could not have been more wrong.

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It was pretty much dead.  The cool restaurants were closed for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  The bar and grill at the fancy hotel in Marfa — the El Paisano, where the cast of Giant stayed when filming nearby — was closed.  The uncool restaurants were closed, too.  Even the Dairy Queen was closed, and when a town’s Dairy Queen is closed, that town is existentially closed.

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Jae and I managed to find a bar called Padre’s that was serving food, simple fare but good, and it had a small but attractive selection of beers on tap.  The bar was located in a big room with a stage and a dance floor, but there was only a tiny crowd in attendance on Christmas Eve — there was no live music and nobody was dancing.

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The place had no heat working whatsoever — it was like hanging out in a cold storage locker.  The bartenders wore heavy coats as they went about their work — the patrons were dressed in warm-weather clothes.  Is this a Texas thing — freezing in bars?

We stuck around until the chattering of our teeth became distracting then headed back to our motel.  Marfa is a charming little place, but it’s not a place you want to find yourself at Christmas as an out-of-town visitor.

TOMBSTONE

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Jae and I motored into Tombstone, Arizona on the morning of our second day on the road.

Tombstone is a remarkably well-preserved late 19th-Century frontier town but every inch of it has been commercialized in the cheapest and ugliest ways imaginable.  If you squint you can get a clear sense of the scale and architecture of the old town, but the glare of tacky commerce is otherwise blinding.

The O. K. Corral, near which the legendary gunfight occurred, has been enclosed within a big shed-like building, so the owners can charge for the privilege of standing on the famously blood-stained spot. We declined to do so.

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Tombstone used to be a wide-open town, and it still has its share of frontier-themed saloons, but they shut down early these days, and of course you can’t smoke in them.  All you can do is drink a few beers and imagine what the joints were like in more rambunctious times.

The whole town pretty much closes for business after 9pm.  When the streets are dark you have another opportunity to imagine the town as it used to be, physically at least — though the saloons stayed open around the clock once upon a time.  The town in its heyday was never as dark as it is today at 10pm.

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We visited the legendary Boothill Graveyard on the edge of town, with its wry inscriptions on the grave markers, invariably detailing some violent form of death.

We had some very bad, disgracefully bad, food for lunch in a small cafe, and some acceptable food for dinner at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, where a big cowboy band played decent music.

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Kate was a prostitute and sometime companion of Doc Holliday.  She never owned a saloon — the one that bears her name now used to be The Grand Hotel.

My favorite moment on our visit to Tombstone occurred outside Big Nose Kate’s.  I’d stepped out to have a smoke and saw two very old locals, a man and woman, in cowboy hats doing the same.  The woman said to the man, “Well, Bill, we’ve made it to another Christmas.”

“Yep,” he said.  “That’s a good thing.”

She said, “It’s the first step towards making it to the next one.”

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The Crystal Palace Saloon, outside of which Virgil Earp was shot and disabled, had a terrific band doing rock covers but it played so loud for the handful of patrons in the cavernous room that we had to flee after a few songs.

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Tombstone is an interesting place to have seen — its Bird Cage Theatre, a mostly intact Old West low-life variety venue, is particularly evocative — but I won’t be going back to the town any time soon.

[Panoramic photos by Jae Song]

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MISS SAIGON IN TUCSON

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On the initial day of our road trip we’d hoped to make it to Benson, Arizona, where you turn off the I-10 to head south towards Tombstone, our fist planned destination.  A late start meant we only got as far as a western suburb of Tucson, though this turned out to be fortunate.

We checked into a Motel 6 that had a smoking room for yours truly and saw that it was just across a couple of parking lots from the Miss Saigon restaurant, which looked intriguing and a step up from regular roadside eateries.  It turned out to be much more than that.

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It served Vietnamese-Thai fusion cuisine and had an excellent selection of Asian and other beers, kept ice-cold.  The waitresses were cute and friendly, putting us in the best possible mood to feast on memorable green curry dishes.

We staggered back to the motel feeling refreshed and lucky.

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THE HOMESMAN

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Not many people are heading out to see Tommy Lee Jones’s The Homesman and it’s really hard to imagine why anyone would want to see it, just as it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to make such a film.

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At its center are two fascinating, eccentric, oddly appealing characters who are, when we meet them, desperate, isolated, lost.  They forge an inspiring bond between them then part, even more desperate, isolated and lost than they were when they first met up.

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This is not a story — it is a monotonous non sequitur that attempts and fails to glamorize despair.  Many puerile storytellers think that glamorizing despair constitutes a form of high art — profoundly mature, courageously realistic.  It does not.

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Jones has said the film is about American imperialism, which I guess means that the hardships faced by Western pioneers were some sort of retribution for the hubris of belief in Manifest Destiny, but it’s difficult to discern how this idea relates to the drama of the film in any but the most abstract and artificial way.

The Homesman : Premières photos du film de Tommy Lee Jones

In any case, trying to sell this sort of arty nihilism as a Western (or social criticism or anything else, really) constitutes a formula for commercial disaster — richly deserved commercial disaster.  A terrific premise for a story, some fine cinematography and some brilliant acting, including one of the best performances Jones has ever given, are wasted in the process.

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A NEW AMAZON CUSTOMER REVIEW

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Sincere and Romantic

This latest collection of Western short stories from Lloyd Fonvielle presents six tales that are poignant, sometimes humorous, often with a bittersweet tone. My favorite story in the collection is “Hidden Canyon”, set against the backdrop of a silent film production, which Fonvielle depicts in colorful detail. Another standout is “Young Love”, which is quite touching without being overly-sentimental. That describes what Fonvielle has achieved here with these stories, which are sincere and romantic without ever hitting a false note.

For book details go here:

Six Western Love Stories

FIRST AMAZON CUSTOMER REVIEW!

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Fonvielle’s ‘Six Western Love Stories’

. . . isn’t a romance novel. No moon in June, pie in the sky, lovey dovey BS. The love in these short stories is sometimes given and sometimes taken, It’s hard and it’s rough, born of necessity, lust and greed. There are turns of tenderness though but that tenderness seemingly comes with time and life lived. Descriptive and colorful, I found myself living through these stories, being in them for the moments they took me to read. That’s the best I can say about these stories. They draw you in and make you partake. The only disappointment is when they’re over.

For book details go here:

Six Western Love Stories

NOW PUBLISHED

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These are not ordinary Western romances — they are as wild, as bitter, as sweet as the Old West itself . . . raunchy at times, violent at times, heartbreaking at times, pulsing with the high spirits of a rambunctious frontier:

One Kiss — the ghost of an old love visits the mind of a feckless wanderer and redeems a lifetime of regret . . .

Hidden Canyon — a silent film star makes her first Western on location in Arizona and learns about the preposterous snares of Hollywood and the hard-bitten charms of a real cowboy . . .

Decline and Fall — a man carries a book in his saddlebags and reads it over and over again, until he finds a woman who understands why . . .

Young Love — a sixteen year-old preacher’s son and a twenty-two year-old whore discover the miracle of impetuous flapdoodle . . .

Romance — a clueless outlaw courts a respectable schoolmarm and nearly pays for it with his life . . .

My Hero — a fourteen year-old girl is rescued from hopeless servitude by a fearless gunfighter, who teaches her what true gallantry is . . .

Only 99 cents for the lot — available at the link below for the Kindle or for the free Kindle Reading Apps that work on almost any computer or portable device:

Six Western Love Stories

THE RIVERS OF AMERICA

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They all got out of here any way they could –
The cold rain can give you the shivers.
They went down the Ohio, the Cumberland, the Tennessee,
All the rest of them rebel rivers.

— Bob Dylan, “Floater”, from Love and Theft

Until the triumph of the railroads and then the automobile and airplanes, rivers were what knit America together.  Horses and shoe leather could get you just about anywhere but rivers opened up the continent to settlement and trade on an epic scale.

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When you read the history of America before the Civil War almost all of it centers around rivers, which watered the fields cultivated by settlers but also gave them routes for trading what they grew in distant places and pathways into the interior of the continent, where — who knows? — things might be better.  They inspired and enabled the wanderlust that was always part of the American character.

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Today our rivers are mostly tamed by flood-control projects, dammed up to produce electricity, fouled by waste of one sort or another, but they’re still here — ghost highways into the past.

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The handy book pictured at the head of this post is a terrific guide to the river systems of North America, the vein-like patterns that once limned the possibilities of exploration and migration.  It’s good to remember them because in remembering them we remember who we are and how we got where we are.

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The mighty Colorado no longer empties into the sea, its water having been diverted for various purposes on its way there, but up north, in places, it looks the way it looked to the first Native Americans and the first European explorers who ever saw it — and it’s still a sight that can stir the heart.

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COMANCHE MOON

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In terms of internal chronology, this is the second in Larry McMurtry’s four-book Lonesome Dove saga, coming just after Dead Man’s Walk and just before Lonesome Dove itself.  It was the fourth novel in the series McMurtry wrote and published, after Dead Man’s Walk.

I found Dead Man’s Walk disappointing.  I felt that the humor of Lonesome Dove, wry and earthy, had gotten a bit formulaic and that the incidents of the tale, though clearly inspired by historical fact, strained too hard for mythic effects.

McMurtry got back on track with Comanche Moon, however.  It’s a rip-roaring adventure, both romantic and harrowing, whose humor and narrative feel authentic, true to McMurtry’s vision of the Western frontier and of the characters who inhabited it.

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It doesn’t have the grand emotional architecture of Lonesome Dove — its narrative wanders around a bit towards the end — but it has a grand theme that ties it all together . . . the passing of the traditional Comanche way of life and thus the way of life of the Texas Rangers who were once mostly concerned with fighting the Comanches.

The Rangers and the Comanches slowly become ghostly mirror images of each other as the world moves on in ways they aren’t prepared to accept.

I can’t say that Comanche Moon equals, or even approaches, the majestic perfection of Lonesome Dove — it would take quite a book to do that — but it’s a damn good novel, humane, especially with regard to its Indian characters, moving and consistently entertaining.