December 30, 2008
First, an apology for the lack of photos on this one. I should point out that if my hands were not rifling through carpet samples or digging buckshot out of a rabbit carcass , I might have documented things a little better. But alas, on with the story of my National Lampoon’s Christmas- brought to you by my running shoes.
I had the great luck (as I often do) of being out of town on business the night that our plumbing took its last flush. Its swan song consisted of an unobserved overflow for several hours, finally culminating in a grand finale of 2 rooms and a hallway ruined from the baseboards down. Now, don’t misunderstand me here- I have been searching for a good reason to get rid of the carpet in these rooms and hallway for quite some time, so it was actually not a bad opportunity. So after the 5 days of getting to know the guys at Fox Service Company really well, I had to deal with the flooring fiasco. I finally decided, reluctantly, to put in more carpet. After all, I hope to knock down some walls in the near future, and spending time and money on something nicer would be a waste once the floor plan is changed. So with new Berber on order and tack strips on gorgeous mildew-y display, I set about on my holiday duties.
The quick and painless day spent with family occurred on the 23rd. By Christmas Eve, I was able to put together a fabulous shopping list for my killer Christmas menu, and I even had a nice glass of bubbles (or two or three) with some good friends. Odd that my house, even in its current disastrous condition, was still the best place for Christmas dinner. No matter.
Now the menu that my cooking partner and I had created included rabbit, and outside of frozen bunnies, it’s not an easy game to find. My neighbor is an avid hunter, and when he mentioned that he was going rabbit hunting, I made a little deal with him to trade a bottle of wine for every rabbit he brought me. After several days of hunting with nothing to show for it, I gave up on his marksman abilities and went ahead with other plans at the market. But lo and behold, Christmas morning he brought me 4 bunnies.
“They’re only field dressed,” he warned me.
“That’s fine!” I assured him with full confidence in my skills with a piece of meat. We made the trade and I dove into my first lesson in cleaning wild game. I have to admit that I was happy to see he had removed the heads and feet for me. However, cleaning bits of fur and metal pellets from these creatures who had been happily hopping mere hours before was a harrowing experience. I knew then and there that I would never again take for granted any piece of living thing that I put in my mouth for consumption.
I put the cleaned rabbits in a pan with olive oil and sage, and let them rest while we began on all the other dishes. Here is how the menu originally read:
Cheddar Puffs with Fresh Herbs and Pancetta
Broiled Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates with Basil and Prosciutto
Sardinian Lamb and Pork Pies in Phyllo Dough
Roast Chicken Phyllo Pies with Goat cheese, Rosemary and Capers
Mixed Green Salad with Pear, Ricotta and Pancetta
Anchovy Stuffed Olives and Cayenne Spiced Olives
Fromage d’Affinois and Gruyere with Sliced Baguette
Goose Liver Pate
Apple Pie and Pecan Pie
Now, with the last minute addition of the rabbits, we decided to fricasee two of them, and use the other two in rabbit pies. And some time during the next 11 straight hours of cooking and drinking, we had a few more guests arrive than intended. Good thing we had extra. For a few vegetarians who arrived, we roasted some yams, russet potatoes, and brussel sprouts, and mashed them with ricotta to make the veggie pies. They were then finished off with a drizzle of truffle oil. We had three different sauces to top the pies- one from the lamb stock, herbs and red wine, another from the rabbit stock with butter and white wine, and finally a lovely sauce from the roast chicken stock.
At one point in the evening, while jostling for space in my tiny kitchen in between each other, two toddlers, and countless other distractions, my cooking partner and I managed to each sustain bad burns from the very same pot at the very same time. Syncronisity? Or the kitchen gods demanding we stop the madness and focus?
There was NOTHING left over. The guests were joyful and full of yummies. We toasted with our uninjured hands to a job well done, and we said Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.
Oh, and the carpet will arrive on Tuesday.
December 16, 2008
What would it take to send a glam-loving city gal into the West Texas desert? To a town so small it has only one traffic light. A place where the nearest airport is still 3 hours away by car. Why would this wining and dining culture vulture want to venture out where the tumbleweeds (and Chihuahuas) outnumber the cars?
How about a map to a buried treasure? Well, that’s all it took for me.
So it began last winter when my girlfriend suggested we go to a play @ the Vortex. The play was called A Thought in Three Parts, by Wallace Shawn, a British playwright whose London premiere of the show in 1977 was investigated by the Attorney General and almost shut down mid-run. It’s 30-year-later revival was the work of Rubber Repertory. The play was outrageously entertaining. So much so, that almost a year later, when I read that they were doing an experimental theatre production which was going to be audience interactive- I was all over it. We bought our tickets to The Casket of Passing Fancy, and took our 2 front row seats somewhere in the middle of the sold out run of the show.
Now to describe the show in the kind of detail it deserves would be an entire blog of its own, but fortunately, Rubber Repertory took care of that for us. In short, each night 30 lucky seat holders in the Duchess’s parlor were made offer after offer after offer. These offers ranged from the benign to the scandalous to the frightening. Some were emotionally taxing, others were whimsical or decadent. Each night 30 people accepted 30 offers that were theirs and theirs alone- none to be used a second time over. The offer I chose read, “Who would like a map to a buried treasure somewhere in the state of Texas?” I jumped out of my seat and the Duchess awarded me with a manila envelope- sealed. I didn’t open it until the following Sunday morning- after fueling up my car and packing a shovel and water. So naturally my heart hit the floorboard when I opened it to find that my treasure was in a place called Marfa which was a 7 hour drive away. I carefully placed the map back in it’s envelope and took the shovel back to the shed.
My birthday usually falls some time over Thanksgiving weekend. This one was particularly special in that I believe it to be a most auspicious number… 33. So after doing my duties on the day of the turkey, I packed up with a road trip partner and set sail for West Texas.
As a side note, did you know that there are still places where the posted speed limit is 80 mph? It’s true. But 80 is “all they’ll take” according to the highway patrolman who clocked me at 86. He never stood a chance against the two cute girls giddy over Marfa mystery lights. We got a warning. But that’s neither here nor there. (It was actually somewhere around Segovia, I think.)
To say I had never heard of Marfa would be untrue. I had actually heard quite a bit about it. I had been itching for a reason to go check the place out because of all the chatter on the streets about it being a community of artists and just a cool little town. I imagined something like a hipper version of Fredricksburg, TX. You know- some boutique-y boot makers perhaps. Musicians walking around looking aloof and eating falafel from the local independent market. Lots of shopping and maybe a good array of little bars and cafes. Not exactly. Kitty and I rolled into “town” around 10:30 pm and almost missed it entirely. No street lights make the place look deserted at night, but the stars- the dazzle of stars overhead like the sky is just iced over with them… well the stars are worth the drive.
Some people know Marfa as the place where Giant was filmed. One of the 3 hotel options in Marfa is the Hotel Paisano, where James Dean, Liz Taylor, and Rock Hudson stayed during filming. It also contains Jett’s- the only bar that is open past 10, and since our rented casita was about 50 paces from the door, that’s where we toasted to our arrival.
I should note here that I came close to omitting the interesting tidbit that due to an innocent miscommunication, we had to break in to the place we had rightfully rented for our stay. I mean, seriously break in. Swiss Army knife and a pen light. But because I would really hate for that silly snafu to reflect poorly on the friendly and kind owners of the place- I’ll choose to truncate that little tale.
It was bright and brisk in the high plains desert town of Marfa when I awoke on my 33rd birthday. Kitty and I drove three blocks to check out the breakfast options, and both were closed. We had some oolong we had prepped at the casita, so that was to be our only digging energy source. Well, that and our pure electric anticipation. The map was just as one might imagine- burned in parts, torn or altogether missing in others. But I could make out that the location was near something called the Chinati Foundation. We began our search by asking a gas station employee where to find the place. I kid you not, her reply began with, “Well, you go down to where the Texaco used to be…”
After a little driving in circles and speculating (imagine: stop the car, get out, orient the map several different ways, point, scratch heads, laugh uncontrollably), we finally found what we supposed was the spot. As we stood there confused, staring at the rock-covered arid ground that did not appear to have ever been unearthed, a man working in his garden nearby noticed us and approached.
“You diggin for treasure?” he asked.
“Um, yes actually. We are.” Without any further questions, he watched as we committed to the spot and began removing the rocks from the area to try to get the shovel into the ground. Eventually I was able to use the shovel as more of a pick and pull up little clumps bit by bit. It was only about 6 or 8 inches below the surface that I encountered black plastic. I stopped for a second and we discussed whether we had hit the bottom of the landscaping bed. Like an archaeologist, I used a stick to carefully brush dirt away from the plastic, searching for where an edge might be. When I saw a postcard advertising The Casket of Passing Fancy, it quickened my pace. A little more careful digging, and I had pulled up a container about the size of a shoebox. Again, with the trusty Swiss Army knife. I cut away the black plastic and encountered a lovely box printed with old currency. Slicing around the lid, I removed the clear tape holding it closed and opened the box. The three of us gazed down at shiny gold tissue paper cradling something brown and furry. We were all silent for a moment, me squatting over the unidentified object, Kitty and the curious stranger standing over me, looking inside.
So I pulled out the fuzzy object and noticed a tiny scroll tied with red ribbon fitted inside the furr. I pulled it out, unrolled it and read aloud:
Congratulations! You have found your treasure.
One: This original artwork by Robert Melton is yours to keep.
Two: You are entitled to two front row seats to opening night of the next Rubber Rep show on April 3rd, 2009.
Three: For perhaps the best prize of all you will need to do a little more hunting. There is a man in this town named Rob Weiner. Find him and show him this box to receive a remarkable experience.
At this point the only thing I could think was that we were leaving tomorrow so I only had one day to find this guy. I guess I temporarily forgot where we were.
“Do you know him?” asked the curious stranger.
“No. Are you him?” I replied.
“No. He’s the Director of the Chinati Foundation. He lives up there,” he pointed, ” and drives an old yellow Mercedes.” Here we quickly said our thanks and goodbyes, and decided to start by checking the Foundation to see if he was there. Needless to say, we were so excited we were running at this point. Like kids on a scavenger hunt. It’s understandable that when the two nice gals working in the Chinati building saw us, breathing hard, hands covered in dirt, flushed- they were leery. We told them the story in excited bursts, as best as we could, and although one of them wanted nothing to do with us, the other was intrigued. She agreed to try calling Rob at home. Remember, this is Thanksgiving weekend and a Sunday- so she was hesitant. I was crossing my fingers as she dialed, and I heard her say,
“Rob? This is Laura Leigh at the Foundation. Um… there are two girls here who just dug up a buried treasure? And your name is on it?” I hear him laughing on the phone, and saying he’ll be right over.
Five minutes later Rob comes through the door beaming and full of questions. “What’s in the treasure box? Where are you guys from? Did you do the tour yet?” While I’m asking him tons of questions of my own. “Didn’t you help bury it? What’s this remarkable experience? Where am I?”
He instructs Kitty and I to find ourselves some Chinati hoodies. Then gives us gorgeous full color copies of the Foundation newsletter. Then he says, “Well, if you guys are going to do the tour, then I guess I’ll take you to see some things that the people on the tour don’t normally get to see.” HUGE smiles on me and Kitty’s faces. We got into his truck and started bumping over the roads of the 340 acre Chinati land. Along the way, Rob told us the history of the Chinati Foundation. A former military base, abandoned and purchased in the 1970’s by a minimalist artist- Donald Judd. Loads of internationally renound artists coming to stay here and contribute with art instillations. A dozen permanent exhibits from Dan Flavin, John Wesley, Ilya Kabakov, John Chamberlain, Roni Horn. We got the full history as we approached two cement buildings with rounded roofs. Rob told us that these were the only buildings that Donald Judd ever built from the ground up, but the complete project was not finished before he died. So the two unfinished buildings stand alone in the desert waiting for someone or something. We pulled up beside them and walked inside the larger of the two. Rob filled us in on a little more recent history. “A while back I got a phone call from Wallace Shawn, a friend of mine who is a playwright.” He had gone to Austin to see the Rubber Repertory perform one of his plays, A Thought in Three Parts, and he was so happy with their performance that he wanted them to come here and perform it in this building. So we brought them out and they did.”
Needless to say, this is where I felt the whole trip come full circle and I knew there was a reason I was here. We gabbed for awhile and took pictures and then drove back to where we began. Kitty and I spent the entire remainder of that day being inundated with and immersed in art. Swamped with it. And I’m not talking about kitsch-y craftiness or cute novelty crap. I mean truly evocative and perception-altering ART. And the whole time I kept having these brief little moments of confounded joy- “I’m in Marfa, Texas?”