Louisville, Colo., USA

aa-lousville-sign

When I was growing up in Boulder, the town of Louisville—just six miles east on Hwy 36— was hardly a destination. It was tiny and mostly residential, with a fading downtown occupied by elderly folks, blue-collar families, and the occasional hard partiers at Senor T’s Mexican Restaurant.

Everybody knew that Karen’s Country Kitchen made the best pies. You got your Italian food from the Blue Parrot and your Chinese from the Double Happy. But no one was living in Louisville on purpose. It seemed like a place you ended up, not a place you went to.

A resident once told me, “Happiness is Loserville in the rearview mirror.” There was only one high school, shared with the town of Lafayette, the rougher neighbor to the east. The further you got from the mountains, the poorer and more ethnically diverse the neighborhoods got. Those who could afford it bussed their kids to Boulder for school.

But then something started to shift. Several of our newlywed friends, unable to afford the astronomical property values just down the road, bought houses in Louisville. We saw the transformation happening before our eyes: Louisville was becoming “New Boulder.”

Not that you can tell from my pictures, but today, Louisville is BUMPIN’. It was named the best town in America to live in by CNN/Money and Money magazine not once, but TWICE in the last five years. The downtown has received a total makeover, bringing in new bars, restaurants, and coffee shops. During the summer, they close off a portion of Main Street to make room for umbrella-dotted patios for al fresco dining. Every Friday, the Louisville Downtown Street Faire attracts a huge crowd of residents and visitors to eat street food, drink beer, and listen to music.

But how did it all get this way?

Louisville got its name from a local landowner named Louis Nawatny in the 1870s who was basically like, “Hey dudes, I’m naming this town after myself. Deal with it.” It began as a mining town, which attracted European settlers, including a large number of Italian immigrants.

IMG_3246Coal mining is a rough life by any stretch of the imagination, but turned out to be especially difficult in these parts due to low-quality coal, labor disputes with the big mining companies, and a depressed economy during the off-season. The Louisville Historical Museum has some great artifacts illustrating this history:

The museum currently has an exhibit about the Rex Movie Theater, which stood on Main Street from 1920 to 1978. Just this year, a new restaurant opened on the spot and adopted a replica of the theater’s original facade.

Next door to the museum is the historic Tomeo House, built by a coal miner and saloon keeper named Felix Tomeo in the early 20th century. The home was rented by the Rossi family, a widow and her children, through the 1930s. The Tomeo House is staged with period household items, showing what life was like for families of that time.

These days, Louisville is just downright quaint as hell. And, of course, the rest of us can’t afford to live there.

Marfa, TX, USA

West Texas

When you start driving west from Austin, you can expect about six or seven hours of this. Except flatter. Those two hills in the background might make you think there’s something going on out there. But don’t be fooled. There’s not.

Driving a Uhaul, with only the radio for entertainment, you endure hours and hours with no reception at all except conservative talk or conjunto music. This leaves a lot of time to be with your own mind.

Just before I left Austin, my friend Seth gave me a documentary about the artist Anselm Kiefer called Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow. In it, Kiefer says (paraphrasing  Heideggger), “It is only when one is bored, that one’s consciousness settles, reluctantly or even fearfully, on oneself and the nature of one’s own existence.”

I pondered my existence for about two hours. Then I sang every show tune I know. Then I picked up the signal for Marfa Public Radio and Chuck Berry sang me into town. 

IMG_2986

The first thing you see when you roll up on U.S. Route 67 is the Marfa “Mystery Lights” Viewing Center.

Robert_Stack

Big ups, Bobby Stack.

The lights are seen at all times of year, at all times of night, and are said to be white, orange, yellow, red, green, or blue. They supposedly hover in place, move slowly across the sky, and dart off in random directions. In October 1989, one of my favorite television shows, Unsolved Mysteries, even did a segment on them. “Scientists” tell us that the lights are just reflections from  headlights and atmospheric phenomena. Maybe so, but I prefer to get my information from a man with a trench coat and a velvety baritone.

Marfa was established in the late 1880s as a railroad water station and was an Air Force training site for pilots in World War II. After that, the town faded into obscurity until the 1970s, when a big shot New York artist named Donald Judd moved there and started getting all artsy on its ass. From what I can tell from his Wikipedia page and a Google images search, he really liked squares and boxes.

donald judd image searchI mean, the guy practically INVENTED the standing CD tower. Sadly, Judd passed away in 1994, but his namesake Judd Foundation and the Chinati Foundation are still in Marfa continuing his legacy. Along with a whole bunch of other artists and galleries.

One of the most famous is about 40 miles northwest, on a desolate stretch of U.S. Route 90. In 2005, artists Elmgreen and Dragset erected Prada Marfa. You can’t go inside, but you can see real merchandise through the store window. It’s pretty freakin’ surreal.

IMG_3078

When you’re not looking at all the fancy art and shit, you will probably eat at Food Shark. They have a truck and a “day cafeteria.” The food was pretty good and the decor was sufficiently hip. If you’re into that kind of thing. Which I find that I am. Occasionally.

Just across the street from the hipster cafeteria is the Hotel Paisano, where most of the cast and crew of the 1956 film Giant stayed during production. Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean stayed in rented homes nearby, but a young up-and-comer named Dennis Hopper stayed at the hotel. I heard somewhere that when filming started, Liz Taylor and Rock Hudson made a bet to see who could get James Dean into bed first. Rock Hudson won.

As I was walking past the Marfa Public Radio storefront, a guy named Willie opened the door and invited me in to take pictures. He said that people are always coming in to take pictures there and he thought I might like to as well. He was right.

Other things I noticed around town… They like pink government buildings:

They also enjoy old-timey trucks:

But the thing that struck me most during my time in Marfa was just how much everything looks like art when you start seeing it that way.

Memphis, Tennessee, USA

IMG_2869

People warned me that Memphis was dirty and crime-ridden. They asked why I wanted to go, and I didn’t have any real answers. I just felt drawn. Maybe I had taken Paul Simon to heart: “For reasons I cannot explain there’s some part of me wants to see Graceland…”

I also didn’t know what to think of the hostel where I had booked a room. It was in a church. Like inside a church. And the website said that they require all guests to do a chore assigned by the hostel staff each day as part of staying there. Was this going to be a vacation or a punishment?

On my way out of Nashville, I stopped at The Hermitage, which is the plantation built by President Andrew Jackson (i.e., the dude on the $20 bill). I had never been to a real plantation before.

The house has been restored to look as much as possible like it did when Jackson died there in 1845, including original wallpaper and furnishings. During its peak, it had up to 150 slaves living and working on it.

IMG_2793

It is impossible to fathom what slavery was really like from our modern perspective. Even assuming the best conditions, the work was unbelievably grueling. For example, Jackson’s house slaves (who had it far better than the field slaves) prepared meals for upwards of 25 people a day with no running water or electricity, in the intense Southern heat, over open fires in a back kitchen. They began cooking at 3am for a meal that would be eaten at 3pm.

Jackson was a businessman who saw slavery as completely necessary. He was also a politician and military leader who gave orders to relocate Native Americans in order to further European expansion.

As much as I intellectually understand that Jackson lived in a different time, and that he, himself, overcame great odds—an Irish immigrant orphaned at 14, fighting in brutal wars as a teenager, a self-made frontiersman with little support who became a prosecutor, an army colonel, and the seventh president of the United States—I was unsettled by the whole experience at the plantation.

The museum and tour emphasize that the people oppressed by Jackson and our other forefathers would later use their rhetoric about democratic equality to fight for their full rights as U.S. citizens. I suppose that is something. But it really makes you think about who we revere as heroes in this society.

I arrived in Memphis later that night and found the hostel, which took up an entire floor of the church and had its own separate entrance.

The staff was young and cool. In the morning, they post a card on the entry table with each guest’s name and a requested chore for the day, which ranges from sweeping the kitchen floor to filling ice trays or wiping down the counter. It wasn’t bad at all.

The best part of the hostel was the location, right off the intersection of Young Ave. and Cooper St., in the midtown area, where there were several places to eat and drink, a popular bar called the Young Ave. Deli, a bookstore, and the Soul Fish Café, where I had the BEST blackened catfish in the entire world. I feel bad for you that you are not eating it right now. It was amazing.

IMG_2873 A few blocks down was a coffee shop called Otherlands Coffee Bar, where I had an excellent pimento cheese sandwich. (I mean, DAMN, the food was good). They had this bumper sticker:

IMG_2867I had a long list of things I wanted to see—from Sun Studios and Aretha Franklin’s birth home to more macabre landmarks like the place where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and the spot where Jeff Buckley drowned in the Wolf River. In the end, I didn’t even make it to Graceland. After all the museums in Nashville, I was just too burned out.

But I did make it to the Stax Musuem of American Soul Music.

IMG_2863


That night I hung out with a couple named Medhi and Carine. He is Haitian and she is African-French. They are exploring the States before going to Haiti, where they are going to teach schoolchildren.

They were incredibly beautiful souls—kind, generous, and warm. They said that they, too, had been warned about Memphis. It probably seems odd that a young black couple would choose to vacation in the American south.

It somehow made me proud of our country, that we were all pleasantly surprised. Not only was Memphis more racially integrated than any other city I have visited, but the locals were genuinely nice. (And did I mention THE FOOD? Holy cow.)

Meeting Medhi and Carine was the perfect counter-balance to my experience at The Hermitage. It gave me hope. Love prevails. Sometimes it just takes a long, long time.

Goodbye, Left Foot Farm

Mary

Alas, my goat farming adventure has come to a close. I couldn’t even say goodbye to the goats today because it made me too sad. I will miss those little suckers.

I will also miss the humans. Like Anna, who always has the most creative, spontaneous ideas…

Why WOULDN'T we hook a Radio Flyer "chariot" up to Gypsy? It had to be done.

Why WOULDN’T we hook a Radio Flyer “chariot” up to Gypsy? It had to be done.

anna-outfit

One of Anna’s unique farm outfits

And Kaley and Gracie, who are just the coolest chicks around…

gracie-kaley

Kaley loves to make Gracie laugh until she snorts and goes “woo-HOO-HOO-HOO! … woo-HEE-HEE-HEE…”

On my last day, Anna and Ella and I went to pick up a truckload of garden soil. At first we weren’t sure how to load the dirt into the truck. We are so used to doing manual labor on the farm that we were about ready to shovel it ourselves, but then this bad boy arrived to load us up…

Look at that Washington sky!

Look at that Washington sky!

Ella and Anna celebrating our soil acquisition.

Ella and Anna celebrating our soil acquisition.

For my going-away dinner last night, we made a cauliflower-crust pizza.

caulipizza1

Tara made the crust out of grated cauliflower, sour cream, and eggs. Gluten-free, yo.

caulipizza2 caulipizza3 caulipizza4

Tara, showing off the finished pizza…

tara-pizza

Jeremy, impersonating Tara…

jeremy-pizza

Then this happened…

IMG_1878

Jeremy mixed all of these hot sauces and a raw egg into a wine glass.

IMG_1879

And offered Kaley $30 to drink it.

IMG_1882

Mentally preparing herself…

IMG_1883

She was still pretty confident here.

IMG_1891

The only rule was that she couldn’t puke for ten minutes. I think this is the moment when she started to get worried.

IMG_1895

Oh SHIT…

Tara made $15 by drinking what was left in the glass, along with a shot of whiskey.

IMG_1897

In the end, Kaley prevailed! … Sort of…

IMG_1902

They dropped me off in Seattle today, and we had lunch at The Honey Hole, which is an excellent sandwich shop on Capitol Hill. I appreciated our booth’s decor…

IMG_1906I will miss you, Ladies of Left Foot Farm. Eat lots of Juani’s for me!

If only Kat could have been in this picture!

If only Kat could have been in this picture!

Tomorrow, it’s off to Vancouver. Canada. Eh.

Notes from the farm

poppy

Hello!

This is day 6 of my farm adventure and I am starting to get the hang of things. I have mucked a lot of stalls…

I’ve done various other things, like hoof-trimming, dog-walking, kid-playing, and goat-feeding…

These are the kinds of outfits I wear now:

outfit

But the main thing we do here is milk the goats. We milk around 20 goats each morning and night:

milk list

They come in four goats at a time and we load them onto the stanchions:

milk portrait

Then we handmilk them a bit:

Handmilking is a lot harder than it looks!

Handmilking is a lot harder than it looks!

handmilk2

Then we hook ’em up to the milk tubes…

udders

milk tubesIt’s about this point when I think to myself, um, what the HELL AM I DOING HERE? I am not going to be a farmer. I don’t think I will ever own goats. Or cows. Or anything else with an udder. So why am I doing this?

The answer I have come up with is that, even if I am not going to own a farm, I still care where my food comes from. I care about the animals that feed me and the people who raise those animals. I will never again balk at paying more for locally-made, small-farm-made products. In fact, I will seek them out. I see how much time, effort, and love goes into making just one gallon of milk. And I feel so blessed to witness it. It is an absolute blessing that these beautiful animals (and people) help to feed us!

Then, after milking, we usually just hang out a lot.

liquor juanis goat books

Wish me luck in week 2!

Left Foot Farm, Eatonville, Wash., USA

I was picked up in Seattle yesterday by the fabulous Ella and Anna from Left Foot Farm. Having never done farm work before, I was not sure what to expect. But these little friends are making me feel right at home:

And then they like to crawl all over you…

Kat and the kids

Kat and the kids

My room is LITERALLY in the barn. It is above the goat stalls, in my own little apartment. Creepy barn apartment, sure, but apartment nonetheless.

Some other stars of the farm:

I’m sure there will be lots of farm pics to come. This morning, I milked a bunch of goats! Let me tell you, it’s a little more complicated then you might think. Now I am going to muck some stalls. Woo-hoo!

Goat milk doesn't taste goaty at all. It just tastes like really good cow's milk.

Goat milk doesn’t taste goaty at all. It just tastes like really good cow’s milk.

Portland finale: hiking and floating

I’m getting on the bus to Seattle today and guess what? It’s raining! But yesterday was “sunny.”

IMG_1221

So, I walked around the Hawthorne neighborhood and took in some sights, like this rad literary giants mural:

rad muralHere are the close-ups:

woolfe agatha wright fyodor wilde tennessee plathIn honor of Sylvia, I went down the street and got this avocado “bubble tea” smoothie:

IMG_1224Then there was this:

walkin

I was extremely lucky to have a local (and mother of my beautiful friend Kate B.) take me out to the Columbia River Gorge for some hiking. I’m not qualified to say it is THE most beautiful place in the world, but it is sure up there in my book:

IMG_1178 IMG_1183 IMG_1186 IMG_1189 IMG_1194 IMG_1198 And I walked across this bridge…

IMG_1201

Even though there was this warning:IMG_1204

Finally, last night I tried out Portland’s version of an Austin-style taqueria:

porque no tacos

grammaNot bad, Portland. It’s no Taco Deli, El Chilito, or Torchy’s, but not bad

For my big finale, and continuing the spirit of adventure, I scheduled an appointment at a place called “Float On.”

float on

The idea is that you get inside this big tank full of SUPER salty water (60% saltier than the Dead Sea). The high salt content allows you to float, completely effortlessly. It’s the closest thing to zero-gravity that most of us civilians can get. It is absolutely dark and silent inside the tank, and your spine is able to totally let go of all the stress associated with walking, standing, and holding itself up. Supposedly it’s really good for the nervous system too. The guy told me that float tanks were originally developed by the military as a potential torture, but when the test subjects got out, instead of being stressed, they were all blissed out and zen. I floated for 90 minutes in this bad boy:

float tank

My only suggestion is that you shouldn’t eat oniony tacos before locking yourself in a pot of salty water for an hour and a half. I felt like the French chefs in that old Bugs Bunny cartoon.