Author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, etc.

C.M. Mayo < Digital Media < Podcasts < Marfa Mondays <

Transcript #1

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Announcer: Welcome to Marfa Mondays with your host, award-winning travel writer and novelist C.M. Mayo.


C.M. Mayo: A very warm welcome to you on this very first in a series of 24 podcasts beginning today, Monday, January 16, 2012, through the end of 2013.

[UPDATE: extended through 2016].

I'm your host, C.M. Mayo, and I'm not in Marfa today but Mexico City. In this first podcast, I'd like to introduce myself and the whys and wherefores of this project which, I have to tell you, I am so excited about. I grew up in California and, to make a long story short, I've been living in Mexico City on and off for over 20 years. But I was born in Far West Texas so, in a way, for me, this project is a coming home.

Marfa is a small town of about 2,000 residents out in the more or less middle of Far West Texas. It's on the high plateau, and I do mean high, almost 5,000 feet above sea level in the Chihuahuan Desert.

If you wanted to drive out to Marfa from El Paso, you'd head east and a bit south for about three hours. From San Antonio, you'd drive west and a bit north for about six hours. You're farther from Chicago at 24 hours driving distance, than you are to Mexico City, 20 hours.

But from Marfa to the Mexican border at Presidio-Ojinaga, it's only about one hour.

I am going to be podcasting about much more than the town of Marfa. I'm going to be looking at Marfa and environs, and that includes Alpine, Fort Davis, Marathon, Valentine, Presidio, some of the ranches and the rivers, hot springs, and the various mountain ranges. In sum, the whole region of the Big Bend.

[UPDATE: Trans-Pecos or Far West Texas in general.]

Ever since I first heard about it, I yearned to go there. About a decade ago, on a brief visit, I drank in the majesty of the vast spaces, the bluer than blue skies, and at night, stars beyond stars, and— yes, they are real—the Marfa Lights.

But the people? Breezing through, I didn't have a chance to talk to many, for I was deep into writing another book,
Miraculous Air, about Baja California, Mexico's nearly 1,000 mile long peninsula.

Once that wrapped up
Miraculous Air came out in 2002 I wanted to come back to explore Marfa and environs, but first, what I imagined would be a lickety-split project: Researching and writing a novel based on the strange but true story of, as the title says, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire.

It seems a pattern with me, that writing a book always takes about seven and a half times longer than I had planned. But never mind, finally, I am returning. No, not to live: I'm based in Mexico City, as I said, but over the next few years, with a series of journeys, interviews, reading and other research, I'm writing a book... At this point, it wouldn't be wise to say much more for, if I've learned one thing, it is that any journey, and that includes the journey of writing a book, is strewn with surprises.

But a few preliminary things I can say are that I'm especially interested in exploring the contrasts and comparisons with the subject of my previous travel memoir, Miraculous Air, about Mexico's Baja California peninsula.

I'd like to look at the history, geology, flora and fauna, and the way the Spanish and indigenous peoples and the Mexicans and Americans have clashed at times and come together at other times.

I'm also especially interested in exploring the area's iconic status in the American imagination. How the vast spaces and the quality of the light have inspired and continue to inspire various artists. And the way so many of us, all over the world, are connected now on the Internet, and how this fundamentally changes a travel writer's approach to a place and interactions with the people there.

I imagine that some or perhaps many people in Marfa at some point may find these podcasts and my webpage via a Google search or, say, a "hashtag" on Twitter. So the writer's relative anonymity as he or she travels has evaporated.

Similarly, these days, far more of a writer's research before, during, and after traveling is on-line. And with Facebook, Twitter, Tripadvisor, YouTube, wepages of all kind, we are experiences a hyper-acclerating transparencyor, the sometimes misleading appearance of transparency. I find this very interesting.

So why the podcasts? And by the way, what is a podcast? You're listening to one. It's just an on-line audio file. So think of a podcast as a radio show but one you can listen to when you want now, in five minutes, or five years.

In the past, as I did while writing Miraculous Air, I would have turned out a series of travel articles for newspapers and magazines. Well, I never say never. I may still write an article or three, but I am less interested in which is the cheapest or the best or the coollest bed-and-breakfast, etc., than I am in talking to people. And now that podcasting is possible, rather than stash my notes and taped interviews in the drawer, I can share them.

Who are some of the people who live in this remote and magnificent place? How is this part of West Texas unique, or similar to other places? How are things changing? What is it that outsiders inevitably miss? (What are those Marfa Lights?)

As always, I'm especially interested in hearing from artists, for they make a razor-sharp habit of seeing what others do not.

But anyone can surprise, I learned that much in writing Miraculous Air, when I interviewed, among so many others, a sportfishing mogul whose family crest included a corn stalk; and a goat herder who wore handmade shoes but who, even from the deepest canyons of the Sierra de San Francisco, could identify the flight numbers of the airplanes that passed overhead.

As I question as wide a variety of people as I can muster, I will depart from a simple premise: an interview—like a travel memoir—is a quest for understanding, not just about a certain place and time, but in the deepest sense of what it means to be human.

With this series of 24 podcasts, I invite you to join me in this adventure in listening.


Your comments are always welcome.