Tonight I noticed a sculpture I had seen countless times, but this time was different, very different. In the “neutral ground” as New Orleanians like to call a median, there she was, dancing away. I thought she was supposed to be a gymnast, but tonight on this cool evening in the Crescent City, she was dancing beneath the palms.
I made my way to the neutral ground and sought to capture her from every direction.
She was a thing of beauty, and the palm fronds gently swaying in the night breezes only added to the choreography.
I hope you can see her dance sometime. You could say she performs nightly…
Note on the Artist: Given my interest in Art, Mexico and History, I find Enrique Alferez intriguing as well as inspiring. He was the son of a Mexican artist and spent part of his early life in the army of Pancho Villa during the Mexican Revolution before coming to the United States. He studied art in Chicago in the 1920s, then moved to New Orleans in 1929, where he lived until his death in 1999. His sculptures and reliefs adorn many parks, buildings, and landmarks in New Orleans and throughout South Louisiana, including the wonderful Helis Foundation Enrique Alférez Sculpture Garden.
A bar in Saint-Côme-et-Maruéjols, a village of about 700 in southern France, plays a pretty important role in A Moveable Marfa. At the Bar Tabac L’Alambic, Steve meets a most intriguing woman named Pauline Ferrand. Here’s a short excerpt–
“To overcome loneliness, I occasionally rode my bike into the nearby Saint-Côme-et-Maruéjols in the evening and had a beer at the Bar L’Alambic. It was a little like a bar, but they sold a few food items and locally baked breads. They also sold some deli sandwiches on the freshest baguettes. The ham, croissant and butter sandwich was so good. I’m sure all the ingredients were from local farms or butchers. But the small shop mostly sold cigarettes, lotto tickets and beer—primarily Kronenbourg and 1614, or seize for short. Bar L’Alambic was a clean place that had a family feel to it. Creamy, yellow walls were covered with a few old black-and-white photos of soccer matches from an earlier era. François, the bartender, and his wife, Anaëlle, were pleasant, and always patient with my French. …
On certain nights, the bar would be filled with guys watching a Ligue Un or rugby match. Marseille was the local favorite soccer team, so it was all about rugby and soccer for the menfolk here. For an American, I thought I was really into soccer, but by French standards, I was ignorantly indifferent. It was almost a cult more than a sport. I learned several additional curse words watching games on TV in the café to complete that part of my education in French. …
It was there I met Pauline, who was a local, sort of. She lived in nearby Sommières and did contract work at the training center. I welcomed female attention; actually, I welcomed almost any attention. I’d been in southern France for over a week now and talked, really talked, to no one except Emil and Father Mike, a local priest, whom I befriended at the boulangerie, the bakery, in town.” — A Moveable Marfa, p. 185-186
You’ll have to read the book to see what happens next.
“I am far more interested in, much more by, a human action than by all the museums in the world. As far as I’m concerned, there are only two kinds of people: the ones who have soul and the ones who don’t.”
One can be inspired by food. Taste can be a very powerful sense. Mardi Gras season is reason to celebrate all the senses. One often hears about King Cakes, but one of my favorite culinary celebrations involve Louisiana Strawberries. The season is very short but very sweet. Louisiana Strawberries are some of the best I’ve ever had.
They are grown around a number towns, including Independence, Amite and Tickfaw, LA. Below is one brand.
Note the Italian name? In the 1800’s a large number of Italians, especially Sicilians, came to Louisiana. Initially it was largely the importation of Sicilians lemons that brought them, but later many came for other reasons, including providing labor for the sugar plantations. Some Italian families left the sugar cane fields to farm some of the best fragole (strawberries) imaginable. Justin A. Nystrom briefly shares this history in his recent book, Creole Italian. I recommend it if you want to learn the fascinating story of how Sicilians came to Louisiana and how they greatly impacted our food ways.
If you are lucky enough to come to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, see if you can find some of these “sources of inspiration!”
Readers of A Moveable Marfa will note in the biographical section at the end of the book that my brother, C. E., credits me with an assist in editing and content suggestions. That was a generous acknowledgement on his part and encouraging as we hope to continue to collaborate in novel writing endeavors in the future.
I’m delighted that my brother has persevered and broken through with his first full-length story in such a colorful, humorous, yet dramatic fashion. It was indeed a labor of love on his part (and at times, mine as well), that reflects both his imagination and keen people-observing skills. I’m quite proud of my little brother for sticking through this over the 13-some odd years it took to pull it off.
Like many people who feel they have something worthwhile to say as they seek to engage in “The Great Conversation” of the millennia, I’ve also started and stopped my own novels over the years. It’s hard work to focus and finish a novel, as readers will have experienced in paying attention to the tribulations A Moveable Marfa’s protagonist, Steve Miles. While Steve’s relationships with people (particularly women) ebbs and flows, he found the courage and persistence to complete his own book. In that sense A Moveable Marfa is probably a bit autobiographical, as I suspect C. E. would admit after enjoying a cinquante, as Steve so often did in France.
C. E. shared with me a good deal about his five-plus years in France, and I know it was an amazing experience for him and his family. This was particularly so for his family, as they learned first-hand what it was like to live overseas as Americans. I’m certain those experiences will stay with them throughout their entire lives. It certainly affected Steve, as well, and the observant reader will detect hints of how Steve and C. E. are alike in the sense of being Americans overseas. It is also obvious how much C. E. loves West Texas. During his time there, he described Marfa in glowing yet, sometimes, humorous terms.
A Moveable Marfa is ultimately a story about perseverance and learning. Steve may have been slow on the uptake about how to relate to women in a romantic sense, but it was clear he learned and discovered who he was and what he could be, as all his female friends strived to help him realize. Steve kept plugging at life and trying to be the best he could be. In that sense, perhaps we should all be inspired. We should be inspired that perseverance and the objectivity to learn in the face of failure can result in great things. They did for Steve.
I expect that my brother and I will continue to occasionally post more insights about who Steve was and what he became, as well as explore some of the other characters of the story, as we get feedback from readers. This sort of introspection will enrich both A Moveable Marfa and our future collaborations, I suspect. C. E. and I invite you to participate in this version of “The Great Conversation” with us, as we do our own version of perseverance and discovery, the Steve Miles way.
So, I guess you could say we’re not really “Closing the Books” on A Moveable Marfa …we’re opening it to the next chapter! Thanks for reading A Moveable Marfa.
Some of you may be asking who is Edna Ferber? Well, many of us may know her work without knowing that much about her.
Edna Ferber (1885-1968) was a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, short-story writer, and playwright whose work served as the inspiration for numerous Broadway plays and Hollywood films, including Show Boat, Cimarron, Giant, Saratoga Trunk, and Ice Palace.
Giant is the one which ultimately created a nexus between Marfa and Ferber.
The movie Giant, based on Ferber’s novel, was a 1956 American epic film, much of which was filmed in Marfa. Its screenplay was adapted from her 1952 novel. It starred some of the biggest actors in the US at the times–Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. Hudson, Taylor and Dean spent the summer of 1955 filming portions in Marfa.
Even though she didn’t write the screenplay, had she not written the novel, Rock, Liz and James would have very likely never even heard of Marfa.
Ferber was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her novel So Big and was considered a leading American female author in the 20th Century. She celebrated America even as she sought to expose its shortcomings.
Below is a trailer from the 1956 film.
All images from Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository