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'Marfa for Beginners' podcast welcomes you to the art town

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

You've probably heard about Marfa, Texas, and if you haven't, it's a small town in the middle of the West Texas desert known for its art. Maybe you've read a Vogue article about it. Maybe you know the art there. Maybe you have seen countless Instagram pictures of people standing in front of Prada Marfa. Marfa is a town with a lot of hype, and it's a huge destination for tourists. But there are different realities when you actually live in that town full-time. Enter Marfa For Beginners from Marfa Public Radio. It's a podcast that calls itself a tourism podcast for locals and aims to highlight different myths and realities people experience living in Marfa. Joining me now to talk about the podcast is Elise Pepple. She's the host and executive producer of it. Hey there.

ELISE PEPPLE, BYLINE: Hey, Scott. Thanks for having me.

DETROW: Thanks for being here. Let's start with this. Why did you want to make this podcast?

PEPPLE: So, you know, as a person living in Marfa, the things that stand out to me about this place are different than maybe what you would read about. Marfa is not just an art town. There's more to it. It's the fact that a Virgin of Guadalupe apparition appeared on a pecan tree. It's how hard and beautiful it can be to find love. It's the psychological realities that only exist when you live in a small town like, you know, paranoia, claustrophobia or a sense that time has disappeared.

DETROW: I feel like a lot of the things you mentioned here can certainly apply to people who don't live in Marfa.

PEPPLE: Yeah, exactly. Ultimately, what we're trying to do here is tell universal stories. We're saying you've got to know that a backyard is not just a backyard. It's a pilgrimage site. You got to know what it's like to try to find love in the middle of nowhere. You got to know about this 6 foot tall, larger-than-life woman. And yes, these stories are based in Marfa, but I think they resonate no matter where you are.

DETROW: All right. Well, let's listen to a little bit of it.

PEPPLE: OK. The first stop - finding love in a hopeless place. Something people always ask about is, what is it like to date here? The truth is that finding love in West Texas can feel impossible. You swipe right three times and nothing. People in cities can download a dating app and scroll basically forever. But when you live in Marfa, you actually reach the end of Tinder in five seconds.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It's sad. It's a really shallow pool that everyone has dipped their toes in.

PEPPLE: Your signal is going to be, like, searching out into the ether. It's going to be completely people that you know, and it will be like seven people.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yeah. Mine is set, like, a hundred-mile radius.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #1: (Singing) Baby, there is no...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Here, it gets a little desperate.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #1: (Singing) Baby, there is no...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Marfa is, like, a perfect case study for, like, a lot of social topics, you know. And I feel like, for dating, Marfa just puts it right there where you can see the hopelessness of dating globally. Yes, I've dated in my hometown in Juarez, yes, LA, New York, Virginia, Dallas. It was the same. It's just, here, it's so small. You're vulnerable. You're really exposed and raw. It magnifies it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #2: (Singing) Say goodbye to the one you love.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: When you break up, you're like, you need to not exist.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: You need to, like, cease to exist. And, you know, like, who gets what? You know, I will get The Capri. You take Lost Horse. You know, I'll also take, you know, like, all the cultural events. If you want the Lannan Readings, you can have them. You know, how you separate the goods. They will be your server or cook your food or - ah. It's terrible. Again, yeah, Marfa magnifies the struggle of the breakup.

PEPPLE: There's no space. There's no escape.

DETROW: I love the image of dividing up a small town like it's like a custody dispute between, like, you get this area, I get this area. That feels - I mean, I feel like people in larger communities can certainly relate, but can certainly, like, understand how pressing this issue is when it's so small, when you just know you're going to see each other.

PEPPLE: It's so true. That is a perfect example, Scott. But it's not all hopeless, I have to say.

DETROW: OK.

PEPPLE: Scarcity can also lead to some unbelievable love stories. In a town that's so small, everyone notices new people, especially when there are a bunch of them at once, namely 10 handsome dudes who magically appeared in 2018, a group of builders called The Enablers.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Now, the word enabler makes you think of somebody who's doing something bad for you, like you're an alcoholic and they're bringing you tequila. But it's nothing like that. They enable the construction to happen. That's why they're called The Enablers.

PEPPLE: They all came from Austin to work on this really long-term project.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: It would take three years to build this enormous home with this very difficult substance to work with.

PEPPLE: I was working at my friend's restaurant, and they would come in on their lunch break. I mean, I obviously noticed them. You can really feel and see when new people come to town. They just were - they seemed very kind and cool and hard-working.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: These are like the most handsome, ripped, great looking guys you ever saw in your life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIRE ISLAND")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #3: (Singing) Fire Island.

PEPPLE: And basically, these nice guys all partnered up. And there were weddings and babies.

DETROW: Well, there you go, not all negative. Some positivity, too. Like, obviously, dating and the pros and cons is a big part of a community like this. But we mentioned early on the idea of the passage of time and how sometimes it just feels different in a smaller community. That's another thing you look at, right?

PEPPLE: Yes. Scott, our producer, Zoe, became obsessed with this gigantic clock that's being built by a foundation called The Long Now in a mountain a couple hours outside of town. It's called the 10,000-Year Clock because it's supposed to last that long.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Singing) Did you know that Jeffrey Bezos is building a giant f***ing clock inside a mountain, and it lasts 10,000 years?

PEPPLE: Yeah. And it's being built by Jeff Bezos.

DETROW: I have a lot of questions about this, and I'm hoping you can answer them.

PEPPLE: So OK. Basically, the clock is insane. But it really captivated Zoe because the clock is supposed to make some big, important statement about time. But as someone living in Marfa, her actual experience of time in a small town in the middle of the desert is totally baffling. Time feels like it's passing super slowly in the moment, but years then also pass in the blink of an eye. I know this might sound familiar, Scott. Like, we all look at our lives and say, what happened? Time passed so quickly. But that's not exactly what I mean here. In Marfa, it feels different. It feels like being on another planet at the edge of time. And it all starts with the drive into town.

ZOE KURLAND, BYLINE: It seems impossible that any time is passing at all. Your car wheels might be moving but you are not. And then you arrive in Marfa. I've left and moved back to Marfa three times. And every time I return, it feels like it's just the way I left it - preserved in amber, like an old movie set, an empty stage.

PEPPLE: So Zoe explored this in multiple ways and built this truly interesting and beautiful audio version of an existential crisis featuring a geologist, an astronomer and a guy named Marc Wittmann.

DETROW: I love a good existential crisis. Let's listen.

KURLAND: Marc is a German time psychologist, and I called him because I can learn about rocks and stars, but I'm still having an experience of stagnancy, like nothing is happening even when things are definitely happening.

MARC WITTMANN: So you have some sort of, could say, time paradox you're experiencing. But you're talking about two different time perspectives or time orientations. And one is the passage of time at the moment as it passes now maybe. And the other is the retrospective time perspective in the sense that you're looking back on, say, the last week or the last six months.

KURLAND: He explained that when you experience the same thing over and over and over again, and nothing really changes in your environment, your brain doesn't actually store a new memory. Because what would be the point of remembering the same thing? It's like accidentally taking a burst photo on your phone that captures 37 photos of the same thing, when you didn't even mean to take a photo in the first place.

PEPPLE: Part of small-town life is being attuned to these specific realities, and there are things that we want to show you about Marfa and this experience of living here. Some of that, when you travel to Marfa, is about people. And for us, it's really about one person in particular named Liz Rogers. Marfa is a place that can feel cool and aloof.

DETROW: Yeah.

PEPPLE: But Liz is the total opposite. She's warm and generous and wants to know you, whoever you are and wherever you're coming from. And I want to be transparent, Scott. Sometimes that coolness and aloofness really frustrates me, and I wanted our podcast to share a counterweight.

(CHEERING)

ROBERT: Liz loves human beings, and she likes to collect them, and she likes to have them at a dinner table, and she likes to drink a little beer with them. She likes...

PEPPLE: Liz's friend, Robert (ph), is kind of the unofficial emcee of this party.

ROBERT: And that's a really fabulous way to be. And it's irresistibly attractive. Like, my grandpa used to have a saying - that girl's like a porchlight to a junebug. And I think that's true about Liz - right? - that she just - you're not sure why you're sitting at her table, but there you are.

(CHEERING)

PEPPLE: And what we want to demonstrate with that living eulogy is, you know, there's a way that Liz lives that's a lesson to all of us. It's about how to embrace the magic and adventure in life.

DETROW: Elise Pepple, host and executive producer of Marfa For Beginners. Thank you for joining us.

PEPPLE: It's a delight to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.