Borderlands, New Mexico: C U in El Paso, Pablo Picasso…

Arts district in El Paso, TX

Arts district in El Paso, TX

What difference does a line on a map make? In El Paso it means a lot, not only La Linea with Mexico, but even that smaller line with neighboring state New Mexico, El Paso itself something of a historical anomaly, part of a cartographical peninsula jutting into the then-frontier, with historical ties to Texas, not with whatever would come (much) later, i.e. New Mexico and Arizona.

Fact is: El Paso lies almost due south of Albuquerque, so when the clouds and rain roll in, I roll south. The skies clear, and the temps warm up, almost on cue.

But even though less than 300 miles from Albuquerque, and only slightly more to Tucson, AZ, this is still Texas, and I find myself slipping inadvertently into a southern accent, y’all. But it’s almost twice that far to the nearest Texas city of that size or larger, San Antonio, and even more to Dallas. It’s 852 miles to Beaumont, as the crow flies, on the other side of the state, down I-10. There’s only one problem: crows don’t fly down I-10. They take the I-20 turn-off to Dallas. Guess they don’t want to fly too close to the sun.

Union Depot in El Paso, TX

Union Depot in El Paso, TX

But the Great Divide is with Mexico, the Republic, that is. Never has a line defined so much, though the one between Italy and Switzerland would give it a run for its bucks. What difference does a line make? It makes the difference between Spanish or English, Romance or Germanic, romance or casual sex, laid-back or frantic, lively or boring, indifferent or pedantic.

And while Juarez may be little more than a sh*t-hole, if getting better, El Paso itself ain’t that bad, better than I remember, in fact. For one thing, there’s the lively Mexico-inspired border-adjacent district. Then there’s the downtown ‘arts district’. How many cities even have a designated ‘arts district’, much less right downtown?

It’s no big deal, but better than nothing. Most post-apocalyptic American ‘downtowns’ are left with little or nothing, hollow-core mock-jobs, populated by nothing more than 30-story multiple erections. The English-style architecture is notable, too, more than any place I know this far south or west. I think they’re trying to make a point.

Plaza in la Mesilla, NM

Plaza in la Mesilla, NM

(But the best part about being in El Paso is hearing all the attack ads on Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis; who knew that she was such a b*tch? A few miles north, in Las Cruces, all the ads focus on New Mexico governor Susana Martinez. Who knew that she was such a b*tch?) I don’t see any attack ads on that other Texas goober-natorial candidate Rick Perry. Go figure.

No more than an hour away, to the northwest, in historic La Mesilla, NM, you’re back in full New Mexico mode again, puffy mud-colored dough-boy architecture and all that: central plaza, the works, including art galleries by the dozen. Las Cruces doesn’t have it, by the way. Farther down the road, Deming has none of that, either. But it’s not bad, undecided whether to be hip or Christian, so apparently mixing metaphors, with a Christian coffee house right downtown. The almost-border-town of Columbus is the site of a historical raid by Pancho Villa.

Historic Columbus, NM

Historic Columbus, NM

North to Silver City, including Hurley and Hanover, the architecture is frontier and mining in nature. I guess the architecture here is an American/Mexican thing, maybe a now-and-then thing. I’m still trying to hone my theories on the subject. Silver City has the historic downtown, with a more modern American urban overlay surrounding; gotta’ satisfy those suburban urges for Wal-Mart, I guess. I still love this town, but it goes to bed too early. Lordsburg has little to offer but a last gasp for cheap gas before heading across the state line to Arizona, where it costs more.

“How was Afghanistan?” the Immigration official asks as I cross back from Mexico at El Paso, he scouring my passport for anomalies.

“Pretty rough,” I answer, failing to see the relevance.

“What’s the worst country you’ve ever been to?”

The old store in Hurley, NM

The old store in Hurley, NM

“Papua New Guinea.” But you don’t really want to know. You’ve probably never even heard of it. You just want me to talk to see if I’ll trip over my tongue. I know your tricks, probably better than you do. Welcome to America.

p.s. The predominant brown puffy New Mexican architectural style, Pueblo Revival, seems to be something of a fabrication and sleight of hand on the part of governments and marketing experts, perhaps based on indigenous models, but definitely the work of professionals, and apparently first experimented in California. ‘Mission style’, anyone? I suspect that Indian pueblos have been retrofitted to reinforce the style, but that is unconfirmed at this point; stay tuned…

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