A Pilgrimage to El Paso and Rosa’s Cantina

“I had to make it to Rosa’s back door,” sings Marty Robbins.  And that’s just how I felt on a recent trip.  When I realized I was in striking distance of El Paso, I just had to go.  Because of the song.

“What song?” you ask.  “El Paso” of course.

Here… you must listen to it; surely you know it (and don’t act like you don’t… even the Grateful Dead covered it).  Such classic lines as “I was in love but in vain I could tell,” “Dashing and daring a drink he was sharing with wicked Feleena, the girl that I loved,” and “shocked by the foul, evil deed I had done,” “back in El Paso my life would be worthless,” “it’s been so long since I’ve seen the young maiden; my love is stronger than my fear of death,” and — prefiguring my road trip wanderings, “and at last here I am on the hill overlooking El Paso… I can see Rosa’s cantina below.”

And here she is in all her glory.

Thanks to the Wikipedia entry, I found out that this song won the Grammy for Best Country and Western recording in 1961. I also found out that there is actually a Rosa’s Cantina in El Paso today, positioned so that the narrator actually could have headed from there for the badlands of New Mexico just as he did in the song.  So I googled, GPS-ed and found myself at Rosa’s. Darkness, a plethora of black motorcycles and the polo shirt on my companion convinced me that perhaps I should return to Rosa’s by daylight, and when I did, I encircled the building, enjoying prime views of the back door, herewith chronicled for you readers:

Do they consider this the back door? It's on the side actually.

But on the other hand, so is this one, which gets my vote.

So what I want to know is this:  what propelled me?  I know… how should YOU know if I don’t know.

But why do we make pilgrimages?  Of course I understand pilgrimages to Mecca or to Jerusalem, to holy places that inspire, shape, change and heal us.

And I understand the need or desire to visit the beaches at Normandy or Ground Zero or Iwo Jima.

But what is it that sends us off to other pilgrimage sites that are merely cultural icons?  For we flock to Disney World or Disneyland.  We go in droves to Graceland.  We love kitschy things.  I know I do.

El Paso is a shared family experience for us.  We learned the song at a guest ranch we went to for several years when my children were little.  Cowboy Bob taught us.  He’s practically part of the family considering how often we reference him.

So maybe that’s why we love the hokey song.  Or maybe it’s because of the high notes in the refrain (it’s fun to sing).  Or maybe… well really, I’m not sure.  But there’s something fun about returning to old spots or going to see if others really do exist (even if they are of fictitious origins).

I’ve recently been to Harry & David to see where my pears come from, I regularly go to restaurants featured in Road Food.  I once journeyed to Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home.  There’s just something about a pilgrimage.

What are the spots you’d make pilgrimages to — and why?

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~ by Cary on December 6, 2010.

3 Responses to “A Pilgrimage to El Paso and Rosa’s Cantina”

  1. Well, let’s see now, I’ve done Jerusalem, Rome (the Vatican), Salt Lake City (Temple Square), Boston (the Christian Science Center), Axum in Ethiopia (Church of St. Mary of Zion, which holds the Ark of the Covenant), Kiev (where St. Vladimir “baptized” Russia). But as you can see, my pilgrimage “bucket list” all consists of holy places where the world’s major religions (or sub-divisions of religions) and cults, have been launched from, and you said you weren’t interested in those, right? Still on my list for 2011 and beyond: Canterbury, Wittenburg, Constantinople … As for El Paso, yes, I know the song; no, I am not drawn to visit Rosa’s Cantina. Or, I haven’t been until now, when I thought about it after read your post.

    • Well your list got me interested in visiting those. It’s not that I am not interested in religious pilgrimage. It’s more that I think people can generally agree on why one would undertake a spiritual pilgrimage whereas the merits of a trip to Graceland are not readily apparent to everyone (though they are to me).

  2. […] Such classic lines as “I was in love but in vain I could tell,” “Dashing and daring a drink he was sharing with wicked Feleena, the girl that I loved,” and “shocked by the foul, evil deed I had done,” “back in El Paso my life would be … … Read this article: A Pilgrimage to El Paso and Rosa's Cantina « Holy Vernacular […]

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