Texas has its own mythology. Its own place in the American imagination. Depending on who you ask Texas is the reason for the United State’s current political mess, or the greatest place in the US, or somewhere in between. It is a universe unto itself, a huge and diverse place, full of long drives and very pretty countryside. I was lucky enough to spend a few days there in mid-September and take in some of the cities and sites. And of course, the Tex-Mex food.
When I first got to Houston I felt overwhelmed by the highways, humidity and strangely quiet downtown. I hid in a Starbucks and tapped away on my computer. Thankfully, the next day some native Houstonians helped me get hip to the more alternative and arty side of Houston. One of the huge highlights is the Orange Show, a folk art environment created by a postal worker named Jeff McKissack that was began in 1956 and completed in 1979. I loved the Orange Show’s immersive space and the passionate group of people behind the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art that are working to preserve it and other “folk” or “self-taught” art environments and traditions in Houston.
I also soaked up some more “traditional” art at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston where I soaked up a room sized mural of mountains and flowers that looked like a traditional Chinese ink painting, but was made out of gunpowder by Cai Guo Qiang. I also discovered the self-portrait by Suzanne Valadon and spent several minutes in front of it contemplating her sheer determination to paint and make a life for herself as a woman artist. In their gift shop I picked up two Frenchie books – My Little Paris (en anglais because I am a cheater) and Ines de la Fressange’s guide to Parisian style. I visited the Menil Collection, including their hotly contested Bzyantine fresco chapel which is being returned to Cyprus next year, and some smaller art spaces like the awesome Spacetaker artists resource center and gallery.
I also fortunately got away from the corporate style restaurants downtown and found one of my favorite things about Texas: spacious coffee shops with nice breakfast menus and outdoor seating. These places are so inviting, like you just want to hang out all day eating and sipping fair trade coffee. I enjoyed both Brasil and Empire Cafe (which are quite close to one another and the Menil Collection) as well as the super El Real, which has great Tex-Mex and is in an old movie theater!
After Houston I took a quick, few hour stop in San Antonio, and then rolled on to Austin. After some frenetic days of work on the road I took a little bit of time to unwind with my friend Jennifer. We took a drive about an hour outside of Austin to Krause Springs. Located in the rolling hill country it almost feels like a folk art environment as well, with rock pools, wind chimes and a spring fed lagoon. While Krause Springs felt like an oasis, Texas is going through one of its worst droughts on record and we drove through the remnants of a fire on the way there, charred trees with ashy leaves making the landscape look otherworldly.
I couldn’t skip eating Tex-Mex in Austin either, of course, and Austin is home to even more fantastic cafes with outdoor seating and of course, coffee shops that serve the delicious (and huge!) breakfast tacos.
But of course, after all that Tex-Mex I took a little break and Jennifer, her friend Jennifer and I had a lovely girlie dinner at a perfectly French brasserie called Justine’s with lovely food and delicious cocktails (also check out the “amazing” section of their website).
I also managed a visit to the Austin Film Society, Arthouse Texas and Domy Books, where we saw a wonderful opening, I connected with an old zinester friend, and purchased a book called I ♥ Macarons. Indeed, it seems like I found a lot of France and a lot of art and a few friends in Texas, even though I didn’t visit Paris (Texas).