I am in lerrrrrv with Houston.
From the moment Sheri scooped me up from the road outside Houston’s dinky railway station – the only small thing in Texas – I had the greatest time.
I met Sheri seven years ago in Spain, beside a stony riverbed on El Camino, the mystical road to Santiago de Compostela. We laughed then and we laughed now.
Her friend Don was coming for dinner, so first we shopped – and what a shop.
Whole Foods, which the locals call Whole Paycheck, is not just a barn but a Texas sized barn packed with all the organic produce and more that is possible to find on this good Earth.
That’s another thing I love about Sheri – she loves her food.
We settled on the fresh, wild caught Icelandic cod (oh yum). We roamed the vegies and piled our trolley with potatoes, purple and plain, fennel, a mushroom sculpture and bokchoy. I stocked up on train food. Texas salsa (there is no sugar in Texas salsa). We circled the seafood counter again in time to sample beer-battered cod straight from the fryer . . . omygod, I wanted to take the entire Texas-sized sample basket home.
That night over dinner in Sheri’s flat, I learned more about wine in one sitting with Don than the sum total of everything I ever knew over a lifetime.
I learned to swirl. To sniff. To speak about what was ‘on the nose’. And then ‘on the mouth’. And I learned that in a restaurant over dinner, sending wine back that doesn’t taste good, as, being too old to drink lousy wine, I often do, is the right and only thing to do. Indeed, am I not doing them a favour, taking the time to point out their wine sucks? Now I can at least pretend I know what I’m talking about.
The following afternoon I caught the trolley Downtown to meet my friend Danny. The trolley is Houston’s concession to public transport, a tram-like container rattling up and down one very long street.
Don, who is the local wine rep and knows every bar and restaurant in town with the familiarity of a Sunday lover, had recommended we go to La Carafe on Market Square, a bar in the oldest building in Houston that is known to be haunted.
Wandering through Market Square I ducked into a bar to ask where La Carafe might be – and was slapped in the face with time.
I inhaled sharply, held that breath and stopped in my tracks, blinking into the tunnel of dark wooden bar.
On my left, inside the door, was a man surrounded by shoes and high stools and brushes, his face as shiny and black as the shoes he was shining.
He grinned. A patron at the bar raised an incurious eyebrow. I was about to exhale and dive in, when the shiny man asked if he could help me. He could. He got up and walked me outside, pointing across the square to La Carafe.
And there I found more Texas true. A long bar with a wooden bar as old as the bar itself (Daniel the barman told me they had to stop people carvin’ their names in it or there’d be no bar left) and a narrow wooden staircase . . . I swear I could see a petticoat frill disappearing upwards between those wooden slats.
The long wall was crammed with photos of mostly women, all kinds of women of grace and delight portrayed in a way that presented them as they were, not who others wanted them to be, and that was a pleasure for the heart. And country music of the kind that wrestles with the soul peels from the stereo, a loooong drawl keepin’ time with the rhythm of an easy guitar, and lyrics that only those of us who take the time to know country get to appreciate:
Nothin’ but the whole wide world to gain, nothin’ nothin’
I’m just feelin’ like my whole self has been found in Texas when in walks Danny.
Danny and I met online, also about seven years ago. We have maintained occasional contact and a great rapport and some years ago he took the time to give me one of the most precious gifts a woman who has sold everything would keep: a book of Monroe County signed by its most famous resident.
And there we sat, for the first time face to face, and spent an easy coupla hours in La Carafe, leanin’ on the bar.
I caught the trolley home in time for a big night out with Sheri.
A honky-tonk smack bang in the middle of the right side of town. A young bar woman with a sassy Texas mouth. Stuffed deer high on the wall behind the bar, smoochin’ at us with lipstick mouths. Lone Star beer, not bad at two bucks a bottle. A jukebox, pool table, cigarette machine; a stuffed buffalo up against the back wall. And Dennis at the bar, determined I was not leavin’ Texas without learnin’ the Texas two-step.
So between Townes van Zandt’s ‘Our Mother the Mountain’ and somebody else’s ‘She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy’, I swirled around the concrete floor back and forward, step step step, Sheri laughing and filming the Monday night fun.
On the way home I asked Sheri if Dennis’s Texas-sized white two-gallon hat was plastic.
Drivin’ through the night, she looked straight ahead as she puzzled this.
‘Well,’ she said, ‘no I don’t think so.’
‘But it was so shiny, what made it shiny?’ I asked.
‘Well,’ she said, ‘he’s a bit grey around the edges.’
‘I said his HAT not his hair.’
And we laughed. We laughed so hard we had tears rolling down our Texas honky-tonk faces.
A human being doing her best to take seriously what really was the dumbest question she’d ever heard.
Really, you had to be there.