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You are invited to view Gareth James’s photo album: Ten days in Texas
Ten days in Texas
Apr 4, 2012
by Gareth James
 
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As I’ve crossed three state lines and I’m now in Illinois, I thought it might be time to share my thoughts on Texas. I’ve always wanted to go there; somehow it epitomises the real America (though I’m sure my friends elsewhere in the US wouldn’t agree!) – money, cowboys, space, skyscrapers and more money…….but it’s the difference between places within the state which surprises you.

I started in Houston, visiting friends Paul & Linda. The city has a typical US downtown of tightly packed tall buildings with a few smaller and older ones still standing, but it’s surrounded by some lovely leafy neighbourhoods. There’s money, but it has its fair share of poorer communities. Where there’s money, there’s art and the highlight here was the Meniel, one of those very personal collections put together by a wealthy family during its lifetime, left for all to see in a combination of both philanthropy and legacy; very eclectic, with a large surrealist selection (but without any Dali!), sculpture from throughout the world and some contemporary work – all in a lovely setting.

A day trip to the space centre allowed me to get in tough with my inner boy (I was obsessed with space in my youth). The Space Centre was part museum part theme park, but enough of the former to satisfy me – including a tour of parts of NASA itself; in our case including the prototype shed where the latest version of a planetary exploration vehicle was being manoeuvred. A second day trip to the island of Galveston, still recovering from the 2008 hurricane, was another treat. It’s jam packed with historical properties, with a port on one side and beach on the other.

On to San Antonio, a true Tex-Mex city which couldn’t be more different from Houston if it tried. The low level river walk reminded me of Utrecht without the bicycles (and the clogs). At street level there were a fair few art deco buildings and of course The Alamo – the fort /mission now a shrine (!) where Mexican forces massacred those fighting for Texan independence before the US was the US. San Antonio was art heaven, with another stunning former private collection – The McNay – in a lovely Spanish Mission building just out of town and a fine public gallery in SAMA. It’s a bit touristy, but I enjoyed it very much.

Austin is the state capitol and home of the biggest university, which gives it another character altogether – more bohemian, less money! I stayed in an extraordinary cottage in the grounds of a house in a very wooded neighbourhood a couple of mies from downtown. What I lost in accessibility, I gained in charm and character. As there’s less money, there’s less art (!) so the university gallery didn’t live up to what came before, but the Harry Ransom Centre – one of the world’s great archives of written material – did, with a special exhibition to co-incide with the 400th anniversary of the King James bible. Austin is ‘the live musical capital of the US’ though, so music was the highlight with visits to the Continental Club for blues and the Broken Spoke honky tonk dance hall for country.

Fort Worth was a late addition (thanks to Guy) and proved very complimentary. It’s possibly the most affluent city I’ve ever visited, extraordinarily clean and no signs of deprivation. More money, more art – the highlight being the Kimball, a small collection but with a brilliant visiting exhibition of impressionist art, so good that I’m now weighed down with the catalogue! The other highlight was The Stockyards where its contemporary tourist role hides a fascinating piece of history. At the end of the civil war, when Texas was awash with ‘wild” cattle, they realised they could drive them north and sell them for ten times the price. Thus was born the cowboy – and the original (pre-oil) wealth of Texas.

Just as I was about to head for the station for my long 20-hour overnight train trip to Springfield, IL, sirens sounded. I had to ask what it meant and was told ‘typhoon warning, but nothing to worry about, they happen all the time’ so I continued somewhat leisurely on my way. At the station the heavens opened and everyone was glued to the TV screens showing trucks flying! To be honest, CNN was scarier than reality (typhoons are very localised – the flying trucks could be a mile away from where you’re complaining about ‘a bit if weather’)
and the only effect on me was a delay (those flying were grounded – ha ha!).

So here we are in Illinois, but more of that later……

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