Archive for the ‘travelling’ Category
I took these pictures last fall, on a hot October day right before I went swimming in the gulf and stayed in the water by myself for at least an hour. (A big deal, considering how terrified I am of lake water—for some reason the ocean does not inspire the same zombie nightmares…)
The drive into Galveston along Broadway is rather schizophrenic, I-45 turns into the Gulf Freeway, and you pass by houses on stilts that look like they belong in Cape Hattaras, North Carolina. And you blink and the landscape turns into Florida— with motorbikes zooming past, huge parking lots, and families crowding around rainbow umbrellas on the main strip of the beach. (But! Keep driving, there’s a secret, less crowded beach ahead.) And then you’re on Broadway Avenue, lined with skinny palm trees and Victorian mansions that have a definite New Orleans influence with their wrought iron fencing and skinny clapboard shutters. It’s this area of Galvestson I love the most because, um, do the above pictures look at all like they were taken at a Gulf Coast city in Texas?
the Houston neighbourhood of River Oaks is apparently one of the most affluent neighbourhoods in the US, and unlike many of the wealthy areas in Houston, it’s not an isolated, gated community. it’s right downtown, and the gorgeous homes range from modest colonial revival houses to impressive beaux arts mansions and french-styled chateaus.
and, because everything is bigger in Texas, the residents of River Oaks go all out for Christmas. however, their decorations are not a do-it-yourself job: professionals are hired to put up lights, sometimes wrapping almost every single branch of a tree—the cost of which is rumoured to be in the tens of thousands of dollars range.
is it worth it? tonight we (and dozens of other cars and tour buses) drove around River Oaks and i took some footage of favourite properties.
(please excuse the shaky footage and random family commentary! and enjoy!)
when you drive west from Houston it takes a few hours before the landscape really changes—you pretty much have to get past the sprawl that lasts all the way to San Antonio along highway 10 before the sky begins to open up and rolling hills start to build. then: it’s land you can see for miles, bleached out by the sun, punctuated by short, bristled bushes and patches of tall red and purple grasses.
the further west you go, the wider the land stretches and the higher the mountains get. it’s a weird contradiction, to drive through tight canyon valleys and then suddenly be in the middle of wide, endless, open plains. you feel as though you’re at the bottom of the ocean or on the moon.
West Texas is picture perfect ranch land, parched dry from the oil boom. it’s where they filmed No Country For Old Men, Giant, and There Will Be Blood. Giant’s director chose the area because of “the way local cloud formations translated to screen” and it’s true: the clouds! the clouds.
we arrived in Marfa on tuesday, which felt like a sunday, because everything was closed except for Padre’s. they were hosting a bit of a movie night, and so we watched Tank Girl with the locals while eating bowls of cactus chili. you’re not in small town Texas when you’re in Marfa—it’s an artists’ town, filled with galleries and art foundations and crafts and organic foods and musicians and lights. we drove out in the pitch-dark to see the lights, passing a few border patrol cars along the way (another West Texas staple) and saw… something… before we were haunted by visions of errant coyotes and drifters and rushed back to our home at the Thunderbird.
the next day we went to the rock shop, ate coconut yogurt from the Get Go, wandered the main square, convinced the Ballroom to let us look at a yet-opened exhibit, made friends at the wool and yarn shop, and then headed out to see Prada Marfa.
james pointed out yesterday that there’s a poster for Prada Marfa in Gossip Girl and it’s likely that if you’ve heard anything about Marfa, TX, it’s because of Prada Marfa. which is: a permanent art installation about 30 miles west of Marfa (just past the very desolate town of Valentine) modeled to look like an actual Prada store, containing actual Prada product from their fall 2005 collection.
“the first one they did was vandalized and all the Prada stuff was stolen,” a Marfa local told us. “so now there’s only single shoes, not pairs, and all the bags have the bottoms cut out. everyone knows it’s not worth stealing.”
and then? then we reluctantly started travelling back east: through the ranches, along the Wild Rose Pass, back into the canyons, and finally on the highway, en route to Austin.
(i’m sorry, i’m not really recording mine and terra’s road trip in chronological order. the football game was day five, and West Texas was day two and three of our journey. i’ll get to day one (San Antonio!) and days four and five (Austin!) next.)
or, reasons why i am obsessed with the American South.
in addition to his current sojourn, my dad lived in Houston for a few years in the 90s. Toronto was still home, but we spent two Christmases chasing armadillos, sunning on Galveston Beach, and opening presents under a tree decorated with sequined cactus and chili pepper ornaments.
my first name was chosen by my mom after she read an issue of National Geographic that featured an article about Southern Debutantes, one of whom was named Paige. so: it’s been ingrained since birth.
three: pop culture.
Tim Riggins and Scarlett O’Hara. need i say more?
four: because Terra and i went to a high school football game in Katy, TX, last week during Homecoming and nothing from my childhood will ever amount to the over the top, epic event that is friday night football in Texas.
the images above are of students at Cinco Ranch High and they’re wearing a Texas tradition i wasn’t aware of until we walked into Rhodes Stadium. they’re homecoming mums and garters and the easiest way to explain is that the boyfriends’ mothers make mums for the girls, and the girlfriends’ mothers make garters for the boys. (and these pairs of moms usually coordinate, because mums and garters are always better when they match!) mums include toys, miles of ribbon, lights, games, whistles, custom monograms, team colours, and about a dozen other things that push them from “interesting” to “beyond ridiculous”.
of course, not every parent has the time to make a mum, so all the floral shops, grocery stores, and craft centers sell them as well. for between $50-$200. yes, high school homecoming is big business in Texas.
the couples wear their mums and garters all day at school, and then to the homecoming football game at night—and some of the girls decorate overalls to wear as well, though as some students told us “that’s a really sau-thern thing to do.” if you’re a senior, your mum will be white and silver or gold, otherwise it must be in your school’s colours. oh, and yes: this Texas ritual is what i’ll be dressing up as for Halloween.
on to the actual game! let’s see, Terra and i counted:
– about 50 football players
– 16 varsity cheerleaders
– 50 or so girls on the drill team (plus 10 dance leads)
– 17 coaches
– a half dozen or so water girls and boys, and another half dozen or so flag runners
– a 20 person choir
– and a 200 person marching band
the other team wasn’t so stacked, and so you’ll notice that they didn’t exactly fill the “away” stands at the game. Cinco Ranch’s side, however, was packed, totaling approximately 5000 fans all in maroon.
but then! it wasn’t just any game last friday night: it was homecoming! so, in addition to the parents, the students, and the alumni, there were twelve students who made up the homecoming court. and the court, dressed in gowns and suits, walked the stands until halftime, when they joined their parents, the marching band, drill team, and flag runners on the field to announce the new homecoming king and queen—crowned, of course, by last year’s homecoming king and queen. (both now attend my favourite college, UT Austin.)
Cinco Ranch won the game, of course: 41-22. and then it was time for the post-game show. (because the usual halftime performance was pushed back thanks to the homecoming ceremony!) the show included a kick line that easily rivaled the Rockettes, and a ten minute choreographed number with all 200 marching band members—and an interpretive dance troupe.
yep, just another friday night in Katy, TX.
i’ve been driving the last four days, repositioning my mom and the family dog, Candy, from Toronto to Houston for the fall/winter months. (yes, repositioning… like a cruise ship, setting up port each season in the place with the most favourable climate. my dad lives in Houston year-round but my mom flees to Toronto when the summer Texas heat gets to be too much.)
first stop was Dayton, Ohio… which was nothing noteworthy (sorry, Ohio!) though i did go to a Cracker Barrel for the first time and i still feel weird about that. (if you’ve been to a Cracker Barrel you’ll know what i mean, right?)
from Ohio we headed into Kentucky and i, having a thing for horses, totally fell in love with the state. rolling hills, miles of wooden fencing—it’s beautiful. we stopped in Lexington and watched a bit of the World Equestrian Games from a live TV in the main square and i got a “Southern Sundae” from one of the food vendors, which i really regret not taking a picture of. so, please imagine: layers of pulled pork, baked beans, and coleslaw topped with a corn muffin, served in a tall glass. (Toronto friends, this will be recreated in the future!)
on our way out of Lexington we detoured about 20 miles into Marion County, to tour the Maker’s Mark distillery in Loretto. bad news: we got there too late to do a tour. good news: we got there just in time to sneak into another group’s tasting.
Nashville, Tennessee was our next stop and, um, secret: i’ve been listening to a lot of country music lately so it was interesting to see the place where it all happens. (even if you don’t like country music, the idea of it being this ridiculous self-contained industry is still fascinating, and do find a way to read this recent New Yorker piece on Brad Paisley.)
the area around our hotel was “Music Alley” which is just an endless neighbourhood of recording studios—even after midnight on a thursday, when i took Candy for a walk, you could still hear songs playing from inside the highest towers. i bought cowboy boots on Broadway and also put Candy on a saddle for a ride outside one of the bars on 2nd Street. Nashville, i will return soon to explore you further.
friday! onward south through Mississippi and Alabama via the Natchez Trace parkway which my sister and mom had spent much time previous to our departure celebrating, because of its beauty and their feelings that it was the “best way to get to Texas”. this is a lie, unless, of course, your driving goals include going as slowly as possible (50mph! are you kidding me?) on a single lane highway through trees and meadows which at first are pretty but eventually just seem like the same roll of stock footage throughout your 5 hour drive. i know this does appeal to some people but i really, really enjoy seeing urban sprawl and country living while i drive and this just wasn’t part of the Natchez Trace.
however, i will credit the Trace with showing me something i have endlessly romanticized: cotton!
cotton fields are stunning. the plants almost look purple, topped with perfect, fluffy white poufs. i ran into a field and plucked off a souvenir boll to bring home, a move partially inspired by my current re-reading of Gone With The Wind but mainly because when do you ever see cotton in its natural state? does the cotton boll count as a skeuomorph—because we process the plant and then mass reproduce it into the original ball shape?
our last night was spent in Ridgeland, Mississippi, where i ate the best oyster po’boy, and from there we forfeited any further pit stops to make it home to Houston within seven hours. and Texas? it’s… the Texas i know and love: fast highways, perfectly humid weather, endless strip malls, and the comforts (aka strong margaritas) of my parents’ house.
however, the journey doesn’t end here! my bff Terra has arrived today and we’re heading out on a road trip of our own. so: more adventure to come, from San Antonio, Marfa, and Austin, plus all the other sights we’ll find deep in the heart of Texas.
i was in Nova Scotia last weekend—dreamy, laid-back Nova Scotia. my bff terra is from the Annapolis Valley and when i heard she was going home to the family farm for a few weeks i booked a flight to tag along on her holiday.
to set the scene: my cell phone didn’t even get reception on the farm. goodbye, stresses and distractions of home! also, i was sleeping on a waterbed, which is pretty much like sleeping on a warm cloud. each morning i would lazily wake up and join the family for breakfast on the patio—where hummingbirds would be buzzing overhead as we discussed plans for the day.
plans? okay more like “shall we go over to the neighbours’ farm and pick some blueberries?” and “after we get ice cream from the local dairy do you want to swim in the river or go to our friend’s pool?”
despite how often i’ve been buying produce at farmers’ markets this summer, i was absolutely overwhelmed with what we ate. eggs. EGGS! did you know they taste like custard when they come from a happy, wandering hobby farm chicken? blueberries were also a shock: sure, Muskoka’s wild blueberries are a delight, but in Nova Scotia blueberry bushes are everywhere and they produce perfect, juicy sweet-sour fruit as big as olives.
on sunday morning, i was handed a lobster claw the size of my fist. terra’s sister hannah knows how much i love the ‘cream’—and this claw, just scooped of its meat (for the lobster eggs benny we were about to brunch on) had a deep well of cream that i ate with my fingers while terra’s dad poured us glasses of champagne.
however, as much as fresh lobster and farm eggs can influence a girl, my heart had already switched allegiances from city life to country living on saturday night. we thought we were going to just watch a few bands play at a neighbour’s house—instead we landed (and i say landed because we walked up a very steep dirt road through forest) at an almost-impromptu music festival on a private property with views of both the valley below and meteor shower overhead.
and really, once you’re standing in a field with a plastic cup of wine and listening to a band that sounds like Neil Young slash Mumford & Sons you’re trapped in a cycle of “i need to enjoy this as much as possible right now but also how can i duplicate this moment over and over again?”