Houston is a city with a bad rap. When I mention we own a funky loft in Downtown I am met with comments like, “How can you stand it?” “Full of concrete.” “Dangerous. Full of gun-toting Texans.” For those in the actual know, Houston is a diverse, liberal city with incredible arts and culture, an amazing choice of excellent restaurants serving anything from Brazilian to Thai cuisine, and all manner of dishes in between. Parks brimming with well-tended spaces and water features, bayous that encourage wildlife – including the odd ‘gator, and bike trails galore dot the landscape. It is a city that has found its feet and has stopped the wanton demolition of buildings that might be more than 30 years old. As such Downtown is a wonderful conglomeration of old and new – honouring the past yet not afraid of the future. And whenever I return from any absence my heart lifts.
It was my sole intent to show my travelling companions the best of Houston but first the fridge needed stocking. My chosen shopping spot was awash in flowers and chocolate dipped strawberries in preparation for Mother’s Day and we delighted in the colourful array. Suitably provisioned we headed home for a late lunch and general breath catching after a hectic week. It was nice to chill.
Catalina Coffee is the place in which much of my first book, Expat Life Slice by Slice, was written. It has been our favoured haunt since it opened, and I have spent many hours there chatting, reading or writing. It was where my second book, Fireburn, was launched. It is, in short, a place in which happy memories have been made and so it seemed only right to start our day there. And it serves the best coffee in town.
Houston is big but the core, the heart of Houston, is not and in order to give my guests their bearings we went for a drive along Buffalo Bayou, through River Oaks, and back through Memorial Park. Houston is also a shopping mecca and so we agreed Saturday would be our day to browse, and I had a party to prepare for. I introduced Emy and Laurie to Arnie’s – the store to beat all stores for anything festive. Need accoutrements for a Texans party, go to Arnie’s. Need a lei, go to Arnie’s. Having a bar mitzvah, go to Arnie’s. Need something risqué for a bachelorette party, try Arnie’s.
Mother’s Day brunch was spent at Boomtown Coffee though as we wandered along Main Street I thought we were heading to the Honeymoon Café – a lot can change in a few months. I can’t begin to remember all the iterations the space has been called since I’ve lived Downtown. That space also holds many memories – my husband had a job interview there when it was the St Pete’s Dancing Marlin! Brunch was fun – a Mother’s Day treat for Laurie and I, courtesy of Emy!
There is an area of Houston that is particularly dear to me, so it was a must-see. The University Museum at Texas Southern, in the Third Ward, has been somewhere I have spent more time than most places over the last fifteen years or so. A place where I got more than I gave. A place that taught me to understand and value African American art, from the recognised greats of John Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, Charles White and Kermit Oliver to up-and-coming greats like Leamon Green, Kingsley Onyeiwu and Prinston Nnanna. The Museum is in the Fairchild Building and was converted from the original gymnasium and so has high ceilings, the original floor and light streaming in to form an airy, serene art space – and on the walls was the Graduating Seniors Exhibition, the latest artistic talent to emerge from TSU.
Monday could have been a mess due to the guide’s forgetfulness – i.e. all Houston museums are closed on Mondays and so our long-awaited entry to the Van Gogh Exhibition at the MFAH was a non-starter, though Emy and Laurie did manage to get to see it later in the week, and me a few days later still. Instead we lunched at the Hotel Za Za, that chi-chiest of places on the edge of Herman Park. Next stop the Rothko Chapel. Also closed, this time due to renovations. My role as tour guide was looking nebulous but a drive around Rice University saved the day. We also said goodbye to Bruiser.
Then it was Tuesday. The day around which the entire epic escapade had been based. The Gemini Lunch – an event started over ten years ago – for a group of friends of the dual personality persuasion plus, because it was my party, a few non-Gemini friends! And what was spectacular was that in 2018 that wonderful group of women travelled to St Croix to celebrate my 60th birthday with me there, and so knew Emy and Laurie. It was not a quiet affair. Starting at noon, it ended at 7:30.
Wednesday was the official end of our wonderful road trip as Laurie left to return to Winter Park, the start of our odyssey. We remembered to wear our NOLA for beads for the final photo! Emy though still had a few days left in H-town and so we wandered the elegant halls of The Menil Museum, and went to the Alley Theatre and saw the brilliant Constellations by British playwright, Nick Payne.
Thursday saw the book signing of my third book, Transfer, at the delightful River Oaks Bookstore – thank you for coming out to play, Houston – followed by dinner at The Blue Nile – an Ethiopian restaurant.
Serendipity is a fine thing and two of my favourite people happen to be Wellesley alumni, and here they were both in Houston. Dr Alvia Wardlaw, Director of the University Museum meet Emy Thomas, journalist, author and artist – a lovely evening spent in the company of two remarkable women.
And then it was over – a fabulous road trip to always remember – Emy’s Epic Escapade!