WOW! My first visit to the Lone Star state and I’ve had an inspiring few days talking with local authors, art lovers, community project workers and of course a visit to the local Tiffany’s store at The Galleria! Below is just a short-list of moments, events and venues that I am truly grateful for.
BOOKER LOWE GALLERY: Who would’ve thought that deep in the heart of Texas there’d be an Aboriginal art gallery? Well in Feagan Street there’s the Booker Lowe Gallery- a welcoming house-turned gallery space that introduces some of Australia’s most respected artists. And while I was in town the walls showcased the work of leading central desert artist Alma Nungarrayi Granites as part of the Stargazers exhibition of paintings of the "Seven Sisters”.
I am deeply grateful to gallery owner Nana Booker – who is also Australia’s Honorary Consul General to Texas – and her team (pictured at top of page) for hosting a Manhattan Dreaming book signing event for me during my visit. The night was attended by local art lovers, authors from the Black Writers Reunion and Conference network (pictured above), students from Rice Uni and ex-pat Aussies.
PROJECT ROW HOUSES: One of the most innovative and inspiring community arts projects I have ever seen is in Houston’s Third Ward. Known as Project Row Houses (PRH) and the brain child of artist and activist Rick Lowe (pictured above), the PRH’s mission is to transform community through the celebration of art and African American history and culture. The three main programs of the PRH are: Public Art opportunities utilising ten of the original twenty-two shotgun houses, where visiting artists create and exhibit their work; Arts Education Program provides classes across art forms aimed at encouraging kids to develop thinking and problem solving skills through creativity; and Young Mothers Residential Program, which provides a safety net for young, single-mothers between 18 and 26.
THE FOUNTAIN OF PRAISE: Well, after visiting probably half of the states of America, today was the first ever time I attended a church service, and where better to do it than the Bible belt. My authorly friend Nakia took me to The Fountain of Praise church and from the moment we arrived in the massive car park which holds so many cars it requires its own marshals to direct traffic, I was overwhelmed. In a venue with around 1500 worshippers, a choir with about twenty glamorous soul-singers belting out tunes on a stage adorned with glitzy decorations and strands of crystals falling from the ceiling, the service – with no disrespect intended – was like spirituality meets musical Broadway. Quite extraordinary, and with gospel singing accompanied by the powerful preaching of Remis Wright I had a lump in my throat, tear in my eye and smile on my face throughout. And yes, I had my notebook out trying to capture what I was seeing, hearing and feeling. I wasn’t alone. The girl next to me was Facebooking, a guy across the aisle was taking notes on his iPad. The experience was infectious, addictive and nothing like I had ever been part of, and what a sense of community the morning provided. Am still processing... more anon!
PINTO RANCH: Naturally, every city-slicker from Sydney is going to be seeking some deadly boots and maybe a cowboy hat (perhaps even a cowboy!). And if you’re not in town when the rodeo is on, then on down to the Pinto Ranch and check out their amazing gear. Ask for Steve the ‘hat manager’ and he will take care of you with a smile and a sense of cowboy style. I’m loving the hat Steve (pictured with me above) gave me to try on, and the Gene Autry-like boots they had, but I didn’t think I could pull it off back home... Loved wearing it around the store though, as you’ll see below.
EATING: Seriously, I have to leave Houston because I’m eating TOO much. I don’t need to be lead astray on that front; I can easily feed myself... however I was pleased to be lead in the right direction for some of Houston’s finest eateries, including:
THE BREAKFAST KLUB: As a rule I don’t queue for food because there are usually plenty of good options for fine or fast wherever I am at home or on the road, without spending valuable time standing on the sidewalk waiting for a table. BUT, there must be an exception to every rule and The Breakfast Klub in Houston, where soul food meets southern hospitality, locals, artists, students and on a good day, the owner Mark will swing by and check you’re enjoying being in his establishment. You MUST, as I did, try their speciality, the catfish and grits for breakfast, or the waffles and chicken wings. And, it was the best coffee I had in this city! Thanks to local author Nakia R. Laushaul for introducing me to the venue via her blog.
HUGO’S: With margarita’s made at the table, and the most authentic menu you can get this side of the border, I was so full after my recommended Enchiladas de Pollo that I couldn’t even consider the dessert menu, instead I enviously watched my friends enjoy their churros dipped in hot chocolate. If you have Mexican onlyonce in Houston, make sure it’s at Hugo’s Regional Mexican Cuisine on Westheimer.
LE PEEP: Seems like the place to be on Sunday morning’s in Houston is the national chain Le Peep! Must be the massive blueberry pancakes and omelettes that bring people in! I’d show you the photos but I’m still feeling full from them over 12 hours ago! Instead, above is a pic of my brekkie pals conference coordinator Tia Ross http://tiaross.com/ , playwright Bryan-Keyth Wilson http://www.bryankeythwilson.com/ (who also took me to the Festival of Lights in Galveston!) and author Nakia.
** Food warning** Take it from me because I learned the hard way – quite often a small soda or coffee is equivalent to our large size in Australia. And you will be encouraged by invitation to upsize meals at fast food outlets, but just know that if you agree, the result will be you will turn out upsized yourself... just saying!