Austin TX- Jan 5-8 – A blue dot in a sea of red

8 Jan

After leaving San Antonio we took a two-hour drive to Briarwood, near Austin, to visit my Texas friend and former co-worker at Rastar Films, Sister Susan Bartholomew.  Now, Susan is not a nun type of sister.  We’re very similar in many ways, including sharing the same December 10th birthday, albeit I’m much older, and consider one another as brother-sister.  Susan lives in a beautiful rural area with her trusty dog, Daisy.  We spent a night at her house, although I thought she might ask us to leave after I rudely yelled at Daisy to just stop barking at me.  Despite my yelling, Daisy and I bonded solidly.  I think she remembered me from our visit here in 2006.  We had a wonderful visit with Susan, as though our last visit was last week, not five years ago.

I’ve enjoyed, might I say overly indulged, in Southern and Texan cuisine.  But, being a Californian and a recovering vegan vegetarian, I’ve been having a hankerin’ for the type of food to which my digestive system and I are accustomed.  Susan took us to a new local restaurant, Emcee’s Eatery, and it was a delicious and decidedly non-Texan meal (i.e. wild mushrooms, artichoke hearts, al dente pasta, crisp vegetables, lightly dressed salads, spanakopita).  “Dorothy, are we still in Texas?”

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On Thursday we headed into Austin and, for convenience, stayed in a motel.  Continuing with our non-Texan eating theme, Joanna Yelped the most excellent Sarah’s Mediterranean Grill and Market.  We devoured excellent falafel-hummus plates.  In the afternoon we went to the historic 10-acre walled Perry Mansion compound that was built in 1926.  From 1972-1974 it was the Laos House, a personal growth centered modeled after Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California.  Joanna lived and worked at the Laos House with its founder, Bob Bryant.  This was an emotionally stimulating visit for Joanna, nostalgic at being back here for the first time since 1974, upsetting at seeing the buildings and grounds in decaying disrepair.  Many of the beautiful oak trees appear to be dead, the grounds have been neglected, and the buildings, standing tall in their architectural splendor, are crying out for much needed attention.  The property, currently occupied by the Sri Atmananda Memorial School, is being sold to a developer who wants to refurbish the property and create a new retreat center/high-end resort.

Later that afternoon and in the early evening we walked the 6th Street-Congress Street areas, touring the busy shops and walking to the Texas State Capitol.  For dinner, using Yelp, Joanna found another wonderful restaurant, the East Side Cafe.  They use very fresh, often organic ingredients, many from their own farm.  We’re very happy eating food that is familiar to us.

On August 1, 1966 Charles Whitman, a University of Texas (UT) student and a former Marine, took over the 29th floor observation deck of the iconic UT clock tower.  He went on a shooting rampage that killed 16 people and wounded 32 others.  One-half hour before Whitman commandeered the tower, Joanna was on the observation deck as part of her first day orientation at UT.  Later she was trapped inside a nearby classroom building, listening to the gunshots and watching the event on live TV.  Quite a first day for the wide-eyed freshman from the rural Texas town of Kenedy town of 3,500 people (ironically formerly know as Six-Shooter Junction).  On Friday we walked around the UT campus, particularly the clock tower.  Joanna spent some six years on and around the UT campus, and had little reaction to those events today.  However, as with the Laos House, she was disheartened to see the beautiful oak trees that are dead and dying.

We then drove to the amazing Central Market Cafe, and had an leisurely outdoor lunch with some of Joanna’s former Kenedy friends, Kathy Kaiser, and Yvonne Johnson and her husband, Jeff.  Joanna enjoyed seeing her childhood friends.  But, here’s something that’s a million-to-one chance – Jeff and I both lived in LA and graduated from Hamilton High School (he in 1967, I in 1959), and married women from a small town in southern Texas.  And, both Yvonne and Jeff, and Joanna and I, attended Science of Mind Churches (Agape in LA for Joanna and me).

HEB is a major grocery chain in Texas.  Central Markets are their flagship brand, and are amazing markets.  We spent time walking around inside.  The produce section alone is the size of a small market.  They have a large bakery that makes some 20-30 different types of bread, the bulk section is very large and diverse, the fish and meat departments are huge, and the prepared food sections are gigantic.  Joanna had been here before, but I was blown away by it.

Later we went to The Domain, a fairly new development in north Austin.  The main attractions are the upscale retail shops.  However, what impressed me was the model that this represents for 21st century living.  Aside from the anchor stores (e.g. Neiman Marcus), the retail stores occupy the first floors of the buildings.  The second floors are offices.  And, literally around the corner, are residential buildings.  Parking is provided on the streets, in parking garages and in open lots.  The architecture and attention to details (sidewalks, street layout, landscaping) make for a very appealing environment.  The restaurants, many with ample outdoor seating, were packed around cocktail hour and dinnertime.

For dinner, we again consulted Yelp and found a great local dining spot, the House Pizzeria.

Today, we’re off for the Hill country and Big Bend National Park along the Mexican border.  Before we leave Austin, we will visit the Whole Foods Market, the flagship market of the Austin-based Whole Foods chain.  Food is important to both of us, especially being on the road and probably not being at another decent market for weeks to come.  While we haven’t planned out our route to Southern California, we’ll probably be in rural west Texas, New Mexico and Arizona for some time, maybe a month.