Archive for February, 2013

I am continually amazed at what I am finding out about Texas culture. I consider myself an observer of such things, the thrill of travel for me has distilled down to a fascination of the people who surround me wherever I go. After all, what’s new about the major cities of the world now they’ve all begun to resemble one another? In the shadow of glass and steel towers that are linked together with brand name shopping malls, Golden Arches and the ubiquitous mermaid logo of Starbucks, it’s the people who are left that interest to me. A Grande Starbucks Soy Decaf Latte I can get anywhere.

I have seen enough ruined piles of old rocks and cave paintings to last me two lifetimes. I admit to loving the great museums of the world but I’m starting to lose my place in the universe wondering why a a particular Matisse or Van Gogh has traveled farther than I have, given our combined age and jaded aspect. The effects of western culture on international civilization is cliche…and yes… boring. I ask myself, why would I go to Dubai or Kuala Lumphur to look at glass towers that bore me to death at home?

What I travel for is to immerse myself in diverse cultures and learn to appreciate what I feel. I came to Texas expecting certain stereotypes to exist..and yes I found them…but upon closer inspection I found so much more….deep in the heart of these fine and generous people. Like everywhere else you have to keep an open mind or you’ll keep expecting nothing but muggers in New York, prostitutes in Thailand, robots in Switzerland and goofy drunks in Russia, these stereotypes are perversions of the truth not facts about the people who live there. The same is true for Texas.

Leftist media outlets hate Texas for it’s independence of thought away from the central party ideology on specific popular issues, rich Hollywood barks in response, but is what you’ve heard true? And seriously, if you’ve ever met any number of actors and spoken to them about big picture issues you would know they aren’t the ‘go to’ people for intellectual quality.

Is Texas full of wife beater wearing scary rednecks and yodeling cowboys on horseback? Not at all. The media has painted Texas with a wide brush after never having set foot on the ground….that observation is obvious to me because of the wildly off-color assertions against the people here that I have personally found to be untrue. As they say in Texas, “You can put your boots in the oven and call them biscuits, but that don’t make them tasty”.

The one thing Texan’s actually do appreciate is culture, in the build up to the Texas Independence Day on March 2nd, I am finding music venues everywhere, for big named bands and small, it’s hard to go anywhere with hearing Texas music. There are venues for poetry readings and an old time tradition, story telling, brought to a fine art in the open air. Did you know that Texas has state wide funding for artists housing? Some things…you have to see for yourself. Texas is one of them.

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Do you remember the days when travel was more than a vacation, when getting out on the road was a spiritual experience that gave you a ticket to another dimension? Those first heady days when travel and music meant everything , when you ran hot on innocence, are precious. It would be nice to retain some of those first thrills that only youth can offer . I know very few people at my age who still say “Music is my life” or “I’m never going back” who don’t work in the entertainment or the travel business.

Do you remember when you’d sacrifice everything to travel to a concert, you’d lie to your parents, blow off your boss, skip a final exam, because the experience of real life was more important than the future and a guitar player could be god playing the strings of your soul? Isn’t that what is called ‘lightning in a bottle’? If only we could capture the first blush of those feelings, the first kiss, first Saturday night , the anticipation of freedom on the open road, that one special place or song in your heart, and keep it fresh, eternally renewing.

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A storm was threatening to come in all day, a strong wind showed up first and knocked the walking out of me, so I hunkered down in the truck and listened to Texas troubadours on the radio. There’s a special kind of music made in Texas, like nowhere else, not rock, not country, not country rock, certainly not pop, it’s Texan, long on blues riffs and grinding guitars…the lyrics aren’t bad either. Licks like “she’s got the kiss of an angel and the bite of a rattle snake” just can’t be found anywhere else.

I’m sliding into Texas like a pair of old boots…and I don’t know why, maybe it’s the renegade radio, maybe the whistling wind, somethings got hold of me. This is not the first time in my life I’ve been away so long from the things I knew, that I’ve forgotten who I am. Did you ever leave home to travel and stay away so long that everyone you’d known had moved away or moved on…and you found that you’d become a stranger?

There’s a book I enjoyed when I was young by Robert Heinlein, ‘Stranger in a strange land’, about a Martian boy named Michael who has the power to become a part of whatever he sets his mind to, he calls the process of total assimilation ‘grokking’ and grok becomes a synonym and metaphor for true love. Trisha and I are a bit like that Martian boy, we have a tendency to become one with wherever we are. In London we become Londoners, New York New Yorkers, in Thailand we wrote books on how to become more attuned to Thai culture…and so on…..but here we are, totally immersed in Texas, twanging guitar music rules the day, wondering why we’d ever leave, though we know we will someday.

Reality distances itself the longer we stay away. Some one asked me recently on our Bangkok Living & Travel site when we would be coming back to Thailand, and it struck me that travel is about traveling…building memories that last forever…less about gathering a collection of particular or popular destinations. Red skies and blue dirt sunsets are the places we’re calling home for now.

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I have so many traveler friends who can deny the nose on their faces because they’ve watched it grow. Culture is what it is…it is where you find it. Geography or a certain number of miles and dollars spent do not necessarily mean that mind shifting discoveries are immanent….that’s just Tropo…Jung’s explanation of the effects of foreign cultures on the minds of western born individuals. For example, I am living in Texas these days, deep immersion in an entirely new culture. The freeways, malls and masses of apolitical independence are demonized by the many media outlets who promote homogeneity, but the unique nature of the Texan mindset and underlying culture is undeniable to the avid observer. I did not have to travel to Bolivia or Cambodia to experience a new culture.

And what is it about travelers who are stalkers of the third world and it’s poverty? I have sometimes considered the thought that it is not just the travel but the narcissistic ego boost in the act of lording a western passport over the impoverished villagers that makes some travelers think they have achieved a new state of nirvana. Does being among the destitute make some people feel better about themselves?

The good old days of the simple rural existence our forefathers once lived are passing us by as demographics shifts with the new economic reality of the 21st century. Whereas 90% of the population once lived in the countryside and 10% urban in the 19th century, this has reversed to an extreme, leaving only 2% of the population producing 90% of all the food we city types need to survive.

These facts are as plain as the nose on your face….you don’t need to travel to Nepal and climb a well worn mountain trail to witness the fantastic changes taking place in our own back yard. I went to a mall yesterday that was two million square feet, built on land where Comanche Indians once occupied 200 years ago. So don’t forget to look at what you have and take pride in your own culture while you’re at it.

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Grapevine Mills is a mid 19th century pioneer town that was established by people who actually walked beside covered wagons into history. It’s the kind of place that sings to me, the modern world was born in places like this, along the railroad tracks and cotton fields made famous in this area before the advent of WWII. I’m glad that Texas has done such a superb job of preserving it’s heritage towns and buildings, it’s possible to see things in near original condition without the objectified pretense of those cities that try too hard to resurrect the past, for the sake of tourism development, as part of an urban renewal project with no soul. In places like Grapevine , it’s possible to imagine yourself rubbing shoulders with history, the contemporary nature has been passed down, rather than re-created by an urban planner or an architect . In Grapevine the heritage buildings are renovated as opposed to rebuilt as a mixed use synthesis, the boardwalks and retail storefronts have been in continuous use since the early 1800’s and survive on tender loving care and a lick of paint.

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Who would have thought that behind the cloak of negative media from competing destinations…that Dallas & Ft Worth could throw up such a spirited defense against misleading and bilious distraction ? Ruebens, Michelangelo, Pizarro, Picasso, Matisse, Monet , Sargent, Brecht…the list is as long as a sunny day. In the Dallas Ft Worth Metroplex I am finding many stunning museums , both public and private, mostly free to enter, galleries, sculpture gardens and Universities, set like diamonds in a profusion of Art and Cultural Districts that include theaters and presentation centers the likes to rival anywhere I have been. The Dallas Museum of art is stunning, I could barely see every exhibit in a day of walking through the broad range of galleries that showed everything from modern to ancient representations of the human experience. The Kimbell Museum in historic Ft Worth knocked me out with the range of offerings including Bernini sculpture and European art dating back to the 16th century, including companion pieces I had seen in the global galleries of Amsterdam, Paris and London. This is not to forget the brilliant little Sal Richardson museum on Main St in Ft Worth..and private gathering of American art.

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Where do you find the real Texan culture? Shopping malls are ubiquitous, sports centers like Cowboy Center and Ranger Stadium are magnets for tourists. There is no doubt that Six Flags Over Texas amusement park is spectacular. So where do the Texans, who have been to all of the above spend their free time? What we have discovered is that Texans love open markets, traders villages, flea markets and the cavernous street side bazaars housing hundreds of vendors, some with themes..like Harry Hines Bazaar or Latina where the goods and food courts are primarily Mexican , to Sam Moons Wholesale style strip mall where international is the name of the game. Ask around, these are everywhere….and cheap….don’t get me started.

A lot of open markets are calendar and weather dependent…but be at the right place on a good day and you’ll have thousands of vendors show up and a variety of goods to shuttle through that has no comparison anywhere in the world. There are also plenty of indoor markets, so don’t fret if the sunshine isn’t perfect, although Texas weather is usually pretty good…especially if I compare it to Canada….winter in Dallas is better than summer in Vancouver..hands down.

Its in the markets that you’ll meet the real Texan, good hearted , sweet, open and honest. The culture of open markets began 200 years ago when centers were located that people could bring their trade goods to from the far flung farms and ranches and the isolated communities that pepper this huge state. The market vibe is as alive today as it was back then. The history is fantastic, the people willing to take the time to talk about it. Trisha and I spend our weekends traveling from one market to the next….never running out of towns to visit and trails to follow. My favorite open markets so far has been the Canton First Monday Market…McKinney Second Monday Market, Waxahachi and Traders Village in Grand Prairie west of Arlington.

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