Notes from Texas

Despite widespread concern amongst my family and friends – Texas? Really? Why? – I spent one month travelling through the Lone Star State. The second biggest state in the US after Alaska and the richest after California, everything just seems bigger in Texas.

1st May

Arrived in Houston 4 hours ago. Already had some fried chicken, red beans and biscuits. Going shooting tomorrow morning.

2nd May

I went to the Top Gun shooting range today. It’s also a shop. You can buy rifles, carabins, pistols, knifes, ammunition. Anything that kills really. Humans I mean. Not animals. And it’s cheap. So cheap. Dead cheap.

We said we weren’t interested in buying anything. We just wanted to shoot. Dave had his HK carabin and pistol. We just had to pick a target. Either human stereotypes – the hispanic gang member, the bearded terrorist – or more neutral targets. I picked number 7, asking for the less human of the 10…

I never made it to the shooting bit.

They gave us lane 1 at the very end of the shooting range but I felt sick in my stomach just opening the door to the range. Thought I was going to throw up after walking past two lanes and avoiding hundreds of bullet cases. Started screaming when a rifle was shot and ended in tears and looking for a hide out by the time we arrived at lane 1.

My time in the shooting range lasted 30 seconds.

There is nothing natural about shooting. There is nothing natural about guns. All our senses and instincts go against it: the tears, the anxiety, the screaming and hiding. Nobody stopped when they saw me cry and scream. They didn’t even notice. Senseless robots shooting at targets. And it freaked me out even more.

5th May 

BANDERA, TEXAS, ARKIE'S SILVER BAR

Bandera, cowboy capital of TX, population 957. 5 banks of which only one national, 3 churches, 5 bars, 1 courthouse, 1 library.

A man walks into Arkey’s Silver Dollar Saloon wearing “city clothes”. Joins the cowboys picking and singing. Picks and sings. Stops for a beer. Pays the barmaid. She gives him change back. “Keep the change. I don’t like change. That’s why I don’t like Obama.”

11th Street bar. Cowboys picking and singing. Bras hanging from the ceiling, product of the 8-second ride: take off your bra, show your tits for 8 seconds and you’ll win a t-shirt PLUS your bra will hang there as a trophy around the Confederate flag. Sticker behind the bar reads: “Yes we can…secede”.

Met a rancher. All broken from taming horses and rodeos. Told us about life out on the ranch when he was growing up. “We were poor but had plenty to eat. No TV. No radio. For Christmas, we’d go trappin’ coons and ringtails. Cured the furs and sold ’em to dealers from town. Got a buck a piece. That’s how we’d make money for Christmas.”

He asks about our “tiny ass cars” in Europe: “What do you think about our trucks?”. Me, trying to be polite: “Well they’re not really eco-friendly”. The rancher: “Fuck that, we don’t give a shit about that. You can do all the efforts you want for the environment back in Europe, we’ll keep our trucks and fuck the environment”.

Erwin joins in. He’s been living in Bandera for years but used to be a captain on a barge on the Mississippi River from Saint Louis to New Orleans. The rancher says he’s a cooney ass, talks a lot of bullshit: “He could be a lawyer. Either that or a Jew.”

They both think people in Saint Tropez live naked all year long. The French invented the French Kiss. And the French Tickler which is a ribbed condom. Another guy wants to check out the French kiss. Asks if French is Spanish. Not sure I understand so ask for a clearer question: ” Well you know, French people speak Spanish from what I heard.”

I ask about their cowboy hats. Do they ever take them off? “When we’re sleepin and when we’re eatin. To say hello to the ladies and when we go to church”. The rancher is part Comanche. “They killed all of us. Not much are left.” His two Comanche grandmothers told him that there is a God but no religious institution. So he believes in the message but not the messenger and doesn’t go to church. Wears his hat more often than church goers. It leaves a mark on his forehead.BANDERA, TEXAS, ARKIE'S SILVER BAR

Jay is the manager on our ranch. Comes from Phoenix, AZ. Worked in the subprimes market before the crisis. Moved to Bandera since. He’s well integrated now but is still considered a city boy: he enjoys shooting but doesn’t like hunting, doesn’t care for football, doesn’t mind the Blacks. “There’s less than 1% Blacks in Bandera. People are still very prejudiced against them here. If you try to explain that they’re actually okay then folks will just tell you : ” So what, you’re a nigger lover then? “

Asked him if there were any Democrats in Bandera. ” What you’re sayin? Democrats here? Not even in the whole of Bandera County, we don’t even have a candidate.” Another guy walks in: “If somebody comes here sayin he likes Obama, he’ll get slapped real hard. No Ma’am, no Democrats around here thank you. We’re not communists like y’all.”

God Bless Texas…

6th May

Was having lunch in bourgeois Fredericksburg, gazing at the conglomerate of desperate housewives planning the next charity ball when a cowboy walks in. Looks completely out of place: Bandera is 50 miles away. Was about to make fun of his rugged walk.

And then I noticed: Tommy Lee Jones just walked in.

11th May

And then there was Whole Foods. Temple of the healthy and less healthy, where kale is king and all kinds of prepared and boxed food reign. A place where vegans can eat “cheese” and lactose-free yogurts. Founded in Austin, the city that understood one thing: being alternative can be very lucrative.

18th May 2015

Developed a new passion for gems and minerals at the Perot Museum of Science in Dallas. 3D embroidery.

19th May

Amarillo. Went to my first livestock auction today. Weird.

23rd May  

BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK, TEXAS, RIO GRANDE, DESERTThe desert is in bloom. And Mexico is just there, on the other side of the Rio Grande. Which is not as Grande as I imagined. But the mountains that form a natural wall between Texas and Mexico are muy muy grande. No need for an immigration proof fence here. Still, I was asked to prove my nationality by the border patrol in the middle of nowhere. I could see they had doubts: was I yet another Mexican trying to enter their sacred homeland illegally? I guess my pronounced foreign accent was suspicious.

Had to explain why I was not married. Apparently that was also suspicious. I thought I should take the time to explain that, well, sometimes things do not plan out as expected. The border patrol can be quite upsetting.

26th May

The good thing about Texas is its oil. Some Texans get really rich exploiting it. And when they are, they want to invest into something that’s a bit fancy but also tax deductible. So they turn to art. They create private foundations, ask for some of the top art dealers to find the best pieces in any artistic category you can think of and then turn to internationally acclaimed architects to build beautiful museums to show off their collections. All of this resulting in some of the best museums in the US.

Thank God for Texan oil.

MARFA, PRADA, TEXAS

29th May

A (very) brief history of Texas as told on the façade of one of the (very) few historic churches around:
First there were the Indians, all mystical and linked to Nature. Then the Catholic Church arrived and tamed everything with ideas of sin and redemption and gloomy choirs, oppressing and eradicating the Indians in the process. Then came Mexico with all its joyful colours and songs. Aaah the Mexicans, a wild bunch! But how could songs and fiesta resist the black gold rush and its languid temptation? Oil, the real God of Texas.

30th May

Had to finish this trip on the other side of the ocean with beach towns, my personal favourites. Some of them small, sweet and shabby. Others with oil rigs and pleasure piers.

ROCKPORT, TEXAS, BAIT GALVESTON, TEXAS, OIL RIGAll photos by Joanna Dunis