1. Antique Glassware, Location Congress, South Austin
My dear Great Aunt Nicki collects glassware and so as a gift to her I went shopping in the local parade in South Austin near to where Leslie, my friend from University and fellow India Adventuress, her husband Mark and delicious toddler Gus live. Gus speaks Single-ish - a mix of Signing which kids learn before they can articulate words, English and the Spanish he learns from his child-minder and Leslie - who is bilingual and speaks to him in both languages.
In fact South Austin has the only local parade in Austin. It is home to cafes, one of the biggest cowboy boot shops in Austin, an amazing ice-cream shop where you get your flavours 'cut' with a whatever you fancy from nuts, to cookie dough, to sprinkles - which we call hundreds and thousands. Everywhere else is drive-to. It is as if most of the US has forgotten the pleasure of chance interactions with urban streets, with unexpected shops and people. Shopping has become terribly functional.
2. Tastings of pan fried tomatoes and green gazpacho, acai shot and lunch of grilled rock salmon. Location - Whole Foods Flagship Store, Austin
South Austin and much of Austin in fact is a pleasant mix of small painted clapboard bungalows with large porches for sittin', rockin', chewin' and chattin'. Leslie and Mark live in a fabulous modern house which has a roof terrace. From there we watched the sun go down over Austin. It's a great town set amidst the woodlands of the hillier country in Texas. So much so that from above, the sub-divisions look like untouched woodland. With the hills come the springs and rivers. Austin embraces its water and there is a stretch of water that's been landscaped just enough to function as a swimming lake. Go out further into the hills and its just a question of keeping a look out for swimming snakes and diving in, like into Hamilton Pool which I visited with Leslie
Austin is different from the Texas stereotype of desert not just because of its natural setting. It is known as a "crunchy" city which means in these parts means alternative. It is a blue spot in a red sea - you see "Texans for Obama" posters in front gardens, and it has strong artist and musician communities. City Hall runs an annual art exhibition and the piece receiving the most votes is purchased by the city. Leslie believes 'crunchy' derives from the granola loving hippies and Wholefoods is the crunch capital of Austin. It one of a number of organic fresh food stores and possibly the best. Alongside its 35 types of granola (and that is the loose stuff not including the packaged cereals) and 8 types of tofu in the deli bar, there are a number on restaurants on the shop floor offering raw food, Italian, fish, sausages, and patisserie, juices, pizzas. You can buy anything from the extensive deli counters and heat in microwaves in a seating area or you can get them to steam fish behind the counter. Then of course there is all the produce aisles, clothes, beauty products. It truly is kingdom of food - a holistic sensory experience offering a sanctuary for indulgence just as Marshall Fields did up in Chicago where his store did all it could to become a bolt hole which wealthy women would have no need to leave. It offered a post office, the largest telephone switchboard of the time, tea rooms, a nursery, a writing room with complementary stationery, a customers parlour, a library, meeting rooms for women's civic organisations and a check room for coats.
3. Blue jeans. Location - First try Allens boots. Second try faceless mall.
What could be more Texan than jeans even though Levis came from California. So off to Allens boots where behind the rows of boots is a smaller selection of more traditional jeans. "They're all boot cut" said the girl with red cowgirl shirt, embroidered cowboy boots and a face that was looking for a bigger spender than I appeared to be. Sadly they failed to find one that fitted "my booty" as it is was described. So later onto Neiman Marcus outlet store where amidst rows and rows of frocks which were abit to sparkly to sell, and trousers which were abit to tight to wear I found some indigo jeans from the J Brand label. Never heard of them but delighted to find the brand name checked in the Evening Standard a few weeks later. My bum has an unerring instinct for style.