State #6, Texas, Moorish Architecture and Czech Food

 

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Marrakesh? Rabat?

Surprised at the title? Texas is all about oil, longhorns (the animal and the university mascot), cowboys (those who herd the animals and those who play football), bluebells and yellow roses. Neiman Marcus in Dallas, San Antonio Riverwalk, Austin 6th Street, Big Tex at the State Fair, Lyndon B. Johnson … Don’t Mess with Texas.

Right?

My first impression of Texas was orange juice served in a glass shaped like a boot, in Amarillo, 1983. I swear it was this place, which has a stage for all those brave souls attempting to eat a 72-ounce steak (with fixins) in 60 minutes. When I was stationed in Corpus Christi in 1999, there was a Selena-themed night club. Apparently Planet Luna has faded –night clubs aren’t known for their longevity– but Selena’s memorial remains. We once drove to San Antonio to attend a bar that had not only a room devoted solely to two-step but also an indoor rodeo –all replete with Shiner Bock and Lone Star.

What could be more Texas than the above?

Well….

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Just lacking the muezzin to be in Oran or Algiers.

Lone Star Brewery now identifies as an art museum with a gallery of Latin American folk art donated by Nelson A. Rockefeller, a Meso-American collection as well as a nice once-over-the-world, from Cycladian figures to an anatomically correct woven pig.

Texas is also the ocean: Flower Garden Banks and barrier islands, where you can glamp in a yurt walking distance from the Gulf of Mexico. Port Aransas is one of the few places that allows driving and tent camping on the beach. If you want to make a career of the ocean, Texas A&M leads the world in nautical archaeology. 

Inland, Texas is part of the Central Flyway and the only nesting ground of the golden-cheeked warbler and black and white vireo.  Texas is flat, yes, until you hike back out of Palo Duro Canyon, which is a bit less flat than the south rim of Big Bend.

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Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park offers a very unusual border crossing to the town of Boquillas –an international port of entry actually inside the park, manned by Park Service personnel rather than immigration officers. Once you pass through the control point, you walk down to the Rio Grande and wave to the folks on the south side. A riverman then ferries you to Mexico in a rowboat.

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The Rio Grande looking south from Big Bend National Park to Boquillas. 

Texas is also not a binary of Mexican and Anglo. The middle of Europe relocated to the middle of Texas as early as 1848. The language that has the third most speakers in the state of Texas … is Czech. Texas is as much kolache as chicken fried steak. If you are ever wandering the length of I-10 between Flatonia and Houston, you can visit the Czech heritage society and see an exact replica of a chandelier from the castle in Prague. (As a somewhat humorous side note, the abbreviation of the Czech heritage society is TCHCC –try pronouncing it). German settlers in Fredericksburg produced WWII era Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz.

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An Alsatian house in Castroville, Texas, a French Catholic town west of San Antonio. They have been celebrating the Feast Day of St. Louis for 135 years now.
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Hill Country from Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. Texas also has a Colorado River.

 

IMG_3652But back to the Moorish influence.

What if I told you … the Moorish-style building pictured here is a Catholic Church in suburban San Antonio? It took Spain centuries to push out the Moors, during which time their culture contributed to language and architecture. If you don’t believe me, check out Mission Conception, just a few miles away from the better known Mission San Antonio de Valero.

So there is a bit of the Middle East right in the heart of Texas, alongside Czechs and Comanches, bird sanctuaries and barrier islands. History is richer and more varied than you would think.

What DO you think about this blog so far? I can only say so much in 800 words, so I’ve been trying to focus on the little known, unexpected and the out of the way.

What does your Texas look like?

 

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