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The United Republic of Texas.

Originally published on November 17, 2010, at The Diner of Cville. Recently I had cause to think of the story again. And I thought I could tell it better. So I am.

I have a love/hate relationship with blogs. Part of me wants to think of this space on the Interwebs as a book. I’ll have experiences, then write luxuriantly and elegantly about them the minute get home. Each experience a chapter in an ever-evolving narrative of my life in food. But life gets in the way doesn’t it? Sometimes the stories get published. And sometimes they languish in my sad little notebook lying at the bottom of the chasm that is my purse. Then sadly, I forget them.

If they’re good stories though, they rise from the chasm. Something will happen, my mind will jerk awake, usually at 3am, and I think, “Damn, why haven’t I written about that?!” Smack self in forehead. Or I’m doing laundry, or out for a walk, or driving into town and the shape of a tree will remind me of something I experienced 10 years earlier and haven’t written about yet. The mind, the memory, isn’t linear, but a circular, jig-jag messy business. And so is this blog.

This was exactly the case this week. I am sipping a Guinness for St. Patrick’s Day. For strength of course. And out of the blue think to myself, “The United Republic of Texas.”

And there it is. The United Republic of Texas. The thought sends my head Wayne’s World reeling, complete with flapping hands and Doodle-do noises, flashing back to an image of two scruffy, grizzled, elderly gentlemen in dirty suits, one brown, the other gray. They wear brogues on their feet, fedoras atop their heads. Francis Phelan meets Tom Waits by way of Harry Dean Stanton (look ‘em up kids). Sitting outside a pub on Portobello Road in London on worn wooden chairs. The table in front of them is gouged with pocket knife carvings and covered in pint glass water rings. One is strumming a guitar, the other is humming and playing drums with the tabletop. Both are drunk, guzzling Guinness like it’s water. It’s like a scene out of Ironweed.

The Hubby and I had headed out to the corner pub to meet friends. We grab the only two chairs left on a busy happy hour Tuesday. Two chairs immediately adjacent to said grizzled guys. Humming, strumming, drinking along without a care in the world. Waving to anyone who looks and generally being genial in an, “I’m drunk and cannot really harm you,” kind of way. Most people would choose a seat inside, but I figure, what the hell. We’re traveling. Let’s make some friends. So we sit. Offer the gentlemen a Guinness which they gladly accept. Small talk is exchanged.

That’s when it happens. The older gentleman of the two, his face covered in gray frazzled beard, his eyes just on the verge of rheumy, but jolly all the same, his teeth yellowing, reaches into his jacket and offers me his card. A business card. Handmade. Like something a child who was just learning computer software would create in some early version of Windows Paint. The edges are dirty, like he’d fingered it many times, offering it to people to look at, but never keep. The words are typed in mismatched fonts, the map below badly pixelated and some of the words are misspelled. It says, in all caps:

PROUD CITIZEN OF THE UNITED REPUBLIC OF TEXAS!

A colorful map of the Republic lay underneath. Mr. Grizzled begins a long diatribe about how he came to be a proud citizen of this Republic, and in his American accent (getting slurrier and slushier by the minute) talks about what brings him to that stretch of London on that particular afternoon. Or day. Or month. Or year. It kind of doesn’t matter. Mr. Grizzled Two just sits and strums his guitar and grins. Grins like he’d heard this speech many times before. Too many times to count, so why not just strum the day away. Playing nothing in particular. I think I may have actually whipped around to make sure that 1) I wasn’t dreaming and 2) ol’ John Singer wasn’t about to come walking around the corner because right then I was sure I had somehow dropped into a Carson McCullers novel.

But no, Mr. Grizzled is real. And he is passionate about his cause. He talks and talks about why this Republic needs to happen. And why it needs to happen NOW. I want to ask if he’s so passionate about it, then why is he sitting on a London street corner instead of protesting in Austin, but he won’t let me get in a word edgewise. It’s as if the card is attached to an invisible string leading to his sternum, and once it’s pulled, he’ll talk until that string coils back up inside him. However many hours that takes.

Our friends arrive a while later and we leave these gentlemen. One strums, and one talks. Even as we stand to leave, Mr. Republic of Texas just smiles, waves, and keeps spewing his passion all over Portobello Road. Later on that week we see them again, one strumming, the other just sipping, this time seated at a different pub on a different street in the same neighborhood. I catch the eye of Mr. Texas and he just smiles. Points his index finger at me and with a wink of his eye pulls the trigger. But in a genial way. Like we’d shared a secret joke.

So is this story accurate? For the most part. Like all stories you file away in a drawer for a year or two, it’s probably the victim of embellishment. Memory is messy. Sometimes when you let a story percolate flavors are added and boring spices removed. The narrative ferments and acquires a better taste. If it’s a good story of course. Maybe forgetting for a while makes it better? Maybe not? In any case, it makes it mine…

Al Fresco. Really Al Fresco.

Last Friday I premiered my podcast, Edacious – Food Talk for Gluttons. Not only is it living in the “New and Noteworthy” section of iTunes, within spitting distance of the @NYTMag podcast, but it reached #10 on the food charts. I am astonished and grateful. Thank you so much.

Recently I was whinging about it being too cold to eat outside. I went on and on about having to wait until April to enjoy fancy eggs and Bloody Marys and gossipy-brunch-al-fresco fellowship. Little did I know. Less than two weeks after said post, I find myself sitting outside in subzero degree weather during a major snowstorm, at night, enjoying dinner.

The Hubby and I ski in Colorado every few years. Rather, he skis and I walk about what I like to call, “The Happy Christmas Village” of Breckenridge and pretend I’m Heidi of the mountains in my big furry hunter hat and I’m off to see my Grandfather, crunch-crunching through the snow the whole way. I drink way too much coffee, eat way too many pastries, and pretend I’m working when I know what I’m doing is napping and this year, checking my Libsyn stats. It’s relaxing because even though there’s Wifi the mountain ranges make you feel too remote to be reached by man or beast. It snows daily and temperatures this time of year hover around zero, so we end up eating like a couple of hibernating bears.

At least for the first few days. By day three the influx of burgers, pizza, and fondue sits like a layer of caulk on our stomachs and we’re craving something a scosche lighter. Like a French crêpe with brie cheese. You know you’ve eaten your way through The Happy Christmas Village and all of its “I need fuel for skiing” choices when a CRÊPE with BRIE is your light choice. And it’s why we found ourselves in front of Crêpes à la Cart the other night. Just one problem. It was snowing like shit! Squall snow, snow falling so hard you couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of you. Snowpiercer snow. Plus, it might be two degrees outside. Might be. Pretty much the polar opposite of my al fresco eating ideal.

No worries. I came prepared by wearing my tacky floor-length goose down Land’s End old lady coat. With hood. Hey, at least it’s fashion-forward black. Young ladies there comes a point (usually around menopause) when you just don’t give a fuck about looking like a fashion victim. You’re just too damn cold. If you’re that worried about it, do what I do, top it off with a chi-chi hat. Or be frost-bitten and fabulous.

In this case, my lack of concern for the fashion police provided The Hubby and me with a unique dining experience. We placed our orders at the cart festooned with multicolored lights and blasting Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (nice touch guys), and took our seats by the roaring firepit. Others were waiting, but as the snow increased its intensity, they ran for shelter on a nearby porch. Meanwhile when our order was up we remained snug and toasty by the fire, tearing into our crêpes with snow pouring down and the firepit sizzling as the snowflakes melted on it. My apple, brie, honey, and walnut crêpe warmed me up nicely adding another ½-inch to my stomach’s caulk layer. And as the snow continued to pile up on my hood and arms, I didn’t care. I was warm, I had food, and the look of envy on the faces of the others was an added bonus. Standing to leave finally, we howled with laughter at the mini-mountains of snow we had to brush off. You can’t get that al fresco experience on a sunny day in April. I love it when something I write proves me wrong.

It happened again when I wrote about sitting at the bar and how it was always better. On this very same trip to Breckenridge we had TWO (count ‘em two) experiences where sitting at the bar actually sucked. We went to a brewery that’s majorly crowded and head to the bar – only it’s a zoo and we end up waiting for a table with a red-light coaster gripped in our tight little mitts anyway. I was so hungry by the time we were picked when a bystander yelled, “Hooray! You’ve been selected!” I yelled back, “For death!” evil grimace on my face. I blame the altitude. The next night we go out for sushi and headed for two open spaces at the bar, not knowing the hostess actually seats folks like it’s a table and we’ve just jumped ahead in line and look like assholes.

Leave it to The Happy Christmas Village to teach this Heidi some things. I do love it when something I write proves me wrong. It keeps me honest, and it adds to the story. The bar isn’t always better forever and amen. And sitting in front of a fire with about an inch of snow on your head plowing into a hot crepe like it’s a Donner Party femur is not a bad thing at all. In fact, it’s quite nice.

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Stories. By Hand. By Mouth.

My podcast, Edacious – Food Talk for Gluttons, premieres TODAY! Subscribe at the website or on iTunes. Thank you for all the support and encouragement. This has taken me almost a year to complete, and I’m so grateful. And excited. Time to crack open a beer!

I’ll never forget the day I figured out how to get an “A” every time. In English at least. I was a Senior, and as part of our Advanced Placement class, we had to write an essay every Friday on a given topic. It was shitty and we hated it. Imagine that’s how you end your week every week? But we did it, and now I’m grateful to Mrs. Boyce because I can write a 5-paragraph essay in my sleep. When I figured out if you include the word “alienation” in the essay you automatically get an “A” the rest of my high school (and college) writing classes were a breeze. As was the formula for the 5-paragraph essay. Introductory paragraph, followed by three paragraphs supporting the thesis, and a clever conclusion.

Embarrassingly today I still write most of my blogs using this format. I present an idea, then spend the rest of the time offering supporting material, then attempt a clever closer that brings you back for more. Hey, if a formula works. Sometimes I have a hard time finding a topic to fit within the framework and so the edges of the formula might bleed a bit, but for the most part the 5-paragraph idea is there. In theory at least.

I read an article in Elle magazine recently about the writer Alessandra Torre who became a superstar by self-publishing women’s erotica on Amazon. She’ll publish a book every six weeks or so, speed-typing the plot and when she comes to a sex scene she’ll type something like “THREESOME FORMULA” and later she’ll go back in and plop down formulas for these scenes she keeps filed away. Mad Libs for the horny soccer mom? Quite a formula.

Why so many words about formulas? Because lately I’ve been getting bored with my own. Not the topics, God no, there’s enough stories around here to keep me typing until end of days. No it’s the written formula I want to break away from.

Which is why I started a podcast. As of today, February 27, 2015, you’ll find me telling stories with my voice instead of my words. At Edacious – Food Talk for Gluttons, every other Friday I’ll tell stories, then offer up interviews with food folks in our region. All of whom have stories of their own. In addition, we’ll broach a food topic and discuss it in depth, hopefully starting a conversation that continues above and beyond the podcast.

Why? Not to get too hippie-fied but every time I turn around the signs point to me doing this. Someone telling me I have a good voice. My own intense love for Maron’s podcast and This American Life. The fun I had being interviewed for two different podcasts in the past. The clincher was Jack Hitt’s book, “Off the Road” about his adventures while walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. He mentions the medieval epic poem the Chanson de Roland and the oral tradition of poets during that time. Most people assume these “singer of tales” memorized the entire story, but no. They memorized phrases, or “formulae” (there’s that word again), consisting of scenes, names, events, and dates they interplayed so each retelling was unique. No one telling of the poem or story was ever the same.

This fascinated me. Stories by mouth rather than written formula. Sure there are certain phrases I’ll use during a vocal, spoken podcast, certain names and dates and events. But I bet the telling is always unique. No podcast will adhere as tightly to the 5-paragraphs. No retelling will ever be the same. I feel real honesty in that. And I want to try it out.

I’ll still blog. But I want to branch out. I don’t want to say I never tried. I want to live my life as a learner, an experience gatherer. This will be a new, hopefully exciting experience and journey. Please join me. I’ll do my best to provide you with enlightening, entertaining podcasts and as always I welcome your feedback. You can subscribe on the home page or through iTunes on your phone or iPad. Thanks again. Cheers.

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