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For the Road: December 2008 Top Picks and Places

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Mariachi!

On any given day in San Antonio, you’re likely to find yourself serenaded by traditional mariachi groups on the River Walk, at your favorite Mexican restaurant, or in downtown’s Market Square. But from Nov. 30 through Dec. 6, during the 14th Annual Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza, the joyous sounds of mariachi seem to reso¬nate in nearly every corner of the city.
That’s because more than 1,000 mariachi musicians and vocalists from the United States and Mexico are here participating in workshops, competitions, and performances throughout San Anto¬nio
—many of which are free to the public. During the weeklong event, you can take part in a mariachi Mass at Mission San José, enjoy performances at the River Center Mall lagoon, and admire the mariachi-themed art at Centro Cultural Aztlán—not to mention attend the big show by the festival’s honorees— Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, a 12-piece group founded in Mexico more than a century ago.
things we wish we did on the moon. I can do something that no one else can do.”
part in a mariachi Mass at Mission San José, enjoy performances at the River Center Mall lagoon, and admire the mariachi-themed art at Centro Cultural Aztlán—not to mention attending the big show by the festival’s honorees—Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, a 12-piece group founded in Mexico more than a century ago.
Why the enthusiasm? “I heard a gentleman once describe mariachi as a combination of opera, symphony, and Mexican folklore,” says extravaganza producer Cynthia Muñoz. “When the musicians perform, it sounds like a full symphony.”
This will be especially true on December 6, when Mariachi Vargas will perform with the 70-member UTSA Symphony Orchestra at the San Antonio Municipal Auditorium. “The meeting of the classical music of Europe with the mariachi tradition of Mexico is a really beautiful acquaintance,” says symphony director Gene Dowdy.
Call 210/225-3353; www.mariachimusic.com.
—L.M.

Ice, Ice, Baby

Have you heard about the Icehotel in Sweden, where you can bed down for the night in an artfully chiseled, modernist (and meltable) testament to architecture? If you think that sounds cool, but you can’t fathom a trip to the Arctic Circle, you might be interested in a trek to the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine, which brings its exhibit ICE! back for its fourth over-the-top year.
Each October, 40 artisans from the city of Harbin, China, arrive in Grapevine to begin sculpting the two million pounds of ice in the walk-through display. In ICE!’s 14,000-square-foot theater, which is chilled to a teeth-chattering 9 degrees Fahrenheit, they freeze thousands of LED lights in ice, build a three-story slide of ice, craft hundreds of ice sculptures, and install dramatic lighting, By mid-November, when ICE! opens, visitors can experience a whimsical, wintry mix. (Parkas are provided at the door.)
Call 800/457-6338; www.GrapevineTexasUSA.com.

—L.M.

Stay, Don’t Go

Texans love to adapt new words. Take “Staycation,” for example—the noun that showed up everywhere this past fall as hotels courted visitors with tight budgets. Why travel out of town, they argued, when you can play tourist in your own city? After all, hotel restaurants and bars offer the ambiance of a getaway without the commitment (and expense) of an overnight stay. Here’s a handful of hotel bars to put you in the vacation spirit. Cheers.

  • The Living Room Bar, W Hotel-Victory Park, Dallas. Twenty-something hipsters flock to the hotel’s ultra-trendy Ghostbar for techno tunes and a stunning view of downtown Dallas, but the ground-floor Living Room Bar offers prime people-watching and an inventive drink menu without all the frenzy. Sip a tumbler of spiced rum and watch the street parade of sports fans headed to the adjacent American Airlines Center. Call 214/397-4100.
  • The Lobby Lounge, Four Seasons, Austin. Special holiday cocktails at this sumptuous downtown spot will make you smile, as will the lobby’s famous Gingerbread Village. Call 512/478-4500. (See www.texashighways.com—click on “Web Extra”—for six Four Seasons holiday cocktail recipes.)
  • The 610 Grille and Bar, Ashton Hotel, Fort Worth. Elegant and understated, this is the place for a wine-fueled conversation about the delicate, jewelry-like Ranjani Shettar sculptures on view at the nearby Modern. Call 866/327-4866.  
  • The Dome Bar, El Camino Real, El Paso. The authentic Tiffany-glass dome of this classic bar—just steps away from the El Paso Museum of Art—imbues customers with a warm, amber glow. Or should we credit the tequila? Call  915/534-3000.
  • Bistro Bar, The Lancaster Hotel, Houston. Food & Wine magazine recently ranked the Bistro Bar as one of top 10 bars in the country. Classic martinis please the post-theater crowd at this well-mannered downtown gem. Call 713/228-9500.
  • Menger Bar, Menger Hotel, San Antonio. Cherrywood paneling and beveled-glass cabinets create an elegant atmosphere at this famous bar, built in 1887 and modeled after the House of Lords Pub in London. Call 210/223-4361.


Piece by Piece

This winter, 17 institutions in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex are highlighting the art of quilt-making in a collaborative exhibition called Quilt Mania II. The quilts on display cover territory you might not expect to see in this medium: For example, the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Addison exhibits a collection of quilts inspired by airplanes and the physics of flight, the Crow Collection of Asian Art in Dallas highlights contemporary Japanese quilts, the Mesquite Arts Center showcases quilts made by the Kuna tribes of Panama and Columbia, and The Women’s Museum: An Institute for the Future in Dallas features quilts that illustrate 19th- and 20th-Century political life from the perspective of patriotic American women. Exhibition dates for each museum vary; check www.quiltmania.org.

—L.M.

Dickens-Style christmas

No bah-humbugs allowed in Lockhart on Dec. 5-6 at the annual Dickens’ Christmas in Lockhart celebration. Since 1989, revelers have gathered here to relive one of the most enduring Christmas stories of all time: A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens’ 19th-Century Victorian tale of a bitter Scrooge’s reawakening of his Christmas spirit.
On Friday night, Lockhart citizens host an illuminated night parade, featuring more than 100 floats, decorated vehicles, and costumed Dickens characters. The procession begins on Market Street and meanders through downtown. The next morning, the Dr. Eugene Clark Library transforms into a scene from Christmas past with Victorian decor, choirs, clogging groups, and even a Christmas camel for children to feed.
At the event’s close, festival-goers gather downtown for the lighting of the Yule Log, a traditional ceremony that signifies the beginning of the season. With the flip of a switch, downtown Lockhart radiates with Christmas lights as the community welcomes the holidays with carols. Call 512/398-2818; www.lockhartchamber.com.

—Lauren Oakley

 

Yuletide at Bayou Bend

When Houston philanthropist and collector Ima Hogg left her 14-acre estate to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in 1957, the museum saw the rare opportunity to display its collection of American decorative arts and paintings in context. Today, more than 20 rooms of the mansion reveal the evolution of American style from 1620 to 1876, with each room depicting a different era. During the holidays, Bayou Bend’s annual Yuletide celebration brings an extra dimension to the museum’s novel interpretation of history, and this year’s theme—Celebrations!—warrants special cheer.
“Bayou Bend can be somewhat of a formal place,” says Kathleen O’Connor, curator of education. “But during the holidays, the home is filled with guests, and we’ve created historical vignettes based on real people and celebratory events.” For this year’s Yuletide, O’Connor and her docents researched such occasions as Puritan weddings in the 1700s, American Valentine’s Day observances circa 1849, and Ivy League graduation parties of the 1770s to create scenes that ring authentic—down to the last detail. “In one room, we’re re-creating the day the Hoggs moved into the house—November 6, 1928,” says O’Connor. “We ask, ‘Would they have had a tablecloth or placemats?’ And we learned that placemats were the ‘in’ thing on the breakfast table in 1928.”
Special candlelight tours of the estate take place on December 5 and 12, complete with carolers and hot cider. “People come with their little girls dressed in red velvet for photos, or couples come in jeans before they go to the movies, or people arrive as a group for an after-work event,” says O’Connor. “It’s truly a festive time.” Call 713/639-7750; www.mfah.org/bayoubend.
                                                               —L.M.

Great Texas Books

Looking for Holiday Gifts? Visit Abilene’s Texas Star Trading Company, where you’ll find cowboy-themed Band-Aids, a whole clothing line emblazoned with the “Fixin’ To—the State Verb of Texas” slogan, Stetson-wearing rubber duckies, and a slew of other Texas-themed items you probably can’t live without.  Co-owner Glenn Dromgoole, who reviews books for Texas newspapers when he’s not stocking the store or writing books himself, maintains a carefully edited retail book nook, and his list of “10 Great Books for Your Texas Library” makes gift-buying a cinch. “If someone were to ask me to recommend 10 Tex-as books, here are some I would suggest,” says Dromgoole.

  • The Time it Never Rained, a novel by Elmer Kelton about the drought of the 1950s.
  •  The Train to Estelline. Novelist Jane Roberts Wood takes on teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in West Texas.
  • Lonesome Dove, the Western epic often regarded as Larry McMurtry’s best work.
  • The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog, the first of John Erickson’s series, equally popular with adults and kids.
  • The Longhorns by J. Frank Dobie, a study of the Texas Longhorn, and the cowboy.
  • Texas Cowboy Cooking by Tom Perini. Cooking as a way of life.
  • A Personal Country, by A.C. Greene, a book about connecting with place.
  • Goodbye to a River by John Graves,a narrative on a Brazos canoe trip.
  • Interwoven by Sallie Reynolds Matthews, a pioneer’s memoir of life on the frontier.
  • Lone Star Literature edited by Don Graham, by more than 60 Texas writers.

All books are discounted at Texas Star, at 174 Cypress St. in downtown Abilene. Call 325/672-9696; www.texasstartrading.com.   

—L.M.



 

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