The Gun Barrel City Quilt Show (only in Texas)

It’s been two years since I last came out to see my friends in Texas and I’ve missed the easy going hospitality of the state, even though, like most people who don’t actually live here, I sometimes question whether the planet can survive another term of the current administration. More than a year of the extensive and expensive investigations by Mr Mueller have failed to conclusively prove anything against the New York Don or his odious crime family. Most Americans watch, with dwindling resistance, as the normal applications of their constitutional checks and balances are gradually eroded away and the wealthy and powerful continue to prosper. Not so different from back home then.

If you aren’t poor and as long as you have healthcare cover, this can be a wonderful place to live. The landscape of rolling hills is dotted with wild-flowers at this time of year. Between the rainstorms the air is fresh and invigorating and, provided one avoids the most ridiculously calorific excesses, food is both healthy and cheap. Travel out of the city to small towns like Marble Falls or Gun Barrel City and find old fashioned family stores and diners. Yes, it might seem hard to believe in 2019 but somehow people here can still make this type of business pay them a living wage. Isn’t that really what everyone wants?

The Quilt show was an unexpected treat when I managed to hitch a ride with a family friend to the annual event in Henderson County, some 150 miles outside of Austin. The fact that I was wearing my British Union flag scarf got me a special prize for being the visitor from furthest afield (which didn’t much endear me to the lady from Alaska) and I was able to really appreciate both the amazing skill and the individual design flair that goes into this most American of hobbies. There was the usual proliferation of stars, stripes and picket fences but some of the abstract works displayed an uncanny ability to change in front of your eyes. Intricate geometric patterns and flamboyant colour palettes formed and re-formed themselves into something almost hallucinogenic. Of course, it being a local show, almost everyone had a prize of some sort and it was delightful to see plenty of works in the youth category (under 14) proving that the younger generation are also getting involved.

I also visited the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Centre, an important botanical garden on the outskirts of South Austin. It’s part of the University of Texas and, as well as being a research centre for the conservation and sustainable use of native plants, commemorates this indefatigable Texas woman who campaigned tirelessly for the preservation of the natural environment decades before it became fashionable. Go back fifty years to the days when Texas oil barons like the fictional Ewing family and their “greed is good” mantra were the heroes of our TV screens and Mrs Johnson had already been responsible for the creation of more National Parks than anyone in American history since Teddy Roosevelt. I guess the current administration’s views on climate change probably have her turning in her grave but I was heartened to see that her legacy still respected in so many quarters.

Down town Austin is an enjoyable place to visit; its parks, shops and restaurants have an attractive, quirky ambiance where an obvious pride in appearance and physical fitness stretches the “youth” scene to middle age and beyond. A signboard outside a vintage clothing store declares “tip of the week, leggings are not pants” and a superannuated hippy in a leather waistcoat balances on top of a fire hydrant. I especially liked a maze-like store with endless racks of fancy dress costumes and another selling artisan cowboy boots so precious that customers were reminded to look but not touch and prices were “on enquiry only”. However, the price for all this liberality may be more than financial. At one lunch table I was introduced to a dedicated “Hilary-ite” who sincerely believed that all criticism of the woman whose hubris did as much as anything else to put Donald Trump in the White House is a conspiracy manufactured by her enemies. The deep state enemies, by the way, of all women in America who aspire to positions of authority.

Happily, I don’t live here so I don’t have to debate this but sisterhood did demand that I throw in my personal condemnation of any wealthy and educated woman who spends decades backing up a serial sex predator and uses her position to denigrate his victims. No, Mrs Clinton supporters, you cannot have it both ways: she cannot be both the victim and the “enabler”. But leaving the privileged few and turning to the girls and women of America who really need our sympathy and support, the State of Alabama chose the occasion of my visit to America to pass the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the country, making it impossible for any woman (of any age) to be given an abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. There will be no exceptions for incest or rape and only where a grave risk to the mother’s life can be proven will termination of pregnancy be permitted.

Whether the legislators actually intend that everyone, including their own wives, daughters and mistresses should actually be bound by these restrictions or not is unclear. At the moment, it is easy enough for anyone who can afford it to travel across the state line and obtain an abortion in another part of the country but what is apparent is that an extremely toxic brand of religious absolutism is gaining hold of the political narrative. The current president of the United States recently said on the subject: “the baby is born, the mother meets with the doctor, they take care of the baby, they wrap the baby beautifully and then the doctor and the mother determine whether or not they will execute the baby”. While this might at first sound like a typical helping of his usual overblown, incomprehensible word-salad it actually contains the seeds of some very serious misogynistic propaganda.

As I’ve said before, it’s not my country. I don’t live here and I won’t have to watch my granddaughters grow up here but I can’t help but speculate on where some of this newfound morality and respect for unborn life is going to lead. One of the the most obvious oversights, to me with my evidence gathering background at least, is forensic. And it centres on the question of paternity. The big difference between the last time when abortion was universally illegal in the United States and today is the science of DNA testing. Not so very long ago, a young girl could be forced to wear the “Scarlet Letter” and her assailant, especially if it was a man of any standing in the community, would walk free. Times have changed and that aspect of American society can never be the same again: every time an under-age girl is impregnated, a man has committed a crime. Every. Single. Time. When a society decides that all of these offspring must be brought to term then it’s probably time to start building a lot more prisons.

Categories: North America

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