Austin, Texas: The dream deferred

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Austin, Texas: The dream deferred

For a sensitive, gay New York Jew he sure picked a helluva place to live: Texas, the home of rednecks, Stetsons, and chicken-fried steak, that peculiar delicacy which is a perfectly good piece of steak deep fried in thick batter.

But Austin in Texas is where David now calls home, and where he runs Summit House, his tastefully decorated, gay-friendly, biker-friendly, animal-friendly, b'n'b just south of the river.

David ended up in Austin for reasons unspecified -- certainly something to do with his family in NYC about whom he is largely circumspect. The more-liberal-than-Texas climate of Austin, which rightly bills itself as the capital of live music in the States, suits him. That and the melange of foods and produce from Mexico which he delights in.

David has owned restaurants so is an excellent chef (although Summit House's kitchen is chaotic beyond compare), and he knows his way around the local markets as he shops for organic produce to conjure up magical Tex-Mex dinners.

I first met David five years ago when passing through the city. A guy at the tourist bureau recommended Summit House so my partner made the call. The answer phone said he was out walking the dog but would be back in half an hour. We left a message and later that afternoon turned up on his doorstep which was shaded by ancient oaks through which squirrels ran.

He was charming and had a vacancy, and offered us a gorgeously dark room decorated in period furniture and with an en suite. Over the following few days David gradually opened up as he took us shopping and off to lunch, and later in the week admitted he was surprised when we appeared on his doorstep. He had been expecting some prissy middle-aged English couple. My partner, an Australian, was so well spoken he said.

We got a renta-wreck for the week and left it with David to return after we flew out. We had come to trust him implicitly.

Recently when passing through Austin I went to the visitor's bureau and asked about accommodation. I mentioned I had previously stayed at Summit House and the guy behind the counter enthusiastically recommended it again.

My wife, not the partner from the previous trip, had right of veto but because I had told her about how lovely and funny David was we gleefully headed to Summit House up the cool, tree-lined street to his overgrown garden with its squirrels, birdlife and curious cats.

David was as charming as ever, but had renovated his home.

We were offered the Blue Room (muted blues which took the morning light softly) but were warned not to flush the toilet if we could help it: the friend who had put in the plumbing had somehow rigged it up to the hot water cylinder.

Summit House is that kind of place, eccentric. Just like its owner.

David cooked wonderful breakfasts, took us to the local St Vincent De Paul to buy cheap clothes, we went shopping together in various outdoor markets and malls, and at night sat on his patio listening to the breeze in the trees and watching a pale moon rise between the oak branches.

His friends dropped by and we became part of the furniture. We went to bars together, were introduced to coffee shops and aspects of Austin life we would otherwise never have encountered, and David wistfully spoke of going back to Mexico, of coming to New Zealand, of his setting up a restaurant in Baha &

This time I saw David differently. He was the same lovely and generous man, but he was also a dreamer, his life lacking focus, his b'n'b struggling, his projects incomplete, the city no longer offering the charms it once held, his future now less certain that it once might have been. His conversation was peppered with if-only and maybe.

Yet while he might have picked a strange and seemingly unsympathetic place to live, he had, for better or worse, now made his home there.

And, for the better, he has opened it to others.

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