Round Top

We slipped away from home in early January, going west through Asheville in the early light then through a brief snowstorm that stopped just as we passed Bryson City and headed down the Nantahala. Passing through Andrews and Murphy to Cleveland TN was a lovely ride before we picked up the interstate through Chattanooga and coasted all the way to Birmingham where there’s a huge State Park called Oak Mountain. Owing to the still cold weather we had our pick of campsites and passed the evening almost alone in the quiet woods.

Our second day we crossed Alabama through Tuscaloosa and on to Jackson MI where we diverted south over the Nachez Trace Parkway – Mississippi’s version of the Blue Ridge. Well worth the cruise! Then we crossed the big muddy into Louisiana.

I’m sure we didn’t see the really beautiful parts of Louisiana. The weather could have been a factor. The fact is, the State Park where we overnighted on the Kincaid reservoir near Alexandria was the only nice place we saw at all until we reached beautiful east Texas.

The winter show we attended is reputed to be much smaller than the spring show and the fall show. Still, imagine the largest antique store you’ve ever seen, and there are more just like it every 1/4 mile either end of ‘downtown’.

Skirting just north of Houston we were gratified to reach pleasant territory at last as we pulled into a really nice camp in Portal, our destination, for two days of bingeing antiques.

Several things impressed me.

The trees in this part of Texas are astounding. The oaks were all bare but I can’t imagine they’re prettier with leaves. And there’s an evergreen shade tree that is every bit as inviting as the Live Oaks all over Savannah.

The antique dealers here are all pros. They buy in France or Marrakech or wherever and then sell on the circuit here in Portal or Nashville and wherever the big shows are. It’s a circus, and by God they came to sell you something. Snowflakes like myself learn very quickly to nod politely and keep moving.

But Jennifer is in her element here. Watching her casual stroll and her baleful eyes as they scour every item in every booth – with only a passing glance- makes the dealers all seem to recognize one of their own. One dealer seeing Jennifer was wearing a scarf, came out into the aisle and announced “I’m looking for a tall elegant lady to try on my favorite shawl”. Jennifer went right along and obliged. She and the dealer exchanged comments about shawls they’d seen or worn as the dealer deftly costumed my tall elegant lady with a $600 shawl. They spoke in the language of shawls, referring to this one or that one as “a genuine H” or by some other design known only to the true insider. Jennifer was unfazed at the price, and wore the shawl around the shop as if to try it out while she looked for other pricey trinkets to buy. The dealer was laser focused by now, sure that she had her morning quota made. But as suddenly as the play began it ended, and Jennifer had gone on to discussing turquoise with a jeweler or danish chairs with an older man with an accent.

For a town with a population of 90, portal has at least 10 really cool restaurants, a string of B&Bs and more art galleries than most towns twice its size. I’m glad this is the first stop on Jennifer’s fabulous birthday trip. As she says to the dealer, “We may be back”.

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