Friday, September 15, 2006

A Toast to La Gran Dama

As my good friend Will and I placed our yellow roses below Ann Richards' portrait in the Capitol rotunda, something heartbreaking occured to me:
what a shame it is to forget about a hero until you've learned they are gone.

Even though I knew of her illness, her passing threw me for a loop. Will and I had been in the middle of one of our notorious email political debates, this one about whether Kinky Friedman was competent to run as Governor of Texas, and I had just completed my salvo when the phone rang. Another friend broke the news.

Suddenly, I had no desire to continue the debate. For the time being, it was no longer important that I tell Will what-for. I emailed him the next day with an invitation to go downtown and make a toast to our mutual hero.
"I'm on my way to grab some flowers," he said when he called to respond, "wanna go?"

Twilight at the Texas Capitol burns a rich hue into the pink granite. On the front steps an Hispanic family coaxes their two little girls to make the 'Go Longhorns' sign for a picture. I feel a little silly that I haven't visited in so long. Will and I make our way inside, past the grand portraits of Davy Crockett and the Surrender of Santa Anna to the Rotunda, where portraits of the most recent governors hang. Governor Richards' portrait is draped in black velvet; a few have come before us to lay their roses down beneath.

To the right of her portait is one of a man by which Texans are judged by the rest of America. As far as this Texan is concerned, that's a goddamned shame. Ann Richards should be not only our example for the rest of America, but a standard by which we judge ourselves.

You can't swing a dead cat in Austin without hitting someone with a story about having met her. She spoke to everyone around her, whether she was at the grocery store or a rally, with a genuine respect. This was no political play to gain votes. This was who she was. She loved to talk to us, interact with us, and make us laugh. She possessed a crackling wit that was never cruel and always effective, and she never made any bones about where she stood on an issue. She was the consummate polictician, the likes of which we haven't seen since. And I'm guessing, sadly, we won't again.

After spending our time with her, Will and I headed over to the Starlite Cafe on Colorado Street to have a drink in her honor. Even as I joked: "What Would Ann Drink?", it didn't escape me that she'd had her bout with alcohol problems. But like everything else, she conquered it.

We decided on bubbles. I chose the 2003 Naveran La Gran Dama Cava, a finely pearlized little number with bright appley acidity and a yeasty backnote. It's an extra brut, made from the usual suspects of great Cava: Macabeo, Xarello, Parellada and Chardonnay. Governor Richards would have definitely approved. "To La Gran Dama!" we toasted, and again, "To Ann." We spent a while talking about the perception the rest of the world has of Texas these days: a vast tumbleweed wasteland inhabited by ignorance and intolerance, and how off the mark that was. But the facts go like this: we have our share of problems like any state. Our education system is for shit. Those lacking in imagination and sense want to address the immigration issue with video games and great big walls. But Texans like Will and I have different plans for this grand stretch of land, and are willing to be reminded by our heroes of what is necessary to accomplish them.