As the great day approached, we decided to call round two other families for a lunch in the garden and a shared tv watching moment to take in the royal wedding and were very pleased it didn’t rain. We set the sitting room up with seats in rows – trying in light-hearted mode to set up a version of the old photograph of families gathered round the old tv set for the coronation, we found the atmosphere of an awe-struck audience came naturally however. We were certainly captivated, charmed and fascinated by the whole spectacle, pageantry and sense of history on display – curious to think it was being watched by some many millions around the world. I would have like to have watched people arriving more and found out who everyone was, but I was a bit busy with the champagne at that point. While I thought the BBC coverage good, I am told by a good friend that the Skytv commentator Alastair Bruce spoke with great knowledge and authority – that was rather missing from the BBC line up.
The architecture of the abbey was magnificent, elevating and a ‘national’ shrine. There is always something cheering about a wedding, but add the elegance of the bride, the uniforms, music and carefully orchestrated ceremony, and something undoubtedly moving occurred. It made all the grown-ups of our party think wistfully of our own weddings, nearly two decades ago now, and otherwise we devoted the rest of that sun-filled day to a long lunch for a dozen in the garden and party games – the daughters had made bunting from old curtains and we found some union jacks in the local co-op and one larger one in our own garden shed, so we felt we had entered the spirit and enjoyed ourselves. Us Cambridge dwellers gave the couple an extra champagne toast all round to celebrate their new title – very English, very smart and young. As we walked the dog in the evening, we came across some street parties still in party mode at 10pm!
Next to Houston, where I stay with the Koenig family – Mr Koenig a lawyer and Mrs Koenig who had lived in, and studied at, Oxford (Oxford connections have been more frequent than Cambridge on this trip, I wonder why?). As they sing in a church choir on Sunday mornings, a charming friend of theirs, an artist originally from Spain, takes me on a tour of Rice University, where I get a chance to see the building designed by John Outram with its extraordinary ceiling and then on to the Menil Gallery and the Rothko chapel, both remarkable. I am particularly interested in the room which has the objects from the studios of surreal painters. I go to set up in the Museum of Fine Arts at Houston, and see only a fraction of their wonderful collection. I have been given a tremendous room for this talk, which is filled to capacity of over 300 and with a screen that blows my images up to the size of a house.
A lively reception on the terrace in the sunshine, some 40 books sold and signed (and would have sold more if they had been easier to get hold of apparently!) and many interesting questions and observations. Off the next day to Austin, the capital of Texas, where I am given a lunch at the Headliners Club by Mr Braziel, which has wonderful views all around the city and surrounding state, and a tour of the city by an expert geologist, Dr Peter Rose, who explains both Texas history (including a tour of the State Capitol) and the surrounding geology. Then given a chance to rest at the house of my kind hosts the Braziels (a house built for Lyndon Johnson no less) before the evening talk – where the guests are piped in with bagpipes.
Breakfast the next day on delicious pancakes and am given a present of a new book Empire of the Summer Moon, which is a riveting account of the last Comanche leader and I can see being a great film. On to Fort Worth, where the Maddoxes, taken me on a tour of the main modern art gallery designed by Renzo Piano (wonderful Warhol on the stairs) where we have an excellent lunch, and am given a tour of the Kimball Art Museum, by deputy director Malcolm Warner, who I had met at a Millais conference many years ago. The collection is of the highest quality (El Greco to Raeburn) and so very interesting to see the building too, which is being extended, designed by Louis Kahn. My final stop is a night in Dallas, where I give a final talk (on classical interiors) to the Institute of Classical Architecture arranged by my hostess, Lynn Muse, in the elegant hall of the Muse mansion, a breath-taking neo-Palladian masterpiece by Quinlan Terry. From there – to the airport and back to blighty.