James and Hana’s Summer Vacation

For our annual late-summer vacation,* my darling, adorable wife and I took a 1000 mile driving tour of central and south Texas. We had a great time, Alhamdulillah. I didn’t shoot much, for once, just 4 full rolls and 2 partials, so rather than whacking this up by day or film stock or city or something, and with apologies, here’s the whole 5 day, 4 night trip in one long post.**

Many of the places we visited were hit by Hurricane Harvey and intense rainfall, and are underwater as I write this. May God grant mercy and ease to the people and communities effected, and may He bring us all together to rebuild and to take clear, concrete steps to mitigate our impact on the environment, ameen.

For previous vacations, we picked a location, went there, and then tried to figure out things to do, which resulted in a great deal of sitting around the hotel trying to dream up fun things to do in unfamiliar locations. I wanted to avoid that this time, so I planned activities for every day, with locations, links to maps, and etc. Nothing was really set in stone, but having a plan kept us moving and doing things, though keeping it all on track kept me a bit busier than normal, hence the relative lack of photography. In 6 days and 4 nights, I barely managed four complete rolls: 3 in 35mm and 1 in 120.

If you’re curious, my “camera buddies” on this trip included:

  • the Nikon FM3a with the 50mm f/1.8 E Series, loaded with Kodak Ektar 100
  • the Olympus XA, loaded with Bergger Pancro 400
  • the Yashica MAT-124, loaded with Bergger Pancro 400 (and meter accidentally left on 125)
  • the Sprocket Rocket, loaded with Fuji Superia XTRA 400 (and unfinished, at time of writing)

Saturday & Sunday: San Antonio

We started out Saturday the 19th not horribly early, for a slow drive down to San Antonio. We paused in West for some Kolatches (next time, InshaAllah we’ll venture into town: the ones at Slovacek’s on the highway aren’t very good*** ), then in Austin to rummage around Room Service Vintage  (kitchy, with some great lamps and furniture, but nothing that grabbed us) and have some lunch at Kismet Cafe (tasty, fairly standard Mediterranean fare, reasonably priced).  We then moseyed down to San Marcos, where we combined the Dhuhr and Asr prayers at the San Marcos masjid (wonderful small house masjid, and a great place to worship, MashaAllah), and hit Nine Lives Books (great used bookstore, heavy on Christian and trade fiction) and Goodwill (the biggest, cleanest, most well-organized Goodwill I’ve ever had the pleasure of shopping in) in San Antonio before checking into the Hotel Valencia Riverwalk (a lovely hotel on the Riverwalk with some nice Spanish flourishes, though the bed was a bit too soft for my liking).

After a short nap and some general relaxation, we went to dinner at Azro Afghan (delicious, and such large portions), prayed Maghrib and Isha’a at the MCECC Masjid (a nice new masjid, with a congregation that mostly ignored us), and then went back to the hotel for a good nights sleep.

In all that time, I only took two photographs worth sharing (other than the ones I took at the San Marcos masjid and shared a couple of days ago), both out the window of the hotel.

Sunday morning, we woke up early and walked around the riverwalk for awhile, had some hotel buffet breakfast at Ostra (on the Riverwalk level of the Omni, wildly expensive for what it was: middle of the road, tasty-enough, breakfast bar; the concierge asked for my last name “so the server can address you properly,” it’s that sort of place, and when I said “he can just call me James” that put them right off, and he didn’t call me anything in particular, certainly not Mr. James or anything), and visited the Alamo before meeting up with Chuck, a beloved family friend.

We had lunch with Chuck at Pasha Medeterranean Grill (tasty, fairly standard Medeterranean fare, though quite loud) and showed him the Islamic Center of San Antonio (nice, quite, comfortable, rather fancy masjid, with a really small and friendly congregation: if you get there in time for the Adhan, sometimes you’ll be treated to a mu’addhin that sounds like an Isley Brother or something, MashaAllah), then went and watched The Hitman’s Bodyguard (eh: mindless action, loads of cussing and explosions, not much character development, no real characters at all even, more stereotypes, and exactly what I wanted, more or less, though I’ve been listening to the Story Grid podcast lately and couldn’t help but identify the obligatory scenes and genre and all, so that kinda ruined it for me) while Chuck went to a meeting.

After the movie and a brief rest, Chuck picked us up and we went for dinner at Green (delicious vegetarian/vegan food, definitely worth a visit: the Chik-n fried Chik-n was pretty tasty) and a nice walk up the Museum Reach part of the Riverwalk.

Monday: Padre, and the long slow drive to Houston

Monday morning, after Fajr, we checked out of the hotel and drove down to Padre Island to stick our feet in the water. It was beautiful there, a bit hot, but really lovely on the beach.

I took maybe the best picture of the vacation on the beach there,**** one of those shots that looks, to me, like someone else made it.

The neverready case got a bit of sand and water in it, but the Yashica Mat-124 made it through unscathed.

After the beach we stopped at Sprouts in Corpus Christ for some picnic supplies, and then Hana drove us the long way to the ISGH Maryam Masjid in Sugar Land (beautiful, with palm trees and fountains and some really beautiful tile work inside and friendly people: Alhamdulillah). Overall, it was a pleasant ride, for me, with nice long bridges and cotton fields and all.

The great 2017 eclipse happened while we were on the road, and I took one shot with the camera held out the window… I had no ND filters or specialized equipment, and the eclipse was 70% or so at best, so I have no photographic evidence of it, but do have a nice example of the flare/ghost characteristics of the 50mm E Series, and its nice 14-point sunstars.

After Dhuhr and Asr, we continued into Houston and checked into the Club Quarters Hotel (small rooms, with all usual conveniences; very comfortable beds; nice lounge downstairs with free coffee, tea, and snacks, and a great gym (that we didn’t use)). After a brief nap, we headed out to dinner at Afghan Village (excellent Afghani cuisine, with cheap prices, huge portions such that we shared a plate, in a sort of hole in the strip-mall location that put my wife right off at first, though she was won over by the super friendly staff and excellent food) and prayer at the ISGH River Oaks masjid (small, comfortable, multicultural mosque, with a unified prayer hall—women pray behind the men, rather than in a separate space, like they did in the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him—and usually very quiet).

Tuesday: Houston

Tuesday morning, we went for breakfast at Snooze (hip place, with some healthy-type stuff, I had a great salad that should’ve had salmon on it, but didn’t, and they took $5 off to make up for it), then went for a walk around the Japanese Garden at Hermann Park (beautiful, with curving paths and waterfalls and all) and fun tour through the Houston Museum of Natural Science (expensive, but so much to see: chemistry in the basement; fossils and energy stuff and fishes on the ground floor; gemstones, faberge stuff, and taxidermy on the second floor; historical artifacts on the third floor; a Foucault’s pendulum marking off the time—we rushed through it) before going for lunch at M&M Grill (delicious and spot-on halal Mexican, a can’t miss whenever we’re in Houston: I had a chimichanga) and prayer at the New Alameda masjid (pleasant little masjid).

My wife chose to go much of the vacation without hijab, to avoid problems with bigots, and so I had to be creative when shooting around her. So I have some pictures of her hands (like the phone and crepe myrtle photographs above) and some of her shoulder, as she gazes at some beautiful landscape.

While we were out, we came across Ajlan Gharem’s Paradise Has Many Gates installed outside the Station Museum of Contemporary Art. My wife spotted it from the road and we whipped in and wandered around it some. Had it been facing the proper way, I would’ve made nafl salat in it.

After prayer, we went back to the hotel for a nap, then went out to see Detroit (excellent dramatization of the disgusting 1967 Algiers Motel incident in Detroit, showing how bad race relations were at the time, and calling out our sad lack of progress in that arena in the 50 years since: two thumbs up). While in San Antonio, we bought a couple of things at the H&M, and neither one fit, so we went to the Houston one to exchange them after the movie. With her excellent (and beautiful) eye, Hana spotted the Water Wall park, so we walked over to check it out.

To cap the evening off, we went for Maghrib at Masjid Attaqwa (Pakistani mosque, part of the ISGH umbrella: very unfriendly crowd wanted no part of a white boy and Bengali girl in their masjid, but we worshiped there anyway, and may Allah accept if from us all, ameen), dinner at Uyghur Bistro (given various reviews, I had high hopes, but was wildly disappointed: horribly salty, nigh on inedible, even the water was salty) and desert at the hotel bar/restaurant, the Table 7 Bistro (I had the Hummingbird cake, it was excellent).

Wednesday: Houston and driving home

Most of this last day is, at time of writing, latent. We started the morning at the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center (really more nature center than arboretum, under renovation when we visited, and completely flooded at time of writing; perhaps the flooding will help move their renovation plans forward more quickly). It was humid and we walked a long way and got really sweaty, which was an absolute blessing given the salt intake the previous night: by the end of the walk, the icky salt-saturation feeling was gone, and after some breakfast at Dish Society (delicious, farm-to-table type food, a bit on the expensive side) we both felt wonderful and ready to rock.

I love this short series of my darling, adorable wife.

We went to the Houston Photography Center (on view: their member show, a bit uneven, but overall good, with some things to inspire and some things to  two of my favorite places in Houston: the Rothko Chapel (had there not been a security person there staring at us, I would’ve made nafl salat in that peaceful, lovely space) and the Cy Twombly Gallery (lovely, Renzo Piano building (his second in the US), filled with some excellent art, just a lovely, contemplative space, MashaAllah).

Afterwords, we planned to travel up to Louetta, TX for Dhuhr and Asr, and needed to delay a bit, so my wife found the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. I was really pleasantly surprised by the work on view: beautiful, contemporary furniture design from Annie Evelyn; impressive porcelain work from Edward Eberle; and “The Sound of Things” a fun and interesting group sound works.

After that, we drove up to Louetta, to the Champions Masjid, ISGH Masjid Al-Salam (beautiful, new-ish, friendly masjid) for Dhuhr and Asr, and then to lunch at a nearby Halal Guys (the spicy sauce is spicier than we expected, and in no way lived up to the hype, but tasty enough).

And then we drove home. There was a bit of rain on the way, but it was otherwise smooth sailing.

We stopped in Corsicana, TX to fill up with fuel. I went to use the men’s room, felt the iPhone 7 buzz in my pocket, pulled it out to look, set it down somewhere, washed my hands, got back in the car, and drove on home… On Thursday morning, I went to the AT&T store and got a new SIM card for the old iPhone 5. Other than the loss of the phone (and the cash, though that was sunk cost, and not worth worrying about), the biggest loss was the 7 or 8 photos I took with the phone.

I shot our meals only, or, rather, the empty plates after we finished eating, largely in response to fad of posting meals on Instagram and whatnot, but mostly because I’ve been looking at a bunch of Stephen Shore lately, and wanted to try to riff off that a bit. Those pictures are lost, as is the ability to use the excellent Mastin Labs app, Filmborn. It’s a shame to lose the phone. InshaAllah, in a few months I’ll pick up a new iPhone 8, or iPhone 7s, but in the mean time, I’m loving having the 5 back. It’s a bit slow, but doesn’t have all the pains I had with the 7, the buttons on headphones work properly again, the physical home button single clicks and double clicks as expected, and it doesn’t wake up unless I tell it to. Alhamdulillah.

So that was our Summer Vacation for 2017. MashaAllah, it was a good time.


*It’s a bit silly to vacation in Texas in the late summer, but it can’t be helped due to my darling, adorable wife’s school schedule. With school starting the week before our Anniversary, we’ve taken to vacationing the second week of August. Once Hana completes school, InshaAllah we’ll start taking holidays in more pleasant times of the year.

**Two rolls, one of Superia XTRA 400 in the Sprocket Rocket, and another of Ektar in the FM3a, remain in progress at time of writing, so look forward to an update or addendum at some future date.

***Not very good compared to my memory of some of the bakeries Mom and I used to visit in town, in the early and mid-1990s. Allah knows if they’re any good now. Maybe Slovacek’s is the best? If you have recommendations, please let me know!

****I made a couple of other, better pictures of my darling, adorable wife, but I won’t share them. She went without hijab for most of the vacation. This meant 1) that the looks we got were racist in nature, rather than islamophobic, and 2) that I have some pictures of my wife without hijab, and you can’t see that… strangers in Austin, San Marcos, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Padre Island, and Houston saw her for a brief time on specific days; but posting them on the blog means her image is out there as long as the Internet persists. I have some deep, conflicted feelings about this, and may Allah guide us to better, ameen.

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