ANN BARBIER-MUELLER is a Texas girl through and through. She grew up riding horses and fishing trout on a cattle ranch. She’s blonde and slender with big pools that are blue eyes, and I smile when I see her. Ann married young into an aristocratic European family, and has, let’s just say, seen the elephant.
Still, she has all the things money can’t buy—charm, an easy laugh, beauty, intelligence, and warmth, and whenever I see her widely smiling face I’m reminded of Kipling’s great line: “Though she’s walked with Kings, she’s never lost the common touch.” Everybody loves Ann. How could you not? At a dinner one night in Dallas, which she hosted for me, we were 15 at a table set up in her entrance hall. There were low white calla lilies simply arranged in the center, framed by various colors and shapes of dried Mexican beans laid directly on the table. Really chic.
The glam guests were dressed informally—Mexican cotton blouses and thelike—just right for the 95-degree day that turned into a 78-degree evening,and there were votive candles flickering everywhere, stylishly. Her 1940s brick house is a collector’s house: African masks; Japanese warrior armor, if it’snot off at its worldwide tour through the great museums; excellent 18th- and 19th-century European wooden furniture; and Native American clay pots and prayer rugs mix with plain but perfectly upholstered, comfortable pieces. Ann and Gabriel’s house is a feast for the eyes. They accomplish the incredible, more-often-than-not fugitive look that only a seasoned pair with perfect taste and sure hands can: THE MIX. They actually live with their collection, as do their children, dogs, housekeeper, and those lucky enough to be their friends and guests.
Gloria is Ann’s friend. And her housekeeper, confidante, aide-de-camp, baby nurse, and maîtresse de maison, and, not to mention, fabulous cook. She’s lived with the Barbier-Muellers for the last 31 years. Gloria cooked for us that night—simple, delicious food from hernative Mexico: guacamole, corn tortillas with shredded beef and cilantro, enchiladas, a green salad with “avocado”dressing—something new just for me—along with chiles rellenos, refried beans, and on and on into the night! Elegant French wines were poured by Victor, and Gloria enlisted two other friends to help her in the kitchen, all of them in matching black skirts and brightly colored peasant blouses with brilliant embroidery. From the first step inside the house, I knew this would be a joyous night of relaxed, cozy fun and delicious food. You can always tell.
Never underestimate the element of surprise. Midway through the main course, something happened that I never would’ve imagined. A group of ten handsome mariachis appeared onthe staircase above where our table was,in cigarette pants and bolero jackets,carrying their instruments. You heardme, ten. It was a WOW moment, theelement of unexpected delight and forethought confounding all of us. Those mariachis had been upstairs the whole time we’d been having drinks and the first part of our dinner. We shouted the titles of songs: “Quando Caliente el Sol,”“Guantanamera,” and on and on, and they played and played. Gloria and he rfriends danced with all of us at the table while Victor took Ann and some others for a twirl.
A celebration—just because it was Thursday. When the mariachis finished playing for us, they went to the kitchen to serenade Gloria and the girls while they washed up the dishes, and weall ended up in the kitchen singing and listening for what must have been hours and hours, but the time passed as quickly as the blink of an eye.
-- Alex Hitz