Enter the hotel that is ZaZa—a feast of oversized furniture, oversized rooms and oversized egos—walk halfway down a candle-lit, eclectically designed hallway, and there beside a towering plant sits Valentina Burton, also known as The Fortune-Teller of Dallas.
For the last four years each Wednesday through Saturday night, Burton has been the in-house soothsayer for the hotel, reading the tarot cards of touring rock stars, local sports celebs, members of the traveling business class, and those voguers, poseurs and $30,000 millionaires who make Dallas just so damn Dallas.
"There can be weird juxtapositions," Burton says. "You have people from Idaho rubbing up against Tommy Lee."
It's not altogether easy telling fortunes to the fortunate and the inebriated in the anything-goes atmosphere that the hotel encourages, but Burton fits in with the feel of the place. While at ZaZa, she eschews the gypsy encampment look and goes for a more stated Gothic elegance, a sort of "Elvira meets Cruella De Vil," she says. But she has learned that she cannot read solo in these zany environs, which is where David Bower, her "wrangler" and a palmist in his own right, comes in, hustling away those drunks, letches and interlopers who might otherwise destroy Burton's focus. "I've tried this without David, and it's like the Vietnam of reading," she says.
The air of mystery that surrounds Burton is undercut when she reveals that she is a 1979 graduate of Richardson High School—"the land of Jessica Simpson and TI," she says. She can't remember a time when she didn't read cards, but she first became an illusionist because she saw it as a more stable vocation.
"I didn't want to live in a funky little house with a neon hand in the window by the airport," she says.
But she veered into fortune-telling after receiving encouragement from those for whom she read.
Just how it all works doesn't appear to concern her. Burton just knows that after a "querent" shuffles the deck of tarot cards, cuts them into three stacks, picks the stack that feels "different" and asks her a question, the cards form patterns from which she says she can divine the future.
On this pleasant August eve, among the zeitgeist of ZaZa, she agrees to forecast the future of Dallas. Because so many questions she receives deal with affairs of the heart, the Dallas Observer's first question seeks to keep her in her comfort zone:
Will Jenny the Elephant ever know joy in Dallas?
Elephants are extremely social animals, and there is grief around her now. But out of grief comes celebration and a new relationship. There will be a new elephant joining her, and yes, she will know joy, the joy of a new friend. [A new elephant is coming to the Dallas Zoo; Burton could have read about it in the press, but claims to know nothing about current events.]
Which street, if any, will be named César Chávez?
It's a street with a lot of commercial activity...
It's not the obvious choice...It's something different from what has been suggested. It's near a pretty park that is developed with private donations and public money for families...The road goes right along side it.
Seems kind of vague—the high-speed toll road in the Trinity River Project?
No, not a tollway.
Do you know the exact location?
That's all I am getting.
OK. Do you see a flood of biblicalproportions on the Trinity River?
Yes? [so much for vague]
It creates havoc not just in the poorer neighborhoods, but there is expensive property where singles live. The flooding happens because things are not in balance. And there is a person who warned about it. He gets to be right.
Possibly...It will happen within the next two to five years...but out of the ruin, things get done right.
You mean the Trinity River Project?
The flood may help that happen...It will become the festival center for the town—a wonderful green place of balance.
Will the convention center hotel happen, and if so, be profitable?
I see a big mess, a lot of drama around it. Getting there is ridiculous, but it needs a champion. There is one...And it will be profitable, but there has to be a lot of collaboration.
What will the economy in Dallas look like 20 years from now?
I love these questions—I usually get, "Is my baby's daddy going to pay child support?"—but yes, things are good. These are really fantastic cards, especially around real estate and new business...There is rapid growth around something—maybe gambling or casinos...But it may not serve the greater good.
Will global warming affect Dallas in the year 2030?
It will be hotter like Phoenix...It affects our agriculture, what is grown here...though nothing cataclysmic.
Who will be the next mayor of Dallas?
This is someone who is very down to earth...He wants everyone to be happy...may open his mouth a lot and insert his foot. He is a very idealistic person. I like this person very much.
Who will be the next president of the United States?
I did a layout on this yesterday, and the same cards came up. It's the one who follows his own heart...
And his name is...
And I suppose you think the Cowboys are going to win the Super Bowl too?
Even with an infusion of new talent, they are still stuck and won't win...They work hard but they don't know which direction to head. That could be a coaching problem.
Are you saying Wade Phillips is going to get fired?
I'm not saying anything. It's the cards that speak and tell the future.