The Enigma that is Houston

September 2012
Houston Texas

Houston like Dallas is an enigma. On the one hand it’s this meat and potatoes, the good old boys, all American Republican, George Bush/Sarah Palin kind of place, and yet it has this incredibly first class art gallery and other museums. It is also the home of America’s space program at the Johnson space Center. A year ago I was invited to perform a wedding here, and since I’d not been before I agreed and decided to stay for an extra day. So I did and I’m happy to report I’ve had a wonderful time in republican land. The Museum of Fine Arts is one of the best galleries I’ve seen anywhere in terms of its layout and organization and even it’s collection. While not to be compared with the British Museum or the Metropolitan Museum in New York or any super gallery, Houston is good. I had a wonderful time in that gallery. There is no greater excitement than to walk into a gallery and find a piece of art that I’ve only seen in photos and to suddenly have it appear as if alive. This is what happened yesterday when I saw Gustave Caillebotte’s “The Orange Trees” and Kees Van Dongen’s “The Corn Poppy”. I had no idea these works were housed here in Houston. I just assumed that I would have to see these works in Europe. So this is the enigma called Houston.

Today I visited the Johnson space Center. Again, an impressive place! The theme park part of the center is trashy, overly commercialized, and tacky in the worst sense, but behind the scenes I found the real deal. This is the nerve center for the American space program. For someone like myself, a child growing up in the 1960s, to see the place where it all happened, the Gemini and the Apollo programs, was exciting. I saw the mission control that we’ve seen on television so many times; I saw the training facility for all of the astronauts; I saw the space shuttle, and I even saw one of the Saturn five rocket’s that put a man on the moon. This rocket is laid down horizontally and spans the length of a football field. It’s massive and awe-inspiring to think that thing actually rocketed itself up into space with some men at the very the apex. It is almost inconceivable to think that such a thing was possible.

But perhaps the most impressive part of the visit was the few words of welcome given to our tour group by a one young employee at the center. This young man, who was obviously technically attuned with what was going on at this place, had a vision in his head of man’s role as a species in this universe and our quest for knowledge and even space exploration as a means of spiritual attainment. I was deeply impressed by this young spokesman for NASA. There is obviously a lot of talent assembled in Houston. This also is the enigma that is Houston.

At this time of the year the weather in Houston is terrible beyond words. Its hot and sticky sticky humid. This is not a place anyone under any circumstances at this time of year. Moreover it is car culture on steroids. It is the bane of America too have no decent public transportation system and this place is king. It is truly a concrete jungle. The people, however, are friendly. They have that southern hospitality.

And finally, Walmart has completely taken over here to the extent that I found it difficult to buy food. I’d been looking for a regular grocery store with a nice deli where I can buy different preparations, but the best I could do was Walmart. I’ve asked many people where did they buy their food and the answer is always Walmart. Walmart seems to have completely dominated and probably killed the grocery industry. I’m sure there are smaller grocery stores around or perhaps there are ethnically based ones, but I haven’t been able to find one. There seems to have been a massive penetration into the grocery industry by Walmart so they have killed off the competition. This is what will probably occur in the rest of the country soon. And I don’t even want to begin to talk about the number of fast food restaurants here and the general obesity of the people. This is not a place I would like to live.

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