Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Space City, USA

Don't you hate it when you make a cup of tea and it tastes like wet socks?

Hence proving that not every cup of tea made in England comes out perfect.


This week I have been reminiscing about Texas, brought about by various comments on quite a few blogs. A few of my readers are from or have lived there. Also, lots of my old university friends are either contacting me on MySpace or rediscovering my blog.

This morning I was reading an MSN article on the best breakfasts in 19 cities across the US. As I clicked on Houston I thought, "I bet Empire Cafe is there." And sure enough, it was. They make great omelettes.
Then I thought of the Hobbit Cafe, a totally quirky place, also established in an old house, where I once ate delicate yummy things on the back verandah with my friends.
I'm surprised Katz's Deli wasn't there (maybe coz it's a New York City import) or Biba's 24 hour breakfasts, specially the French toast (yummy but maybe yet undiscovered) or House of Pies (where the first design for the Compaq computer was sketched on a napkin)

This morning I briefly imagined going back to H-town. But it would not be right. Memories of a place are seen through rose-tinted glasses. My good memories of H-town are influenced by my blissful years at university, and my recollections of The Woodlands were made when my family was whole.

My world and I have changed since then, and going back would be a huge readjustment. Things I got used to back then as an expat Brit would never sit right with me now.
And anyway, both of my parents have moved.

Oddly, I imagined the grand avenues surrounding the University of St Thomas and the Museum District, on a somewhat warm late spring morning, with still a tinge of coolness and sea-damp in the air...the golden sunlight touching the old trees and shimmering along the curve of the road.


Some things about Houston:

1) The size of the Theater District is second only to NYC's

2) It is one of only 6 US cities with resident companies in all four performing arts: ballet, opera, theatre, symphony. There are 8 main companies.

3) The New York Times has called it the most interesting city for young artists.

4) It is Americas 4th largest city but does not make it into the top 25 dangerous cities (although Dallas does)

5) "Houston" was the first word spoken on the surface of another planet: Houston, Tranquility Base. The Eagle has landed.

6) It is the second largest centre for corporate headquarters, and the most consulates/embassies behind NYC.

7) It has the 3rd largest skyline behind NYC and Chicago.

8) The Texas Medical Center is the largest medical complex in the world.

9) Houston's Memorial neighbourhood is the 4th wealthiest in the world.

10) And yet, it has the second lowest cost of living among major US cities.

11) The largest port in the US

Some sister cities: Nice, France; Abu Dhabi, UAE; Istanbul, Turkey; Chiba, Japan; Leipzig, Germany; Perth, Australia; Stavanger, Norway; Taipei, Taiwan, PRC.

Why nearly 2000 people on the site have said It's Worth It:

Philip Johnson, I M Pei

cypress, pine, palm, and oak trees; azaleas, oleanders, springtime wild flowers...big green open spaces and parks

lizards, hummingbirds, and so many things you'll only see once, like flocks of wild parrots, a flying squirrel, or a giant centipede

Shipley's Donuts

Buffalo Bayou and all the fountains

Daily practice in all sorts of languages

Two Chinatowns and street signs in Vietnamese

Two growing seasons, two mating seasons

The Art Car Parade, Greek Festival, Italian Festival, The Rodeo, the Marathon, the Grand Prix, the Houston Open Golf Tournament, Miller Outdoor Theater, The Woodlands Pavilion - world class culture and arts

There is always something to do or somewhere to go, and if not, always somewhere to chill out

Smiling and saying hello to people you don't know

Lots of people who have lived all over the world move there, leave, and come back or wish they could or call it home even though they're not from there

Apart from 3 months of summer, perfect weather all year round

Dallasites snipe at Houstonians coz they're jealous

Going 80 mph

Some of the best and most affordable restaurants in the nation

Roaches so big you can toss a saddle on 'em

You don't have to shovel humidity, and it prevents wrinkles

Drive an hour south to the Gulf of Mexico, an hour north to the Piney Woods, an hour west to the Hill Country

Beautiful lightning storms in that big sky

Only place in the world where cowboys meet astronauts

Pink sunsets

Mosquito bites feel good when you scratch them

No longer the fattest city in America

The alternative artsy bohemian Montrose neighbourhood

NASA! And all those rocket scientists and astronauts

You only need to wear a coat for one week per year

How could y'all forget FIRE ANTS in your list? Being able to say "I been bit" is a Houston badge of honor.

Even if people hate the city, they always redeem themselves by saying the people are mighty friendly, always with open arms

Multicultural melting pot and you don't have to be afraid to be yourself

You can live in the city and still see the sky

Lots of people say: It's not Dallas.

One week in January it could be 70 degrees and sunny. The next, everything could be covered in ice. That's when you take out your coat.

Neighbours hang out on their driveways and chat, or come round with cookies for no reason other than that you are neighbours

So basically, it's the New York of the south but it's cheaper, friendlier, bigger, warmer, greener, and less pretentious

Who wants pictures?

Hermann Park

Vortex House

Saturn V rocket at Johnson Space Center

More pics:

The Museum District




Roxandra said...

Looks nice. Where do your parents live now?

Olivia said...

Thanks - they both left Houston within a month of each other.
Dad to Calgary, Alberta for a new oil contract.
Mum to Toronto, Ontario to live with her sister.

panda_eyed said...

Just a passing thought.. Did I congratulate you on getting the audiotyping job? I don't think I did.. but CONGRATS! what will you spend your first paycheck on?

Olivia said...

Pandy, either you did, or I just assumed you did. So thanks for remembering!

Spend my first paycheque? (Ha! you spelled it American!)
I don't wanna spend it...*sulk*
If I do, it will be dinner for friends or something equally nice.

Michelle said...

wow, you really make me want to visit houston. or even live there.

Nabeel said...

the vortex house is sooo awsomeeeee mann .. it's just amazinggg .. did you visit the rocket launch yourself?

Memoria said...

Wow...you almost convinced me to like Houston! haha AlMOST! Although a born-native to Houston, I still do not like the insects of which you speak, the humidity, the traffic, the over-populous environment and lack of greenery (in comparison to Austin, especially). On the flip side, I am glad that you mentioned the most important greatest feature of Houston - SHIPLEY'S DONUTS!!! hahahaha Okay, okay...there are other great things in this big city. I do fancy the museums and of course, UST. :D. This was a great post. I read from beginning to end... So, were you talking about me when you said you have friends from your university and Houston who have rediscovered your blog? hehehehe. Um, and where is this Vortex House? Wow, I want to see it! and I will have to visit the Empire Cafe the next time I go to Houston. Remember Mission Burritos? They came around before Chipotle and Freebirds. YUM! Oh and Star Pizza!!!

Olivia said...

Michelle - haha, mission accomplished then :)
And welcome back!

Nabeel - oh yes, that house is the sort of thing you go looking for.

They don't launch rockets from Houston, only Cape Canaveral - but JSC is mission control and also the space shuttle and Space Station HQ. It is the home of the NASA oral history project, which I nearly got accepted to, except I had finals plus was coming to London for a family emergency, all during the two week orientation.

The Saturn V rocket in the picture was one of 15 built, responsible for sending most of the Apollo missions to the moon!
Fifteen is a bloody lotta rockets to build.

Olivia said...

Memoria - well, I did say I was looking back with rose-tinted glasses...

Over here they get excited about the newly imported Krispy Kreme donuts, and I just can't begin to describe how much better Shipley's are.

Yes, you are one of those I was thinking of - Vanessa used to visit every day until she got 3 jobs, and Jason used to come by whenever he could get time.

I can't remember where Vortex house is, but it's not far from UST.
Also, do you know where Empire Cafe is?

I have to go into town now (to open my OWN bank account!) but when I come back I will try to find out.

lunaliar said...

peAwww Liv! I miss Houston so much now. Serious homesickness... Besides the disparate lack of efficient public transit, the terrible urban sprawl, the stinking bayous, the incredibly poor air quality (worst in the U.S.) and the population density huddled around major Interstates, I really enjoyed growing up there. You were never more than a stones-throw away from any type of action. When I did performance art in Houston, the community was always embracing newcomers. There really is something to whet every taste.

My mom is coming to visit this weekend. Maybe I can talk her into kidnapping me! :)

Olivia said...

Luna - heheeh, I even got non-natives hankering after the place :)

I am guessing the DART in Dallas is better than the light rail? If only it could expand...

I found out that the amount of action going on at any time is thanks to H being the only US city without zoning regulations. I am sure that has its detractors.

Girl, if I lived in Dallas, I'd want to be kidnapped too!

Olivia said...

OK, the Vortex house (on Montrose and Willard) was scheduled for demolition in June, so artists from the Art League decided to play with it first.

Empire Cafe is on 1732 Westheimer near Dunlavy.
Mondays are half-price cake night.

Speaking of good sweet stuff, did you ever try Biba's in the Greek village?
5526 Memorial Drive, between Shepherd and Westcott.
Nice breakfasts, though it's called Biba's Greek Pizza.

lunaliar said...

House of Pies -- Can't miss.

Empire Cafe -- Met a former main squeeze there!

Art League -- Most awesome, non-pretentious creative community ever!

And the light rail in Houston, because of the horrid zoning, is having a hard time expanding. Their considering private condemnation (eminent domain) as a last option; however, expansion will never happen without it!

Olivia said...

Luna -
As many times as I went to House of Pies, I can't remember a single thing I ate there...went to the Hobbit Cafe once and remember the delicate shrimp wraps...

Otherwise - Small world! I love this!

The Moody Minstrel said...

As an American who has never been East of the Rocky Mountains, I'm embarrassed. The image I've always had of Houston appears to be quite different from reality. I guess I always had it confused with Dallas.


Interesting...there's a vortex house in Oregon, too...(called the Oregon Vortex).

Olivia said...

Minstrel - ugh, don't get me started on Dallas again, you already know the general consencus.

(throws an old roll at Minstrel's head)

In Oregon...not surprised!
I wonder...same artists?

lunaliar said...

Wanna know the problem with Dallas?

Super nice arts district, but no real arts community. Chasm-like racial divide forged by neglect and the Trinity River. Money-minded assholes who think that status and having something named after you is everything. 5.6 percent unemployment. Municipal government is being investigated en masse by the FBI. Dallas has a weak mayor and an obstenant, petty city council.

But hey! We have better air and more mass transit!


Honestly, Dave and I are really looking closely at moving to a more Northern exposure.

tooners said...

wow! what a wonderful post! you truly make me miss so much, which is a really good feeling. you've taught me so much about houston. i've been there a few times but never enjoyed all the things you listed. always thought it was way too hot! and just think, now i'm living in a climate that's much more humid and a lot hotter! go figure! ;)

i love the pics... just love them. i loved your comment about the roaches, but ain't it the truth! ;)

the pic of the woods next to the lake... just so gorgeous and makes me really want to see it first hand. :)

Olivia said...

oops, not consencus
it's consensus

Luna - my mother coughs a lot in Dallas. When we moved to The Woodlands - there already is better air at a higher elevation! - she had healthy lungs for 10 years.
Last year she moved back to Dallas and started up the cough again.
(FYI she had cancer in ther 80s, so her throat and lungs are sensitive.)

Make sure you and Dave don't move somewhere 6 months of snow drives you nuts.

Tooners - LOL after living in Bahrain, a visit to Houston in July would feel like nothing!

By the way, that's not my quote about the roaches, which is why it's in italics. A few (which I forgot to note) are mine and the rest are basically precis.

When my dad's friend came to visit from London, he first of all couldn't believe it had snowed the day before, the only evidence being a lump of ice on the neighbour's roof - as the day he arrived it was 65 and sunny.

Then he got excited about the pine forest because he'd expected to be greeted by tumbleweed and cowboys.