Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Back from Texas

Thanks to all those readers who shared their tips about Houston with me.
Karie: I cannot believe that someone else in this world knows about "Across The Street". I thought I had dreamt it, it was so great.
Some general impressions:
The empty Houston I remembered from childhood has changed. It's not that empty anymore. It has grown. Now, all over the Galleria area (what these people call "uptown". As if), there are many other malls and fancy strip malls. There are all the chain stores you see everywhere, including NYC. So you could feel you are in Orange County or somewhere in inland Florida and you wouldn't know the difference. It is completely generic. Perhaps only the people are not generic. Houston seemed truly multiethnic. There all kinds of people, like you see in NY. Some even sport the charming Texas drawl.
There was no visiting the Enron building, alas, and the BBQ was had at the food court in the Galleria. Since the Menil Collection was closed, I did go to the Rothko Chapel, a block away; an hexagonal or pentagonal concrete structure that houses 14 huge, opaque Rothko canvasses and is a silent place to sit and meditate. It was an oasis of quiet after spending most of the day with the adorable Enchiladitos, one of whom outlasts the Energizer Bunny. Exploring with 2 Small Enchiladitos is not for those who like to plan things in advance.

Now, I have not seen that many Mexicans together since I was last in Mexico City. We went to the Houston Zoo on Easter Sunday and it was almost like being in Chapultepec Park. Lots and lots of Mexican families. I can see why some people who live in the border states feel they have been invaded. They have.
In the condiment section of the hot dog joint at the zoo, besides the ketchup and mustard and relish, there are jalapeño peppers. This is a great contribution to the overall improvement of American culture in general, and the faster people accept this, the better their lives will be.
It is so very interesting that all the Embassy Suites (which deserves a post all its own) all employees who weren't at the front desk were either Mexican or Latino. Many of the guests were Mexican too, the kind that make pilgrimages to shopping shrines like The Galleria at least once a year. You see Mexican affluent families buying not only the entire contents of the mall, but extra luggage so they can carry the loot back home.
To those of you who do not understand what's with the Mexicans going berserk with shopping, here's the anthropological explanation: In Mexico fashion is usually like 5 years behind the times (used to be 15). Clothes made in Mexico are usually extremely expensive and worthless. Wash them once and they turn into rags. Imported brands, the taxes are obscene. There is a dearth of good shopping options in Mexico. Thus, affluent Mexicans are obsessed with brands. Sister Enchilada tells me kids think Abercrombie is the shit. They all wear it, like some sort of Orwellian uniform. All the women are decked head to toe with Coach logos. I told her about how gays here collect the infamously homoerotic catalogs from Abercrombie. I don't think even this info would deter the brand addicted from getting their fix.

I am interested in the exchange between the Mexicans from Houston and the ones hailing from the Land of Bad Shopping. The immigrants came all the way to avoid poverty in Mexico and they see the Mexican rich gallivanting around Houston and behaving to them in the exact same manner as they behave with their servants at home. Yet it is not the same. My dream is that somehow Mexico will become a more equal society (fat chance) so the differences are not so grating. One of the ways in which this can happen is if those who have come here rise above those differences and demand more equality in Mexico. When that happens, who knows, perhaps we may even stop coming here.
You speak to the Mexican Houstonians in English, and now they answer back in Spanish. This was not the case 10 or 20 years ago. Then you spoke to them in Spanish and they made a point of answering back in English, like "I am now from here and don't you forget it". Things have changed. As George, a distinguished Mexican man who was one of the bellhops said, "we speak Spanish here in Houston because Texas used to belong to Mexico anyway". Well, Amen.

The Zoo was great. They had a great collection of truly exotic animals, like a Komodo Dragon (Enchiladito: does he spit fire?) and turtles that look like parrots and tiny, beautiful poisonous frogs and... I must confess, I like going to zoos to see the animals, even if I think that we have some gall boring them silly and putting them there for our entertainment. Most animals, perversely, decide to hide in the shade and screw the gawkers, so somehow, they redress the balance.

I had a great time with my family and I'm glad to be back on Houston... Street.

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