Sunday, 6 June 2010

Houston, Prepare for Take Off

I just don't know how the Texans function in this heat. Call me a moany old Brit who can't handle hot or cold, but really, who in their right minds decided that it would be good to plant sticks in a place with what feels like 100% humidity?! Ok, there's the oil, granted, plenty of space, a certain expertise with matters related to outer space and that's certainly where my sanity goes after 10 minutes outside. That said, it's quite a sight to watch the rain clouds roll in from the west from our fifteenth (air conditioned!!!) room, cover the surroundings in a thick blanket of wet fog, thrash the streets with their wet load and then roll on by to reveal the sunny skies once again. Then, at least, the temperatures are closer to 3o degrees rather than the regulation 35. I've drilled locals for their survival techniques. Air conditioning, they respond, oh, and tunnels. Yes downtown Houston is connected with a warren of underground walkways to protect the worker from the elements. Skyways in Minneapolis protect from the cold, here it is to stop you becoming toast in your lunch hour. You can tell we are tourists, we're the only ones who walk around the city in happy holiday clothes barely covering our bodies in an effort to stay cool. The workers, seemingly the only people who populate this town (aside from the 7500 city dwellers) in contrast are long sleeved and cool looking. For the past 10 days of our stay I am sure I am leaving a trail of sweat behind me like a slimey snail. Best not commit any crimes, they'll be sure to find me. I keep trying to remind myself that power walking is not an option here. To slooooooow down. Take in the view. Its so easy in theory and so very difficult in practice.

The past few days have seen us take in the local hotspots. First off, a ride on a tram that lead us right through the main street fountains. Who knew that water and electricity would get on so well together? It delighted old and new suffice it to say. On our return journey a lady befriended me, gave a plotted history of the last few years, shared grandaughter pics with me and left soon after. You gotta love a good yarn. We found our way to the Children's Museum where big and little boy rambled to their hearts content, learnt to do a Texan line dance, puzzled at puzzles, touched things, knobs, levers, pulleys, pretended, pretended some more and climbed up an elaborate climbing structure which I hear Cory and his belly squeezed themselves through. Mama in the meantime took herself off to Rice Village. Classic lost in translation moment for the somewhat overheated visitor. I thought I had done a little research. To me, the words Village and Shopping in close proximity conjured up images of little streets with quaint establishments in which to choose to or refrain from parting with one's cash. What I found was a very pretty, but in all intents and purposes an outdoor mall. I fried in the sun in between a little window shopping, struggled to find a watering hole and eventually made my way back to the boys, down University Boulevard passing huge 1930s tudor style homes flanked by uber modern concrete houses, bamboo gardens pristeen and in tact. Deflated but undeterred a few days later boyo and I tackled the Galleria. A mall so big, boy and ma were dwarfed into slow motion, so far did the shop seem that we had intended to find. Luckily I had the sneaky plan of investing in a chocolate covered strawberry that raised moral for all of five minutes. We ducked into the shop in question, purchased a gift card for the head soundie who is leaving for another tour and slipped into Macy's where mum did a comedy turn for the boy in her best music hall version of "Mama Tries on the Swimsuits". Sure fire hit. It is a familiar set of schtick - mum, in hurry (why the perpetual speed woman?!) tries on fifty different suits, is shocked to discover she does not look like Gina Lollobrigida in any of them. Pouts for a moment. And then leaves. Boy tried to convince me to buy the one with stripes and a polka dot halter neck strap a la 1950s - it was my favourite - he even told me it looked nice (unprompted) and yet, the truth is I am not quite ready to go parading around a pool with a cast of lithe dancers. No swim suit is going to magic me into a 5ft 2" lean mean swimming machine really now is it? Work on ego needed. Time to do it? Check.

The previous day had seen us take a group trip to the downtown aquarium. In we went wowed at the jellyfish, oooed and ahhhhhhhed at the lionfish and catfish. Goosebumped our way past the python (stay with me) and hurried past the blowfish so we could catch the white tiger show. Yes, turns out fish are not enough to keep the punters happy. In we crammed into a small room, and, through what I hoped was some seriously thick glass, we watched a young trainer make tigers sit and stand to her commands. During which we had the live narration from another young girl, who admitted to it being her first try, and nervously teased us for being so quiet. Something about having a 400 pound bit of tiger infront of you kinda has that effect. She told us about how they never reprimand the tigers for not showing requested behaviours - she had a long official title for this which I forgot as soon as I heard it, instead they praise when they do follow. With meat. Lots of it. Essentially, supernanny's guide to zoological exploits. When the second tiger came to do the same routine as his cousin, we left to see more of the fish. There weren't any. Feeling somewhat duped, and having been led through the gift shop to the exit we found ourselves under a sun baked fun fair. On we piled of course onto the diminuitive "steam" engine that took us under the many flyovers that zig zag downtown to a created sea world including a tunnel tank of shark. Boy, quivering on our friend's lap asked when we would be out of the tunnel. About ten times. In essence we were underwater in a train with killer fish about us. Poor thing clung to courage just long enough till we reached the light again. No sooner reaching calm than a giant metal white shark spouts water out from a tiny pool and half the train's passengers scream with fright. Grown ups mostly. On we weaved under more highways. After a carousel ride and a Guess Jester - where a lady tries to guess your weight or age or birthday (Cory is still jigging around because she guessed five years younger than what he is. His colleague on the other hand is reeling because she guessed 10 years older. Ooooops) it was time to cool off at the water sprays. Some children were rolling around in them like baby seals. Our boy was tip toeing round the edge until a couple of the performers (his favourites to be truthful) whisked him up and hugged him into the watery fray till both he and they were squealing in delight. It is such a great pleasure to watch your child truly have fun and create bonds with others. Today, when we dropped dad off at the theatre after dinner he ran to everyone in the cast that we passed and gave them a proper hug and kiss. I wonder if he will ever know how much joy that gives his mum and dad. Makes me forgive myself my lack of patience and bask in a moment of pride at having been sent such a loving little person into our lives.

That said, we have had a few rollercoaster rides on the turbulent times of a three year old for the past few days. I think I would like to attribute it to a delicate tummy but that is of no comfort when you are hiking down the Bayou trail towards the wrong end of 11 o clock and somebody, who usually can't wait to run free is lagging behind winging to be carried. The dreaded Whine. I refuse to cultivate a threshold for it. Would be best to swallow a double dose of humour at these times, but often that fails me also. To be fair we were all puddles of sweat having braved the trail from our hotel that took us winding down a murky river's side under what I counted to be about 8 loud overpasses with cars and huge trucks zig zagging overhead. It was a perfect clash of natural versus urban jungle. I tried to focus on the former but something about the juganauts racing above us made me uneasy to say the least. After we had carried on for about a mile or so, having moved towards open skies rather than concrete ones, we started towards another set of overpasses that lead to a dirt path flooded just at its entry. We stopped to choose our way, caught sight of a guy huddling over his stove looking like an extra out of Mad Max and decided to beat, a seemingly nonchalant retreat. In truth we sped up somewhat, argued over the iphone map and which way to go and eventually, in true urbanite fashion found our way back to a noisy road and settled by a swing set for a quick turn for the boy. Thunder clouds had been looming overhead for most of the morning and we returned home just in time to miss the lashing rain and rumblings, managing to fit in a quick look about the Historical village. This is an area just by the hotel in which historic homes dating pre 1800s and throughout the subsequent centuries have been uplifted and re-built. We peeked into a greek revival, huddled at the window of a cabin and wowed at the porch of a beautiful Victorian. They stand, closed but illuminated inside like oversized doll's houses set in the surreal surroundings of, yes, more highways and parkland. Back from our whistlestop tour of architecture, I got busy in the bathroom creating a pork loin grill and pesto pasta job whilst boys watched the weather and some such.

Today boy and I got into packing. Of late he has become very interested in "folding" clothes, and, as long as I take the time to watch him do it, he can stay busy at this for some time. Perhaps in another few years the garments may actually look like they have been folded, but the care with which he does it is a joy to watch. We had just enough time to fit in a slap up dinner at the theatre's restaurant. Now, in experience, these two words never sit too well together. At best, I expected a few cheese rolls and a packet of crisps. What we had was a luscious seafood dinner with whole flash fried crawfish stood to attention on taquitos, paella and a jumbo lump crab salad. When the taquitos arrived (Brits - that's a mini soft tortilla with stuff going on on top) I took a double take at the topping. "It's ok ," said the waiter, "you can eat the whole thing." "And the shell?" I asked. "No, no, they are peeled ma'm." He was right, but I did feel a little strange at gobbling up the little creatures boy and I had just wowed at at the Aquarium but a few days earlier. They were even stood up, looking alive even, as if they had been crawling over the bread and someone had ambushed them with a deep frier. Tasted good though. Remorse is apparently but fleeting. Actually we were lucky to be let in. The first lady who greeted us took one look, us - loaded with wiffle balls and rucksacks and casual clothes sweating profusely, she - suited and booted, unsmilingly informed us that the restaurant was fully booked. Oh, and we could not wear shorts. Just as we were leaving another lady came to our rescue and recognised Cory's voice from an earlier telephone call, knew he was in the show and found us a table. In a corner. Dark. Far far away from the hoy poly. We weren't wearing our hoy poly outfits that day, even though mama Loves to dress up. For, all of say.....15 minutes. The novelty soon wears off, especially in this heat when after five minutes all I want to do is lie down on a shady bit of pavement and go to sleep.

And so they we have it. Houston in a slightly over wordy nutshell. Its goodbye time again. Ready for the delights of San Antonio. Three hours away is our next home. Have strict instructions from my dad on photo evidence of the Alamo.

River walk here we come!

Minus the highways please.....

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