Sunday, September 03, 2006

Enjoying Houston

Kathy and I had a nice 16th anniversary getaway in Houston this weekend. Kathy and I are lucky - it's been 16 years and I still love her, probably more than when we were kids. We've had a great life together so far.

In Houston, we stayed downtown in the theater district and visited two museum exhibits - a collection of pre-Colombian gold artifacts at the Museum of Fine Arts, and the final weekend of the Body Worlds exhibition in the Natural History Museum.

Body Worlds was jam packed - we'd reserved tickets for 9 a.m. this morning (Sunday), and it was utterly full well before we got there, even though the exhibit was open 24 hours per day for its final weekend. Folks who hadn't purchased tickets ahead of time didn't get in, and they really missed something unique. It was an amazing display of technological prowess - literally cross-sections of human beings, frequently displayed as art in sculptural poses.

Maybe it had been hyped too much (several people had told me about it, Kathy had talked it up, and I'd seen several of the images online), or maybe it was the massive crowd that inched by the exhibit cases at a pace that would make snails scoff, but I enjoyed the pre-Colombian art exhibit more, of the two. I felt like I needed to know more about medicine, anatomy, and the human body to really get all the benefit from the exhibit that was there to be had.

Still, it was pretty cool. As art, I especially enjoyed a piece of a man holding his own skin, pulled off as one piece. Another, labeled the "Wizard," depicted a skinned man holding his own innards in front of him with his muscles splayed out from his body like some bizarre Indian headdress. Most famously, a skinned horse and rider with their innards displayed, the rider tri-sected, holding the horse's brain out beside the animal's head.

I wish I'd been there on a day when there were less people, but I was glad to get to see an exhibit that's become a worldwide phenomenon. When we were in Mexico City, another version of the exhibit was going on.

By comparison, the Museum of Fine Arts yesterday was less crowded and a much more pleasant museum experience. We viewed an exhibit of pre-Colombian gold jewelry that was a fascinating complement to some of what we viewed in Mexico. Most pre-Colombian gold in Mexico was melted by Cortes and his thugs into gold bars; the gold in the exhibit was almost all from South America, mostly Colombia and Peru.

Especially interesting was seeing pieces of jewelry we'd only seen in stone images in Mexico - especially elaborate nose rings so large we thought they were chinpieces to the massive headdresses depicted. No. Those were nose rings that were sometimes plates of gold 8 inches wide and 6 inches high, elaborately crafted, often covering the wearers whole mouth. Similarly, large earrings very similar to those depicted on the gigantic Olmec heads from southern Veracruz were on display, filling in a lot of the details you miss looking at a 2,500 year old carved rock.

Last night we ate at a Cuban restaurant on Bissonnett called Cafe Piquet that I highly recommend, both for food quality and general value. They served us a really wonderful dinner - my roasted pork came with wild rice, black beans and garlicky yucca. Kathy had, but she had a dish called Vaca Frita, which was shredded beef with garlic and onion, and plantains instead of the yucca. Then we both enjoyed a nice flan and espresso afterward, before going to see the movie "The Illusionist."

Houston was oddly a nice break from Austin - a real, big city with big-city acoutrements like museums and good ethnic food, despite the heat and humidity. We had a good time.

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