Houston Historic Districts: West Eleventh Place Historic District

Post FAIL.

West Eleventh Place is a gated, private street, thus the lack of photos.  I would have pulled over to snap some quick pics, but it looked as if there were a guard at the gate. I’m sure intrepid journalists would always get that shot, and that’s why I’m not a journalist! So today’s post is entirely second-hand information, courtesy of the Houston Association of Realtors.

West 11th St. is four blocks past the Shadow Lawn district, adjacent to Bissonnet and across the street from the Contemporary Arts Museum. Like most gated streets, the houses are huge and the streets are tree lined–magnolias, oaks, and palms. The homes were built in the 1920s by Houston’s best architects, and the brick and stone gate (the one I neglected to photograph) is also original to the neighborhood.

But thanks to the magic of the Internet, here’s a photo of West 11th St. that euthman has courteously taken.

West Eleventh Place Historic District

An Evening with Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert

So we’re making Coq au vin, and Martha Stewart asks me to help with the pasta. I’ve never made pasta in my life, and she asks me, ‘Have you ever worked in a restaurant’? I wanted to say, ‘Yeah bitch I have.’ But I didn’t. She’s an ex-con.”

Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert

So goes an evening with Anthony Bourdain. Now that he’s older, he prefers not to be called the bad boy of the culinary scene anymore, but he’s as opinionated as ever. We saw him last night at Jones Auditorium in the midst of his R-rated “Guts and Glory” speaking tour.  We were extra lucky, though, as his weekend appearances are billed as “Good vs. Evil” with fellow celebrity chef Eric Ripert.

Ripert is an engaging speaker, but make no doubt about it, Bourdain is the main draw, as the crowd of Society of Performing Arts season ticket holders, chefs, hipsters, and hipster chefs can attest. Whether answering questions or interrogating Ripert, Bourdain is opinionated, incisive, and brash. Topics included sustainability and endangered species, the proper way to manage a kitchen, his attack on Paula Deen’s hypocrisy, the effect of different recreational drugs on cooking, and vegetarians and their “Hezbollah-like splinter faction, vegans”. He also expressed his outrage after the Travel Channel aired a Cadillac commercial during last week’s No Reservations finale, using his quotes from the show, without asking his approval.

The laughs were not all Bourdain’s, however. Grilling him on the infamous Namibia episode of No Reservations, when Bourdain ate the tribe’s prized grilled warthog rectum–a delicacy that tastes like “fur, dirt, and shit”–Ripert noted that in all of his research, he had never heard of any people or tribe that ate “the asshole of a pig.” “Do you think,” he asked in his thick French accent, “they just wanted to make fun of the gringo?”

After an hour of quizzing each other, the pair took questions from the audience. Admitting that they wouldn’t get a chance to try any Houston restaurants (“We’ll be lucky to have time for a can of Pringles in the hotel.”), Bourdain noted that he’d had great Vietnamese in past visits, and the mark of a burgeoning culinary scene is the fusion created by young chefs experiencing and borrowing from many types of cuisine on a nightly basis.

He did cop, however, to a newfound love for Texas BBQ after visiting Franklin and JMueller in Austin. “There’s nothing better than good Texas barbecue,” Bourdain declared. “That’s what he said last week in Virginia,” responded Ripert.

Texas Renaissance Festival

Saturday, my wife and I attended the Texas Renaissance Festival in Magnolia, about an hour outside of Houston. Mind blown.

I’ve been to renaissance festivals. This is no ordinary Ren Fest. First of all, it’s permanent. Second, it’s like walking around a small town. The site covers 55 acres. We made a mistake by not buying the program/map because it took us 20 minutes to find our way out after a few hours walking around. And I’m still pretty sure we didn’t see every part of the park.

There were the usual medieval costumes, crusaders, barbarians, kings, queens, dandies, and pirates. Since it was also Halloween weekend, there were plenty of scary costumes as well. I saw a centaur and multiple men wearing nothing but a loincloth (and judging by the length of the cloth, I’m not sure they wore underwear either). So many people were dressed up and acting of their time period that I don’t know who worked there and who was just visiting. Continue reading

Back to School

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had a chance to blog. I spent that time working on a different project, which was a lot of fun. Since this summer was the 40th anniversary of the Watergate burglary (which was my dissertation topic), I was invited to return to my high school to speak about it. I’m a terribly slow writer (I was making edits in the hotel the night before), so it took me all of my blogging time to put together my talks.Tuesday morning I spoke to the high school students at the end of their assembly. It was awfully strange to see several of my old teachers in the audience. It’s been 14 years since I graduated, and I never imagined myself gracing the other side of the podium on that stage with them there. It’s funny, I barely remember having such assemblies, much less those that were moderated by students. I certainly was never the kid who asked for the teachers to stand up if they had any announcements to make. But I guess it really did happen that way.

I remember lots of presentations from high school. They brought in Kenneth Jackson once. He’s a big time historian, and he spoke about what we can learn from cemeteries. That part was fine. It was the field trip I didn’t like.

Anyway, I taught the kids the Watergate story. It’s a topic they never really get to study. US history classes typically have a lot of time getting through anything after WWII before the end of the school year. So I laid out the narrative and threw in a few tidbits why it’s still important to remember. With the presidential election only a few weeks away, it’s topical to discuss Nixon’s abuses of power, the current state of campaign finance reform, etc.

The good news was that I only counted 3 sleeping students.

That night I presented a longer speech to the public. About 60 people showed up, including a few of my high school friends, which was a surprise. I related Watergate much more to current events, assuming that my audience knew more about the actual events. These days, who knows though?

I asked the audience to imagine how Watergate would be treated if it happened today. What would Fox and MSNBC say? Would the blogosphere explode? Would today’s Republicans vote to recommend the impeachment of their own party’s leader? Would Democrats ramrod impeachment through Congress without GOP votes? It’s a very different world than it was in 1972. It’s a very different world than it was in 1998 when Bill Clinton survived impeachment.

On the whole, it was a very successful trip, and I got lots of great feedback. Thanks to everyone who came! I had a great time.

A Night at the Ballpark

My dad loves going to baseball games, but he’s not really a fan. What he is, is a fan of the atmosphere. He loves ballparks, peanuts, popcorn, and kosher hot dogs. He doesn’t go to too many games, but ever since he’s lived in Houston he goes to a few Astros games a year.

I’m even less of a fan than dad is. I didn’t grow up with a favorite team, or in a city with MLB. I never watched it on TV, though I did, inexplicably, play on my high school team. Still, I usually don’t mind sitting at the park on a nice night once in a while. (I learned my lesson not to go to summer day games in Texas anymore.)

The season is drawing to a close now, and dad hadn’t seen any games so far this year, and this was the last week in his schedule that there would be an Astros’ homestand. So I obliged him, and we took off to Minute Maid Field last night sans wives (much to their relief). Continue reading