Vive Le Pain

November 9, 2021 § 1 Comment

I bet you didn’t kneaux I spoke French, did you?

When it comes to haute cuisine, or less than haute, Houston has plenty to offer. Yes, it is Texas so beef is king, and anything that can be, will be barbecued. It should also come as no surprise to anyone with access to a map of North America that Mexican food is plentiful as are daily catches of fresh fish from the Gulf.

It might be less than common knowledge, however, that Vietnamese food is popular here, especially the beef noodle soup and the Bánh Mì sandwich. And while I am on the subject of sandwiches, nothing ruins a Bánh Mì or a shrimp po’boy like terrible bread. You know the type: doughy, under cooked and made with sugar. I am no baker, but unless you are making a cinnamon bun and the like, sugar should not be in your recipe.

The French are proud of their bread and because of their influence on both Vietnamese and Cajun cultures you might assume that serving anything less than a quality baguette at Pappadeaux’s or the Saigon Cafe would be unacceptable. You would be wrong in that assumption, though, Houston has a real crisis.

My quest for a decent dinner roll was aided by my insatiable thirst for wine. Serendipity, I think they call it. I celebrated a birthday last week, and I decided to splurge on some fancy French labels you don’t see in the discount bin at Spec’s.

As the name implies, French Country Wines is actually operated by someone from France and, being sympathetic to my plight, he directed me to Magnol Bakery. I was not disappointed. Magnol not only has staples like croissants and baguettes, but also a few sweet surprises like Canneles de Bordeaux which is like creme brulee in petit four form.

I confess, I will never grow tired of BBQ, but my beef rib from Hitter’s will be served alongside an epi baguette. And wine, of course.

Houstoniansphere

October 13, 2021 § Leave a comment

Houston is the largest strip mall I have ever been lost in. I have been trying to find my way around this maze for nine months and I am still trying to comprehend why anyone needs half of the things available to them.

There is plenty of superfluous abundance in other large cities but no other U.S. metropolis epitomize’s urban sprawl better than Houston. I can’t help feeling depressed when I drive through it. Neither can I help feeling that as it continues to metastasize so will modern America’s inter connectivity of abject loneliness and isolation.

Houstoniansphere

Plastic salad sandwiches served on frontage road
Mufflers, brows, tattoos and taxes
Sprout from gardens of immediacy 
Planted on the macadam feeding insatiable times. 

What cannot be found here drops from the universe
Outside Sam Houston’s perpetual orbit of shining satellites 
Waiting to fall inward 
Or spin away to Conroe and Woodlands

A gale blows cellophane in from the Gulf 
Chaff of sprawl snags in the branches 
An arborist cleaves from live oak 
Bags once plump with Mexican limes

The heat spawns violent storms and violent people 
You can’t outdraw lightning
You can’t hit a raindrop in the heart
That is why gullies flood while bodies pile up

Generations with no patience track their baubles
While in tombs of nostalgia 6 to 8 weeks molder
Old things are discarded casually on the highway
Orange vested misdemeanors collect them for the landfill

A breeze combs a crape myrtle, pink snow in October
I brush a blossom from the page and sigh
The salutation is smeared
I miss writing more than text messages

Weeding Zen

September 30, 2021 § Leave a comment

Insert Somber High-Rise Here

My first professional job was in Manhattan inside a somber high-rise. I wore a suit and carried a pager. I was also given a company cell phone. My little Motorola could place and accept international numbers in case a partner in Berlin couldn’t open his email. In our current epoch of communication, this might not seem like much but in the mid-90s having such a powerful cell phone meant you were no longer playing in the bush leagues.

The lobby of the building was not much different from its counterparts up and down the street but what set it apart were the two serene Zen gardens on either side of the security desk and elevators. Smooth pink and white stones swirled like sinuous ocean waves around islands where lush Ming Aralias towered above the crags of moss-covered rocks.

I have been captivated by these oases of calm ever since and make a point of enjoying them whenever I visit a park or botanic sanctuary that boasts a Japanese garden. 

Above: some gardens I have visited

Ever since purchasing my first house with both front and back yard in Houston’s tropical climate, I have come to appreciate Zen gardens even more, especially their sparse vegetation. Like rust, grass and weeds never sleep, particularly when nature provides them with plenty of rain and warm sunshine. I never knew that Live Oak trees had such an infiltrative root system. 

When I am not engaged in jungle warfare with my own property, I am contending with incursions from neighboring plant life. Everyday a new tendril has slithered beneath or crept through the slats of the fence. Discarded fronds drop like dead birds from the palm trees in an adjoining lot and every period of gusty winds carries plant detritus into my territory. 

But there is hope; a slow and steady process of deforestation is underway.   

The removal of a dilapidated pergola left an ugly, filthy hole. A heavy down pour would transform it into a stagnant lake suitable only for breeding mosquitoes or mud wrestling. Rather than extending the lawn, I had it covered with attractive paver stones. Incidentally, the area of my new patio is roughly the same size as the bedroom in my former Queens apartment.

Slide the bar back and forth to witness the Before and After
Victory at the Battle of Bull Rock

New gutters and a state-of-the art drainage system have been added to make the backyard less of a soggy marshland no matter how much it rains. Keeping with the masonry theme, a ton of bull rock, with a weed barrier underneath, provides one meter of plant free trim between the turf and the house’s foundation.

My HOA has strict guidelines for street facing property but they are far more lenient with what goes on out back. This is bad news for a pair of prehistoric looking fig trees that appear to have lost the will to live. They flourished all summer, comical leaves reaching to the sunny sky. I harvested several desserts worth of fresh fruit, and while figs are not something I seek out on my own, it was fun getting farm-to-table food for free. 

Prime Figs from Happy Trees

Now the poor twins have drooped. Many of their leaves are yellowing and their limbs crawl on the ground like groveling supplicants. Perhaps they are begging for the water I draining from their roots.

It may not sound very Zen to destroy life but that plot of grotesque black mulch where the fig trees are currently floundering is a perfect spot for smooth pink and white stones raked in circular patterns around a few low maintenance cactuses. 

Houston Dream Home

April 29, 2021 § Leave a comment

It’s been four months since moving to Houston and so far I have lived through the coldest weather in 100 years and the deprivations it delivered upon us. I have survived several revolutions around the metropolis on the 610 “Insaneway” and a Spring Break at Port Aransas.

Eaten alive in Port Aransas. It’s really a metaphor for the Texas real estate market.

All of these life threatening experiences are nothing, however, when compared to what I have endured in the crucible of Houston’s real estate market. And not just Houston proper either. The hamlets of Magnolia, Katy, Spring, Tomball, Humble and the Woodlands are confidence men in this shell game.

I think I have seen over thirty listings in just a few days. The only thing more depressing than picking through the remains someone has left behind is, well, trying to buy it.

Homeownership is something I have avoided for nigh on 20 years. Not because I feel the need to spurn worldly possessions due to they suffering they cause but by virtue of living in overpriced New York City. Perhaps I could have purchased a house in Gotham but I was unwilling to fork over a million bucks for a standup bedroom with a half bath.

Apartments in Houston are palatial in comparison (as in aside, in New York it is pronounced House – Ton, like the film maker). But unless you enjoy living through Spring Break in Port A every weekend, an H-Town housing complex is no place for you.

The only thing more depressing than picking through the remains someone has left behind is, well, trying to buy it.

It’s always a party in Port A

Something about low interest rates that I don’t understand has made houses in Texas as scarce as good Italian food. Adding scores of Yankee*** refugees to the equation only makes things worse. My agent, who will be eligible for sainthood or the Peace Prize after the market stabilizes, has remained doggedly persistent and a favorable outcome is hopefully in sight.

My Dune goes to 11

If it doesn’t workout this time I am considering selling all my basses and guitars and investing in a sporty RV and going mobile like the Who.

That way I can live in as many places as I want, albeit in a Big Apple shoebox, but at least I can have a different front lawn whenever I choose. A year of beach front property only sets you back a measly $12 in the Texas Republic. Pull up, park and begin a new life as a beach bum from the Jimmy Buffet School of Ne’er-do-wells. You can do a lot worse than Port A or Padre Island.

Good luck finding your dream home.

***Disclaimer: John Truelove was born and raised in Bedford County, Virginia. He is not a real Yankee.

T for Texas

February 1, 2021 § Leave a comment

McGovern Centennial Gardens

I have moved to Texas, Houston, to be exact. After over 20 years in NYC I finally threw a dart at a map and headed west. “I loved the crime and the traffic but it just was NOT hot and humid enough,” as that old bon mot goes. The time was right to escape. The events of 2020 destroyed everything I liked about the city, I started feeling less and less safe and I didn’t want to be trapped under the rubble when the metropolis finally collapsed under its own weight.

In other news, I have a car for the first time in over 20 years, a condition that will only add to Houston’s vehicular congestion and another …er..um… imperfect motorist to a population already replete with drivers on the offensive. (At least when they aren’t busy backing into a parking spot – a peculiar Houston idiosyncrasy)

Galveston Beach

Things are refreshingly different here. For instance, the weather is mild. As of this post a good old fashioned nor’easter is dumping two feet of snow on my old home. Snow is only fun once a year, the first fall of the season, and then only if you are inside with no where to be and a drink in your hand. It is isn’t quite mild enough to perform my famous cannonball off the swimming pool high dive, however, although the clear blue of her undulating skin beckons. This amenity is another first. Access to a pool in Gotham required a steep membership fee and 6 a.m. lane reservations. Yawn.

It was not warm enough over the extended weekend in January to go plunging into the Gulf of Mexico but walks on Galveston beach and delicious Pier Beer in the warm sunshine was pleasant, indeed. Having this new car sure is handy for getting away for the weekend. Corpus Christi and San Antonio are next on the road trip list and beloved Lafayette and New Orleans have never been more accessible.

I am going to miss my friends. I am going to miss walking home from my favorite bars. I am going to miss my band Dixie Automatic. Yes, ironically enough I was in a New York band called Dixie Automatic. It was a good group and we always had a lot of fun together playing Country music for Yankee hipsters.

Below is a sample from a live show in NYC before they boarded the place up.

Honeymoon by Dixie Automatic

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