OffCite invites short essays, reviews, and observations on specific moments and places. Interested in contributing your own? Let us know.
The way the girls kept their distance made me think the dog wasn’t theirs. They stood in their yard facing each other but looking across their shoulders at the small dying animal in front of the house. If it was theirs, maybe they were so disturbed by its death – the violence and uncertainty – that they left him alone. The woman who hit the dog was the only one who gave any impression of urgency. But she stood impotently outside the car looking and wouldn’t move past the open driver’s side door. Death is ultimately a private moment. The dog was still and quiet in the road.
I drove slowly past this scene in Hearne, Texas, on the way to see my grandmother. I had traveled the two hours northwest from my home in Houston because of a story I remember my grandfather telling me nearly a decade before he died. So many years later, I wasn’t sure if I had made it up or gathered it from a movie or book and added it to my memories of him. It was about a grave in the middle of a road. A cemetery had been moved, a body left behind, and now cars had to drive around the headstone. I hoped that my grandmother had heard the story, and that, true or not, she would remember where it came from.
I licked it. In Grand Saline, Texas, I licked the Salt Palace, the country’s largest, and probably only, building constructed partially out of stone-sized chunks of rock salt.
Grand Saline, population 3,300, is about an hour east of Dallas. The town sits on a 20,000-foot-thick deposit formed during the Permian Age that could salt the entire country for another 20,000 years, were it the only one that remained. That deposit has been overseen since 1920 by various iterations of Morton Salt, which now operates a shaft that plunges more than 750 feet down. Unfortunately, the mine is no longer open to the public. Photographs and a 20-minute video inside the Salt Palace Museum and Visitors Center show a cavernous interior that is dry and white — like a hollowed-out Moon or a more savory version of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.
The chunks that come up out of there are saltier and kickier than you’d think, potent enough to send you into a full-body pucker. (And kosher, too, in case you’re wondering. Grand Saline invited a rabbi to bless the entire deposit.) It’s an acquired taste. The chunks I was given as souvenirs I kept for months in the center console in my Honda, and I kept popping them in my mouth for reasons that are best unexplored here.
At the March 29 Cigna Sunday Streets HTX along Westheimer, OffCite teamed up with photographer Rashed Haq and his family to continue the Love Is Everyday project. As I noted previously on OffCite, public displays of affection (PDA) are a barometer for a healthy public realm. PDA shows that people feel safe and open to sharing beauty and joy. Houstonian’s penchant for private life undermines the flowering of our fullest potential, and this project is a playful intervention.
We invited passersby at the Westheimer Sunday Streets to display affection for the camera. All the participants, including notable figures like Mayor Annise Parker and writer Lacy Johnson, signed an agreement that their photographs could be shared. The photographs were taken in front of the once-muraled Mary’s wall (now Blacksmith coffee shop) and Chances (now Hay Merchant), gay and lesbian bars that were at the center of Houston’s queer community. The participants show a continuation of Montrose counterculture, we hope, by paying homage to those sites with locked lips, side hugs, and other affections. Enjoy this selection. You can see more of the photographs Saturday, April 18, 5 pm – 9 pm at the Spring Street Studios Spring Biannual Art Opening (1824 Spring Street, Studio #213).
Also mark your calendars for Sunday Streets at 19th Street in the Heights on April 26 and Navigation Boulevard on May 17.
The road to the Creation Evidence Museum of Texas was blocked. Just outside of Glen Rose, the two-lane 1001 is crossed by the Paluxy River, which splits off from the Brazos a few miles away. I passed small ranches until the pavement ended and the road funneled down to a rocky ford. That morning, the water was running so high I had to put my Honda into reverse and take the long way around.
Just upstream from there you can see in the riverbed hundreds of fossilized tracks of the Paluxysaurus and Acrocanthosaurus, dating back, most paleontologists agree, to the Cretaceous Period, the last era before dinosaurs went extinct around 65 million years ago. Dr. Carl Baugh, who founded the Creation Evidence Museum in 1984, claims that you can also see fossilized “man tracks.” For Dr. Baugh, these tracks show that Man and Dinosaur co-existed, refuting theories of evolution and proving that Earth was created by God about 6,000 years ago.
His Creation Evidence Museum houses a variety of objects thus appointed: fossils, Bibles, bones. The building, a two-story rock cabin with a peaked roof and walls of sun-stained Plexiglas, is long and narrow with an open plan on the inside. Perched on a short hill and shaded by a few trees, it’s flanked by portables and a prefabricated shed and backs up to the Paluxy. Dr. Baugh, a trained Baptist minister now in his late 70s, has said that the museum receives about 15,000 visitors a year, many of them making a kind of pilgrimage to see what he alone can show them.
One of the most intimate moments I’ve ever come across between two people is a personal anecdote the poet Mary Ruefle relates in her book Madness, Rack, and Honey. She describes finding herself in a Belgian taxicab on a Sunday night in 1969, when her driver began exclaiming something in Flemish, a language she did not understand. As the driver pulled over to the side of the road and got out of the car, she recalled that this was about the time the Americans were supposed to land on the moon. When he pointed to the moon, she nodded, and they observed it together in silence for a few moments. Then they drove on.
Although these two strangers did no more than stand beside each other, the intensity of their shared awe is as moving as a joyous public display of affection between an affectionate couple. Our photographer here, Rashed Haq, whose work has been exhibited nationally in over a dozen juried shows in the last two years, talks about being fascinated by these couples’ disappearance into a universe of their own. In his series “Love is Everyday,” he is drawn in by their joint aura; sometimes even finding himself able to anticipate their shift into an increasingly private shared mental space.
In his seminal essay about Los Angeles, “You Have to Pay for Public Life” (1965), Charles Moore writes that Disneyland “is engaging in replacing many of those elements of the public realm which have vanished in the featureless private floating world of southern California, whose only edge is the ocean and whose center is otherwise undiscoverable.” Phillip Lopate made a similar argument about Houston in his 1984 essay for Cite in which he describes our “almost sensational lack of convivial public space.”
Whenever Valentine’s Day comes around, I think about how public displays of affection (PDA) are a barometer for a healthy public realm. PDA shows that people feel safe and open to sharing beauty and joy. Houston has a sensational lack of PDA. You have to pay for public displays here.
Buildering: Misbehaving the City looks into our shared spaces. With very few exceptions, the works are set in cities — specifically, city streets. A wall text opening the show mentions “modernist architecture’s mechanical segregation of work and play” (ref. Alison and Peter Smithson). A touchpoint for me in the show is Bernard Rudofsky’s 1969 book, Streets For People. He critiques the American city for what it isn’t: human-scaled, inhabitable. Rudofsky sees an American society, going back to the 1700s, in which “our streets have become roads.” My medicine in childhood for the condition Rudofsky describes was Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Streets.” The song took off with an ecstatic roar and promised freedom. Very meaningful in 1964, when the American city street was the scene of riot and fear. The song offered a big reconciliation.
A thread throughout Buildering is play. The tools are disruption, rearrangement of attention, and surprise. Creative play emerges as a way of re-entering our shared space on our own terms. The international artists of Buildering find the human form, the space one takes up, the finger’s touch, in the vacant space around us. They repopulate our city world with relationships that we hunger for.
I recently traveled to Seoul, Korea, for work and wasn’t really prepared for what to expect from the second-largest metropolitan area in the world (more than 25 million people, which makes Houston seem like a provincial village in comparison). Seoul is a bustling city, huge and sprawling with lots of traffic. Smack-dab in the middle is Cheonggyecheon, a stream that runs through the center of town, not unlike Houston’s bayous. And, not unlike Houston’s bayous, Cheonggyecheon received an tremendous application of concrete in the 1950s. In another grand Houston tradition, an elevated highway was then built on top of it.
Eventually Seoul leaders were faced with “such grave issues as the decreased aesthetic value of the city coupled with concerns for safety and security,” states a nearby plaque. And “citizens of Seoul who were more sensitive to environmental-friendly ways of thinking agreed that it should be restored as a clean stream.” The story of the restoration is remarkable in its own right. Below is a photoessay documenting my experience of the place.
After a successful pilot project last spring, Mayor Annise Parker has brought back Sunday Streets HTX. The three routes this fall are October 12 in the Heights along 19th Street; November 2 in the Greater Third Ward along Dowling, West Alabama, and Almeda; and December 7 in the East End and Fifth Ward along Navigation and York. These streets will be open to pedestrians and bicyclists from noon to 4 pm to encourage walking, running, dancing, or riding with friends and family.