Monday, August 31, 2009

Getting Slaughtered on Harrisburg

Along Harrisburg Road, near Eastwood Park in Houston's East End, Metro's new light rail line construction is tearing up the road and diverting traffic. Media coverage has been plentiful, including an editorial in the Chron about the the preservation of an Art Deco landmark building.
According to the paper, the former Sterling Laundry building with its clock tower and streamlined shape will have its facade saved and perhaps even moved across the street to a site in Eastwood Park.
Built in 1935, the stylish one-story building was designed by local architect, Sol R Slaughter, who also designed a home in Idylwood that same year.
That's a curious last name, Slaughter. It brings to mind a special drink that's served at Tony Mandola's Gulf Coast Kitchen on West Gray. It's called the Slaughter Special and it's named after former regular customer and patron lawyer, Arthur Slaughter. Could he have been a son, or grandson of Sol Slaughter, the architect with the East End connection?
If you need a cool drink on this last day of August, here's the recipe for the Slaughter Special:

the Slaughter Special
from the bar of Tony Mandola's, Houston TX.
Fill a snifter glass with ice
Add a shot of Pimm's Cup
Top off with Good Champagne
Finish by rubbing the lip of the snifter with a lemon twist
And throw the lemon twist into the drink
Maybe someone could order it at Harry's in San Miguel de Allende, in memory of Arthur.
Gone but not shaken.

photo credit:
Love your site!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Best Drinks in Town

"Keep writing and connecting my two favorite places.", writes Billie of Billieblog & of San Miguel de Allende.
Here's one the East End of Houston, we come right out and tell you where to get the finest mixed drinks in Houston.

In San Miguel, you might need to buy a book, or a guide, or take a tour or something.

The sorry-looking photo above was shot from my truck window today, somewhere on Telephone Road.
Here's the link for very good photos and commentary along the food and drink trails of both
SMA & Houston -
I love this Happy Go Lucky sign. It hangs over a squat, windowless, metal building on a dusty parking lot. It's the embodiment of the word pathos. During the day, without the neon, it's even more pathetic and less happy- go-lucky.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

El Zapa the shoemaker from San Miguel de Allende

In planning my second trip to San Miguel de Allende in 1997 I decided to find someone who could make me a pair of sandals. I drove downtown to the Houston Central Public library (pre-internet days) and researched footwear (calzado) in books about Mexican Folk art and crafts. I copied this black and white photo of shoes from one of those books, took it with me to San Miguel, and looked around for someone to do the job.

The Mercado de Artesanias seemed like the logical place. I found a leather goods shop there and bought a couple of belts, and a quirky pair of huaraches that looked like the ones in the top far left of the photo. The shopkeeper directed me down a side street and told me the guy I needed for custom made shoes was called, El Zapa. He said "You can't miss his shop, it has his name and a big swastika out front." So off I went, and he was easy to find. I didn't know if I really wanted to enter a shop with a swastika sign. It started to feel like a set-up, surely bad things were about to happen. El Zapa turned out to be a very lively, very skinny, very competent shoemaker. He listened to my ideas and told me in 2 weeks I'd have my shoes. Both pairs. We agreed that he would ship them to Houston. We also agreed to disagree about the swastika. He claimed that it was a symbol that predated Nazi Germany by thousands of years, and that they desecrated it, but he was reclaiming it. It's a beautiful graphic to him and why should it forever be associated with only Hitler. I couldn't shake him from that stance. He was a bit curious about a single gal walking the streets looking for a shoemaker, so he offered to show me around for the day. We went to Los Pozos in his black VW Beetle. He talked enthusiastically about healthy eating and munched on a raw cucumber like it was an apple all the way there. He swam in thermal waters while I wandered around the picnic area. Later, back in town, he showed me where he and his family lived, and the progress of his home remodeling. I was looking for that one on one connection with people that live in San Miguel, and I found El Zapa. I didn't have to pry information from him. He talked freely and proudly about his shop, his home, his town, his Mexico. He never came on to me or made inappropriate remarks. I think that we were kindred spirits in that he saw something different drop into his shop that day and he decided to look up from his work and check it out. Later that week, on my way out of town I checked back to see about the shoes and say goodbye. He stopped his work and accompanied me to the central de Buses. He carried a heavy box of tile for me, out of the taxi and into the cargo bin. Spontaneity and kindness, and no humidity. Ahhh...SMA. 2 weeks later my shoes arrived in Houston as promised. No contract, no Visa Card, just cold, rumpled pesos. And a note, with his address.
One of the pairs of shoes was similar to Ked's tennis shoes, but all in brown leather.
The other was a set of bohemian huaraches with a design based on the ones in the top right of the photo. Chepo always admired those sandals on me. (click on photo for leather details)
Today, in our own remodeling mess, I find the photo in a box marked "Mexico". There's no address or note from El Zapa. And the last time I was in SMA, I forgot to look for his shop, with
that damned sign.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Oh Bois! My Best Idea for the East End

There is so much ground to cover, literally, that I can't concern myself with a lovely cohesive post. Babs of San Miguel once wrote on her blog, "I'm not a writer, I'm a chronicler." or something like that. That's so insightful, but not really true. She's a natural. Me, I run over my words trying to make a point. But some things are worth doing poorly until I get enough experience to be better. Writing about the Next San Miguel de Allende, Houston's East End, is one of those things.
Hidalgo Park has a 2 softball fields, one mini waterpark playground, paved walkways, and a large elevated bandstand/gazebo. The gazebo, given to the city by a group of Mexican-Americans, has railings made of lightweight concrete that mimick the form and texture of wood. Called "faux bois", and translated "false wood", the style adds a natural, organic touch to the bandstand. It's quirky and memorable but not a maestro level of execution of the craft.
But, I think we should take what we been so generously given, and run with it.
The Faux Bois should become the signature design element of the East End, the visual watermark, its unique visual identity.
(all polling is now closed.)
As mentioned previously, the Galleria has its chrome street jewelry, the Heights has
the Victorian Homes, Upper Kirby has the red London phone booths, Bourbon St has the iron balcony, and ....San Miguel de EastEnd could have the surprise and magic of faux bois, along with real trees in esplanades, in conical shapes a la Jardin style.
Obvious places for use of faux bois: "wood" park benches, "wood" bus and Metro stops, "wood"
arches to mark entrances to parks & trails, "wood" landscaping where traffic is heavy, "tree"
light poles. Here are some photos of these same ideas that I took in San Antonio about 15 years ago.

More on this in the next post.

Oh Bois! Faux Bois for the East End-cont'd

The funny thing is that TxDot is already trying to do a touch of faux bois
on its structural bridge columns. For 2 decades they've had an in-house policy that any new under/over pass columns need to be more artistic. You may have seen examples of this in Bellaire along 610, in SugarLand along new stretches of 59S, out in Katy along I-10. Columns have been
embedded with Texas Stars, Tx flags, recently, I saw some with sides of wood grain concrete along I-10E & Kelly Rd, and also west out 290, near the town of Hempstead. Nice cigar.
For the pleasure of all the pilgrims, retirees, GI Bill soldiers, artists and renegades that are sure to flock to the East End, we need a master to take us into a deeply funky, whole hog visual commitment of the art and the craft of faux bois. (We also might need an americanized version of the's getting tedious writing and pronoucing faux bois in my head as I post this. Suggestions?) And that master could be Carlos Cortes of San Antonio. Here's his website. I've met him. Very friendly. That's Carlo's work in the photo above, at the San Antonio Riverwalk. What a heritage! If he's too busy, maybe the guys at Taller Fence and Ironwork could dip their hands in the concrete. The man that can forge this door, couldn't he forge some concrete, too? Not yet!
more master quality faux bois can be found by clicking the link below.

Can you envision this for the East End?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Boat Launch at Forest Park Lawndale

This photo was taken at the new bike path, looking north from the
bridge at Lawndale towards the golf course.

I can understand that the industrial use of Ship Channel prohibits
its recreational use. But, here is Brays Bayou, about a mile from
its beginnings at the Ship Channel. What a scene! Couldn't we
have a small boat launch here? Canoes like on Austin's Town Lake? Along with rigourous patrol and clean up?

Couldn't we have this?