Every city, I suppose, has its hidden gems – unusual museums that focus on some limited aspect of life and exceed your expectations because of the genuine love and enthusiasm for their subject. This day we focused on two in Houston, plus some additional urban gems, all within biking distance of my Knowledgeable Friends’s central Houston digs.
First, the Museum of Printing History, a true gem. I expected a dusty little place with some etchings about Gutenberg and some old typewriters, maybe. Instead we found a bright new one-story building which included a working copy of Gutenberg’s first press, hand-crafted to match the original, on which the docent, with the aid of several amazed and delighted Cub Scouts on a field trip, printed a duplicate of a page from the Gutenberg Bible. Next, we proceeded to a replica of Benjamin Franklin’s printing press, on which the docent with similar aid, ran off a copy of the Declaration of Independence as originally printed in Philadelphia. Awesome!
In a separate gallery was a stop-you-in-your-tracks exhibition of poster prints, some for sale ($500-$700 ea) of posters designed and printed by the Swiss artist Hans Erni.
We had to breeze by a series of front pages of historic events ranging from the bombing of Fort Sumter through the sinking of the Titanic to the election of Obama – each one worth careful perusal to find out what ELSE was going on that day.
Next, the Art Car Museum. This was similar to the Kinectic Sculpture museum in Ferndale, but based on the annual Art Car parade in Houston. Since the vehicles did not have to dive off a 15-foot sand dune or be paddled across Humboldt Bay, they are not subject to the limitations of gravity or flotability. Amazingly silly. My favorite was the giant rabbit with sharks fangs about to devour a basket of little bunnies, chicks and lambs.
We biked over the freeway and picnicked elegantly on chicken-mango-yogurt salad on AkMak crackers in White Oak Park, a reclaimed railroad right-of-way with spectacular views of downtown Houston. Passing through central Houston on the way home, we stopped to rest at Discovery Green next to MinuteMaid Park and the Toyota Center (homes of baseball and basketball respectively) and discovered a Vietnamese Music Festival in progress. We saw a Vietnamese hip hop group in action, sharing our view space with the Lion Dancers who had evidently performed earlier, their t-shirts contrasting oddly with their lion-dance.
This evening, back to the Houston Fine Arts Museum for a gala premiere – the first US showing of France’s biggest movie blockbuster of the year in France . It is called The Intouchables, and will not be released in the US until this summer. The Weinstein Group (which distributed The Artist in the US) has already purchased the remake rights (maybe with Dustin Hoffaman and Eddie Murphy?) The audience was jammed with French speakers, the film was introduced by the French consul at Houston. Apparently this film has been seen by at leat one in 20 Frenchmen. (Variety hated it.)
So – everything from Cub Scouts to couture – a truly metropolitan day!