DAY 1, APRIL 5, 2016
Hello everybody! Houston, we have a touchdown… 🙂
Greetings from the city founded by two Allen brothers in 1836, named after Sam Houston whose victory at San Jacinto the same year secured Texas’ independence from Mexico and the founding of Republic of Texas as an independent country; a city built by oil in the 20th century; a scientific hub which became famous in 1969 as the home base for NASA’s lunar missions; and “Houston, we have a problem”-quote from the Apollo XIII flight.
Well, that’s sort of a mouthful, isn’t it? But it does encapsulate almost two centuries of Texas history in one sentence.
Long Overdue Visit
I landed here on Tuesday evening, however, not to do history research but to visit two longtime friends from Serbia. Our fathers west of friends. My Houston friend’s father was my Godfather. And so the last two surviving sons are now left to carry on the family traditions. The last time I came to visit my friend in Houston was 18 years ago. So another get-together was long overdue.
That’s all I am going to say about that. The rest of the two evenings we spent together shall remain private.
I checked myself into a cute B&B within a walking distance of my friend’s home. It’s really three large townhomes in a quiet residential neighborhood that have been converted into a B&B of about a dozen or spacious rooms. Based on the owner’s description, sounds like a small art colony.
The place had no markings that I could see, so it was a challenge to find it, especially from someone out of town. As it turns out, I eventually parked my car just outside my apartment without realizing it.
Here are some pictures of this quiet corner at Hazard and Barnard streets (above). The vegetation is lush and it includes some exotic plants that also grow in Hawaii.
Here are now also some pictures of the interior – the common breakfast area.
DAY 2, APRIL 6, 2016
The next morning was overcast. Light rain also fell for a short whilel. So I gave myself first a tour of the Galleria, a famous indoor mall that houses 400 shops and an indoor skating rink
Natural Science Museum
The sun started to peek through the clouds in the afternoon, so I headed out to a lovely park right in downtown Houston which also houses the Museum of Natural Sciences.
The first thing that was interesting to see was a big sun dial at the entrance to the museum. It sort of reminded me of an actually bigger one that Elizabeth and I frequently visit in Carefree, Arizona.
Another pleasant surprise was seeing a replica of this huge Black Marlin which was caught off the coast of Peru in 1953. It served as a visual inspiration for makers of the film The Old Man and the Sea, based on Ernest Hemingway’s Nobel prize-winning 1952 novel.
There was also an interesting art exhibit of sculptures made out of very interesting gems and minerals. Here are some examples…
But best part of the afternoon was a private tour I had with a museum expert on ancient Egypt. It would be impossible to reproduce all of our lively discussions that ene attracted eavesdroppers from among other visitors. So I will just share these pictures and only one story.
Shabti – Those Who Answer
If you studied ancient Egyptian history, you probably remember being taught that when royal Egyptians died and were entombed with them, so were their servants, right?
And your reaction was probably, “euw… that’s gross!”
Don’t worry. That was a myth.
How do we know that now?
Thanks, in part, to Rosetta Stone. Discovered by the French soldiers in 1799, Rosetta Stone dates back to 196 BC. That’s when Egypt was a multilingual society under the occupation of Greece (see the Egypt history timeline graph below).
This single archeological find helped us unlock the mystery of ancient Egyptian history. Because prior to its discovery, we had not idea how to read the Egyptian hieroglyphic or demotic languages.
Interestingly, Rosetta Stone was actually a mere tax receipt, carved in hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek languages. And since we knew ancient Greek, voila – that unlocked the mystery of the other two Egyptian languages.
Anyway, back to the servants of deceased Egyptian nobility, what actually happened was that instead of entombing live servants, symbolic images of them were painted inside tombs to aid the deceased in the afterworld. This practice then evolved into the use of small statuettes known as Shabti (the word means “those who answer”). So the Shabti are basically the servant avatars.
The ancient Egyptians believed in life everlasting. So Shabti was a small human figure representing a person who would perform a given task for the deceased in the afterlife. Unsurprisingly, wealthy nobles and royalty did not plan on doing any work themselves and so they would take their (symbolic) servants with them.
Early versions (Shabti or Shabtiu) were modeled to represent the task that they would perform and given tiny tools etc with which to complete their tasks. Later on Shawabti (and Ushabti) were inscribed with a magical formula which would activate them (see below). Shabti were made from various materials including; faience, wax, clay, wood, stone, terracotta and, occasionally, glass and bronze.
Special Gift from Museum’s Egyptology Curator
At the end of the tour, Rich, the museum curator who gave me the tour, said, “wait a minute, I want to give you something.”
He opened a pouch about 4″ x 6″ and started to rifle through it. He then pulled out three small teeth and said, “open your hand.”
He dropped the three teeth into my hand saying, “these are sharks teeth from West Africa. They are thousands of years old. And I want you to have them.”
I was stunned. “But why?” I muttered.
“Because you are evidently a well-traveled and highly educated man. I have seldom enjoyed myself during a tour as I did today with you. So I wanted to say, ‘thanks’ with this small gift.”
I was still stunned. And moved.
“Wow,” I said. “That’s really, really kind of you. I am deeply touched.”
We shook hands and parted company. I was still shaking my hand in disbelief looking at these shark’s teeth.
“What an amazing and unusual gesture,” I thought. “What a knowledgeable AND kind curator.”
Native Americans Exhibit
After spending an hour or so in Egypt, I went over to a very interesting exhibit about the Native Americas – the Aztecs, the Mayans and the Incas.
I finished my visit to the museum with a self-guided Paleontology tour. This is apparently one of the best exhibits of ancient dinosaur skeletons that go back 50 to 100 million years. Some of the smaller creatures’ skeletons were over 500 million years old.
DAY 3, APRIL 7, 2016
Visit to the NASA Space Center
The NASA Space Center is based on a 35,000-acre property about an hour’s drive south of Houston. I remember being there once before, in 1979, but the parts of the space program accessible by the public were minuscule compared to now. I thoroughly enjoyed the tram tour and the visits to various parts of the Space Center.
Here are some photos from that visit…
Here’s also a short video clip…
GREETINGS FROM THE ORBITER CAPSULE AT NASA SPACE CENTER
When Elizabeth first saw my Orbiter360 video clip from Houston, she played it three times expecting to hear some audio. There was none, of course, in the original clip.
When I watched the same clip afterward, I started to hear the sounds of trumpets from “Charge of the Light Cavalry” overture by Franz von Suppe.
And now, I’ve put it all together into a 44-second video clip using my own Dec 2015 recording of this overture….