Saturday, January 28, 2006

The American way of life

I live in a very small apartment built at the back of a house, looking not so much like the plan B in the architect’s mind than plan Y, but still a cosy place, as you can see in the picture. It shows the "garden" as we like to call it, and my door, and ALSO - the window to my room!! :) One important detail about American construction: it is fast. In 3 months, they can build a “hacienda” from scratch, but mind you, if the three little piggies had chosen an American house to hide from the big bad wolf, they would have become crunchy slices of bacon before they knew it. The walls are very thin, and seem to be made of not much more than paper. Maybe it’s just Texas… after all, this is a hurricane area. Maybe people got tired of building solid things that got blown away anyway, I don’t know.


Back to the point. In my apartment there are other 2 people living, a Colombian girl named Karen and a Mexican guy named Lohengrin. Do you see a pattern here? What became of Maria and Jose?! Well, Karen’s story I don’t know, but Lohengrin has this name because his father was very fond of Wagner’s music, and therefore decided to name him after one of Wagner’s operas, much to his happiness, I’m sure. Luckily, I bet that Lohengrin’s school companions did not know this is the opera the famous nuptial march comes from, otherwise his childhood would have been much worse... Anyway, both Karen and Lohengrin are nice people, friendly enough PLUS, they don’t have the bad habit of playing drums loudly like my previous housemates. Hehehe. Not that I minded… I mean, here, with these shaky things mimicking solid surfaces they call walls, you can hear everything, as if it were in your own room. And I shall say no more.
And with Karen I had the first attack of “Europeanitis”. Two weeks ago, I was invited to go to a pub by my Italian neighbours and also invited my housemates, and Karen replied with a “I can’t have beer”. I left with the feeling that the poor girl was sick, maybe taking antibiotic, which is more or less the only reason why I would deny a beer… Then I found out she was underaged, that is, less than 21, and that was why she couldn’t drink. This was the first detail that really made me realize I am in America now. I don’t know anyone in Portugal, or the Netherlands for that matter, that would let a minor thing like “laws” get in the way between them and a bit of fun.
Therefore, while sitting in an Irish Pub in Houston, TX (yes, Irish pubs do look all the same everywhere), I sipped my Corona (produto importado de Mexico) with extra pleasure, happy that the wisdom that apparently comes with age allows me to do the same stupid things any teenager would do, right under the approving eye of Law and Order.

So, you may ask, what IS there to do in Houston? Well. Not much. I heard the museums are very good, though. The only thing I saw so far was the Butterfly Tower, which is a building located at the Natural History Museum that simulates a tropical environment and where you can see hundreds of butterflies fluttering around you…


Needless to say I was deeply in love with the place at first sight. You enter this extremely moist place, with exotic plants everywhere, and butterflies, like the one in the picture, flying around you, almost landing on your hands, shoulders and head, of all colours and shapes… It is really beautiful… There is also an iguana, and I managed to take a picture of it, which was quite difficult despite it being very still, because there was a swarm of people around it saying in a very American way: “is it real???? Yes, it’s real, look at it moving!!! It’s moving, dad, come and look!!” Well, shiiiit, I thought to myself, why would they put a plastic iguana there? I mean, why not then put plastic plants and plastic butterflies? Dude, these guys are like soooo stupid. Yeah, they really talk like this. And then I managed to squeeze in and take a picture of the poor iguana that was probably feeling like a scaly greenish version of Lady Di. By the way, in the Natural History Museum there is also an exhibition about Princess Diana. Don’t ask why... Dinosaurs to the left, Diana to the right… makes A LOT of sense.


After you leave the butterfly greenhouse, you step into the entomological exhibition, which is extremely good, I must say. It’s like Entomology ( = study of insects) 101 and it really touches every important point there is to know about insects… If you want to wander around, you can, and don’t pay much attention to details, but if you’re curious to know more, you can spend your whole afternoon there, reading the posters, with very accurate information about mimicry, plant-insect interactions, mutualisms (a whole poster dedicated to leaf cutter ants in Texas, ANIEK!!!), life-cycles, development, wow! I loved it. My Italian neighbours, with whom I went, weren’t that much interested in the giant cockroaches (the biggest are the ones from Madagascar, I shit you not, I’m never ever ever going there…), black-widows and horned-beetles, and I had to hurry through the exhibition so that they wouldn’t be waiting for me eternally…

My Italian neighbours!!! I still didn’t tell you about them. Valeria and Alessandro are both computer geeks and working in networks. They are here for 6 months like me, but Alessandro has already done almost all of his time, ehehe. He’s leaving in the end of February. Valeria will stay here the same time as me. They are both very nice, and so far my weekend plans have been with them. They live in the same 2426 Quenby, but in other parts of the house, actually you can see Valeria's front door in the next picture. They are lucky enough to have their own studio each, with private space, private bathroom, etc. No, I’m not complaining. Well, ok, I am.


Ok, that’s it for today. I’m going to the University now to plate some Klebsiella aerogenes! Ehehe. Great fun, really. Seriously.

Monday, January 23, 2006

This may be the beginning of a beautiful frienship…

Between me and my brand new blog! That’s right, folks! I decided to take a leaf out of many other’s books and write a weblog to maintain everyone who is interested informed of my life here in the other end of the world (a.k.a., USA). Of course, it’ll have to be in English, otherwise I would receive angry emails from my non-portuguese friends, so… This is the beginning.
I’ve been in the US for two weeks, now, more specifically in the wonderful city of Houston, state of Texas. My first impressions match completely the famous saying that everything in Texas is BIG. From cars, to streets, to houses, advertisements, malls, and the campus of Rice University, where I’m doing my second master thesis, everything is really huge. And they have space for that and much more, and still have immense national parks, where Nature is barely touched. So you can imagine, coming from the spatially challenged country that is the Netherlands, I felt quite relieved at the beginning to finally be able to see wide open space, huge trees, and most of all, the SUN!!!!!! 21 degrees Celsius welcomed me to Houston. What else could I want?!
Only 5 days later, however, my feelings towards the excess of space that exists here were a bit different. Given the difficulty that arises with going from point A to point B without a car (and by car I mean of course at least a station wagon, nothing small, please…), I started to consider the distances abusive and personally insulting. Why the hell did I leave the Netherlands, where I could easily get on my bike and cycle for forty minutes under rain and wind to get to my university, to come here where I have to WALK for forty minutes under the steaming sun to get to a minimally interesting place, intellectually-wise???? Hmmm. It gives me something to think about, that’s for sure…
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I even bought a second-hand bike to keep the tradition, but the truth is it will not get me further than the university, because going anywhere further than that involves a serious risk of being run over by a speeding Land Rover. There are no special ways for bikes, and there is no special respect for people on them… It is a battlefield out there, ladies and gentlemen, so don’t forget your helmets and always give way to the big fast car coming towards you! Luckily (?), the buses here are less dangerous than in the Netherlands, but that is only due to the fact that there are so few of them. They go by at least every half an hour, which is great if you are time constrained, as you can imagine…
As for the question you have all been dying to ask: are Texans really as stupid as they are depicted? Well, I’m afraid I can’t help you there. In my lab, only one guy speaks with this terrible Texan accent, and while I’m always expecting to hear extremely daft things from his mouth (hey, he even looks the part: big, blond, muscled, typical jock!), he keeps disappointing me by saying quite intelligent things… :( So that’s one myth down the drain. The rest of the people here are from all sorts of places in the US. Plus, in my lab there is only one republican, as my supervisor was quick in telling me, as soon as I got out of the plane. That means the chance of finding stupid people is even smaller… Oh, well. I’ll keep you posted, though, as my search for the true Texan proceeds.
For those who are wondering, I’ll let you know more about where I live, how I live, with whom I live, etc, in further posts. For now, I think I’ll rest my case. Ana versus the USA, the verdict is… not guilty. There is reasonable doubt, for now…