New Year’s Day we took it easy at home. I was a little queasy in the morning, predictably, and I wasn’t quite sure I was going to make it brunch, but I managed to pull through and join everyone at the table. I’m glad I did. Nearly every breakfast and meal was a feast, served up with meticulously measured and prepared coffee. Dad doesn’t use a thermometer to make sure that the water hits the right temperature, but maybe next time we’re in Houston.
In the afternoon, I joined Tay on the couch to watch back to back episodes of “Jeopardy” which is always a lazy good time. Alex Trebek’s loathing for the contestants and his own existence is palpable, and it’s fun to test each other’s trivial knowledge.
That night, we took two ubers to dinner at Caracol, a “gulf Mexican” restaurant by the same owners as Hugo’s. We were clearly with a new uber driver because he got lost finding us, and then talked nervously about his 21 year old daughter having problems in university. Anyway, we got there with everyone working together. We were all dressed up for the evening, both brothers in bow ties, Tay in his velvet jacket, and Saori in a silky gold blouse. The food was excellent. I liked my bacon wrapped shrimp, but grandma Loretta won with a simple grilled fish with salsa and grilled mexican vegetables, if memory serves. Saori got a mixed seafood plate which was also great.
It was chilly and damp in Houston that night, and we huddled in the foyer of the restaurant while the uber XL drove over to pick up our entire group of six. Dad recorded the new “Sherlock” episode while we were at dinner for us, and when we got back to the house, Tay stayed up to watch it with Saori and I, even though he had to be out the door early the next day for his flight home.
I told Tay I would catch him before he took off the next morning, but I was so exhausted I missed my alarm by about 45 minutes, and they were gone. I felt really terrible because I never gave him a last hug before I went to bed.
Exhaustion and anxiety were constant undercurrents this trip- with the jolt of being back with family and the time away from our daily lives in Stuttgart, we both were anxious about the finances and planning for the wedding and even more broadly, our lives after the wedding.
One of those nights for dinner, dad and Neri made a mexican chicken soup, and I played condiment director, giving direction about what goes on top and how to serve it. That was really nice, a lighter soup.
Sunday morning dad fixed us some pretty spectacular french toast, with a challah roll base, Grand Marinier, and grated orange. It’s about the most decadent french toast you can image short of stuffing it with whipped cream cheese. It was a beautiful sunday so we took a stroll through the Houston Art Museum sculpture garden by Noguchi, and a short walk across the street to the small contemporary gallery. Afterwards, we stopped in at Brenner’s on the Bayou for cocktails and some snacks on the terrace overlooking the bayou. Apparently, with the recent flooding, the water level came up to the level of the terrace, which is astounding.
Monday, we went booze shopping. Spec’s is a chain of liquor stores which has several thousand in Houston alone. The mascot is a rabbit with eyeglasses, and we hit a few smaller stores before we hit the big one, which has a the mascot out front rendered into a topiary. This Spec’s is one of my favorite stores in Houston. If you know the store Fry’s Electronics, this is basically that, but for alcohol. For starters, it’s huge, the size of a regular supermarket. There is an entire aisle stocked with varieties of tequila and mezcal. Beers broken down by local, regional, and national breweries. Wines from around the world. Specialty barware. They sell gourmet teas and small gourmet menu items in case you were stopping by on the way to a dinner party, and there is even a small bakery and deli. The atmosphere is really fun- there is none of the quiet grit and desperation of convenience store liquor sections, nor the stuffiness of wine shops. The handwritten signage, bright sale logos, and staff handing out samples and recommendations give everything a nice air.
I grabbed the third to last bottle of Yellow Rose IPA, one of my favorite beers, went back and discovered that the other two had also been grabbed- by dad. It’s a really popular local beer, and they had actually that morning just received their stock of it. Grandma Loretta picked up the tab for our tequila and beer as part of our Christmas gifts. When her neighbors ask about what she got her grandkids for Christmas, she’ll be able to tell them “hard liquor.”
After the booze run, we got dropped off at the Menil collection since it is an unmissible architectural destination for Houston. Saori was really impressed and I enjoyed the chance to wander through again. It’s the right serving size of art for me as well. Afterwards, we walked next door the Rothko chapel and mused the massive black paintings in the warm and contemplative silence of the chapel.
That night, Saori and I walked out to see the bats. Not far from where dad lives is an overpass over Memorial which is home to a massive colony of bats, which emerge around sunset in a spectacular cloud. Or so they say. That night was chilly, and even though a sizable group of about 50 people gathered, the bats decided to stay in and order takeout. So we walked back along the bayou, and got back just as dad was bringing the massive steaks out to the grill. (We split them, they were fantastic).
Monday, dad went back to work and Neri arranged to ride with teammates to tennis so I could use the car. I am a really uncomfortable driver. I was really uncomfortable at 16, I overcame it when I drove every day in the US, but now I'm uncomfortable again. Something about being in the largest killer of my generation. And driving my dad's BMW in Houston. Anyway, there were things to get done, so I simply kept music off and forbade Saori from talking while I was driving and we did just fine. We ran a few errands for grandma Loretta, and then went to see Hateful Eight again in the 70mm release because Saori had missed it the first time and I knew she would really like it.
After we came home, we packed and did a few last things and dad treated us to a goodbye dinner at a really good Thai restaurant in midtown. Really good cocktails too.
Tuesday arrived and we took Grandma Loretta to the airport, and I carried her bags to check in. Southwest has taken the kiosk check in to the logical extreme: you print your own luggage sticky tags now and it's just a final ID check and weigh-in to drop your bag.
Went back and did the final packing for us, making sure we were under the limit. (Or only a few pounds over). Dad and Neri drove us to the airport and dropped us off, and it was sad to see them off too, although we will be seeing them, and many others, before too long.
Also before our flight, I got a message that our flight from Amsterdam to Stuttgart was cancelled. An hour later they notified us of our new flights, Amsterdam to Paris to Stuttgart, with a four hour layover in Amsterdam and seven in Paris. We convinced the ticket agent to at least put us on the direct to Paris flight with the hopes that in Paris, we could find a flight to Stuttgart that left in the 14 hours we were going to be laid over there. As it turned out, we had not so much luck in that regard, but the Force was strong with us.
Houston's Intercontinental Airport, for being dressed up with high falootin’ adjectives, has a terrible international terminal. Astoundingly bad, actually. Small, hokey, cramped, dingy, even duty free was off-putting. Not so many gates, one cafe. We stocked up on last minute beef jerky. I should have bought more starbursts.
Flight was uneventful and easy. We had a pair with a widow and an aisle, and I surprisingly slept a lot. Any more, the flight itself is the least stressful or boring part of international travel. Once we landed at Paris CDG, though, I had to pull out my handy guidebook. Perhaps you've heard of it?