My Kind of Town

WILLIAMS TOWER ( FORMERLY TRANSCO TOWER), a 64-story office building designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee that soars above the Galleria area, is impossible to miss even when you’re zipping down Loop 610. But you need to get out of your car to appreciate the architects’ splashiest touch, the freestanding Water Wall, which sits at the end of an expanse of green lawn that begs for bare feet. With 11,000 gallons a minute cascading over a 64-foot-high curved wall, this public fountain is an ode to rushing water. The effects are chilling and dizzying and romantic. It’s well-nigh illegal not to have someone snap your picture in front of the falls.

THE REDUNDANTLY NAMED KUGEL BALL (“Kugel” means “ball” in German), a 2.5-ton, free-moving granite orb magically held afloat by the water flowing from a 1.5-horsepower pump, is on the grounds of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The ball’s location is appropriate, considering that passersby who stop to ponder its mysteries are reduced to the curious apes from which they descended. They roll the ball fast and slow, rotate it in all directions, read the plaque, show their teeth in pleasure, and twirl the ball some more. The smaller male apes try hard to dislodge the ball, futilely flinging themselves against it over and over again until the larger female apes yell at them to stop.

IT’S A MATERIAL WORLD OVER at Roop Sari Palace, a two-story shop in a Bellaire strip mall that’s packed with enough saris to stretch from here to the Taj Mahal and back. Think of a color—periwinkle, garnet, saffron, ivory: It’s got it. Imagine an adornment—beading, bells, gold embroidery, sequins, glitter: It’s there on one of the thousands of six-yard-long saris that Indian and Southeast Asian women wrap around themselves with such casual flair. Prices range from ridiculously cheap for machine-printed polyester into the hundreds for pure silk. The upstairs is devoted to finely embroidered men’s jackets, regal langas (festive dresses with embroidered and beaded bodices and voluminous floor-length skirts), and flowing pantsuits called kurtas; younger customers are snapping up the ones with huge bell bottoms for club wear.

AFTER CRUISING DOWN INWOOD DRIVE in River Oaks, I’m convinced that the very, very, very stinking rich are very, very, very different from the rest of us. (I don’t even think they put their pants on one leg at a time; I think they have their in-house helicopter lower them into both legs simultaneously.) The upkeep alone on, say, the Tara-esque plantation home (eight columns along the front!) designed by Charles Oliver in the thirties would set back an indicted CEO a year’s worth of stock options. And how many of you have a security guard staring down people who stop too long to gawk at your sprawling estate, designed by Ralph Adams Cram, the original architect for Rice University, and landscaped more lavishly than the gardens of Versailles? Oddly enough, thanks to that security guard, I didn’t leave the neighborhood consumed with envy. Just look at how much these folks have to lose.

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