Friday 30 March 2012

Letters From America | Week One: Love and Largeness In Houston, Texas

So, America.

Obviously not all of America. The place is bloody massive! I’m told, for instance, that there are more souls in Houston alone than in all of Scotland, and maybe I’m an idiot for believing as much – the source of said nugget of knowledge has told us several tall tales already (for entertainment’s sake rather than to trick the visiting idiots, you understand) and that may well be among them – but believe it I do. I feel like a speck of person in a land of immensity in every sense.

For instance, the many, many bottles and cans of Coke and root beer and beer beer I’ve orphaned like a wicked Dickens villain: they’re massive next to the tiddly little things we pay through the nose to drink in the UK, and the all-night drugstores from whence they’ve come (and gone) put our paltry convenience stores to stricken shame.

Meanwhile the highways are twice as wide and twice as long and damn near twice as fast as any of the motorways I’ve driven on over the pond. The cars are all huge too – almighty pickups that look like they could comfortably pick up typical British cars in their entirety, with room still to spare. Perhaps for a massive dog, or four. Or $400 worth of shopping from the local Kruger or K-Mart.

Anyway, America.

It’s big. That’s been my overriding impression of the States so far, but so far I’ve really only seen a single state. Texas, incidentally. We spent our first five days in Houston, with a friend and her family, and her family’s friends and family as well, as it happened. The rabble was a touch intimidating to start, but by the day our new bucket buddies corralled us to the Amtrak which brought us in to New Orleans – none other than The Sunset Limited! – I had a lump in my throat the size of Scotland.

I don’t know if we’ll ever meet these folks again, or see more of this state than the happy Heights of Houston. I certainly hope so – a little birdie informs me Austin is awesome also – but being realistic, it seems... sadly unlikely.

Of course they knew this as well as we. And yet they extended every courtesy. Made us feel at home when we were further away from home than we’d ever been before. They toured us around the sights. Showed us the lights, and indeed the lites. They bought near enough every damn beer; took us to the best bars and diners; advised us sagely on the best places to find good veggie food, and oh, what good veggie food it was! 

Long story short – and alas, my time is suddenly shorter than I’d thought – I miss it all already. Good people in a good place equals good times, I do declare. Houston was the leg of our time in America I was least sure of, but New Orleans and Panama and Georgia and Florida have a whole lot to live up to now. Speaking of which...

Actually, no, perhaps not – the night and the day we’ve spent in the famous French Quarter will have to wait till the next time we talk. For the moment I’ll just say it’s been a bit of a shock to the system. Certainly not a nasty shock... more like one of those one you get when you hold the rail on the escalator! But I digress.

Becaue these aren’t just travel diaries, are they? This is a blog about books, by and large. And there have been books... although they’ve been few and far between. I aim to get a great deal more reading done as soon as we leave New Orleans in the rearview; for the very moment, though, I have managed to finish one book of note.

As luck would have it, a surprise review copy of The Wind Through The Keyhole – which is to say the new Dark Tower novel by Sai Stephen King – arrived just in time to make it into my suitcase. As a matter of fact it was my companion while miles high in the big blue sky, and... well. I won’t talk too much about it today – I do hope to have a review of the thing ready to post upon my return to bonnie Scotland – but I’ll let slip this: bits of The Wind Through The Keyhole were brilliant. Specifically the long short story at the core of it, which Roland tells to his travelling companions.

But other bits of this sidequel of sorts, I’m sorry to say, were trying – especially given how long it’s been since I read The Dark Tower proper. Excepting the aforementioned story-within-a-story, I don’t agree that it stands alone at all. I wonder if it wouldn’t have been substantially more satisfying without the bumf of the first act and the last, in fact.

Alas, I’ve gotta git. I’ll get my thoughts on The Wind Through The Keyhole together at a later date, but right now, I understand there’s some world-class jazz to be had over on Frenchmen Street. I want to go to there!

All things being equal, there’ll be another Letter From America for y’all next Friday, but between now and then? SO MUCH AWESOME STUFF I NEED CAPS TO EXPRESS HOW AWESOME IT’S GOING TO BE! 

So do stay tuned. :D

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