One of the greatest pleasures in leading a peripatetic life is the chance to experience different cultural events in various parts of the world. From religious to tribal, from crazy to artistic, they can have roots buried deep in the annals of time, or maybe a canny form of government control. Some, and this will I’m sure surprise you, may even have come swirling up from the depths of a glass, because I can’t help feeling the cheese rolling competition at Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire or maybe the World Marble Championship in West Sussex both originated in a nearby pub.
A favourite tribal event was the Mount Hagen Show, held every August in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Started by the Australian government in 1964 in an attempt to sponsor harmony between feuding tribes ever eager to throw spears at each other across the valleys. When I attended in the 70s it was still very much a local occasion with relatively few expatriates watching the sing-sing, the drumming and dancing of different tribes; some bare-breasted, some clothed in arse-grasses and feathers, still others, the Mudmen from Asaro for example, cloaked in mud and wearing grotesque mud masks. Now it is a major event attracting tourists from around the world.
Or Songkran. The time, in mid April, when Buddha images are bathed and Thai children seeking blessings, pour scented water over their elder’s hands. It soon though turns into a country-wide water fight, wherein local or tourist can expect to be saturated numerous times by buckets, balloons and water pistols coming from all directions.
Each country has them. The religious, the beautiful, the zany.
Houston, Texas is no different, and yesterday showed her quirky artistic side in the form of the annual Art Car Parade. I sat, with a friend, on the kerb of Allen Parkway and watched as 277 decorated vehicles rolled past. Some were sponsored by corporations plugging their wares, some from working artists, but most came directly from the imaginations of, what is that phrase so liked by American politicians? Oh yes, Mr and Mrs Main Street.
A number of schools participated this year, like the Frank Black Middle School entry, Hubcap Turtle. Not being an avid car enthusiast I can’t tell you what the wheels were under the carapace of brightly painted green hub caps, but along with the bright pink head and tail attached fore and aft it was fun, and a creative use of discarded car parts. Animals were well represented, a giant red hippo, for example, and a positive plain load of zebra. A caveman, or maybe a Viking, on inline skates rolled by flashing a little of what God gave him, but fortunately not commando. The Zombie Response vehicle, splattered in red with body parts oozing from the grill, was gruesome in its inventiveness.
Some vehicles were tributes. Houston artist Charles Washington, along with students from Dekaney High School created a floral extravaganza in memory of another Houston artist, Cleveland Turner aka The Flower Man, who died a couple of years ago. And of course, the red, white and blue, entitled The Stars and Stripes Forever, showed up in a weaving line of American flags pulled by a golf cart.
Contestants come from all over the country, with ideas drawn from around the world. Australia was represented by two vehicles, Driving in Dreamtime and Bruce 2. And I ask you, what parade would be complete without a giant pooping spider? That particular designer, Andy Hazell, came from Knighton, Wales.
The wacky, the weird, the wonderful – it’s all here in Houston!