LAYOVER IN HOUSTON
VIAN, THE SECULAR SAINT
From Lafayette, I drive to Houston where I reconnect with friends. The road seems long, too straight, under a metallic blue and cloudless sky. It’s atrociously hot. The architecture of bridges is as massive as that of cathedrals. People tell me about the presence of the KKK in Viador, one of those “middle of nowhere”places that the highway crosses.
Houston is one of those American cities in which a European will desperately seek the non-existent downtown! Only nightmarish tangles of highways, malls, and chains restaurants. My friends reside in their childhood neighbourhood. Inhabited by what looks to me as black middle class. I inquire about the cross and teddy-bear shrine that is on the front lawn. This is how the death of a teenager or a child killed by a stray bullet is commemorated.
My friend is a teacher. She has a teenage daughter, and her mother, who lives upstairs, is a former civil rights activist.I’m moved by the fact that I feel so close to them, yet our respective life conditions so apart. In the evening, we cool off with a drink on the small patio that is on the side of their house. Right next to the shrine, which acts as a reminder, a constant threat.
My friends introduce me to Vian. He is a local hero and a key figure in the neighbourhood. In recycled shipping containers installed on a vast terrain, this former faculty member of a university decided to dedicate his life to promoting a healthier lifestyle and environment for the local youth (and others). His camp is at the same time a bike repair shop, and a meeting place for activists. Someone walks by, as I film Vian eating a raw meal. It’s been over thirty years since he eats this way.
The visitor was born in the Bronx, worked in Indiana for Bethlehem Steel, and of course lost his job a long time ago. He’s getting by. Again, I hear about the fact that the South seems less harsh, it gives the feeling of being “at home” at last, while he describes Northern cities ravaged by unemployment as disasters areas where crack and meth reign as the only sources of income.
I believe that this is where we listen to Howlin’Wolf’s interview on “the Blues”: “When you ain’t got no money, that’s when you got the blues… because you thinkin’evil”.
It makes him chuckle to find himself discussing bicycles among mature men. For him, this is not the way to live a healthier lifestyle, but rather a way to save money on gas. “Adults didn’t go around on bikes before!”
Before what, exactly? I wonder…