Houston Syndrome

Houston Syndrome is not like Paris Syndrome, the latter defined by one author as “a collection of physical and psychological symptoms experienced by first-time visitors realizing that Paris isn’t, in

fact, what they thought it would be.” Or, more to the point, Houston Syndrome (or this “syndrome” in general — I guess it’s legitimate since it has a Wikipedia entry) is not specific to Paris, but has more to do with the feelings produced when expectations come into discord with reality. 

This last weekend I experienced what I have come to diagnose and call Houston Syndrome. Please note: Houston Syndrome is different than Paris Syndrome. Houston Syndrome has less to do with expectations of Houston coming into discord with reality, and more to do with an indifference or ambivalence to Houston in the first place. Therefore, there isn’t any expectation that can come into contact with reality. In Houston, for example, there are many skyscrapers, and these are sprinkled with ground-level shops, migratory residual from the massive relocation that took place due to Hurricane Katrina (2005). Anyhow, the realization of Houston Syndrome came to the fore when I visited a creole and cajun lunch eatery, and had some of the greatest shrimp étouffée known to humanity. I assert this for several reasons, and perhaps this is why Houston Syndrome is a good thing to experience: in the back of my subconscious I know I had read plenty of stories about Hurricane Kate dislocating New Orleans’ers (among others) to Houston. Until sauntering into the creole and cajun eatery, though, I had no expectations. Perhaps since I had no expectations was in fact my expectation. There, that’s the take-away: don’t have expectations, but be sure to pack sensibly for any trip.

Also, Houston has many new (aka, less-than 60 or so years old) skyscrapers with a lot of mirror-type

Note how the sky reflects off the mirrored windows on the skyscraper, creating the illusion that the Art Deco-like cap on the top is floating in the sky.

windows (technical definitions pending). One of the many skyscrapers visually gives the ground-viewer a sense that it is floating. When looked at from above, though, the reflective glass, well, reflects the city below, arguably giving a sense that it is deeper than reality — again to return to Houston Syndrome unfolding before my eyes. The visual is in discord with reality, and so on and so forth.

Paris Syndrome and Houston Syndrome have been happening for a long time, so don’t sweat it. If you feel you’ve become afflicted with this, I wouldn’t recommend scheduling an appointment with or shelling out cash for a psychiatrist or psychologist, even though buying those friends can indeed be important for certain folks having certain crises from time to time. Instead, purchase and read Paul Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus (U of Michigan Press, 1990). I came across and discussed this title while chatting with U of North Dakota’s Ancient Historiansome years ago. Within you’ll notice that Ancient Romans experienced this kind of timeless syndrome as well: what they thought Rome was, and what Rome actually was. Aesthetics and life is fantastic that way.

Houston, TX downtown, the skyscraper images from Google Earth.


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