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Under that scaffolding: Anish Kapoor's Cloud Column, 1998–2006, stainless steel. (Courtesy of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Stephen Hanley, imaging specialist.)

Reader Linda Lowe Holter poses an intriguing urban mystery: “Why is ‘the bean’ (Cloud Column) encased in scaffolding?”

She’s referring to the tall shiny Anish Kapoor sculpture outside the Glassell School of Art, on the Museum of Arts, Houston, campus. It’s an earlier, somewhat smaller piece in the same series as Cloud Gate, a landmark fondly known as “the Chicago bean.” (The Houston bean is better, of course.)

So what’s with the scaffolding? According to Per Knutås, the MFAH’s head of conservation, the bean has just been de-grimed. Part of the dirt came from construction of the MFAH’s new Kinder Building, and part is just from being outdoors, near traffic, with pollutants swirling in the air. “The cleaning included corrosion removal and passivation of the surface,” Knutås wrote, explaining that passivation is a chemical treatment that “creates an oxidized layer that will protect against corrosion.”

I don’t understand that last bit – it sounds like fighting rust with rust – but when the scaffolding comes down, the bean’s mirror finish should be back to its reflective self.

Got an urban mystery? Put us on the case:


🧑‍🏭 Jobs, jobs, jobs: The Greater Houston Partnership forecasts that the Houston region will add 75,000 new jobs in 2022 – more than usual, and almost enough to return us to pre-pandemic employment levels. The job category leading the pack, with 9,000 of those new jobs, is administrative support – the contract workers, janitors, landscape workers, and garbage collectors whose jobs were slashed during the pandemic. Now employment in the sector is at an all-time high and growing. (Greater Houston Partnership)

🏥 Texas healthcare grew more efficient. That’s making COVID surges worse. Big-city hospitals, like those in the Texas Medical Center, have expanded the number of ICU beds they staff – but that’s not enough to keep up as unprofitable rural hospitals close and send patients to the cities. From 2010 to 2018, the ratio of beds in acute-care hospitals to Texans dropped by 9% — a decline that makes spikes in demand much harder to handle. (Texas Monthly

💩 Poop for your coupe? TotalEnergies, a French oil company, plans to build a biomethane plant in the Texas Panhandle, with the goal of making renewable natural gas out of cow manure. That gas could be used for fleet vehicles such as airport shuttles, city buses and heavy-duty trucks, and would reduce greenhouse emissions. (Houston Chronicle)

🏭 Texas City blues: Red Rocket, director Sean Baker’s latest movie, is set amid Texas City’s smoke-belching refineries, and its plot revolves around a washed-up porn star forced to return home. Is it “poverty porn,” as critics have called Baker’s other movies? Or is it – in the words of writer Sean O’Neal – about the “people here along America’s edges, and the pockets of happiness and humanity they have found, despite those who have tried to exploit them”? (Texas Monthly)


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We asked: Here in the subtropics, how do you get in a holiday mood?

Holland Hettinger writes: “Lights in the Heights is always some good family fun!” It’ll be Saturday, Dec. 11, this year.

Bruce Bodson writes: “First, there are Christmas Bird Counts that run from December 14 to January 5 this year. Our area has 25 different ones, including some of the most diverse counts in the country. There’s nothing as festive as a late-holding wood stork or an extra-limital limpkin. You can do them walking, biking, driving or — my personal favorite — paddling canoes or kayaks. Beginners are always welcome! 

“Second, there is the annual 100-mile Holiday Challenge that a group of friends do each year. We have to do 100 miles running, walking, biking or paddling from Thanksgiving Day to Christmas Day. It’s festive and keeps sloth from overtaking the celebrations.

“Finally, it is training time for the Texas Winter One Hundred Kilometer Canoe and Kayak Race. This is a rain-or-shine 62-mile race from Austin to Bastrop on the Colorado River. Training runs start now and run most weekends around the Bird Counts. Again, beginners welcome, though training is advised. It’s January 29, so you have plenty of time to get ready!”



The spicy little root veggies are coming in strong in Houston gardens and farmers’ markets now. Eat them raw, with a little salt – or, as the French do, with both butter and salt. Or try roasting them: cut them in half, toss with olive oil and salt, and cook at 425 degrees Fahrenheit until they’re tender.  The greens are too sandpaper-y to eat raw, but they’re nice cooked in a pot of soup or beans.

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Late-holding wood storks and extra-limital limpkins neither implied nor guaranteed.

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