Houston and Zagreb, my hometowns

HOUSTON and ZAGREB: mixing business with pleasure!

By Loreta Kovacic, the Alchemist

I have two favorite cities and two hometowns. The first one, the one I was born in, and the second one, where I was reborn as an American. The first one is Zagreb Croatia and the second one is Houston, TX. Every city can be summarized in a single word they say, so for LA the word is Hollywood, for Paris, it’s the arts, for Rome it’s romance, for New York it’s the center of the world as all New Yorkers seem to believe, and the list goes on…It is a fun little game to try to define a city in one word.

When one feels the heartbeat of the city and calls it their home, this game becomes more difficult. I interviewed many people before drawing the line on Houston, because my idea of Houston is this other, lesser known part of the city: it’s vibrant art scene, its authentic blues music and musicians full of quirky and independent history and presence you can feel, taste and hear….And the musty picturesque bayou landscape especially the one covered with trash, and yet from a distance looking like an oil painting by Matisse…After all, if I was the decider, I would use something like “blues and bayou” to describe my beloved Houston, and I could not take one away from the other…they are such a perfect duo. In my song “Bayou tango” I sing: “don’t get lost in the magical bayou mist, where all the foliage is covered with lovely litter….” And then there is all that space history, now being slowly stolen from us by LA, a city I find to be most like Houston. However, my interview results led me to the most popular word: “business”. So, Houston is the city of business, amen.

Business it is, because in this town, you have to have at least a tiny bit of a business sense in order to survive. Mind you, survival here is a lot easier then in New York or LA by the mare fact that everything from housing to restaurants is cheaper here. It is easy to run a business here too: I know a woman who runs an extremely successful piano studio here, with a degree in Chemistry. So things are still a little bit wild and western, not so regulated, but rather new and somewhat refreshing. Why not? You just feel like, if you set your business mind to it, you can achieve miracles in Houston. I like that feeling. But sometimes, I feel that business kills an artist in me. It’s simply because I have no time to sit around in my typical “fjaka” mode and philosophize for hours over coffee and beer like I used to do in my native city of  Zagreb, Croatia.

This brings me to the words for Zagreb. I just mentioned coffee and leisure, and that seems like an extreme opposite of the word “business”. So the first thing I thought of was, why can’t Houston and Zagreb be married, because opposites attract, don’t they? Houston is business and Zagreb is leisure, two characters complementing each other? Or, in some cases hating each other, like that dysfunctional love and hate relationship? I have to say that the optimist in me sees it as a win-win situation: mixing business and pleasure!

Zagreb is still a city where I spent my childhood and graduated from college. And my version of it is going to have a little twist as you expect…I can think of two things that I love and miss: coffee shops and shoe stores, one after another in a row, thousands of them, with people sitting in coffee shops and happy women shopping for shoes....Perhaps that explains why I still have a closet packed with hundreds of pairs of shoes, majority of them bought in Zagreb, made in Italy, of course. And maybe that’s why I frequent my local coffee shop here in Houston regularly (not as regularly as I would be if I was still living in Zagreb).

As a Zagrebian living in Houston I can manage to find leisure in this business city, because I have been programed to do so. And as a Houstonian I can find a little business to do while vacationing in Zagreb like: appear as a guest on “good morning Croatia”, maybe play a concert if I am really ambitious, or, my favorite, work really hard looking for the newest and coolest pair of shoes for the best price, of course….

Just like happy little infants love bubbles you too will end up falling in love with these two cities. You will fall in love with Zagreb probably from the first sight, because, let’s face it, Zagreb is more beautiful visually, and Houston will have to grow on you, but I can say with a certainty of a bubble lover (cause if you hate bubbles you should visit your psychiatrist immediately): business and leisure make a beautiful couple, it’s like a perfect song, and you simply have to check it out. Mixing business with pleasure is the way to live. That is the word from the Alchemist.