His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama looks remarkably good for a 70-year-old who's spent a lifetime in exile working for global peace and against intolerance -- lofty tasks. So what in the name of Buddha is he doing in Houston? Rice University's class of 2003 nominated the Dalai Lama as its graduation speaker (along with other illustrious personalities such as Kermit the Frog). Unable to fulfill the request, the Dalai Lama's office promised to keep Rice in mind for a future U.S. visit. And this is certainly a timely one, in light of Peace Week activities and the opening of Rice's Boniuk Center for the Study and Advancement of Religious Tolerance. Graduate student Alejandro Chaoul, who helped bring the Dalai Lama to Rice, thinks the visit will be good for the city's collective psyche -- especially with regard to our New Orleans transplants. "People will come with hopes that his message will relieve their suffering and that they'll be able to live with a calmer mind," Chaoul says, "even in the midst of suffering and exile from their place -- something that the Dalai Lama knows well." Tickets are long gone, but you can catch His Holiness on the air at KPFT/90.1 FM and KTRU/91.7 FM and online from 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Thursday, September 22. Rice University, 6100 Main. For Webcast and radio information, visit www.rice.edu/dalailama. Free. -- Mary Templeton
Fun with Friends
Alexander McCall Smith's latest tome takes mystery to heart
Like your favorite hoodie, Alexander McCall Smith's Friends, Lovers, Chocolate: The Sunday Philosophy Club is warm, familiar and comforting. The second entry in Smith's best-selling detective series The Sunday Philosophy Club finds heroine-sleuth Isabel Dalhousie, editor of The Review of Applied Ethics and part-time deli manager, investigating mysteries of the heart, literally and figuratively. One case involves a recent transplant recipient who suffers from freakish flashes from his donor's life -- an apropos subject for medical ethics professor Smith. But there are no CSI-type crime minutiae here: Smith's feel-good, playful mystery romp doesn't require a glossary, just a cozy place to sit and enjoy a guilty pleasure. Smith speaks at the Mystery Author Luncheon at 11:30 a.m. Friday, September 23, at the Briar Club, 2603 Timmons. For information, call 713-524-8597 or visit www.murderbooks.com. $30. He will also sign Friends, Lovers, Chocolate at 7 p.m. Friday at Brazos Bookstore, 2421 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-523-0701 or visit www.brazosbookstore.com. Free. -- Mary Templeton
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
My buddy Keith and I are at the Houston Hot Sauce Festival on a sweaty Saturday afternoon, where hundreds of hotheads are perusing the fiery offerings. We're drawn over to Jim Campbell, who drove in from Indiana for the fest and is in full firefighter gear. (His hat even says, "Yes, I'm a Real Firefighter.") His Mild to Wild Pepper Co. sauces include Hot, Very Hot, Stupid Hot and Unbearable, which has won the People's Choice award for Hottest Sauce the last two years. Natch, we head straight for the Unbearable. A couple of hip twentysomethings, Minh and Cary, join us. "Let's do this!" yells Minh as Fireman Jim doles out Unbearable sauce on our chips. We count to three (like we're taking shots), pop the chips in our mouths and wait. A crowd is gathering to watch us"
Then, about 20 seconds later, it hits. Keith and I are shaking. Tears are streaming down our faces. It won't stop. I down my $2 lemonade (note to entrepreneurs: selling drinks at a hot sauce fest is quite the racket) in three gulps. As I look around, everything's distorted. Minh's talking to me, but I can't hear her. I can't move my legs. My earlobes are melting. Keith threatens to eat the dirt on the floor to stave off the burn. My eyes are bulging. It's like a religious experience -- if your religion involves gargling napalm or eating fiery coals. I think I'm seeing God. If I ever make it through this, I'll never touch hot sauce again, I promise myself.
About ten minutes later, we stagger back to Campbell's table. "What did you do to us?" I ask him.
"Your body's under attack," he explains. "So it releases a bunch of endorphins to relieve you."
"Dude," says Keith. "We were high."
"So," I ask Jim, "do you take credit cards?" -- Steven Devadanam
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A Real Scream
You scream on roller coasters; you scream at your honey; you scream during, well, you know. So why not scream at a car dealership? Your pipes can get you in the movies. The organizers of the Silver Scream Horror Festival are looking for blood-curdling-horror-movie-type shriekers. Show up and screech Saturday, September 24, from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at David Taylor Cadillac (9120 Southwest Freeway); 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. at Lawrence Marshall Buick (Loop 610 at Kirby); and 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at McGinnis Hummer (12231 Katy Freeway). If judge Edwin Neal, who played the hitchhiker in the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, likes your scream, you'll be featured in a flick that will screen at October's Silver Scream Festival. For information, visit www.silverscreams.org. Free. -- Steven Devadanam
Dial It Up
A sort of antithesis of the coddled, self-righteous artist, Thornton Dial Sr. was a retired steelworker who created his art in private after his family mocked his foray into painting. But it was humble Dial who had the last laugh: He's now called one of the great artist-storytellers of our time. His abstract, sometimes whimsical assemblage creations, mixed-media paintings and works on paper offer a unique view of the African-American experience in the South, and you can see them at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in the appropriately titled "Thornton Dial in the 21st Century." Exhibit opens Sunday, September 25, and runs through January 8. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300, www.mfah.org. $3.50 to $7. -- Steven Devadanam