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East meets West at iFest.
East meets West at iFest.
Courtesy of the Houston International Festival

Thai One On

We love parties. Festivals? Even better. So it's a little disheartening to hear that there's not more buzz about this year's Houston International Festival. Could it be the spotlighted country, Thailand? At the risk of sounding irreverent, what's not to like about a place that has given us chicken satay, The King and I and a city many call the biggest brothel in the world? Or maybe it's the change in venue. This year's event shifts from the traditional downtown setting to Reliant Park. But iFest producers swear that this party is more park than parking lot -- while pointing out that parking's a breeze, which was a constant complaint among festivalgoers in years past.

So why get excited about this year's iFest? For starters, folk/ country chanteuse Emmylou Harris is on the main stage. She ain't Thai, but whatever -- this year's musical lineup features performers who hail from all over the world. (See "Racket" for the complete lineup.)

The fest also features many an "entertainment zone." (No word on the festival's policy on entertainment outside the zones.) Our favorite: "Elephant Zone." Other than that Animal Face-Off show on the Discovery Channel that pitted an elephant against a rhino in a desert death match, what do you really know about pachyderms? At the "Elephant Zone," you can watch elephants play ball, impersonate other animals and even paint. And autograph seekers can meet Tai, star of Operation: Dumbo Drop and George of the Jungle.

If that doesn't draw you in, perhaps the words "free stuff" will. Oh, sure, you can shop the 600 arts and crafts vendors, but why pay when you can dig your way through 25 tons of sand for swag? Lucky iFesters will be dredging up CDs, cameras and gift certificates.

And now we go in for the kill: beer. For nearly the price of parking per pop, you can sample a world of international beers -- all while dodging toddlers, fat guys in muscle shirts and women in unfortunately placed spandex. 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, April 17 through 25. Reliant Park Festival Plaza, 8909 Main. For information, call 713-654-8808. $9 in advance; $12 at the gate. -- Steven Devadanam

Going Commercial
Brit ads up at the MFAH

It's hard to believe that a country responsible for Mr. Bean could be the source of the world's funniest TV commercials, but those wacky Brits do it every year. So popular are their advertising antics that the film compilation of the annual British Television Advertising Awards attracts audiences in excess of 10,000 viewers at yearly screenings in Minneapolis-St. Paul -- a place apparently in desperate need of some cheering up. Now showing in Houston, the 2003 entries are your typical laugh riot, combining droll British humor with sex and politically incorrect parody in a manner that's often copied by corporate America, to disastrous effect. The winners include an ad for Pot Noodles featuring a porn star being asked by her director to "show me how much you love it"; a sports network ad featuring an interview with a soccer (sorry -- football) streaker about how he stays in shape; and a financial services ad depicting a bride saying "I do" followed immediately by a barrage of snarky disclaimers. 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 17 and 18. Brown Auditorium at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-639-7515 or visit $6. -- Greg Barr

A Wave of Words
Aaron Parazette's new paintings swim in a meaningless sea

THU 4/15

Words don't mean a damn thing. For his latest series of paintings, Aaron Parazette has taken bits of surfing jargon -- water dog, close out, kook, totally -- and concentrated solely on the shapes of the letters. "The words are in fact the images for the paintings," he says. Once he's jumbled up the words sufficiently and sketched them on a canvas, he then plays the color game, filling in the letters and gaps between with his trademark mastery of hues. What we're left with is an abstraction, a progression from image to word to image. You can check out these wordy works at his latest solo exhibition, "Perspectives 141: Aaron Parazette," at the Contemporary Arts Museum. Also on view is Tube Time, a wall painting that'll make you feel all wet. The exhibition opens with a talk by the artist at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 15. Through June 20. 5216 Montrose. For information, call 713-284-8250 or visit Free. -- Keith Plocek

Novel Decisions

MON 4/19

When Ann Patchett comes to town this Monday, we might get to hear her read from Bel Canto, her best-selling tale of love and terrorism -- or we might not. "If I do read from Bel Canto, it would be the last time in my life I would ever read from that book," she says. "I probably will read from my new book, which is called Truth and Beauty. It's a book about Lucy Grealy, who was my best friend who died about a year and a half ago." If she handles Truth, it would be the first and quite possibly the last time she reads it in public. "I'm not going on book tour," she says. "It doesn't seem entirely appropriate." Patchett plans to carry both books up to the podium, where she'll then decide if she can handle reliving her friend's life (and death) on stage. She reads with Julia Glass at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, April 19. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. For information, call 713-521-2026 or visit $5. -- Keith Plocek


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