Archive for December, 2010

Lines and more lines

Time’s running out, and not just on the year 2010. This picture of the tranquil allée outside the Blanton Museum does nothing to convey the bustle there this morning. Today is the last day of free admission for the loan exhibit from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, and long lines snaked everywhere. People were being admitted only as others left. After waiting but seeming to make no progress, we departed (as did many others), planning to try again tomorrow. “Turner to Monet” will be on view through January 2.

Katz’s will klose at the end of business on January 2. We waited in line there, also, today, seeing many familiar faces, but didn’t wait long enough to take a seat. Out-of-town visitors always want to visit Katz’s at least once a day while they’re in town. Katz’s for me has always been the place to go in the middle of the night. At those times, the acoustics are hushed, all are members of one big party, and everything tastes just as good as it can be. Everyone has a favorite main and side; in our household, we’ll especially miss the true milkshakes and the giant perfect potato pancakes.

All Katz’s souvenirs are sold out, it appears. The bar seems to be as it has ever been. The menu for these dwindling days is in abbreviated form and is not the complete one of yesteryear. So call ahead to learn whether your favorite is still being served.

Holiday passing

This time of year there always seem to be a greater number of people passing, it’s hard to know if the numbers rise, or they just take on more significance because of the time of the year.

Three people I met only briefly, died over the holidays. I met Bernie Wilson, baritone singer from Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes a couple of times, once when I was an intern at Capital Radio in London in the mid-1970’s, and a couple of years later at the California Ballroon in Dunstable in the UK. His voice was as smooth as Barry Whites’s, but in many ways, it carried much more emotion. The Love I lost remains to this day, my all time favorite track, the hairs stand on the back of my neck everytime I hear his voice. According to the NY Times, Bernie, age 64, passed on December 28th following a heart attack and a stroke.

My neighbor and long time Austin Realtor and Commissioner of the Austin Historic Landmark Commission and Zoning and Platting Commission, Board Member for the Austin History Center, Mexican American State Employee Association, Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce National Association of Hispanic Realtors, and Board Member for Teach Quest, Terrie Rábago passed on December 20th, aged only 59. The Statesman has a full obituary and guest book.

While Bernie was widely known around the world, Terrie was influential but relatively unknown in Austin, Susan Bright was well known by many, but by not enough. Susan was a daily swimmer at Barton Springs, a poet, writer, and a campaigner and advocate for the trees at, and for Barton Springs itself. In many ways, I’m grateful to Susan, Terrie and Bernie in many and different ways.

The following remembrance of Susan was posted on the Save Our Springs Alliance email group.

Susan Bright, poet, daily Barton Springs swimmer

Susan Bright, poet, daily Barton Springs swimmer

Susan Bright, May You Rest In Peace

Today Barton Springs lost its most eloquent, knowing, loving, and irrepressible friend and defender.

Susan Bright, poet, publisher, activist, educator, mother, grandmother, friend, feminist, and Barton Springs lap swimmer passed away this morning following a short illness.

Since the 1970s Susan has been a force of nature among Austin’s writers and activists. Susan authored 17 books of poetry; three won Austin Book Awards.  Tirades and Evidence of Grace won the Violet Crown Award.  In 1990 Susan was selected as Woman of the Year by the Austin Women’s Political caucus.  For more than 30 years she has been the editor and driving force behind the small, fiercely independent Plain View Press.

In her book Breathing Under Water and in many other works, Susan revealed herself to be the oracle of Barton Springs.  At critical turning points in the struggle to save Barton Springs, Susan would recite her work as testimony at public hearings before the Austin City Council.  She always told us the truth in ways that no one else could.  In 2009 she recruited children and families to spring to the defense of Barton Springs’ heritage trees.  Her poem from that time, “Legend,” concludes:

It is said the thirst of Earth's
great trees calls water
from depths which are invisible
causing springs to flow.

Susan named one of the trees marked for removal, the one closest to the Philosopher’s Rock statue at the front gate, the “Poet’s Tree.”  See a photo of Susan in front of the Poet’s Tree, and read about some of her work to save the trees at Barton Springs HERE.

Susan’s words, love, and caring will live on forever.  We will remember her at the Polar Bear Splash at Barton Springs on New Year’s Day.  A special memorial service at the springs will be scheduled in the weeks ahead.

We extend our deepest sympathies to Susan’s loving family.

Last-minute shopping for presents

Hours at the main Lammes Candies store today and tomorrow are from 8 am until 6:30 pm, and on Christmas Eve the doors will be open from 8 am until 5 pm. This is the home of Lammes famous proprietary specialties: Texas Chewie Pralines, Longhorns, sherbet mints, and more. The pralines are available in a new variation for the first time this year, with habanero chiles. Lammes is where to find chocolate coins wrapped in christmas colors as well as the usual gold, silver, and copper, some stamped with armadillos. Lammes is where to find fresh almond and pecan nut barks, both in milk and in dark chocolate. Lammes is where to find Boston-style intensely flavored fruit slices and its own chocolate-covered orange peels with a choice of light or dark chocolate. Confectionery is available both in bulk (pick your own) and in various prewrapped boxes and novelty containers, ready for giving.

At BookPeople, we found that all the free Chronicle anniversary calendars have been carried off. It appears that there’ll be few if any Christmas and New Year’s greeting cards available when the post-holiday sales arrive, because almost everything has been sold. My favorite tee-shirt says something like “BookPeople: zombie-free since 19xx” but I can’t be more specific since the size that we wanted is sold out right now and we didn’t come home with one. BookPeople is where to find your “Keep Austin Weird” gifts, as always. BookPeople will be open on Christmas Eve from 9 am to 9 pm, and on Christmas Day itself from noon to 6 pm so that we can use our BookPeople gift cards and divest ourselves of all the surplus cash giftery.

Pick up state maps and guidebooks free at the Capitol Visitors Center in the old General Land Office, right in the Capitol grounds at Eleventh Street. The gift shop has something for everyone, from the very inexpensive (post cards, plus magnets of everything from the Texas state seal to the Gonzales flag [“come and take it”]) to the more expensive but very reasonably priced Capitol annual souvenir ornaments, books about Texas, and much, much more. People were buying baby bibs in the form of the Texas flag and, for older children, sheriff-type toy badges with personalized names. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to take a photograph of a group of visitors from out of town or from another country entirely, so that everyone in the group may be in the picture.

Wheatsville Co-op is another fine last-minute venue for the last-minute shopper or the shopping-shy. Although it’ll be closed on Christmas Day itself, Wheatsville will be open on Christmas Eve from the usual 7:30 am right up until 7 pm. Once that fresh organic turkey is in the cart, those taking a little time to look around will see many Austin- or Wheatsville-specific presents (tee-shirts, reusable shopping bags, locally produced salsas, and way more). Wheatsville always has a fine selection of bandannas, in colors not always easy to find elsewhere.

I forgot to check about holiday hours at Tesoros on South Congress, but this is another stress-free place to find presents (milagros, ornaments for Christmas trees, calendars from Mexico, and textiles from around the world, to name just a few) for the hard-to-please people on your gift list, along with presents for yourself that you didn’t even know you were seeking.

Don’t spoil your mood; go where people are happy and friendly, staff and shoppers alike. Buy local, free of frazzle, and buy jolly.

Austin-set mystery found at library

South Austin Vampire, by Russ Hall, is on the new-books shelf at the main library. “Vampire” is something of a red herring, “South Austin” has nothing much to do with the story, “Austin” is a somewhat nebulous presence in the book.

We read of South Lamar “Street” but we also find references to Don Walser and Hut’s, here in the “Live Music Capital of America.” There are passing mentions of “Matt’s El Ranchero” and of the late, lamented Roy’s Taxi, described as having lime green [not!] and red cabs. The most clever allusion is to one “Dutch Hitchcock” (read “Butch Hancock“), complete with a mention to the long defunct real-life gallery and shop on Brazos Street called Lubbock or Leave It.

The blurb on the flap of the dust jacket describes a trail that goes winding all over town, from fortune teller to music performance and recording venues to neighborhoods of wealth and the seats of political power. The protagonist is one Travis, the blue-eyed Indian. I’m not sorry that I read this, but I recommend it only to the curious. There’s no mystery here.

Carnival! round & round, up & down

The rides begin operation today at 3 pm, we’re told, and don’t stop until midnight. The same’s true for tomorrow. On weekdays, the hours are shorter. The show will remain set up on Warehouse Row near the WalMart on Ben White through a week from tomorrow.

At night, the Ferris wheel is all lit up so as to be visible for quite some distance. Three of the rides appeared in the movie Selena. Those who appreciate hand-painted signs will find artistry here.

Paul’s Midway is from San Antonio. Crabtree Amusements is from Staples. You’ll find me on the pirate ride, the Tilt-A-Whirl, and the Ferris wheel for sure. Here are some pictures taken before today’s opening.

Itinerant urbanist asks, “Austin, now what?”

She was not impressed. Karrie Jacobs, here in October to deliver a lecture at the UT College of Fine Arts, draws from her experience to write about Austin for Metropolis magazine (December issue, pages 34-38; link to story now on line).

Karrie Jacobs was visiting Austin for the first time in nearly a decade. She finds that Austin is, overall, the antithesis to her thesis that American cities are rediscovering the importance of architectural and civic beauty.

She loves the Capitol, has kind words to say about the new W Hotel, and calls the Frost Building “a study in the ways that attempted architectural beauty can go wrong.” The article abounds in strong opinions. Read it for yourself and find words for bicycle traffic, the running trail, South Congress (Austin’s “hipster main drag”), City Hall, rail to Leander but not to the airport, difficulty in finding an entrance for pedestrians at the downtown Whole Foods, and the City’s “Which Way, Austin?” effort. The summation? “Austin is an endearing mess” with “a conspicuous mismatch between the perceived values of the place the the physical environment.”

Update: Karrie Jacobs has now created a blog entry about her visit to Austin.

Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.