Monday, May 31, 2004

Maybe it is summer, after all

At Camp Mabry it was reported to be 100 degrees in the shade, not long before the storm struck. Our screen pavilion bent and broke from the weight of the water coming down in torrents and from the hailstones, which were the size of mothballs, not golf balls, at least here. All the Rose of Sharon shrubs had begun to bloom, and some flowers were knocked down. Earlier, we had treated ourselves at Luby's, the crossroads of the Texas universe, where diners are from the city and from the country, are police and firefighters, are old and young, and display every color of skin known to human kind. My particular treat is jalapeno cornbread made from good, coarse-ground Pioneer cornmeal; K. enjoys the pies. There was a busload of young people from San Antonio; there were young girls in sequin costumes who may have made an appearance over at the State cemetery; there were children in those wonderful rolling high chairs. Displayed artfully arranged on a tabletop were the quality ingredients that go into a Luby's meal. I wanted that giant-sized square tin of Colman's mustard, with the bovine head also very large. I've seen institutional-sized Colman's, but there must be a grade beyond that, even!

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Member of the mint family identified?

They spread underground. The flowers are tiny and are spotted inside. It's always been clear that they're a member of the mint family, because of the square stems. They were here when we arrived. In such great masses, they do have a faint smell when in bloom, but otherwise not. Somebody told me that they were betony, but that never seemed right. Someone else thought they were one of the skullcap family. Now it appears that they may be sweet germander (wood sage? teucrium canadense). Whatever they are, the bees have always loved them.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

From Ilium to the land of Mean Girls

After sitting through fifty kazillion previews, we suddenly realized, just as the movie was beginning, that we were in the room screening Troy, not the one showing Mean Girls. No wonder the audience had seemed so peculiar. We'd gone there to get into some air-conditioned space. The three guys holding up the bowl are now holding up a bowl of two-dimensional flames, outlined in lights at night. We tried out the Kodak stickerprint machine that takes a photograph against the chosen background and then turns it into stickers. We didn't try the Leonardo machine, which uses a photographic image that it embellishes using a PhotoShop-like program, with the result intended to resemble a pencil or charcoal sketch. There's been a sticker machine at Dobie for quite a long time, but this is the first we've tried one.

Friday, May 28, 2004

It's not summer yet

Not while we still have larkspur, Drummond phlox, the first bloom of black-eyed Susan, thunbergia, and nasturtiums. The larkspur that remains is dark blue, along with some white and some pink. Being consumed by butterflies-to-be are the passion vine and the fennel plants. Our asclepias (butterfly weed, Mexican oleander, milkweed) has made pods for the first time ever, and the first of the pods are opening to release their winged seeds. The pods are narrow and skinny, in shape not unlike okra. Geraniums and some other plants have been moved to the shade of one of the oak mottes. The nasturiums will just have to shrivel in place, probably, because they're so intertwined that moving would be just as destructive, particularly where they've climbed. I've always thought it's funny that almost any common flower has at least one "Mexican" name: Mexican petunia (ruellia), Mexican oleander (butterfly weed or milkweed), Mexican wedding wreath (cadena de amor), and many more that don't just now come to mind. I think that these names are vanishing from memory as the old people who used them are leaving us.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

A consumer index or two

Our oldest consumer index is the rate of limes to the dollar, which ranges from six, when limes are extremely expensive, to 20, when they're cheap. This is an important index for a margarita-consuming household. Another index is the Fast Freddy's corte de pelo, from a low of $4 for a haircut, to a high of $8. The index always moves a full dollar at a time. I'm not sure whether we're at $6 or $7 right now. Fast Freddy has a rival these days, Benny's corte de pelo. At any rate, another vehicle blocked the sign so it couldn't be read completely, but the Fast Freddy on South Congress near H-E-B has moved, to another location on South Congress, it appeared to say. Freddy did good business there, but the landlord must have upped the rent.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Jalapa/Xalapa vs. Morelia

We've been to Morelia; we haven't visited Xalapa. Both are state capitals. Both have fairly good transportation connections. Both have institutions of higher learning. Ever since reading the letters of Fanny Calderon de la Barca, I've always wanted to visit. She talks about Vera Cruz and Xalapa in letter five and letter 52. I think that Orizaba is nearby. At any rate, since we know Morelia, we'll probably do more reading about Xalapa. Does anybody remember Xalapeno Charlie's, here in town? It was in more than one location, along the way.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

When the roll is called up yonder

We won't be there, at least not yet (if ever, of course), although it could have been a near thing. Those little screened-in tents or pavilions with the Tinker-Toy fit-together rods supporting them are stronger than they might appear, even though the connectors are cheap, the gauge of the metal is thin, and the covering, except for the mosquito netting, is of cheap, thin, and brittle plastic. Ours didn't come from Wal-Mart, but they all seem to be made by the same company, just under different labels. Eventually they succumb to deterioration from the sun or even get blown away, but most last for at least a couple of years, some longer. They're usually 13x10 feet in size, although the last time all we cound find anywhere was just 10x10. We keep one up the year 'round as a shelter from the mosquito. Since we have no air-conditioning, it's an invaluable refuge, particularly after supper, although of course if provides a degree of shade during the day, both in and of itself and because it's set up under one of the live oaks. During one of the recent gusty periods, we heard a strange noise but couldn't figure out what it might be. Later we discovered that a six-foot piece of oak branch had come down and broken into three sections, either when hitting the ridgepole of the pavilion or when bouncing off that onto the crazy-stone pavement of the "patio" set in the midst of the side yard. The pole didn't snap, although it's cracked and sagging, and not a bit of the rooftop plastic is torn. Sometimes, if there's no mosquito problem, we sit outside the pavilion in some of the chairs knocked around when the limb-sections landed. We'll have to splint the ridgepole with a length of dowel and some duck tape.

Monday, May 24, 2004

An open directory and a secretive one

State government in Texas has many faults, but, for openness, it shines compared with, say, City government here in Austin. Here's the State's telephone directory. Every department here in Austin is listed, along with every division of each department, together with the number for nearly every single employee. This directory is kept updated. Here's what passes for a telephone directory for Austin City government. Real, hard-copy City telephone directories are marked along the lines of "confidential: do not remove from building." Just try calling the City and trying to reach the relevant person. Front-line telephone answerers are in the business of keeping the public from speaking to anyone relevant, experience would lead one to believe. Is this open government? Both governments are subject to public information provisions of the law (formerly known as Open Records and Open Meetings).

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Where your opinion is truly valued

Do not miss this opinion poll at the Weekly World News! Speak your mind: what benefits have aliens brought to human culture? are there crop circles in or near your community? is there a haunted house in your neighborhood? what sort of television programming exerts mind control?

Saturday, May 22, 2004

On tour in Austin

Although the library building is a very pleasant one, there's a lot of space given to very new computers, but not much in the way of books at the Southeast Community Branch Library. There is a beautiful field of firewheels left unmown. We don't have many branch libraries left to visit for the first time. Since we were in the neighborhood and beginning to be hungry, we checked out El Meson. There was a lot of menudo going down, and we witnessed the sale of the last piece of tres leches cake with fresh peaches. My refritos and cochinita were delicious. Another time, I'd like to try the carne guisada, always hoping to replicate the dish as served at Casita Jorge's. This place was very clean, and the tortillas were freshly made on the spot. A jukebox would be great. There was beer in the cooler, and lots of Jarritos bottles were on the tabletops.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Chronicler of "Rimrock" has died

The "real" notice is in the Gallup Independent for Evon Z. Vogt, Jr. Maybe it's time to pick up a copy of some of those books again, before they vanish, especially Modern Homesteaders and People of Rimrock: A Study of Values in Five Cultures. Some of the Russell Lee Farm Security Administration photographs documenting Pie Town turn out to be in color.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Harvest season

The last of the loquats are being consumed, by day and by night, and the branches are no longer sweeping the ground with the weight of the fruit. This is the best year ever for these fruits, both in quantity and in size of the fruit. If any orchard orioles came through, we didn't see them. We have been seeing a male and a female red-bellied woodpecker, right outside the window, in one of the loquat trees, obviously finding some insect delicacy among the shriveling and partly eaten remaining fruits.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Pollo el Regio spreads its wings

The first El Regio was in a small trailer in a parking lot on Riverside. Business for the grilled chicken was mostly walk-up, either from people waiting for the bus or from night-time patrons of the Tejano clubs over that way. There was one picnic table, with no shade. Now, the original one is larger and we see new ones every day, the most recent in a parking lot on South Pleasant Valley. This week, we saw an elaborate television commercial on the local Univision, complete with an elaborate cartoon chicken in a western hat: it's not just the chicken being touted; it's also the borracho beans and the "salsitas picosas." Either the local station offering very good prices for time in and around the suppertime local news or El Regio is doing very good business. We see Univision on channel 31, without cable.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Bars, numbers, and maxis

The May 19 issue of Fortune, in an article entitled "Scanning the Globe," recounts the history of the development and adoption of bar codes and the Universal Product Code. This is a wonderful article. Although intended for use in automated supermarket check-out systems, bar-code systems were first adopted for use in manufacturing and distribution, to track inventory and parts. In the magazine itself, there's a depiction of a UPS or FedEx shipping label. Now at last it's revealed to the ignorant what to call that wormy, splotchy area with the bull's-eye in the middle that appears on all sorts of mailing labels: MaxiCode.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Hot-water hell; or should it be cold-water hell?

This morning found the hot-water heater not heating water and emitting cascades of water from its top. For all we know, this had been going on for 24 hours. Monday is the very worst day of the week to find a plumber. Some people think plumbers don't work on the weekend; others that plumbers charge overtime for weekend work, which isn't true, since most of them are either self-employed or have an on-duty weekend crew that does not work on some weekdays. At first we weren't getting return calls from any of the tried-and-true. No doubt, by 7:30 all were out on their first jobs. So we turned to one of the bigger outfits here in town. This is a longtime family business that has either sold out to a larger concern or become a franchisee. On KVET, the ad says that, if the service person doesn't appear within the time that the dispatcher specifies, the customer gets some money back. Well, if the promise is a good one, we'll be looking for a check any day now. The poor plumber had been out since 7:30 on what was thought to be a two-hour job. He made his appearance, finally, at close to 3:00. Luckily, this has not been one of the hotter days. Not only did we need a new heater; there had been changes in the City code since the last time, costly changes. The best part of dealing with this larger outfit is that it sent a lumper to deliver the heater, and he took away the old one. The sun was setting as we settled up. What a day for all concerned.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

KMFA returns to better practices?

Lately KMFA has been playing more movie scores than vocal music. When the Metropolitan Opera season ended, it was announced that in its time slot would be a program called "Saturday Matinee," which would feature (you guessed it!) pops and film-score music among its offerings. Other years, the station has either subscribed to another opera series or has played recorded operas from its library. This may have been a short-term experiment. At any rate, we chanced to turn on the radio yesterday in time to hear that there'd be an opera and that it would be La Donna del Lago. Immediately plans were changed. What beautiful music, beautifully sung. The libretto didn't even seem that ridiculous. Maybe it's time to read some Scott again. It's a little frightening to think how much of it there is on the shelves -- no Ivanhoe, though! We already know that we love the music from Semiramide; now we know we love this, too. I swear that one of the songs from it used to be on the merry-go-round band-organ.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

The magazine so nice that it was subscribed to twice

All was set aright in second, though, thanks to the trusty people at Fairchild Publications. For reasons that won't be discussed here, this is a periodicals-poor household. It takes a database to keep up with it all, and matters are not simplified by our practice of using variants on names in order to track the sale of name-and-address information to various mailing lists. Every once in a while there's a slip-up that results in a concurrent subscription. The subscription agent had a good, genuine midwestern accent of a certain sort, not easily duplicated. Obviously, there's no outsourcing going on here. The subs were combined and extended in no time at all.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Spring harvest

We've already accounted for the strawberries. This morning, it was Spring Treat corn and a mystery variety of cherry tomato produced by a started plant from the South Austin farmers' market. This corn is one of those nasty "sugar-enhanced" types. The packets were picked up on impulse from a supermarket sale rack. When you grow it yourself, it doesn't seem so bad. It was picked just this morning and then "cooked" by pouring some near-boiling water over the ears. We still have Drummond phlox, California poppies, Shirley poppies, true poppies, and sprawling and fading violas in pots. We're enjoying every color of delphinium. At last, Heavenly Blue and Pearly Gates morning glories have made their appearance. There's quite a nice clump of rudbeckia. The nasturtiums and thunbergia are holding their own, thanks to the occasional cooler day. It's probably time to move the geraniums over to a shadier part of the yard where the torenia pots are. The hyacinth beans are at last climbing up the nylon netting attacked to the old T-bar clothes pole.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Mincing no words and making no friends

Scant thanks are coming the way of Major General Antonio M. Taguba for the eponymous Taguba report, here in a fast-loading HTML document courtesy of the fine folks of FindLaw. His future career trajectory can be predicted.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Why not "the Holy City of Austin"?

Lately it's become clear that there are way more holy cities in this world than many of us have realized. At any rate, the Holy City of Austin has slipped from number one to number three on the Forbes list of best cities for business. The entire database of metropolitan areas is quite entertaining. Dallas and Fort Worth must hate being topped by Houston in so many categories.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Money can't buy these unless you're at the right place, at the right time

Beet greens are among the few truly seasonal vegetables. We never see them in the stores, but, courtesy of the South Austin farmers' market, we enjoyed our annual treat, complete with baby beets attached. In the old Fannie Farmer cookbook (this was the very edition, 1918, that I knew as a kid), the instructions are to boil them for one hour [!] "or until tender," but we've never eaten any but young ones and they need to be cooked just until wilted.

Monday, May 10, 2004

When procrastination pays off

For months "comment system" has been on the to-do list. There was a list of sites to check out, such as HaloScan and eNetation. It was in today's WSJ that there was news of changes in Blogger-world, among which is a commentary system. So a little delay can save a lot of effort.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Carnitas truck and voting

On the way back from voting, where at 2:30 we were the first voters of the day at the courthouse, we saw a wonderful truck at the pulga. It was painted on the side with a beautiful scene of two pigs either sparring or dancing, observed by two tapatio onlookers in full regalia. Business at the market was slow because everybody who might usually frequent it was either at the free Univision radio concert at the convention center or at the conjunto festival (free to kids and cheap for old people) at Fiesta Gardens. When we tried to head on over to at least catch Ricky Naranjo y los Gamblers, we found that, for some reason, a lot of streets were blocked off. We saw people flocking to both events. For the first time in ages, we skipped Fiesta Gardens because, instead of devoting the afternoon pretty much entirely to conjuntos and reserving the louder acts for the evening, the program alternated, so that Johnny Degollado wasn't due to come on stage until after supper and Ruben Vela not until well after that.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Weekly World News and Revista Thalia share publisher

American Media is the publisher of both. The Weekly World News, home of the bat-boy (and this has nothing to do with baseball), kept us entertained for hours recently, well worth the $2.99 invested. Eddie Clontz would be proud that his tradition is being carried on. Does Condoleezza Rice know that her face has appeared on a tortilla? Now she's right up there with the Virgencita. Thalia has published a second issue and isn't nearly so entertaining. Neither is Mira! (which, although it claims to have its editorial offices in New York, relies heavily on sneak photos of celebrities taken in Miami).

Friday, May 07, 2004

Oleanders compared

The doubled, creamy-yellow oleander is producing more flowers than ever before, so many that the branches are weighed down. There's only one other like this one that we know, and it's profusely covered also. The old faithful fuchsia oleander shows signs of illness. Every time it leafs out, the new leaves yellow and drop. A slip from this one is blooming for the first time this year. We miss its parent because it's planted at a corner and shields one side of the house from the view of the neighbor behind us (in other words, we can run out with the trash in houseclothes without offending anyone's sensibilities). Luckily the lantana next to the puny oleander is taking up part of the screen duty.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

A rite of Spring

All four transoms are open. This isn't as easy as it may sound, since the hardware has long since been gone and the frames swell in the humidity. Three were opened at once and one required application of a lot of might and main from atop a tall ladder, but all are propped open now. This year, the decision was to do with eraser-tipped pencils as props. They're not so long as chopsticks, but they have less tendency to slip when the winds are high. These transoms are top-hinged. The disclaimers for transom-operator hardware here are entertaining. The dog drawer pulls offered by this hardware outfit are exactly like the two on an ugly old cabinet that we have.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Main Hoon Na opened worldwide

Finally there's something about marketing this movie. It was released on 79 screens in North America. There's a site from which can be downloaded Main Hoon Na ringtones. This is the best narration of the plot found yet.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

One of the greatest houses in town is for sale

This little Spanish revival former duplex has never been ruined. It's now a one-family establishment and sports wonderful Venetian awnings (the ones supported on spears).

Monday, May 03, 2004

Every kind but Heavenly Blue

Those somehow protected by the nasturtiums are beginning to bloom: white, deep pink, pale blue with darker blue markings, pale pink with darker pink markings, purple ones with reddish markings, but no Heavenly Blue morning glory blooms yet. The surviving plants are just now beginning to grow up the fences and the nylon netting.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Squash bonanza

We bought them at H-E-B; then we went to the South Austin Farmers' Market and had to buy them there; and they're growing in our yard.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

I'm here now

After catching up with Kill Bill I up at the dollar movies in Wells Branch, we were hardy enough to go to Main Hoon Na, which was amazing, all three hours of it. There was quite an audience waiting to get in when we left at 8:00 p.m. And to think that I wasn't even in a movie-going mood! Kill Bill was a bit uneven in places, but we certainly enjoyed it also. There were brief tributes to various movies that we've seen, including to the scene at the tofu manufactory. Somebody's feet played a role; if those were Uma's, I wouldn't be showing them off. We especially loved the Sonny Chiba segment.