Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Scraping the bottom

You Were Never Lovelier, courtesy of Vulcan, does not contain the better songs of Kern and Mercer, to say the least. Fred and Rita are just fine, as are the supporting players, but in some ways the true stars are the ladies' hats and tailored luncheon suits, as well as Rita's dancing gowns. Cugie and the Xavier Cugat band show to advantage, too. Only I'm Old Fashioned is a song worthy of Jerome Kern and has stood the test of time. Fred himself is the choreographer. This 1942 movie is a remake of a 1941 Argentine movie originally in Spanish, of course, that did not enjoy the advantage of Fred and Rita.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Some don't jump

One of the cats next door prefers to ascend to the top of one of our fences by using the hardware-cloth portion for a ladder. She prefers not to jump to the wooden ledge on top and would rather ascend step by step. This morning, I saw a half-grown raccoon doing exactly the same thing.

Monday, May 29, 2006

No bugs

We didn't buy enough popcorn to last us through Fanaa (which we very much enjoyed), so we were famished afterwards. At that hour of the day on a holiday weekend when many had left town, business was slow enough so that the waiter was chatty. At some time in his more youthful past, he said, he had been a night watchman at the Niagara Falls Shredded Wheat plant. It had no night shifts. Triscuits were being made there as well. At any rate, he had been shown large graphics of various kinds of insect pests and instructed that, if he saw even one example, he was to report the species and the exact location where he observed it. He never saw any life forms at all. Everything was spotless behind belief. I wonder where my Straight Arrow cards went. I liked Quaker Muffets (round) just as well as Shredded Wheat but Muffets didn't have those cards. I like this history of Shredded Wheat

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Spare a minute?

Making Memorial Day (or Decoration Day) a Monday holiday was its ruination. Now there are those reduced to pleading for a moment of silence. This was once a day of parades, laying memorial wreaths on the waters, and leisurely visits to cemeteries to tidy graves, place flags, and leave flowers. I wrote last year about Yellow Butterflies and people continue to search for this information.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

OK not

It's OKeh records. It's Rockin' Dopsey, not Dopcee. The writer may have called in the piece and the Chron probably stopped the presses for the Antone story. No matter how great the haste, though, someone should have caught these. I like this bit on OKeh albums in the decade of the 'Sixties.

Friday, May 26, 2006

In it for the seekh kebab

That's why I prefer to hit the Taj Palace buffet line on a weekend. Seekh kebab is not to be found on the weekday buffet table. This past weekend, there was lamb on the menu, but not my favorite. Instead, there was a very rich lamb stew. There was a large private party in progress, and outsiders were being seated only at a few non-party tables. I suppose that the host of the party selected the dishes at the buffet. Instead of the standard dal dish, there was dal makhni, with small black lentils or pulses of some kind, one of my greatest favorites. I was the only one at the table familiar with it, since it's among the Deep frozen food offerings. The Taj's version, of course, was a dimension beyond. There were also samosas. The hot naan was in copious supply, constantly replenished. The guest of honor may have just graduated or had some degree conferred. Some of the guests were dressed very sumptuously.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Never to be repeated

I tried a fast-food hamburger from a chain just once. I couldn't finish it. As it happens, it was from McDonald's. It tasted as though it had cereal and offal in it. "They" say that's not the case, that it's never been true. I'm just describing how it tasted to me. It tasted sweet and had a bad texture. And the sample was naked, without the roll and without anything along ketchup lines on it. I don't personally know anyone who has tasted one under those conditions. If you're going to enjoy your carnivore aspects, don't waste time on what isn't worth eating. Don't smother what is worth eating in extraneous flavor-hiding substances. That's my advice. After trying McDonald French fries, I did eat them again. And again. Until the use of beef tallow as a frying medium was discontinued. Now I don't bother with them. While they were decent, on cross-country road trips I subsisted on French fries, and on biscuits, and, when in the proper parts of the country, catfish.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Memory loss

There was a time when all 254 counties of Texas were in my head, complete with county seats, and a general notion of their location, although without my being able to say in every case which counties bordered any given one. For any good-sized town or city and for lots of smaller ones, I could name the county. But the information isn't so complete or accurate these days. I knew in which part of the state Denison is located, near Oklahoma and east of Dallas, and thought that the county begins with "Gray" but wasn't coming up with Grayson until I looked in my 99-cent atlas. I love the Handbook of Texas, which usually has some information on every little railroad division point or quarry or sawmill camp that ever appeared on any map at any time. I'm bookmarking this page of Texas outline-map links. I love it that Travis County is heart-shaped so that it's easy to find on any outline map no matter how small the scale.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Just because they can, should they?

There's scarcely an ad for books that doesn't depict the book's dust jacket, sometimes too small. No matter how tiny the image of the cover, though, there's always room these days to incorporate a drop shadow, thanks to Photoshop. The notion probably is that the image will pop from the page, thanks to its phony three-dimensional aspect. I don't think that it does. The drop-shadow is no more than a handy cliche. I'm reminded of the early days of PageMaker and publications using the standard sans-serif face for heads and subheads and the ever-available version of Times New Roman or Century Schoolbook for the body because additional typefaces were so expensive. In those heady early days, people just could not resist using those rounded-corner boxes.

Monday, May 22, 2006

News here

I didn't know about these, but now I do (this sounds like a verse from Amazing Grace). (1) You'd Be Surprised, by Irving Berlin, recorded by Eddie Cantor and heard on one of those wonderful Smithsonian compendiums available from the library. This would make a great talent-show or skit song for just about anybody. Another favorite from this collection (American musicals: red, hot and blue) is yet another rendition of Love Will Find a Way (Eubie Blake / Noble Sissle). (2) 2 Live Stews, which isn't heard around here but may be available on line beyond a few audio snippets (this is worth checking out). (3) Seeds for Green Comet broccoli are no longer available. This we heard at the South Congress farmers' market. We forgot to ask what variety we bought, which did, amazingly, succeed for a spring harvest and is tasty. (4) Much as I love Harold Lloyd and also Django's Mustache, I'm not willing to pay $13 per ticket, at least not until the temperatures are higher, at least not for the movie on Sunday, although maybe for The Freshman or Grandma's Boy. We've seen everything out there, and with live accompaniment, but it's been a long time.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Some came running

But they were too late to see the UP 844 Special come rolling across the river, past the electric plant, and into the station. I'd say that locomotive 844 was nearly thirty minutes early. We were watching its location on the GPS site as it moved past Landa Park, New Braunfels, Ajax, and many other points not always on the map. It was fun to look them up using the on-line Handbook of Texas. Then it neared Kyle and we headed on out. What a beautiful, beautiful sight! And sound! And vibration! What insanely happy grins on all faces! I think we'll check it out again tomorrow. Today, everytime we were near the station, we saw people hanging around looking. Static is interesting; in motion is thrilling.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Conveyor belts

Kinky Boots offers many pleasures, musical, theatrical, and industrial ones among them. The vignettes of shoe-making using mostly 19th-century equipment and lots of hand-finishing could have gone on and on, so far as I'm concerned. It's amazing how many people, if asked, remember Industry on Parade. I'd love to know more about the musical accompaniment for these. When we hear certain music, sometimes we remark that it would go well with IOP. Nobody ever forgets the portentious narration, either. What a vanished epoch! An exclamation point is used here because each segment-title has one. We saw many of these on the F. television, which had a tiny, tiny CRT and then all the tubes and wiring exposed behind it. I suppose that A. had made it himself.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Dredged up from memory

We were talking about turntables. The first separate turntable I knew was a Rek-O-Kut (if you're not counting a roundhouse turntable). It's amazing that I remember this, that nobody there knew the name, and that Rek-O-Kut is still made (or perhaps it's being made again). I'm also reminded of N. and J. and their post-war HeathKit mania.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Ignoring the reviews

Since the weekend wasn't propitious for movie-going and since today was better and since the Bollywood movie was gone and our selection was simplified, we took in The Promise on its last day in town. After reading some of the reviews, including the one on the Chron, it would have been easy to be deterred from seeing it. That would have been a mistake. Even had it been a bad movie, there would have been much for us to enjoy, but it's a good movie, and better than good, a sort of adult fairy tale picaresque epic. The screen keeps the eyes busy. The acting is really wonderful. The wigs are not so, in some cases. There were those who thought better of the cattle in the defile than I did. We're lucky that, sooner or later, most movies do arrive in Austin, however brief their stay.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Never before

From start to finish, with added and removed material as well, I heard this recorded version of Strike of the Band for the first time. Although it contains some beautiful songs and several very funny numbers, it's not the sort of item to be listened to again and again. Nevertheless, it's very clever and would make a wonderful choice for high-school or college students to produce. I liked the idea of Evil Yodeling Swiss villains. This was found at the library. The printed accompanying material is most informative. I didn't care for the mixtures of arranging styles but I did like it that arrangers' credits were furnished so that it's possible to confirm which are originals and which are later or contemporary. I hadn't thought about the song Soon for a long time, but I've Got a Crush on You and The Man I Love are performed and recorded fairly often, usually with too much drama. The vernacular lyrics and the G&S tone add greatly to the pleasure of this. I hope to see it live someday. I like this on-line essay.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Firsts of the season

At suppertime we saw our first hummingbird, a male black-chinned specimen, zooming sideways when he wasn't paying attention to the first Turk's cap flowers. Tomorrow we'll see our first Heavenly Blue morning-glories.

Monday, May 15, 2006


The Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Austin is seeking a few words or a paragraph or an entire essay from anyone who has enjoyed a performance (e-mail may be sent to this address by May 20). Supplemental funding is being sought from the City arts program or from a corporation or a foundation or any combination of these. My first G&S was purely by chance, at the Capitol City Playhouse (where the first Ruta Maya later took up residence), Trial by Jury, with Jess Walters in the cast and a piano accompaniment. The performance was in the round and the audience sat on bleachers. That was the location of my first live opera performance, as well (again with a piano accompaniment, a Barber of Seville with a very youthful cast). And we started going to Dallas and Houston on the bus with a crowd of jolly people including the head of the UT continuing education program at that time and Bill Reber (now with the opera program at Arizona State) and Dr. Walter Ducloux and Joe McClain. Grand opera and G&S are just two of the many varieties of live music that Austin has brought and continues to bring to make hearts merry.

Sunday, May 14, 2006


There are just a few plumbago flowers, roses of Sharon, and yellow cosmos. We're hoping for many, many more.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Back when boys still wore dresses

This is a studio portrait taken after the turn of the 20th century. The little lamb on wheels is not a studio prop. This was a favorite toy. This baby grew up to be the man my mother married after the death of my father, my loving and loved second father.

Back when boys wore dresses

This is a studio photograph of my father, born in 1883. The back of the card on which this photograph is mounted has an ornamental steel engraving showing palm fronds and a scroll, along with a landscape mounted on an easel. Some of the text: "INSTANTANEOUS process used exclusively," "Art Photography," "The only all Ground Floor Studio in the City," "The Negative of this Photograph is preserved for future orders and can be reduced for the smallest locket or enlarged up to life-size and can be finished in Crayon, Ink or Water Color," and "All our Negatives are made with view to Enlargement." The studio was Towne and Elwell. The ink is green; perhaps it was originally some other color and has become green over time. (A click on the image will download a larger version of it, so that more detail may be viewed.)

My father at the fair

This photograph was taken in a tent. This is the only example in this series that I possess, although I remember others that included a kitten or kittens in the hat. (A click on the image will download a larger version of it, so that more detail may be viewed.)

Nineteenth-century family portrait

In this studio photograph are my father, his three brothers, and their parents. My father is standing next to his mother. There had been a little sister, born before the eldest brother, and dead before the arrival of the second brother (I think), whose doll, along with the doll's trunk and wardrobe, are in my possession. I am said to resemble my father and my grandmother. (A click on the image will download a larger version of it, so that more detail may be viewed, including a toy dog in the foreground.)

Friday, May 12, 2006

Susan sews

The Sewing Susan book of sharps needles is now apparently a nostalgia item; since the graphics are so eye-catching, this particular cover has even been reproduced. I can no longer remember how I came by mine. Could it have been the Woolworth's downtown at Congress and Sixth? I bet the cover sold a lot of needles. Who made darning thread on cards? I think that everybody used Red Heart. Does anybody darn anything these days?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Remaining and arriving

Still blooming are bachelor buttons, firewheels, black-eyed Susans, sweet peas, lettuce flowers (bolted black-seeded Simpson), cypress vine, scarlet runner beans, purple morning glories, delphiniums, California poppies, red poppies, and lantanas. Fresh on the scene are cucumber blossoms and fennel flowers. The cooler weather has brought new flowers to nasturtiums, chiles, and tomatoes. Thyme tries to bloom but gets pinched back; the same's true for basil. The cardinals are enjoying the berries from the prior flush of lantana flowers. We were surprised to learn from an acquaintance that she had paid ten dollars apiece for passion vines, when it's perfectly possible to grow them from seed. She was distressed about caterpillars but cheered up when she learned that they're future gulf fritillaries and that the vines will recover.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Among the several reasons for delays in restoring power reported to be given by "Austin Energy" in a front-page story in the May 8 edition of the local daily were: (a) "Access to utility poles is difficult in older neighborhoods, where most of the outages occurred. Workers cannot use bucket trucks. Transformers weighing as much as 700 pounds have to be maneuvered into place by hand." (b) "Although more than 340 workers were deployed to restore power, safety concerns limited the number of crews that could work at the same time in the core of the city, where damage was concentrated." What was done before the advent of bucket trucks? What safety concerns? Don't we have enough people who still know how to use a climbing belt and gaffs? It's a given that, in older neighborhoods, access is from narrow alleys (if they haven't been privatized for next to no money) or through yards where distances between neighboring houses are extremely narrow and there is very often no driveway even if it's not possible to reach out and touch a structure on either side at the same time. Why are 700-pound transformers being installed in older neighborhoods, replacing ones that appear to be a quarter to a fifth the size? Is it to make way for super-large residences or for the oft-proposed rezonings to multi-family dwellings? Is "Austin Energy" locked in with too few linemen? The trucks around town replacing utility poles (with much larger ones) say "Shaw." If these Shaw contract employees were City ("Austin Energy") employees, they could be reassigned from pole replacement to power restoration. There may be no such flexibility built in to contracts with Shaw or other providers of out-sourced services. All the outages known about here were the result of lightning strikes or hurricane-like winds just plain snapping the lines. "Austin Energy" couldn't use "squirrels" as a reason this time, so it has resorted to "trees." In conditions this extreme, any full-grown oak or pecan anywhere on a small, older city lot that goes down is likely to cause some sort of damage, either out in the street or to a structure or perhaps even to transmission lines, with the combination of gale winds and saturated soil. This has nothing to do with mutilating everything green within 17 feet on either side of utility lines, but recent events will probably be used as an excuse to do so. Using the logic favored, one would be led to believe that it's necessary to clear-cut the entire city, even though one report did note that there's little difference in outage rates reported as between areas with "line-clearance programs" and those with trees left untouched by Asplundh and Davey thus far.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

First and last

Gone now are all the loquats, either finally consumed by the creatures or just turned into mush by these storms. We've enjoyed the surprise of a few more California poppies. The first figs are visible and swelling by the hour with all the water being taken up.

Monday, May 08, 2006


Thanks to Forbes ("Wrap Star," 8 May 2006 issue), all my questions about Bubble Wrap, exclusive product of Sealed Air, have now ben answered. This is a great product of American ingenuity and superior in every way to polystyrene (Styrofoam) packing peanuts.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

This we could have dispensed with

It was a shame to waste scarce conjunto time on a tribute to Johnny Cash, ring of fuego or not. We decided to vote in the Albertsons parking lot on the way to the conjunto festival. We didn't leave until the entire KMFA hour of Verdi choruses had concluded, not being able to tear ourselves away. There was an all-guy contingent in charge of the elections trailer, Democrats, one would guess, but for the lone Anglo guy, who was just returning from the convenience store with some brisket for the team. At the pulga these days, there's more space devoted to off-street parking and much less to vendor booths and tables. This must be the deal that the owner reached. Unofficial commerce continues, though, all the way down the street between Walgreens and Pleasant Valley. We found good parking within a block of the park and walked with our chairs and stuff. As always, everyone was in a wonderful humor. The mud had dried up; it didn't rain; everyone was jolly; the dance floor was crowded; the music is still in our heads. What a wonderful way to end/begin the week!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

No trucha

I love this site devoted to lyrics (letra) of traditional conjunto music. El disgusto is there, but la trucha isn't. I'm really looking forward to heading for Fiesta Gardens tomorrow after we vote.

Friday, May 05, 2006


It's a miracle that no panes were broken. We still miss that one pecan tree, but it was so far from plumb that it would have gone last night for sure. At intervals when the power was on, we watched channel 36. The little crawl-text at the bottom of the screen kept saying don't go outdoors, don't use the telephone, don't take a bath, and all the stuff that we were told as kids but that isn't heard much these days. I can remember seeing lightning shoot across the kitchen from the pump because the plumbing wasn't grounded in the way that it is these days. Limbs down are small rotten items from the oaks and some dead pecan stuff, plus brittle things from redbuds and roses of Sharon. Ball moss abounds. A pavement broom was very helpful in collecting it, even from the grass, seeming to be faster at it than a rake, for some reason. Even before true dawn, chainsaws were to be heard everywhere. Some busybody's sure to call in the dark streetlights. What a shame! People drive in a much safer manner without them.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


We're going to go around one more year at the same stand, so there's no need to make serious plans yet about what comes next. Sometimes the inertia of a body in motion is tough to change to the inertia of a body at rest, and let's not even think about charting any change or correction in course.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

One up, one down

As for-sale signs are installed or removed around the neighborhood, it's never historically been the new neighbors or potential ones that cause concern. To be dreaded are round-the-clock yappers and then those people with giant, heavy vehicles who use the driveways of others to get turned around rather than circumnavigate the block, crack people's curbs and driveways, and block driveways, newspaper deliveries, and trash pick-ups. Now to be feared are flippers, tear-down speculators, and people who believe they need three or four times more in the way of square footage than generations of larger households before them ever did.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


In bloom, besides the potted nasturtiums and geraniums and milkweed, we find thyme, lantana again, sweet peas (more), red poppies, bachelor buttons, delphinium, scarlet runner beans, cypress vine, and purple morning glories with red veins. We've had barely a pink evening primrose but lots of blue dayflowers. We still have firewheels and black-eyed Susans. Some of the fennel is blooming. Oak flowers are done; pecan flowers can be smelled on the air but only a few have been pollinated and dropped. Four o'clocks are very strong in scent mornings when there's lots of humidity. Verbascum (cultivated mullein) is in bloom.

Monday, May 01, 2006


We've been hearing them; now, we're seeing them, although, as always, they're all but impossible to identify, beyond the fact that they're warblers. They just won't sit still. By the time the focus is fixed, they're on to the next spot. Even when they sit still enough, the light's never right to catch the amount of information needed as to rings or no rings, bars, etc., etc. We felt pretty chipper after the performance, probably because most repeats were not taken, so it didn't last all that long. Today, though, is another story. It all catches up.