Thursday, November 30, 2006

Interesting rumor

I was very surprised to learn that Silvestre Reyes was one of the few not to have voted a certain way. When you meet countless people, only a few, beyond their names and a factoid or two for reference, make much impression, and the most likely to impress are the obnoxious, but this is someone who impresses most people, no matter what their worldly rank or "importance," memorably and favorably. El Paso is just as much a city-state as Austin is. I wonder whether that's a real blog.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Best 99 cents ever spent

Sometime back in the late 'Sixties, I bought an atlas from the Edward R. Hamilton catalogue: The Hammond Ideal World Atlas, New Perspective Edition, copyright 1967. I even gave copies to a couple of relatives. One of those people had a house fire and the other has moved around a lot. This atlas incorporates the 1960 census figures. It displays the populations for tiny towns and villages. It's a world atlas, and a good one, but it shines when it comes to the US of A. There's a separate highway map for each state. For each state there's a sort of economic atlas showing major crops, livestock-raising, minerals mined, and the like. For each state there's a small topographic map. It has 256 pages. Apart from the 1960 census figures, which we love to compare with current ones, my favorite feature is that county outlines and names are displayed, along with county seats. These maps are amazingly clear, despite all the small-town detail. Of course, just as population figures have changed, so have highways; and there are even new counties (e.g., in New Mexico). I bet this book is taken from the shelf at least a couple of times a week, either to clarify something in the news or to settle a bar-bet type of question. The dust-jacket has long since fallen into two pieces, and the end-papers are foxed. I'd buy a backup copy if there were one to be found, but the best I've come up with appears to be a similar Hammond atlas that would have 1970 census numbers. The cover design of this household favorite displays the red, pink, and orange of its era.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Melon harvest

Finally, we beat the creatures to a melon. This is one of the two remaining cantaloupes grown from the seed of melons bought at the South Austin farmers' market in the El Gallo parking lot. They only got as large as they did because they were growing up the hardware-cloth fence and were too high for those who don't fly or climb. There's one melon left after this one. Although it was small and hadn't quite turned completely brown, it smelled good and tasted good. The green under the skin was very bright, and the color of the flesh was beautiful. We'd never saved these seeds before, but in the future we always will. Right now, we have a beautiful crop of young pumpkin vines, from our Grace Methodist pumpkins. Some are on their first and second sets of real leaves. The first time it hovers around freezing, though, they're likely to go, as are the milkweeds.

Monday, November 27, 2006


Both big clumps of paperwhite narcissus, dumped unceremoniously years ago to fend for themselves, are blooming. It doesn't appear that there'll be as many bloom stalks this year as last. The scent of loquat flowers is still strong enough to overpower the scent of narcissi.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


Other vocal performances that have hushed the audience and left hair standing on end in addition to Erie Mills singing Caro Nome were: Dano Raffanti in Houston, singing Una Furtiva Lagrima (apparently not all that highly regarded, that day he sang that song better than I've ever heard it sung, live or recorded, by anybody; and the entire audience thought so, too); Kathleen Battle at a recital here in bad weather (she was in an ill humor because of the low turnout, but we were well rewarded); and Tish Hinojosa singing Estrellita (Ponce) on stage at the Paramount. She must have recorded it, because I recently heard it on the radio, and that version, too, stopped me in my tracks. Symphonic music, unaccompanied by a chorus, has never had this effect, but marching-band music, piano music, choral music, and organ music can be stirring in that way. Just as some people seem to smell not much and taste not much more than salt and grease, I think that many are unaffected by music, really. I always feel very sorry for those who love music dearly but have never been able to carry a tune. I knew the tune of Estrellita as a kid; some adult would play it sentimentally as a parlor piece, but I never knew that there were words. There's a vocal version on this, acquired as a dollar CD, but the sample catches only a salon-style orchestra phrase and the singer is over-dramatic and not young. "No puedo, sin tu amor, vivir." In addition to another Ponce song (A la orilla de un palmar), this album does have a good salon-style Sobre Las Olas.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Washday factoid

The PBS show about Beverly Sills was a treat, and the most wonderful thing about it was the revelation (to me) that hers was the voice singing that radio jingle that never leaves the mental jukebox: "Rinso white! Rinso bright! Happy little washday song." So many of the Beverly Sills performances were on television when I was living in places with a television and where stations could be received. I suppose that a love of opera music is an acquired taste. Here's how I came by it: it was ironing music (Texaco radio broadcasts; I first loved the quizzes and interviews at intermissions, and also the narrations of the stories); themes from opera were often pieces in books of music given to piano students (fifty cents a lesson; music assigned by the teacher, HJR, to be bought at the music store); concerts of choral music, both as listener and participant, that included opera and operetta bits; student productions; UT Sunday-morning bus-rides to Houston and Dallas to hear matinee performances; the KMFA programs of vocal music that exist no more; cheap and free voice recitals (mostly of Lieder, but the singers are the same); and, of course, our own Austin Lyric Opera from the very beginning. Opera is a complete musical and theatrical experience, but it doesn't need to be elaborate, even so. Two of my favorite performances ever were The Barber of Seville, done at the old Capitol Playhouse to piano accompaniment (where Ruta Maya began and where Halcyon is now), and a Rigoletto done by a Houston Opera Studio touring company at the Paramount, where Erie Mills made everybody's hair stand on end when she sang Caro Nome.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Let it begin

Now that the traditional dark-chocolate Cella cherries have been found twice again at CVS (once Eckerds), although at about double what they used to go for at Target, holiday shopping is pretty much concluded, at least the sort that subjects a person to excruciatingly bad music and the sight of hordes of unhappy people. Any seasonal music at the Chuy's parade will be just fine. Most of it will be live, anyhow, but I hope never to hear "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" ever, ever again.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Nobody here but us chickens

Plenty must have skipped. The obnoxo quotient has definitely dropped. It's great to have some relief. And on this day, at least, there's been not even one dump truck, Bobcat, lumber delivery, privy tanker, or the like, just the overflight of that pair of idiot helicopters. I am properly thankful. And at last we identified the mystery song that plays now all the time on one station or another, heard from every open window. It's the theme from Mundo de Fieras, which we're not checking in on until Fea mas bella concludes. Now this song, with that great hook, joins Mas alla del sol on the mental jukebox, along with "take good care of your tum-tum" from Button Up Your Overcoat. Anyhow, small-scale Austin is still great.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Free to good homes

Chia pets never go to the right people the first time around. I notice that Chia pets have been prominent lately in the Sunday ad supplements and no doubt will continue to be right up to the end of December. Nobody goes out and buys a Chia pet for personal enjoyment; people buy them to give away. In every workplace holiday white-elephant gift exchange, there's always at least one Chia pet. People who receive them as gifts are eager to dispose of them. But the odd thing is that these items are usually the most highly sought after and contested in these gift exchanges. So they end up with people who want them, just not the first time around.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Maudlin purple prose

Yellow Butterflies is here and I've read it, all 73 pages. Its evil magic still casts its spell. When the little boy was eleven years old, his father died. That, I'd remembered wrong. I'd forgotten that the butterflies are of a specific species, unclouded sulphur. And it was a year after the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown that the sign came. Otherwise, the effects remain. This edition is really a photoreproduction of the original publication. The copyright is from 1922, jointly held by Charles Scribner's Sons and The Curtis Publishing Co., which would seem to imply that this story first appeared in the pages of The Saturday Evening Post or perhaps The Ladies' Home Journal. Here're my earlier entries: Yellow Butterflies one and Yellow Butterflies two. Kessinger Publishing has a lot to answer for! I suspect that many, many others remember this story or it would not have been reprinted. Kessinger may sell to the home-schoolers. It's not at all a surprise to see that there are eight titles by Edward Everett Hale. Items by Gelett Burgess. Bulwer Lytton. And, of course, Robert Service. The list goes on. I hope to have a little time soon to investigate the catalogue more thoroughly.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ribbon cable

It's been so much fun poking around inside the case and removing things and replacing things that, now more than ever, I'm still resolved that one day I will completely build my own desktop computer. I just hate getting the stupid box open. That takes just about one more hand than most people have. I can't help it; I think it's fun to learn more about ribbon cables, even if I usually think more in terms of "gazintas" than DIP switches and jumpers.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sought but not found; not sought, but found anyhow

Target did not have dark-chocolate Cella cherries. The entire candy department has been moved since the last time we were there. Was it last year at this time? And the Target house-brand razor blades were nowhere to be found. On the bright side, even though the price keeps going up, there were those screw-top Anchor-Hocking glass storage jars, in two sizes, still made from the old molds and still called cracker jars. So we succumbed. Our other quest was everybody's and they had been there first: new pillows for holiday guests. We could score only four pillows, each a different style, but are we complaining? No! And here's why: when we stopped at the Eckerd drugstore (now CVS) to drop off some film for developing, in a sack branded CVS Gold Emblem candy were pink Canada Mints, wintergreen flavor! There were the white ones, peppermint, too, but the real find was the wintergreen flavor.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

To think we almost missed it

What a day-brightener! The Royce West parade was wonderful. We thought we might not be able to fit it in, but we're so glad that we did. What a shame that the turnout was low. Compare that with the Chuy's parade, which we wouldn't miss, but which lately has come to rely all too much on those silly balloons instead of on bands. This morning's parade was bands, bands, bands. Chuy's will bring in the Hardin-Simmons Cowboy Band, which we just love, but that'll about be it. That's how it has evolved from the early years. And then, tonight it was amusing to see that somebody had made a contribution listed in the Butterfly program as being "in honor of" Joseph McClain. We sure miss him. But at least we still have David Nancarrow on most productions, and the chorus is on the upswing again. And Cio-Cio-San sang very beautifully, with just the right color and volume to her voice. As somebody wrote recently, it sometimes does seem as though Butterfly is performed every year, but it's been only three times. And we're glad we didn't skip this one.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Question of unknown origin

How long could your household subsist on what's in the refrigerator and pantry? This assumes that there is electricity and there is tap-water and there is fuel for cooking but that gardens and stores are not available. Another question that would follow from that, although not posed originally, is: what would you save until last? Would this be something you really like? Or would it be something you detest but would eat if necessary to survive? We've been having a lot of fun with this, but I'm not sure what my answers would be, other than that any true perishables would have to be consumed first. We once lived where many people kept a year's supply of provisions always on hand, rotating out what was no longer good for use. When I was a kid, everybody talked about "the squirrel shelf," meaning, figuratively, the pantry equivalent of what our bushy-tailed friends store for winter. We always have flour, cereal for eating both cold and hot, rice, potatoes, powdered buttermilk, split peas, nuts, onions, garlic, ginger, and canned beef and chicken broth on hand, as well as canned fruits and juices. When we lived fifty and sixty miles over bad roads from where there was any real shopping, we thought a lot about keeping staples stocked, including powdered milk for enriching things baked. Eggs and various creatures freshly killed or caught, whether domesticated or wild, were usually available there. Some of this shades over into what people try to keep in their refrigerators at all times.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Forbidden list

The current (November) Metropolis has an article about reconstructing a garden within the Forbidden City (byline Jianying Zha). I love this list of garden features as translated by the author: Gate of Preserving Integrity, Pavilion of Tranquil Ease (the best kind!), Tower of Illuminating Wisdom, Tower of Auspicious Clouds, Studio of Esteemed Excellence, Lodge of Viridian Jade, Hall of Concentrating Brilliance (again, the best kind!), Pavilion of Prolonged Spring, Chamber of Crystalline Purity, Belevedere of Abundant Greenery, and, last, the pedestrian South Guard House.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Circus ephemera

This little discount ticket is prettier than it looks here. It is on very flimsy paper, but it's enlivened by depictions of some of the acts and is not generic, but is specific to Austin, with a reminder of the dates and times of the shows. It was still there yesterday at an eastside tienda even though Circus Chimera had gone on to Kyle and then, perhaps, to Seguin or Gonzalez before heading back home for the season to Hugo, Oklahoma. The contortionist playing Alice in Wonderland, depicted at the bottom, did the prettiest act of that sort I've ever seen, and I don't generally like that sort of act. Apparently, she's as young as she looks, just 20, and, in addition to the training as a gymnast mentioned in the publicity, has obviously had some training as an acrobat and dancer. We thought it was funny that there were two-dollar coloring books being sold in the audience, each of which contained a dollar-off coupon to be redeemed at the toy and souvenir stand. The coupons are obviously used again if turned in. I wish I'd caught a photograph of the roustabouts checking out the light-up jester hats to see if they needed new batteries. Raspas and popcorn were the most-sold refreshments. Over at Flickr, others have uploaded their pix of Circus Chimera.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Happy-making, and recent

The memory of these and the pleasure they brought should last all the week long: the Veterans' Day parade, marching bands, Circus Chimera, Tejano and conjunto music, baking again now that it's cooler, cornbread with chiles, Austin's own Rosita's Tamales (pork and jalapeno) accompanied by Jaime's hot green sauce, clouds of butterflies, and buds sighted in the clumps of paperwhite narcissus. And I'm glad that the toy camera captured all three of the circus banners. They seem to be air-brushed. In this one I especially like the expression on George Washington's face, as well as the plane's contrails.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Wouldn't again

The new IE 7 is very irritating. The toolbars can be customized and changed only so far, which I hate. I'm just thinking of reverting, but probably won't. In some cases, reversion is foreclosed (that stupid navbar now made mandatory in Blogger: I've disliked seeing it atop others' postings; I dislike even more seeing it on mine; maybe a massive campaign of complaints will bring about change for the better). I think that my latent oppositional defiant disorder is kicking in. No; wait! I'm too old to exhibit that.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Winged clouds, flying acrobats, and wings of song

The air is alive with butterflies, of all sizes, the smaller, less conspicuous ones unidentified by name. Those not on the milkweed or lantana head for the loquat blossoms, now opening and filling the air, even though it's not still, with that almost cloying scent. There are many monarch butterflies among the rest. After Circus Chimera, there may or may not be enough appetite for entertainment to encourage heading for the Tejano show at Fiesta Gardens. It's from 3 to 10 today. It's amazing to think that the Tucanes de Tijuana and Jenni Rivera were in town yesterday. The Tigres del norte are making it a tradition to pass through Austin on or around Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


We came home with two new flags to join our parade souvenirs, new DAV poppies, and an armload of free publications from the various boxes up and down the Avenue, which we did the length of two and a half times. The turnout from the CWV post on South Congress was smaller again this year. Depending on how things are constituted, there's likely to be a real-estate bonanza one of these days. Dee and Jim's is packing it in and cashing in. This parade is one of the true Austin events. It drew some small-town Girl Scouts but, unlike the Chuy's parade, doesn't bring in the hordes from the 'burbs.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Yellow butterflies (and orange ones)

Yellow Butterflies, by Mary Shipman Raymond Andrews, has been reprinted. Many people visit my entry on this subject. The book must now be out of copyright. I guess I must buy it before it goes out of print again, just to see what it's really like. There was a local radio announcer who either read it or declaimed it from memory on certain patriotic holidays (Armistice Day and Decoration Day, I think). He used an old-fashioned sentimental, even maudlin, delivery. By the end, he'd be close to outright weeping and the story certainly lodged itself in my mind, so it must be powerful in that vein so seldom tapped in these days of irony and sarcasm. In the yard at suppertime yesterday were yellow clouded sulphur butterflies, hundreds of gulf fritillaries, and at least a dozen monarchs, all drawn by the lantanas, whose berries are being picked clean by the birds, and whose burgeoning blossoms in this cycle are a magnet for butterflies and honeybees.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The one omitted

One of us read recently somewhere of a public official who was all for placing the ten commandments in some public place. When challenged, this person could remember only three commandments. On our attempt, the one and only universally omitted was to remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. The official may be apocryphal, but it makes a good story.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Swans and silk

All About Home Baking recommended certain products. One of them, Swans Down flour, is a brand now owned by Reily Foods, also known as Luzianne Products, of Louisiana. I was interested to see that Reily (or Luzianne) now owns La Martinique salad dressings and also the Wick Fowler chli that used to be packaged right here in Austin down by La Zona Rosa. La Martinique makes what I still think is the only tolerable bottled vinaigrette, really very good. This outfit is also where Bean Cuisine has wound up. The Softasilk cake flour once owned by General Mills and recommended for many recipies in the Betty Crocker cookbook is now sold under the Pillsbury name. Does General Foods still exist? Who owns Baker's chocolate (now 225 years old)? Kraft Foods. And Calumet baking powder? Also Kraft.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

On a suspenseful day

It's repugnant to think that there was such a thing as "slave jurisprudence." In part of the author's opening he says, "Over the . . . years, I read a number of the court’s slave cases hoping, largely in vain, to find some redeeming words, some sign of revulsion or, at least, distaste for the task of resolving the legal issues arising from the commerce in humans. Finally, I found a case that chronicles one bright spot in those dark days of jurisprudence — a case in which the court sorted out the legal ramifications of the Emancipation Proclamation, described by one of the justices as the 'noblest paper since the declaration of independence by our forefathers.' This is the story of that decision." Everyone made aware of this article is passing it along to others. The subheadings of the article include "The Justices," "The Lawyers," "The Arguments," "The Possible Dates," and "The Opinion," followed by a conclusion and extensive footnotes. These cases were considered right here in Austin, Texas. This is from the Texas Bar Journal November 2006 issue, page 948: "The Supreme Court of Texas and the Emancipation Cases" (by Robert B. Gilbreath). I'd like to see this article expanded and made available in a national publication. Nobody needs a specific interest in the law to be drawn in by this piece, only an interest in the history of this state and this republic and how they have come to be what they are today.

Monday, November 06, 2006

All about it

This is called "All About Home Baking." It's a clothbound book of 144 pages. The copyright date is 1933. My mother, according to the inscription, acquired it in 1934. Many of the recipies are marked "economy." The holder of the copyright is General Foods Corporation. It appears to have been a free publication. The frontispiece color photograph shows strawberry shortcake made, as is proper, with split baking-powder biscuits. The caption is: "Behold the proud beauty of it. Imagine its fresh-baked fragrance, its melting taste. This book is dedicated to just such excellent baking. Such baking casts a magic spell." The cover band lists: "cakes, cookies, pies, pastries, biscuits, muffins, quick breads, frostings, table service, and party menus." Wherever possible, the recipes call for the use of one or more of these: Calumet Baking Powder, Swans Down Cake Flour, and Baker's Unsweetened Chocolate. I still use these brands. How's that for loyalty?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Betty led me astray

Betty misled me. Because the Betty Crocker cookbook recipes were so tested and tested, no recipe ever went wrong, so long as the instructions were followed. We were always shooed away when adults were cooking. They didn't use cookbooks. They made biscuits, custards, sauces, cakes with cooked frostings, fudge, and gazillions and gazillions of lard-crust pies, at least two or three a week, and never looked at a cookbook. One aunt possessed what was probably a first-edition Boston Cooking School Cookbook (Fannie Famer), but it never came down from the shelf. When I dig out the only one that I knew as a kid, although I never saw it used, I'll be interested in seeing just what it is. The cover is a yellow-and-something pseudo-tartan along the lines of some cheery Russel Wright breakfast set from the 'Fifties, but I bet this book is from before the War. How did Betty lead me astray? I thought all cookbooks were as foolproof and planned to cook up a dinner for guests from my new present, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Julia), and I didn't find that to be completely mistake-proof for me. Let's just forget the details!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Cookery-bookery, BC and JoC

There's a big publicity push on for the latest edition of Joy of Cooking. I especially enjoyed the feature in the local daily asking for people's commentary and memories associated with it. My favorite was the bit on the squirrel-skinning instructions, which I always enjoyed, too. My copy is from 1967, a printing of what seems to be a 1961 edition. I think I bought this for myself, but I'm not sure where (Manhattan? Doubleday?). The most-used recipe, and a favorite, is Eggless, All Rye Honey Cake Cockaigne, very forgiving under all circumstances, including a non-regulated oven and high altitudes. It keeps very well, also, and slices very thin, tasting even better as time goes on. This cookbook was once published as a two-volume paperback set and I know that I gave it as gifts. Joy of Cooking was not the first cookbook I owned, though. That was the 1961 non-fancy edition of Betty Crocker (the one that was not in a ring-binder). It was a present. Best-loved recipes include snickerdoodles, molasses crackle-top cookies, butter spritz, German honey cookies, chocolate crackle-top cookies, pinwheel refrigerator cookies, orange-pecan bread, various layer cakes, fudge frosting, and a version of meatloaf (beef, pork, veal). There are many, many more. I've always liked the line drawings with color-wash highlights. Betty Crocker never fails. Her brownies were a favorite until James Beard's came along. Betty came from my grandmother, who never used a cookbook herself. My only electric appliance for years was a pre-WWII Sunbeam hand-mixer that my mother had given my grandmother, who had never used it, and, characteristically returned it to my mother, who never used it and who eventually gave it to me. It was like new. Somebody not me finally burned out the motor using it on too heavy a batter of some sort (the sort better attacked by a wooden spoon) or I'd have it still.

Friday, November 03, 2006

TV worth watching

There was alfombra roja stuff earlier in the day, but the show started at 6 pm CST. We weren't around for the earlier part and were too done in to see it through, but the Latin Grammy people know how to put on a show. Shakira was the biggest multi-winner of the evening. Categories 21 through 26 more or less covered our part of the world. Joan Sebastian may have come in second among the winnners for numbers of awards. Thalia probably had the most off-the-wall gigantic production number. The opening tableau was an echo of the opening of Der Rosenkavalier, with Thalia dressed as Octavian and a lot of people, including some guys, dressed in costumes of the Marie Antoinette era, complete with panniered skirts and towering wigs. We saw Adamari in the audience when Luis Fonsi did his number, which included one of the ZZ Top guys, if you can believe it, on guitar. Madison Square Garden was completely full. The greatest revelation was Joan Sebastian. How many people could come out on stage, sing solo accompanied only by himself on guitar played with great expression and finesse, and hold a large audience completely rapt? I discovered that one of my favorite songs of this past year, "Mas alla del sol," was by Joan Sebastian. He performed it last night accompanied by a small banda of only about a dozen people. Too bad we couldn't stick it out. The pace was lively and the performances were entertaining on a grand scale, with stupendous production values and excellent live sound. I think that Joan Sebastian is due to perform around here sometime quite soon, as are Los Tigres Del Norte and Los Tucanes de Tijuana, but I'm catching only the tail-end of radio announcements. Pepe Aguilar has already been here and Juan Gabriel is due soon, but the venue for both of them was set for the UT PAC, I think. The others will perform where dancing is possible.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

An insult

Somebody said about people from the Dominican Republic, "Those people don't even have their own island." The same goes for the Haitians, I suppose, but the subject was citizens of Spanish-speaking places, so, for the insulter, Creole-speakers didn't count.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Illegible labels

I very rarely lose anything, and I'm very easy on my clothes, which last forever and ever, no matter how much I wear them, unless I don't see something and am snagged by it or unless someone spills something. Sometimes an older garment can be put away for a decade or so, in hopes that styles will return. Rationally, I know that this is stupid. Lapels and colors, for instance, are always marks of a certain era to those who notice such things, and only echos of a given style ever repeat, never the Ding an sich. Yes; quality clothes are made to endure; labels, however, are pitiful. Now, I have some clothes that are sun-faded and just plain wearing thin after a couple of decades. Some are so old that I can't remember how I came by them. The labels would be informative, but those not shredded and tattered are faded to nothing, without the ghost of a bit of information to be seen. I don't even want to think about paper labels. What happened to embroidered labels?