The Samurai Collection

The Ann & Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum: The Samurai Collection takes up the second floor of the St. Ann Building in Dallas’ Uptown district, which is a walkable distance from downtown, even in the late-summer heat. The museum is another new attraction for the city, open only since March.

To reach it, you enter a first-floor restaurant, pass its reception desk, and then go up some stairs. It’s a small museum with a single focus: samurai armor, weapons, masks, and related items. The museum asserts that its “collection of samurai objects is one of the largest of its type in the world and is displayed in the only museum outside Japan whose focus is samurai armor.”

Go up to the cool, quiet reaches of the museum, and pretty soon you’re face-to-face with the likes of him:

It’s a somen (full-face mask), made of iron, leather, horsehair, lacquer and silk lacing, dating from mid-Edo – the 18th century. During earlier periods, when a samurai might actually have to do battle, somen weren’t that popular, since a mask like that can obscure your vision. In the more peaceful Edo era, that wasn’t such a concern, and the masks had a revival among samurai (at least those who could afford them).

Another cool item at the Samurai Collection is this helmet.

It’s an akodanari kabuto, a melon-shaped helmet of iron and lacquer and dating from the Muromachi period, or the late 15th to early 16th centuries, when it was entirely likely that a samurai would be fighting someone. The museum says that “the construction of this kabuto, with twelve plates covered in protruding rivet comprising the helmet bowl, is unique. There is no other known example.”

These are fine artifacts, but they aren’t as grand as some full armor that the Barbier-Mueller has. In this case, one for a man, another for a boy.

The larger suit, the museum notes, “was assembled during the Edo period and incorporates several older components. The helmet displays stylized horns known as kuwagata and a frontal ornament in the shape of a paulownia leaf, the crest of several important families…” As for the smaller suit, it’s late Edo. “Boys of samurai class families began training to become warriors at a very young age… at around age 12, samurai boys participated in a ceremony known as genpuku, wherein they received their first armor and sword.”

All in all, a high-quality collection, and not such a large display that you can’t leisurely take in most of it in one visit. It’s as if a single room of some vast, first-water museum – the British Museum, the Met, the Art Institute – had detached itself and landed in Dallas. So why Dallas? The museum’s name says it all: Dallas real estate mogul Gabriel Barbier-Mueller and his wife Ann, long-time collectors of this kind of art and artifact, wanted it to be there.

Here’s a 2006 D article about Barbier-Mueller, scion of the Swiss family of that name who decided to live in Dallas, in as much as anyone with four houses lives in a particular place. It begins with the amusing line:Gabriel Barbier-Mueller owns a lot of stuff.” Well, so do I. It’s just that a lot of his stuff is more expensive.

Downtown Dallas ’13

Saturday was warm and partly cloudy, with gusts of wind all day but nothing strong enough to do damage. Lately it’s been cooling off dramatically at night, but that didn’t happen on Saturday. At around 10 pm, I sat on my deck and took in these vestiges of summer. At about 11, it started to rain.

On Wednesday the 18th, I squeezed enough time out of my schedule to drive from my brother’s house to the White Rock Station on the Blue Line of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) system, to catch a train to downtown Dallas. The station opened in 2001 as the light rail line system expanded, and I remember catching a train there in November 2002 with Jay and Yuriko and Lilly (who was just four at the time) to go downtown and catch a Red Line train to the Dallas Zoo. Riding a train in Dallas was a novel experience at the time, like riding one in LA was in 2001.

Whenever I can, I ride urban rails – light, heavy, commuter, subway, elevated, monorail, trolley, you name it. All-day passes are sold at vending machines at DART stations, and I bought one for $5. The ticketing system is the same as I remember some German transit systems being – roving ticket inspectors check tickets randomly, and the punishment for free riding is being thrown in front of the train. That or a fine.

The DART Blue Line proved an efficient way of getting downtown and back again late in the afternoon, and as it happened no one checked my ticket. Had I got it into my head to free ride, no doubt an inspector would have shown up.

As many times as I’ve been to Dallas – I started my visits as a very tiny baby and they’ve continued in each decade since then – I don’t quite know the place. Not like San Antonio or Nashville or Chicago or even Austin or Osaka. Or at least not downtown. Been years since I spent much time in that part of the city. The last time might have been when we visited the Dallas Heritage Museum some years ago, though that has more of a view of downtown than actually being in it. There was also the time when Yuriko and I dropped by the Sixth Floor Museum in the early ’90s, and another time I went to Deep Ellum, whenever that was.

A good thing to do when you only have a few hours in a particular place is to focus on one thing, and see what else you see along the way. I decided to visit the Ann & Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum: The Samurai Collection, a museum on the second floor of a building in Uptown, which is in walking distance from the downtown Blue Line St. Paul station. It was a hot walk – it’s still essentially summer – but not that far.

Along the way, I happened across the Jeffress Fountain Plaza, which is merely one of the more visible parts of the spanking-new First Baptist Church campus. I hadn’t seen it before because it was completed just this year.

“First Baptist Church of Dallas, led by nationally known pastor Dr. Robert Jeffress, has completed the largest Protestant church building campaign in modern history, opening its new state-of-the-art $130 million campus on Easter Sunday, March 31,” Charisma News tells us.

The article’s worth quoting at some length, if only to show that the urge to build big, expensive churches isn’t a Catholic monopoly. “The new facilities feature the newest technological advances for any church, providing a unique worship experience,” Charisma News continues. “A new 3,000-seat Worship Center, located next to the historic landmark 122-year-old sanctuary, includes a 150-foot-wide IMAX-quality video wall stretching more than two-thirds the width of the auditorium. It incorporates seven high-definition projectors blended together, making it one of the largest viewing screens in any church in the world. Additionally, wood bands along the walls surrounding the Worship Center contain LED strips that can be programmed to millions of different colors, creating dramatic ambient lighting to supplement and enhance any platform program.

“The fountain serves as the grand entrance to the new campus, featuring a stainless steel cross atop a pedestal rising 68 feet high. Surrounding the tower is a shallow water pool containing a heated baptistery as well as eight water canons [is that supposed to be a pun, or did they just misspell cannon?] and 21 undulating titan water jets. Inscribed along the edge of the fountain’s pool is a Scripture text from John 4:14, stating, ‘Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.’ Several custom orchestral scores of anthems and spiritual songs accompany the programmed flow of the cascading water.”

Texas 130

A long and newly opened stretch of the toll road known as Texas 130, my sources tell me, includes the fastest posted speed limits in the nation – 85 mph. As we drove from San Antonio to Dallas last week, I made sure to take full advantage of that maximum. It’s fun for a while, but then you get used to the speed, especially since there isn’t much other traffic. You glide right along, mile after mile.

I haven’t followed the development of Texas 130 in any detail, though I know a little about it – it’s a private toll road, or rather a PPP (public-private partnership), which is generally just a new twist on the patronage schemes traditionally associated with road building. That aside, the theory of Texas 130 is to reduce congestion on I-35 through Central Texas, particularly Austin, which is awful and probably an unintended consequence of NAFTA allowing a free flow of trucks up from Mexico, plus rapid population growth in Central Texas in recent decades.

We drove the entire length of the toll road to take advantage of its stated purpose for being: avoiding traffic on I-35. If you’re going to San Antonio to Dallas, as we were, it adds a few miles to the trip, but it does indeed bypass the worst of Austin traffic.

It didn’t look like a lot of other drivers were doing the same. It is a toll road, after all. There was some traffic on the northern sections of the road, close to Austin, but not much. And no one seemed to be driving on the southern section of the road, near where it connects with I-10 (the main road from San Antonio to Houston). At times I saw no one on the road with us, ahead or behind.

That makes for more relaxing driving, but not a particularly successful toll road. The Austin American-Statesman reported earlier this year that “Texas 130, in 2011 traffic counts, saw a high of 43,000 vehicles a day on it in Pflugerville, about a fifth of what I-35 sees in Central Austin. Traffic on Texas 130 steadily ebbed further south, to just 9,600 vehicles a day near Mustang Ridge. Officials haven’t released traffic counts for the privately operated section south of Mustang Ridge, which opened last fall.”

The land along the road is also almost empty, too. Even at the few exits, there’s little development yet. Most of the time the view is open, not quite rolling, not quite flat, not quite green, not quite brown.  Some trees, but not a lot. It’s remarkable how much unpopulated space there still is in Texas, considering that 26 million people live there, with a good many of them along the Dallas-Austin-San Antonio axis.

Turns out a fair number of wild pigs live in the countryside near the road. We were warned not to drive Texas 130 at night, lest we run down pigs on the road.

Confederate Field

Another major section of the Texas State Cemetery honors Confederate dead. Even before we went, I knew that Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, who took a slug at Shiloh, had been reburied at the cemetery. Sure enough, he has one of the larger memorials, at a place of honor among the field of Confederates.

The memorial, including a recumbent statue of Gen. Johnston, was done by Elisabet Ney, another European sculptor who did well in 19th-century Texas, though she was no slacker before she left Europe. “Among her best-known works from this period [i.e., pre-Texas] are portrait busts of Arthur Schopenhauer, Giuseppi Garibaldi, and Otto von Bismarck, and a full-length statue of King Ludwig II of Bavaria,” notes the Handbook of Texas. After establishing herself in Texas, she did busts of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston (presumably not from life), among others. All in all, quite a career.

These days her Austin studio is a museum. How did I not know about it? Got another thing to see in Austin someday.

The light was poor on the recumbent Gen. Johnston, so I didn’t make an image. Not far away, however, is a much more obscure Confederate general, John A. Wharton. He was in full sunlight.

Another Confederate Texan, his date of death is listed as April 6, 1865, so I figured he was one of the unlucky few killed in action just as the war ground to an end. But no. Again from the Handbook of Texas: “On April 6, 1865, while visiting Gen. John B. Magruder’s headquarters at the Fannin Hotel in Houston, Wharton was killed by fellow officer George W. Baylor in a personal quarrel that grew out of ‘an unpleasant misunderstanding over military matters.’ Even though Wharton was found to have been unarmed, Baylor was acquitted of murder charges in 1868.” Geez.

The bust was by Enrico Filiberto Cerracchio, another European sculptor who ended up in Texas. Who knew there were so many? He came a little later, though, and is best known for his large bronze equestrian figure of Sam Houston at the entrance to Hermann Park in Houston, which dates from 1924.

Generals are one thing, but far more of the cemetery is occupied by ordinary Confederate soldiers, or more exactly, old men who had once been CSA who died in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Confederate Field is large.

Stephen F. Austin and the Company He Keeps

There are a lot of notables in the Texas State Cemetery, but who’s more notable for Texas than Stephen F. Austin, especially since Sam Houston is buried somewhere else? Austin’s been in the cemetery in Austin for over 100 years now, reposing under a statue by an Italian sculptor who did most of his work in Texas, one Pompeo Coppini, whose name is conveniently on the base, and who had an interesting career I didn’t know about until I looked him up.

Wonder how many people who know of the city of Austin for its tech industries or music scene or its politics or UT or Keep Austin Weird or its moon towers know even a bit about Austin the man. Anyone who took Texas History in the 7th grade or read Texas History “Movies,” maybe.

Coppini gave Austin a determined visage, reaching for the future. Since he died young, at only 43, you have to wonder what he would have done had he lived another 30 years — at the very least held a number of high offices in the republic and the state, as Houston did.

The plaque in front of the figure says:

Stephen Fuller


“The Father of Texas”
was born in Wythe County, Virginia
November 3, 1793
and died in Brazoria County, Texas
December 27, 1836

Wise, Gentle, Courageous, and Patient
He was the founder
of a mighty commonwealth

He’s actually one of the few full-sized bronzes in the cemetery. Most of the funerary art involves other shapes, such as that of Ma and Pa Ferguson, who are not far from Austin.

James and Miriam Ferguson, that is, who were both governor of the state at various times. My mother remembers them, and I heard about them from her from time to time.

One of the least conventional memorials in the cemetery — or in any cemetery — was this one, to William and Carrin Patman, whom I had to look up. He was a long-time Texas state senator and also spent a while in the U.S. House.

Other notables we spotted on “Republic Hill,” whose centerpiece is the Austin statue, included Walter Prescott Webb, Bigfoot Wallace, Rep. Barbara Jordan, Rep. Jake Pickle, and a few other governors and state officials. Coach Darrell Royal is buried near the road. I hadn’t realized he was dead. His stone features a UT gold ring and the words, “Let’s Give Him Three.”


The Texas State Cemetery

The Texas State Cemetery, which is in Austin east of I-35 but still not that far from the capitol, is a lush patch of mildly sloping land, artfully landscaped, graced by a variety of trees, a few water features, narrow roads, many Texas flags, and lots of monuments of different sizes and shapes, as you’d except from a good cemetery. Jay and I stopped by the State Cemetery on the afternoon of Friday the 13th under partly cloudy skies, and during the usual high heat you’re going to encounter in September in Central Texas. Fortunately, there was also a good bit of shade.

One thing the cemetery did not have, at least when we were there, was many other visitors – maybe a four or five all together, and I think at least one of them worked there. Then again, that’s not so strange. I often find myself alone – among living people, anyway – even in large cemeteries. The only recent exception to that has been Arlington National Cemetery.

The invaluable Handbook of Texas tells us that the 22-acre Texas State Cemetery “is divided into two plots. The smaller one includes some 234 marked graves of more or less prominent men and their wives, including… representatives of every department of state government and every period of state history. The larger plot contains the marked graves of some 2,047 Confederate veterans and their widows, who died after 1889 in the Texas Confederate Home and the Confederate Woman’s Home.”

The cemetery also still has room for expansion. I understand that most state officials can be buried there if they so desire, and the legislature can offer burial in the cemetery to whomever it wants. That would account, for example, for the stone dedicated to Wille James Wells, “El Diablo,” 1906-1989.

I hadn’t heard of him before. His stone says, “Played and managed in the Negro Leagues, 1924-1948. Began his career with the St. Louis Stars and became baseball’s first power hitting shortstop… He was best known for his aggressive play [hence the nickname]. During his career he compiled a .392 batting average against Major League ballplayers. In 1997, Willie Wells was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame…” Wells’ connection to Texas isn’t obvious from the stone, so I looked him up, and it turns out he’s native to Austin.

Roads run through the cemetery, making a T shape. The formal entrance to the grounds is at the bottom of the T. According to Wiki at least, the stem of the T shape is part of Texas 165, which also includes part of a side street that borders the cemetery. It isn’t clear from the text whether the rest of the T also counts as Texas 165, but never mind.

This is the view looking north, past the top of the T. Whatever you call it, the road is abundantly lined with Texas flags.

Gone to Texas Again

Last Wednesday I spent the afternoon in downtown Dallas, walking around on a typically hot September day. I was visiting the second floor of a building – more about that later – when sirens blared in the street below. The windows sported heavy drapes, but it wasn’t hard to pull them back for a peek. On the street below was the aftermath of a traffic accident without apparent injuries, but also a little hard to understand.

So how did that little car wedge itself under that large truck? Other witnesses marveled at it as well. It would be one thing if the car was at a diagonal to the truck, which would mean that it rammed itself underneath. But the car’s aligned so evenly with the truck. Did the truck somehow park itself on top of the car? How could that have happened?

Just another little mystery. I went to Texas on the 12th and came back on the 19th. It was a trip but not a vacation. I spent time with family and friends, but I also continued working – all I need for that is a laptop, phone, and Internet connection. I drove a fair amount, too, because I flew to Dallas, drove to San Antonio by way of Austin, and later returned to Dallas for the flight home.

For a few hours on a couple of days, I managed to see a few things. New things, in fact: a large, immaculate Austin cemetery that I’ve known about for years but never visited; a music venue I’d never heard of in a familiar part of San Antonio; some small to mid-sized museums in Dallas, a pleasant bar in the same city, and a large church there, too.

Maps, Maps, Maps

Back again around September 22 — about on the equinox. That’s just a coincidence, since it’s the next Sunday that I want to begin posting again. But those days must mean something. Years ago, I took a flight across the equator on the solstice, and I turned into a Druid for a few minutes.

I have a collection of maps, many of which I’ve picked up as I visited places. Recently I moved them out of the lower level of the house, and as I was leafing through them, it occurred to me that my daughters — if they’re ever so peripatetic — will probably not end up with a clutch of paper maps. They’ll have some electronic box that offers directions wherever they are: New York, London, Paris, Munich.

Paper maps can be cumbersome. Of course I use Google Maps and its ilk sometimes. But my daughters and their cohort don’t know how much they’ll be missing without paper maps.

I’ve posted about that Stadtplan Berlin before, and one of my favorite maps ever (not pictured), Bensons MapGuide London Street Map.

And when am I going to give up my paper maps? When they pry them from my cold, dead fingers.

On ira pendre notre linge sur le ligne Siegfried

Another very warm, practically hot day. Sure, you can use the air conditioner in your car on days like today, but when I was driving along around 1 p.m., I kept the windows down and blasted myself with warm air. Pretty soon driving will be complicated by snow and ice, so I want to feel the warmth, even the sweaty heat, right now.

Ah, these warm days of September. Makes you think about the Sitzkrieg, doesn’t it? No? I might not have either, but not long ago I happened across the bilingual “On ira pendre notre linge sur le ligne Siegfried” (“I’m Going to Hang Out the Washing on the Siegfried Line”), a song I wasn’t familiar with. I like finding moment-specific songs — in this case, the Sitzkrieg — that have been lost to time. (Like this one and this one.)

This version was by French band leader Ray Ventura. Irish songwriter Jimmy Kennedy wrote it. His 1984 NYT obituary noted that “Mr. Kennedy’s songwriting career spanned 50 years. His familiar songs included ‘The Hokey-Cokey’ (which was popular as the Hokey-Pokey dance in the United States) ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic’ and ‘I’m Going to Hang Out the Washing on the Siegfried Line.’ ”

Odd to think that someone actually wrote “The Hokey-Pokey” and “Teddy Bear’s Picnic,” (Bears’?) though of course someone did. Someone named Jimmy. Songs like that just seem to emerge from the woodwork.

Bombs Away, Mr. Nixon

Very warm today, a continuing summer that’s going to lead us to a sudden dropoff into cold. Maybe not literally, but it’s going to feel that way in hindsight. One day soon I’ll blink and the trees will be bare and the ground white. I’m wondering how the dog will react – up for romps in the snow, or whining at the prospect of going out in the cold? We’ll see.

Today, for obvious reasons, I was wondering about the quote: “The President of the United States can bomb anybody he likes.” Now where did that come from? One reason it’s so easy to get distracted on line is that you can ask Google such a question and see where it takes you. So I did.

One of the search results I got was this. I started reading it and it was a few seconds before I realized that I’d written it. The quote (though a little altered) is from the movie Nixon, said by Anthony Hopkins’ President Nixon. I don’t know if the president himself actually said such a thing, but I bet the scriptwriter thought it sounded like something he might have said, and it does.