The Force Awakens

We went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens recently, since I’m not the sort who rushes out to see the newest thing in the theaters, though that did happen with the first movie of the series those long summers ago (more than a dozen of us went together; it was an event). On the whole, the most recent yarn had everything it needed to: sympathetic characters, old and new, lots of action, lots of spaceships and exotic sets, lots of improbabilities and coincidences, lots of homages — many homages to the original movies, some simply visual, others in bits of dialogue — and so on. My favorite homage was the discussion of throwing a captured First Order minion into a trash chute, though you don’t actually see the heroes do it.

All in all, worth second-run prices. Some quibbles: Interestingly, Finn said that his bad-guy job was in sanitation, which set up the homage to the trash chute. Certainly a necessary function, but if so, why was he part of the death squad detail at the beginning of the movie? Do all of the storm troopers rotate into death squads now and then, just to keep them murderous? If so, why are they such lousy shots?

Why is the armed force defending the presumably re-established Republic called the Resistance? Sure, resistance has a noble undertone, but it implies trying to overthrow tyranny, not protect a government. Shouldn’t it have been the Galactic Force or the Republic Defenders or the like? (Or the Force Force?) Guess the Republican Guard wouldn’t work, the Iranians having taken that one.

And how is it that the Jedi were so thin on the ground that the retirement of just one of them, namely Luke Skywalker, shut down the whole enterprise? Weren’t there others? You know, a second string? Maybe these things are explained in the expanded universe, but I’m grown man. I refuse to have anything to do with that.

Also, I wonder just how much dough Mark Hamill got paid, along with top billing, to stand there for a few seconds and look old? Maybe that sum is a balm for his, shall we say, not-as-stellar-as-Harrison Ford’s career. By contrast Ford had a meaty-ish part in the latest movie, but then again he clearly signed up only for this one, unless there’s some movie resurrection magic ahead for Han Solo.

The supreme bad guy was malformed and ugly, or at least his hologram/projection/whatever of him was. But of course. Ugly = Evil. As I wrote a good many years ago, when I was busy ignoring one of the prequels, I pictured the unseen evil emperor in the first movie as “a handsome yet ruthless tyrant, a spellbinding demagogue, a despot who made the hyperdrive trains run on time, and who had an intensely loyal following in parts of the galaxy that got public works contracts. But no. He turned out to be a drooling, hissing, ugly fellow who ruled by channeling the Dark Side, rather than bread and circuses (and maybe a gulag).

“Better still would have been a despotic Emperor with some virtues, someone who offered peace to a Republic torn by civil war, someone along the lines of Augustus. In that case, the rebel alliance might still be fighting for freedom, but with less purity of motive — and willing to blow up a planet or two itself…”

Christopher Orr in the Atlantic did a reasonably good review of the movie, except for this line toward the end: “The original Star Wars was in almost every way an original, a movie that forever changed filmmaking for both good and ill.” Maybe original if you were 10, as he was.

But it was fully known and commented upon at the time that, aside from the remarkable special effects, very little about the first movie was original, and not just in the sense that all Hero With a Thousand Faces on a Journey of a Thousand Leagues stories tap into archetypes. Still, that didn’t make the first movie any less enjoyable or important in the history of summer blockbusters. Obviously the thing struck a chord. I remember reports of people going to see the first one many, many times. Then again, people also went to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show many, many times. That struck a somewhat different chord, I figure.

The Next Generation

Best wishes and congratulations to my nephew Sam and his wife Emily, who are expecting their first child in October. Another Stribling in the world, huzzah.

I doubt that Sam will mind me borrowing his drawing for the occasion, posted recently on Facebook. He and Emily are both architects, practicing in Dallas. He’s always had a talent for drawing.

Next Generation StriblingThis makes me a great-uncle. As far as I can tell, a great-uncle’s main role is to appear now and then and look scary old to the child. At least, that’s what my grandmother’s brother, Uncle Ralph (d. 1971), looked like to me. Well, not too scary, except for the fact that he was confined to a wheelchair and had only one functioning eye, conditions I hope to avoid. But you never know.

The Krannert Art Museum

Time to praise university art museums: generally unpretentious, inexpensive and not so large that you can’t have a good look-see in a short time. One of the places Lilly and I visited at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign was the Krannert Art Museum, which has ten galleries and art ranging from ancient Egypt and Pre-Columbian to much more recent items.

One so recent that it was created using an iPhone: “A Lexicon of Dusk.”
The Krannert Art MuseumOver the last six years, a Houston artist named Ruth Robbins took her iPhone out and took pictures at dusk. From these, she made a series of 26 different postcards, copies of which were on a long shelf at the gallery. That’s the artwork.

“Printed as postcards for the viewer to take away — a distributed work of art in line with conceptual art practices — the images show richly colored ambiguous skies and whatever else she happened to have seen at the time: lights low on the horizon, an electricity pole, a snow-covered landscape, an equestrian statue,” the sign near the cards says. “Longitude and latitude coordinates are documented on each image…” That, and an exact date and time when the image was made.

The best part? Postcards are free to take, adds the sign. I took one of each. I’ve already mailed a few.

In the room adjoining the postcard exhibit was an amusing series called “The First and Last of the Modernists,” by Lorraine O’Grady, pairing images of Baudelaire with Michael Jackson.

The Krannert Art MuseumI’ve had a soft spot for Baudelaire since an entertaining acquaintance of mine recited “Be Drunk” — I think it was this translation — at a party at our house late in my college years, ca. 1982. As for the King of Pop, I can’t claim to be a fan, but I respect his reach. I heard his songs walking down the streets of the 10 European countries I visited in the summer of ’83, even East Germany, but maybe not the Vatican City, and even then I might have heard something from a transistor radio someone was carrying at the Piazza San Pietro.

Another room sported some African art. Not just pre-Scramble works from lost states and misty kingdoms, but more modern items. These are two of a particularly striking series, “Seven Lines From Djwartou” by Yelimane Fall.

Krannert Art MuseumKrannert Art MuseumI appreciated these visually, not as someone who can read Arabic. The artist-calligrapher hails from Senegal, and is a devotee of one Sheikh Amadou Bamba, founder of the Sufi brotherhood Mourides in that country, and who wrote the poem “Djawartou” in the early 20th century, among many other things.

As the BBC notes, “Senegal’s most powerful men are not politicians, but the leaders of the country’s Islamic Sufi brotherhoods, to which a very large proportion of Senegalese belong, and whose influence pervades every aspect of Senegalese life.”

Seems that the Mourides are a very big deal in their corner of the world and, from what I can tell from a brief look, eschew the poisons of Wahhabism, and stress hard work among their members (work hard, make money, support the sect). And there are enclaves of them elsewhere. According to Religion News, “Their dictum, ‘pray as if you will die tomorrow and work as if you will live for ever,’ has brought the Mourides economic success wherever they have settled. In New York, the Mourides established their own community, Little Senegal, and July 28 has officially been designated Sheikh Amadou Bamba day.”

Remarkable the things that go into making an image on the wall. I never knew any of that. I don’t expect to make a detailed study of Senegal, but it’s good to be reminded that there are whole other worlds here on Earth yet beyond one’s experience.

The University of Illinois During the 2016 Spring Break

On the afternoon of March 18, Lilly and I drove down to Champaign-Urbana, and on the next day, we took a look at the University of Illinois flagship campus, which happens to sprawl across both of those small towns. Since our visit, Lilly has decided to attend there in the fall. She’d been leaning toward it anyway. We’d only been there once before, briefly, during our return from the Downstate towns of Arthur and Arcola in the spring of 2007. So it was as if we’d never been there before, especially for her.

Spring break had just started at the university. That meant only a handful of students were around, including some who were clearly leaving. On one street on campus, buses were lined up and ready to take students to specifically marked destinations, mostly in the Chicago area. Spring break also meant, happily, that parking was free and easy.

Even so, we spent a lot of time on foot. Without much of a plan: sometimes new places call for the old random walkabout. Lilly will certainly learn all she needs to know about the place and more in the fullness of time. The campus has a lot of fine buildings, especially fronting the Main Quad, and I was especially taken with Foellinger Auditorium and its green dome at one end of that quad, though I didn’t quite get an image of its full domed glory.

Foellinger AuditoriumFoellinger AuditoriumThe building dates from 1907 and was designed by Clarence H. Blackall, a Boston architect who did a lot of theaters, and if you read a list of them, very many didn’t survive the great age (that is, regrettable age) of knocking down old stuff, whose apogee came in the 1960s. The Foellinger has clearly endured, though I’ve read that it wasn’t up to stuff acoustically at first, and needed a lot more work. We didn’t pop inside for a look. Next time, maybe.

Not far away was the 185-foot McFarland Carillon, which dates only from 2009.
McFarland CarillonA Missouri firm called Peckham, Guyton, Albers & Viets, which seems to do a lot of higher ed work, designed the tower, which has 49 bells. We noticed bells ringing at half hours and quarter hours, sometimes, but I’m not sure it was the carillon.

Elsewhere we peeked inside the chapel at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center, which is part of a complex that includes Newman Hall and the Institute of Catholic Thought, and is the largest Newman Center in the country, according to Wiki. Dating from 1926, the chapel has a splendid interior. I explained to Lilly that it was named after Cardinal Newman, not Alfred E., but she didn’t know either of them.

Nearby is the Episcopal Chapel of Saint John the Devine, also a part of a campus ministry. I wanted to take a look in there too, but it was closed for the day.

Heading back to our parking space, we encountered one of the many pieces of public art on campus.Alice Aycock Sculpture, University of IllinoisThere was no plaque nearby that I saw, but information is online. It’s full title is “Tree of Life Fantasy: Synopsis of the Book of Questions Concerning the World Order and/or the Order of Worlds,” by Alice Aycock. As we approached it, I figured it might be a massive sundial, as I’ve seen recently, but no.

This description lacquers on the art-ese pretty well, but it does rhetorically ask, “can we not comprehend the sculpture solely as an interesting, if baffling, assemblage of disparate elements?” Yes, we can. Interesting, but in my amateur opinion not baffling, because it’s mainly an interesting assemblage of disparate elements, though I’d say an interesting “combination of shapes,” since disparate is a ten-dollar word best saved for special occasions.

GTT Spring ’16 Leftovers

A good Easter to all. I’ll post again on Easter Monday.

Not long after posting about the moon tower at 41st and Speedway on Monday, I happened across this vintage image of that tower. The handwriting on the photo asserts that it was the first of the Austin moonlight towers.

Tom and I had occasion to visit a trendy, non-chain coffee house in Austin. Tom said it was trendy, anyway. I noticed the quiet. Everyone was focused on a laptop or hand-held device. No one was talking, even though the joint was full. That’s not an exaggeration.

Did Samuel Pepys and John Dryden keep to themselves at the coffee houses they frequented? Did Washington, Jefferson, or Hamilton stay mum at Merchants Coffee House in Philadelphia? Didn’t the beats yak it up at Greenwich Village coffee houses? There ought to be talk at a coffee house, regardless of how advanced communication tech becomes.

As long as I’m in a judgmental mood, the fellow in the seat next to me on my return flight from Texas was using his iPad during most of the trip to watch golf. The very picture of a Millennial, with the full beard and flannel shirt, he sat there and watched people play golf. Playing golf is one thing, but what’s interesting about watching people play golf on an itty-bitty screen for two hours? My judgmental mood recedes with a shrug; it takes all kinds.

On a hill off US 281 not far from Johnson City, Texas, is the Arc de Texas.
Arc de TexasThe structure offers lodging — with a patio and pool in back — and a room to taste local wines, as well as Hill Country views from the roof, available to any passerby during normal business hours.
Arc de Texas viewArc de Texas is part of a larger entity called Lighthouse Hill Ranch, whose acreage offers a number of posh places to stay for the night.

Walking along Main Street in Fredericksburg near the former Nimitz Hotel, you’ll find Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz (1885-1966) in bronze. You have to look on YouTube to find the “Chester Nimitz Oriental Garden Waltz” by the Austin Lounge Lizards.

Adm. Nimitz bronze, Fredericksburg TexasIn the George H.W. Bush gallery of the National Museum of Pacific War, you’ll find a painting of a less-expected figure from the history of naval conflict, though completely fitting, in one of the rooms about the buildup to the war: Marshal-Admiral Marquis Tōgō Heihachirō (1848-1934).
Marshal-Admiral Marquis Tōgō Heihachirō painting National Museum of the Pacific WarAs noted before, Texas is important in marketing goods in Texas. Need more evidence?
Texas eggsThese eggs were obtained at a San Antonio HEB grocery store.

The Oblates in San Antonio

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate run the Oblate School of Theology on a sizable campus on the North Side of San Antonio, not far from where I grew up, and near some former regular haunts of mine. Even though the campus is on Oblate Dr., and I drove by that street often for years, I had no notion of its existence until this year.

On March 12, another pleasantly warm day, I went with Jay, my nephew Dees and his girlfriend Eden to take a look around the campus. A gilded St. Eugene de Mazenod greets you at the entrance, in front of the handsome Gayle and Tom Benson Theological Center.
Oblate Theological SchoolEugene de Mazenod founded the Oblates in post-revolutionary France 200 years ago. Tom Benson is best known as the billionaire owner of the New Orleans Saints, but anyone living in San Antonio in the last 50 years or so knows him as the owner of Tom Benson Chevrolet. In any case, he gives a lot of money to Catholic causes.

According to the school’s web site, “the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate came to Texas in 1849, at the urgent request of Texas’ first Roman Catholic Bishop, to preach Christ’s message and to serve the People of God, especially the poor and marginalized.

“The Oblate School of Theology was founded in San Antonio in 1903 as the San Antonio Philosophical and Theological Seminary. The School’s initial goal and mission was to educate young men to serve as Oblate missionaries in Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana, Mexico and the Philippines… Today, Oblate School of Theology prepares men for priesthood from many dioceses across the United States and a number of religious communities.”

I have to add that in the early 20th century, the part of San Antonio that’s now home to the Oblates wasn’t part of San Antonio. Assuming they founded their school where it is now — and I haven’t found any information to suggest otherwise — the land the Oblates bought lay in the countryside, with the city to the south. There were no housing developments or highways nearby; all that would come in the 1950s, when the campus and the land around it were annexed by the city, as shown on this interesting growth-of-San Antonio map (which also shows the curious fact that the pre-1940 shape of the city was square).

As nice as it is, we didn’t come just to see the Benson building. Rather, we were intrigued by a grotto on campus patterned after the famed grotto in Lourdes. A full-sized replica, I read, made of concrete.
Oblate School of Theology GrottoThe San Antonio grotto’s been on the site since the early 1940s. In fact, according to its plaque, the Oblates dedicated it on Sunday, December 7, 1941. I’m sure that the date had been picked in advance, and events in the wider world weren’t going to call it off. Then again, maybe the Oblates were up early that morning Central Time, before any ill-tidings came from Hawaii.

Built on top of the grotto, accessible by stairs, is the Tepeyac de San Antonio, dedicated on July 25, 1999, depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe appearing before St. Juan Diego in December 1531. This isn’t the first depiction of that scene that I’ve run across.

Here’s the Virgin.
The Virgin of GuadalupeAnd Juan.
JuanThe Oblate campus also features a chapel, some business offices, places for visiting scholars, a gift shop (no post cards; I’d have bought some saint cards) and a fair amount of public art, such as a freestanding metal structure with a frieze of Oblates on horseback — “The Cavalry of Christ,” who were 19th-century missionaries in South Texas. ‘Ot and sweaty business, no doubt.
Horsemen for ChristA garden behind the Benson building.
A place for Oblates who’ve passed on.
Stations of the Cross in a style I’ve never seen.
Stations of the CrossAnd “missions on a stick.”
There were five of them, depictions of the five Spanish missions in San Antonio. That includes the best known of them, the Alamo.

Denman Estate Park

Last year I was looking at a Google Maps map of San Antonio and noticed an odd green blob tucked away in a neighborhood just northwest of the junction of I-10 and Loop 410, an area not too far from where I grew up, but not within my usual orbits. Higher resolution revealed that it was called Denman Estate Park. What?

“The City of San Antonio purchased 12.52 acres of land from the estate of philanthropist Gilbert Denman Jr. in 2007 at a cost of $2,561,081,” the city’s web site says, with a cost-precision sometimes found in public documents. “An adjacent 7.70 acres were purchased by the University of [the] Incarnate Word. In 2010, Gilbert Denman Jr. Estate Park, 7735 Mockingbird Lane, opened as a jointly used park and a retreat center for UIW.

“Park amenities include a 0.5-mile walking trail, labyrinth, picnic benches and tables, parking, fencing and lighting. It also features a monument hand-built in Gwangju, Korea, by Korean craftsmen and artists who traveled to San Antonio to assemble it. The City and UIW entered into a joint use agreement in which UIW maintains the property and uses the buildings as a retreat center.”

I knew had to take a look at that. I finally did so when I had a few free hours in San Antonio during my most recent visit. I arrived in the early afternoon, parked my car, and found the short path to the park’s small pond, which also has a path all the way around it. The hand-built “monument,” on the banks of the pond, is a striking little structure — especially for being in South Texas — in a nice setting.

Denman Estate Park, San Antonio“Pavilion” is a better word for it in English, and in fact that’s the word a nearby plaque uses.

Denman Estate Park, San Antonio“This pavilion is a replica of the traditional Korean pavilion style of the southern provinces,” the plaque says. “The pavilion, traditionally used as a place of reflection and reception by scholars and gentlemen, embodies the beauty and harmony created by nature and structure.

“It is hoped that this ‘Pavilion of Gwangju’ will offer many opportunities to strengthen the friendly relationship between Gwangju and San Antonio, as well as inspire an in-depth understanding of Korean culture and traditions by the American public.”

A noble sentiment, but I have a feeling K-pop reaches more Americans than other kinds of Korean culture and traditions. The pavilion seems to have been a gift from Gwangju to San Antonio. It isn’t clear whether Gilbert Denman himself had anything to do with its placement, since the structure was dedicated in 2010, six years after his death.

The pond was partly ringed with cypress trees with a vast number of cypress “knees” — the woody bumps that emerge near the base of the trees — a term I just learned.

Denman Estate Park, San AntonioDenman Estate Park, San AntonioElsewhere on the property is the former Denman manse (I assume), which is closed to casual visitors. No doubt the university uses for events and rents it for weddings and the like.

Denman Estate Park, San AntonioNot far from the house is “AMA Maria,” a mermaid sculpture with strategically placed flowing hair, a fish tail, and human legs.

Ama Maria, Denman Estate Park, San AntonioOddly enough, the plaque on the base of the statue also includes its latitude and longitude to six decimal places: LAT. 29.467831  LON. -98.467490. Turns out there are a fair number of these statues in various parts of the world, including three others in Texas. It was something I’d absolutely never heard of before.

A site called mermaidsofearth.com tells us that “the Amaryllis Art for Charity project is placing AMA mermaid statues all over the world, with each mermaid statue uniquely made and customized for its location… The statues are for sale, with about one third of the proceeds dedicated to a charity jointly chosen by the project organizers and the local sponsors.”

It isn’t clear from that whether the statues are for sale in situ or whether they’re bought and put in places like Denham Estate Park. Never mind, there’s one there now. More about it is here.

Finally, who was Gilbert Denman Jr. (1921-2004)? A handy obit published by the Porter-Loring Funeral Home in San Antonio offers a few details about his charmed life, which included being born to a wealthy family and presumably doing well himself as a prominent attorney in San Antonio. Like Robert L.B. Tobin, he was also a notable local philanthropist.

One of his many acts of philanthropy, according to the obit, involved donating “his extensive collection of Greek and Roman artifacts to the San Antonio Museum of Art. The collection, among the finest of its type in the nation, is housed in the Denman Gallery of the Ewing Halsell Wing at the museum.”

The good people of San Antonio are clearly better for his Antiquities collection. I will be better for it, once I get around to visiting the San Antonio Museum of Art again sometime. It’s been a long time since I’ve been there, since the late ’80s at the latest, before the creation of the Denman Gallery in 1990. The big deal exhibit the last time I remember being there was Nelson Rockefeller’s large collection of Latin American folk art, which arrived as a permanent part of the museum’s collection in the mid-80s.

The Moon Tower at Speedway and 41st, Austin

The Cathedral of Junk in Austin isn’t the easiest tourist attraction to see. For completely understandable reasons, since it’s in someone’s back yard, and the householder and creator of the pile, one Vince Hannemann, doesn’t want people just showing up. You have to call first, and hope he picks up to let you make a reservation, which he does only when he feels like it.

How do I know that? When I called, I heard the message on his answering machine, which said all that the likelihood of him answering in person was a “lottery” — and not to bother leaving a message about visiting, since he would not reply. He didn’t say it, but I also got the sense that he really was trying to avoid having the thing take over his life.

So Tom and I didn’t see the Cathedral of Junk on March 5. We did other things, such as walk along Lady Bird Lake. After dinner that night, I expressed my desire to see an Austin moon tower, also known as a moonlight tower. See one again, since I’d seen one at least 30 years ago during a visit. I don’t remember which tower that was, but it might have been the very one he took me to this time around, at the corner of Speedway and 41st in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Austin, to look up at the lighted hexagon in the night sky.

A couple of the six lights were out. What’s up with that, Austin Energy?
Austin Moon Tower, Speedway and 41stThe moon towers have a long and well-known history, at least to Austinites and non-Austinites who care about such oddities. Before modern street lights were developed, there was a late 19th-century vogue for tall towers that illuminated their surroundings at night via carbon arc lights: moonlight towers, or moon towers. When there was no natural moonlight, the hand of man could provide it.

A Machine Age notion if there ever was one. A number of municipalities had them; Detroit reportedly had a lot. The only survivors now are in Austin, which acquired its towers in the 1890s.

Apparently carbon arc lights are very bright, but also high maintenance, so the moon tower lights were replaced with incandescent lights in the early 20th century. Currently there are 17 Austin moon towers, each 165 feet tall. The towers were restored in the early 1990s and a simulation of one figures in Dazed and Confused, a movie I’ve never gotten around to. In this image, a barely visible bilingual sign warns one and all not to be a tower-climbing moron.
Austin Moon Tower, Speedway and 41stI don’t think the towers count as Austin weird, but they are odd. That might make a better slogan: Keep Austin Odd. Just the kind of thing I like to see anyway: unusual, unpretentious, with an interesting back story, and easy to see. Here’s an excellent podcast at the usually excellent 99% Invisible series about the Austin moon towers.

Lady Bird Lake, Austin

Just for grins the other day, I let Google suggest a second word for “Austin.” This is what I got.

Austin and Ally
Austin Butler
Austin Rivers
Austin Mahone
Austin Texas
Austin Powers
Austin Peay
Austin Weather

Austin and Ally is apparently a Disney Channel show that I’ve had the good luck never to have heard of, much less seen. Austin Powers I’ve heard of, but I’m pretty sure I can live the rest of my life and not regret missing all of the movies featuring that character, and Austin Peay is the school. At least the city and the weather are on the list. The others? Eh.

“Austin skyline” should be on the list. Seeing the Austin skyline in 2016 is like seeing a child again after a few years, when you think (or say), “My, how you’ve grown.” Here’s a view of the Austin skyline in early March 2016, seen from the south shore of Lady Bird Lake, which I still think of as Town Lake.
Austin 2016Lady Bird Lake isn’t particularly old, created only in 1960 by the damming of the Colorado River as a means of flood control. It also happens to be a conveniently located public amenity, owned by the public in the form of the City of Austin.

Lady Bird Johnson didn’t want the lake renamed in her honor while she was still alive, even though she’d been instrumental in beautifying the shores of the lake in the 1970s, as well as creating a recreational trail system near the lake. As soon as she’d passed in 2007 (has it been that long ago?), the city renamed the lake. I don’t object to that like I do the “Willis Tower” — Lady Bird clearly deserves the honor — I just thought of it as Town Lake for so long that it’s the first thing that comes to me, recalling earlier walks along its shores, and a canoe ride on it years ago in the company of a high school friend.

March 5, 2016, was an excellent day for a walk along Lady Bird Lake: warm but not too warm, in the presence of other recreational walkers and joggers and cyclists, but not too many.

Austin 2016Being a warm Saturday afternoon, the lake was alive with human-powered boats of various kinds, including some racing shells, and people renting watercraft at lake’s edge.

Austin 2016Tom and I were feeling too middle-aged for that kind of excursion, but we did start our walk on the south shore just west of the Congress Street Bridge. Officially, it’s the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, named for the governor of Texas of that name, though I don’t know if anyone uses the name any more than the Queensboro Bridge is called the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.

Congress Avenue Bridge, AustiinNot the most elegant bridge, but it is famed in tourist lore as the home to many, many bats, the majority of which emerge at dusk to fly off to do whatever it is that bats do by night (eat bugs and fight crime, maybe).

Congress Street BridgeI’ve never seen the spectacle myself. Looking up at the underside of the bridge, Tom informed me that the bats probably haven’t returned from wintering in Mexico, but when they’re in residence, they live beneath the road deck in gaps between the concrete structures. Wiki at least asserts that it’s the world’s largest urban bat colony, numbering 750,000 and 1.5 million when the bats are in town, a variation in estimate that points to the natural difficulties of a bat census.

It’s possible to walk all the way around the lake on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail, another name that few probably use. Of course Tom and I did no such thing, but we did go a considerable way, making it past the I-35 Bridge, including a walk over the trail’s Boardwalk, completed only in 2014.

The Trail Foundation tells us that “due to many issues, including private property holdings and topography, there was a 1.1-mile gap in the Trail at Lady Bird Lake, the 10-mile hub in Austin’s hub-and-spoke system of trails. Along this gap, users previously had to divert onto the narrow sidewalk and travel along busy Riverside Drive, crossing 35 busy business entrances and other points of conflict… to travel east or west and use the south side of the Trail.”

Studies were done, votes cast, money raised, plans made, and eventually the metal-railed boardwalk over the lake (but near the shore) was created as a public-private effort. Many good things are done that way. And should be.

Lady Bird LakeLady Bird LakeAustin’s fortunate to have such a fine place to take a stroll.

Pappy Lee O’Daniel

The day after I visited LBJ’s boyhood home, I discovered this tucked away at my mother’s house.

Pappy Lee O'DanielIt’s a campaign card for W. Lee O’Daniel. It’s clear that it dates from his first run for governor of Texas, which was in 1938. Why my mother kept this, I couldn’t say. I don’t remember her ever saying anything about “Pappy” Lee O’Daniel, and in any case she herself never voted for him, since she wasn’t old enough.

On the back are the lyrics to three stanzas of “Beautiful Texas,” a song pretty much lost to time, but written by W. Lee O’Daniel, the singing, flour-making governor of Texas from 1938 (he won the election and re-election two years later) to 1941, when he became a U.S. Senator by being the only person to best LBJ in an election (not counting 1960 primaries). All in all, one of Texas’ more interesting governors.

Beautiful Texas by Pappy Lee O'DanielIf he sounds familiar, it’s because the Coen brothers borrowed the name, an association with flour, and hillbilly music for the governor of Mississippi character played memorably by Charles Durning in O Brother Where Art Thou?

Why? Because they’re the Coen brothers. Presumably they were amused by the idea of a flour-merchant governor with hillbilly music on his side. For a couple of gentlemen from Minnesota, that shows a remarkably granular interest in Texas history, even if they put the fictional Pappy in an alt-universe, Coen brothers-flavored Mississippi.

“Moral fiber? I invented moral fiber! Pappy O’Daniel was displaying rectitude and high-mindedness when that egghead you work for was still messing his drawers!” — the fictional Pappy O’Daniel.