Celebrando Austin, Wesley United Methodist at 150, Coach David McWilliams, 1914 Auto Tour Revisited

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Priscilla and John-Michael Cortez at Celebrando Austin.

BUSINESS: Many speeches. Many videos. Many awards. Many thanks. Many entertainers. The Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce takes a maximalist approach to galas. Celebrando Austin filled the large Hyatt Regency Zilker Ballroom to the max. The happy crowd — including just about every elected or appointed official within a 20-mile radius — took in the crossover mariachi of confident-beyond-his-years Sebastien de la Cruz as well as Austin originals Aztlan Dance Company. The guests saw videos about the chamber and about each award winner. Honorary co-chairs, Christann Vasquez and Gregory Vincent, represented the University of Texas and the new teaching hospital that will go along with the new medical school. Chamber leaders and award winners spoke. Drum roll, please: Lifetime Achievement: Lupe and Joe Morin; Business: El Rey Network; Male Entrepreneur: Michael Torres; Female Entrepreneur: Juany Tellez; Ambassador: Leopoldo “Polo” Jaimes; Chair’s Award: Rosemary Banda; Corporation: Google; Distinguished Alumna: Olga Campos Benz; Volunteer: Luz Lopez-Guerrero. Much to celebrate! Including President and CEO Mark Madrid‘s poignant nod to his partner of 13 years.

This historical photo was taken during the Wesley Women’s Society of Christian Service conference at St. Paul United Methodist Church in San Antonio.
This historical photo was taken during the Wesley Women’s Society of Christian Service conference at St. Paul United Methodist Church in San Antonio.

FAITH: Wesley United Methodist Church at 150. Sample taken from my story in the American-Statesman: “At times during its 150 years, Wesley United Methodist Church was known for its ethereal calm. “I remember it being very stoic, very quiet,” says Machree Gibson, a sixth-generation Wesley congregant whose great-grandmother, Mattie Sattiewhite — affectionately known as Mama Sattie — was a pillar of the church. “I remember the senior choir singing for the First Sunday service. It was all very sedate.” The Austin church — whose local roots go back to 1840, though it was officially founded in March 1865 — didn’t always ring with the joyful noise that one might hear at some other historically African-American congregations.”

Former Longhorns Coach David McWilliams. (Deborah Cannon/Statesman)
Former Longhorns Coach David McWilliams. (Deborah Cannon/Statesman)

SPORTS: The Statesman Interview: David McWillaims: Sample taken from Kirk Bohlssweeping interview in the American-Statesman: “David McWilliams can barely maneuver around his tiny Longhorn Foundation office cluttered with boxes numbered in black ink as he works his final days on the seventh floor of the north end zone in Royal-Memorial Stadium. The 12-pound, 10-ounce mounted black bass that he took out of a private lake near Athens in East Texas on a fishing trip with former Longhorns basketball coach Leon Black remains on the wall behind a largely barren shelf. So are a couple of cheesy motivational placards. One advertises “Free Beer. … Tomorrow.” The other advises visitors, “There Will be a $5 Charge For Whining.”

In 1914, Buchanan’s grandfather Edgar Duncan drove his family to Balanced Rock in Garden of the Gods, Colo., and took this photo.
In 1914, Buchanan’s grandfather Edgar Duncan drove his family to Balanced Rock in Garden of the Gods, Colo., and took this photo.

TRAVEL: Austin woman retraces family’s 1914 trip out West through photographs. This Statesman story by Nicole Villalpando is one I wish I’d written myself: “The photographs taken by Kathie Buchanan’s grandfather, Edgar Duncan, show of many of America’s natural wonders: the Garden of the Gods, Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest and Pacific Ocean. They also show what life was like traveling in a Buick in 1914. The family is by the roadside trying to fix a flat tire or trying to get the car out of the mud. Handwritten captions read: “Why we were twelve hours making fifteen miles,” “We had troubles of our own” and “Where we got out and got under.” The car turned into a tent by draping canvas across it with this matter-of-fact explanation: “Usual scene at camp time.”

The Big Give, Hookem.com, Austin Pride and more

Mark Chavez and Renee Hanson Malone at the Big Give
Mark Chavez and Renee Hanson Malone at the Big Give

CHARITY: Why the Big Give? Because we never thank folks who help other folks in our city enough. I Live Here I Give Here, which recently promoted Celeste Flores from its ranks, is positioned to do just that. The group is better known these days for Amplify Austin, the event that raised more than $7 million for local nonprofits last year. Prior to that, the Big Give, which recognizes one person and one group for philanthropy, was its biggest deal. It’s still big. Last night at the Hyatt Regency, during a game-filled evening, legal service volunteer, David B. Weaver, won the Patsy Woods Martin Award, named after the I Live Here’s founder. ACE: A Community for Education took the Retail Me Not Nonprofit Award. I spent a good deal of time talking to Rachel Wyatt and Laura Bosworth, supporters of SafePlace, not only about that group, but also about Bosworth’s El Paso background.

5- University of Texas Longhorns players Chiaka Ogbogu (11) and Amy Neal (9) during the home opener for the University of Texas Longhorns against the Rice Owls in the TexasAmerican Campus Classic. (Erich Schlegel/Special Contributor)
5- University of Texas Longhorns players Chiaka Ogbogu (11) and Amy Neal (9) during the home opener for the University of Texas Longhorns against the Rice Owls in the TexasAmerican Campus Classic. (Erich Schlegel/Special Contributor)

SPORTS: Want more burnt orange? From the American-Statesman: “We are delighted to introduce you to Hookem.com, the Austin American-Statesman’s new home for Texas Longhorns coverage. It’s our hope you will make this a daily stop for the most complete and comprehensive coverage of everything burnt orange. Hookem.com features all the updated UT news, analysis, photos and video you’ve come to expect from the award-winning American-Statesman staff. This platform is optimized for a mobile experience, videos, more photo galleries, social sharing and an overall in-depth web presentation.”

jwj-pride-427LAW: Want more rainbows? Sample taken from my story in the American-Statesman: “The 2014 Austin Pride Parade filed down Congress Avenue with the usual pomp, purpose and playfulness that observers have come to expect since such expressions of LGBT support were launched nationally during the early 1970s.  Then, without warning, around the corner came a buoyant army of people in bright white T-shirts bearing a potent symbol of the 21st century: Apple.  “Our family walked with our daughter, and all 3,000 or so of her fellow Apple folks,” said Austin’s Sally Fly. “It was an amazing, love-filled evening for all of us! We’ll be there again if they’ll have us.”

Greenlights Reception, Webb Report, Summer Movies and more

Monica Maldonado Williams and Matt Kouri at Greenlights Reception.
Monica Maldonado Williams and Matt Kouri at Greenlights Reception.

CHARITY: About 100 people gathered at Google Fiber HQ. Quickly, one recognized key leaders from the nonprofit sector, gathered in the spacious community room at the former children’s museum that was, before that, a plastics factory. They mingled for about 45 minutes, when slender, polished Matt Kouri took the stage. The head of Greenlights for Nonprofit Success, which trains the charitably minded in Austin, spoke in a TED-Talks manner about the past, present and future of his outfit. The theme? You’ll have to wait about two weeks to find out. Kouri’s twinned announcements are “embargoed.” We can live with that. Expect American-Statesman philanthropy and community reporter James Barragan to break the news in a couple of weeks.

Earns-Brown-FormanMEDIA: Filling a vital niche at the American-Statesman. Reporter Eric Webb — also our new newsroom social media captain — is doing a good job gathering up pop culture wonders in his “Webb Report.” “You might want to put those pinkies down the next time you’re on Rainey Street. According to two studies, most Texans might not be drinking craft beers or artisanal cocktails when they’re out at the bars. According to Business Insider, one study calls Jack Daniel’s the most popular hard liquor in Texas, citing not-quite-airtight figures from a social app called “BARTRENDr.” The article says that the app company “analyzed data from its 700,000 users to determine the most popular liquor brand in every state based on posts and photos of the liquors its users like to drink,” so the results would definitely (not) pass peer review.”

jurassic-world-super-bowl-13MOVIES: Finding a clever way to wrap up the summer movies. Sample taken from Joe Gross‘ story in the American-Statesman: “As the summer movie season draws to a close, it is time to look back — who won big (hint: it involves dinosaurs), who lost big (hint: it involves four superheroes), and what you should have seen that you really, really didn’t. The box-office awards: Gold medal: “Jurassic World.” For a movie that received thoroughly mixed reviews, “Jurassic World” ate the competition like a T-Rex snacking on rabbits, doing more than $638 million domestically since June 12 and establishing director Colin Trevorrow, previously best known for the indie critical hit “Safety Not Guaranteed,” as such a hit-maker that he has been handed their reins for “Star Wars: Episode IX,” due in theaters in 2019…”

Austin Way Dinner, ‘Indelible Austin’ Cover Art, Genius Recipes and more

Jada Williams  & Samantha DavisMEDIA & FOOD: There’s a media dinner party, then there’s this miraculous media dinner party. The fine folks at Austin Way magazine, led by publisher Louis Delone and editor Kathy Blackwell, brought together a room full of influencers at the new Lonesome Dove Bistro restaurant, captained by Fort Worth chef Tim Love. The occasion for this Titans Dinner? Saluting the new Hotel Emma, located in the Pearl, a former brewery along the river in San Antonio. Among those present was the spot’s culinary concierge, a novel position held by dashing Hugh Daschbach. After I put him through his paces, he said I’d like Feast in the Alamo Street district. Meanwhile, the Austin food …

Ane & Andrew Lowe during the Austin Way dinner at Lonesome Dove Bistro.
Ane & Andrew Lowe during the Austin Way dinner at Lonesome Dove Bistro.

Love previewed the dinner with pantenes of elk, turkey, rattlesnake, etc., paired with delectable wines. Then we sat down to a five-course meal that included grilled langoustines, farro congee in an incredible broth, elk loin, beef tenderloin and ancho chile chocolate cake. My table mates, Samantha Davidson and Jada Williams, kept me completely engaged during this long, glorious meal. You know, while covering Austin’s many scenes for Out & About, I’m invited to eat a lot of food. Almost never is the experience this rewarding on all levels.

Barnes cover PDF 8.25.15

HISTORY & BOOKS: The cover has been chosen. “Indelible Austin: Selected Histories” is expected out in October from Waterloo Press. It collects several dozen of my historical columns written originally for the Austin American-Statesman. I try to link Old Austin to New Austin while bringing the past into the present. For updates, go to IndelibleAustin.com. And while you are at it, please “like” that page. Thanks!

This Ginger Fried Rice calls for freshly cooked rice that has been cooled before frying. Photo: James Ransom
This Ginger Fried Rice calls for freshly cooked rice that has been cooled before frying. Photo: James Ransom

FOOD: What is the key to genius recipes? Breaking the rules. Sample taken from Addie Broylestasty story in the American-Statesman: “How often do you feel like a genius in the kitchen? Our first reaction might be “never,” but even my dad, best known in the kitchen for his sliced-kielbasa-and-spaghetti-dinner nights when I was a kid, recently surprised me with a trick he found online to poach eggs in a little pouch made of plastic wrap. Kristen Miglore has been rounding up what she calls “genius recipes” for Food52.com for several years now. That’s the New York-based food website that features a hybrid of recipes from above-average home cooks around the country and from the test kitchen run by former New York Times food writer Amanda Hesser and Food52.com co-founder Merrill Stubbs…”

Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified Samantha Davidson.

Texas 4000 Tribute Gala, More Katrina Stories and more

Abigail Aeitler and Josh Hernandez, riders in the 2015 Texas 4000.
Abigail Aeitler and Josh Hernandez, riders in the 2015 Texas 4000.

CHARITY, HEALTH AND TRAVEL: They almost glow. Riders for the Texas 4000, University of Texas students who bike to Alaska to raise money for cancer causes, are not just fit, alert and confident. They fairly radiate good will. At the Austin Music Hall, 570 guests welcomed 71 riders from the 2015 tour. This group — split into three equidistant routes — raised a record $750,000, quite a bit I’d guess donated by the ride’s 500 alumni. Altogether, the 12 rides so far have raised more than $5 million.

Alex Zwaan and Annie Mara, riders in the 2015 Texas 4000.
Alex Zwaan and Annie Mara, riders in the 2015 Texas 4000.

I talked with riders, staff, board members, backers and relatives during the longish fundraiser. Rarely have I encountered such unbridled enthusiasm for a cause and the way it transforms those raising the money. Among the notables in attendance was new UT President Gregory L. Fenves. Bet he was as impressed by this team as I was.

Julie Tumblin is part of the Smoking for Jesus Ministry that relocated to Marbel Falls after Katrina. Photo: Jay Janner
Julie Tumblin is part of the Smoking for Jesus Ministry that relocated to Marbel Falls after Katrina. Photo: Jay Janner

MEDIA 1: Church is the most recognizable reminder of Katrina’s legacy in Central Texas. Sample taken from Marty Toohey‘s extensive story as part of the Statesman’s “Hurricane Katrina: A Decade Later”: “The pastor had finished preaching. A few people lingered in the sanctuary, preparing to shut off the lights. And outside, far from any big city lights, the countryside was swallowed up in a darkness that gave the stars a backdrop against which to shine.  “I would say it’s the darkness,” said Julie Tumblin, musing on the biggest difference between her former life in New Orleans and her life in this Hill Country community. “It’s still a little strange, even after all this time. Even though this is home.”

Kimani Williams has worked at Quality Seafood since he and his family fled New Orleans. Photo: Jay Janner
Kimani Williams has worked at Quality Seafood since he and his family fled New Orleans. Photo: Jay Janner

MEDIA 2: Katrina led Quality Seafood’s Kimani Williams to a better life. Sample taken from Matthew Odam‘s well told story as part of the Statesman’s “Hurricane Katrina: A Decade Later”: “New Orleans native Kimani Williams had ridden out plenty of storms in his 27 years. He knew the drill: Purchase canned goods, water and batteries. Hold tight. Hurricane Katrina loomed, but Williams wasn’t leaving the city’s Seventh Ward. “Same old song,” he said. Then former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin sounded the alarm: “This is a mandatory evacuation,” Williams remembers the warning. “911 will not be available to you. Your safety is not promised to you.” Williams thought of his wife, Kenyatta, and three children, ages 5, 3 and 3 months. He changed his mind. Time to leave.”

Matt Rourke's famous photograph of Sheila Dixon holds her baby Emily Dixon while waiting for evacuation from New Orleans.
Matt Rourke’s famous photograph of Sheila Dixon holds her baby Emily Dixon while waiting for evacuation from New Orleans.

MEDIA 3: Woman, daughter made famous in Katrina photo thrive. Sample taken from Tony Plohetski‘s deeply moving story as part of the Statesman’s “Hurricane Katrina: A Decade Later”: “Ten years later, I still flash back to the moment I first laid eyes on Shelia Dixon, cradling her precious baby girl in the aftermath of that monstrous storm, and can feel a lump in my throat. Exhausted and hungry, filthy from wading the flooded streets of New Orleans and drenched in sweat, former Statesman photographer Matt Rourke and I were three days into covering Hurricane Katrina, watching as choppers dropped hundreds of distraught evacuees along a highway I’d traveled my whole life.”

Cassie Smith, a 24-year-old New Orleans native, has worked in the American-Statesman newsroom since 2014.
Cassie Smith, a 24-year-old New Orleans native, has worked in the American-Statesman newsroom since 2014.

MEDIA 4: Katrina is a ‘blessing in disguise’ for some relocated millennials. Sample taken from Cassie Smith‘s personal story as part of the Statesman’s “Hurricane Katrina: A Decade Later”: “As I stood at the window in my doctor’s office, I recognized a familiar face. The medical assistant was one of my former high school classmates. In 2005, we both arrived at Cedar Park High School as new students. Prior to that, we both attended school in New Orleans. We each relocated to Austin with our families after Hurricane Katrina. While I waited for the doctor, she and I caught up. She is happily married with two kids. I, single, graduated college and am working in my chosen field, journalism. We both agreed that life has been good in Austin.”

Well Aware at Vuka, Saltillo Tract Project, Hays County Flood Plain, Texas Textbooks

Kelsey Janisch and Greg DeTomaso at "Journey of Clean Water for Life" from Well Aware.
Kelsey Janisch and Greg DeTomaso at “Journey of Clean Water for Life” from Well Aware.

CHARITY: Well Aware is in expansion mode. The Austin-based water-system nonprofit, founded by Sarah Evans, touts a 100 percent success rate providing clean water in Kenya. According to one board member whom I met during a reception at Vuka in South Austin, proposals are in the air for Zambia and Uganda. Meanwhile, Evans and an engineer were invited consult on water systems in Haiti. The Vuka do presented the high-definition photography of Greg Davis, who is associated with National Geographic and documented Well Aware’s work in Africa. On another bright note, first couple that I encountered included Kelsey Janisch, who is looking for a career in African sustainability. Besides Well Aware, other Austin-based nonprofit working in that field include A Glimmer of Hope Foundation and the Nobility Project. Good places to start.

CITY: Why hasn’t work started on Saltillo Tract? Sample taken from Ben Wear‘s informative story in the American-Statesman: “Endeavor Real Estate, by the narrowest of margins, won permission from the Capital Metro board in 2014 to build a mixture of housing, retail and a park on 10 acres in East Austin owned by the transit agency. But more than 14 months later, Capital Metro and the Domain developer have yet to complete negotiations on a master development agreement for the long-planned project on the former rail yard just east of Interstate 35. Capital Metro had spent almost $190,000 through June on outside legal help in hammering out the still incomplete agreement.And the required relocation of a MetroRail track running through the center of the seven-block parcel, which agency officials had said would happen by the end of 2014, hasn’t begun.”

NATURE: Facing up to the flood lines in Hays County. Sample taken from Sean Collins Walsh‘s alert story in the American-Statesman: “Hundreds of Hays County residents could be forced to buy flood insurance or could see their properties fall under new construction standards under advisory flood plain maps that the Federal Emergency Management Agency began releasing Friday. The advisory maps, which will go through a yearlong review process, would dramatically expand the flood plains along the banks of the Blanco River and tributary creeks through southern Hays County, the hardest-hit area during the deadly Memorial Day weekend flooding. FEMA’s flood plain maps determine which property owners must buy flood insurance and how high they must build new construction in communities that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, as Wimberley, San Marcos and Hays County do.”

SCHOOL: Texas textbooks not as ahistorical as expected. Sample taken from Julie Chang‘s surprising story in the American-Statesman: “Long before their debut in Texas classrooms Monday, the state’s new history textbooks have been criticized and mocked nationwide for downplaying slavery and whitewashing the country’s racial history. Critics, fueled by curriculum guidelines approved by the Republican-dominated State Board of Education, have been warning about bias and revisionist history for five years. But it turns out most of the textbook publishers did a better job than expected, even by the standards of the loudest critic of the state’s guidelines. Texas students will indeed learn that slavery was a primary cause of the Civil War. And they’ll learn that Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan existed to disfranchise African-Americans, two things that the state’s guidelines don’t explicitly require students to learn.”

TreeHouse Reception, Katrina Stories, Breakfast in Austin, Violet Crown Trail

TreeHouse founder Jason Ballard. Photo: TreeHouse.
TreeHouse founder Jason Ballard. Photo: TreeHouse.

BUSINESS: I was blown away. I must have walked past TreeHouse sustainable hardware store in the Westgate Shopping Center dozens of times. I assumed it was an oversized boutique. Yesterday, I attended a reception there. The staff knows how to teach and please the guest with usable data on building materials, water and air systems, all sorts of things to improve personal health and the health of the planet. And they know how to have a good time. We were there to salute new funding that will allow TreeHouse to expand to other Texas cities, also the release of its Annual, which is less like a corporate report and more like a handy lifestyle magazine. I spent time with owner Jason Ballard, his wife Jenny and yet another interesting, profile-worthy person, Gail Vittori from the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, which has become a world leader in sustainable construction. Another big surprise: Prices are already pretty competitive at TreeHouse.

Terrence and Christine Moline at Ruby's BBQ. Photo: Jay Janner / American-Statesman
Terrence and Christine Moline at Ruby’s BBQ. Photo: Jay Janner / American-Statesman

CITY: Why did Katrina evacuees stay in Austin? Sample taken from my story — part of a package — in the American-Statesman: “When Terrence and Christine Moline first walked into Ruby’s BBQ on Guadalupe Street in 2007, they felt transported to Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans. “It’s very warm and rustic,” Terrence says. “It feels as though history has gracefully seeped into the walls.” When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005, the longtime residents barely escaped. They left behind a recently purchased house — later buried under 10 feet of water and mud — and landed for what they thought would be a temporary stay in Austin. “Immediately, we were welcomed with open arms and offered job opportunities,” Terrence says. “The transition from life in New Orleans to establishing a foundation in Austin was as easy as could be expected, thanks to the people we’ve met who have become our Austin family.”

Breakfast at Elizabeth Street Cafe. Photo: Laura Skelding / American-Statesman
Breakfast at Elizabeth Street Cafe. Photo: Laura Skelding / American-Statesman

FOOD: Breakfast options grow in Austin. Sample taken from Matthew Odam‘s invaluable guide in the American-Statesman:  “People call breakfast the most important meal of the day, but we just love talking about brunch. Maybe it’s because people brunch on the weekend, when most folks have more time to unspool into their day — and drink mimosas. Maybe it’s because people want every last second of sleep during the week and start their days in a frenzy with little time to consider sitting down to eat breakfast. Brunch is sexy; breakfast boring. But some people still appreciate a good breakfast. Maybe you don’t have to work every weekday morning. Maybe you’re taking the day off. Maybe you have a business meeting. Maybe you have the luxury of starting your work day whenever you please. For you, I offer this list of 18 restaurants in Austin where you can get a good sit-down breakfast. Not brunch. And not just on the weekends.”

WEB081715 aus fit citySPORTS: The first six miles of the Violet Crown Trail have opened. Sample taken from Pam LeBlanc‘s swell story in the American-Statesman: “Just a few hundred yards from U.S. 290, along a new trail that dips into rocky ravines and winds along Gaines Creek, chirping birds and rustling leaves swallow the sounds of traffic. Last Friday, the city unveiled the first 6 miles of the long-awaited Violet Crown Trail, which ultimately will stretch 30 miles from downtown Austin to Hays County. A pair of stone pillars, a small shade awning, a trail map and a park bench mark the trailhead, tucked just to the east of Spec’s in Sunset Valley. This inaugural section of trail weaves through thickets of ashe juniper and oak and clatters over limestone “What you hear here is nature,” says George Cofer, executive director of the Hill Country Conservancy, a nonprofit land trust that works to preserve open space and has spearheaded the effort to build the trail. “In the early morning it’s extraordinary.”

Fall Social Season, White Ghost Shivers, Snapchat Filters and La Lotería Mural

wgs3_resize500x500NIGHTLIFE: The fall social season is upon us. It begins Saturday with the Texas 4000 Gala, which welcomes back university students who biked to Alaska to raise money for cancer causes. The event is at the Austin Music Hall. Expect a lot of outrageously fit folks in dinner attire. Before that, on Friday, Water for Life will hold an informal event at Vuka. We’ve planned a handy preview of the fall season — with a “Ditch the Tux” fashion theme — slated for a Sept. 3 print publication date. Yet there’s plenty happening before then, including the Big Give for I Live Here I Give Here at the Hyatt Regency on Aug. 28, the Forklift Dance Party at Scottish Rite on Aug. 29 and Celebrando Austin from the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at the Hyatt Regency on the same night. Of course, that’s also the night of the Austin Pride Parade, but …

MUSIC: I first encountered White Ghost Shivers some 10 years ago at the Broken Spoke. They played a dark, hot, fast version of jazz, blues, ragtime, western swing and other prewar musical styles. Scary good. Since the, I’ve caught variations on the core act at clubs, parties and festivals. Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing them in the comfort of the Rollins Studio at the Long Center. (As I enter my 60s, I so appreciate being able to sit down in air-conditioning to hear a great band play relatively close to the announced set time.) I was not the only guest over the average age of the band members, but the Shivers appeal broadly across any imagined generation gap. Extremely tall Short Stumpy — a mix of Tommy Tune, Tony Perkins and a 30s cartoon character — most often acts as front man, while Cella Blue — a sort of Amy Schumer with a supremely supple voice — takes most of the vocals. It would be sinful not to mention as well the crazy talents of Smokebreak Slemenda (lead guitar), Hot Thomas (violin), Poppiticus (string bass) and Ten-Penny Brown (clarinet). (Sorry if the stage names have changed.) They made me happier than I have any right to be.

TECH: Snapchat’s geo-filters happily explained. Sample taken from Paighten Harkins‘s story in the American-Statesman: “Austinites are a welcoming bunch of people whose eclectic attire and free-spirited lifestyles characterize the city — and they love to ride bikes. Or at least those are the types of Austinites Joe Ahlert sought to represent when he created a Snapchat geofilter to overlay the entire town. He acknowledges there are different subsets of Austinites, from the tech types in the silicon hills to the fashion-forward denizens who dot the city, and maybe one day he’ll create filters for them, too. Filters are the graphic overlays users can swipe and add to photos taken on the photo-sharing social media app, Snapchat. Geofilters are tied to a user’s location, meaning that when you’re in a different city, or even a different part of town, you’ll see different filters available, provided one exists in the area.”

CITY: The secrets of the restored La Lotería mural. Sample taken from James Barragan‘s story in the American-Statesman: “For almost 25 years, the “La Lotería” mural stood on the east-facing wall of 1619 E. Cesar Chavez St., as a reminder of the neighborhood’s Latino culture and a celebration of its spirit. In February, an art project affiliated with the South by Southwest Music Festival painted over the mural, unleashing outrage from neighborhood residents. Last month, a group of artists funded by the festival — which apologized for painting over the mural in the first place — restored the beloved artwork to its initial location. The new mural, which includes designs from the original artists who painted the work in 1989, has restored the art piece but also includes new touch-ups that reflect the changing character of the neighborhood. Some are serious; others are personal and some are hard to spot. Compiled here is a list of some of the hidden secrets of neighborhood history that can be found in the new “La Lotería” mural. Do you know any more of the mural’s secrets?”

A New England respite

Black Pond, Maine. Photo: Joe Starr.
Black Pond, Maine. Photo: Joe Starr.

For the fifth summer in a row, we’ve escaped the Texas heat for a few weeks in New England.  The main stop — Black Pond — located in the foothills of Maine. A few old friends share a cabin on a small lake facing a preserve of pine, birch and hemlock. Wood thrushes serenade us at dawn and dusk. Most days start with a hike into nearby Mount Vernon. Most afternoons include swimming, boating and more hiking. Kip and I are in charge of brunches around noon each day. Duties for evening feasts are divided among our friends. Really, it’s just day after day of playing, reading, cooking, eating, drinking and relaxing. This year’s late-night treat: multiple seasons of HBO’s “Veep,” which is much edgier and more enjoyable than I had any reason to expect.

One of 13 daily brunches at Black Pond. Photo: Joe Starr.
One of 13 daily brunches at Black Pond. Photo: Joe Starr.

My summer reading has included John Lahr‘s magnificent “Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh,” Langdon Hammer’s minutely detailed “James Merrill: Life and Art,” Sven Beckert‘s far-reaching global history, “Empire of Cotton,” and the fourth volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard‘s exhaustive memoir/novel “My Struggle.” Enjoyed them all, although I’m not finished with Hammer’s full 800 pages, and probably will take the rest of August to complete them. Otherwise, I typically reserve back issues of The New Yorker for vacations like this one. Yes, we were in the woods, but we had WiFi, so we regularly checked in on local, regional and national media.

Last day at Black Pond. Photo: Michael Barnes.
Last day at Black Pond. Photo: Michael Barnes.

This year, we discovered that one of the roads that leads to cabin, Klir Beck, was named for a renowned Maine artist who lived in a Tudor revival house less than a mile from our cabin. Only the odd garage remains after a fire some 16 years ago. He was renowned for his nature studies, including diaramas in Augusta’s otherwise deserted State House. He also helped decorate cosmetics queen Elizabeth Arden’s house on the Belgrade Lakes nearby. The estate, recently resold after much diminishment, was once a spa, welcoming guests such as Mamie Eisenhower and Judy Garland. An older gentleman we encountered each day on Klir Beck Road — walking his hostile beagle — said that the celebrities came there to “dry out.”

11863419_10205797344865092_535557793956362381_nBy the way, Augusta, the nearest city to Black Pond, hosts the excellent Maine State Museum. On several floors, it goes deep into past occupations and domestic lives, among other things, and includes an instructive water mill. No really, it’s one of the best such history museums I’ve ever encountered. The state capital also offers the Viles Arboretum, which spreads out over many acres with young-growth forests, wide meadows and specialized groves of larches, chestnuts and conifers, as well as dozens of varieties of hostas, the cold-hearty Asian flowers now ubiquitous in New England.

For the past four years, we’ve bracketed our Maine weeks with a few days in Boston. That way, we take advantage of direct Jet Blue flights into and out of Logan and spend the total of a week in the South End. Buddy and teacher Lawrence Morgan and I explored yet another wing of the endless Museum of Fine Arts – Boston, which like other American mega-museums, is predicated on the notion that great art well presented is not enough. One must overwhelm. Such is not the case at the newly renovated Harvard Art Museums, which offers excellent samples from each period and region without ever overdoing. Think of the Menil Collection in Houston, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth or the Frick Collection in New York.

Lots of hiking around Cambridge, Back Bay, Fenway and other nearby hoods, stopping to eat at Stephi’s on Tremont, and its cousin, Stephanie’s on Newbury, as well as Kirkland Tap and Trotter, the Gallows and Petit Robert Bistro.

Happy 50th birthday again to our dear, young friend, Carol Cosenza, who threw the perfect dance party at Lilypad, a micro-venue in Cambridge. Wish Austin had more spots like this one. Less overhead and more intimate.