Sunday, November 24, 2013

Alain de Botton on being/not being a critic

Wrestling with the dissertation these days. This quote, from Joshua Rothman's New Yorker profile of Alain de Botton's "art as therapy" project, is helping energize me by reminding me of why I'm doing all this work. Just replace "art" with "literature" in my case.

“What are you supposed to do if you love art?” he asked. “Do you become a scholar of art? Do you become an art critic? Do you write about art? Our answer is that one should try to take the values that one admires in works of art and enact them, and make them more vivid in the world. It’s too easy to ‘love art,’ and to not love the things that art actually loves. But the point is to try and love the things that the artists we love loved. Don’t just love the artist,” he said. “Don’t just love the work they produced. Love what they loved.” Inside the museum, these ideas had seemed contentious. Outside, on Seventieth Street—where trees waved in the breeze, and clouds glowed behind them—they seemed less so.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

You Should Pick Up the Old 97's/ Waylon Jennings Collaboration

(This happened.)

Texas Monthly/ The NY Times has an oral history up of the 1996 collaboration between Waylon Jennings and the Old 97's:

In 1996, five Texans met in Nashville to record two songs together. At the time, the four members of the Dallas band Old 97’s were awaiting the release of their major-label debut for Elektra Records, “Too Far To Care.” But already they were considered too loud for country, too country for rock. It was a struggle that the fifth Texan in the room, Waylon Jennings, knew all too well.

The fruits of that meeting, versions of "The Other Shoe"* and "The Iron Road", are being released today by Ominvore Recordings, along with four Old 97's demos. Get to a record store!

Previous posts on the Old 97's here and here.

*"The Other Shoe" is my all-time favorite Old 97's song. Except maybe for "Salome". Or "Big Brown Eyes". Anyway, Waylon had good taste.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Sites to See

I just want to highlight some super-cool scholarly and texan and scholarly-texan-type things going on around the web:

First, if you're reading James Joyce or planning a trip to Dublin, you have to visit Jasmine Mulliken's meticulously-researched Mapping Dubliners Projectwhich features online maps of every place referenced in Dubliners and mapped routes of all of the collection's characters. Jasmine also writes a blog, spotlighting a new place from the book each week, with notes on its history and its role in the text.

Second, the Harry Ransom Center has a blog! How did I not know about this until now? It's full of fascinating commentary on the center's holdings--I learned about it the day Michael Gilmore wrote about the famous scuffle between Ernest Hemingway and Max Eastman, which took place in the office of Hemingway's editor after Eastman challenged Hemingway's manhood. The story is unbelievable, and Gilmore's posts reminds me of exactly why I love archival work. 

Finally, I knew Hannah Gamble in Houston, and now she's blowing up on the national poetry scene. She'll be featured in next month's Poetry and she's doing a reading at the KGB Bar in New York tonight. Her 2012 collection "Your Invitation to a Modest Breakfast" garnered this great review from Anna Journey at the Kenyon Review.  And you can see her at the top of this post, reading a poem and being interviewed by her former professor Richard Jackson. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Happy birthday, Freddie King!

Texas has produced a lot of great bluesmen (and blueswomen). Happy birthday to one of the best: the Texas Cannonball, Freddie King, seen above with Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. King would have been 79 today.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Remembering Penelope Casas

(Penelope Casas, 1943 - 2013)

Penelope Casas, America's foremost expert on Spanish cuisine, passed away this week at 70. No cookbook author meant more to me or my family, and I've got a post over on the pterodáctilo blog explaining why. Check it out, and go buy one of Casas' extraordinary books on Spanish food!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

From the Gulf

(Galveston Island, 1972. All photos by Blair Pittman via The Atlantic.)

I love this series of photos from Texas in the 1970s that's up right now at The Atlantic's website. Part of it is that we just got back from a weekend getaway to Port Aransas, on the Gulf, which still looks amazingly like these 40-year-old shots of Galveston.

As a kid, sometimes I would ask my mom if I could have a certain toy or watch a TV show, and she would tell me, "No, it's tacky." She wasn't being snobby--she just thought that living a good, beautiful life meant surrounding yourself with good, beautiful things, and lots of the junk that kid-me wanted didn't qualify. My mom was a paradox (we all are) who also loved Coors Light and grew into a devoted NASCAR fan. But when it came to raising me, she emphasized cultivating the beautiful and a sense for the beautiful. And that meant that "the beach" for me growing up was a serene spot with white sand and blue water and no oil rigs on the horizon--we loved the beaches of the east coast, and we travelled to or aspired to travel to nicer beaches outside of the country.

There's a certain level of tackiness to the beaches of the Texas Gulf, and the 1970s were America's tackiest decade. But there's also value in finding beauty in what you've got on hand, in what you can afford--a value my mom absolutely understood--and that's what you get from this series.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Nonsecular Girl's "Sermon for Brokenness"

Oscar Wilde: “I drink to separate my body from my soul.”

Casey Fleming's response
Imagine our bodies, healthy or sick or momentarily struggling, as the light of God.
Imagine we might need affliction to illuminate our souls.  (know, in this imagining, the unfairness of such a reality on some, truly sick people)
Imagine we could not have a soul without a body.
Imagine the necessity of Jesus’ human body.
Then the body cannot be a shade of shame or a thing to denounce.  Then the body cannot be a cage, and drinking, dear Oscar Wilde, might be more for marrying our bodies to our souls than separating them.  Then the body has no use for a language of signs and signals and acronyms.
The flesh is the word, the word is the flesh.
Even, and especially, when the flesh is broken.
The whole thing is gorgeous. And it includes readings from Christian Wiman and Mark Doty, two poets with deep connections to Texas.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Texas Barbecue in New York

(Or, more precisely, The New Yorker.)

Sorry about the blog slowdown, readers (all nine and a half of you). I was on my aforementioned road trip through the south which, in the end, actually involved more flying than driving. But I digress. Before I left, I frantically searched my favorite sites for reading material, which I copied and pasted into a word document saved to read for those times (on planes, in non-wifi hotels, etc.) when I wouldn't have internet access.

One of the articles I saved came from The New Yorker's front page, and it was about Snow's Barbecue in Lexington, and their recent shocking coronation as the number 1 barbecue joint in Texas (and therefore the world, sorry John T. Edge). This confused me mightily, because Franklin Barbecue was the one Texas Monthly just named as number one. Snow's was in the top 4.

Eventually I figured out that the article was five years old. Duh. The New Yorker has this weird habit of putting old stuff on their front page--I don't know why. But it was great reading anyway, so I submit it here for y'all.

Again, the link:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bloomsday in Austin (and Prague and Paris)

 Every year I fail at celebrating Bloomsday. I've never even made it to an Irish pub on June 16th, let alone put together something cool like the daylong project this blogger came up with for doing Bloomsday in Houston.

This year, the day lined up with Father's Day, so--since I figured I'd spend my day doing family things--it looked like I would miss the celebration again. I did buy some Guinness, and I sent out a Facebook status based on the first sentence of Ulysses' Bloom section ("Mr. Scholarly Texan ate with relish breakfast tacos made with potatoes and bacon."). A half-hearted tribute to the novel, I guess.

But it was shaping up to be a great day, nonetheless. We had brunch with H's family at Nau's Enfield Drug, and then H's parents agreed to take the little one for the night, so H and I planned to go out. We've been hoping to see Before Midnight, the third film in Austin director Richard Linklater's trilogy. Like most couples of our generation, we secretly imagine that Jesse and Celine are loosely based on us.


We got lazy and decided to stay in. Or, as we justified it to ourselves, we needed to re-watch the first two movies, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, so we would be properly prepped for watching the third (at some unspecified future date).

Through all this, Joyce never left my mind. I know this because, in Before Sunrise’s opening scene, when Jesse and Celine are shuttling along the train tracks between Budapest and Prague, Jesse shares his harebrained idea of putting together a public-access film series featuring regular people from different cities around the world, each recording his or her life unedited for twenty-four hours.

"Hey," I said to H, "that’s like 365 film versions of Ulysses." H wasn’t impressed. (In the film, Celine isn't impressed either. I told you they're like us.)

But I knew the Joycean echo wasn’t a coincidence when, in the film’s climactic moment, the parting lovers decide to meet again in Prague in six months. In the process, they reveal the date on which the film's events have taken place: June 16th. Bloomsday!

At that point, I remembered that Before Sunrise isn’t Linklater’s only tribute to Joyce and Ulysses. In his first movie, Slacker (1991), Linklater has a character read aloud from the novel after a bad breakup. Aside from that reference, Slacker borrows from Ulysses in two ways. First, by setting the entire film within a span of twenty-four hours around Austin, Linklater is clearly trying to record “the physiognomy of the city,” to quote Carpentier, “like Joyce did with Dublin.” And the film’s technique of jumping from character-to-character with each interaction (so, for example, the camera will follow one person down the street until he encounters another another person, and then after their interaction the camera will follow the second person) comes straight from the “Wandering Rocks” episode of Ulysses. 

Dazed and Confused (1993) is a slightly more polished version of what Linklater was doing in Slacker, and less showy in its experimentation. But the elements are there: the whole thing takes place in a day (and night), and the narrative jumps from character to character again. Rather than walking around Austin, Dazed and Confused's characters drive, and that's one of several ways the film's Joycean nature is more muted. Still, some people have caught it. 

So, no, I didn't hit a pub (or several), and I didn't spend my day wandering the streets of where I'm from. But in the end, I did have a very Joycean Bloomsday. And a very Austin Bloomsday. And, all right, I admit it, a very slacker Bloomsday. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Most Texan Meal Ever?

If you're keeping score at home, this dinner consisted of 1) 2 Earl Campbell Hot Links on Mrs. Baird's white bread with Best Maid jalapeño relish; 2) Ranch Style Beans;  and 3) a Mrs. Baird's cherry pie. All eaten with a Shiner Bock from the tailgate of a 20-year-old pickup truck at a ranch in the Hill Country.

PS--Also while listening to 98.1 KVET.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Happy Hour in Havana

My latest at pterodactilo is a how-to on drinking in la Habana. Here's a sample:

So here’s what you do: when you’re done researching and writing for the day, and the sun is starting to set and the heat is starting to fade, grab your colleagues or the friends that you’ve made on the island. Buy a bottle of Havana Club and some cans of TuKola. Go down to the malecón, where it will seem like the whole city is out sitting and talking and laughing. Claim some space. Face the city, not the sea. Open a can of Cuban coke, take a swallow, and pour the rum into the space you’ve just made. And there you go: a makeshift cuba libre.

Read it all at

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Summer Reading

Summertime, and the labor’s back-breaking. Like the creeks around here, my fellowship checks dry up in the summer and so, when I'm not working on my dissertation at the PCL, I’m back working at the ranch three days a week. But summertime isn’t just for manual labor: it’s also the season for travel and, on top of that, the season for reading.

I love the intersection of reading and travel, and the resulting double-journey that comes with each summer. You go to one place and you read about another. Like the summer after 8th grade, when I laid out at my grandmother’s pool in Atlanta, looking up at Georgia pine trees over my paperback copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls: I was in Spain and I was in Georgia. Or during our honeymoon, when H and I stayed at an the out-of-the-way finca in Extremadura, and it was unseasonably cold and windy, so instead of hiking around we huddled in our room and read about Tuscany. Last summer, in Havana, I was reading The Rum Diaries, and so I spent the trip skipping between Cuba and Puerto Rico.

The best is when somehow the two places overlap each other, different as they may be. In fact, the more different they are, the more acutely you feel their overlap. That summer in Atlanta, for example, Hemingway’s descriptions of pine trees in Spain in some surprising way taught me something about those pines by the pool, made them more real.

It happens at the ranch, too. Two summers ago, I was studying for my comps and one of the books on my list was José Donoso’s Casa de campo (A House in the Country), which is a strange Chilean novel about a group of kids who get the run of their summer house when their parents head out on an excursion. That was the summer that the drought was the worst in Texas, when everything dried up and it looked for all the world like the Chihuahua desert was about to swallow up the Edwards Plateau. Donoso has these amazing, surreal descriptions of the tall white grasses that surround the house and threaten to overrun the grounds. Looking out over the bleached fields of the ranch that year when even the cedars were losing their color, it seemed like Donoso was also writing about the Texas Hill Country.  

This year, I’ll be going (physically) on a road trip across the South with my family. And it looks like I’ll also be visiting (mentally) Paris with Enrique Vila-Matas, and maybe New Orleans, since I plan to finally read Confederacy of Dunces (that will be a return trip with a quick turnaround, since I just finished re-reading The Moviegoer after writing about Walker Percy). Where else? New York with Anne Roiphe, wherever Mary McCarthy goes in her short stories, and the Dominican sections of New Jersey with Junot Díaz.

And of course, working on my dissertation, I’ll spend a lot of mental time in Havana and in Harlem. But that’s where I live; I’m ready to get away.    

EDIT: I thought of two more: I half-read The Brothers Karamazov in college, and I mean to make amends this year. Also, Simone, by Puerto Rican novelist Eduardo Lalo, which just won the Premio Rómulo Gallegos for 2013.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Texas Monthly's Top 4

The magazine has spoken. Snow's in Lexington and Pecan Lodge in Dallas? I guess we'll need to take a family road trip soon.

A Defense of the Salt Lick: Sides Matter

It's here! It's here! This afternoon, Texas Monthly will release the rankings of its very controversial and much-anticipated Barbecue Issue. It has already posted, without rankings, its list of the top 50 barbecue joints in the state. There aren't many surprises: Franklin Barbecue in Austin is on the list, as is Cooper's in Llano, Cousin's in Fort Worth, and Kreuz Market and Black's in Lockhart (Smitty's missed out).

One omission that disappoints me, but doesn't surprise me, is the Salt Lick in Driftwood.

The Salt Lick is one of the most popular restaurants in the state, but its reputation among barbecue snobs goes up and down from year-to-year. I understand why: somehow, for reasons I can't comprehend (since they've got some of the biggest, best tended pits in the world), their brisket is wildly inconsistent. I've had brisket there as good as anything I've had at Cooper's or Black's; I've also had brisket that was just ok. That's how it was on my last visit--I remember looking down at my plate at one point and thinking, This meat's nothing special.

That said, I also remember that visit as one of many in an unbroken line of magical barbecue meals that I've had at the Salt Lick, dating back a decade and a half to my undergrad days. How to reconcile that magic with the (sometimes) underwhelming meat? The answer will appall purists, but here it is: it's not all about the brisket.

Or to put it another way, sides matter.

(NOTE: in Texas barbecue, everything but the brisket is a side--bread, slaw, potato salad, yes, but also ribs and sausage and sauce... I'm even counting dessert as a side here)

Texas Monthly writes that their final score "considers intangibles like setting, service, and history, but mainly it is based on the meat. The brisket score counts the most." They say they take sides into account. But obviously sides don't count enough. Or, more likely, they haven't developed a scale that fully registers the total superiority of the Salt Lick's sides. This makes sense, to an extent. After all, sides don't matter at most barbecue restaurants. At most barbecue restaurants, you get a bag of white bread and a bargain-sized jar of jalapeños on your table. At most barbecue restaurants, the beans and potato salad are warmed-over afterthoughts, not much better than what you'd get in the prepared-food section of your local HEB.

But the Salt Lick gives you fresh baked bread, and they pickle their own jalapeños and cucumbers. Their potato salad and slaw are unorthodox but great (the latter is dressed in sesame oil, giving it a nice, nutty flavor). Their spicy sauce is my favorite barbecue sauce by far, their ribs are and sausage are excellent, and their blackberry cobbler is one of the state's dearest treasures.*

Let me try to put this into a crude numeric form, using a scale of 1-10: if the meat at Black's or Cooper's is consistently at 9 or above, then the meat at the Salt Lick averages around a 7--sometimes it's a 5, sometimes it's a 9. On the other hand, all of the Salt Lick's sides are 9s, while the sides at most barbecue restaurants hover around 3 or 4 (or lower).

The result is that the Salt Lick is an eating experience unlike any other barbecue restaurant. When I go to one of the state's big barbecue names, I look forward to it like I look forward to a meal at any world-renowned restaurant. But I look forward to the Salt Lick like I look forward to Thanksgiving dinner**. It's a more complete experience--different, but certainly not inferior. So the Salt Lick deserves mention on any list of the best barbecue joints in the state. And any scoring system that leaves it off is a busted instrument.

*My one complaint with their cobbler is that they don't serve it with Bluebell Ice Cream.

**An especially appropriate comparison, since the Salt Lick, like Thanksgiving dinner, makes me feel like I'm done eating for the week.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Bourbon, Bad and Good

Walker Percy was a fascinating dude. The author of (in my opinion) the best New Orleans novel, 1961's The Moviegoer, and a key champion of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, Percy was both an existentialist and a self-proclaimed bad Catholic. On top of all that, he was a drinking man, and his short essay "Bourbon, Neat" has become a  sort of touchtone text for religious people trying to make sense of their own drinking.

Maybe because of that, "Bourbon, Neat" is one of the most misread essays in the American canon. I guess because he called himself a Catholic, people figure that "Bourbon, Neat" is Percy's attempt to find virtue in bourbon, to show how drinking can be safe, healthy, and ordered.

Take Michael Barruzini's "Walker Percy, Bourbon, and the Holy Ghost," published at First Things. Now, I don't want to be too hard on this essay, because it's a good piece of writing, and it calls attention to Percy's excellent piece of writing. 

But damn if Barruzini doesn't miss Percy's point.

In Baruzzini’s analysis, bourbon is one way of answering the existential question of how to be in the world. “No, not in the sense of drowning sorrows in alcoholic stupor,” Baruzzini writes, “but in recognizing that it is in concrete things and acts that we are able to be in the world.” Man drinks bourbon, Baruzzini argues, like an eagle flies or like a mole digs, “because that is what you are, what you are good at, what you love.”

And he concludes: “[B]ourbon is for Percy a way to be for a moment in the evening. Why might one take an evening cocktail? Baser reasons are: an addiction to alcohol, or the desire to appear sophisticated. Better reasons, according to Percy, are the aesthetic experience of the drink itself—the appearance, the aroma, the taste, the cheering effect of (moderate) ethanol on the brain. Another reason is that a drink incarnates the evening; it marks the shift from the active workday to a reflective time at home. One simply must choose a way to be at a five o’clock on a Wednesday evening. Instead of surrendering to TV, Percy recommended making a proper southern julep.”

We can put aside the objection that Percy doesn’t recommend mint juleps (the essay is called “Bourbon, Neat,” remember), and we can ignore the fact that Percy advocates the opposite of savoring the “appearance, the aroma, the taste” of bourbon. Those are confusing aspects of Percy’s essay—he does give a recipe for mint juleps, and he does have a beautiful line about the “hot bosky bite of Tennessee summertime.”

The bigger problem comes in with Baruzzini’s insertion of the word “moderate” into that last paragraph.

Where does he get the idea that Percy's essay is about moderation? The drinkers in "Bourbon, Neat" are desperate, awkward, and unhappy: they drink illegally, they drink irresponsibly, they drink whatever they can get their hands on, from Coke bottles and hip flasks and home-rigged stills. He writes of a bunch of teenaged boys so scared of girls that they hide in the bathroom during a school dance, swilling whiskey and wincing at its taste. He writes about turning to bourbon when he doesn't know what to say on a date. And he writes of a julep party on Derby Day where “men fall face-down unconscious, women wander in the woods disconsolate and amnesiac, full of thoughts of Kahlil Gibran and the limberlost.”

But to hear Baruzzini tell it, Percy is advocating the stolid, responsible pleasures of a cocktail made with good whiskey, taken from an evening chair, maybe before going out into the backyard to toss the ball around with the kids and, then, once they’re bathed and off to sleep, making stolid, responsible love to the wife.

Percy’s ideal of whiskey drinking is far, far from that. It’s: 

“William Faulkner, having finished Absalom, Absalom!, drained, written out, pissed-off, feeling himself over the edge and out of it, nowhere, but he goes somewhere, his favorite hunting place in the Delta wilderness of the Big Sunflower River and, still feeling bad with his hunting cronies and maybe even a little phony, which he was, what with him trying to pretend that he was one of them, a farmer, hunkered down in the cold and rain after the hunt, after honorable passing up the does and seeing no bucks, shivering and snot-nosed, takes out a flat pint of any Bourbon at all and flatfoots about a third of it. He shivers again but not from the cold.”
So "Bourbon, Neat" isn't about drinking to be yourself--it's about drinking to escape yourself. 

Drinking to escape? Isn't that bad? Isn't escape precisely the wrong reason to drink? 

Yeah, it can be, but Percy hates what he calls the "everydayness" of modern life. And so he celebrates drinking, even bad drinking with all of its risks, because those risks allow bourbon to lift us out of that everydayness. Now, Barruzini is right that there's a religious aspect to all this. But he's wrong to look for it in the concept of vocation (doing what God calls you to do) rather than in the concept of grace. Booze is grace, Percy is telling us. Cheers! 

But what does that mean?

Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, describes grace as “an entry into some different kind of identity.” Specifically, he says that “grace, for the Christian believer, is a transformation that depends, in large part, on knowing yourself to be seen in a certain way: as significant, as wanted.” Grace means recognizing yourself as an occasion of joy for God.

Percy’s essay is an elaboration of the famous quote, attributed to Benjamin Franklin, that alcohol is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. But since that joy and love don’t come from our own merits, they can’t be rationally explained.  So grace is inherently wrapped up in mystery; in this respect, it differs from vocation, which involves doing what is self-evidently good for us. Drinking whiskey, then, is man’s (or woman’s) way of getting at the unfathomable, of launching himself into the wilderness of mystery. Even when he does it from his armchair.

In other words: We don’t drink bourbon because it’s good for us. We drink it because it’s not. And somehow that’s good.

That “somehow” is grace.

Can I get an amen?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Beer Love: Shiner Ruby Redbird

I have a non-Texan friend who once told me that she doesn't think very highly of Shiner, the beer company that brews out of the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas. That's blasphemy around here, but her reasoning wasn't bad: aside from Shiner Bock, she asked, how many of their beers do you actually enjoy?

The truth is, faced with a cooler full of all of the different brews that come from Shiner, I'll choose Shiner Bock every time. And if I find somehow myself with a different Shiner brew in my hand, I'm usually secretly wishing that it was a Shiner Bock. But that's not really an indictment of their Hefeweizen or their Black Lager as much as it is a reflection of the fact that I really, really love Shiner Bock. Shiner Bock is, to me, the Platonic ideal of a beer. Some days I might want something lighter or darker for a change, but when I think beer, I'm thinking Shiner Bock. And I measure other beers against that.

But as soon as I heard of Shiner's summer seasonal brew, Ruby Redbird, I knew it was a great idea. It's brewed with grapefruit, which is both very Texan and an obviously awesome flavor complement to a lager. Now, lots of brewers try to work fruity notes into their beers, and I generally don't like the results. Either the beers end up sweet, or the the fruit overpowers the beer. But light, bitter, complex grapefruit? It works.

So while I'm sure Shiner Bock will be back to dominating the beer shelf in my fridge soon, for now it's sharing space with a different Spoetzl product.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Jazz in Church?

Interesting article in the New Yorker, about church services centered around jazz performance. From Marc Hopkins:
At Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church, located at the top of the city’s Magnificent Mile, each Sunday at 4 p.m. the Lucy Smith Quartet draws heavily from sacred offerings like Coltrane’s “Dear Lord,” and songs from his A Love Supreme album. Adam Fronczek, associate pastor for adult education and worship, started the weekly services in mid-2010 to reach people who didn’t grow up in church or had stopped coming and wanted to return. Fronczek found jazz particularly useful because he sees the music as theologically rich. “There’s a musical journey that goes on with a piece of jazz music that I think mirrors our journey through the life of faith,” he said, referring to improvisation that occurs during performance. 
The line about the theological richness of jazz intrigued me, so I spent some time this morning digging around the internet, and I found this interview with “jazz theologian” Robert Gelinas. 
Jazz theology is what happens when we express the basic elements of jazz in our relationship with God—syncopation, improvisation, and call and response. These allow us to find our own voice within Scripture; experience life in concert with other practicing Christians; truly have time as servant leaders instead of time having us; and sing the blues so as not to waste any pain.
Curiously, Gelinas also writes “But my favorite jazz artist is the great American novelist Ralph Ellison, who demonstrated that jazz is more than music with his classic novel, Invisible Man. He showed that if we understand the basics of jazz, we can see it expressed in a variety of ways.”
See? It all comes back to my dissertation.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Blogging at Pterodáctilo

Speaking of new projects, I've been blogging for pterodáctilo, the literary magazine of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Not long ago, I wrote about trying to follow the ghost of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges around Austin, one of his favorite cities in the US. Here's a sample:

For Borges, this was always a place of wonder. Miguel Enguidános—on faculty here when Borges arrived—wrote in the introduction to El hacedor that, “Texas was, for him, an epic-laden dream.”  Borges came as a visiting professor in 1961 and left in early 1962. He came back several times for short visits, but still, that’s not a lot of time. And yet Austin and Texas kept showing up in his writings over the next two decades. There’s the short story “The Bribe,” (“El soborno,” 1975) set on the UT campus. There’s the sonnet, “Texas” (1967), in which Borges expresses his surprise at finding so many similarities between my home and his. In another poem, Borges calls Austin the city through which he “discovered America.” And then there’s Paul Theroux’s interview with Borges, as described in The Old Patagonia Express. As Peter LaSalle puts it, “Borges started talking about Texas almost as soon as Theroux got through the door to his apartment. Borges asked him if he was familiar with Austin, Theroux said no, and Borges chided him for having missed it on his trip: ‘You should have gone to Austin.’

You can read the whole post here. It features cameos from Kinky Friedman and Janis Joplin.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Drinking With Women

I’m about to launch a new project/series of posts dealing with the theology of booze, and I’ve been doing lots of research—reading, I mean, not drinking. Though I’ve been doing my share of drinking, too.
As part of that reading, I found this interview with Dr. Taylor Marshall at the very interesting whiskeycatholic site.
Asked for his thoughts on “virtuous drinking,” Marshall responds:
“Virtuous drinking involves male friendship, plain and simple. It’s usually a time for men to remove themselves from the company of women that they love and sit together around a fire pit, in the darkness, or on the back porch. Some of the most meaningful conversations that I have had with my father, my brother, and my friends have been over a Scotch. Real relationships are forged. It’s a beautiful thing.”
I’ll never, ever, ever get this sort of homosociality. I know that other people feel that way, but I just don’t. It must be some kind of innate orientation that I just flat-out don’t have. I like fire pits and back porches, and I like male friendship. But I’ve done enough sex-segregated activities—spent enough time in locker rooms, in sports camps, etc.—to state with confidence that just about everything worth doing is better when there are women around. Drinking maybe most of all.
We’re coming up on the 4th anniversary of the day my mom died. I’ll always remember the drink I shared with my grandmother that afternoon. I had just lost my mother; she had just lost her only daughter. We were stranded in our bewilderment, both of us entirely without words. But when I offered to drive her to the liquor store for some bourbon, her face lit up in appreciation. It was all I could do at that moment, but it meant something. Arguably, it meant everything.
So Marshall is absolutely right that alcohol forges bonds. What I don’t get is why he doesn’t want to forge those relationships with the women in his life; why he needs a space that excludes the women he loves.