Here's some pics taken in and around Austin. You can click on a pic to get a large version which you can feast your eyes on or download to a file.
|Our house (left) is a fairly typical ranch house built from Texas limestone, quarried nearby in the hill country. The yards are quite different from back east - for one thing, grass has to be extra tough to survive the hot dry summers, so many houses, like ours, foresake grass in favor of bushes and ground cover. The trees tend to be twisty and scraggly, again I believe because of the harshness of the climate. You see plenty of cactus in the yards, especially prickly pear and agave, which can grow as high as a man.
Not so long ago, they drove cattle through the streets of Austin. We still have some cattle, but they tend to stay in one place. (Right)
|These were taken in the heat of summer in the Zilker arboretum. Zilker is a wonderful large park only minutes from downtown. And only even fewer minutes from our house - we overlook a creek that flows into Barton Creek in Zilker in about a half mile. During the Austin City Limits music festival in September which takes place in Zilker, we can actually hear the music from our deck. The arboretum has a nice selection of hot desert plants and trees and, while we were there, was conducting a sale of cacti, succulents and the like, where we bought a few items for our garden.
Note furtive dinosaur in center picture.
|The Bastrop fire, close up and from a distance. Needless to say, we stayed at a distance, although sometimes we could smell the fire from our house. There was a heavy loss of property, although no loss of life. It took several weeks before it was entirely under control. Center right, a strange feature of Austin as dusk approaches - each afternoon, vast number of black birds gather on the phone wires. I assume it is something like an assembly before dinner, when the bugs come out. But some of them clearly were employed by Hitchcock a few years ago. On the right, a newpaper article on the relentless heat.|
|The two leftmost pictures were taken at the Broken Spoke, a famous Austin location for drinkin' and dancin'. One night a week, you can go for lessons in the Texas two-step, although we were just there to check it out and get a bite to eat. Torchy's tacos is a local chain, but has a memorable mascot. On the right is one of the many trailers that are parked semi-permanently at various spots to dispense food. We are particularly fond of one nearby that sells crepes.|
|The Cathedral of Junk, featuring one man's battle with the authorities over the nature of art. This is just in someone's back yard and he is nice enough to let people traipse through. It started off with a display of hubcaps, and then, like Topsy, it just grew and grew. At some point, it became Art and has been used as a site for weddings and was featured in Spy Kids 3 and a Bank of America commercial. But then the authorities decided that it was not in compliance with the building code. He applied for a building license, but it turned out that, now it was to be a building, it was in violation of other regulations, including being too close to the property line. He then had to remove 40 tons of junk, with the help of volunteers, in order to be good with the city. It is now visited by 10,000 earthlings a year, in addition to countless numbers of extra-galactic visitors. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the owner has a Ron Paul sticker on his fence.|
|Maria's Taco Express, home of the Hippie Opera. This is a nearby Taco joint, on Lamar. It is hard to miss because of the enormous statue of Maria in front of it. Some time in the past, evil organ traders came to the restaurant in dead of night, detached and ran off with her arms. There was great sadness in the land and citizens stepped up to contribute what they could to pay for an arm transplant, which has restored her to her original beauty. We have mostly gone here on Sunday, because Maria puts on some live music outdoors. (We brought Louise's sister Kathy when she visited us.) Crazed hippies, in their dotage and wearing tied-dyed t-shirts or tutus, come and dance to the music while the rest of us cheer them on.|
|Shakespeare down on the farm (first pic). The venue is a small farm within the city of Austin. We were expecting something a little more like Manhattan's Shakespeare in the Park, which it was not, although the quality of the acting was quite creditable. The play was The Winter's Tale. We brought our own seating and grabbed spots close to the stage (second pic). The orchestra (third pic) struck up a jaunty tune and the play began. It would be churlish to complain about the noise made by the nearby chickens (fourth pic), since they were just getting into the spirit of the Bard. The play was silly, but a good time was had by all. At the end, we clapped heartily and purchased some eggs before returning home.|
|Thanksgiving down on the farm. Louise has an extended family from her father's side dispersed all over Texas. Every year at Thanksgiving, they assemble at the Walterscheidt's family farm in Elgin, a little way out of Austin and this year they were kind enough to invite us. The farm produces Christmas trees, although the drought has messed up the crop that would normally be harvested this year, so that they have imported trees from Washington State. We arrived just as they were all sitting down to eat - there were three turkeys just off the smoker and no end of other goodies that the guests had brought. (We brought a ricotta cheese pie for dessert.) The food and friendship were fabulous.|
|For Louise's birthday weekend in early December, we drove west, through the hill country. Although it was cloudy to begin with, the weather cleared up just as we were getting to a string of wineries, just short of Fredericksberg. We decided to visit one of them, Grape Creek, and had a delightful time. There was a large lawn outside the visitors' center with tables and chairs for your picnic and views to die for. There was live music (of course) and we ended up buying a couple of quite respectable bottles of Petite Syrah.
We then continued into Fredericksberg and checked into our hotel. There's a lot of Christmas hooplah in Fredericksberg, although the main attraction, which is a bunch of vendors selling Christmas trinkets on the town square, had closed by the time we got there.
The next morning, we tried to have a quiet cup of coffee, although you can see in the top left-hand picture that Louise was caught in the middle of a bank hold-up that lead to a shoot-up. (Happens all the time.) The weather was back to chilly and rainy, so we headed north, towards Llano, stopping at Enchanted Rock on the way. This is a large pink granite outcrop now surrounded by state park. Had the weather been more enticing, we might have done a little hike, but we just stopped for pictures and got on our way.
In Llano, we had strict instructions from our friend Eric Travis to visit Coopers barbeque, which turned out to be an amazing experience. Yes, the food was excellent, but it is more the concept of the place that is so fascinating. You line up outside at the pit to select your meat. Then you take it inside, add side dishes and pay for it. (Here we overheard one of the staff whispering to another - it's their first time here, so make sure you take care of them.) Then you go to the dining room, which has great long tables with benches. On the tables, at strategic intervals, are: rolls of paper towels, buckets of pickles, loaves of Wonderbread, condiments and tubs of baked beans. On the walls, stuffed animals. (But real ones.)
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