This Day In History 61 years ago

A few years ago I was in San Antonio for a festival and, as I usually do, I set up my tent at the KOA on the east side and caught the bus into town. (I got into the habit of riding Via when I was in college there; it’s still one of my personal touchpoints for what a public transit system ought to be.)

And I noticed something, and as I pulled out my camera thinking it was a special bus, the other passengers and the driver all told me that no, this is standard – the front row left seat of all the Via buses have this.

61 years ago today… and although it definitely feels as though we’re moving backwards, we’re still not quite at this level again. Yet.

61 years ago.

The Turkeys are Loose..

Okay, by now everyone knows what’s going on.

It’s … whatever the Saturday after Black Friday is, and as I rarely leave the cave on Black Friday unless I’m being paid to do so, I don’t have to recover from shopping or mayhem…

So while I’m not out buying things I don’t need at sale prices that generally aren’t all THAT good, I usually plant my happy butt in my computer chair to sort through and work up the (far too many) pictures from Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (The curse of having digital cameras that let me shoot several hundreds or thousands of frames without stopping to reload is that I shoot hundreds or thousands of frames without stopping to think about HOW much work I’m making for myself later….)

Yup. I did it to myself again. I DID stop just short of a thousand frames this year, 900-odd, but it’s in my mind that the parade was a little shorter than usual and much more crowded, which made moving around harder.

Still, that leaves me, when all’s done, a pretty sizable gallery for you to ramble through and enjoy. So, oddly enough, I’m gonna shut up and let you go do just that.

So click on any of the pictures here…. (They all take you to the same link…)

Enjoy. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Life Goes On…

If you look at the last post, I lost a good friend earlier this month.

Well, I didn’t “lose” him exactly, we know exactly what happened… but talking with him is a little harder now, and I’m spending a fair bit of time trying to remember and write down what I can of the Pittman stories I heard or was part of, because what’s left is all there will be, and remembering them seems important. I just wish I’d written a great many of them down when they happened.

(Lesson for those of you with crazy friends – take good notes. You’ll want them later. I’m SURE there was a great story here, but while it _was_ a night to remember, well… I don’t.)

Anyway I spent a couple of days driving out to Alpine for the official “sending friends on ahead” rituals, which, in theory at least, make the situation just a bit more bearable. I suppose it was a “good” trip, for some value of the term. Andromeda the 4runner purred like a kitten all the way, we didn’t run out of gas, water, or food, and although the air mattress did blow out the truck’s quite comfortable to sleep in.

But, all things considered, I wasn’t really that much “there” in terms of looking for photographs. A quick stop at the historical site and Texas Tourism Office at Langtry to soak up a bit of myth and a BUNCH of brochures and maps and travel literature ended with me holding down the bar at Judge Roy Bean’s Jersey Lilly Saloon…

(I’m not big on writing saloon reviews, but the service WAS somewhat slow. This might be because the saloonkeeper has been dead for over a century now. I wouldn’t complain, though… I’m not entirely sure just how dead he might be, and even as a ghost the judge is probably still a man to reckon with….)

Not too many miles later I got into memory-land and I’m going to quietly draw the curtain on the next day or two…

But Davis Mountains is a pretty state park and the people there are both friendly and efficient. I highly recommend reservations, especially on pleasant weekends. There was a sign on the door: “We’re Full. All campsites in the park are taken or reserved. If you don’t have a reservation you’re probably out of luck.” I HAD a reservation and still wound up with a “go to the end of the world and take the second left” campsite, not that I minded. There were signs posted that the park now features Brown Bears, Mountain Lions, and Javelina, but the only dangerous wildlife I encountered was a troop of New Mexico Boy Scouts one campsite over. Good kids, mostly.

I’ll have to go back and wander, because I never even got the cameras out of the truck. I wasn’t feeling it and I wasn’t on anyone’s clock, so I took a couple of days off, mentally.

But after the memorial service and the scattering, I started pulling myself back into the here and now of things…

This is sunset, the night of the scattering, from more or less Pittman’s Point, which isn’t on the map but IS on SH 170 just west of Terlingua, on the west edge of Long Draw…

I curled up in the driver’s seat and slept there that night, owing largely to the late hour, an unwillingness to shell out a lot for a hotel, and a weird vibe from the campsite I’d reserved. The next morning at first light I headed east into the park, stopping for a shot of the entry sign…

and a conveniently placed tree…

and a few mountains.

After which I stopped for water and book shopping at Panther Junction, the Big Bend park headquarters. It’s one of the best places to find information about the history and geology of the park, although Jean Hardy-Pittman’s Front Street Books in Alpine has a decent selection too. (Full Disclosure: The “Pittman” on the end isn’t coincidental. Jean was Blair’s wife and, arguably, better half for the last several years of his life, and she DOES run a good bookshop.)

There were several books in the store that looked worth reading, but given that I’m prepping for a major move the idea of buying more books was a bit unappetizing, so… I filled the water bottles (Desert safety protocol 1: NEVER pass up the chance to refill your water supplies… ) and headed north.

A few miles up the road from PJ is an exhibit called “Fossil Bone,” dealing with the geology and paleontology of the Chihuahua desert, which long before any of us existed was covered with water and inhabited by several kinds of interesting critters, at least one of which was the size of a flying Greyhound bus. They don’t come around much any more, though. Anyway there’s a whole new exhibit being put in now, but it won’t be ready for several weeks or months yet. So with no exhibit I wandered around, looking at the sandstone formations in the area, and before long I drifted into an Irwin Allen-esque moonscape world where everything slipped out of scale and I could almost see the little models climbing the cliffs and fighting off invaders and dinosaurs and spaceships…

(I probably spent too much of my youth in my own and other writer-types’ imaginary worlds, but they knew me there and I had friends…)

By then it was getting on towards 1100 and starting to warm up. I’ve been in Big Bend when it gets several steps past warm, and as I don’t generally like hot weather, I didn’t want to wait for that, so… time to leave. I made one more stop for a nice tall yucca, still in bloom for some reason…

and then I put my foot down and headed back to Houston, because no matter how much I love wandering the back parts of the planet, I’m still stuck needing to make a living. For now.

In that connection, please read the Obligatory Commercial Note.

(Obligatory Commercial Note: Prints of most of the pictures here (in fact, most of the pictures on this blog) are or can become available for purchase through my space at Fine Art America. If it should happen that you’re more interested in photos printed on shirts, tote bags, pillows, shower curtains, or other strange kitschy stuff, they do that too… and some of the stuff (by no means all, but some – usually I don’t judge but even pigs gots to have SOME standards) is available in that format too. If you’re looking for something and it’s not on the FAA site, drop me an email. Yes, it’s a commercial enterprise, but (a) they take plastic, which I’m not otherwise able to do, and (b) I, and therefore you, get _far_ better prices than I can offer if I have to do all the back end stuff myself. Thank you for your patronage. Yes, I’m trying to turn some of this into a money-making enterprise, or at least pay FAA’s far-from-exorbitant fees.)

Blair Pittman 1937 – 2016

Blair Pittman

April 1994 – Somewhere on the side of Chimborazo 15,000 feet up in the High Ecuadoran Andes

February 12, 1937 – October 10, 2016

August 1994 – So we’re on the train from Guayaquil, Ecuador, up into the Andes, when suddenly Blair decides to hold up the train….

Good friend, mentor, travel partner, companion in crime
(They never could catch us…)

August 1994 – It wasn’t until we all crawled back into our suddenly very small van that we realized those bags he was lying on contained raw sheep manure. It was a while before we let him live that one down.

Rest easy, my friend… see you soon….

The 18th Century would like a word with you….

Between the heat and the neighbors starting the Holiday fireworks a couple of days early (and staying with them more or less continuously for 3 days…) I was pretty much unFourthed by the morning of the 3d. I decided that I’d much rather get dangerously dehydrated in the shade of a beautiful mansion with a handful of agreeably sober historians than in a big open field with twenty or fifty thousand rowdy drunks, so I went back to 1776 at Bayou Bend instead of hitting the big commercial festivals. (Yes, I know, it wasn’t BUILT then and this part of the country was still what God meant it to be – a yellow fever swamp. The Allen Brothers won’t be born for decades. Time Travel involves paradox. Deal with it.)

Yes, they’re carrying military weapons – but the Second Amendment is still a few years in the future and the NRA is a LONG way off yet.

The problem with musicians is they don’t know enough to come in out of the sun…

“Pay attention, you. This is important and there WILL be a test. Several of them, actually. And they’re not graded on a curve.”

“We hold these Truths to be Self-Evident: That All Men are Created Equal…”

Okay, we’re not there yet but at least some of us are still trying.

There was other stuff, games and crowds and music and cake and such, but … This was the important part. (Well, that and drinking ice water by the gallon trying not to die…)

I hung around for an hour or so after the reading, chatting with soldiers and musicians and even a couple of Tories (“That’s Loyal British Subjects to you, you traitorous b*stards…”) and in general melting slowly, and then headed home. I thought about going out later for fireworks shots but there were already enough things going boom two buildings north and I just wasn’t up for it, so I stayed in and drank more gallons of ice water. After a few years fireworks all start to look the same anyway.

(Late Edit: To the right of the top post is a box for you to sign up to receive email updates when we post here. ESPECIALLY if you’re coming here from a FaceBook link, I’d appreciate it if you’d use that. You won’t be sold or spammed, and when I leave Facebook (soon) we won’t completely lose touch. Thanks.)

And while I’m at it…

Playing tag with los Federales and the US Army gets tiring…

Nota bene*: This is a professional at work.

Don’t try sleepdriving at home, even if you ARE the ultimate legendary crossborder badass.

*Mrs. Jenkins, my HS literature teacher, would be proud of me. Some of that stuff stuck.

Oops….

Says right here in Blogging for Dummies that I need to post regularly, certainly more often than every couple of months. Of course it also says that when you’ve been blogging for several years and your regular audience is in the mid single-digits you should probably admit defeat and go live in a cave somewhere a long way from everyone, too, so there’s that.

(Don’t think it doesn’t cross my mind just about every few seconds these days, but with this election thing going on, the rent on caves… well, it’s through the roof. Soon enough, though.)

Anyway. So much for that.

I haven’t actually been totally goofing off.

The guy on the left there, looking like maybe he’s had saner days, is Robert Revilla, Jr. Today he’s being Pancho Villa. Some other day he may be Santa Anna or a pretty fair jackleg carpenter. (I’ve yet to see Santa Anna but can attest to the carpentry…)

Next to him is Larry Callies, who’s your basic all-around Western dude. Zydeco musician, champion rodeo cowboy, saddlemaker, leatherworker… and he’s now trying to ramrod a black cowboy museum in Rosenberg (It’s why I was there; this is a fundraiser event with a bunch of miscellaneous strange folk – how could I miss?)

If I can make it happen I’d like to wander down to his shop when he’s working; I’ve gotten to watch all sorts of handwork and frontier-type skills, but I’ve never seen a saddle being built and it sounds like it would be worth seeing and maybe shooting. Details as they develop….

Leaning on the car at right, there – that’s Ol’ Doc Parker, who’s been known to hide out as Cowboy Shootist Keith Bollom.

Behind him is the lovelier-than-lovely Yellow Rose Of Texas, who shall remain otherwise unknown on the theory that dreams should be allowed to remain undisturbed by reality.

*****

The Other Texas has another story in the works, of course… You should click on over there and take a look…

And even though it’s pushing a hundred out there, I think I’m gonna go look for something interesting to photograph. Just because.

What a weekend!

If you follow the media, or politics, or the Web, you may be forgiven for concluding that we Texans are a bunch of inbred pistol-packing sociopathic illiterates.

I should like to point out that this is not altogether true. We have a well-established literary world here, and every once in a while a reasonable chunk of it gets together and talks books. And publishing, and writing, and selling.. anything to do with books…

Being a lifelong book junkie*, I tend to like to sneak up and listen. In spring there’s a book festival in San Antonio; in fall it’s in Austin. This being spring, I spent last Saturday on the grounds of the San Antonio Public Library Central, walking and talking with book sellers, writers, publishers, and even a stray bookbinder or two.

And as always I shot a few pictures, just because I could.

Library External

I LOVE the color of the San Antonio Library. Reminds me I’m not at home. Houston doesn’t DO that.

typewriter rodeo

This is the “Typewriter Rodeo.” Poets with vintage typewriters, creating poetry on the spot. Some of it’s surprisingly good. Some of it’s unsurprisingly not.

notebook jewelry

She’s a nice lady who sells jewelry, including postage-stamp size notebooks on neck chains. Maybe they’re “I are a writer” badges?

Tortuga

“Tortuga” (that’s his nickname) binds blank journals. They’re a little low on pages but look nice. I’ll keep doing my own.

Superhero

There were costumed “superheroes” for photographs at the other end of the street, and real ones for answers at THIS end. Guess where I stayed… (I kept my smartass tendencies in check and asked about a couple of old books I’m looking for. She found one of them but the price was absurd. I was somewhat shocked she’d ever heard of it.)

panel dialog

I ducked inside to catch one of the panel discussions that looked like it might be of interest for another thing I’m toying with. (Probably won’t go anywhere….) Robert Jackson Bennett and Lila Bowen were the two panelists for Joe McKinney’s Panel Discussion on WorldBuilding for Science Fiction and Fantasy authors. Short version: Do as much as you have to but talk as little about it as possible.

booksale

And then I visited the bookstore in the basement, and then back outside to the market, where of course there were books to buy

courtyard reading

And places to sit down and read them

bus

And, eventually, a bus to catch.

So back to camp I went, and then off in the dawn to Goliad, where The Other Texas had a story to cover. Sort of. That’s coming in a day or so.

* Nobody really remembers when or how I learned to read. I think it was about the time I learned to walk, give or take a few days. Books have just always been there. Both my parents were heavy readers, and reading to the kids was part of the everyday routine until we learned to read ourselves to sleep. We talked books over dinner and frequently wound up with several scattered around the dining-room table when it was over. Dad, for all his flaws, was a magnificent storyteller as long as you didn’t care how true to the book the stories were – my SCUBA-frogman stories included Batman cameos from time to time. Pretty sure that wasn’t exactly in the author’s intent, but it sure made the stories more fun. Mom tended to stick to books as written, but she’d drive me to the library at the drop of a hat and help me carry my stacks to the car, and she’d argue with the librarians when they wanted me to leave at least a couple of books for the other kids. Never underestimate what parents teach, even when they’re not trying.

29.74609 N, 95.39412 W

Couple years ago, for reasons I don’t remember but that made sense then, I signed up for a Yelp! account. Last night I was skimming one of their “latest and greatest” email summaries when my writing partner sent me a message that we needed to get together today. Okay, I thought, this place looks interesting… Let Us Go Explore, because we’re writers and that’s what writers do, right?

The barista is Heather. She rocks.

So we did, and… Long story short, I now have a new favorite coffee shop. The Campesino Coffee House is in an old brick house (maybe 1940s?) on Waugh Drive just off the Westheimer Curve, and they have some parking (never enough) and a patio and lots of nice understated color. It’s basically a hip little joint with a Latin flavor – coffee, drinks, etc. from Points South – and it’s not a hard guess that I’d go for that, right?

The café de olla (If you don’t do Spanish you could get away with Café de Oh YEAH!!!) was just right, dark, smooth, and spicy, with just the right bite at the back edge from the cinnamon and spices. Partner was all over the cappuccino, which she said was a good match for the version she drank when she was working out of Rome…

Several other things on the menu look very interesting; there’s a “Maya Mocha” which is reportedly a combination of coffee, chocolate, and cayenne with a hint of cinnamon. I’m the only gringo I know who actually LIKES the combination of chocolate and cayenne, but I’ve been called weird enough times that it doesn’t bother me any more. They have at least a partial kitchen, offering sandwiches and empanadas and the like, but I’d had a late breakfast/early lunch so I took a pass this time. It won’t matter as I’ll be there fairly often.

Decor is sort of funky mishmash with art and color and bits and pieces of Central American (Salvadoran) folk art fitted in. The front room features a vintage (possibly prewar) Philco radio Just Like Grandpa Used To Have, though from the sound it’s not the original innards. Their website (here) says they’re going for the old Montrose Boho Vibe, and I’d say they’ve got it… It wasn’t crowded at midday midweek, so I can’t say I’d want to be there on Weekend Mornings, but it did seem like a good place to sit with a laptop and work when it’s not busy, and I didn’t notice anyone having problems connecting or staying online (and you can usually tell when it’s not working), so I’m guessing the Free WiFi is solid.

If it weren’t almost ten miles away, it’d be the new Home Away From…

And it may get there anyway.

29.72202 N, 95.38975 W,

I’ve never been to Peru, but it’s only one line on the map away from Ecuador, where I may end up, so when the folks at the Houston Museum of Natural Science announced that Peru would be the focus of the February “World Trekkers” gathering, I decided “Eh, close enough!” and sprung for a ticket. So last Friday evening I hopped a bus to a train and then started walking…

A bit of background…

Every few months HMNS hosts “World Trekkers,” a sort of Cultural Night for Members (and Their Kids). It’s mostly for young families to bring their younger persons to the museum, where they get to “experience” a little of another part of the world, in the form of children’s crafts, edible goodies, and usually a folkdance or music group. And, with luck, they learn that there’s more to the museum than a big room with a bunch of old dusty bones and rocks and such.

Mind, a big room with a bunch of old dusty bones and rocks and such was always enough for me as a kid, but back in those days we didn’t have iPads or virtual reality – we only had fire after big storms, and nobody really trusted those “wheel” things anyway… But the world’s changed, mostly for the better, and getting kids to think of learning and having fun in the same sentence is always a good idea.

I digress. Frequently. (Old folks do that. Deal with it.)

As I expected, the event was mostly “kid stuff” – paper mask making, a “Help paint a blanket on the llama” booth, a “Make your own quipu” table, (which drew as many adults as younglings) and so on.

For adults, there was music to listen to, and kids to watch, and a display of incised gourds, hand carved and colored. This is an old Inka art form, now mostly sold to tourists. I stopped to admire.

These are about three inches across, which makes the carvings about as intricate and precise as you think they are. The tops of these are geometric patterns, but if you look down the sides you’ll see traditional scenes of rural life. Others had illustrations of animals, landscapes, and jungle scenes. Sure glad I don’t have to carve those, but I suppose patience is a cultivated skill.

And then, over the speakers – “dancers start in five minutes, right here in the main hall…” and I started looking for a spot.

The performance troupe, Raices del Peru, is local. They’ve been around for years.

This is Roberto Cubias and Beatriz Rozo performing La Marinera, the “National Dance of Peru.” It’s from the northern Highlands.

Most of the dancers in the Raices troupe are young, and the little Panasonics I had with me aren’t really good for fast action in low light, so that part didn’t work so well. The shots that weren’t blurred were out of focus, the shots that were in focus were blurred. I wasn’t getting anything, but couldn’t get to a spot where I could work within the cameras’ limitations without disturbing most of the audience, and I hate it when people do that… so in the end I put the cameras down and just enjoyed the dancing.

I did grab the “shoot the dancers in front of the backdrop” moment, though, because these clothes are so beautiful that I wanted to show them to you.
Textiles and tapestries are one of the major art forms in the Andes, and these are nice examples of the better work.

On the way out I stopped to meet the petting zoo… a squirrel monkey, a guinea pig (cuy), and a chinchilla, and over to the side a young vicuña. I gave some thought to photographing them but I would have had to use flash, and they were skittish already after two hours of being petted, poked, and pestered by a small horde of younglings, so I decided to leave them alone.

Next time for that, too.

Anyway. Reality calls. Time to get back to it.