Sauntering the byways of Madison, WI

Thanks to my cousin Steve Porter, Bill and I were ushered off Madison’s beaten path to both musical and edible treats. After landing in the lake city, Bill and I made our way to the University of Wisconsin Rathskeller -a classic beer hall- sehr Deutsch. Cruising down State street, catering to the university crowd with bookstores and sidewalk cafes, we stopped for refreshments at Hsusus, a small Mediterranean cafe. Steve mentioned that it used to be a Dunkin Donuts before some students rolled a big wooden spool through the front window. A young violinist entertained passersby with classical tunes, the crowd: a mix of seasoned hippies and students of every stripe. Casual, unpretentious, it was easy to feel at home in Madison, which shares an alternative outlook with Austin, though with fewer tattoos. Moving on to Talula, a restaurant/music venue, we enjoyed crab puffs, fresh pasta and handmade pizza, layered with farm fresh vegetables. Drinks were delightful, the bartender/owner was friendly and the band brought a down home, honky tonk ambiance, complemented by works of local artists, shown below.

Earlier in the day when we were driving into the city, Bill and I caught a few minutes of a radio talk-show featuring a host who was taking Q & A about health care reform. Oddly, he was liberal, something I didn’t think existed on radio talk shows. Talking with Steve about what was happening in Wisconsin, I was reminded of the rich labor movement tradition underlying the establishment of things we take for granted and are now challenged: overtime, sick leave, vacation time, social security and health benefits. We’ll see what the future holds. Clubs in Wisconsin and probably most of the Great Lakes areas can be found in places once inhabited by supper clubs. These outliers are are now in light industrial areas (one was across from the Oscar Mayer wiener plant) on a grid known only to the locals. I was happy to have part-time drummer, Steve as our guide.  Great roadhouse blues, mysterious back roads, and good company made for a great adventure in Madison, Austin’s sister city.

Morning Light

There’s no place like home

Tree of Life and Judgment Day

In Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, we embark on a journey of life/death/faith/macro and micro cosmos. With stunning visuals enhanced by lush musical scoring, this strange trip into our mysterious universe is worth more than one viewing. In questioning faith, setting the tone in the beginning of the film by offering two paths – grace, the path of love and nature, the path of desire –we hear the mother and the son’s prayers asking God: “Who are we to you? Who is this mystery in whom we live and move and have our being? Why should we be good if evil is a part of God?” In the beginning and in the end, in the ocean, in the fields and at home, love is the bridge. Scene transitions from one perspective to the next often show water falling, rolling in waves, lapping ashore, cuing emotional and physical sensibilities. If you can imagine a cross between Koyaanisqatsi and To Kill a Mockingbird, filmed ala Stanley Kubrick (what do you think your’e doing Dave?) then you start to get the flavor of this ambitious, soulful (some say pretentious) film.

Jem and Scout

I invoke the specter of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” another classic summer film that keeps the camera focused on the feelings and expressions of Scout and Jem, although Mr. O’Brien was certainly no Atticus Finch. The feeling of summer, the intimate view of the family – kids in the fields, in bed with the curtains blowing, playing in the water – was brought home by the camera’s proximity to the skin and expression of the characters. All the children were exceptional, particularly Jack and his middle brother, R.L. Jack’s struggle, as he grapples with his family legacy of grace (mother) and nature (father) is a poignant coming of age story, still playing out in middle age as he remembers his gifted brother, who died at 19 and is still dearly missed by his family. In reading about Terrence Malick’s brother’s suicide, this bit of autobiographical backdrop to Jack’s struggle with faith in the film becomes very moving. Rather than the moral dilemma of To Kill a Mockingbird, The Tree of Life poses an existential question. It does so with elegance, with excess and with much tenderness. The phenomenal cosmic and natural portrayals of a universe of stars, suns, microbes, planets and our biosphere opens the mind to the unfathomable truth of who we are as humans among a vast array of beings, some much greater and others lesser, or are they?

As I watched “Tree of Life“ I considered weaving my impressions into a poem based on meditative imagery during the yoga posture of Savasana and
Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Fifth Agreement, which suggests a blueprint for moving beyond the world we have been conditioned to create (hell) into a world of authenticity (heaven). Shedding the skin made of lies we’ve been told and pass along until Judgment Day, when we render our last judgment and move fully into acceptance of ourselves and others  – fully into life. This take on Judgment: giving up our inner Judge/Victim dialogue is much preferred to the “Hell hath no fury like God scorned” more commonly served up for popular consumption.

The Five Agreements:
1. Be impeccable with your word – what you say is what you will create
2. Don’t take anything personally – everyone’s life movie is different
3. Don’t make assumptions – spinning lies does no good
4. Always do your best – create heaven, not hell
5. Be skeptical, but learn to listen – use doubt as a tool and wait for the truth to reveal itself

I recommend both The Tree of Life and The Fifth Agreement. Despite our cultural and economic depression we have the capacity to create and honor a world that expresses the power of love.



Into the spiral shell
I ascend, the sound of ocean
waves lapping through my blood
The sea within
ebbing and swelling
With my breath

Still, serene, floating on the water
Into the horizon, nerves flickering
Like lightening bugs in a soft field
Of energy flowing through my body

This refuge, the hub
Suspended above and below
My thoughts
Namaste, peace
One and all

Saturday at Ladybird Lake and lunch at the Whip In

Heading down to Ladybird Lake a little earlier, it was still surprisingly pleasant at 10:30. We were ready for a cool down and brunch by noon. Dottie and I checked out the Whip In Friday evening at 8:00, but it was too crowded so we left. Intrigued by the insightful selection of commodities and cuisine at this convenience store (and so much more) we returned for lunch on Saturday. Some background: Whip In boasted a substantial selection of specialty beer and wines since its inception. There was a humidor at the front and a knowledgeable wine steward manning the till in years past. These days, his son has carved out a unique cafe and beer bar with bands and a patio that should be most inhabitable in Fall and Spring. Stepping into the store is like entering a scene from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe. The menu is healthy, a delightful blend of MexIndian. I had grilled egg nan with cilantro chutney that was very satisfying, a pleasant break in the endless parade of breakfast tacos. Local and organic foods are part of the appeal (shout out to Aurora); the Vital Farms eggs are nutritious and delicious. I must try the Mumbai migas plate soon and I’ve heard that the queso chutney is also out of this world. Funky, yes. Better than a food trailer? Yep. An unexpected treat? Most definitely; there is likely to be a happy hour update very soon.

Our tattooed City – Central Austin murals

Austin is known for its love of tattoos.  In exploring the murals and street art around town I find that, like its people, Austin is full of tattoos – ambient art suited for sauntering.  The gallery below shows murals around UT, some moving a little north on Guadalupe and two interior murals at Fonda San Miguel.


Saturday SOLA Saunter

On my way to Ladybird Lake I couldn’t help noticing a smorgasbord of visual art dotting South Lamar.  This photo essay is certainly an advertisement for the South Austin Museum of Popular Culture and bridges new and “classic” Austin. Next time I’ll look inside.  I’m not sure West or North Austin can compete with South and East, but I’ll take my camera out someday and see.

A is Red – Kundalini Jazz, a fine audio massage

A is Red playing Monday nights at the Continental Club Gallery

Late to the party, I only recently heard about A is Red, drummer Don Harvey’s new collaboration with: Glenn Fukunaga–bass, Stefano Intelisano–Keyboards, Kullen Fuchs-Vibes, trumpet, Kevin Flatt–Trumpet, and Adam Sultan-Guitar. The Continental Club Gallery is the upstairs companion to the Continental Club with a nice wall of windows overlooking downtown Austin. It was a small space for a big sound, rolling over the audience in thunderous aural waves, courtesy of A is Red. Their music is described variously as jazz, fusion, world and soul but given its sensual impact and bouts of restrained cacophony, I’ll call it Kundalini jazz.  Great mind/body sensations: serpentine textures created by unexpected pairings of trumpet, guitar, electric piano and vibes buoyed by melodic bass and drum syncopation energized and awakened attentive fans. I was held suspended like a bee in amber by music flowing around me like sweet, hard candy.  In the end I moseyed home, uplifted and refreshed by a group of fine musicians who will continue to dazzle and surprise on Monday nights at the Continental Club Gallery. I’d like to see them at the Elephant Room in summer, underground in another cool cave on Congress and look forward in anticipation to new compositions from Harvey et al.

Preview or download songs from A Dance in Red:

East(er) Austin Lake and Art stroll

Art blooms on walls, in the river and in the streets of East Austin this Easter.

The Nelson-Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City

The Nelson-Atkins Art Museum in Kansas, City, Missouri takes an elegant approach to showcasing its collection. We skipped the Impressionists exhibit in favor of the American Indian, Modern and Contemporary, the Chinese and Japanese art and the Photography collections.  Here is a glimpse of what they have to offer.