walking in austin: north to south, east to west

Saturday morning bright-eyed and bushy tailed, up and at 'em early. Underestimating the size of a small city and the proximity of landmarks to locations, I find myself at the State Capitol almost 45 minutes early for a walking tour. The sun is warm but the temperature is its exact opposite and by the time the doors open (downtown Austin is sensibly closed until 9am on Saturdays), I have caught a chill. 

The complimentary tour, courtesy of the Austin Visitor's Center is led by Elizabeth a local transplanted from New Jersey and includes myself and a couple from Washington, DC.  We are led from the steps of the capitol to its grounds, learning about the building's history, Austin's early bout of building fires and notable figures in the building of the city's footprint. Elizabeth describes the origin of the six flags of Texas, the seals that are prominently embedded in the granite banner above the south entrance archway. She then leads us down Congress Avenue towards Sixth Street pointing out the blend of architecture and sharing feudal stories of who built what and why, including the challenge to have the tallest building in downtown Austin (currently occupied by The Austonian, a condominium complex at 200 North Congress Avenue in the heart of the Warehouse District). 

The most interesting portion of the tour includes the history of the Norwood Tower the first multi-use high rise in downtown Austin which featured the first-ever motor ramp parking garage and custom residences with terrace rooftops and gardens. Hazel Butler, a socialite of the times conceived the idea of adding a penthouse duplex, the first of its kind in Texas atop the Tower where she and her husband lived for 35 years. The apartment is currently part of the Johnson family estate, used mostly by the heirs and descendants of Lyndon B & Lady Bird Johnson.  

Breakfast afterwards at the 1886 Cafe located in the lobby of the Driskill, where I strike up a conversation with my server Blair, a native of New Zealand. When asked for a recommendation of what to do next she happily points me in the direction of SoCo (aka South Congress), Austin's equivalent of Greenwich Village. And so after a hearty meal and a change of clothes, I retrieved the car and headed across the town lake to check it out.

The SoCo strip is approximately 12 blocks long lined with funky boutiques, antique consignment, restaurants and a slew of food trailer parks. Visitors park on the main thoroughfare (back angle only, a new skill accomplished), as one needs a residential sticker to park on the streets perpendicular to the main drive. The vintage selection is circa 70s and 80s, the most entertaining shop Uncommon Objects houses antiques and finds from estate sales in a selection of heavily curated life-size diorama booths. I find a few treasures there and at Parts & Labour, a co-op style boutique selling "All Texas all of the time."

My main reason for coming to SoCo sits at the corner of South Congress and Monroe, Allens Boots the recommended source for Western footwear with an overwhelming selection of designers but mostly Lucchese, Old Gringo, Corral and Yippy-Kiay. The place is packed, and despite attempts to find a salesperson to help with sizing, I find myself relying on the rent-a-cop at the front door for his sound advice. He is after all wearing boots with his uniform. I try on what seems like a 100 pair of boots feeling like Cinderella's stepsisters searching for that one pair that fits "just so,” with no success. 

I round up the afternoon with a short nap before heading out for Saturday night. This town is all about the music and a little bit about the food. After a late dinner at Moonshine (rated #2 on Urban Spoon's best of Austin list) I moseyed over to Maggie Mae's to hear the sounds of Ulrich Ellison and the Tribe. The band features a talented violinist that makes the set. Outside 6th street is hopping with an eclectic mix of music lovers and an assortment of Anime enthusiasts (dressed in alien and fantasy costumes, all in for the local convention) on the lookout for their next musical destination. The crowd brings the best of Beale Street + Bourbon Street + Bleecker Street to the dozen or so genre choices offered at the local venues. And unless a known musician is playing, i.e., David Ramirez at The Parish which I missed, one must rely on their ear to lead them to discovery. A funk band at the 311 Club captures my attention and the wedding party cutting up a rug proves to be a complementary form of entertainment. I close the night at Coyote Ugly's Stage on Sixth where London Calling, a honky-tonk country blues band sings a stream of modern day mash-ups.


burlesque and the blues

The day started with BBQ and ended with a whiskey tasting at the hotel bar....and that pretty much sums up Austin. Well not quite, there was a little bit of music and burlesque mixed up in all that, my first night the city.

Half past six, dressed in red and black I make my way to the box office at Maggie Mae's to purchase a ticket to the Jigglewatts, classic burlesque revue at The Gibson Lounge. I have an hour to kill so I stroll up Sixth street to get a lay of the land. The streets are empty save the bouncers looking to corral any bystander in for an early bird special. I am prime meat, and after finishing the grid of Brazos to Red River find myself convinced by the bouncers outside of Coyote Ugly, where a a bluesy vocalist is belting their heart out at Stage on Sixth. It doesn't take more than a second for me to decide to go inside. It's early in the night, a handful of us fill the rodeo-like setting, the Misbehavin' Band is playing their 7pm set with well-known covers like Treat Your Daughter and I'll Take You There.

Just shy of 5 minutes listening in, I find myself the recipient of the oldest pick up line in the world (Austin is after all voted the #1 place for singles to live, work and play): "What's your sign?" It makes me laugh out loud.

The Gibson Lounge is speakeasy cool, a mixture of art deco and animal luxe. I sit in a chair that is part throne, part canopy. I try to take a photo to "pin it" without much success. The setting is perfectly designed for an evening of burlesque.

The Jigglewatts, a four-femme dance troupe includes Coco Electric, Ruby Joule, Goldie Candela & Pearl Luxe. Tonight is their pre-cursor to a Naughty New Year masquerade, and it is simply fantastic, a mixture of old world Paris meets Hollywood glam, complete with can-can revivals and torch lounge singers. I heart envy their costumes, and swear they have perfected the stocking striptease in such a way that I inquire if Coco Lectric is hosting classes this weekend.  

Post-show I have a grilled pizza at The Backspace, the wood-burning oven is okay for a midnight snack but not necessarily a meal. A hop, skip and jump and I am back on Sixth Street and it is pumping, almost like Beale Street on New Year's Eve, except this is the Friday before. Every possible strain of a melody is pouring out from one establishment or another, and at the very least there is the flat line of a bass pumping the pulse of the city as if it’s waking from hibernation.

I can only imagine how mad crazy it will be here on Monday night, and am grateful that I will be holding living room court side with The Fassetta's and friends; babies, board games and all. I make a beeline back to the hotel for a nightcap, a Jack and Ginger and a whiskey tasting (thanks to Jared my bartender)…not a bad way to spend the last weekend of the year.



wide open spaces

I left San Antonio overdressed with a wool sweater over a t-shirt and no sooner than I was on the highway I became overheated. With weather so warm I did what any New Yorker hungry for sun would and rolled down the windows, pulled on the shades and cranked up the radio to join the myriad of cars on Interstate 35N. In 90 minutes I would be in Driftwood, home to the infamous BBQ joint Salt Lick--which lived up to its notoriety and fame with finger-lickin' ribs and meat that dropped off the bone. After seeing the crowds at the table, I cautiously ordered small with Jacob the waiter who visited NYC once in honor of the fallen born on his birthday: 9/11. Small means nothing in the land of wide open spaces and I did my best to damage the 1/4 lb pork ribs, 1/4 lb brisket, 1/2 pint of potato salad, jalapeno and iced tea. (Oddly this is the 2nd time I've ordered iced team only to be told its unsweetened, I wonder if sweet tea is strictly a Southeastern commodity.)

Google Maps took me off I-35 and on the road less traveled where at times I was the only car on the highways interlaced roadways denoted by the RM/FM + #'s.  A majestic blue sky clear as anything I've ever seen was the backdrop for horse ranches, cattle ranches and mile long driveways that led to who knows what with their wheat-colored fields with grazing farm animals, straight out of cult classics Giant and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. 

The drive was relaxing, peaceful even, the sun shining, just me and my ride (actually Kim's car again, a BMW something or another that feels like a sports car compared to my Santa Fe); almost like Jack Kerouac On the Road. Signs were infrequent and not as I expected, for along with the green and white markers for Bear Creek Hollow and Slaughter Lane (which by the way is the shortest stoplight ever, with just enough time for one car to cross and wish you godspeed), I also encountered unique ones for The Wizard Academy and a Hindu Temple (near Trinity Crossing), reminders that though I may be far from my city but the melting pot has runneth over across all state lines.  

sojourn in San Antonio

flight travel at night, where one arrives in time to sleep, has me disoriented. I'm not certain what day is or frankly what time it is. all I know is that my plans to escape the city for a few days to visit with friends in a warm sunny place called San Antonio, with an explorative discovery in Austin--the 13th most populous city in the US known for its live music and barbecue are underway.

I checked the weather ahead of time, duly excited to see a high of 70 on one day, mid-60s the rest of the week (and not so excited to see a Fire Weather Watch warning folks to be mindful of lighting outside for potential high winds could devastate the landscape and surrounding areas) I have arrived to find myself in the midst of a cold spell, and am silently cursing myself for not bringing warmer layers. It seems every trip is a learning experience where I rethink the basics of what to pack next time.

Early morning coffee with Kim and Bella; Kim has graciously offered me the use of her car during my stay. A godsend for someone used to the mainstay of public transport, a luxury nowhere to be found under the blue skies of San Antonio, Texas.

San Antonio, much like Raleigh-Durham sprawls across city and suburbia. The downtown area, home to most of the attractions, is about the size I had expected, quaint. I imagine a different scene in the spring with flowers blooming and a warm wind lingering, but this crisp winter air encourages a quick step and more interior jaunts.

The Alamo, the infamous sieged mission that played such a large part in the Battle of the Bulge was, well truthfully, underwhelming. I took a few photos and had intentions to visit the interior of the shrine but by the time I strolled around the grounds the line was extensive and it had started to drizzle. I opted to make passage to the Tower of Americas via the River Walk, a pleasant sojourn surprisingly empty of foot traffic given the population of tourists. Every one else seems to prefer shivering on the riverboats, Starbucks cup in hand, as they make their way down the banks of the San Antonio. 

As I travel along the river walk, I spot signs for The Lonesome Dove & Grotto, and excited to come across a hidden landmark only to be sadly disappointed. Apparently not all signs refer to famous places. A walk through Hensman Park proves artistic with its selection of modern art sculptures and soon enough I am on the elevator to the Tower of the Americas  which offers an expansive view of the San Antonio epicenter and surrounding areas. A hearty lunch of Gulf Coast sea cakes & chicken tortilla calda follows at local eatery Budros' located on the river. 

I make my way back to the car--lost for awhile looking for the Central Parking System lot (of which there are many) where I parked, and then make my way back to Kim's place.  

Tomorrow afternoon I venture to Austin...excited for a solo adventure in a musical city. 


random acts of kindness...

it starts with an idea (on Christmas Eve day), in a season where kindness should be normal and unexpected. it takes extra effort (because much like Rome kindness built over time has more staying power) but the euphoria from the spontaneity is like mixing faerie dust and a cold, contagiously spreading happiness. imagine if happiness could replace the flu (apparently the season's worst strains in the 10 years) outbreak....

26 random acts of kindness  *a work in progress

#26actsofkindness #12 

#26actsofkindness #11

#26actsofkindness #10 

#26actsofkindness #9 

#26actsofkindness #8

#26actsofkindness #7 Exercising patience and calmly explaining why I was randomly paying for the car behind me to my father--this was a bit self-serving I realize but it takes a lot to not get frustrated when talking to dad these days. (Note: Acts of kindness shouldn't be randomly given to our immediate loved ones, in reality they should be doled out with intention but sometimes and with some people it takes effort. The effort is the gift that keeps on giving.)

#26actsofkindness #6 Paying for the car behind me at the Whitestone Bridge crossing
(when things go awry : http://www.mta.info/bandt/traffic/btmain.html#cars 

#26actsofkindness #5 Trickle effect, in attempting to fulfill #4, the restaurant realized a mistake in their take out order and promised a free delivery once it was fulfilled correctly

#26actsofkindness #4 Offering a ride home to a stranger where we dined for dinner  

#26actsofkindness #3 Paying a portion of an order of pastries for the man and son in front of me in line at Villabate

#26actsofkindness #2 handing out quarters to those patrons in line for Christmas treats so they can pay their parking meter

#26actsofkindness #1 providing secret santa gifts for children in need

3000 miles

lavender blue smoke rising
fills my heart to capacity
weighs my soul down 
seemingly with no reason

a moment to rejoice in our Lord's birth
New Year's:
a time to start anew 

but in recent years 
tragedy and sadness 
take precedence
adds weight so heavy, 
and it keeps growing.

tonight there is a text 
that's followed by a call  
with words unbearable to hear.
it closes up the distance 
of silence all too familiar 
this excruciating news 

the air is sucked up  
filled with white noise, 
and tears of love.

in prayer
i send whispers of hope
strength of heart
an undying love real and true
for the kin left behind
for you, 
3000 miles west.



laundry night

Early Sunday evening at the Clean 88 laundromat in the 'hood. I only do laundry when the weather is too cold to hang clothes on the line, or I am seriously behind. The latter one wins today, I am behind from performing, from traveling, and from Sandy…the trips before it and after. 

I thought it might be quiet and although it has quieted down since I've arrived it still amazes me how many people are here. I don't know why; but it does. 

It's a mishmash of families with kids and what appears to be 'single' men sporting their favorite baseball cat and threads. Scary dudes if you ask me, no one worth approaching beyond simple laundry conversation. Whatever that is. 

I am sitting at a playground picnic table, the metal kind with holes to make it look like Swiss cheese. There are two boys, kids really, playing word games, calling out opposites and rhyming (or attempting to). Except they don't know the original meanings, and reach out to me on every other turn to determine if the word exists. Sigh. I ask them how often they read, and they smile in that knowing way as if they should, could, would, won't. 

White noise on the TV screen, an overlay on Sunday night football between the Giants and the Baltimore Ravens. I notice a stain of blood on my middle left finger, injury by way of a commercial washer. 

Four machines running on the wash cycle, with another three on the dryer.  


secrets of miami

it's late afternoon, and the rhythm of Miami begins to seep in, we have lunch at Dokaru (try the God of Fire rolls), people watching on nearby Lincoln Road. the conversation flows easily over the meal and then afterwards as we make our way along the pedestrian mall. Carl Fisher envisioned Lincoln Road to "the way to draw together the east and west sides of Miami Beach." as we cross a myriad of neighborhoods, it appears his vision has been successful.

the outdoor mall is a mix of high-end boutiques and restaurants with a couple of mainstream favorites. the art deco architecture catches my eye and I can almost imagine what is was like in its heyday of the 40s and 50s. we stop in at the Miguel Paredes pop-up gallery, a native New Yorker who moved to South Beach to paint. his images add color with a collage of geisha, anime and graffiti art. street lights and traffic soon emerge beyond the low hanging trees, and then we find ourselves in the business district with its tourist shops, duck boat tours, and local celebrity.

the journey continues east inching toward the water, away from the hustle and bustle of the shopping district, to a quieter side more relaxed side. as if in a dream we stroll in between the ocean on the left passing underneath a grove of palm trees to the right, many of which are taller than the nearby cabanas (now available on Living Social if you must). colored umbrellas, blankets and volleyball courts with their people on the beach. most seem to travel by Segway, the dog walkers and runners are few.

a sunrise walkway of red stones curves in and around the hotels, rivulets of stone and concrete. they match the waves leaving crescent shapes on the sand 20 yards away. in between the high rise glass buildings, there are less ostentatious white stucco structures that conjure another day, another era. when they too had a picture perfect view of the horizon on the blue sea.

ellie goulding whispered words about a river and a secret and I can almost imagine their meaning applied to this moment, this day. as we spill out onto Ocean Drive, I feel like the nostalgic screenwriter in Midnight in Paris, as if on our sojourn we've uncovered a hidden entrance to another time where everything feels familiar and part of a natural rhythm, like honey bees contentedly swirling around their hive.

across the way at the Z Ocean Hotel there is a skylight in the lobby that offers a view of the swimming pool and sky. today the pool is empty and the rippling waves layered with the mackerel clouds above, call to mind a sea of shimmering stars. an impromptu art installation caught in a shadow box of sunlight.

in this moment I am stunned by my former resistance to visit the sunshine state. i used to hold it like a trophy--one of the last standing new yorkers who has not been to florida. and now i see how silly that is, to cross off a place so close, especially given my love for the sun and the sea. this trip was fantastic from beginning to end, between the conference and time with friends new and old, i can't help but wonder if Sade will be right. i'll just have to come back and see.


the event of a thread

The building itself is majestic, with its elliptical wrought iron arches in the main room, the Drill Hall, flanked by rich hardwood floors. The building commissioned by the National Guard, its Seventh Regiment most famous for being one of the first to respond to Abraham Lincoln's call for volunteers in 1861. 

It's one of my favorite and artistic places in the city, one of the few that allow for immersive experiences with the exhibitions. My first experience at the Armory, I recorded my heartbeat as part of the Christopher Boltanski installation, No Man's Land which was exhibited in 2010. The heartbeat was added to a feed of hundreds of thousands as part of the Archive de Coeur, an ongoing project to record heartbeats from people all over the world. The heartbeats also served as background to the main exhibit. 

In Boltanski's presentation, he explored the human story through " 30 tons of discarded clothing, a 60-foot crane and the sound of human heartbeats". Park benches lined the outer edges of the exhibition space in a grid design that called to mind the blueprint of a concentration camp (as I recall from many a movie, and not real life). 

Foundational beams were planted at the intersecting areas of the grid and linked together with electrical wires, in the middle of which were a loose pile of clothes. At certain intervals of time, the crane located in the middle of the room would start up and grasp a crane full of clothing from the master pile and disperse it to one of the 'cell blocks'. You can check out a photo gallery of the images here.   
This past week, I had the pleasure (and good fortune thanks to ArtLog) to attend the opening of the Armory's latest exhibition: Ann Hamilton's the event of a thread. It was simply magical and if you have the opportunity, I highly recommend checking it out before it closes on January 6, 2013.

Imagine if you will a room filled with swings, made of wood and chains suspended from the ceiling. Old-fashioned wood swings, 2x4's meant for one or two, to idly sway in the wind, with one foot pushing off the ground and the other pointing toward the sky in a moment of freedom. The room itself is separated by a floor to ceiling silk curtain, a cross between a parachute and a circus tent hung out to dry. 

There are swings on either side, and a live installation anchoring both sides of the hangar. On one side a lone writer scribbles streams of consciousness on an illuminated desk using pencil and carbon paper; on the other two 'radio announcers' surrounded by caged homing pigeons, recite a collection of words and sentences, gibberish really, into a vector microphone. Throughout the space there are portable "brown paper packages tied up with string" speakers emitting the monotone recitations. 

Sitting on the swings somehow affects the billowing of the curtain through cantilevers far off in the corners of the room, so you feel as if there is a summer breeze swirling around you. Pure magic. Pure magic indeed.   



lavender burns

The night after he was gone, 
the house was quiet, still. 

I couldn't feel him, 
not his spirit or his aura, 
not like I wanted to. 

He had simply vanished.

I awakened my third eye
hoping that maybe she could find
a wisp of something 
something my mortal mind could not. 

And though she searched
probing near and far 
there was nothing behind the cobwebs 
only dust and memory.  

It was then that I started to clean 
thinking that a refresh 
could resurface something, anything. 

I collected lavender 
from the bush outback,
some fresh leaves, 
some dried branches,
I added words on paper
and lit a match, 
watched it all burn, 
the smoke rise. 

until smoke signals 
encouraged by the western winds
seeped into every room, 
into every crevice around the apartment 
leaving me mesmerized.

creature comfort

The world around me 
now that he is gone

The house quiet

The ambient sounds few  
and the ones I do hear
sometimes they sound like him …
digging through the litter 
padded paws on the hard wood floor
a ghost kitten scurrying through my peripheral vision

One of my friends likened it to losing a limb and there is a certain familiarity to that metaphor
It's a hard thing getting used to comforting myself
it was he who helped me through the gray areas 
When I'd been in need he was that creature. 


Tigger Tribute: He had me at meow.

Seventeen years, four months, and 29 days, the longest relationship I've had in my adult life. One filled with life lessons, unconditional love and the sweetest purr. 

Lesson #1: Love will find you if you let it.  
It all started back in 1995, when I was invited by a colleague to see the litter of kittens born in her backyard. Having never had pet a before, I didn't realize that connecting with a pet is more about your hearts picking each other and less like customizing a car. I had my heart set on cozying up to a red and white striped cat. I even had a name picked out: Tigger (in homage to the Mr. Bounce himself). But what I found was that the ginger cat dozing in the sunlit corner wasn't as appealing as the feisty grey/white/beige kitten with the extra-long torso winding himself up to launch an attack on the Venetian blinds. He had me at meow. 

Lesson #2: It's all about the details. 
I don't think anyone can truly understand the impact an animal can have on life until they have a relationship with one. I had witnessed its benefits with friends and family but it was Tigger who showed me the magic of unconditional love. Unconditional, meaning without conditions or limitations; absolute. Absolute as in the every day things you do for each other, those actions however big or small that really make a difference. Some signs of Tigger's love: 
  • waiting for me to come home, sitting just inside the door  
  • muscling his way into my Dad's heart the self-proclaimed cat hater
  • acting as my 2nd and 3rd daily alarm clock 
  • an active adventurer, he kept me on my toes with Houdini-esque escapes from the house
  • he had the sweetest, gentlest kitty march neck massage
  • kisses by the dozen, rough tongue and all
  • spooning snuggler, he brought me the greatest comfort through many a migraine and flu 
  • and most especially as end of the bed guardian angel, to my mom when she was in hospice

Lesson #3: Big things come in small packages. 
Most people get a pet in their formative years, while they're growing up. Some of us, like me, are late bloomers and we find ourselves needing a pet in that last phase growth spurt. At age 24, I found the love of my life, he was grey striped with beige polka dots shaped in a smiley face on his stomach. He started off as the runt of the litter and in the height of his life was a whopping 23 lbs. He was known as the big guy, the fat cat, the monster and ate Italian table scraps: olives (sucked down to the pit), potato peels, pasta with tomato sauce and drank coffee milk. Those were the days I'll never forget. Tigger was a people person (drawn to cat lovers and non-lovers alike) and if he liked you he had a penchant for kissing bare feet. 

Lesson #4: Sometimes, love hurts.  
I won't lie today sucked. The day moved in slow motion and yet went so fast. I knew it would be painful, but I just didn't realize how much. It felt like my heart had been ripped out of my body, and it was almost like losing my mom all over again. Tigger was my rock during Mom's diagnosis, ensuing battle with cancer and then death, he absorbed a lot of my grief and in many ways like a life therapist taught me how to love again, to love myself and the people around me without judgment or fear, without too much expectation. He taught me how to protect myself, to become independent and strong. That may seem like a tall order for an animal to have fulfilled but if you've had one, you'll know what I mean. 

I know in my heart that he is in a better place without pain and discomfort and I am grateful for all the years we had together. The staff at the Animal Medical Center were compassionate and kind and allowed ample time for me to say goodbye before and after, and I was lucky to have a true friend there to support me throughout the day. 

And I know it's these next few days, weeks and months that will be the hardest. I can already feel his absence. The house is so quiet so still--not a whisper or a purr to call me home.  


Tigger Preziotti was like no other being I've ever known (except maybe my mom)--and I will miss him with all my heart, forever. 

Rest in Peace Little One. 

Tigger Preziotti
Lived July 4, 1995 - December 2, 2012