Sunday, June 28, 2009


Unexpected connections between people continue to pop up out of nowhere. Well, nowhere isn't quite the right word. Last night, it was at a Festival Hill concert.

Festival Hill is our unimaginably lavish classical music venue here in Round Top (pop. 77), the lifework of concert pianist James Dick. The architecture is a blend of real nineteenth century Europe (or earlier) blended with a fantasy version of the same, all done in hand cut stone by our local craftsman, Jack Finke. The acoustically live surface of the hall's interior is constructed from hand made diamond-shaped overlays in wood. Wonderful gardens and restored Victorian buildings complete the campus. Every summer advanced music students from all over the world come for the Institute, which gives master classes and many opportunities for performance, both chamber and full orchestra.

In the Hall, there is a room devoted to the life and work of David Guion, an American composer who had great success arranging, in particular, cowboy tunes such as Home on the Range. He is given the dubious distinction of having kicked off the "singing cowboy" craze in the mid-20th century with a Broadway show he wrote and performed in.

Before all that he was a boy in Ballinger, Texas, south of Abilene and about fifty miles away from where my father was born, a year later than Davey. I knew my father knew him, but I had never known why until last night.

So, I'm in the Guion Room at the Hall, waiting for the concert to start and the docent comes up. I'm looking at a picture of young DG in elegant winter clothes. "Oh, that's when he was in Vienna, in 1910," says Mr. Elsig, the docent.

"Vienna?" I turn to look at him.

"Yes," he says, "he went there to study piano with Leopold Godowsky."

I tell you, the room moved. "I'll be goddamned," I say, brilliantly in archaic Texan . "My father was studying with Leopold Godowsky in Vienna at the same time." Which is true. But two boys from obscure and tiny Texas towns, both taking classes with Godowsky? How likely is that?

I think also what shocked me was the re-emergence of my father into my conscious world. I've been thinking of him lately, as I begin the research part of my next story. The incongruities of his life seem compelling to me, in particular the period he spent in Vienna, from the age of 14-18, during the time of Freud and numerous musical masters, most of whom were friends of Godowsky. He travelled with Godowsky, as did a number of his fellow students, and when Godowsky went back to New York, Daddy did, too, for a while. Guion was there, as well.

Discovering the Guion connection gave me some dates to hang all Daddy's stories from. My father would never admit to his age, as he was a good deal older than my mother, and the age of a grandfather when I was born. So his stories tended to be a little blurry about dates.

Now, however, I know. It is a strange feeling.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Making the Rounds

Back in hot Houston this AM, set off early to do errands. I was a little surprised at the neighborly connections that transpired, but maybe it's an inside the Loop thing...or maybe not.

First, take the shirts to the laundry--nice visit with the people there, one of whom reads the LH column.

Then, right after ten, to the bookstore. Nice visit with their fiction buyer and the manager. A drop-dead gorgeous young man walks in and starts to browse. There are a number of browsers, but who notices them? The manager and I start to talk about the architecture section and we fall into conversation with the handsome young man who turns out to be a recent architecture graduate from Austin. Says ours is the best bookstore for architecture in the state. Lovely to hear, even if it doesn't sell well...We ask him for advice and get some, gently given with much prodding.

A woman with a bike helmet comes in, on her way to work (moped, not bicycle). Really nice, likes the same kind of fiction I do (what I call lowbrow literary). Nice bookish visit.

I buy several books and then head over to pick up lunch at the coffee shop near St. Luke's Methodist. Run into the husband of a friend and we talk for about an hour. Mostly medical, but nice to hear what he and his wife have been up to.

And so, home. What does this say about the anonymous city life? Could this happen in New York? (Yes, of course it could...I know that.) But it felt like a small town experience.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Well Done

Reading a post by Sizzie a few minutes ago, reminded me how I learned to cook. When I was a child in our southern household, my favorite place was the kitchen. I loved to stand and watch my grand'mere make orange marmalade in a big kettle, and I would have spent all day in there when the cook prepared Sunday dinner. Usually, however, I was shooed out. "Don't bother Victoria," my mother would say.

When we finally hired a cook for our house, Mother remained good to her word. I wasn't allowed to watch. I am still not sure why.

The result, however, was that I went away to grad school in London unable to cook anything other than scrambled eggs. I learned a few things from my flatmates, though. Bangers and mash, for instance. Pork sausages browned in a skillet with left over mashed potatoes and cabbage. Surprisingly good, actually. I could boil the potatoes, too, and mash them. And once I went over to Fortnum and Mason, the specialty store, and bought canned Mexican food items--Spanish rice, canned tamales, canned chili con carne. And I prepared a "Mexican" meal for my flatmates. They ate it and said it was good, but really!

So when I was on my own in DC a couple of years later, I was desperate. Fortunately someone had given me the first Julia Child cookbook. This was a brilliant idea. She broke the ingredients and process down into small increments that even a novice could understand. Moreover, she taught technique--how to chop, etc. Eventually I became a fairly competent cook, especially in the days when one could use butter and cream.

Using her cookbook, in fact, I made only one odd meal and that was garlic soup, which I prepared for my mother and my fiance about two years after that. The mistake I didn't catch involved the liquid that should be used. (Sizzie, please note: not the amount of liquid, but the kind.) The recipe said that one could use broth or water. I had no broth, but I did have water. And the result tasted exactly like that: garlic boiled in water. Not a success.

PS: A moment ago I looked up the recipe on the internet (its link is posted above) and they call it aigo buido, and lo! water is correct. However, I promise I followed the recipe to the letter and it was not good. Maybe I didn't use enough garlic!

Saturday, June 20, 2009


I think I need to provide a key to the last blog.

The noodles are people I work with whom I needed to approve or reject a proposal with a tight deadline. They turned out to be more like overstarched shirt collars than noodles, but they still didn't do what I was hoping for. If I'd slowed down I might have avoided this outcome.

The cheese was an investment in the project I wanted to make privately. I am not supposed to do this because of appearances, even though we turned the project down. I do conduct other business with the project people, and perception is everything. Everything you can't eat, that is. (I do agree with them on this, though.)

The simmering water had two references: the first was to an episode of heat exhaustion I had early this week that affected my handling of the noodles; the second was a reminder to keep calm in the middle of highly emotional meetings.

In the last one, indigestion is a frequent side effect of business meetings and chilling out is the thing those of us who live in central Texas this summer most long to do.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Week's End

It's been a rough week, folks, but a number of lessons have been learned.

Principal lesson is: do not try to push noodles uphill--and especially do not try to do so if you have a deadline staring you in the face.

Second lesson is: slow down. In general an advisable course of action. Or in this case, non-action. If you slow down, you may see that the noodles are in fact another type of starch altogether.

Third lesson is: never try to eat the cheese yourself.

Fourth lesson is, be careful not to climb into the water right before it boils. That's deadly for frogs and people.

Fifth, when the meal is over, no matter who's got or given indigestion, chill out.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The 100th post that was

Oh my gosh, my last post was my 100th! How did that happen? How did I not notice it?

Ah, well. There's been a lot going on, not the least of which is the process of dragging the body around in this heat.

Even the pool is hot. I discovered that when I use the hose and automatic fill device to keep the pool level from dropping too far from evaporation, it adds HOT water. Hmmm.

No mystery, really. The hose remains full of water, and bakes in the sun, and--voila!--instant hot water for your pool!

Moreover, when I exercise in a pool with the water temp at 97 degrees, and the air temp at 96 it doesn't make me feel very good.

On top of that, today I think I had fifty or sixty emails from business associates about a meeting we'd scheduled. All but two of them were replies to some email of mine or another, even if the subject was slightly different. Hard to sort through that later.

But thank heaven I did reschedule and so tomorrow I should be able to breathe and fan and blot my face with cool cloths and read material for the meeting (all this is with the AC going). And maybe there will not be one contentious email message all day long.

One can hope.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Following Up

Today I finished a draft of my novel, although I have to go back to make sure all the times of day in the last couple of chapters link up. It doesn't really relate as much to the story of the amnesiac woman whose family doubts her, as it might. My character has been amnesiac and lies about the duration, and is thought to lie about other things, but it's not quite the same. Her form is that of dissociative amnesia, or fugue--where the person runs away after an emotional trauma of some kind, and is unaware for a period of time who they are.

About the stalker, I referred to in the last post. He's a person who found me through my business. There is a romance to the history of where our company's main business is located--romance, that is, if the early oil industry interests a person. The alleged stalker seems to be a young man who takes the environmental necessity of green energy very seriously (as do I, for that matter). I feel he wishes to make a symbolic statement in the place where our business is located, and I am unsure whether that would cause physical harm to something or someone. His tone in the missives he sends in the wee hours of the morning indicate that he views himself as some kind of a savior. The grandiosity is what concerns me. Also the persistence.

We've had a stalker before, and we knew him and he seemed well meaning--but very persistent and needful of attention.

What do you all think? Have you ever had this kind of unwanted attention?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Art before News

This is just a short entry on an odd coincidence. I received an email from Shirley, a member of my writing workshop, referring to the amnesiac woman whose family has doubted her story in public (front page Houston Chronicle today). She remarked that the story offers surprising parallels to the novel I'm writing--begun more than two years ago.

Then tonight I received a similar notice from Andrea White, who also spent time in the workshop with me--and whose books for young adults have received nice attention.

It's a little spooky to see something one imagined receive a realistic parallel like that and I'm not sure how it will affect the story, if at all. The woman's face, as it was shown in the paper a few weeks ago, is haunting.

On another matter, I feel as though I'm being stalked a bit. What does one do? I'll blog further about this later perhaps. Maybe you readers can help me figure out whether I should be worried.

But now, bonne nuit!