February 23, 2018


by Steve W

Over the past 25 years or so, I've been to Austin about once a year to speak at Entertainment Law conferences. I've had the chance to make some good friends that, even though we only see each other once a year, we enjoy the time we get to spend on these short visits.

Over time, the city skyline has changed, but it always amazes me to see how much construction is still going on. Like so many cities, vertical space has become as valuable as horizontal space, as evidenced by these pictures of downtown Austin.

Taken from a distance, note the construction cranes

Taken from across Lady Bird Lake
Being here for an extended period allowed us to see some sights we had not seen before. One of the them was the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum. Given all the negativity about LBJ's handing of the Vietnam War, it is easy to forget that he came into office because of a great tragedy and accomplished many things in his terms of office. Among them were the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Freedom Of Information Act, the Public Broadcasting Act (creating NPR and PBS), signing Medicare and Medicaid into law and enacting many environmental protections.

I wish more of today's politicians acted this way.

He also enjoyed a good debate.

We also got to venture outside the city to see some of the local sights. There are four churches that are painted in a European style, due primarily to the Czech and German immigrants who settled there. These are in the area of Schulenburg, a small town about an hour outside Austin.

Main Street, Schulenburg TX
Although the churches are small in comparison to those we have seen on our trips to Europe, the amount of detail is astonishingly beautiful. The first church is the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church, established by Czech families in the community of Praha. Near the church are memorials to nine citizens of Praha who died in WWII. According to the plaques, these nine soldiers represented the highest percentage of casualties for any community in the US, which shows how small a community this is. The pictures tell the story of the church, the memorials and the cemetery, which contains many family plots with many members, as well as some tombstones of children who lived less than a few weeks after birth.

One of three memorials to the nine Boys of Praha

Along the roads between churches, we saw various domestic cows and horses and domesticated "farm" animals like deer, including this blackbuck antelope, native to India.

Next was St. Mary's Catholic Church at High Hill, settled by German immigrants.

We also went to Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Dubina. Unfortunately, it wasn't possible to go past the doors of the church, so our photos were limited.

Last was St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, sometimes called the "pink church", for obvious reasons.

Austin has many greenbelts, including Barton Creek and Lady Bird Lake, which has a great walking path on both sides of the lake and a statue of Austin native, Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Austin's "pride and joy"
Add to this some good music and some good BBQ, and you begin to experience Austin as the locals do. It's always good to be back in Austin and I look forward to the next time, whenever that may be.

Next, on to a town in Texas few have ever heard of: Marfa.

Note: We were here at the end of January.

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February 19, 2018

New Orleans

by Rosemary

On our way to New Orleans, we drove across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. Twenty-four miles long, it is considered the world's longest bridge over water.

Our first excursion was a walk through the French Quarter, the city's oldest district. The area is known for its distinctive architecture, historic landmarks, and a lively 24-hour culture of music, dining, drinking, and debauchery.

Balconies with elaborate wrought iron frames and railings are a distinctive feature of buildings in the French Quarter

This statue of Jean Baptiste LeMoyne de Bienville, founder of New Orleans, includes figures of a priest and an American Indian.

Drinking on the street is fine, as long as you use the right container.

Bourbon Street (aka Rue Bourbon, aka Calle de Borbon) has been here since 1721, when the streets were laid out.

"Do do that voodoo that you do so well." (Cole Porter)

Tabasco has been produced in Louisiana since 1868.

One of the most popular foods in New Orleans is the beignet, a pastry made of deep-fried dough covered with powdered sugar. People gladly stand in line at Cafe du Monde, which is open 24 hours a day and serves nothing but beignets and beverages. I wonder if anyone ever goes there just to order coffee?

We shared an order.

Local merchants have their limits.

Bourbon Street was named after the ruling family of France, the House of Bourbon; so was bourbon whiskey. It makes sense to enjoy both at the same time.

New Orleans is strongly associated with jazz music, and there are many tributes to musicians around the city.

Louis Armstrong

There are, of course, a lot of street musicians. Unfortunately, most of them seem to be aspiring drummers pounding relentlessly on overturned plastic buckets. But occasionally a real band shows up. These guys were performing in front of the St. Louis Cathedral.

Apparently, no one noticed the sign.

The church is peaceful inside...

...but, with or without musicians, it faces a noisy tourist zone that includes Jackson Square, Washington Artillery Park, and a riverfront area that is currently being renovated.

The centerpiece of Jackson Square is an equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans, and later the seventh U.S. President. This is a replica of the statue in Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C. There are also copies in Nashville, Tennessee, and Jacksonville, Florida. This 1853 sculpture by Clark Mills was the first in the world to be balanced solely on the horse's hind legs.

Jackson in New Orleans.

The original in D.C.

In nearby Woldenburg Park is "Monument to the Immigrant" a 1996 marble sculpture by Franco Alessandrini. An immigrant family stands behind a muse symbolizing hope.

It is still possible to ride a paddle wheeler on the Mississippi River.

Some people arrive, along with 2000 of their best friends, via giant cruise ships.

This wasn't the largest cruise ship we saw docked here.

New Orleans is also known for its old cemeteries. Much of the city is below sea level, there is a high water table, and the area is subject to storms and flooding. Not long after the city was settled, it became unpleasantly obvious that traditional in-ground graves were not suitable here. Above-ground vaults have been used since the 1700s. The cemeteries are sometimes called "cities of the dead" because that is what they look like.

Some families have maintained vaults here for many generations. There are also organizations that work to restore and protect the old graves and monuments. But time and weather are not gentle, and most of the tombs exhibit some degree of deterioration. Many are falling apart, or have already crumbled into rubble.

We took a tour of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, the oldest surviving cemetery in New Orleans.

Oddly, actor Nicolas Cage, who is not dead yet, already has a tomb here.

Downtown, not far from the cemetery, is another kind of monument: The old five and dime store, built in 1912, is now part of the Ritz Carlton Hotel.

We strolled through the Garden District, an area known for its interesting homes, including historic mansions with lovely gardens.

Although Mardi Gras was still about three weeks away, everywhere we went we saw homes, business, fences, and trees decorated for the holiday.

And, of course, parade-appropriate outfits for sale.

I would look maah-velous in this

Having had a great time new New Orleans, we were ready to go somewhere else. We headed for Texas.

Note: We were here in the second half of January.

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