Friday, September 12, 2014

Matins and Lauds Without Cats

Lawrence Hall

Matins and Lauds Without Cats

If your sunrise view is of garbage cans
And utility poles leaning over an alley
Or if you have no window, or even a kitchen
If morning dew condenses on barbed wire
Or dripping concrete walls echoing-echoing,
If your only view is of a cinder-block wall
And the only sound is the medicine trolley
Squeaking through its early hospital rounds
Without any coffee or even much hope
Then please feel free to borrow for today
Any of the many, barely-used mornings
From those of us who in our ingratitude
Tend to begin our days of open windows
Not with a joyful litany of praise
But with a tiresome catalogue of complaints

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Matins and Lauds and Cats

Lawrence Hall

Matins and Lauds and Cats

Now stir your morning hopes into a cup
Of coffee sweetly censed with optimism
Along with milk or cream and chemicals;
Switch off the strident, nattering radio
And through the kitchen window note with joy
The dramatic stretchings of indolent cats
Yawning the beginning of their new day,
A tree frog working late, reposing still
Upon the screen as if it were a throne
From which he rules all insect destinies,
And a sudden fluttering in the grass
As an early bird gets his worm indeed
While a vapor of diaphanous mist
Slow-curls among the oaks, perhaps to seek
Some comfortable solitude for the day;
Old Sol, fresh from his adventures in the East
Serves sunlight filtered softly through the damp,
Fresh light for your breakfast, a Matins
Psalm sung to you all the way from a star.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Book Burn Theory

Mack Hall, HSG


Book Burn Theory


In a recent Orwellian telescreen episode of Big Bang Theory one of the lead characters arrives at a crisis of scientific faith.  Having long worked at an obscure theory of something-ness, the character concludes that all his years of research have been for naught.  In a sort of intellectual purge the young scientist decides to give away all the books he has accumulated on the failed theory.


When someone asks him why he doesn’t simply throw away the books, the young man replies with (the quotation is from memory, and might not be exact) “I don’t like the smell of burning books; they remind me of church picnics in East Texas.”


Yes, how sad to live in intellectual darkness in East Texas when we could all emigrate to enlightened New Jersey where Snooky and Governor Christie play bridge tag among the abandoned casinos.


This is not to say that the telescreen character might not have a small point, despite his bigotry.  Visits to several colleges in East Texas suggest to the observer that the amount of tax revenue flung at rock-climbing walls, swimming pools, foosball parlors, handball courts, and indoor jogging tracks might be higher than the investment in the science program.


How curious that on election day this November there might be people sweating on fake rocks who (the people, not the rocks) later won’t have the energy to vote.  Energetic play might be (one doesn’t want to stereotype) easier for some than voting for the legislators who through appointed boards are the controlling authority for public colleges and universities.


In The Sand Pebbles Petty Officer Holman has difficulty explaining the theory of steam power to a young Chinese sailor.  Holman develops as an instructional aid the imagery of little dragons running up and down the steam pipes in the engine room, and that works fine.  In our time a petty officer in the Chinese navy might have to explain nuclear power to an American non-voter as little rock stars, fashion designers, and cooking show hosts colliding against each other in the reactor. 


In East Texas we have all attended church picnics and other after-the-liturgy social occasions hosted by many religious groups, and there are no reports of either books or heretics being burned as part of the merriment.  Truth, however, is no obstacle to a cheap and easy laugh on the Orwellian telescreen.


Recently I read a fifty-year-old book of essays by a Christian writer. The stamps inside the cover reveal that the book had been owned, in turn, by the library of a Catholic seminary, the library of a Catholic church, and the library of a Protestant grade school, all in East Texas, before being remaindered via Goodwill (my book store of choice). 


The book was written by a Catholic writer, and so the librarian of the Protestant grade school had affixed to the title page a memo to the students that while there was much in the book not in agreement with that denomination’s teachings and usages, there was much good in it, and that in a spirit of intellectual inquiry and the freedom to disagree the book was available to all. 


In sum, three religious institutions in East Texas offered to their faithful the free circulation of this sometimes controversial (and often tiresome) volume for fifty years.  Underlinings, penciled markings, and much wear indicate that many people read this book, both in agreement and disagreement.  St. Vincent’s Seminary did not burn it.  St. Leo’s Church did not burn it.  Cathedral Christian School did not burn it.


Further, one can validly assume that the three institutions taught that stereotyping of others is wrong.  The producers and writers of Big Bang Theory might want to think – think, not feel – about that.  That a current stereotype is fashionable doesn’t make it any less a stereotype.


Still, no one should ever feel obligated to think well of New Jersey.



Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Jasper Cop and the Museum of Elvis

Lawrence Hall, HSG

A Jasper Cop and the Museum of Elvis

Several weeks ago I was privileged to meet one of Jasper’s premiere citizens, a well-spoken, thoroughly professional, manly man with a fine sense of humor and a pretty car featuring lots of extra lights. We enjoyed a brief conversation about the inspection sticker on my own car, and he was so interested that he began writing about it.

When I modestly assured him that, really, hearing of its antiquity was more than enough amusement for me, he replied, “Now, sir, it is nine months out of date.”


Y’know, if your car inspection sticker is nine days out of date, asking for a little mercy is not unseemly; if your inspection sticker is so old that it was countersigned by Sir Robert Peel, you’d better just confess your sins to the judge and do penance before the awful majesty of the law.

The next work day I visited the nice folks who inspect cars, and they enjoyed the moment too. Then, hat in hand and new inspection sticker on car, I made a pilgrimage to the judge’s office. The nice girls (I can say “girls”; they’re young and I’m old, so there.) asked if I wanted to see the judge and make a defense, and I said no, that I just wanted to pay my debt to society and slink out the back door with my hat covering my criminal face. In the event the fine wasn’t much more than a few of those multi-adjective overpricedacinnos at Clever Literary Allusion Coffee Shop, and I took out my checkbook.

“Oh, I’m sorry, sir; we don’t take checks.” Well, that makes sense – if a man can’t be trusted to keep his inspection sticker up to date, what other perfidy might he be capable of? Actually, the problem is that some people write bad checks even to judges, who have as much problem collecting on them as anyone else.

While one of the nice young ladies found ways of making my credit card talk, I enjoyed viewing the Museum of Elvis. I’ve never heard of a judge’s office featuring an Elvis museum. Not even Andy Griffith’s office in fictional Mayberry had one of those, but there’s one in Jasper, Texas.

After I was released with a new suit of clothes and a caution to mend my ways, I drove over to the Belle Jim to drown my sorrows in a cup of coffee.

And that’s it. There’s no story here, and that’s how it’s supposed to be.

When the police officer required me to stop, I stopped. When he approached the car, I didn’t toss my cigarette at him. Well, I don’t smoke anyway. I didn’t call him a Fascist pig, and he didn’t call me one, and I didn’t demand to speak with another officer, One Who Looks Like Me. Which would hardly be possible – I do have a twin, but he doesn’t look at all like me (I’m the handsome one), and he’s not a cop, and he lives far away. The police officer was thoroughly professional, as were the staff in the city offices, and in every way the visits were enjoyable – well, except for that ticket thing.

As far as any assertion of rights, yes, there is the matter of rights – in this instance, the right of everyone around me to be safe when I’m operating a few thousand pounds of machinery. They have the right to expect me to drive my car in a sober and responsible manner. They have a right to expect that my car meets minimal safety standards with regard to lights, horn, turn signals, and brakes. They have these rights because everyone has the right to life.

So, yeah, I’m cool with all that.

Visiting the Museum of Elvis was cool too, but the price of admission was a little high.


What We Can Learn From DANGER MAN

Lawrence Hall, HSG

What We Can Learn from Danger Man

Although the names and numbers change, as is only right in a good spy yarn, we can infer that Patrick McGoohan’s flinty character in Danger Man (Secret Agent in the USA), Ice Station Zebra, and The Prisoner is the same man: John Drake. From these films a young person can learn that in the 1960s:

1. A fake travel agency can function in the center of London for years as a front for the British secret service without Communists, smugglers, crooked millionaires, corrupt members of parliament, or drug cartels figuring that out.

2. The same supporting actor, usually Aubrey Morris, can play a Chinese, an Italian, a Spaniard, and a Haitian, and no one is offended by that.

3. A secret agent travels with one small canvas bag which holds a business suit for the city, a tweed suit for the country, a dinner jacket, a trench coat, a turtleneck sweater, a pair of slacks, a change of shirts, a shaving kit, a large tape recorder, a large two-way radio, binoculars, a hat or two, sneakers for doing the cat burglar thing, and a pair of hiking boots.

4. A distinguished middle-aged man wearing a smoking jacket and holding a brandy snifter is a villain.

5. If there is an elderly colonel, and there usually is, and if he has a sweet, pretty daughter, and he usually does, she is always a traitor.

6. Scientists always wear white laboratory coats and eyeglasses rimmed in black plastic.

7. A computer is the size of a Ford Galaxie 500, clatters like a teletype, and features lots of dials and flashing lights.

8. Sometimes a character must get off the train or stop the car in order to call someone on a pay telephone. The pay telephone is convenient and always in working order, and the character always has the correct change.

9. Any airport terminal is about the size of a kitchen. When it is not an airport terminal it is a hotel lobby or a railway station.

10. A forest in Scotland, a copse in Kent, and jungles in central Africa, Haiti, and South America look exactly alike and feature identical plant life.

11. Almost all women wear dresses or skirts, except for Patricia Driscoll (nee’ Maid Marian) who rather daringly wears slacks.

12. Anyone can walk into any airport and immediately buy a ticket for any destination in the world on a plane that leaves within the hour.

13. Smoking is cool.

14. Coats and ties are required. A man sitting at the breakfast table will put on his sports jacket or suit coat before answering the door. When the police or military intelligence arrest someone they always give him a moment to tie his tie and find his coat before they take him away. Every man (except for Communists and other such low-lifes) removes his hat when entering someone’s home or office, and when dining.

15. In those funny little foreign countries airport staff are invariably surly and suspicious, wear moustaches, search luggage, ask nosy questions, and carry firearms. This would never happen in English, French, German, or American airports, where the staff are polite and helpful, and never snoop through travelers’ things.

16. Pan American is the preferred airline, though sometimes one must make do with BOAC.

17. All cars are English, French, or Italian.

18. The United Nations is a beneficent organization staffed by men (never women) of all nations and cultures. These men are good, wise, and honest.

19. London’s clubland rules the world.

20. Anyone stepping out of a hotel will immediately find a taxi available.

21. Typewriters. Newspapers. Telegrams. Rotary telephones.

22. Danger Man set the standard for complex gadgets hidden in pieces in shavers and pens, and which must be assembled over a period of minutes with much clicking and clacking.

23. When any woman enters a room, all the men present stand up. When greeting a woman a man (except for a Communist) removes his hat or at least touches the brim respectfully.

24. John Drake never carries a firearm. He can disable four or five armed villains with his bare hands, not unlike Walker, Texas Ranger. While one baddie is being subdued all the others jump around harmlessly in the background while waiting their turn to be bashed.

25. Most elderly women are dear, sweet things who serve tea with milk, lemon, sugar, and knockout drops.

This bit of fun shouldn’t suggest that Danger Man / Secret Agent is cartoonish. The series features well-developed plots, characterizations, and settings, and is always predicated on an ethical sense wholly lacking in the James Bond cartoons.

When in one episode Drake realizes that an evil man he has captured has been murdered by his own agency, he angrily confronts his boss. Drake sternly reminds The Colonel that if the English government is going to act like the Soviet government, then there is no moral ground for the country’s existence. This scene may be the impetus for the ongoing theme of The Prisoner: “Why did you resign?”

Danger Man / Secret Agent presents intelligent, ethical, and artistically staged stories that, unlike most twaddle from the Ministry of Truth, respect the viewer. And, in addition to the many other excellent qualities of Danger Man, there are lava lamps.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Chess - the Most Dangerous Game

Mack Hall, HSG

Just Pass Some More Laws

Last week, two players died during a world championship chess match in Norway.

Given the documented dangers of chess, how much longer will we continue to sacrifice human lives to this mediaeval sport?

Where is the world’s outrage? Why hasn’t the President spoken up? Where is Westboro Not-Really-Baptist? Where is Al Sharpton – still on the line with his FBI controllers?

Chess is clearly a killer. If two lives are lost during only one chess competition in one day, how many precious humans die in a year, sacrificed on the pagan altar of checkmate?

Not only is this game physically dangerous, it is both sexist and anti-democratic.

Those lost souls addicted to this degenerate pastime assure us that there is no sexism in chess because the queen most powerful piece. But, aha! Notice that they refer to her as a piece. Is that not objectification? Further, the queen clearly has no power of her own. She is pushed about on the board by men, most of ‘em foreigners, who dominate the sport. Peer past the fog of sexist obfuscation and one can see that chess is just code for men continuing to dominate and use women.

Further, no American worthy of the name should ever play a game which glamourizes hereditary nobility. Did General Washington and the lads suffer through the winter at Valley Forge for kings and queens and knights? I think not.

As Benjamin Franklin said, here, sir, the people rule. And we the people rule through voting and through standing for public office. Not that we often do so. The polls are six miles away. And we need to watch that pretty girl with a new dress every day turning those letters. But, hey, we listen to the emo-boys on midday radio, and surely that counts as a vote.

And then some of the chessmen (never chesswomen, you will notice) are bishops. We just don’t need Christianity being smuggled into our board games. Children need to grow up playing good old fashioned games on their little Orwellian telescreens: Sullen Buzzards, Blandy Smash, Morbid Wombat, and Wannabes of Nerdcraft.

The American people, in order to be truly free, must be required to turn in their chessmen / chesswomen / chesspersons. For the first year under the proposed new laws citizens will be compensated for their chessmen if they report to police stations and turn them in voluntarily. After that, pursuivants will search out hidden chessmen from recusants, and special courts will be instituted to ensure that never again will anyone be permitted to roam the streets with unregistered chessboards.

Once this is accomplished, all problems will be solved, and all evil will be swept like chessmen from the board of life forever.


Catholic Pig-Wrestling

Mack Hall, HSG

Pig-Rasslin’ in Wisconsin

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

- Lewis Carroll, “The Walrus and the Carpenter

Pig-wrestling in Stephensville, Wisconsin, is an endangered activity.

The parishioners of St. Patrick’s Church, for reasons best known to themselves and to their porcine brothers and sisters, have for years hosted an annual pig-wrestle – or rassle – as a fund raiser.

And why? As with so many matters in Christianity, this is a great mystery.

One often sees statues of Saint Francis (in the garden department, next to the concrete gnomes and the rather satanic-looking frogs) blessing animals but never a statue of Saint Francis wrestling with a pig.

Presumably the pig-rassle is not staged in the church narthex next to the CYO bake sale.

Maybe wrestling pigs is the best Wisconsin can do for a rodeo.

The event is messy but harmless, and after the day’s merriment the pigs are returned to the farm to meditate upon their Four Last Things: bacon, sausage, pork chops, and footballs.

The Society of Prissy People Who Are Against Things are not happy with non-lethal pig-rasslin’, though, and some 42,000 people of the sort who believe that Disney’s Bambi is true have signed a petition demanding that St. Patrick’s cease and desist and de-oink.

The SPPWAAT have apparently clogged the telephone line and emails of St. Patrick’s, and the local deputies will be keeping an eye out in case innocent, old-fashioned merriment must be saved from the Miz Grundies.

Saint Patrick of Ireland made the snakes go away; too bad that doesn’t work with the sort of people who make idols out of critters.

You know, if the parishioners of St. Patrick’s Church in Stephensville want a real rasslin’ challenge, they ought to try prying a teenager’s fingers off a MePhone.

Taking down a porcupine with bare hands could be interesting too.

Judge Joe Folk tells of a pig and a chicken who were the best of friends. One morning while walking along the street they saw a little café that advertised a bargain ham-and-egg breakfast.

The chicken said “Hey, let’s go there for breakfast.”

The pig replied “I think I’ll pass. When it comes to ham and eggs, the chicken has made a contribution but the pig has made a commitment.”


No animals were harmed in the making of this joke.

And no pigs are being harmed at St. Patrick’s


Monday, August 4, 2014

Absolutely the Very Last End of the World

Mack Hall, HSG

Absolutely the Very Last End of the World

“The situation is hopeless, hopeless! But it’s not serious.”

- Finian in Finian’s Rainbow

Several weeks have passed since the previous End of the World warning, so we are a little overdue on this latest one: solar flares are going to destroy the planet at any moment. Thought you’d like to know.

Universal doom from the exploding sun can be avoided, however, if we all repent and ride bicycles, eat gluten-free pine needles, and give our paychecks to Al Gore, Gaia’s Holy Profit…um…Prophet.

If the Solar Flares of the Zombies crisp most of humanity and end civilization we can take comfort in this eternal truth: no matter how much destruction, suffering, starvation, or loss of life we endure in a world plunged into darkness, no matter if we’re all killed, we know that our internet service providers will continue to bill us.

We have suffered so many Ends-of-the-World in the past few years that perhaps we should giving them themes.

After all, weddings are no longer about the sacrament of matrimony, but about themes – hippie wedding (the bride and groom together set a unity match to his draft card) or Aggie wedding (with The Aggie War Hymn as the recessional) or one of those swampy weddings with the bouquet being tossed to the girl with the prettiest tooth.

Since The End of the World falls upon us so often, we must be imaginative in thinking up fresh new themes for the complete destruction of everyone and everything we have every loved:

Hippie End of the World – for this End of the World everyone dresses up in bell-bottoms, tie-dyed tees, and head bands while groovin’ to Peter, Paul, and Mary. If the wait for Captain Kirk to karate-chop The Continuum is futile and the planet succumbs to a Wagnerian demise, all the old hippies will be so toked out they won’t notice.

Aggie End of the World – On the Eve of Doom all true Aggies will dress in maroon and take turns making up brand-new-really-old Aggie traditions. They will name global destruction The Twelfth Man of the Reveillecalypse and build a bonfire.

Swampy End of the World – my distant cousins (and may they remain distant) will beat an alligator to death with a J. C. Higgins shotgun (because Cousin Cletus forgot the shells), skin it, gut it, and hang it out in pieces to dry in the coming Fires of the End of Time. “Yum, yum!” exclaims Cousin Clyde-een, “Tastes just like human!”

Westboro Not-Really-Baptist – At midnight the entire congregation will be commanded to climb up on the roof in unison to blame cosmic collapse on gay people. Substitute “USA” for “gay people” and you have the European response.

Newfoundland – Everyone along George Street in St. John’s will gather in the dozens of faux-Irish pubs, drink beer, and chant “I’s d’ b’ys” over and over until the Meteors of Vengeance begin falling, at which point Sean and Rory will end their vigil and bid farewell to life with the Newfoundland version of the Nunc Dimittis, “Eh.”

But wait…I think I hear a great roaring sound from the stratosphere. This could be it, everyone, so get your tinfoil helmets on and tune your Buck Rogers superheterodyne secret space receivers to the Glen Beck signal.


Some Other Planet

Lawrence Hall

Some Other Planet

A youth in his curiosity wants
To fling himself in a swift silver ship
To wander strange worlds in the far away
Where he may marvel at the wild unknown

An old man wakes from his Van Winkle nap
Which he didn’t even know he had taken
To discover at last this strange old fact:
He has always lived in the wild unknown

Mad Dogs and Whippoorwills

Lawrence Hall

Mad Dogs and Whippoorwills

In the gasping, colorless noon
A whippoorwill, with a poor will,
Opens his heat-exhausted bill
To sing. What is he, then – a loon?

The Importunate Deceits of August

Lawrence Hall

The Importunate Deceits of August

Grim August is the month of unbelief
When all the happy optimisms of May
Are but thin vapors writhing up as dust
And swirling formlessly into the sun
Thoughts flail about like headache-haunted dreams
Then fall apart in shifting fragment-light
To form again beyond reality

Deep Dusk

Lawrence Hall

Deep Dusk

The crescent moon presides in dignity
Over the twilight lawn, attended by
Tonight’s appointed wishing star who thus
Is deputed to catalogue the hopes
Of all who might petition for a gift.
Young lovers must enjoy priority
In hopeful messages from happy stars
In these few minutes safe from old folks’ eyes
When a hesitant hand might coyly seek
Another hand, waiting in shyness there

Saint Augustine of Africa

Lawrence Hall

Saint Augustine of Africa

Between the desert and the sea
Along an ancient Roman way
A man writes for eternity
Living words against a dying day

North of the Interstate

Lawrence Hall

North of the Interstate

First Nations lived here when the world was young,
And something of them still remains as shards,
Slight shards, of works and walks and DNA,
Slim arrow points from hunts in the long ago,
Strange ways in those who know more than they say,
And spirits of the wind and water and air
Like fireflies flit among the ancient oaks
Through an August evening’s deepening dusk.
Their cities and their graves are little marked,
Forgotten mostly, shadows in the forests, but here,
Beneath mysterious sighings in the pine tops.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Hummingbirds at Breakfast and War

Lawrence Hall

Hummingbirds at Breakfast and War

At breakfast hummingbirds are very rude
They bully each other out of the way
As if there won’t be enough hummer food
For the most important meal of the day

They’re sweet little birds, their defenders say,
But even at meals they’re an avian disgrace
They will not pause their beak-to-beak melee’
Since each one thinks it’s born a combat ace

So give those tiny tough guys lots of space
For they are ever a quarrelsome brood
And drink your coffee in some other place:
At breakfast hummingbirds are very rude

July is Not a Thinking Month

Lawrence Hall

July is Not a Thinking Month

July is not a thinking month
The heat and the humidity
Fatigue the world into stillness
And the mind into apathy
A sort of headache of the soul
Cicadas in the midday sun
Mosquitoes in the midnight moon
Reduce even idle dreams to dust;
To read, to think: impossible

Dragonfly on Patrol

Lawrence Hall

Dragonfly on Patrol

While droning through the midday heat
On wings which wildly, swiftly beat
A dragonfly on lawn patrol
Then executes a perfect roll
And makes a challenge face to face:
Who violated his air space?
Signals are given and received
The password’s good; no one’s deceived;
He lifts again with an expert jerk;
An old man, too, returns to work.

La Conquistadora

Lawrence Hall

La Conquistadora

In the long ago La Conquistadora
Conquered us, without conquering at all;
She sits in state among the roses of spring,
Our Gentle Lady liege, Queen of our hearts.

Llano Estacado

Lawrence Hall

Llano Estacado

Escarpments and grasses forever and ever
Alive beneath the grey forever-sky,
Creation tumbling ancient elements
Into horizons upon more horizons,
Deep silences, from when there were no worlds,
Seldom interrupted, even by the nations.
The dawn wind sings a circle of low stones
A palace long before Coyote came,
The evening wind sighs through a picture rock
A language that was old when the moon was new.
A little crucifix bought in a shop
Near a wharf in Spain, and blessed by a priest
In haste for breakfast after early Mass
Lies near a fragment of a horseman’s boot
Above an arrowhead knapped from traded flint
Below a broken blade from a pocket knife
And a doll’s head torn by a very bad boy
Along a railway that follows buffalo
Not far from the historical marker
Where a pizza box leans against a fence.
But here on the Llano Estacado
Escarpments and grasses forever and ever

A Full Moon over New Mexico

Mack Hall, HSG

A Full Moon over New Mexico

Part of the fascination with the San Antonio chain of missions (Nuestra Senora de la Purisma Concepcion de Acuna, San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo, San Juan Capistrano, San Francisco de la Espada, and the very little that remains of San Antonio de Valero) is that they are old. Very few buildings or utilities in Texas are old or ever will be – our interstate highways are under constant repair, and the cinder-block and plywood construction now popular for public and private buildings is only slightly more durable than canvas. Texas is a land of campers who after seven changes of national governments (the United States twice) within only two centuries still marvel at anything that suggests permanence.

New Mexico features many more structures (I didn’t count ‘em) from the three-hundred-year Spanish era, but New Mexicans shouldn’t be smug about them since Texas was all the land east of the Rio Grande, all the way into Colorado. Some say that most of New Mexico and Colorado are still part of Texas. Most of New Mexico and Colorado say not. And that’s okay; Canada still can’t sort out the border between Quebec and Labrador.

An interesting feature of a city in New Mexico, a city which is Spanish in origin, is the plaza, an open area bounded by the parish church, shops, private houses, and whatever it is that Spain calls government house. This openness is important – you can see from one side of the plaza to the other. The space is open for social events, informal gatherings, elections, horse-trading, community meetings, liturgical processions, and mustering the local militia.

In the English part of the Americas there is the courthouse square, but the space is not open because the courthouse is in the middle of it, and you cannot see across. It is as if a courthouse square is not a place for people to meet as part of the social and political life of a city, but rather a place to be ruled from.

History, as Hilaire Belloc writes, is predicated on geography, and that would include architectural geography. On the east side of the Neches, an English town (let us call it Percivalville) places its church, businesses, and houses outside the square, and plops the courthouse in the middle. Across the river, a Spanish town (let us call it San Whatever) also features a church, government house, private houses, and businesses, but none of them is planted in the center of the plaza.


The plaza in Taos is still pretty much hometown, with a mix of dime stores, fine art galleries, junk art galleries, an elegant hotel, and a good chance of a parking spot except on weekends. There are a few shade trees and a bandstand, benches, a beautiful war memorial, and an big, ugly statue of a stunningly evil man, and why that is there eludes me. Often there are street vendors and bands, and the plaza is great fun.

The plaza in Santa Fe has been to finishing school and gives itself airs. The art galleries are Art-With-a-Capital-A, and the area is a little over-produced, close to Disney-fication. If Taos is where poor old hippies go to desiccate, Santa Fe is where rich old hippies go to desiccate. There is even a Santa Fe old-lady look, grey hair done up in a bun beneath Sergeant Garcia’s (cf Disney’s Zorro) flat-brimmed sombrero.

One of the really good things about Santa Fe’s Plaza is the art, especially the First Nations folks who sell jewelry, pottery, and fabrics from the porch of the Governor’s Palace. I don’t know if there is a city ordinance or if old Anglo dudes trying to peddle their derivative bling of suspect origins would be subject to some very old-fashioned rough justice, but you can’t go wrong in buying at the Governor’s Palace.

The new (1870) cathedral is up the street a block past many nice shops and neat little cafes, and the elegant French architecture and the newer but equally restrained Spanish reredos and Stations of the Cross work well together. The integrity of the small area before the beautiful bronze doors has recently been compromised by a lumpish statue of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, who deserves much better. The artist has portrayed (undoubtedly “from the heart”) The Lily of the Mohawks as a Sumo wrestler daubed with automobile paint in primary colors. You might expect this sort of amateur mashup in Taos, but not in Santa Fe.

But simply being in the center of at least 600 years of history is its own joy, and there is much genuine art in the area, including an excellent bronze of Saint Francis with a wolf. Not a bunny, but a wolf. Now that’s the stuff, artistically and theologically!

Another difference between the plaza in Taos and the plaza in Santa Fe is the nature of parking a car. When a driver parks near the plaza in Santa Fe, everyone exits the car, opens a door or the boot, and bends over, as if they were having a prayer meeting with heads inside the car while presenting a display of full moons to the street and sidewalk. Upon returning to the car, the driver and passengers repeat this curious liturgy.

Perhaps they are Moonies.

But one should not make fun; this may be a quaint local custom. In 1941 Ansel Adams took a famous photograph of a full moon over Hernandez, and so perhaps people in Santa Fe try in some way to replicate this artistic experience through creative parking.

New Mexico is an ancient land of rare beauty, more cultural diversity than the United Nations, and a deep history of the comings and goings of peoples and their works and arts from perhaps the beginning of humankind. To visit New Mexico is not only a joy, it is an honor.


The Lonesome Dove Cooking Show

Mack Hall, HSG

Cooking with Gus and the Captain

Popular novels and Orwellian telescreen programs such as Downton Abbey and even The Hobbit have inspired recipe collections. Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove has not yet led someone to write a goin’-to-Montana cookbook despite the popularity of the novel, the series, and then the spinoffs, including Return to Lonesome Dove, Andy Hardy Finds Love in Lonesome Dove, and Attack of the Zombies from Lonesome Dove.

And the reason is obvious: even the most indiscriminant gourmand might have trouble coughing up (as it were) a recipe for grasshopper or dog.

Much of the diet mentioned in Lonesome Dove sounds pretty good, especially Gus’ famous Dutch oven biscuits.

The book is strangely silent on why there is no Belgian oven, though.

Other comestibles enjoyed by Gus, the Captain, Indians, cowpokes, gamblers, Mexicans, Texicans, fur traders, mountain men, boatmen, bartenders, and, oh, entertainers include numerous dishes made from:

Prairie chicken

The favorite beverages, in order, appear to be:


Pretty good eats, huh?

But when the individuals lost on the Great Plains on the trail from Texas to Montana are doing without, they dine on:


Pardon me, waiter, but could we please see the children’s menu?

With Blue Duck and his pals, the concept of children’s menu might mean something entirely different.

As Bull (Arthur Hunnicutt) says to Cole Thornton (John Wayne) in El Dorado, “This place’ll never be Delmonico’s.” Nope, not with grasshoppers and dog on the bill of fare.

No mention of eating a dove, though, either a gregarious dove or a lonesome dove.