Tag Archives: Texas

SWAU’s Magnolias

I am not a theater critic.  I believe I am qualified to criticize a few things in this world – films, political arguments and myself, mostly – but theater is not anywhere near the list.  But today, I think, I am willing to make the attempt.  After all, I’ve been in a few. So I think I might have just enough qualifications to say something about the one play that just premiered in Keene tonight, and will have three more showings over the course of the weekend.

Steel Magnolias simply has no place in the pantheon of English-Language theater. It is, if anything, merely promising: four acts that manage to disastrously misplace the ending.  Written by Robert Harling, a theater director from the agonizingly unpronounceable town of  Natchitoches, Louisiana (trust me, I’ve tried, and it didn’t end well), it is a tableau of characters that are pleasant enough to watch, and a plot that isn’t in any way difficult. But it not only isn’t satisfying; it isn’t confusing enough to get away with it.

I have to ask here if these characters are stereotypes. Do real women understand and identify with them? I watched the play with a woman who was decidedly unmoved by them.  Are they really as overdrawn as I thought they were, or do I just not understand southerners?  The play confirmed for me that Texans, after all, are very different indeed from our fellow ex-confederates. Especially South Texans.  Ironic for being so much farther south than The South is.

All of that being said, I believe it was performed admirably.  Anne-Marie Jacobs cut an early lead and held it for two hours, pushing everyone else to stay in the moment and remain deeply southern.  Alex Avila was transparent and perfectly readable the entire time she was on stage. And Chelsea Evans managed a particularly scalding emotional breakdown that gave the play the climax it didn’t deserve. I was particularly impressed by how much hair was actually being done on stage while I watched, and that they continued to  act while doing it, or at least having it done.

But in the end, I have to admit that I belong almost entirely to things like Hemingway and Spaghetti Westerns, so I am probably not well placed to see the play as it is meant to be seen.  But then, I like Sophie’s Choice and Billie Holiday, too, so I’m not completely blind to this sort of thing.  I have to conclude no landmark in the repertoire of American Theater could ever end with a group hug.

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Blue Norther

It’s just stopped snowing in Keene.  It had been snowing for three hours in a place that rarely sees the stuff, if ever.  I don’t think we had any snow last year, a little the year before. But for hours on end, it was a constant driving white, throwing itself in increasingly large and icy chunks at the ground. It hasn’t even frozen yet this year; none of it stuck.

One has to explain, for some readers, that it comes as quite a shock to wake up and see it snowing in Texas. National news organizations are just as surprised – footage from our Dallas stations made its way around the country this morning, newsworthy for its novelty.  Well, for the benefit of the rest of the country, there isn’t anything novel about it at all.  They used to call them – and some still do call them – Blue Northers, sudden gusts of snow and sleet that cause general misery for travelers and cattlemen.  They’re worse in the Panhandle and West Texas, which lie at the end of the great plain that lets wind wander from the sub-arctic of Canada southward from time to time.

Now, of course, not fifteen minutes after it finally stopped, the sun is shining. The last clause in the definition of the Blue Norther is that it leaves as quickly and unpredictably as it came. It’s supposed to be 50 degrees by this afternoon.

This is one of the many reasons some people hate Texas. They come from places that have climates, a slow and steady progression between known norms. Texas has no such thing. And that is one of the many reasons some of us love Texas – Blue Northers and all.

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Restaurants AA Gill Will Never Visit: El Jardin

The following is intended as satire. For those of you who have no interest in any of that, and just want to read a restaurant review, go right ahead. But if you want to know what I’m really getting at, I heartily suggest reading one or two examples of AA Gill’s truly unparalleled food reviews here.

108 W. Morgan Street, Meridian, Texas, 76665.

♦ ♦ ♦ ◊ ◊

Five Diamonds London Calling Four Diamonds The Clash Three Diamonds Sandinista Two Diamonds Combat Rock One Diamond Cut the Crap

Painting may well be the most brilliantly cathartic job that anyone can make a living at. Legally, anyway.  I don’t mean the kind you do at a class with a bunch of little old ladies, while looking at a bowl of fruit. I mean the sort of painting that makes something a completely different colour than it was before.  Walls, bookshelves, dressers.  It is a process of change, sudden, brilliant change. There is something enormously satisfying about using colour, something that one enjoys in a way that is almost primal.  Try for yourself sometime: find a wall that’s been the same color since Asquith was in Number 10, and then change it.  It doesn’t matter to what. What matters is that it be different. That you make it different.  Roll it on, use a big brush, paint it however you like, and time will catch up to you. The world will have changed, then. And you will have done it.

The thing of it is colour. It’s emotion, perhaps at its most glossed, its most enjoyable, without any of the weight and heft of reality.  It brings thoughts and memories; of childhood, of school, of different times when people used different colours. Or it is the striking modernity, the shock of today, that agonizingly brief shade of tomorrow.

Food, of course, is important for its colour.  There’d be no point to bell peppers, or strawberries, or bananas. Don’t bother making any sort of sandwich. No use in even warming a soup from a can. And there’s definitely no roasting marshmallows.

I rather liked this collection of pictures – national flags made of national dishes.  Brazil is limes, with a spot of good cheese and a grape.  I couldn’t have put it better myself. Japan is the knock out – a bright red roundel of raw tuna on a stunningly whit plate. India is halfway there already – “saffron” is one of its national colors.  And of course, according to old Italian tradition, both pizza and spaghetti were originally patriotic dishes, splashes of red, white and green on a plate.

But the problem is that there are an awful lot of red, white and blue countries. And there’s not much we can do that is red, white and blue, besides some sort of garishly decorated cake.  In fact, America would have to represented by a pie, if anything, and the colour of it would be terrifying. And the Russians have even less to work with. They’d have to make some awful stew. But I suppose its at this point that we can all agree, its much worse to be German in this situation.

If Texas has a national dish, you can have it at El Jardin. Its menu is a nearly complete listing of what people from the rest of the world think of as Mexican food, but is actually extraordinarily Texan. The ingredients may be Mexican, but the mixing pot is just further north, over the Rio Grande.   And its never more Texan than lunchtime, which is when I went. Or a little after, actually.  The place was nearly empty, at any rate. The interior is that terribly uniform farce of walls painted extravagantly with murals of the Latin world.  I’m not sure a good Mexican restaurant can afford to be without them.  I sat next to a rather impressively large bullfight, which I’m fairly certain is Spanish.  But that’s the point, I think, to the ubiquitous restaurant mural: its a fantasy world, a culture taken to its visual extreme.

For a restaurant named “the garden”, its salsa was a slight disappointment. That’s the real test of a restaurant: its salsa. There’s not much else that deserves any worry or care.  The rice and the beans will always be good – impossible to mess with those.  The tortillas? Tortillas are always tortillas.  But the salsa is proof of care, of freshness, of taste.  And they can vary so widely, at the salsa maker’s whim.  This one was more a paste; I can’t prove it was out of a can, but it certainly looked like it.

But I don’t think I’ve had better tamales anywhere.  That’s my vote for our state dish. Fresh tamales, with a little chili over them. Its a social food that can still be enjoyed alone, a utilitarian corn flour that can be filled with whatever suits your taste.  The Mexicans almost uniformly prefer a mixture of meats that you or I don’t normally eat from the pig.  Quite a lot of Texans prefer it with beef or chicken.  Vegetarians can have it with beans.  That last one might actually be my favorite of them all – pity they don’t show up on menus.

Of course, the practical upshot of all this is that its 50 miles from the civilization of the Metroplex, so if you find yourself out here for lunch, El Jardin would certainly not be a bad choice.

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