Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: travel Page 1 of 16

The Royal Sands, April 3-10, 2021

Daughter Stacey and granddaughters Elise (l) and Ava (r).

Week One in Cancun is in the history books.

We visited several extremely fancy (and equally pricey) restaurants, including “Harry’s,” “Tabu,” “Rosa Negra” (the Black Rose), Captain’s Cove and the Veranda at the Royal Sands.

The daughter and the grandchildren encountered a pig on the beach, being walked by its owner. Naturally, photo opportunities arose.

Our room (C5108) became party central for games and we played euchre, poker, Balderdash, Code Words, and other games.

Uncle Mark (Wilson) arrived from St. Louis a few days in and left a few days early. All of the Covid-19 tests required came back negative and, of our party of 12, only Jessica, Chris Poffenbarger and the granddaughters had not received at least one shot. Masks are required at the facility, but not around the pool. The crowds appear to be about half what they normally would be, but the restaurants mentioned above are teeming with patrons, who are being bombarded by high decibel noise.

The son and daughter-in-law and granddaughters and daughter left today (for Austin and Nashville,

Stacey holds Moira, the pig.

respectively). The Poffenbargers left for St. Louis and Macomb, Illinois.

The weather was sunny every day, but especially windy and, for the first 5 days, I did not get in the pool (nor, in some cases, remove my cover-up) because it was not that hot. On one day (Tuesday) the women visited the spa. I had an aromatherapy massage and, for the first time, I was not pummeled into a week of pain. The daughter has shared that the foot reflexology massage was her favorite.

On Wednesday Scott rented a boat that carried ten of the group out to go snorkeling.

I’m not a big fan of snorkeling. I did not ever get it quite “right” when we visited Hawaii, and I haven’t gotten it right since. Getting in and out of the boat has always been a challenge and I really don’t like fish rubbing against my body, which actually happened in Hawaii when we took a bag of frozen peas and lured fish toward us at Hanama Bay. It’s not a good memory.

For those reasons and others, I did not accompany the group that went out on the boat (which, also, cost $180 an hour). Craig hit his head hard on something on the boat and has a big scab on the top of his head now. He and Mark also commented on the strong current in the ocean, where the snorkeling led them.

Beach at the Royal Sands.

The boat captain also noticed their distress in a strong ocean current). Stacey cut her foot on the sharp coral while swimming back to potentially render aid. The hole in the bottom of her foot concerned me for the rest of her time with us, as I got cellulitis through a sore foot a few years ago, and it was not a laughing matter.

But all have returned home to the U.S. safely, save us. One more week in Paradise.

Cancun, Mexico.

Cancun, April 3-10, 2021.

Elise holds Moira.

Happy Birthday Night in Downtown Austin (March 20/21)

Birthday dinner in downtown Austin at Fogo de Chau.

This will be a stream-of-consciousness retelling of last weekend’s Birthday Weekend in downtown Austin.

It was my husband’s birthday AND we had secured appointments for our second Pfizer Covid-19 shots at the HEB store on 7th Street. That is truly something to celebrate, since we are supposed to fly to Mexico in early April and who wants to fly to a foreign country if unvaccinated?

We started our weekend adventure about 11:15 a.m. (for a noon appointment) and went to HEB first (did you know that the last name of the owner of HEB is Butts? Just wondering…). There was really no line, so we were done there in record time and picked up all kinds of stuff for our room: pop, beer, fruit plate, doughnuts (for the morrow), vegetable plate and dip, chips, etc.

We then drove to the hotel on Rainey Street and checked in early. We found out upon checking in that it was going to cost an additional $50 to park the car overnight. Later, we would find out that it would cost an additional $20 to watch a movie in the room. So, the tab was now soaring to over $550.

Our first shot weekend, the entire bill was $150, at the Stephen K Austin Sonesta Hotel downtown on Congress Avenue,  and it was quite quiet there.

Jessica and I celebrate at the Hotel VanZandt in downtown Austin.

The “live” band across the street played until midnight and then some idiot outside kept revving a motorcycle until 2 a.m. I had forgotten my omnipresent wind machine. Also, there had been no mention of their much-vaunted pool deck being under construction. (The one I show in my photo is an apartment building across the street). Nor did they mention “work on the outside of the building,” which meant that we were to keep our blinds closed unless we wanted to flash someone. I will attach a photo of the bathroom, which had a large tub overlooking the city—or, in this case, the workers outside.

There are robes in the room, but mine did not fit. There were no coffee pots. We asked that one be brought up when we checked in. It took 7 hours to get it. It made one cup of coffee and then would not work.

So, we hunkered down with the son, daughter-in-law and granddaughters to enjoy our goodies and watch Iowa in their first round of play. That went well, although Iowa would subsequently lose to Oregon, so there goes the season.

We also took advantage of the wine happy hour (5 to 6 p.m.) and, after that, went to Fogo de Chau, which I have probably misspelled, and ate.

Rainey Street on March 20-21st, Austin, TX.

This is directly across the street from the Convention Center downtown and was fairly busy. It is a chain (Brazilian Steakhouse). I think the price was $54.95 per person, but this was the son’s treat for his father’s birthday, and it was delicious. Waiters circle throughout the room constantly with roasted meats (sirloin, prime rib, chicken, pork, lamb) and they bring a very small dish of mashed potatoes to the table. Then there is a salad bar. Weirdly enough, they issue you a plastic baggie thing to use on your hand, like this is (somehow) going to protect you from spreading germs, were you to be infected with a disease of any kind. I don’t generally do much salad bar stuff, but I did take some potato salad (very bland) and two olives and some bread with butter packets. It was good that I took the bread, because the girls mainly wanted to eat bread and, at one point, they ran out of bread, which is odd. (Later, they brought some additional bread to our table, by request).

The dinner was delicious and very much appreciated. We then went back to the hotel, where we rented “Let Him Go” (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) and Craig—who had his shot first on Saturday—experienced some after-effects—(fever, chills) that put him out early. I stayed up until 2 a.m. and was very sorry that I had not brought my wind machine. I was finally forced to press my phone into service, as it has a not-that-satisfactory version of my wind machine on it.

Hotel Van Zandt, Austin, Tx.

Hotel VanZandt. Corner room. Austin, TX.

When we awakened the next morning, my phone was nearly dead and we had to check out immediately to make it to my 12:30 appointment back at HEB. We were supposed to check out at 11 a.m.. but had asked for a slightly later check-out, so we left at 11:30 a.m. As a result, we got there around noon and—fortunately—there was no one there but me, at first. They were looking for someone named “Emily.” Another Hispanic gentleman signed in with his paperwork right after me. He was first; I was second, and then the MIA Emily showed and was given her shot, following mine. It is now Monday and I have not had any fever or chills or unusual fatigue or headaches, all good things.

So, we are both vaccinated for Mexico and the birthday—which included shirts, an Amazon gift card, a Home Depot gift card, and the room, itself, (with a complimentary lime pie dessert at the restaurant) feted Craig’s 76th year on the planet.

Mariachi Band Protests @ Ted Cruz Home

Texas in Turmoil: Firsthand from the Front

Store shelves in Texas on Saturday, 2/20/2021.

From this morning’s “Austin American-Statesman,” comes this assessment of our Texas water problem. 

We’re here in Austin (TX), experiencing the black-outs and lack of water along with the rest of the state. The cold weather meant below freezing. As a northeast Iowa native, not impressed by the cold part. However, down here, things immediately went to hell in a hand basket. Nobody could/would/should drive! So, that’s how it started, but that’s not how it’s ending. Now that it’s back in the above freezing range, things are changing, but there are still major, massive issues that we are right in the middle of, unfortunately.

“Tens of thousands of leaks in the system have wreaked havoc on Austin’s water supply,” said Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros.  That has been compounded by an untold number of burst pipes in homes. Tuesday night and Wednesday morning Austin Water saw 325 million gallons leak out of the system, where, typically Austinites typically use 100 million gallons a day.

Meszaros:  “That is an incredible amount of water and nothing I’ve ever seen before at that rate,” said Meszaros, “So that’s what we’re managing is to not return to that state of affairs, where 100 million gallons of water could leak out of our system in one night.”

This means that Austin Water will need to methodically restart portions of the system to prevent leaks.

“It’s going to be a multiday process to restore pressure and service and then clear the system for use.  It’s really difficult to give precise timelines for portions of our section of our system.  We don’t know what we don’t know. And we don’t know how long some of them are going to take to fix.”

Reservoirs are now being refilled.  Thirteen million Texans are under boil water notices, including us. The effect has been acutely felt in the city, where a loss in water pressure forced evacuations at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center late Wednesday. All surrounding cities (Pfugerville, Bastrop, etc.) are also affected by the boil order.

Water systems under a boil water notice likely will face a logjam from state regulators as water pressure stabilizes.  The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requires testing to ensure no unsafe bacteria is in the supply before lifting the advisories. Timelines for water service to return to normal remain elusive.  Said one official, “I just feel like this is such a catastrophic failure on every level. If I wasn’t so consumed with finding a functioning shower or a functioning toilet, I would be so angry.”

Supposedly, 13 million of us have no water, at the moment. Thirty-plus people have died, estimated.

Now, say the officials, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requires testing to ensure no unsafe bacteria is in the supply before lifting the advisories.  The environmental commission is coordinating with the EPA to bring in mobile testing labs from out of state.

PULLING A CRUZ:  I have suggested that we go home to Illinois temporarily. Craig is always in such a Big Hurry to go home to “do taxes”, so I’m not sure why he is resistant to going back to Illinois, but he is. I refer to it as “pulling a Cruz.”  When we hit Wednesday and I’ve gone one full week without a shower/bath or hair wash, that could change. And we cannot, for the life of us (literally) get a Covid-19 shot here, despite putting ourselves on lists in Houston, Dallas, and about 10 places in Austin. We are definitely old enough for 1B and I have 4 underlying health conditions (things like asthma), so there’s that. I even went so far as to go find a doctor, thinking that might help. No such luck.

If I were to try to go home alone, I’d face all kinds of things that have been “turned off” that I know nothing about turning back on. I have to admit that I did not go to the basement and fart around with the water heater, etc. so if I go home alone, I’d face figuring out how to get things to “work” at home, or I’d be in pretty much the same situation I am here. I’m not afraid to fly (despite the pandemic) and we can fly free, thanks to the daughter’s job with Southwest Airlines, but it pretty much needs to be both of us going and only one of us votes for returning to the deep freeze so that we have running water.

Stacey, the daughter, who lives in Nashville has been with us since last Saturday. She is going to make a pilgrimage to the Walgreen’s (which finally opened for restricted hours and closes at 6 p.m.) to try to get us some dry shampoo.

I last had a bath and washed my hair on Wednesday, February 17th. It is now Saturday, February 20th.

I had 4 prescriptions that I had phoned in before the deluge. I was fearful that they would go back on the shelves. When Walgreen’s opened for limited hours (closes at 6 p.m.) I was Car #12; it took 35 minutes to get to the drive-through window to pick  up my prescriptions. Mission accomplished.

We have no water.  We tried to order pizza to eat, but very few pizza places were open. The one we found that WAS open had run out of pizza dough, but we were able to get lasagna, as long as we ordered right then, because they were closing down at 6 p.m. (It was 4:30 p.m. and we ordered right then.) Many gas stations are closed, because they are out of gas.

Beto O’Rourke taking questions in Davenport on 5/20/19.

El Paso has largely avoided this disaster because they learned from the 2011 freeze that hit. They planned for colder weather and, as a result, the built-in redundancies that should have been built in WERE built in. It is also not on the same power grid as the rest of Texas. They are on the western power grid. Texas is the only state to have its very own power grid. ERCOT failed Big Time. Other states can turn to their neighbors, but Texans, in general, don’t want to depend on their neighbors. El Paso took itself OFF the Texas power grid (ERCOT) and went ON to the western power grid (there are only 3 power grids, nationwide) after a 2011 bad freeze. Therefore, El Paso avoided the woes we are currently experiencing, firsthand. And I do acknowledge that, initially, we had power (pretty much throughout) and only lost our water completely yesterday. Before, we had very low water pressure, but we had a little bit of water. No more. Our laundry and dirty dishes are building up. There was talk of putting a garbage bag in the toilet and pooping into it, to keep flushing down.  I’ll be on a plane to the Midwest before it comes to that. People are putting saran wrap on plates, so that they don’t have to deal with a “dirty” plate that cannot be washed.

I’m planning on a small spaghetti jar for tonight’s dinner, as we had one lb. of hamburger in the freezer and we have spaghetti noodles. The hard part will be the water. While we have a bathtub full of water, we have very little bottled water. The feds are supposedly sending water in, but where is it? No idea. [Probably the same place our Covid-19 shot is: unavailable to us and met with the response, “We don’t have any.”]

After the spaghetti and some grilled cheese, we have a few frozen things (that, fortunately, did not go bad because our power stayed on), so we can eat our way through a couple steaks, some frozen pot pies. We have some canned food (soups, vegetables), but we are leaving the land of “What’s for dinner?” with a regular menu. I’ve made salmon and steak and a 10-lb. turkey and we are pretty much “out” of food, with no grocery stores having any for sale, apparently, since Craig just came back from Randall’s a few minutes ago declaring the shelves bare. The HEB stores warehouse all of their stuff in San Antonio warehouses and, until today, roads were considered pretty impassable. Now, with the warming temperatures, driving up to restock their stores from their warehouses is do-able, but did the warehouses storing the food lose power when the outage was statewide, like the stores did, and, if so, is there anything up in San Antonio that is still good that can restock the HEB stores here in Austin? I know that one employee had half-gallon jugs of milk in a wheelbarrow on her front porch in our subdivision, inviting the neighbors to “help themselves.” All were gone within minutes and good luck in finding eggs or milk or water, since then.

We are using water we melted from the snow to flush the toilets, sparingly. I’m pretty much treating the flushing like when we took the lobster dinner cruise on those old pirate ship look-alikes, which would not let you put paper in the water because, although they had toilets, they were not great toilets.

So, yes, we have power.

(Craig just tried going to the grocery store: no eggs, no milk, no chicken, no water. A line waiting to get in. I had to wait for 35 minutes in my car to get the prescriptions that I had phoned in well before the cold weather arrived. I was the 12th car in line. They were closing down early and have adopted early closing as their norm now.)

So, I’m not sure what is going to go down here in the next week. I’ve agreed to give this “we are camping out” lifestyle a green light for the week, but I honestly do not think they will have this situation “fixed” in a week, and I wonder how long it WILL take.

Obviously, there are going to be investigations and studies about the power failures. The headline on p. 5B today reads: “Just crippling: Texans Devastated.” It details the people trying to find food at HEB, which had to close 10 stores in the chain, because they, too, lost power. By Thursday the number in Texas without power was down to 450,000 from 4 million.  Harris County officials have a feature where residents can click through and see which major food stores are open. As bad as this was, it was almost worse, being second or minutes away from a catastrophic power outage. Texas makes more power than any other state in the union, but the weather disaster was unparalleled. Coldest it had been in 70 years, and it wasn’t really THAT cold, but it was below freezing, and that’s all it takes, in Texas.

The charges that wind turbines froze, were bogus. Forty %  of power is natural gas; 18% from coal; 11% nuclear; Wind power was under 30%—more like 27%. “No single fuel source can be blamed for this event.” Neil Chatterjee, the head commissioner of the energy commission.

The lesson is that the entire system has to be prepared for severe weather conditions. “Clearly, they have got to winterize everything.” The coal, nuclear, natural gas could have been winterized. “Climate change is having a dramatic change on weather.”

To me, it seems as though—just as Trump’s time in office revealed the true frailty of the U.S. in so many areas and destroyed our image abroad—this Texas freeze has revealed Texas’ image under Republican Governor Abbott as being full of holes. Texans like to think of themselves as hardy and “can do” types (just like Americans, in general, come to think of it).  Well, we can do as long as we have power and water. When we have no water, things become dire fast.

To me—especially in light of our complete and total inability to secure Covid-19 shots here, either—I feel like YOYO is the prevailing Texan and U.S. philosophy, these days. What do I mean?

“You’re On Your Own.”

Texas’ Lt. Gov./Texas’ Attorney General: Time for Changes Here?

Posted By on Mon, Dec 7, 2020 at 3:20 PM

From San Antonio; Reposted on Tuesday, Dec. 8th

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick - WIKIMDIA COMMONS / GAGE SKIDMORE

  • Wikimdia Commons / Gage Skidmore
  • Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

After telling seniors they should be willing to risk contracting COVID-19 to protect the economy (see previous WeeklyWilson article), Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick doesn’t seem to be willing to make a similar sacrifice to serve in the Texas Legislature next year.

Hereford cattle on LBJ Ranch.

Patrick, 70, who presides over the upper chamber, informed state senators Friday that people testifying before committees may need to register three days ahead and take a quick-turnaround coronavirus test 24 hours before they’re allowed into the Capitol building, the Texas Tribune reports.

During past sessions, people have been able to sign up and speak on the same day.

Patrick, a Republican, discussed the safeguards on conference call with the Senate Democrat Caucus, the Tribune reports. During those discussions, Patrick he wants the National Guard to conduct the tests, handling 10 to 12 people per hour.
Such caution seems at odds with Patrick’s partisan pronouncements about COVID earlier this year during TV talk show appearances.

In addition to telling grandma and grandpa they should be willing to risk death to save the economy, Patrick downplayed Texas’ infection numbers and accused the media of ginning up panic. He also dismissed warnings from Dr. Anthony Fauci, saying the nation’s top infectious disease expert “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

And, to top off the crazy from Texas, where I currently am, the Attorney General of Texas, who is under indictment for Securities fraud and under investigation for bribery, filed a lawsuit alleging that the states of Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona shouldn’t be allowed to confirm their votes on today’s “safe harbor” date (Dec. 8th) which comes in advance of the Dec. 14th vote of the electoral college. Supposedly, the man is angling for a pardon from the departing DJT and is a huge Trump loyalist.

Grape Creek Winery

It is Texas officials like these that drive one to travel far into the countryside (Fredricksburg) and visit wine tastings in the middle of the day on a Tuesday. Time for a change, politically, perhaps?

It was 75 degrees out today and, from the highway (I-290) we could see people swimming in their pool! We also decided to take a leisurely drive through LBJ’s old ranch, something the spouse and I had done but the son and daughter had not done.
Tomorrow, it is supposed to be 82 degrees. Not sure if this is a record, but it certainly beats the Illinois temperatures on a December day.
Aside from the wine tasting, daughter Stacey has traveled to Austin to be with us and her brother took off half a day of work to join us on our wine-tasting adventure. Then, we watched Iowa (#3 nationally) beat North Carolina (#16 nationally) in basketball. Following that, the younger members of the family got in the hot tub, but—once the sun went down—the evening temperatures did not convince me that I’d be warm enough.

LBJ Ranch, with deer.

I re-started my subscription to the “Austin Statesman” newspaper (REAL newspaper) and it was to have started this morning.

It didn’t. (Sigh)
[Other observations above from Sanford Nowlin who writes for the digital edition of the San Antonio paper.]

New Boston, Texas, on Night Three

Day 3 found us driving from St. Louis to New Boston, Texas.

The land was flat and uninspiring. I took several pictures along the way, especially one of a city sign for Pocahontas, Arkansas, in honor of our dear friends who used to live in Pocahontas, Iowa.

Naturally, none of the pictures I took has appeared in my mail, which is par for the course. I’ve sent them from my phone 3 times, but they are not coming through. (Sigh).

I did learn a lot about Pocahontas, Arkansas, today, a community of just over 6,000 residents, according to the 2010 census, versus the 1,910 who lives in Pocahontas, Iowa. It is a community on the Black River and, during the Civil War, when they seceded, it ended up having 35,000 Confederate soliders billeted there during the war at one point. Unfortunately for the town, the Yankees broke through the defenses and burned the downtown to the ground at one point. There were 3 Indian tribes that lived in this area back in the day.

The news tonight says there are 99,000 people hospitalized with Covid-19. I did a division problem that showed that the number of cases identified in November meant that each of the 50 states had 80,000 people ill with Covid-19. (Obviously, this was a simple division problem and some states—notably Maine and Hawaii—have done better than others.

St. Louis, Night #2

We had considered driving straight through to Austin, but an accident on the road slowed traffic to a crawl. I persevered and read on in “The Cartel” (p. 192), but darkness fell and we are now sheltering at the Holiday Inn in New Boston, Texas, just outside of Texarkana, where we ordered a pizza from Pizza Hut.

The news tonight in the U.K. “Guardian” says that Trump’s group is being investigated in a pardons-for-pay scheme.

Interestingly enough, the gas in St. Louis was cheaper than in the Quad Cities, but the gas here in Austin (lowest I’ve seen) was $1.63 a gallon. While picking up groceries, I noticed that the 90% ground beef was $4.57 a pound, while it was $6.47 a pound at the Jewel/Osco store on Kennedy Drive and Avenue of the Cities.

Travels to Texas: Night One

Chicago

On the road again.

We’ve made it to Chicago and here is the view from my window. Way more lights in the South Loop than last year.

On the way in on I-55 there was some sort of accident, so the 40 miles to the heart of Chicago took longer than usual, but we’re here now and on to St. Louis tomorrow.

I brought pork chops from our freezer at home and cooked them (also had an onion from home) and made green beans (also from QC) and there was a little bit of left over chicken from the 5.6 pound chicken (Wilbur) we made for Thanksgiving.

The weather has taken a turn for the colder. You can feel it.

We watched the end of “The Undoing” (disappointed that it ended the way it did) and “Fargo” (also a disappointing and confusing ending) and now I’ve managed to make it through all the morning news

Chicago

shows, so it’s off to bed.

Firefly II, 20th Anniversary Prius, Almost Drives A Mile Before Being Rear-ended

Firefly II

It’s Tuesday and I drove to the Toyota dealership to pick up my brand new Toyota Prius.

This wasn’t just ANY Prius. It is a 2021 Twentieth Anniversary Prius, with only 1200 being made, nationwide, with exactly the type of detail, and our dealership (Hiland Toyota) getting only 2 cars: red and white, both with black interiors. I am a Prius devotee and used to take my EICC auto body repair students out to the parking lot to see and test drive my 2002 car, when they were a rarity. The students were then asked to write a 5-sentence paragraph about their impressions of the car. My favorite? “This car is too quiet. I could never pick up chicks in this car.” And then there was the rather large football-player sized student who felt his fingers were too big to work on the engine!

This will make the sixth (6th) Prius I have purchased, beginning in 2002 with the model that looked like a Ford Focus (not a hatchback, in other words) and retailed for $20,050 with a $500 rebate from the government for giving the brand new hybrid technology a try. My husband was                  somewhat skeptical of the claims for the car, but I had been driving a Cadillac, one of 4 in a row, and gas was very expensive at that point in time.

So, I bought the Water Bug (name of the first car) and it served well and honorably, until my daughter-in-law was hit by a BMW. In 2004, I moved up to purchase one of the new hatchback models, because, since I wrote books, it would be a great Bookmobile, which the Firefly was. (As you can tell from the name, it was red—salsa red). I loved this car and I would not have traded, except that the son and wife needed a second vehicle and I really wanted to try out the hatchback, which I loved then and loved now for its convenience and utility.

Then, my daughter graduated from high school and needed a car in Nashville, Tennessee, where she attended Belmont University.

I gave my daughter the 2004 Firefly and moved up to a 2008 Grasshopper (Sea Foam Green). I really liked the lay-out on the green 2008 Prius, as I could put my purse on the center console, rather than on the floor of the passenger side.

In 2013, I moved up to a blue Prius (the Blue Bird), selling the Grasshopper (which is still in the family) to my son and family, as the Water Bug had been felled by the BMW in a small fender bender. When my son went to get his I-Pass off the viser, just for fun, he tried to see if the car would still start up and the motor turned right over. Only the chassis had been crushed beyond repair. (Good bye, Water Bug.)

When we began spending winter time in Texas, we bought yet another used Prius, and it was (also) a 2008, which I have dubbed the Silver Fish. It sits in our garage in Texas half the year.

But, today, with the daughter’s 2004 Firefly beginning to have some issues and with the hope of cheering myself up during a pandemic and with the hope that the used Firefly can be sold by the daughter and help support her as she and the entire airline industry (she flies for SW) try to return to solvency, I went to pick up my Brand New Supersonic Red Prius, Firefly II. It has more bells and whistles than I can list here and I really like it.

We made it to the VERY FIRST stoplight that turns up Kennedy Drive from the Toyota dealership. My new car had only 3 miles on the speedometer, most of those from driving it on the grounds of the dealership. We literally had probably not driven 100 yards to this stop light and had been stopped at it for about a minute when a car with Texas license plates and a driver with NO insurance ran into the back of my BRAND NEW CAR.

Yes, we called the police.

What are the odds, Folks? Just what are the odds.

.

Andy Warhol Exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago

Andy Warhol exhibit at the Art Institute in Chicago.

We took in the Andy Warhol exhibit in Chicago this past week. We selected a weekday, because the exhibit has been well-received and we thought it would be very crowded on the weekend.

Elvis.

As an advertisement illustrator in the 1950s, Warhol used assistants to increase his productivity. Collaboration would remain a defining (and controversial) aspect of his working methods throughout his career; this was particularly true in the 1960s. One of the most important collaborators during this period was Gerard Malanga. Malanga assisted the artist with the production of silkscreens, films, sculpture, and other works at “The Factory“, Warhol’s aluminum foil-and-silver-paint-lined studio on 47th Street (later moved to Broadway).

Early illustrations of shoes (the subjects of one of his very first exhibits) showed that Warhol had a thing for gold. Many of the pieces in the display reflect this, including the large painting below.

Gold painting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Warhol began as a magazine illustrator in the fifties and continued into the sixties, establishing a studio in New York City called The Factory.  Within the exhibit are some pieces of film taken within the Factory, whose walls were said to be lined with silver foil.

The Art Institute of Chicago Andy Warhol exhibit.

Warhol was an admitted homosexual, at a time when being gay in America was not accepted. Although his image was that of a libidinous lifestyle, he told an interviewer as late as 1980, when he was 52, that he was still a virgin (born in 1928).

Biographer Bob Colacello provides some details on Andy’s “piss paintings”:

Victor … was Andy’s ghost pisser on the Oxidations. He would come to the Factory to urinate on canvases that had already been primed with copper-based paint by Andy or Ronnie Cutrone, a second ghost pisser much appreciated by Andy, who said that the vitamin B that Ronnie took made a prettier color when the acid in the urine turned the copper green. Did Andy ever use his own urine? My diary shows that when he first began the series, in December 1977, he did, and there were many others: boys who’d come to lunch and drink too much wine, and find it funny or even flattering to be asked to help Andy ‘paint’. Andy always had a little extra bounce in his walk as he led them to his studio.[73]

Attempted murder (1968)

On June 3, 1968, radical feminist writer Valerie Solanas shot Warhol and Mario Amaya, art critic and curator, at Warhol’s studio.[42] Before the shooting, Solanas had been a marginal figure in the Factory scene. She authored in 1967 the S.C.U.M. Manifesto,[43] a separatist feminist tract that advocated the elimination of men; and appeared in the 1968 Warhol film I, a Man. Earlier on the day of the attack, Solanas had been turned away from the Factory after asking for the return of a script she had given to Warhol. The script had apparently been misplaced. Some of the skull paintings that are shown in the exhibit are said to reflect Warhol’s subsequent musing on life, death and mortality.

One interesting painting in the display looked exactly like Melania Trump and, of course, there were the famous Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, and Marlon Brando pictures.

 

 

 

Marilyn Monroe.

Marlon Brando.

 

 

Des Moines businessman immortalized by Andy Warhol.

Melania look-alike at Warhol exhibit.

Four of the Best Casino Scenes in James Bond Films

If there’s one man who has single-handedly popularized casinos, it’s James Bond. First introduced in the novels by Ian Fleming, Bond has quite the penchant for high-stakes action. In the film franchise, we see 007 take on pretty much every casino game under the sun. Baccarat, Roulette, Poker, and even Sic Bo – he’s played them all. There’s even a Roulette strategy named after Bond, and actor Sean Connery had a real-life casino win of his own at the wheel. In homage to this, let’s take a look back at some of the greatest scenes in the film franchise.

  1. Casino Royale (2006)

Casino featured in “Never Say Never Again.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

What better place to start than with the winner of the
Best Movie Poker Scene poll? Based on the first novel in the Ian Fleming series, from 1953, the film goes back to the beginning, with Bond embarking on his career as a secret agent and earning his license to kill. He’s put on an assignment to bankrupt terrorist financier Le Chiffre.

A large portion of the film takes place in the casino, as 007 enters a tense high-stakes game of Texas Hold’em. It isn’t smooth sailing for our hero, who loses his stake, but CIA agent Felix Leiter stakes him. Midway through, Bond is poisoned and leaves the table, but later returns. All’s well that ends well, and the final hand scene is iconic. The game is down to the last four players. With $120 million in the pot, Le Chiffre believes he’s the winner with a Full House. He is until the final player Bond reveals a Straight Flush to come up trumps.

          2. Dr. No (1962) 

From one of the most recent films to the first now – and an iconic scene. The game of choice for Bond, this time played by Sean Connery, is Baccarat. The film opens with 007 sitting in a casino, playing Chemin-de-Fer. While he’s at the table, he notices a woman observing his game. Bond gazes back at her, before introducing himself using the famous lines: “Bond… James Bond”. The focus may not have been solely on the casino, but the scene alone defined the character and made the role difficult for other actors to emulate.

              3.  Diamonds are Forever (1971)

The seventh film of the franchise is the last time we see Connery play Bond. Throughout the film series, we see the secret agent dispatch of his nemeses in many ways. In the opening credits, 007 eliminates a villain by jamming his head against the Roulette wheel. Okay, so not the most glamorous portrayals of a casino, but a memorable title sequence. You can channel your inner-007 with the best Roulette games online, too. Bond goes on to play Craps at the Whyte House, the casino owned by Willard Whyte – and it’s the only film where he plays Craps. Jill St. John appeared in the film, but it’s here that he meets Bond girl, Plenty O’Toole (Lana Wood, sister of Natalie), and of course, in true Bond style, he wins the jackpot.

Monte Carlo Casino used in “Never Say Never Again.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

  1. 4. Skyfall (2012)

The Macau casino, which featured in one of the most recent films of the franchise isn’t actually in China – it was filmed at Pinewood Studios in London. The fictional casino was based on a real floating establishment, and is still impressive. The Floating Dragon casino features 300 floating lanterns, giant dragon motifs, and beautiful ornate décor. We don’t see much of Bond playing Sic Bo during the scene, as he soon retreats to the bar. But we’ve included it because the casino itself is pretty spectacular.

James Bond and casinos go hand-in-hand. While we’ve listed our four favorite scenes from the movies, there’s plenty more to watch and dissect. Leave a comment  if we’ve missed your favorite.

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