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!
I’m posting this before I begin to attempt to clean up and go off to a Super Bowl party.
Being a newcomer to Austin (TX) as a snowbird, I cannot afford to turn down any invitations, but I am in the throes of a head cold that has rendered sleep somewhat peripatetic and caused my nose to run.
Here in Austin, the biggest and closest grocery store is one with the name H.E.B. I have no idea what “H.E.B.” stands for, but “Help! Everything is Bolloxed!” comes to mind. On the bad side, you walk for miles trying to find anything. The store is roughly the size of a Sam’s Super Store in the Quad Cities. On the good side, the prices see far lower for most things (although the quality of the meat is suspect).
Let me be specific: all I wanted was a Coricidin type cold remedy that would staunch the runny nose I am experiencing, which, I think, I may have caught from my son, who also has a cold. I gave son Scott the last of my cold remedy medication from home and the Tylenol thing I bought yesterday does not mention stopping a runny nose. Nor has it done so.
On the bright side, I could breathe in the night, but I turned like a chicken on a spit, tossing and turning as I experienced all the fun drainage of a cold.
Two days ago, it was 83 degrees here, tying a record set in 1963. Then, it dropped about 40 degrees and spit rain. The problem (besides exposure to the virus somewhere) is that I had to go out in the spitting rain 2 days in a row, to secure the necessary vitals for a Saturday night dinner. I also wanted to purchase a painting to put on the wall of the guest bedroom, as the one I had originally seen at a store called “Tuesday Morning” had sold in one day. I like the painting and the son with the cold was going help the husband hang it on the wall of the guest bedroom IF I had it. So, 2 days in a row when I already felt sort of punk and the weather was not ideal I went out in the spitting rain and visited a minimum of 3 stores each time.
Now, I’m paying the price. Oh, well, last year there was no moisture at all in the entire month of February, so hopefully the predicted warm-up will take my cold with it.
On another front, gas here at some stations is $1.83.
As for the Super Bowl, I could care less who wins or who plays, but I would root for the underdog (Atlanta) in any contest and most certainly would do so when it is common knowledge that the Quarterback of the Patriots is a big buddy of the Trumpster. Go Falcons!
The daughter and I climbed aboard a 1991 Cadillac hearse that was used as recently as 2011 to tour some of the purportedly haunted sites in Austin, Texas, on a Friday night.
1991 Cadillac hearse
Our first stop was the Confederate Woman’s Home built in 1906. Over 3,400 indigent widows of Confederate soldiers lived and died here until 1963, when funding and various reports of hauntings caused the building to be converted to office space. It is currently occupied by AGE (Austin Groups for the Elderly) who run programs like Meals on Wheels.
Tour guide Joseph Geaccone and I head for the Haunted Austin hearse to begin the tour on March 25, 2016.
Confederate Women’s Home.
After the stop at the Confederate Women’s Home our next stop was The Clay Pit. Currently an Indian restaurant, in 1853 Rudolf Bertram, father of 8 kids, lost 4 of them to various diseases. Two of his daughters, aged 8 and 10 died of diptheria, according to tour guide Joseph Geaccone.
Artesian well, source of contaminated water that is thought to have killed 4 young Bertram children in the Bertram building.
A son, who died a horrible death in the upstairs corner bedroom, contracted typhoid fever. It is thought that the well water was contaminated by being located too close to the outhouse and feces poisoned the drinking water. There was also a murder of a prostitute in the basement.
Basement of the Bertram Building, now the Clay Pit Indian Restaurant.
After visiting the Clay Pit, we moved on to the Tavern, a German-style pub built in 1916 that has a history of its own. The building was intended to be a tavern, but opened just as Prohibition began, dooming its chances. It became a speakeasy and, over the years, was also a grocery store, a gas station, and a brothel.
The Tavern in Austin.
The story told those of us on the tour was that an eager suitor who wanted a lady of the evening to come live with him did not want her 13-year-old daughter as part of the deal. When the mother balked at the suggestion that she distance herself from her child, the suitor murdered the girl. Emily, as she is known, was found in a storage area in the attic.
Location where the body of 13-year-old Emily was found.
Stairs leading to the room where a 13-year-old victim’s body was found.
After the Tavern, we stopped at the University of Texas tower where, on August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman shot 14 people to death from the height of the tower. He wounded 32 others and had killed his wife and mother before setting off for the tower to shoot down on the students below.
University of Texas Tower.
It took the police 96 minutes to respond to reports that there was a shooting in progress, and none of the authorities had the ability to reach the tower with their firearms, so they invited citizens to assist them and many went to the site to assist the police.
We made another stop at the Driskill Hotel, and, this time, I got a picture of the fabled vault. The story is that, during the Great Depression when money dried up, residents of the Driskill couldn”t get money so the hotel manager opened the vault and gave out money to the guests, without even asking them to sign a promissory note. The guests all paid it back and some paid it back with more money than they had borrowed.
Stacey in the vault at the Driskill Hotel.
Me in the Driskill Hotel vault.
Colonel Driskill’s $400,000 to build the hotel did not ensure him a long career in the hotel industry, as he lost the hotel after one year.
Following the Driskill Hotel stop (my second), we stopped at the most haunted stop on our tour, the Littlefield Mansion. Colonel Robert Littlefield gave the $250,000 to build the fountain in front of the University of Texas campus in 1920.
We stopped at the nearby Littlefield Mansion and pulled the hearse into the car port.
The Littlefield Mansion.
I asked my daughter to pose in front of the lovely wrought iron grillwork on the locked doors to the mansion.
Stacey in front of the Littlefield Mansion.
I took the following pictures through the front door of the Littlefield Mansion approximately 30 seconds apart. The light you see is the light at the end of the hall. Joseph (our tour guide) was fooling with the locked door, explaining how sturdy the lock was to have lasted all these years. Do you see anything through the door in Shot #2 that has materialized and approached as Joseph did this? Note the featured picture of the Littlefield Mansion and the “orb” in the upper left.
Second shot, taken a minute or so after Joseph messed with the locked door handle.
We’ve been adventuring here in Austin and one of the first places you hear about is the old Driskill Hotel, which is reputed to be hugely haunted.
The Driskill first opened in 1886. It opened and closed many times over the years, but has much history, including LBJ’s stints there watching the returns come in from his various elections. For years, until the event outgrew the hotel, the Governor’s Inaugural Ball was held in the Driskill’s Ballroom.
There’s the story of the old vault that still stands in the lobby area. In March of 1933 FDR put a temporary halt to all banking activity in the land, leaving the Driskill guests stranded without cash. Hotel manager W.L. Stark opened the vault to let guests take some out temporarily, asking only that they repay it (he did not even make them sign promissory notes.) The guests not only repaid the money they had borrowed, they put more back, besides.
Then there is the Maximilian Room, which was formerly a smoking lounge. The room’s enormous Carlotta mirrors were intended as a gift from Austrian archduke Ferdinand Maximilian to his wife, Carlotta. After years of civil war in Mexico, conservatives attempted to replace the elected President Benito Juarez with the Emperor Maximilian, but this effort, backed by the French, failed. Carlotta fled to Europe and never saw her husband again. Nor did she see the mirrors, which are coated with diamond dust and bear her image atop each of the 8 mirrors, which the Driskill picked up in San Antonio when they learned of their history. Ghosts are supposedly frequently seen in their reflections.
Probably one of the most interesting ghost stories involves a little girl whom the restaurant manager referred to as “Samantha.”
Her portrait hangs on the 4th floor and is very odd, with what appear to be shadows behind her. (My husband says, “That’s just your flash reflecting,” but you decide.) Samantha was in the hotel waiting for her father, a Senator, to finish a meeting when she followed a bouncing rubber ball and fell to her death down the steep stairs pictured.
Stay tuned for more unearthly tales of this and other Austin haunted sites. It is one of the most haunted cities in America according to the experts.
I came in to Chicago to pick up the daughter (from Denver) to drive her back to the Quad Cities, but good friend Mary Gerace had some other festive ideas for things to do in and around the city, including the free Chicago Youth Symphony concert at Chicago’s Symphony Hall, the Tuba Christmas concert at the Palmer House, and a performance of The Assassination Theater, which purports to prove who really murdered JFK (ending soon at the Museum of Television and other such things.
The Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra performance, which was free, was just as good as when I saw them perform with Ben Folds a month or so ago. No Ben, this time, but just as great a performance, with a tour de force performance from a young trumpeter who was voted the 2nd best in the U.S. in a competition.
Then came 266 tubas of all ages and sizes. Performers come from all over the state (the youngest was 10 years old) and outnumber those at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Tubas don’t often get to carry the melody, so it was fun to hear that many of them playing well-known Christmas carols. The audience was encouraged to sing along to the second verse. The house was packed. We had to arrive by 9 a.m. to get colored wrist bands or risk being in the “spill-over” room watching it on a TV feed. This was the 30th year for the event.
Then there were the lovely Christmas trees, including the one in Millennium Park barely a mile down Michigan from me, and the one in the Palmer House Lobby.
And, of course, Water Tower Place beckoned with shopping galore. Last night, when I was there, they planned to be open until midnight! Christmas Eve, demonstrators plan to demonstrate on the Miracle Mile, which the shops along there have claimed has cost them at least 30% of their normal business.
Last, but not least, I received word a while ago that I was one of the Finalists for the title of Best Indie Thriller of 2015 and had been named one of the Top 100 from among 12,000+ entries. I was sworn to secrecy until the newest issue of “Shelf Unbound” online magazine was published, however, and the Dec./Jan. issue is up now. I think “KHAKI=KILLER” is on page 58 (or 60?). Here is the link:
You can see the issue here: http://issuu.com/shelfunbound/docs/shelf_unbound_december-january_2015
Khaki = Killer is shown on page 58 or 60.
Lastly, MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEAR to one and all, and if you are of a different religious persuasion, as our Christmas card said, “Merry Everything.”
Book People bookstore in Austin, Texas, was recently named the Number One Independent Bookstore in the United States by “Publishers’ Weekly.”
The Color of Evil series on the shelves of Book People in Austin, TX.
I met with store manager Michael McCarthy the day before Thanksgiving, and all 3 entries in “The Color of Evil” series (“The Color of Evil,” “Red Is for Rage,” “Khaki=Killer”) are now on the shelves of Book People.
The book will also be featured on the large table up front, dubbed “the Whale” for 2 weeks and inclusion in the e-catalogue and a book signing may be on the horizon, once we spend more time in Austin.
The weather here is beautiful and no rain (so far). Forecast does suggest tomorrow might bring showers, but the past 3 days have been great.
On our way to dinner at the Royal Mayan.
When we arrived at Cancun International Airport, however, we were told it had been raining for 4 days straight, and the humidity in the air confirmed that.
On our way to dinner at the Royal Mayan.
We went to the beach today, rather than the pool. However, when it became unbearably hot, we joined a volleyball game in progress and played 3 games, all of which our team lost. (Apparently, I can barely serve overhand).
Another lovely day, with authentic Mexican food this evening at a poolside restaurant.
As part of my birthday cruise in July, I negotiated a week on land, free of charge. I assumed that week would be near the embarcation point (Barcelona), but my husband took the call and selected Playa del Carmen from the list of resorts that RCI would front us a free week on land.
Mayan Palace, Mexican Riviera, largest swimming pool in Latin America.
So, here we are in sunny Mexico, where the preceding 4 days before we landed were rainy. It was extremely humid when we landed and we learned that the inflated price we had paid for transportation to the Mayan Palace outside of Cancun would have been complimentary, had we identified as RCI owners. However, the main point is that we arrived, safe and sound, and spent today (our first full day) lounging poolside in 85+ weather.
Craig lounging poolside at the Mayan Palace.
Last night, on the recommendation of other vacationers, we ate in the Italian restaurant on the grounds. The special was lobster, shrimp and steak, and it was very good. The restaurant was so chilly that my glasses fogged up from the extreme difference in temperature from the heat outside to the A/C inside.
The Italian restaurant within the Mayan Palace.
The pool here is said to be the largest in Latin America, and that is not hard to believe when you walk along it, as it seems close to 2 football fields long. This area has several resorts (The Grand Luxe is another) built up in the same area and, according to those who own time shares, the place has grown by leaps and bounds. The beach here is also very nice, although not as nice, for my tastes, as the white sands of Cancun proper.
Looks almost like a nude pool, but it’s an optical illusion.
It is supposed to stay sunny and warm until Wednesday, so the pool will, no doubt, beckon until then, when a rain shower is predicted and the town of Playa del Carmen may beckon.
One of just three showings in the country of Michael Moore’s new documentary, “Where to Invade Next?” took place in Chicago during the 41st Annual Chicago International Film Festival on Friday, October 23, 2015.
What has lured Michael Moore, the documentary genre’s most entertaining rabble-rouser, back to feature films after a six-year hiatus? Only the future of his country, naturally. Where To Invade Next is a light-hearted, informative, and subversive comedy in which Moore, playing the role of “invader,” visits a host of nations (Tunisia, Iceland, Germany, France, Italy, Slovenia, et. al.) to learn how the U.S. could improve in coping with similar problems. The director of Fahrenheit9/11 and Bowling for Columbine is back with this hilarious, eye-opening call to arms. Where To Invade Next demonstrates that the solutions to America’s problems already exist in the world; those solutions are just waiting to be co-opted by the U.S..
The newest documentary offering from Moore—whose films have been among the most profitable documentaries ever produced—won the Founders’ Prize at this year’s Chicago Film Festival. Moore was present to accept it in person on October 23rd.
Attired in his usual rumpled just-fell-out-of-bed baseball cap, tennis shoes and casual gear, Moore looked over the group assembled at the AMC Theater on Friday, October 23rd at 7:00 p.m. and, noting the balcony, said, “It’s like aerobics to get up there.” He proceeded to say this was the first time a Midwestern audience had seen the film, as it had previously shown in the Hamptons and at the Toronto Film Festival, where it was widely praised (only 3 showings, to date).
As the film has not yet opened wide, the capsule above will suffice as a sneak peek, while the Q&A he offered to filmgoers on Friday, October 23rd, gives a look at Moore’s mindset now, 26 years after his film “Roger and Me” about the crash of the Detroit auto industry was filmed with the $58,000 Moore won in a settlement from “Mother Jones” magazine following his termination as its editor (for putting a fired auto-worker on the cover, rebelling against orders not to do so).
Q1: How can we in the United States get back our greatness? A1: Sometimes it’s as simple as voting for a guy from Chicago whose middle name is Hussein. Seventy-eight % of this country is composed of women and minorities. You can turn off the angry white guy vote and concentrate on what this country is becoming.
Q2: (from Chaz Ebert, widow of Roger Ebert, functioning as moderator) Your film seems very patriotic… A2: Will they say that on Fox News? (Laughs) I get death threats all the time. I get death threats and I’m happy to get them, because that means I can prepare. An AK47 went off in Rockford from some guy who wanted to assassinate me. His assassination list included Hillary Clinton, Janet Reno, and Rosie O’Donnell: a list of lesbians and me! I’m proud, but I’m puzzled.
Q3: You seem to be a one-man band. How much autonomy do you have in making your films and releasing your films? A3: “Bowling for Columbine” was a Canadian release. “Sicko” was the first film made with American money out of the gate. Before then, from 1989 to 2007, money didn’t come to me. Then, the Weinsteins and Paramount got into distributing my films. Now, these are entities that I don’t believe in. Money is the most important thing to them. I’ve done nothing but make them money—half a billion dollars worldwide. What is that old saying: “A capitalist will sell you the rope to hang yourself if it makes them a buck.” For this film, my agent broke the Number One Rule for agents, which is not to invest in your clients’ films and his company loaned me the money to make the film.
Q4: You and Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) started showing the industry that a documentary could be entertaining. Do you have any advice today for documentary filmmakers? A4: I hate the term documentarian. It’s just a film. We need to honor that. We need to tell a story, as with “An Inconvenient Truth” or Errol James’ work. I’m always making this for the audience. This isn’t finished without them. I’m just their stand-in. It’s just really not what I wanted to do with this body (laughs), making myself 50 feet high. I didn’t make my first documentary until the age of 35. Because of Roger (Ebert0 going to the mat for us, the world of making documentaries changed. Both Gene and Roger teamed up in 1989 and supported me and Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.” I was discovered by Roger at Telluride. He was supposed to be going to the Opening Night film, “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.” They put up opposite the opening night movie in a tiny theater at 1:00 p.m. (the Nugget). But Roger and I found each other at the food in the middle of the street. I begged him to come see my film and he seemed to be offended that I’d pushed so hard, as this was its world premiere, but when he came, he looked at me and said, “Don’t say a word. I’m only here because there was a crazy look in your eyes. Ebert took this picture of me (my first fan picture) with his little camera. The next day, in the Chicago paper, he wrote that “Roger & Me” was “One of the best films I’ve seen in the last 10 years.” So, I really owe a debt of gratitude to Roger Ebert, your late husband.
Q5: Why did you choose to make this movie? A5: People would say to me, “You point out all the problems we have, but you never point out the solutions.” A documentary is to give information. I wanted to show what’s wrong in the U.S. but none of the film is shot in the United States, except for the archival footage. And I wanted to pick the flowers, not the weeds. It’s been really well received. People say, “It’s a happier film. Mike’s in a better mood…” I think it’s going to reach a lot of people. Obviously, there are 20% on the far right who will never like anything I do. I think I didn’t make this film for a long time because it’s so unbelievable when you go out and find out how other countries deal with the same problems we face. Check my website for factual accuracy.
Michael Moore and producers on the Red Carpet on Oct. 23 in Chicago.
Q6: What will your next film be? A6: I’ve written 2 screenplays and my next film may be a fiction film.
Q7: You visit Germany in the film. What did you think about Germany’s austerity, vis-a-vis Greece? A7: There’s no Paradise among these countries. My personal opinion is that Germany has been a little bit harsh on Greece, but it’s amazing what the Germans are doing to take in refugees. They are doing some of the most amazing things, including teaching their young people about the Holocaust. They actually have little plaques embedded in the sidewalks outside the homes that were confiscated by Nazis in World War II giving the names of the original Jewish owners. They are not trying to keep their past secret, they are trying to change. If they can change their way of thinking around, certainly we can; we’re not Nazis. I don’t want that to be our new national motto: “We’re not Nazis! We can do better!” (laughs)
Q8: You support the union and there are union logos at the bottom of the screen at the end of the film. Are your films all staffed by union members? A8: All my films have been made with union workers. During the film on “Capitalism”, I was finally able to convince the camera and sound people to join their unions. I’m a big supporter of people joining unions. There is a tip of the hat in the film to May Day and Chicago, because Chicago in 1886 was the birthplace of the union movement.
Michael Moore, recipient of the Founders’ Award, at the 51st Annual Chicago International Film Festival.
Our last day on the one-week birthday cruise to Spain, Italy and France was a stop at Palma, Majorca. (*Note: I’ve seen it spelled as Mallorca, as well.)
I had always heard the British talk about vacationing there. When I was a People-to-People student at homestays in England (Chislehurst in Kent, Weston-Super-Mare and Birmingham), the locals raved on about how lovely it was on the island of Majorca.
2005 train that traverses the island.
I knew that Michael Douglas and his wife had a place there and asked our guide about it. He said that the place was far away from the only large city on the island (Palma, population 400,000) and that Douglas’ first wife, Deandra, was the one who really liked the vacation home. His current wife, the Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, does not like the place as well. According to our guide, the couple (Michael and Deandra) split usage of the home in half and, usually, Michael ends up in hotels, rather than the home he purchased with and for his first wife.
Heart of Palma, Majorca.
In order to tour Majorca we had to walk quite a ways to the center of town. It is not possible to drive the tour bus into the heart of the city because the streets are too narrow. In fact, the sidewalks were little more than a foot or two wide, yet cars zoomed down the narrow street putting all of us in peril as we walked to the heart of the city, where a small Cathedral greeted us.
There is a train that was built in 2005 that you can take around the island. It is the most popular tourist attraction, we were told, and goes through several tunnels that have been built on the island, cutting through the mountains.
We stopped at a cafe in the heart of the city, right in front of the Cathedral and where the train goes through, and had a Coca Cola and a beer. The couple seated next to us began chatting with us. He was an I.T. guy from Sweden and she was an elementary school teacher. They used to vacation in Fort Lauderdale, but now have actually bought a place in Majorca, instead.
View from the train en route around the island.
Craig said that Majorca was his favorite spot on the tour. That means he preferred it to Rome, Pisa, Naples, Florence, Cannes, Monte Carlo, Monaco, Barcelona, Munich and Pompeii.
Majorca was not ungodly hot. There was a lovely breeze blowing and it was, indeed, a rustic vacation spot, although it seemed rather sleepy to me, in the same way that Hawaii seems sleepy after you’ve thoroughly enjoyed the beaches and the beautiful vistas.
At Cagney’s Steakhouse on board the “Epic” cruise ship on July 23, 2015, on my birthday.
Fourth day was my birthday. We opted to sleep in and miss Florence ( been there/done that.) Heard the crowds were horrible and it was hotter than hell from those who journeyed in, which meant a 4-hour round-trip bus ride.We stayed onboard and used the casino. I was given a $25 free chip to bet (on one hand) which I immediately lost. Nestor, the bartender, set us up with free champagne in honor of the day, which was very nice, but we had the UBP—Unlimited Beverage Package—part of Norwegian’s “perks” to lure us aboard, so the “free” drink would have been “free,” anyway. (Thanks, anyway, Nestor!)
After resting up from the onslaught, we took off on July 24 at 7:15 a.m. for an 8-hour tour of Cannes, Monte Carlo and Monaco.
The first part of that statement strikes fear and loathing into my heart; the latter part (Cannes, Monte Carlo, Monaco) has yielded the pictures you see here.
I think this was my favorite stop of all, with the possible exception of the Pompeii tour (which was only 4 hours long.) Craig holds out for Majorca as his favorite, but that’s still coming up in a post for another day.
So, without further ado, here are some pictures of both the area of Cannes (we had to take small boats in to the port…tinders), Monte Carlo and Monaco.
The lavish casino you see was used to film “Casino Royale.” It should be noted that we saw Prince Albert go by in a limousine and our tour guide, Lucy, (whom no one could understand) was in complete awe, as she had never seen Prince Albert.
A “Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner! slot machine in Monte Carlo.
We told her to invite him onto the bus and tell him to “leave the driving to us.” (Ha!)