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Written by Lori Moffatt

On Monday night, as a brief thunderstorm brewed over Austin, I witnessed a marriage of art, nature, and technology that left me speechless and reverent. Along with a dozen or so other guests, I ventured to the rooftop garden of the University of Texas' Student Activity Center to experience sunset at artist James Turrell’s The Color Inside, a new, permanent skyspace commissioned by Landmarks, the university’s public arts program. Since Landmarks debuted several years ago, the program has brought more than 20 pieces by nationally renowned artists to the UT campus.

Turrell, known as a “sculptor of light” has long been fascinated with light, color, space, and perception. More than 80 Turrell skyspaces exist around the world; this one is comparatively small, with room for about 25 people at a time. Entering the elliptical skyspace feels similar to entering an inexplicably comfortable cave, the black basalt benches are hard (but don’t seem so) and they’re angled so that it’s simple to gaze upward through the hole in the ceiling.

The night of my visit, the curved nature of the space united us ––mouths open, gasping in wonder at times –– as we gazed through the hole (Turrell calls it an oculus) into the sky. As the sun began to set, LED lights projected color into the ceiling and walls, creating vibrant color washes of pink, lavender, periwinkle, yellow, orange, and green. The oculus somehow intensifies the sky while making it more abstract; at times, it’s hard to discern where the walls end and the sky begins. Birds flying across the oculus become a dramatic event, as do random clouds, and a plane (if you’re lucky).

At one particular moment, surrounded by a wash of periwinkle blue and lavender, gazing skyward at an inky sky while raindrops cascaded through the oculus like diamonds, I may have had an out-of-body experience.

While The Color Inside is open for observation throughout the day, Turrell considers his art to be visible only at sunrise and sunset, during light sequences. Timing, of course, depends on the season. (Because the Student Activity Center is usually closed at sunrise, your best bet is to make a reservation for a sunset experience; be prepared for a wait. Because the installation just opened to the public on October 19, interest is very high, but don’t despair. The wait will be worth it.)



The Light Inside, photo by Lori Moffatt The Color Inside, photo © Lori Moffatt

photoThe Color Inside, on the 3rd floor of the Student Activity Center (at 22nd and Speedway) is free to experience. To make a reservation, visit

In the December 2013 issue, we’re running a story on San Antonio’s annual Tamales! Festival, which takes place this year on December 7 at the former Pearl Brewery complex, a 22-acre site that now boasts restaurants, shops, apartments, and—soon!—a boutique hotel. With free admission, free parking, and more than 40 vendors offering treats ranging from tamales to kettle corn, Tamales! is a great kick-off to the December holidays. I attended the event last year in preparation for this year’s story, but first—to get an idea of the hard work involved in making tamales—I attended a tamales-making workshop at the Witte Museum hosted by longtime tamales queen Gloria Solis.

According to weather forecasts, cooler temperatures arrive in Central Texas this weekend. While it won't be quite sweater weather, these projected 80-degree days most definitely foreshadow fall and fall festival season in Texas. What are you waiting for?

It seems like ages ago: In 2008, I had the pleasure of editing Tom and Karen Fort’s story on the golden age of Rio Grande steamboating, which appeared in the July issue that year. Tom contributes another piece to Texas Highways this month (December 2013)—a piece on the Rio Grande Valley’s Civil War sites, and as I was chatting about the story with my colleague Matt Joyce, I remembered what a great resource historian Jerry Thompson was to us. A professor of history at Texas A &M University in Laredo, Thompson writes about the tumultuous pre-and post-Civil War decades along the Rio Grande with humor, compassion, and clarity.  For anyone wishing to study the period, I highly recommend two of Thompson’s books, A Wild and Vivid Land: An Illustrated History of the South Texas Border and Civil War and Revolution on the Rio Grande Frontier: A Narrative and Photographic History (co-written with Lawrence T. Jones III).


I know it sounds crazy to drink hot chocolate when the temperature is still regularly above 90 degrees. But on a recent trip to Houston, I couldn't resist the chocolate confection with chocolate made in-house from cocoa beans imported from Oaxaca at Hugo's, which serves its frothy cup with fresh, hot Mexican churros. Look for our story on Hugo's and its terrific hot chocolate in the Drink section of the December issue. Until then, do you know of any other spots in Texas that serve amazing hot chocolate?

Hot Chocolate at Hugo's, with ice cream and churros; Photo by Lori Moffatt Hot Chocolate at Hugo's, with ice cream and churros; Photo by Lori Moffatt

I recently made the short drive from Austin to Elgin, a town about 25 miles east of the city via US 290. I’d heard about a new wine bar and home décor shop on the town’s historic downtown strip, and I realized: While I frequently pass through Elgin on my way to Houston, I’d never really explored the town except to stop for barbecue at Southside Market or Meyer’s.

Suited up for hive inspection. (Photo by Lori Moffatt)

As a kid, I briefly wanted to be an entomologist. This career choice never received full support from my parents, who probably realized that the jars of fireflies and boxes of desiccated beetles that brought me such joy one summer would eventually gather dust in the garage beside the rock polisher.

For the August 2013 print issue of Texas Highways, I wrote about a Madeira tasting, held at Austin's Red Room speakeasy, which featured the wines of Haak Vineyards in Galveston County. Haak is the only Texas winery that makes Madeira a richly flavored fortified wine that is usually produced on the Portuguese islands of Madeira.

The nightlife scene continues to heat up on Austin's Rainey Street, a former residential byway in the shadow of downtown. Transformed in recent years with bars, restaurants, and food trucks, Rainey Street draws crowds interested in craft cocktails, local beers, and food ranging from authentic Oaxacan fare (at El Naranjo) to Indian (at Raj Mahal). And now, Rainey Street boasts Austin's first food truck devoted to Southeast Asian Noodles, DFG Noodles.

In Austin, artists and musicians are finalizing prepwork for this weekend's Art City Austin Festival (April 13-14), which transforms the streets surrounding City Hall and the 2nd Street entertainment district into an outdoor art fair. Among the reasons to go: Hundreds of artists will display their works throughout the festival grounds, more than 150 pieces of art enliven the galleries inside City Hall, local food trailers offer sustenance and libations, musicians perform non-stop, and perhaps best of all-the weather promises to be spectacular! Tickets cost $8; free admission for kids age 12 and younger. It's also free if you ride your bike!


Interactive kids' activities at Art City Austin

First produced in 1951 as the Texas Fine Arts Association's Spring Juried Art Fair, the event, renamed "Art City Austin,” moved downtown in 2008. It's organized by Art Alliance Austin, which works to advance the city "by integrating art, culture, and creativity into public life." 

Among the many things I learned at the second annual Austin FOOD & WINE Festival, which took place at Austin's Butler Park April 27-28, here are my favorite take-aways:

It’s day four of the South By Southwest Film festival, and I’m reflecting on the busy weekend. So far, my experiences as a passholder have been positive—I’ll admit I was worried about standing in line only to get bumped by badgeholders, but so far this hasn’t happened. Friday night, the opening night of the festival, I attended a packed showing of one of last year’s festival favorites, the Australian horror movie The Loved Ones. I knew it would be dark (reviewers billed it as Sixteen Candles meets Carrie), but I was unprepared for the level of gore, and it was only when I began to focus on the makeup skills required for such effects that I could open my eyes fully during certain scenes.

Day two began with dark skies and nearly continuous downpours. My first plan, a midday screening of the documentary about musician Charles Bradley, a James Brown doppelganger whom I had seen perform at this year’s Austin City Limits festival, didn’t pan out. Screening at one of the 40-person theaters at downtown’s new Violet Crown venue, the film filled up before I got in the queue, so instead I headed to the Paramount, where a long line of people snaked around the building, huddling beneath umbrellas and hoping to gain admission to the World Premiere of the film Trash Dance, a documentary about choreographer Allison Orr’s spellbinding dance project with the City of Austin’s Solid Waste Services.

Orr, whose Forklift Danceworks ( has created ballets with firefighters, service dogs, and Italian gondolas, orchestrated a dance with garbage trucks, cranes, and other sanitation equipment on the abandoned tarmac of Austin’s old Mueller airport, an event I witnessed live this past summer.  This, the documentary about the project, illustrated how Orr won the trust of the 24 Solid Waste Services employees who starred in the production, most of whom entered the project with healthy skepticism. With a score by Austin composer Graham Reynolds, the film made me (and many other audience members) laugh and yes, cry. After the show the cast and crew took the stage amid stand-up applause and cheers, I realized that this moment—the marriage of audience and cast— is what makes seeing a film in a festival setting unique and worthwhile. It was a theme I’d witness multiple times over the weekend–the sense that somehow we’re all participating in this creative endeavor together.

Later on Saturday, I stood in line with other passholders at the Alamo Village, chatting with strangers and hoping to gain access to the film The Babymakers, a comedy about a young couple trying to start a family. After failing to conceive, the male protagonist stages a heist of the sperm bank to which he had donated years ago–and hilarity ensues. A Q&A after the film with director Jay Chandrasekhar and fellow star Kevin Heffernan made the experience doubly worthwhile.

The third film I screened on Saturday, the Seattle-made Fat Kid Rules the World, blew me away. It tells the story of an overweight teenager who finds salvation of sorts in the discovery of punk rock, and the characters were so fully drawn that I felt as if I knew them by film’s end. The cinema was full of cast and crew, so energy was high, and a pre-movie chat with my neighbor, who worked with lighting design, gave me an appreciation for an aspect of filmmaking I hadn’t considered. When the director, Matthew Lillard, told us that he had been an overweight teen himself, I realized why certain scenes seemed so authentic. As with the screening of Trash Dance, the appearance of cast and crew reinforced the sense of a supportive and involved movie community.

The sun emerged on Sunday, and with the sun came the crowds. Plans to see the documentary The Source, about a group of LA followers of controversial restaurateur-turned-spiritual-leader “Father Yod” in the 1970s, were thwarted by parking problems. But later in the day, I once again headed north to the Alamo Village to see the Texas-made movie Kid+Thing, a moody drama about a young girl in East Texas who discovers—yet chooses not to rescue—a woman who had fallen down a well. While the scenery was evocative and the young star—12-year-old Sydney Aguirre—excellent, the movie didn’t speak to me personally. But others in the audience disagreed, and that inconsistence reminds me of the subjective nature of moviegoing, and what a wonderful thing it is that we all have different tastes!

Five down, more to come. Stay tuned!

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