BOOKS: Start with the fact that the woman who discovered the origins of writing, Denise Schmandt-Besserat, sat at our table. They Eastern Studies professor — who taught me Egyptology 30 years ago — was up from another Hamilton Book Award. To my left was Luis Caffarelli, a leader in the field of partial differential equations, who later in the evening won the 2014 Career Research Excellence Award from the University Co-Op, which uses the Hamilton Awards to recognize publications by University of Texas faculty. Benjamin Ibarra-Sevilla and Kirk Lynn, from architecture and theater respectively, shared the Creative Research Award, and Rachael Rawlins from architecture took him the Best Research Paper Award for her work on planning for tracking on the Barnett Shale. The Grand Prize went to Denise Speilberg from history for “Thomas Jefferson‘s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders.” Runners up: Huaiyin Lin on Chinese history, Allison Lowery on historical wig styling and Mark Metzler on the postwar Japanese miracle. Held these days at the AT&T Center, it’s among the most illuminating nights of the Austin social season.
FOOD: Going against the grain, I paid little attention to the delicious bites, ambrosial sips or divine dusk at Laguna Gloria. Instead, for this glorious La Dolce Vita outdoor food and wine party to benefit the Contemporary Austin, I focused on longer conversations. The Contemo’s Louis Grachos told me about the Austin museum’s long-term plans and partnerships on public art, while Perdernales Cellar’s Fredrik Osterberg talked about his Swedish origins, his life in finance and his family’s decision to retreat to the Hill Country to make splendid wine. Tribeza’s Tim Dillon joined me analyzing the quitter, less manic tone at this year’s Dolce Vita. Artist Sean Gaulager filled me in on his recent doings and Michael Hoinski discussed the prospects of the often ignored Brush Square Museums. And those were just some highlights. Fave dish? Probably a version of mac and cheese from Ramen Tatsu-ya.Walking anywhere in Austin. Doesn’t matter where. Mostly, however, in the central city, where, thanks to the Great Streets program, pedestrians are safe, shaded, comfortable and happy. (austintexas.gov/page/great-streets)Sitting in sidewalk cafes such as Second Bar + Kitchen. There’s nothing more luxurious. And the pleasure can be had for the price of a cup of soup and a sandwich. The people-watching in Austin is priceless. (congressaustin.com/second)Reading anywhere. From the Texas Book Festival to BookPeople and South Congress Books. But especially on our front porch in the Bouldin neighborhood, where our attention is pleasantly interrupted by passing neighbors and strangers. (texasbookfestival.org, bookpeople.com, southcongressbooks.com)Parties at the W Austin, Driskill or Four Seasons hotels. Oh, any old place will do if the guests are right. But these three inns have been dishing out hospitality on a large scale for a long time. Some newcomers and old-timers are upping their games, too. (whotelaustin.com), (driskillhotel.com), (fourseasons.com/austin)Coffee at Jo’s, Seventh Flag, Caffe Medici or Houndstooth. There are more than 100 inviting, inventive and independent coffee shops in town. I end up at these candidates most often because their decaf is as good as the leaded, the wifi is strong and the people are pleasing. (joscoffee.com, seventhflagcoffee.com, caffemedici.com, houndstoothcoffee.com)Shopping at Trader Joe’s, Central Market, H-E-B or Farm to Market. I grew up in grocery stores. I visit them like landmarks when I travel. I’ll drop by any Austin market, including hometown giant, Whole Foods Market, but these other four take up the majority of my happy hunting and gathering time. (traderjoes.com, centralmarket.com, heb.com, fm1718.com, wholefoodsmarket.com)Researching at the Austin History Center, Briscoe Center for American History, etc. Austin is home to dozens of top-notch archives and libraries. In 2016, a new Central Library will open. I’ll be there Day 1. Meanwhile, these are blessed oases of insight into our past. (library.austintexas.gov/ahc, cah.utexas.edu)Any Longhorns sporting event. Lately, it’s been the volleyball team, whose play at Gregory Gym has been nothing less than electrifying. Still, the only two UT teams I haven’t seen in action are golf and cross country. (texassports.com)Any theater, live or otherwise. People sometimes forget that I spent more time in the theater than in the newspaper business. Really don’t mind seeing theater at any venue, but I’m grateful for Zach’s Topfer Theatre and the Long Center, in part because, yes, they are easy walking distance from our house. (zachtheatre.org, thelongcenter.org)The people. Every night, I go out. Not because I want to, but because it’s my job. As soon as I reach my destination, however, I’m delighted by the open, smart, kind, fit and fun folks that populate every strata of Austin life.