Forty Acres in Forty Hours

My crash course on the University of Texas at Austin.

I’M NOT SAYING I DIDN’T have fun when I attended the University of Texas at Austin, but I certainly never thought of it as a weekend getaway. Of course, this was back when the Tower was closed, the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center was as inviting to visitors as the FBI Academy at Quantico, and visual arts were limited to a few statues of dead white men and horses scattered around campus. But today’s UT, bursting as it is with cultural attractions, recently inspired me to go back to college (for a couple of days, anyway). I even worked up a syllabus for anyone wanting an introduction to Continuing Edutainment. Here’s to an easy A.

Friday, 6 p.m.—11 p.m.: “The Effects of Adult Beverages on Art Appreciation at the Blanton Museum of Art”

On the first Friday of the month, during the Blanton’s hoopla known as the B scene, join the long line of PIBWUFFs (People in Black With Unusual Facial Fur) snaking out the door of this year-old museum. The rewards for the wait are noshes and cocktails, hands-on art projects, and live music, all set against a backdrop of Picasso lithographs, contemporary Latin American sculptures, and Rubens portraiture.

Saturday, 10 a.m.—noon: “Introduction to Fist-Size Topaz and Plane-Size Dinosaurs”

Even before I became a fossil myself, I frequently pondered the wonders at the Texas Memorial Museum. Faced with its marvels of nature, I can hardly avoid the big questions, like whether the Texas beetles outfitted in iridescent green look more trustworthy than those in what looks like black patent leather. Or if I’d encountered the thirty-foot-long Onion Creek mosasaur one day in South Austin (65 million years ago, when I and the city didn’t exist), would I have had the nerve to ride him without a bridle?

Noon—2 p.m.: “Foraging in the Student Jungle” (self-paced)

Cypress Bend, in the morning shadow of Darrell K Royal—Texas Memorial Stadium and one of the few on-campus eateries open on weekends, is a convenience-store-cum-deli-cum-grill where you can collect picnic-ish specimens and dine alfresco along Waller Creek (an A+ location: the cypress-shaded patio behind the alumni center across the street).

2 p.m.—4 p.m.: “Light Is to Illumination as the Harry Ransom Center Is to _____”

You should have no problem filling in the blank given this nationally recognized repository’s dazzling inventory of photographs, manuscripts, and cultural ephemera. And the new, improved galleries expand the possible solutions beyond the ever-present Gutenberg Bible to include rotating exhibitions, like this spring’s “The American Twenties,” a survey of the modernist decade via movies, photographs, literature, correspondence, and art.

4 p.m.—5 p.m.: “Intelligent Design”

How did I miss the atmospheric Architecture and Planning Library on the second floor of Battle Hall, built in 1911, for four whole years? It’s the kind of place that makes you want to be smart. This is because of (a) the stacks of perusable texts, from arcane periodicals to stunning photo tomes, (b) the sunlight streaming through Palladian windows, (c) the serene quiet, or (d) all of the above.

5 p.m.—6:30 p.m.: “Long-range Perspectives and the Wow Factor”

Elevated discourse atop the University of Texas Tower, open only for guided tours, will include such topics as “Wow, Look at the Traffic on Interstate 35” and “Wow, Austin Looks So Hilly From Here.” The helpful guides will attempt to interject historical facts and statistics, such as the Tower’s height (307 feet), but please stay focused on generating your own banal exclamations. (Prerequisite: advanced planning.)

8 p.m.—?: “Performance Anxiety: The Paradox of Free Will”

Determinism plays no role here; you must choose from temptations as varied as, say, an evening of puppets, dancers, and musicians from Rajasthan, India, at Hogg Memorial Auditorium; an intimate musical encounter at the Cactus Cafe; or a Moonlight Prowl, a tour of historic hot spots on campus, like where UT won the first and only Southwest Conference title for streaking in 1974 and where Pig, a dog and the university’s first mascot, is buried.

Sunday, 10 a.m.—11 a.m.: “Reflections on a $15 Million Face-lift”

Tour the 77-year-old Gregory Gymnasium to catch a glimpse of its most recent makeover: a sprawling multi-pool aquatics complex, complete with lounge chairs and palm trees. Access for non-students is restricted, but the Sports Café is open to all should you be moved to present an oral argument, over a muffuletta or a wrap, on your sudden urge to enroll at UT. Or, as in my case, on the injustice that such facilities didn’t exist when you were a coed.

UT AUSTIN

A map of the campus, as well as information on museums, libraries, recreational facilities, and tours, can be found at utexas.edu or at the information desk in the Main (Tower) Building, 512-475-7348. Suggested online research: utopia.utexas.edu. Specialized studies: The entire university throws open its doors to visitors during Explore UT, March 3. Witness the earthshaking performance of T-Rex, one of only five ground vibrators of its kind in the world; watch a robotic light show; listen to a talk about yurts inside a yurt; and more.

Just-Off-Campus Extra Credit:

“Discount Appetizers and Serotonin Levels”: Pre-course study on Friday in the 1900 Bar at the Mansion at Judges’ Hill, a boutique hotel and restaurant, should include, but need not be limited to, the half-priced crisp Berkshire pork belly (512-495-1857, judgeshill.com Restaurant & Lounge). “Special Topics in REM Patterns”: The jointly owned Austin Folk House and Star of Texas Inn, in two 100-plus-year-old houses just west of campus, provide the comfy basis for deep, overnight study followed by breakfasts of gingerbread pancakes (512-472-6700, austinfolkhouse.com).

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