El Paso The organizers of the Día de los Muertos Festival would like to clarify a few points. For starters, the holiday, which has Aztec roots, is not a morbid or sad occasion. Nor is it the Mexican version of Halloween; you won’t find any witches or goblins here. No, the Day of the Dead is a joyful commemoration of deceased friends and relatives that offers a chance to connect with long-gone ancestors (as well as rot your teeth nibbling on sugar skulls). For celebrants, death is not the end of one’s existence but the beginning of a new stage of life. And so they party accordingly. The festivities will start with Thursday night’s Culture Cruise, which will take visitors on a tour of local museums and galleries (many will serve hot chocolate and traditional pan de muerto). On Friday, revelers are invited to set up elaborate altars in Union Plaza to remember the departed (the memorials will be decorated with bright flowers, sweet treats, and other ofrendas, which can be purchased from vendors at the Bones Market). Later that evening, a funeral procession that’s anything but morose will snake through the streets of downtown led by actors from a local theater group who will be dressed in traditional skeleton costumes and as mojigangas, giant dancing papier-mâché puppets. And Saturday has even more in store with storytelling and theatrical performances for the kids, plus an exhibit on the use of skulls in Mexican art at the public library downtown. Nov 1—3. Various locations, 915-541-4481, elpasotexas.gov/mcad/dia/

Book Smarts

Austin It may not be as hyped as some of the Capital City’s other annual gatherings (South by Southwest, the Austin City Limits Music Festival), but the Texas Book Festival might be the most consistently impressive. As you skim through the long list of authors slated to appear at this year’s event, you realize that—cliché though it may be—there is something for everyone. The opening gala alone proves this, with featured guests Marlee Matlin (the Oscar winner has just published her third novel for children), Roy Blount Jr. (if you want to read side-splitting essays on all things Southern, pick up his latest), and Douglas Brinkley (the best-selling historian just came out with his account of Hurricane Katrina). Also in the lineup: Dagoberto Gilb and Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, who will be receiving Bookend Awards for their contributions to Texas lit; famous daughters Jenna Bush and Kristin Gore, who will be touting their new books; biographers Robert Draper and David Talbot, who’ve written about George W. Bush and the Kennedy brothers, respectively; and cookbook authors Paula Disbrowe and Robb Walsh, who’ll face off in the Cast Iron Cookoff. (Head to the official Web site to see the full list of participants.) The event has hit the $2 million mark in grants donated to the state’s public libraries and drew upward of 40,000 readers last year. As festivals go, this one holds its own. Nov 1—4. Capitol building and grounds, 11th & Colorado; 512-477-4055; texasbookfestival.org

World Vision

Fort Worth In 1998 Cowtown presented its own homage to the silver screen with the Fort Worth Film Festival, but the event was saddled with money trouble, never attracted more than two hundred attendees, and finally sunk in 2002. Now, not content to stand by and let Dallas have all the fun (the AFI Dallas International Film Festival was launched to great fanfare in March), the city is ready to try again with this month’s inaugural Lone Star International Film Festival. Given Fort Worth’s size (it’s the fifth-largest city in the state) and positioning as a cultural mecca (the museum corridor draws art snobs from all over), the common chorus seems to be “It’s about time.” So how will the LSIFF stand out from its peers? “We’ve made international selections our centerpiece and not just a sidebar,” says managing director Pete Asplund, explaining the LSIFF’s partnership with Fort Worth Sister Cities, a nonprofit that links locals with their global counterparts. Three countries in particular—India, Israel, and Hungary (Budapest is one of Fort Worth’s seven sister cities, six of which have submitted films)—will be highlighted this year, so expect to see top offerings from each as well as special guests. Organizers are anticipating some five thousand to six thousand cinephiles to attend screenings of more than sixty shorts and features of all genres, which will be shown primarily at the two AMC theaters downtown (there will also be a free outdoor screening in Sundance Square). Two local-boys-gone-Hollywood are behind the efforts. Tom Huckabee, the LSIFF’s artistic director, has been an industry insider—he’s worked as a writer, director, producer, and script consultant (often uncredited) on countless projects—for the past 25 years; his reputation, not to mention his impressive Rolodex, should help establish the festival’s street cred. Huckabee’s longtime best friend, actor Bill Paxton, is already putting more than just his name into this endeavor. The Fort Worth native has been doing his part to generate buzz for the LSIFF, chatting it up at benefit parties, proposing a commemorative poster series, and acting as the chairman of the advisory board. (“If my movie-business identity can help this film festival get started, then I’m glad to have a hand in it,” he told the Fort Worth Business Press in September.) As for more star power, actress Janine Turner (yet another Metro-plex-reared celeb) kicked off the media blitz at the LSIFF’s first press conference, and Martin Sheen is slated to appear to receive a lifetime achievement award (he has also handpicked a couple of his flicks for the occasion: this summer’s Talk to Me, starring Don Cheadle, and Da, a 1988 drama). Nov 7—11. Sundance Square, 817-735-1117, lsiff.com

The Road Less Traveled

Fort Worth When is a symphonic concert more than just a musical performance? When it transports you to another world. The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s presentation of Caminos del Inka this month aims to do just that by exposing audiences to the sounds, yes, but also the sights of Peru’s historic Inca Trail, an extensive network of paths that once covered some 14,000 miles (today, hiking through the Andes Mountains to see Machu Picchu is on any serious traveler’s to-do list). For the past fifteen years, music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya, who joined the FWSO in 2000, has been collecting compositions from his native Peru in an effort to preserve his homeland’s musical heritage. Now works that might have been forgotten or left to collect dust in South American homes and museums are being published and revived as new arrangements here. The FWSO will open the evening with “El cóndor pasa,” a traditional Peruvian song that will sound familiar to Simon and Garfunkel fans (the duo covered it in 1970), and follow it with Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout, a six-part string quartet written by composer-in-residence Gabriela Frank (herself of Peruvian ancestry). Complementing the melodies will be a slide show of stunning images of the people and landscapes of Peru, many of which were snapped by photographer Fabiana van Lente, who was born in Lima and is now based in Fort Worth. (The program closes with a non-Peruvian Brahms piano concerto performed by Roberto Plano, a Van Cliburn International Piano Competition finalist.) Of course, no culture—especially one as significant as the Incas’—can be fully captured in only a few hours’ time, but this concert should go a long way in piquing your interest in this far-flung region. And wait, there’s more: Harth-Bedoya has unearthed so many gems that a second Caminos del Inka installment is slated for February. Nov 16—18. Bass Performance Hall, 4th & Calhoun; 817-665-6000; fwsymphony.org

Buxom Bronze

Dallas “Muse” may be too weak a term to describe the wife of Gaston Lachaise. The French sculptor met Isabel Nagle, a married American ten years his senior, in Paris along the banks of the Seine in 1902, and as they say, that was that. Despite a budding career in his home country, he followed her back to Boston in 1906 and pursued his love until she eventually divorced her husband and they were married in 1917. She was his singular obsession and—with few exceptions—the only subject worthy of his artistic attention. “Woman: The Art of Gaston Lachaise,” opening at the Nasher Sculpture Center this month, illuminates his fixation with the female form. Many of the forty-plus sculptures on view are blushingly personal and sexually charged, molded to accentuate ample hips, slim waists, and full breasts. Limbs, if there are appendages at all, are delicate and nimble. Torso, a bronze relief completed in 1930, for example, is merely a muscular back that curves down to an improbably slender waist before exploding into an enormous bottom. (Lachaise’s ideal woman was no waif, though Isabel was a mere five feet two and 110 pounds.) His later works were increasingly erotic. In fact, several of the pieces shown here were not even cast in the artist’s lifetime because he thought them too scandalous for public view. In 1935 he became the first living artist to be honored with a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York. (He died later that year, when he was, arguably, at the peak of his career.) And though “Woman” may be long overdue (this is the first major museum retrospective of his work to be shown in Texas), the potency of Lachaise’s art—and the legacy of the love affair that inspired it—has not diminished. Nov 17—Feb 17. 2001 Flora, 214-242-5100, nashersculpturecenter.org

Holding Court

Dallas, San Antonio, Houston The Dallas Mavericks may have been the most exciting team to watch last season, but—once again—the San Antonio Spurs proved they were the team to beat. After finishing with the best record in the league, the Mavs looked as if they were going to give Mark Cuban the one thing money can’t buy: a championship. But after a first-round drubbing by the Golden State Warriors (not to mention season MVP Dirk Nowitzki’s major-league meltdown), all eyes—and wagering—turned to the Spurs, who went on to win their fourth title with predictable efficiency. Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets had another up-and-down year: Stars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming both missed considerable playing time due to injuries, and after a first-round playoff loss, coach Jeff Van Gundy was fired. Don’t be surprised if the 2007—2008 season plays out the same way for all three squads. Nothing lights a fire under a team’s Nikes like the “can’t win when it counts” flub that the Mavs suffered, so expect another strong run from a familiar lineup (Cuban did very little tinkering over the summer). The big question, of course, is whether the ghost of playoffs past will come back to haunt them in the postseason. The Spurs, on the other hand, will just get better, with Tim Duncan dominating at both ends of the floor and Tony Parker (that’s Mr. Eva Longoria to you) becoming more consistent with each drive into the lane. The Alamo City should prepare for another victory parade down the San Antonio River. And the Rockets? Well, new coach Rick Adelman has a bit of a project on his hands, but if the players can stay healthy and Yao and T-Mac get the support they need (the returning Steve Francis should help in the backcourt), they might just surprise us all. Dallas Mavericks. Nov 3: Sacramento Kings. Nov 5: Houston Rockets. Nov 13: Philadelphia 76ers. Nov 15: San Antonio Spurs. Nov 17: Memphis Grizzlies. Nov 20: Toronto Raptors. Nov 26: Washington Wizards. Nov 28: Minnesota Timberwolves. Nov 30: Portland Trailblazers. American Airlines Center, 2500 Victory Ave; 214-747-6287; nba.com/mavericks. San Antonio Spurs. Nov 2: Sacramento Kings. Nov 7: Miami Heat.Nov 11: Milwaukee Bucks. Nov 13: Los Angeles Lakers. Nov 16: Houston Rockets. Nov 21: Orlando Magic. Nov 23: Memphis Grizzlies. Nov 28: Washington Wizards. AT&T Center, AT&T Center Pkwy & E. Houston; 210-225-8326; nba.com/spurs. Houston Rockets. Nov 3: Portland Trailblazers. Nov 6: San Antonio Spurs. Nov 9: Milwaukee Bucks. Nov 14: Los Angeles Lakers. Nov 17: Phoenix Suns. Nov 21: Dallas Mavericks. Nov 24: Denver Nuggets. Toyota Center, 1510 Polk; 713-758-7200; nba.com/rockets