The Little Chair Belongs In The Great House

It turns out there is a recorded video (look for item 3C-4) of the Austin Historic Landmarks Commission (AHLC) meeting on July 25, 2016 which includes the public discussion of Dr. Jenny Lind Porter’s Casa Magni, her house slated for demolition. Hereafter I’ll refer to the house as Casa Magni because that’s what she called it (see my comment speculating on the origin from the July 26, 2016 post). I think it translates roughly to “great house.” Those of you familiar with Italian, please correct me. As you can see, the discussion did, in fact, go on for almost a full hour, well past midnight and they were by no means finished as there was a lot of other business on the agenda. I’m sure the commission members were there into the wee hours of the morning.

It is tragic, but I think the house will ultimately be demolished in spite of whatever the Old Enfield Homeowners Association (HOA) will discover in the next 60 days, which is the postponement granted by the AHLC.

And it’s tragic that my former teacher, who is 88 years old, was described as feeble and demented. This will happen to many of us who are fated to live that long. If you watch the full video, you’ll also see the discussion of a statue to be installed on a bench at the corner of a prominent intersection in honor of an Austin eccentric, Leslie Cochran.

If it’s important to Keep Austin Weird, would it also be just as important to Keep Austin Wise? Would it make sense to honor a teacher who taught thousands of Texas students, including those at Huston-Tillotson College (now Huston-Tillotson University), and who was named Poet Laureate of Texas by Governor John Connally in 1964?

I’m not suggesting that the best way to do that would be to try to restore Casa Magni. That’s probably not feasible. And I don’t pretend to know what would be the best way to honor her. In fact, I don’t know how Dr. Porter would want to be remembered. Sadly, there is no way to ask her now.

I thought about writing the current President and CEO of Huston-Tillotson University, Colette Pierce Burnette, who is the “first female president of the merged Huston-Tillotson University and only the second female president in the institutions’ 140-year history.” But I have no influence there.

Surely in this time of the first woman nominated to run for the presidency of the United States, there must be some way to remember a woman of letters who was a leader in the Humanities at time when it was dominated by men.

The opponents of the demolition of Casa Magni called for the preservation of it no matter the cost. But in this world there is a price tag on almost everything. What am I prepared to pay? I believe Dr. Porter was practical enough to have been aware of what her career choice might cost her, no matter how improvident she seems to have been judging from her present circumstances. It’s hard to reconcile the sublime with the humble, the grand with the comical. But I remember Jenny Lind Porter as someone with her head in the stars and her feet firmly planted on the earth. Humans are a strange mixture of starfields and beer commercials.

Whatever we can do to thank Dr. Porter, to remember her and other teachers who help shape not just our careers but our very lives, we owe them a debt which, though it can never be fully repaid, can be defrayed by treasuring their memory in our hearts and our deeds.

camp stool for CL Psychiatrists

Seggiolina–means “little chair”

The deeds don’t have to be great. They can be humble. Just the other day, one of my colleagues in Palliative Care Medicine lent me a camp stool to use because he knows that I prefer sitting with my patients so that I can be at eye level with them instead of standing over them at the bedside. My learners are always rushing around to find me a chair because there is often none to be found for doctors in our patients’ rooms.

Now I have a “seggiolina” (little chair in Italian–I think) as an answer to Dr. Porter’s Casa Magni. This way I can continue to act as a role model for a humble, humanistic approach to the always challenging interview of the patient in the general hospital in my role as a consultation-liaison psychiatrist–which is a lot like being a fireman, a very practical occupation indeed. And the trainees can quit running out of the room looking for a chair for me.


I think the seggiolina belongs in the Casa Magni.



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