Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Two Memorial Days

Yes, I firmly hold that there are TWO Memorial Day holidays on the calendar. When I was a boy in Boise, every 30 May, that is, Memorial Day, my parents, sister and paternal grandmother would go to Cloverdale Cemetery in Boise to decorate Grandpa Graham's grave. My memories of this are as clear as memories of boyhood Christmases.

Then came the federal government move to change some holidays to always falling on Mondays. One was Memorial Day, which went from 30 May to the final Monday. And of course, this simply led to many citizens viewing the holiday as an extended weekend in which to celebrate the unofficial start of summer with picnics, visits to lakes, etc. This leads to so many forgetting the first significance of the day, which also used to be called "Decoration Day".

Now, as far as I know, Grandpa Graham never served in the military, and it wasn't until I was an adult that I came to understand that Memorial Day was primarily to remember the military dead and most particularly the combat dead. But you know, he WAS buried in a cemetery where all the grave markers were identical - just like military cemeteries such as Arlington. (Only they weren't identical upright stones but rather metal plaques flush with the ground.) And especially when I learned such significance, I continued to think of Memorial Day as more proper on 30 May - and especially in years when that day would fall on the day before or after the final Monday (the current observed holiday).

This occurred in A.D. 1999, when I visited my best friend of that time at Ft. Lee, VA, heard a great sermon about the meaning of Memorial Day by an Army chaplain on Sunday the 30th (the traditional holiday) in Ft. Lee chapel, and then we all went to D.C. on Monday (the observed holiday) and among other things visited Arlington National Cemetery. I was awed by the seemingly endless rows of identical gravestones, most marking the graves of military dead and some who gave their lives in defense of these United States.

After moving to San Antonio four years ago, I got to attend Memorial Day ceremonies in nearby Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery (on the observed day). These were every bit as patriotic and memorable as those of Arlington. This year on the observed day (Monday the 29th) my neighbor and I went to the cemetery early to pay our respects to the dead and see them setting up for the later ceremony. Then I had to go to work at Fiesta Texas, and he had other things to do also.

I went a couple of hours early, so I could check out the changes that Six Flags administration had made to the water park, which they had also renamed from Armadillo Beach to White Water Bay. Then it was "to work" on the train. Can anything that fun really be called "work"? And after we shut down the train for the night I re-entered the park to see the "Lone Star Spectacular" laser and fireworks show before heading home to bed. Viewing the colorful, musical (mostly country with a little rock, a little Mexican-American) tribute to the Lone Star State always makes me very proud to be a Fiesta Texas employee, a San Antonio resident & a Texan. God bless Texas! God bless America!

The next day (the traditional holiday of the 30th) I was back "to work" on the train for the A.M. shift. But I was still remembering the dead before I went to the park. We had a quiet day at (Six Flags) Fiesta Texas, with few visitors or "Guests" as we call them. Still, I mentioned the "two" Memorial Day" holidays to a couple of people during this day.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Streets of San Antonio

In previous blog postings I've named a few of the streets of San Antonio. In my travels by VÍA bus around the city I've become very familiar with some of the major streets. I've found that this city shares one characteristic with Nashville, Tennessee. Some major streets change name without making a bend or a jog or any other logical reason for the name change. (I don't know, perhaps this is a characteristic of most metropolises?) For example, Buena Vista Street of the Westside enters downtown as a one-way east-bound route, then changes its name to Dolorosa Street, and then at Main Plaza changes its name to Market Street! The latter change apparently happened when an angular connector was forged thru the square to connect the two streets. But why the former switching of names?

Changing the topic slightly, I'd like to now give a list of my "Top Ten" favorite streets of this city:

1. Zarzamora Street. I like this north-south street of the Westside, first because of the charming sound of its name (in Castilian Spanish it's "thar-thah-MOH-rah"; in Mexican Spanish "sar-sah-MOH-rah") - "bramble" or "mulberry" in Spanish. And second because of some of its attractive addresses, such as the Basilica of the Little Flower on the north section. This church looks like a church straight out of el Bajío, the region of central Mexico containing several charming cities whose fortunes were made in Spanish colonial times by area mines. There are a few other charming churches on Zarzamora, including one in the Spanish mission style on the south section. And then there is Salzamora's Café, where I like to eat; the food is "nothing to write home about", but the decor is charming (featuring paintings of Westside life by a local artist) and I personally know the owner-manager. And my favorite mural on a Westside business is on Zarzamora, north section.

2. Calle Guadalupe (a.k.a. Guadalupe St. or Avenida Guadalupe ). My Westside church sits on Guadalupe at the corner with San Jacinto. A block east of the church is the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center and next to it Guadalupe Plaza, and further west are cantinas emitting conjunto music, and other colorful businesses, some of which sport mural wall art. Just recently I noticed one cantina called "Guadalupe Cheers", and the "Cheers" part of the name is exactly like "Cheers" 1980s television show! Wonder how much they had to pay in royalties for use of the name of the TV bar?

3. Broadway Avenue. Leads from downtown north and northeast into the '09 ZIP where I live. In fact, when I moved here in A.D. 2002 I first lived on Broadway across from Brackenridge Park and near Mahncke Park (which gives its name to the neighborhood). And the Witte Museum, the campus of Incarnate Word, the two Jim's Restaurants where I worked the longest, and Alamo Heights High School where I now do sub-teaching are all on Broadway.

4. Nueva Street. I tried to think of ONE downtown street to include, and this one's entirely within downtown. It has Casa Navarro, the restored home and store of Texas Revolutionary patriot José Antonio Navarro toward its west end, and La Villita (the "Little Town" restored first "suburb" of S.A.) and HemisFair's entrance archway at its east end.

5. Durango Boulevard. This one passes thru the southern part of downtown. The east section of Durango passes the Institute of Texan Cultures, marks the southern boundary of HemisFair and then the north boundary of the King William historic neighborhood. Close-in on the west section of Durango is Sidney Lanier High School. Further west, Durango intersects Zarzamora at Salzamora's Café (see #1 above).

6. Roosevelt Street. Goes past Mission San Jose, the Visitor's center for S.A. Missions N.H.P. and passes not far from the other missions of that park (See my posting about the old Spanish missions). 'Nuf said about why I like THIS street!

7. Thousand Oaks Road. Yeah, funny that I shound include a Loopland thoro'fare. But I find Thousand Oaks attractive because it has a fine branch library toward the east and a couple of actually attractive strip-shopping centers toward the west. Including one named Mil Encinos, the Spanish version of the street's name. And there probably ARE 1000 encinos or live oaks along this way!

8. Flores Street. The north section of this passes along the west side of San Pedro Springs Park and is one of the streets of "Five Points", a historical intersection in the near northwest from downtown (and it IS historic - there's a texas Historical Marker there). The south section passes thru the Harlandale neighborhood of the south side, to link up with Roosevelt just north of Ashley Road; this road has a church where I go often for gospel music concerts.

9. New Braunfels Avenue. The south section goes out past McCreless Mall to the former Brooks AFB. The north section passes thru Fort Sam Houston next to its historic quadrangle (unfortunately, since 9-11 both gates on New Braunfels are permanently blocked), and then by my other church.

10. Nacogdoches Road. Another main road in Loopland, but it begins in Alamo Heights, intersects North New Braunfels not far northwest of where I live (and still within the '09 ZIP) and continues out into the country to the northeast. In fact, it was originally a portion of the route going that way to Nacogdoches in East Texas. It was thus a part of El Camino Real, the "King's Highway" of Spain's Empire in North America. Comanche Lookout Park, with the new and environment-friendly Semmes branch library are on Nacogdoches Road in Loopland. (See? Not everything about "Loopland" is bad; it's not the REAL San Antonio but it has it positive elements.)

Well, that's the "Top Ten" of my favorite streets/roads in San Antonio. And yet there are many other streets that I really enjoy. Such as Nogalitos Street. I'm still trying to figure out how it got the name of "little walnuts"; nevertheless, I delight in passing along the street on the bus.

And then there are Austin Hwy., Basse Road, Brazos Street, Castroville Road (which is Guadalupe after it bends toward the west-southwest), Ceralvo Street, Eisenhauer Road, Freeman Drive, Ingram Road, Pleasanton Road, Poplar Street, Rigsby Road, South Presa Street, Southcross Street, Woodlawn. . . So many delightful roads and streets here!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Busy yet Blessed Day

Yesterday I posted a blog about the S.A. Spurs losing against the Dallas Mavs and being eliminated from the NBA playoffs. And since Monday I've overheard lots of casual talk all over the city, about the loss. But I try not to dwell on it (see my blog before THAT one.)

Beside, I was too busy yesterday and having too much fun to get vexed over a sports loss that's history. Yes, Wednesday was a very busy, and yet very blessed day! It began with Bible study over breakfast at Mama's Café, an eaterie on Nacogdoches Road not far from me where I've eaten a few times. Nice homey atmosphere, nice food, reasonable prices. And this Bible study, a new one to me that my eye doctor had recommended, was a true learning experience. Later I got in on the last part of a Bible study at my church on the Westside, Mexican Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). And it was another good learning experience (and it didn't hurt that MCC's weekly study is followed by lunch there at the church).

Between the two Bible studies I got to participate in a VÍA bus publicity event. It was called "I Ride the Bus" or "VIP" for Very Important Passenger. The PR director for VÍA was busy going around sticking round medallions saying such on everybody. And there WERE some VIPs in the original meaning of the acronym: VÍA Board Chair Tim Tuggey (who rides the bus regularly), some other Board members including my friend Leo López, a City Councilman, a County Commissioner, and County Judge (former S.A. Mayor) Nelson Wolff. Some of them spoke to the cameras regarding the importance of the public transit for economizing during the current increase of cost of gasoline. And then we all got on a regular bus, headed for the South Side. I intended to only go part way out on the line, then get off & catch a bus back to downtown. But the VIPs (original sense) had a similar idea, along with grabbing a breakfast taco between buses. And I was invited to join them! So, I got to have a taco and coffee along with Leo & the others in a typical charming taquería on South Flores Street!

In the afternoon I rode bus for awhile with Joe, a driver whom long I've esteemed as brother in Christ and who probably is my best friend here in the Alamo City. Later I attended a meeting to which I had been invited by e-mail (thanks to my volunteer work on VÍA's Citizen Advisory Council), about the OST100 Roadshow, hosted by the San Antonio Conservation Society. The Society, which began in the early 1900s as a group of ladies determined to halt the continuing ruination of the old Spanish missions and to preserve other historic edifices in the Alamo City, is a group I should have joined right after my arrival here. (After all, dues are only $20 annually.) The meeting began with mingling while munching on fresh-cut fruit and veggies, cookies, sandwiches and cheese, and sipping ice tea or wine.

Then, after a brief business meeting, including voting (by members only, of course) for board members, the Society turned the meeting over to the OST100 Roadshow. The Old Spanish Trail is an East Coast to West Coast highway route set up in the 1920s, across the coastal flats of the Gulf States and on across the Border States, connecting areas which had originally belonged to Spain's New World Empire. This OST was headquartered here. Efforts are under way to relocate the exact route of the OST highway in Texas and all eight states. (It ran approximately where the later US 80 and US 90 were set up nearer to mid-century; all these highways were superseded by IH Ten.) And then in a few years the Centennial of the OST will be celebrated all along its old route, including with a motorcade from St. Augustine, Florida (east terminus) to San Diego, California (west terminus). Sounds interesting to this longtime lover of history!

Upon leaving this OST100 Roadshow meeting I went to my other church, Alamo Heights Christian (Disciples), for choir practice. Choir practice is always a joy to yours truly, who loves to sing and especially in a choir or other singing group.

So-o-o, as you can read it was quite a busy day! And not "busy-at-work" either (actually, I had the day off from paid work, since Alamo Heights ISD schools are in final exams). Indeed a couple of the events were fo a party nature! Didn't I tell you that San Antonio is a city whose middle name is "party"? Speaking of which, the preacher at Mexican Christian on Mothers Day, began his sermon by remarking how San Antonio likes to party!

Oh! And I tho't I was the ONLY one who had noticed the "party animal" characteristic of this city!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

About the '06 Spurs

Being a resident of San Antonio and a fan of sorts of our most famous professional sports team, the NBA Spurs, I suppose that I cannot let another day slip by without SOME comment on their recent elimiation from the playoffs by our rivals, the Dallas Mavericks. Certainly I overheard numerous comments from my S.A. neighbors on Tuesday morning.

In brief, I was very disappointed. I had considered how nicely geometical (symmetrical? whatever?) it would be if, having earned their FIRST NBA title in 1999 and again in '03 and again in '05, the progression of 4-2-1 had been played out with another crown in '06! And THEN we also could honestly begin boasting of a "dynasty"!

All that, of course, is ashes now, thanks to the Mavs. And I join thousands of other San Antonians in being blue. So, what happened? After all, the '06 season was the best (in wins) of all seasons in Spurs history!

Well, I don't want to make lame excuses or sound like "we were robbed". Honestly, the best team AT THE TIME OF PLAYOFFS probably won. The the day of Game 2, the Mavs being in S.A., the local daily (the Express-News) printed a front-page article comparing S.A. and that city up north that "tries to out-New-York New York". The paper didn't use THAT particular line; I'd ehard it years ago while living in Fort Worth. I think the article as a whole was meant in good-natured, Texas-neighborly, humor. However, I could see how some Dallasites just might take offense at a few of its observations. E.G., that Dallas sprawls - as tho' S.A. doesn't? So, the article MAY have pumped up the Mavs to play harder.

I saw the game on TV. It was five individuals in silver and black (Spurs colors) playing on a court against a team of eight, three of whom were striped. And our team did look more like five individuals rather than a team. No wonder the home team imploded! And never really recovered.

Finally, the classy coach of the Mavs is a Christian gentleman (unlike his boorish owner-boss, Mr. Cuban) who used to play on our classy home team. Yup, Avery Johnson used to play in a silver & black uniform. No wonder he knew our Coach Pop's strategies; he used to have to follow them on the floor! Coach Pop is the local affectionate diminutive for the Spurs' head Coach Gregg Popovich.

To Coach Pop & the players, I say, "Guys, chins up! Just plan on being better, and truly championship material, next year! And let's hope we get impartial refs next time around!"

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Help wanted!

Dear reader, if you are a Christian and a prayer warrior I NEED YOUR HELP!!!

Last Friday I received my monthly paycheck from the school district, and because it also was the final Friday of classes I went out to celebrate. To choose a place to have my celebratory dinner I played "bus roulette". If bus number such-and-such arrives first I will go in that direction to that destination, but if another bus number shows up first, I go another direction to a different destination. By that means I ended up on San Antonio's famous Riverwalk, at the County Line Barbecue. Years ago I had eaten some fantastic beef ribs at another County Line, so I ordered such. And yes, they were as delicious as I remembered (I think the "secret's in the sauce" -seriously).

But, folks, they were BEEF ribs - THREE of the monsters! Truly, I should have take one or two home in a "doggie bag". But nope, I dived right in and munched, munched, munched until only the bones were left. Glutton! That's why I need help, if you're a prayer warrior! The Apostle Paul castigates certain "enemies of Christ" with tears, because they are ones "whose god is their belly" among other characteristics (Philippians 3:19, KJV). Ouch! I DO NOT WANT my belly to be my god! Nor do I want to be an enemy of Christ due to such! Pray for me! Seriously!

To end on a less serious note, I could say that I wasn't just celebrating the end of the school year and the arrival of a nice paycheck. I could say that I was celebrating, by way of anticipation, numerous athletic teams I support playing to victory that evening. In NBA playoff series Game Six, at Dallas, the San Antonio Spurs beat the Mavs, and in a game I listened to on the radio my beloved S.A. Missions beat Corpus Cristi at Nelson Wolff Stadium here. I also found out that baseball teams from two of my university alma maters (the third lacks varsity baseball now) had won: TCU and Vanderbilt. And the next morning my Dad phoned from Boise to inform me that my high school alma mater, Borah H.S. (Class of '72) had won the State Track & Field meet in both boys and girls track. I was manager for the Track team (then only boys) my senior year.

Alas! for S.A.'s pro teams the fortune didn't continue. Last nite (Monday) the Spurs lost at home in overtime to Dallas, to be eliminated from the NBA playoffs. And the Missions went into extra innings in Tulsa before falling in their Texas League game against the Drillers. Thank God I don't let sports be the end-all and be-all of my life, like some men do!

Now, if I could just keep my appetite from being the end-all & be-all! PRAY for me, please!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

They were NOT failures!

Being the lover of history that I am, the story of the founding and progression thru the years of the city of San Antonio is a dear subject, and has been for a couple of decades. And here & there in my reading of various documents -- mostly those for popular, quick reading -- I've stumbled upon statements about San Antonio's history which are inaccurate and aggravating. One of these is that "San Antonio has been a military city from the beginning". as tho' this explains its current US Army post and two Air Force bases, the Veterans Hospital and the popularity of S.A. with retired veterans. Well, "official" military presence here goes back to 5 May 1718 -- and the mission that was the raison d'etre for this city was founded four days before that! And indeed the presidio (fort) of four days later was founded TO PROTECT the mission! In other words, the Spaniards probably wouldn't have erected a military post here if the mission hadn't existed!

The other item of popular literature and urban legend, concerning the Spanish missions, that "gets my goat" is that the five missions were "failures". The basis for this evaluation seems to be that the missions were all "secularized" in the last years of the Eighteenth Century or the first decades of the Nineteenth, and then fell into disuse or other use, and the native Coahuiltecan converts vanished leaving no trace.

My guess is that the authors who focus on "secularization" are interpreting the term by the current popular understanding of the word "secular" v. "religious". They do not understand that in Catholic terminology "secular" is applied to clergy and sacred buildings, and means "general church" as opposed to religious orders like the Franciscans or the Jesuits. The goal of missionary effort in the Spanish Empire was for the religious-order missionaries to found a mission, get it flourishing and self-sustainable, and in (ideally) ten years "secularize" it, that is, turn the property over to the converts and the church building and its functions over to the "secular" clergy -- and move on to found a new mission.

True, the five San Antonio missions didn't follow the ideal timetable of ten years. There were many problems on this northern frontier of Nueva España that didn't occur in missions among the more settled natives of central Mexico. The Coahuiltecans were unaccustomed to settled life, the Apaches and later the Comanches attacked often and fiercely, and the Spaniards introduced diseases for which the Coahuiltecans had no immunity. When this latter struck in the form of a plague, the surviving converts would flee into the wilds to escape the disease(s), and then have to be persuaded by the Franciscan friars to return to the missions. For this and other reasons it took considerably longer to reach the goal of transforming these nomadic Coahuiltecans into solid, practicing Catholics, settled agrarians and secure, loyal subjects of the King of Spain.

And. . . while the friars persisted in their efforts among the natives, outsiders kept showing up to reside in or near San Antonio. Most notably, in March of 1731 it was the settlers sent by royal order from Spain's Canary Islands. Living on a remote frontier of the far-flung Spanish Empire and facing the continuous hostility of Apaches and then Comanches, I would theorize that the inhabitants of the three distinct "districts" that made up the settlement generally known as "Bexar" in the final years of the1700ss -- the Canary Islanders' San Fernando de Béjar, the mission of San Antonio de Valero (along with the other four missions nearby), and El Presidio y la Villa de San Antonio de Béjar - - even tho' squabbling about such matters as water rights, felt a need to band together and support one another. And in this process of mutual support on a wild frontier, there was much intermarriage between the Hispanics and the natives. Thus, when San Antonio de Valero was secularized in the 1790s the residents of the mission were in process of blending into the populace of the Béxar community. The parish priest of San Fernando Church took over the providing of religious services for them. Indeed, it is an established FACT that records from the mission were simply added to the archives of the parish church that later became San Fernando Cathedral.

Much the same was occurring at the other four missions. True, population was dwindling away in the early 1800s. But was this entirely due to the natives dying of disease or Apache attack? Or was there also intermarriage of the natives with Spaniards or Mexican mestizos who were settling the area and taking up ranching and farming. (Let's not forget, BTW, that the very FIRST cowboys in Texas were the Coahuiltecan Indians whom the friars encouraged to take up livestock raising.) And again, it's an established FACT that some residents in the mission area of S.A.'s south side trace their ancestry back to the original inhabitants of San José or Espada, etc.

And some of these residents are worshiping today in the mission churches -- where their ancestors were converted to the faith! Furthermore, S.A. may have its prominent military aspect, but I also find it to exhibit a strong spiritual ingredient in its community life. A spirituality that I affirm leads to the remarkable unity, neighborliness and lack of overt racism in this eighth largest city of these United States!

No, these five old Spanish Franciscan missions were not failures! They weren't smashing successes either, but the spiritual legacy lives on!

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Missions! Most Precious Gems in Treasure Chest!

No, this time I am writing about the historic buildings, and not the city's Texas League team (see my 7 April post for the baseball Missions).

Many folks in addition to me believe that San Antonio has numerous sites and events worthy of attention -- a whole treasure chest full of jewels. And yet only two or three receive much billing nationally. The Alamo, the Riverwalk, Fiesta San Antonio, the NBA Spurs. These are gems of which ANY city would be proud. But, folks, let's take a look at some of the other jewels in this chest. And let's begin with those which are in my opinion the most precious: the old Spanish missions.

Actually, The Alamo could be included right here, because it was founded as a mission by the name of Misión San Antonio de Valero. Indeed, its founding was the start of what is now the eighth largest city of these United States. (See my post on 5 May, about S.A.'s birthday.) But once it had been closed as a mission and the remaining Coahuiltecans became a part of the general Bexar (S.A.) community it was taken over by the Spanish army to serve as a fortress against the raids of the nomadic Apaches and Comanches. And that's how it's remembered today, as a fort and the shrine of Texas liberty.

So let's turn to the other four old Franciscan missions. Together these four form S.A. Missions National Historical Park. This park is unique in its arrangement, because while the federal government runs the general grounds and facilities, the Catholic Church continues to use the church buildings as active parishes, and cares for those buildings itself.

Misión San José y San Miguel de Aguayo is the best-known, since it's on Roosevelt, a major thoro'fare of S.A.'s south side. Also, San José was the second mission to be founded here, the only one that wasn't moved here from elsewhere, and was founded by "The Apostle of Texas" Fray Antonio Margil ("fray" = friar in Spanish), a most remarkable Spanish Franciscan missionary. Mission San José was the most successful in its mission of converting the nomadic Coahuiltecans into believers in Christ and civilized citizens of the Spanish Empire. Finally, it's the best restored to its original appearance. Hence, it's called the "Queen of the Missions".

Closer in to downtown is Misión Concepción (in full, Misión Purísima Concepción de Acuña). The church building and adjoining rooms of the friars' convent are all that's left of the compound here. But the church has not had to be significantly restored, making it the oldest unrestored church building in the USA. The acoustics of the domed sanctuary have been favorably compared with the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.

A few miles south of San José and on the east bank of the river is Misión San Juan Capistrano. No, not the one of the swallows song - that one is in California. A full-sized church building was never completed here, but the chapel serves today for Mass for the small rural parish - many of whom are descendants of the first Coahuiltecan converts to worship here. All this is also true for the fifth and final mission.

Furthest away from the developed city area is Misión San Francisco de la Espada, or Espada for short. This would probably be my favorite of the five missions if it were more accessible. Its chapel features an intriguing Moorish-arched front door, above which is a three-bell belfry (Capistrano sports a similar belfry). "Espada" is Spanish for sword, and no one yet knows definitively from whence came this name-suffix for a mission named after a very peaceful saint, and nowadays still located in a peaceful, rural setting. Also, note that this mission, like Concepción and Capistrano, was moved here from East Texas. When it was originally founded (with a different name-suffix), San Francisco became the first and thus the oldest of the Spanish missions in what Spain considered to be the Province of Tejas. Missions near El Paso are older, but Spain (and later Mexico) considered Tejas or Texas to extend no further west and south than the Nueces River, between San Antonio and the Rio Grande.

So there you have it, a brief description of the most precious of the many jewels of San Antonio. If you ever get opportunity to visit S.A., DO NOT MISS the missions!

"Music Under the Stars" at the Mission

Last Friday (the 12th) I enjoyed one of the most pleasant concerts -- if not THE most pleasant -- I've ever attended. It was a "Night Under the Stars" at Mission San Jose. EVERYTHING was perfect! The evening sky was clear, with a steady light breeze, low humidity and temperatures in the 70s. Well over a thousand people, young, old and middle-aged spread out in couples, families or solo, with lawn chirs and blankets festival-style on the green grassy expanse of the mission enclosure, around and under the wispy-leaved mesquite trees. Some partook of picnic meals they brought from home.

Indeed, what better venue for an outdoor concert than the "Queen of the Missions"? The Spanish-frontier Baroque church building provided a most impressive backdrop for the performing groups.

The performers were all very talented volunteer musicians and/or singers from a large, San Antonio-headquartered insurance and banking firm begun by military officers for military and their dependents. (And USAA just happens to be my bank!) These were: the USAA Jazz Band, "Lift Every Voice" gospel choir, and the USAA Concert Band & Chorus. The music these USAA folks freely provided was very, very delightful!

As the gospel choir sang their inspiring spiritual songs, while swaying rhythmically in the traditional Afro-American manner, two insights came to me. First: here was a gospel choir, which one associates with Protestant Christianity and sometimes fundamentalist Protestantism, with an ancient Catholic church building still housing an active parish behind them -- what a terrific picture of the wonderful life of unity amid variety that animates this eighth largest city of the USA! And second, as the musicians played and singers sang they simply were carrying forward the heritage of the earliest inhabitants of this ancient mission compound. For years ago I had read in one of the relaciones (reports) written by a visiting Spanish Franciscan inspector, that the Coahuiltecan converts here at Mission San Jose sang and played musical instruments beautifully!

To top it all off, in its segment of the program the Concert Band and Chorus did a"A Scottish Tribute" using a number of songs from my ancestral land (some of my ancestors, anyway). They commenced with "Scotland the Brave" -- my very favorite tune to hear on the bagpipes, and the Chorus sang words to it when I hadn't known before that it had lyrics -- and including such other songs as "The Campbells Are Coming" and "Loch Lomond". (Too bad they didn't have a piper.) I had come directly from work and so still wore a necktie. I turned to the couple beside me, with whom I carried on intermittent conversation, and remarked that had I known they were going to do this tribute to Scotland, I'd have worn my Graham tartan necktie instead!

The couple beside me was from Ohio, and now that the husband's military training here was finished, were about to return to the Midwest. I am confident that they took with them at least one cherished memory of this city: this incomparable, musical, "Night Under the Stars" at Mission San Jose!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Parks & Open Spaces

Currently San Antonio is being presented with three potential plans to change the looks of Main Plaza, also called "Plaza de las Islas" in honor of the Canary Islanders who arrived in A.D. 1731. Mayor Phil Hardberger is proposing that the city make the square a friendlier, quieter, more useful public space.

I do not wish at this time to get into these proposed plans, other than to say I enthusiastically support aspects of the plans that would enhance the landscaping and appearance of this plaza, and I vigorously oppose the closing of any streets surrounding it.

What I do wish to do here is celebrate San Antonio's public parks and open spaces. My "top ten S.A. parks", not necessarily in order of preference, are:

1. Brackenridge Park. One of the oldest and largest, featuring the headwaters of the San Antonio River, the nationally-acclaimed San Antonio Zoo, a "miniature" train ride, a large undeveloped area, picnic shelters, playgrounds, and the adjacent Witte Museum and Japanese Gardens.

2. San Pedro Springs Park. This is not only the oldest S.A. park, but the second oldest public space in these United States, exceeded only by Boston Common; in addition to the springs, it has a swimming pool, picnic tables, tennis courts, a branch of the library and a playhouse.

3. Milam Park. On West Commerce between El Mercado and Santa Rosa Hospital, it sits on the location of the first cemetery, with a monumental statue of Texas Revolution hero Ben Milam, an old-fashioned bandstand or gazebo and playgrounds.

4. HemisFair Park (or Plaza). Between Alamo Street and IH-37, it's the former grounds of HemisFair 1968, S.A.'s World's Fair of that year; featuring a rustic playground, old and restored cottages, the Tower of the Americas and the Institute of Texan Cultures.

5. Mission Park(s). By this I refer to the riverside linear green space south of downtown, with bicycle and walking trails leading to the old Franciscan missions, and I include Padre Park and the other park stretching away from the river itself & containing athletic grounds and picnic facilities.

6. Rosedale Park. At Martin St. and Gen. McMullen on the Westside, it has shelters & playgrounds, and is site of the Tejano Conjunto Music Festival and other Chicano celebrations thru'out the year.

7. Guadalupe Plaza. Between Guadalupe and El Paso streets in the near Westside, it's not actually a plaza or a square, & with very little grassy area doesn't exactly fit one's concept of "park" either, yet it hosts many open-air events for the Westside.

8. Alamo Plaza. The remaining buildings (church and the "long barracks") of The Alamo edge this plaza, which has the Alamo Cenotaph at the north end and a bandstand or gazebo at the south end.

9. Main Plaza. It needs improvement on landscaping, lighting and other features to make it a more inviting space. But even now I enjoy going there.

10. Roosevelt Park. On Roosevelt Street near where it originates out of South St. Mary's St., it has a swimming pool and is near the San Antonio River.

Other parks I'm familiar with are Travis Park, Maverick Park (each of these two downtown spaces is a simple city block with trees and grass, walks and either a monument or a shelter), Northridge Park (within walking distance of my room), MacArthur Park (a small but inviting park with playground & picnic shelter, on Loop 410 Northeast), Olympia Park (across Basse Road from a laundromat I use frequently; after putting the clothes to wash I go across to swing or just enjoy the quiet, open ambience), Mahnke Park (stretching from Broadway across from Brackenridge Park uphill to the Botanical garden, the uphill half of it is ablaze with wildflowers in the Spring, if we've had sufficient rain), Olmos Basin Park (behind Olmos Dam built as flood control for the San Antonio River drainage, it has huge trees, picnic shelters, open picnic tables, athletic fields), Woodlawn Park (around Woodlawn Lake & site of a major Independence Day celebration), and Comanche Lookout Park (in far northeast S.A. it has the third-highest landform in the county, walking trails and a brand new & ecologically-friendly branch library).

And there are other popular parks, to which I've never been. A couple I'd really like to go to some day are: Comanche Park on the East Side, MacAllister Park on the North Central side, and Camargo Park in the southwest near Nelson Wolff Stadium (S.A. Missions baseball). Speaking of which, I ought to include such great open spaces as the baseball stadium just mentioned, and our two theme parks: Sea World and Six Flags Fiesta Texas. S.A. has well over 100 parks & similar open spaces in total!

Monday, May 08, 2006

About San Antonio's middle name

In my last posting, I celebrated Cinco de Mayo, and spelled out the true significance of the holiday. Also, I told about how this holiday is actually celebrated more ardently among Chicanos or Mexican-Americans than it is by residents of Mexico in general.

Well, later on Friday evening I attended a rather unique Cinco de Mayo observance, on the Westside at Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. The San Antonio Symphony gave a free concert, accompanied on some of the musical numbers by dancers of the local Guadalupe troupe. I was rather surprised that the symphony folk wore casual polo shirts (when one hears the word "symphony" it calls up images of men in tuxes & bow ties and women in log evening gowns). But never mind the apparel, they sounded terrific! And the dancers likewise were talented. There was more than one standing ovation!

So, even tho' Fiesta had ended six days earlier, Cinco de Mayo had called forth festive spirit once again in San Antonio. Indeed, El Mercado, the Mexican Marketplace, had food & souvenir booths set up again (or left set up from Fiesta?) and a sound stage for live musical celebration of the 5 May holiday.

In earlier years, when Fiesta was over and I sent out e-mail to that effect, I would conclude that it was time to get back to "a normal life - if normal is possible in a city whose middle name is 'party'!"

Truly, if the City of Saint Anthony has a middle name it IS "party". Right after Fiesta is Cinco de Mayo and also this past weekend the Tejano Conjunto Festival (as if my Chicano neighbors hadn't had en'uf of the border-born accordion-driven music during the nights of "Tejano Explosion" at Cattlemen's Square during Fiesta). Mother's Day is this Sunday, when many S.A. moms will get serenaded with Las Mañanitas, a traditional birthday and other special occasion song from Mexico. Then comes Memorial Day (big observance at Fort Sam Houston National Military Cemetery, among others), then early June's Texas Folklife Festival. . .

Get the picture? San Antonio's middle name IS "party"!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Cinco de Mayo - ¡Viva México!

Today is a day to remember a major historical event - of Mexico's saga. As I said before, in my inaugural posting, San Antonio will party at the drop of a hat. Including a sombrero with "5 de mayo" on it!

Actually Cinco de Mayo is celebrated more ardently north of the border than south of it. Only in Puebla, east of the capital city, does this day get nearly as much notice as it does in these United States. (Keep reading & you'll find out why the attention in Puebla.) And PLEASE do NOT mistake Cinco de Mayo for Mexico's Independence Day! That one is Diez y Seis, that is, 16 September.

Cinco de Mayo remembers that on 5 May A.D. 1862, an outnumbered, under-trained & under-equipped Mexican militia army defeated the invading French army - one of the most advanced armies of that time - at the battle of Puebla. Thus, like Diez y Seis & like Día de la Raza (Columbus Day), it provides occasion for display of ethnic pride among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans or Chicanos.

And tejanos or Chicano residents of the Lone Star State, such as those of S.A.'s Westside barrio, can take added pride during Cinco de Mayo. You see, the underdog Mexicans' commanding general, Ignacio Zaragoza de Seguín, was born a Texan - in what was then called La Bahía in the Mexican state of Coahuila y Texas. Now General Zaragoza's birthplace is named "Goliad". S.A. being the nearest major city to Goliad, it's most appropriate for us here to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

So-o-o-o, ¡Viva México! ¡Viva Texas! ¡Viva Cinco de Mayo!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Final Word about Fiesta & 27

Yesterday in my posting about the end of Fiesta, I mentioned that I had attended 27 events of S.A.'s great annual party. Well that actually becomes true tonite, when I visit the "Mexican Spirit of Fiesta" exhibit at the Witte Museum. I've done this every year of living here, because the museum is free on Tuesday nites & its annual Fiesta-specific exhibit remains for some days after the end of the party.

Also, 27 is counting every event I went to on any given day, even if I also visited it on other day(s). This is the way they count Fiesta events in print publicity, get the 100+ events they announce. Therefore, I count each of my three days of attending Fiesta(s Fantasías) del Mercado in the Mexican Marketplace. Each year I'm there on two or more days,because it's so accessible, it's free, and the four stages feature a different line-up of musical entertainment each day.

I was reviewing the Fiesta brochure to make sure I was recording each of the events I attended. Then compared it with info about Fiesta in various of San Antonio's newspapers and the tourist/visitor monthly magazines. In a Spanish language newspaper I read a headline "Fiesta: 10 días de no perder la sonrisa." How true, how true! "Ten days of not losing the smile!" I noticed that a tourist magazine categorized the events. Good idea, since that helps put some order to those 100+ events (again this counts each of the days an event takes place). Here are the categories, with events I attended (most free admission):

Military: Fort Sam Fiesta (this year I didn't go on-post but watched the fireworks finale with my neighbor Dennis), US Air Force Band of the West "Fiesta in Blue" concert in Laurie Aud. at Trinity Univ., All-Veterans Salute at the Vietnam Memorial downtown.

Parades: River Parade, Battle of Flowers Parade, Pooch Parade.

Family: (they included "Earth Day" at Woodlawn Park in this in the magazine, but I haven't yet made that one; perhaps next year?), Fort Sam Fiesta (see above in Military), Mission San Jose Fiesta de la Familia.

Music (Live): the parades (except Pooch), Ft. Sam (but I didn't hear this aspect as I watched the fireworks from a distance), Mercado, UTSA Fiesta, Air Force Band "Fiesta in Blue" concert, Tejano Explosion, jazz festival concert at St. Mary's Univ., Fiesta San Fernando, MSJ Fiesta de la Familia.

And then, one could also categorize some events as "block-party" style, such as MSJ, San Fernando, Mercado - and King William (historic neighborhood south of downtown) and NIOSA in La Villita in downtown (I attended neither this year).

Oh, and how about food events? Whoops! That would be almost all Fiesta events! The ones I attended that did NOT have food were "Fiesta in Blue", the art exhibits, St. Mary's jazz concert and the Pooch Parade. Good! My stomach needed the rest! :-)

About the "Birthday" yesterday, 1 May

At the start of my posting of yesterday, Monday 1 May, I related how on that date in A.D. 1718, San Antonio commenced its existence, and therefore I wished my city "Happy brithday". Now, for a few details about the origins, for you history-lovers. And sure do hope I'm not the ONLY history-lover in cyber-space! :-)

On 1 May, 1718, missionaries of the Franciscan order (they aren't "monks" living in a monastery, BTW; they're "friars" as in "Friar Tuck" of Robin Hood fame & they live out in the world) founded Misión San Antonio de Valero (to give its whole Spanish name) along San Pedro Creek between its springs (nowadays in the park of the same name) and what is now downtown. Within a few years the mission had been moved east and south to the east bank of the San Antonio River, and then to its final location nearby, at what is now the northern portion of Alamo Plaza. And yes, after its purpose as a mission had been fulfilled and the remaining residents from the Coahuiltecan tribes had been absorbed into the local populace of Spaniards, the mission compound became the fortress known as The Alamo.

However, The Alamo wasn't the first fort or military presence in San Antonio. Four days after the mission was founded, on 5 May 1718 the accompanying Spanish Army officer founded El Presidio de S. A. de Béjar (or Bexar, hence the county name). "Presidio" means "fort" in Spanish, and there is actually a current U.S. Army post by that very name located at Golden Gate Bridge. At first the presidio was at or near San Pedro Springs, and it had a supporting community of the same name. But in 1722, whe the Marquis de Aguayo came to Texas to drive the French back to Louisiana and strengthen the Spanish presence, he moved the fort and its village to what is now Military Plaza (Plaza de Armas) downtown. This placed it closer to the main river & to the mission.

So, the mission, the fort & the fort's village were the beginnings of permanent settlement here! The Coahuiltecans had a village in the area, called Yanaguana, but they were semi-nomadic & thus the village moved from time to time. The Spaniards called these movable villages rancherías.

In 1731, Mission San José having already been founded downriver, and three East Texas missions having just been relocated also downriver, a group of settlers from the Canary Islands of Spain arrived. Settlement of a couple hundred Canarians had been recommended by Aguayo to further strengthen Spanish hold on Texas. The King approved - but only fifty some Islanders made the long arduous journey.

The Islanders were welcomed by the presidio commander, who assisted them in founding their own settlement, which they named San Fernando de Béjar in honor of the Crown Prince of Spain of the time. San Fernando was the name of a medieval Spanish king who was renown for his holy living and effectiveness in the Reconquista struggle to take the Iberian Peninsula back from the Moors. When later the Islanders laid the cornerstone for a church, it too was named after the Spanish saint. Thus, this year the Canary Islanders' descendants and the cathedral are celebrating 275 years of San Fernando here.

But as you can see, San Antonio's origins as a permanent settlement go back several years before 1731. And altho' the military has always been a presence here (today there are still a US Army post and two Air Force bases), the VERY START of this city was as a mission post for spreading the Gospel and civilization here in Texas!

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Party's Over, but what a party! Whew!

Today is 1 May, which a few generations back used to be called "May Day" and featured young women dancing around the Maypole. Then it lost popularity, due to Marxists taking it to celebrate "the worker" and communism. But a more significant meaning for the First of May is that on this date in A.D. 1718 Spanish Franciscan missionaries founded Mission San Antonio de Valero -- and thus began the settlement that became the eighth largest city in these United States. So, "Happy birthday, San Antonio!"

BTW, the mission, first of five founded by the Franciscans along the river here, later on became the fortress known as The Alamo.

But in this Year of Our Lord 2006, 1 May has yet another significance. It's the Monday following the final day of Fiesta San Antonio, the closing Sunday. And folks, what a party-to-end-all-parties it was! Indeed! I set new personal records: for attending at least one Fiesta event each of the ten days, and for attending a total of 27 events all together. I may also have set a new record for attending new events (not counting my first Fiesta as a resident of this city, A.D. 2002).

After Monday nite's River Parade (see earlier blog post) I had considered that that parade was challenging the Battle of Flowers Parade for being my favorite of all parades. But then came Friday, and the BoF itself. And it was THE BEST of the BoF parades I've seen! As custom, I took a folding chair with me on the bus, set it up at Third and Broadway (where the parade turns from the latter street to head toward The Alamo), and enjoyed a bit of the food being vended in the many nearby booths. Such as gorditas, which are puffy tortillas slit open and stuffed with meat, lettuce, tomato and other typical ingredients of an ordinary taco. And then the Battle of Flowers Parade passed by in all its glory.

For those who don't know, the Battle of Flowers Parade is the original Fiesta event, celebrated in 1891 when the city's society women chose the first visit of a U.S. President to San Antonio, Benjamin Harrison, to honor the heroes of The Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto, by riding flower-bedecked horses-and-buggies in front of the shrine of Texas liberty and then throwing flowers at one another. No "flower-fights" nowadays, but still plenty of flower images and lots of color! LOTS of color!

I suppose the hi-lite of THIS parade (among all the parades of Fiesta) are the floats that carry the young ladies of the court of the Queen of the Order of the Alamo. Each year the court/royalty floats feature a specific theme, and this year's was Hollywood movies. The Queen's float arrives first, bearing only Her Majesty. (All other court floats each carry three royal ladies.) This year's Queen,a native of S.A., will graduate next month from Vanderbilt University with a Bachelor's in Art History. Her educational connection caught my attention because I, too, have a degree from Vandy. She smiled brightly at me when she heard me cheer for VU!

Well, folks, I could go on and on about the many events I attended. But let me cut to the chase, so to speak. Saturday nite, after leaving my work-shift on the train at Fiesta Texas themepark, I took the Express bus line into downtown, got off and walked the two block to Cattlemen's Square and Fiesta's "Tejano Explosion" event. This "explosion" of live Mexican-American music goes on every nite of the Fiesta, but Saturday's headline act was "La Tropa F", one of the most accomplished & popular of tejano music in its conjunto style. And they were terrific!

Then Sunday afternoon and evening I did my customary closing of Fiesta by attending Mission San Jose's Fiesta de la Familia. It's a gr-r-r-reat way to close out Fiesta, because it's a very relaxed block-party type activity, not terribly crowded, family-oriented with plenty of live music. And of course it's hosted by the church parish of the "Queen of the Missions"! But topping off this year's Mission San Jose Fiesta event was "Little Joe y la Familia" -- one of the greatest legends of Chicano music, a very leading group in the outbreak of popular Chicano music in the mid-to-late 1900s. So on the final two nites of Fiesta 2006 I partook of delightful & talented música a la mexicana. Or at least a la Mexican-American.

I should add that Little Joe earned a Grammy for his recent album "Chicanismo", from which he sang two or three songs. And I was impressed that on most of the songs, the crowd was singing right along! It was loudly evident that this legendary group is still quite popular with my Mexican-American neighbors!

This Fiesta shared two aspects with last year's. I was very conscious of the musical element (as I mentioned in e-mail reports last year, at that time I came to realize that the live music is one reason I cherish Fiesta). And as I walked away from the Fiesta de la Familia, to go around the historic mission compound's walls and catch the bus home, in my mind I could hear Willie Nelson singing:

"Turn out the lights, the party's over.
They say that all good things must end.
Call it a night, the party's over,
And tomorrow brings the same old thing again."

But he wasn't singing very loudly. After all, I was quite tired from all the ten days of busy partying. And Little Joe y la Familia were still singing away in Spanish, back there behind the mission compound and me.

Oh, I must conclude this with a remark I made to a fellow bus rider as I was going from one Fiesta event to another in the past day or two. Keep in mind that fiesta means "party" in Spanish. I told this fellow rider that I live at La Fiesta Apartments, I shop for groceries at La Fiesta Stores, I work seasonally at Fiesta Texas and I like to attend lots of Fiesta San Antonio. And I concluded, "This means that I'm a real 'party animal', I suppose." :-)