Dia de los Muertos commemorations deeply rooted in city’s past

To know San Antonio is to understand that this is a town essentially Mexican… and that the way to see the town at its liveliest and gayest is to take part in one of the fiestas of the folk. In these fiestas, with the exception of a few severely religious rites, nobody is merely a spectator: everybody takes part. There are two kinds of fiestas, secular and religious. But often the two are intermingled.

Charles Ramsdell, San Antonio: A Historical and Pictorial Guide, 1959

When I first moved to San Antonio in the late 1970s, I not only lived here but had to write about it. Almost immediately, I found myself having to come up with monthly features on the city. Pre-Internet. Charles Ramsdell’s 1959 edition of San Antonio: A Historical and Pictorial Guide became my adopted textbook.

San Antonio was love at first sight. It snagged my affection with my future in-laws’ fresh lime margaritas and a deep dive into a Border Patrol Special – the works – at Karam’s. Its Mexican-ness seduced me, particularly under Ramsdell’s tutelage.

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Postcard from Cadiz, Spain: ‘Show us your shoes’

The headline only makes sense in San Antonio, Texas. A city filled with parades this time of year, although far from religious in nature. Crowds along the streets yell “Show us your shoes” to duchesses, princesses and queens riding high upon their floats throughout Fiesta San Antonio.

Of course, no one does that in Cadiz during Semana Santa. The continual processions are solemn commemorations of Holy Week.

The floats, or pasos, bear statues of religious figures, not real people. So, watching, you find yourself yearning to focus on the hundreds of participants accompanying the floats bearing the Virgin Mary and Jesus.

But individuality obviously is not the goal.

The Nazarenos are disguised under their capirotes designed to funnel their penitent prayers up toward heaven. You begin seeking eye contact with those continually tugging their hoods to keep their eyeholes in a functional alignment. Is that person male or female? Altering centuries of tradition, many members of today’s “brotherhoods” are women. Found myself analyzing all the different shapes of the robed figures: Is that a pregnant woman or a short beer-loving man or woman? And what does a collapsed cap mean?

The teams of costaleros bearing the weight of the pasos on the back of their necks are hidden under the floats’ heavy velvet skirts. Only their shoes are visible, but the alignment of their footwear conveys how closely they are crammed together and the teamwork required to step in unison as they slowly pound the cobbled streets. Once in a while, you can view them switching out the tired team for a fresh one or someone lifting the skirt to check on their welfare. And we stood next to a rare team of women anxiously preparing to crawl under an unusual paso with wheels to maneuver it along its route.

Checking out shoes quickly becomes a spectator habit. Women dressed in clothes of mourning wearing lacy mantillas march in high heels. Then there are barefoot penitentes, some hobbling a bit as the hours pass by. So used to my flat cushiony Skechers that I’m unsure which of those two options would send me into a state of limping faster.

Some members of the cofradias can be seen reaching into their robes to hand out holy cards to children along the way. Some interact with children by tipping their candles onto extended balls of wax growing in girth throughout the week. Children marching often carry baskets of candy to distribute to other children.

The musicians are pied pipers luring you toward processions.

But the goose-stepping uniformed men haunt me somewhat. The stomping of middle-of-the-night marchers on Thursday echoed like storm troopers invading our building. They invoked my childhood fear of the military parade of winged monkeys in the Wizard of Oz except, instead of that rhythmic chorus, there was no music. A woman wailed mournful chants. La Llorona? It took hours to fall back asleep. (Does that amount to a confession that I am still frightened by the winged monkeys?)

The capirotes? They no longer inspire fear, only curiosity about the individual underneath.

On Easter Sunday, the members of cofradias accompanying the float bearing a figure representing the resurrected Jesus wore no hoods. They wore suits. They lost any sense of mystery. Kind of like watching bankers on parade. The camera lens failed to focus on any of them.

While the flower-bedecked gilded floats attract attention and draw the faithful, the faith of the people provides the true beauty of Semana Santa.

Postcard from Nervi, Genoa, Italy: Two modern art museums near the seaside

There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

With one wall depicting sweets and attention lavished upon a good child and another the unpleasantness awaiting a naughty boy, Antonio Rubino (1880-1964) transformed a child’s room into illustrations seemingly plucked from the pages of a collection of nursery rhymes. The 1921 bedroom with a “City of Dreams” is but one of the unusual galleries encountered in Wolfsoniana, located in the seaside suburb of Genoa, Nervi. Here, among other things, we learned the Battle of Flowers is not unique to San Antonio; Ventimiglia is known for its Battaglia di Fiori.

The collection of art dating from 1880-1945 in this new museum reflects the interests of Miami-born Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. He opened the first museum showcasing his passions in 1995 in the Art Deco District in Miami Beach. As Wolfson became increasingly attached to Genoa, he moved some of his immense personal collections there. He considers himself, according to the Wolfson Collection website:

…a conservationist because of my desire to discover, but not possess. The challenge is to save endangered objects that are ignored or not held in admiration by others….

Before I decide to buy an object I think whether it belongs to the narrative or not. Truth and beauty don’t interest me particularly. I am interested in the language of objects….

It is the goal of my collection: “to make people think.”

…but I’m not interested in what you think: I shall simply be happy to have stimulated the birth of an idea within you, of a souvenir, a dream.

Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.

Nearby in the 15th-century Villa Saluzzo Serra, the Galleria d’Arte Moderna focuses on artwork from the beginning of the 19th century to contemporary. The base of the museum’s holdings came from Prince Oddone (1846-1866) of Savoy’s collection. The avid collector, a son of King Vittorio Emanuele II (1820-1878), was sickly and died at the young age of 19. The City of Genoa actively acquired art between 1912 and 1950 from the Venice Bienniale and Rome Quadriennale exhibitions, and some of Wolfsoniana’s overflow is on display in the villa as well.