Diving down rabbit holes: Fledgling 19-teens’ silent film industry proved distracting

Above: “Boy Playwright Shows Talent,” San Antonio Express, July 6, 1913, UNT Libraries, The Portal to Texas History

Seeking the feel of an era when trying to write historic fiction requires time-consuming research, but distracting detours are so seductive and somewhat justified as snippets gleaned slip into the pages you type.

Take Oliver Perry Wilson Bailey (1897-1978), tagged with an ambitious-sounding name. The 1910 Census, when he was but a lad of 12, recorded him as a professional rabbit-raiser living on South Alamo Street, now part of Hemisfair, in San Antonio. By 1913, he was an accomplished screen writer. Yes, the son of a reporter of the San Antonio Express already had sold screenplays to three different companies.

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Postcard from Malaga, Spain: Interacting with music and my old friend Nipper

Kissara Lyre

The ghoulish lyre above is far from what I normally would choose to lead off this post about MIMMA, Museo Interactivo de la Musica Malaga. But it is high Halloween season. Impressively, the lyre is made from all-natural organic materials, hopefully found objects not freshly harvested for the crafting of the musical instrument.

MIMMA overall is far from fear-inspiring; it is melodic dream-inspiring. There is a learning lab for kids to experiment with sound. There are huge percussion instruments one can strike, and there is a room with play-me instruments, an invitation the Mister did not turn down.

While the Mister was distracted in a sound-proof room toying with electronic sound boards of some sort, I engaged with the interactive screens. Instead of wandering around gazing at obscure old instruments wondering at their sounds, you can tap the screen and listen to a recording of someone playing appropriate music on them. Mesmerizing.

Favorite instruments though were two 21st inventions by Ignacio Rodriguez Linares, both of which appear vintage. They present solutions for when the band or dancers fail to show. Carmen, a rather complex machine:

…has a series of levers that when activated, interpret Buleria percussion. It also includes the specific clapping accompanying this type of dance., as well as other typically used Buleria sounds, such as the rhythm and off beats, triples, calling, climax and conclusion, in addition to syncopation, 2, 4, and 6-beat bass, 3-beat sharps and 12-beat (clave) rhythms.

Then there are the cute petite stomping feet featured on his Melquiades Flamenco Beat Machine. This novelty allows musicians to select the appropriate rhythms for the seven most common Flamenco styles (Lajos – Kathleen Trenchard definitely needs this for Christmas).

Máquina flamenca “Carmen,” del inventor Ignacio Rodríguez Linares on Al Sur

But what photo would I have featured were it not Halloween? Nipper. The most important thing in the museum to me is Nipper.

With his brother’s part terrier mix dog, nicknamed for his annoying habit of nipping at the heels of any passersby, as his inspiration, Mark Henry Baraud painted the dog with his head cocked toward a Gramophone, listening to “his master’s voice.” The Gramophone Company paid the artist 100 pounds for it in 1898. Eventually the rights to the image made its way to RCA Victor.

While the Nipper in MIMMA appeared a little cold, it still felt like a reunion of sorts with my sleeping companion for several years. Some friends of my parents who owned an appliance store in Virginia Beach showed up one night for dinner when I was six years old with what would become my favorite stuffed animal, a three-foot high version.

Nipper joined George, a green monkey; Tony, the toucan; and little Lambs-Eat-Ivy to occupy a good 2/3 of my single bed. Despite the crowded sleeping arrangement, I never once let any of them fall off the bed. We had a mutual protection agreement. I kept them from the edge of the precipice above the alligator pit under the bed, and Nipper vigilantly prevented any alligators from scaling a bedpost. The alligator problem was Davy Crockett’s fault (Or my sister’s. It’s a long story).

Although alligators never got any of us, it was a tough assignment. Nipper sometimes suffered from leaking innards and had to undergo surgical repairs at the capable hands of my mother several times before his eventual retirement to the attic.

Back to the museum. We were ready to leave, when the nicest man asked us to stay for a Chopin piano recital in a small performance hall. Wine time was calling, but his invitation was so sincere. And there were only six of us in the audience. A rather intimate personal recital. It was beautiful.

Peering over the pianist’s shoulder, merely eyeing the number of notes on the sheet music was humbling, to say the least. There was no way I could have begun to follow the music enough to even have volunteered to serve as a page-turner.

Sporting a San Anto medal just in case

Blessed be the eternal God; for the fishes of the sea honour him more than men without faith, and animals without reason listen to his word with greater attention than sinful heretics.

St. Anthony on the river
St. Anthony on the river

It is said that on that day, June 13, 2013, the fish gathered around him.

With great expectations, they gazed upward.

So many fish bobbed in the waters of the San Antonio River, barge traffic was halted.

The fish waited and waited to hear words of tribute. They waited for sounds of great celebration.

You probably think I am referring to the honkers, the ones who exuberantly circle the streets of downtown just above St. Anthony’s head whenever the Spurs are victorious.

Which they were not doing on June 13, the Feast Day of San Antonio de Padua, the patron saint of San Antonio.

Yes, the Spurs seemed lost. And, he, the patron saint of lost things, was all but ignored. Save by the fish.

St. Anthony, St. Anthony
Turn around.
I’ve lost something
That can’t be found.

Not everyone ignores St. Anthony.

What’s wrong with this video? It’s from Boston.

"Mission San Antonio de Valero Missing," digital collage by Gayle Brennan Spencer
“Mission San Antonio de Valero Missing,” digital collage by Gayle Brennan Spencer. Visit http://postscardssanantonio.com.

This festival does not take place here. In this city. In front of his mission.

St. Anthony is not vengeful. Surely the Spurs’ loss was mere coincidence. If saints interceded in sports, would St. Anthony have looked down more kindly on the team of his namesake city or the Celtics?

After all, here, in the heart of his city, we are in danger of losing even his mission. Mission San Antonio de Valero. But it’s rarely called by its proper name. You probably know it as the Alamo.

For a while, there was a spark of hope for an emerging celebration of our patron saint. An artist, Rolando Briseno, sought attention for the overlooked day on the calendar.

Flippin' San Antonio Fiesta 2011
Flippin’ San Antonio Fiesta 2011

He brought us a Flippin’ San Alamo Fiesta and a Flippin’ San Antonio Fiesta on June 13 a while back. An emerging grand Fiesta Patronal seemed on the horizon for future years.

But, alas, this year on the Feast Day of St. Anthony, the artist instead submitted a commentary to the San Antonio Express-News.

In this published piece, Briseno explains the rationale behind his earlier fiestas:

Tejanos, the first European/mestizo settlers of Texas and builders of the Alamo, and Latinos in general do not feel welcome at the Alamo today because the narrative has been spun into one of Anglo hegemony….

Little by little, over time, the Tejano role has been written out of the history books. Now that the Daughters of the Republic of Texas are no longer in control of the narrative at the Alamo, I’m among many who hope the Tejano contributions will be given just representation.

But Briseno has faith in the great state of Texas to rectify this, so there was no grand Fiesta Patronal:

I am not performing “Spinning San Antonio Fiesta” this year because Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, the new caretaker, has stated that he would like to change the Alamo’s narrative to be more inclusive.

This could make the Alamo a place where all people can go to leave behind discord and contemplate the convergence of cultures, and this, in turn, will make for a more harmonious future. That’s an ideal worth making a shrine for.

He’s right about the ideal. But I fear he is overly optimistic in his expectations of the commissioner.

There is much pressure building among the Alamobsessive to make Alamo Plaza a shrine to one day in history. And that day is not June 13.

Unlike Briseno, I fear that moment in 1836 will conquer the layers upon layers of history of great importance to our city that the plaza represents, both before and after the battle.

I’m not debating the historical importance of March 6, 1836, the Battle of the Alamo.

I’m not demeaning the sacrifices of those who perished in the battle, whether Mexicans or Texians. My dreams of Davy Crockett go way back.

And I do think millions who head to the plaza annually would benefit from better interpretation of that event on site.

But, I wonder whether the heroes of the day would want that moment in time frozen, the moment they were shot or impaled upon a bayonet.

If you were killed in a war, would you want those left behind to focus on the exact second the last drop of blood gushed from your body? Would you want them to visit that spot over and over and over, reliving your dramatic departure?

Or would you want them to remember what went on before, while you were alive?

And would you want to feel your sacrifice was worthwhile? Instead of being a static war memorial, would you want the plaza where you died returned to a place of life in the heart of a city filled with exuberant celebrations?

Briseno might be breathing easier, but I think it’s premature.

san-antoAs there is yet a Fiesta Patronal, I think some of us better don a St. Anthony medal if we want the story of Mission San Antonio de Valero to be found.

And, maybe, just maybe, it’s a good idea to go buy one before the play-off game tonight.

That way, at least the fish will hear honkers celebrating above St. Anthony’s head.

Go Spurs, Go!candle

Post-Game Update on June 19, 2013:

Maybe medals alone are not potent enough.

Time to ignite the power of a St. Anthony candle for Thursday night.

And, if we are not going to have a festival in his honor in San Antonio, I sure wish I could spend his feast day in his birthplace, Lisbon.

Pre-Game Update on June 20, 2013:

From “Nuns calling on the fan upstairs: For the naysayers who think Spurs don’t have a prayers” by Abe Levy in this morning’s San Antonio Express-News:

Would you deny the prayer of Sister Rosalba Garcia, 85?

A Spurs flag flutters from her walker next to a Spurs Coyote doll. On her closet door are team photos and a poster of her all-time favorite player, Manu Ginobili, next to a portrait of Sister Mary Mazzarello, the Salesians’ cofounder.

The photos accompanying this story are priceless.

Bob Owen photograph in San Antonio Express-News, June 20, 2013
Bob Owen photograph in San Antonio Express-News, June 20, 2013