Biannual list of top posts always diverse

You need hold your breath no longer. That much anticipated list revealing most-read blog posts over the past year is here.

While the brutally murdered Helen Madarasz was a real person, at one time I believed I invented her ghost refusing to leave the site of her former home in Brackenridge Park. So many keep reading the post six years later, even I am starting to think she might really be haunting the park.

My readers seem to be as Alamobsessive as I am, fretting over proposed plans for Alamo Plaza. Every time I think the plaza will remain fence-free and historic gems on the west side of the plaza will be spared, renewed threats arise. That barely watercolored-in white rail in the background of the image above is a fence. Just to be safe, please consider signing the San Antonio Conservation’s Society petition at change. org.

venison at Fricska Gastropub in Budapest

Thanks for taking trips with me; you seem particularly drawn to food. We fell hard for Fricska Gastropub in Budapest, and our taste buds feel vindicated with its recent receipt of Bib Gourmand recognition from Michelin. (And, yes, sister Susan, I promise to get to food posts from Italy soon. She has been whining about being sent into so many churches first. But it takes a long time for postcards to arrive from Italy, and the Alamo keeps interrupting.)

Margarita Cabrera

Like many of you, cannot wait to see Margarita Cabrera’s ‘Tree of Life’ take root on the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River near Mission Espada.

So here’s your top 12, with the numbers in parentheses representing the rankings six months ago:

  1. The Madarasz Murder Mystery: Might Helen Haunt Brackenridge Park?, 2012 (2)
  2. Forging consensus for the Alamo Comprehensive Plan: Don’t fence us out, 2018
  3. Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: Currently suffering from case of miss-you-Fricska blues, 2017 (3)
  4. ‘Tree of Life’ bears bountiful crop of tales from the past, 2018
  5. Please put this song on Tony’s pony and make it ride away, 2010 (4)
  6. ‘Just the Facts:’ A fence by any other name still smells the same, 2018
  7. Postcard from Guanajuato, Mexico: Wishing these dining spots were not 600 miles away, 2016 (8)
  8. Morning walk turns into thematic parade through San Antonio’s heritage, 2018

    San Antonio Livestock Show & Rodeo’s Western Heritage Parade

  9. How would you feel about the Alamo with a crewcut?, 2011 (10)
  10. The Curse of Madarasz Park: Another Ghost Wandering in Brackenridge Park, 2014
  11. Postcard from Mexico City: Pausing for a playful food break at Mercado Roma, 2017

    fried charl taquito amuse bouche at Seneri in Mercado Roma in Mexico City

  12. Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Where fiestas erupt all the time, 2017

Thanks for stopping by, and feel free to chat back. We’ll wind up this round-up with a fiesta in Oaxaca.

‘Just the Facts:’ A fence by any other name still smells the same

The July 23 editorial, “Deep breath, just the facts about the Alamo,” in the San Antonio Express-News shocked me.

“Just the facts?”

Perhaps the editorial board of the paper received a totally different presentation than the one about the “Alamo Comprehensive Interpretive Plan” presented to San Antonio Citizen’s Advisory Committee? Perhaps the plan the members saw is different from the one on the Alamo website?

The first “fact” claimed by the Express: “There will not be a fence around Alamo Plaza downtown.” These are the Editorial Board’s words. This sentence does not appear in the plan itself.

Planners, who initially wanted to lock up the plaza at night, now want to “organize people” when the museum is open. They refer to some of this “management” as “fences almost not seen.” The image below isolates a portion of the softly blurred rendering above depicting what the Express terms as simply “rails,” clear barriers topped off by a rail as opposed to an actual picket fence, that will prevent people approaching from Houston Street from walking straight into the plaza and disrupting the “managed” people inside.

On the left is a rendering representing a tall gate, in a fence line “hidden” in landscaping, that presumably would be open after museum hours.

On the north and west sides are 42-inch so-called “rails.” As the plan proposes to lower the floor of the entire plaza 16 to 18 inches, tourists will feel protected from San Antonio’s foot traffic by a barrier more than five feet in height. 

And on the southern edge, an actual “fence” is depicted camouflaged in the landscaping with, look closely as it is painted in a pale gray, an extremely narrow gate thrown open to allow public access… after “managed” hours.

The Editorial Board can call this anything they want, but it all looks like fencing off Alamo Plaza to me.

Presenters made it sound as though the goal during the hours the Alamo is open is to “choreograph approaches” so everyone enters the “railed-in” area through an entrance by a new museum on the west side of the plaza. This appears to be the exit as well. Presumably, this management is designed to promote museum attendance, perhaps a paid experience? This is also where the general public heading north or south will be funneled into the “Alamo Promenade.” So, with every visitor to the Alamo, including large tour and school groups, and all passersby converging, emerging and merging at this one sidewalk-width point on the “Alamo Promenade,” will we not have absurd pedestrian traffic jams? This is a serious question I would love answered.

“Fact” Number Two: “People will not be shut out from this historic and public space. Protests and assemblies will continue at Alamo Plaza. It will remain open to the public.”

Essentially, all of the non-existent fencing sketchily depicted above will sever Alamo Plaza into two parcels – the Alamo fortress footprint on the north and the smaller Plaza de Valero fronting the Menger Hotel and RiverCenter Mall on the south. Planners make absolutely no secret of the goal of attempting to keep protesters out of the northern portion. Plaza de Valero is the designated area for “public expression,”  traditionally referred to as the exercise of free speech.


Fact Number Three: “Closing Alamo Street does not mean there won’t be a north-south connection for vehicles across downtown. The plan proposes a nearby alternative for traffic.”

I sure hope they engage an amazingly talented traffic engineer to work out the automobile traffic patterns. As someone who understands what it is like today to sit through multiple lights heading north on Navarro or south on Losoya or St. Mary’s or to crawl along behind horse carriages on Presa Street, I will let this rendering demonstrating “enhanced connectivity” speak for itself.

“Fact” Number Four: “A decision has not been made about razing five buildings across from Alamo Plaza.”

I am labeling this false because these buildings have always been in the crosshairs of those who are uncompromising in their desire “to restore the Alamo footprint as much as possible.” The way the plan is presented makes it obvious the consultants have made their decision. Certainly, the Editorial Board has made itself clear during the past several years about its desire for the mission footprint to be restored.

While offering token lip-service to “tell the in-depth history of the Alamo area to the present day….;” the redesign of Alamo Plaza is all about the 1836 battle. The plan blatantly labels the five referenced buildings as “non-contributing structures” that must be “addressed.” In the rendering below, they are addressed by erasure. Historic landmarks are reduced to flattened camel-colored rectangles with no mass.

And, voila! Instead of adaptive reuse of valued historic landmarks whose worthiness is well-documented, you now have a vacant lot for the “rail” representing the original western wall of the compound and a new museum facility.

While theoretically the decision has not been made on the buildings’ fate, the planners desire to demolish is obvious. The public presentations are called “conversations,” but are they mere shams?

According to an article in the Rivard Report by Iris Dimmick, City Councilman Roberto Trevino, who serves on the Alamo Management Committee and co-chairs the Citizens Advisory Committee, a study will be commissioned to determine the merit of preserving the structures. As though their history and condition is an unknown.

Dimmick reports Council RepresentativeTrevino:

…said it’s unlikely that other major components of the plan would change.

The design team “picked up where the master plan left off,” Trevino said. “Continuing the debate (about road closures and managed access), I don’t think that’s in line with the guiding principles.”

However, he said, pedestrian access, in general, is something on which the team is still working.

While the plan does indicate the buildings’ fates have not yet been sealed, the plan offers no alternative pedestrian routes than the ones illustrated. Fencing off the footprint is the only option presented for consideration.

The Editorial Board of the Express-News terms much of the opposition raised to the plan “hyperbole:”

Yes, the plan does include landscaping, rails and some hidden fencing to control pedestrian flow to the site. That’s far different from “restricting access” as the San Antonio Conservation Society has asserted. It’s about crowd control and guiding visitors during daytime hours when the Alamo itself is open to the public. Outside of those hours, people can still visit the plaza and admire the church.

I vehemently disagree. Call a fence a fence.

And the time to disagree is now. Because if San Antonians are quiet, the next version of the plan will pick up where this plan left off. Much like Trevino indicates road closures somehow already are a done-deal, the fencing closing off Alamo Plaza, a dedicated city park, will get cemented into the plan. And, if you value the historic landmarks lining the west side of the plaza, the time to express that is now.

Both my opinion and that of the Editorial Board of the Express-News are biased. I urge you to read the plan to make an informed decision about the “facts.”

If you have concerns about the plan, please consider signing the online petition the San Antonio Conservation Society has made available: Save Alamo Plaza! at change.org.

Postcard from Rome, Italy: Stumbling around colorblind

Time out. I wandered around Rome for almost three weeks before it hit me in the face, just as we were about to exit the Diocletian Baths. The sculpture above, the photo included in the prior post, did it.

I had been viewing remnants of ancient Rome in black and white, completing forgetting photographs in magazine and newspaper articles about exhibitions making the rounds in the United States a decade ago. The ancient Etruscans, the ancient Greeks, the ancient Romans – they had no inhibitions about applying color to their art. We have been brought up in an art world dominated by the influence of Renaissance artists reviving classical sculpture using the whitest of marble.

Writing in the Smithsonian Magazine in 2008, Matthew Gurewitsch describes how our color-blindness would shock the ancients:

But we can guess that Phidias would be brokenhearted to see his sacred relics dragged so far from home, in such a fractured state. More to the point, the bare stone would look ravaged to him, even cadaverous.

Listen to Helen of Troy, in the Euripides play that bears her name:

My life and fortunes are a monstrosity,
Partly because of Hera, partly because of my beauty.
If only I could shed my beauty and assume an uglier aspect
The way you would wipe color off a statue.

That last point is so unexpected, one might almost miss it: to strip a statue of its color is actually to disfigure it.

I was still processing this concept as we wandered through the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Guilia (more to come later), where we encountered a couple reclining on their sarcophagus, circa 500+ years B.C. The accompanying text mentioned that the “twin” to this housed in the Louvre actually shows remnants of colors.

But the Louvre couple (on the right) still does not burst into a full technicolor-type bloom. Based on decades of work by Vinzenz Brinkmann of the Glyptothek Museum in Munich, Germany, replicas of ancient statues colorized are probably as shocking to our senses as people accustomed to black-and-white films almost 80 years ago felt in theatres viewing the vividly bright yellow brick road in the midst of The Wizard of Oz.

This Carsten Muller video for Capitol City Media Design helps somewhat with visualizing the changes:

I got on an absurd jag in Rome of photographing statues of lions (more later). They are everywhere. I am so conditioned to thinking of them from a monochromatic perspective, I never once pictured the ancient ones in what to me is amusement-park merry-go-round colors, as is this reproduction of a Greek lion Brinkmann uses in exhibitions.

Color changes our perceptions about ancient civilizations. But ouch, with the following description in mind, would you really want to see the featured relief of Mithras or the statue of Mithras pictured below fully restored in color?

Diocletian Baths

Statue of Mithras, Diocletian Baths

But my imagination fails to make the Crayola transition on its own. My color-blinders remain in place unless confronted by the images side by side.

Which brings me back around to San Antonio. And her missions. The Native Americans herded into the flocks of the Spanish friars nearly three centuries ago were not monochrome in their tastes.

Years back, I rudely shoved through a motion at a San Antonio Conservation Society board meeting for the society to go on record supporting “colorizing” the outside of one mission the way the Native Americans originally did. The not-well-thought-out motion probably still languishes at the bottom of a list of active motions.

I would withdraw it now in favor of a different approach. Illuminate the facades of Mission Concepcion and Mission San Jose often and on a regular basis, if only for an hour at a time right after sunset to show for those of us who stand colorblind in front of these incredible landmarks failing to envision the imprint of our Native American population on them, and, by extension, the city San Antonio has become.

The City of San Antonio has worked several times now with the San Antonio Missions National Park to spotlight the missions “Restored by Light.” The photograph on the left of Mission Concepcion colorized was taken by Bonnie Arbitter and appeared in The Rivard Report, September 8, 2017. Scott Ball took the second one of Mission San Jose that appeared in The Rivard Report, September 6, 2017.

Please let the light shine on these more often.

Meanwhile, this unimaginative soul will return to viewing Roman antiquities in monochromatic tones. Am hoping your imagination adds a richness to the palette where applicable.