Postcard from Valencia, Spain: Clouds of incense fill Church of the Patriarch

Swirling clouds of incense blurred the ceiling frescoes and dome of the Church of the Patriarch when we finally managed to coordinate our arrival as a mass ended. The church is associated with a seminary still active, and the monks residing there are known for their daily Gregorian chants, which we missed.

The church and cloisters were founded by San Juan de Ribera in the XVI century. Juan de Ribera was born in Seville in 1532 and educated in Salamanca. He became archbishop of Valencia, leading to his establishment of the Royal Seminary.

Today a large portion of the cloisters is filled with a rich collection of art, including work by Valencian-born Renaissance painter, Juan de Juanes  (1523-1579) (love that name).

One of my favorite things about the church and chapel is the juxtaposition of cheerful bright tilework with the serious religious frescoes, accented by a sprinkling of chubby cherubs. And, of course, Saint Anthony, the patron saint of our hometown, seems to follow us everywhere we travel.

Dear Mayor and City Council: Please don’t surrender Alamo Plaza

It’s hard to send a letter to you, because I don’t yet know who will be occupying those offices at City Hall. But, whoever you are, your first week in office, you will be pressured to approve a plan to wall off a major public plaza, the historical heart of so many of San Antonio’s cherished celebrations.

Please do not vote unconditionally to support the Reimagining the Alamo Master Plan in a rush to meet the budgetary cycle of the State Legislature.

There is much merit to parts of the proposal. The Alamo building itself is crumbling, and the plan targets its restoration and preservation. That is urgent.

The Phil Collins Collection is waiting for a home in San Antonio, and the State has acquired several historic structures on the westside of Alamo Plaza to display the valuable artifacts. (Adaptive reuse is wonderful, but please urge the State to reconsider gutting the entire interior of the landmark Crockett Block, designed by Alfred Giles.)

So the east and west parts of the plan on the state’s existing turf seem on somewhat sound ground. But then we get to the plaza.

As we approach San Antonio’s Tricentennial, we should be particularly attuned to the city’s early history. But, at least in the Executive Summary,* the Master Plan ignores the history of Mission San Antonio de Valero – a site not dubbed the Alamo until years later.

In the aftermath of the Battle, General Santa Anna ordered his troops to destroy as much of the site as possible. This was the beginning of the decline of the historic Alamo compound. Restoring the reverence and dignity of the Alamo is the obligation of our generation and the mission of our efforts.

The decline of the compound that originally was Mission San Antonio de Valero began earlier, before the mission was secularized. Where is that layer of history of the mission days? Not on page 1. Mission San Antonio de Valero is not even recognized by name in the summary until page 24. In the appendices.

Reimagining apparently calls for walling in the plaza and locking it up every night. The planners evidently believe members of the public incapable of envisioning the original walls of the compound. To do so, they must be restricted from entering the plaza aside from as a herd entering through a southern portal.

If returning the Alamo compound to its appearance at the time of the battle truly was a principal adhered to by the Master Plan, the “bold” plan would call for the removal of the iconic parapet added later by the United States Army.

Vehicular movement north and south through downtown currently is impaired. Removing another street from the existing clogged pattern is impractical. Yet, even so, it is difficult to argue that closure would not enhance the experience for pedestrians on the plaza.

But ceding the rights of pedestrians to cross through the plaza makes absolutely no sense. Public parks should be porous, easily accessible from all sides. Yet access to this civic space will be reserved to one entryway on its southern side.

Behind glass, this current pedestrian crossroad will become a dead-end. An Alamo cul-de-sac.

Thanks so much, John Branch, http://comicskingdom.com/john-branch

The city of San Antonio has struggled for years to revive Houston Street, and it finally provides a healthier retail environment. Houston Street merchants will again disappear if they lose the pedestrian traffic they need. Pedestrians will all be funneled in and out by way of Rivercenter.

Trees will be removed from the center of the plaza between the Alamo and the Crockett Block to create an open space, a space too hot under the Texas sun for anyone to linger.

A sizzling comal for tourists. A playground for reenactors. A place locals will avoid.

Paraphrasing W.S. Merwin, there is no recipe for “unchopping a tree.” Walk the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River Improvements Project and envision how many years, or generations, of growth it will take for the new saplings to recreate the groves of trees Spanish missionaries originally found along the river’s banks.

In exchange for placing much of the city’s space in a fishbowl with restricted access, the plan offers San Antonio “a new civic space – Plaza de Valero,” a tiny sliver of the plaza in front of the Menger Hotel. This is billed as: “an opportunity for visitors to have a quiet moment, in the shade of mature trees, enjoying food and refreshments, as they experience the reimagined Alamo.” This “new” space already exists.

The very definition of civic is “relating of or to a city or town or the people who live there.” We have a great civic space, the entire plaza, now. A place for exuberant celebrations and the exercise of first-amendment rights, rights championed by those who died at the Alamo. A spot for gathering in the shade of trees.

There is no reason City Council cannot approve the Alamo restoration on the east and the Museum concept on the west side of the plaza as envisioned in the Master Plan on May 11.

Obviously, improvements can be made to enhance historical interpretation in the plaza, but eliminating Alamo Plaza as a pedestrian passageway or civic gathering place for your citizens need not be a requisite to forward a portion of the plan. Judgment on the disposition of the roadway and plaza should be withheld pending refinement and public release of the full plan.

The many volunteers and professionals tackling this project should be commended for their efforts. But that does not mean this initial plan merits a rubber stamp. The streets and plaza belong to the City of San Antonio.

Please request a reexamination and rethinking of this portion of the plan. Don’t consent to turning a beautiful urban park into a walled-off wasteland of a plaza. A place completely isolated from the fabric of San Antonio.

Thank you for your consideration of this request from a concerned citizen.

P.S.  If one haunts the place of one’s death, would it not seem a Sisyphean hell if the only thing you got to witness was men reenacting your painful death over and over? Would you want the site of your bloody end preserved in the desolate state it was in in the aftermath of your death?

Or would you want to witness people actively enjoying the freedom for which you fought on a daily basis?

One resembles a horror film, the other a fulfillment of your dreams.

*As of this time, the only portion of the plan available to the public online is the sketchy Executive Summary. The public comments you receive prior to voting are based solely upon that and what can be pried out of presenters during hearings. The publicly funded Master Plan appears a closely guarded secret.

Postcards from San Antonio a Century Ago

San Antonio is so different from Dallas, Houston, Austin…. Probably because those other major Texas cities were not even dots on the map before the fall of the Alamo. San Antonio just kicked off its planning for the city’s tricentennial events.

San Antonio was part of Mexico. It’s in her genes.

That is what drew me here from Virginia Beach, a city so far removed from Mexico that it did not even offer a taco for sale until I was 17. Well, that and the Mister.

I’ve been sitting on these postcards, widely available, for a long, long time for many reasons. They are controversial.

They illustrate how Mexican San Antonio was. Some of these snapshots can be viewed as showing our affection for that connection:

Mexican Chili Stands. For the sake of olden times the Mexicans are allowed to set up their tables and camp stones on the Plazas and serve their native dishes in the open air; such as Chili Con Carne, Tamales, Enchiladas, Chili Verde, Frijoles and Tortillas, etc. As day dawns and the lamps show dimmer, these queer hotel keepers put out their fires and folding their tables “silently steal away” until another night.

But, unfortunately, many of these postcards illustrate the prejudice that arose in us after the Texas Revolution:

Mexican mansions showing the primitive way of the peons, who are supposed to be the happiest people on earth.

Even Tejanos born and raised in San Antonio who supported the Texas Revolution found themselves viewed with condescension by newcomers flooding into the Republic of Texas, immigrants from the United States. Natives were regarded as foreigners.

Painful periods of prejudice should never be erased from our history books. Sometimes looking in the rearview mirror keeps you from veering off in the wrong direction. Some of today’s politicians need to do that because the rhetoric indicates a failure to learn from our past mistakes, a willingness to repeat them.

The historical connection of San Antonio and Mexico embedded in the city’s DNA is cherished and celebrated, particularly as we head toward our tricentennial commemorations. It’s a flavorful recipe unduplicated and a major ingredient in what makes San Antonio such a remarkable place to live.

(I’d incorporated some of these images in collages a while back: http://www.postcardssanantonio.com/tex-mex.html.)