Ban the Banner

It’s no secret I am upset by the overabundance of illegal signs in the Alamo Plaza Historic District.  But sometimes you are so pestered by fleas you fail to notice the Tyrannosaurus rex coming up behind you.                              

proposed life-size Alamo to hang next to the grounds of the Alamo itself


Well, this one happens to be 134-feet tall, and the staff of the city’s Historic Preservation Office has no problem with it hanging adjacent to the Alamo grounds for six or seven months.  Perhaps they were swayed because the application to install the banner on the Emily Morgan Hotel is coming from the caretakers of the Alamo itself, none other than the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, who brought us an earlier tasteful banner installation and a pop-up tent.                              

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have trouble understanding why a 2 1/2-story image of the Alamo needs to be installed within 1/2 block of the actual Alamo.  Is this new Alamo going to be bigger and better than the real one?                              

If the members of the Historic Design and Review Commission decide to follow staff’s recommendation and let this Behemoth banner sail through on the consent agenda at the August 4th meeting, I hope they at least attach a recycling amendment.  The used banner could be donated to the Women’s Pavilion; a banner that size would make a lot of tote bags.  Or probably more appropriately, the banner could be recycled to protect the Alamo roof from water seepage.  That way, the Daughters would not have to worry about increasing their preservation budget to anything above the three-digit numbers of the past several years.                               

P.S.  Sarah Reveley has started posting photographs showcasing Alamo Plaza intrusions on a new website.                              

P.S.S.  I would worry more about the tasteful banner on Main Plaza Ben Olivo posted earlier, but guess we should not stop to scratch a flea when a T-rex is barreling this way.                             

Update on August 3Scott Huddleston’s coverage                            

Update on August 4:  With instructions to lose the Emily Morgan logo, ditch the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s “Deep in the Heart” campaign image and send the little figures scurrying around the bottom of the banner – the ones that look like Mexican toy soldiers racing to escape the gift shop – packing, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas received approval for a scaled-down, 80-foot-tall banner to be hung on a historic landmark in a historic district for seven months.                           

The purpose of having a larger Alamo hanging next door to the real Alamo remains unclear after listening to the continually shifting explanations.  When the presenters realized the concept of advertising the Alamo (and thanking the Emily Morgan) to motorists on the highway was sounding exactly like a super-sized billboard to those sitting in judgment, the banner instead became an educational tool to inspire awe in pedestrians.  Bruce Winders, PhD, the Alamo’s historian and curator, said it would make children realize the Alamo is important and even labeled the banner “art.”  Tony Caridi, the Alamo’s director of development who designed the banner, might have beamed with pride, if not for board member Harry Shafer’s suggestion that it should then also go before the Public Art Board for review.                            

Caridi expressed his opinion that curtailing the size of the banner would make it look more like a sign.  It will not look more like a sign, it will just look like a slightly smaller sign with slightly less square footage than two highway-size billboards, still representing a major visual intrusion in the Alamo Plaza Historic District.                           

Despite being told by one of Davy Crockett’s descendants that a 13-story banner is what Davy would want, four board members dared to stand fast behind the newly revised Unified Development Code passed by City Council only this summer.  But, alas, the code was no more effective a shield than the crumbling Alamo walls in 1836.  They were outnumbered.  The banner will hang.                          

As for the banner’s future life, Caridi said they were lifting my earlier suggestion, which I lifted from the Women’s Pavilion, and plan to recycle the banner into tote bags to sell in the gift shop.  Guess he did not like the suggestion to recycle it as a rain bonnet for the Alamo roof.                          

Update on August 5:  Scott Huddleston of the Express-News on the shrunken banner:                         

Caridi and Bruce Winders, Alamo historian, said the banner would send a statement to visitors and locals that the landmark anniversary of Texas independence offers an exciting occasion to revisit true stories of the past.                         

“It’s the opportunity to say the Texas Revolution isn’t just a movie. It isn’t just John Wayne,” Winders said.                         

Now, when I first read about the theme for the Daughters of the Republic of Texas’ 175th Anniversary Gala, my thought was it was a guaranteed success.  But Dr. Winders’ statement confuses me greatly because the caretakers are centering much of the celebration on guess what?  John Wayne’s role in The Alamo.                           

To set the record straight, the following is lifted directly from the Daughters’ website:                         

Honoring the 50th Anniversary of John Wayne’s movie “The Alamo”. The sixth Alamo Gala will be held under the Texas stars on Alamo Plaza. All proceeds will go toward preservation, education, and maintenance of The Alamo Complex.                          

Silent and Live Auctions; Colonial Menu of appetizers and buffet dinner; Music and dancing to St. Vincent and the Grenadines featuring a custom arrangement of music from the score of the movie.                          

Reel History: John Wayne’s Alamo 50th Anniversary Exhibition will premiere the evening of the Gala. The exhibition will feature movie memobriila from around the nation including items from the DRT Library, John Wayne Enterprises private collection, and other collectors. Organized by John Farkis and Dr. Bruce Winders, Alamo Historian, the exhibit will be free to the public beginning October 10 – December 31, 2010.                         

Now I understand.  Since the exhibit housed in the Alamo compound will focus on the movie The Alamo, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas need a really, really, really big – a Behemoth – banner to try to remind people that, despite the exhibit on the movie they are showcasing, “the Texas Revolution isn’t just a movie. It isn’t just John Wayne.”                          

2nd Update on August 5:  Read the statement Rollette Schreckinghost, the president of the San Antonio Conservation Society, read at HDRC in opposition to the banner.                   

3rd Update on August 5:  And on KTSA Radio, Rolette Schreckenghost said:                 

Goodness knows I’m a native and I’ve never lived anywhere but San Antonio, but I don’t need a sign to remind me to remember the Alamo…. It’s the cultural integrity of San Antonio that people come to see.                 

A Milam descendant and, according to Veronica Flores-Paniagua, former Alamo committee chairman for the DRT weighs in on the issue.                

Update on August 7:  Veronica Flores-Paniagua of the Express-News questions the appropriateness of Caridi’s banner design:  “Why didn’t the DRT see that?”               

I keep wondering how in the world the DRT will possibly handle the potentially explosive land mines involved in mounting the 50th anniversary exhibit centering on The Alamo.  How will the DRT distinguish “real” from “reel” with appropriate respect for historical accuracy?   The banner does not seem like it is going to help; the curators have their work cut out for them.              

Update on August 12:  Revised on August 13 following article in the Express-News (Didn’t mean to jump the gun.  I think sometimes a request accompanied by a please receives more positive results than immediate escalation to threats of legal action.):          

The sound of Davy Crockett’s lone fiddle echoing from the ramparts of the wall around the Alamo will be multiplied ________________________ _________________   as part of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas’ celebration of the 175th anniversary of the battle,  ______________  _________  _________, maybe this will encourage a round-up and removal of all illegal signage prior to focusing that much national and perhaps international media attention on the plaza.           

Hey, I just barely escaped the MDA jail yesterday.        

Update on August 14:  The DRT does now have an image on its website promoting a March 5th “Symphony Concert.”  So that part is official and those who mention it need no longer fear legal action.       

Update on August 15:  Something was nagging me.  Personally, my concern is the proliferation of signage in the Alamo Plaza Historic District, not the anniversary celebration itself.  But somehow I remembered reading about the anniversary concert earlier.  Was Sarah Reveley really the one to spill the beans, or did someone else?  The following is from a July 6 article in the Dallas Morning News:       

Caridi said that the Alamo’s operations were not threatened by the current lull, but that new programs and offerings could be scratched.       

He said it has been difficult, for instance, persuading corporate sponsors to come on board for a nearly $400,000 concert being planned for next year’s 175th anniversary of the famous battle at the Alamo.       

2nd Update on August 15:  Was struck by this photograph by Matt Wright-Steele to accompany the Observer’s article “Davy Crockett Tried to Trim his Myth, but It Grew Back.”  But, on the other hand, I also loved one of the online comments submitted by J. Norton-Keidel:     

My family history includes the story that when Davy Crockett came to East Texas, wearing a black stovepipe hat, en route he stayed with our family.  Legend is Crockett admired the coonskin hat worn by a young man of the household and offered to trade his black hat plus a gold piece for the young man’s coonskin hat.  The deal was struck and thus historical tableaus guaranteed!     

What’s real and what’s reel, and how does one ever distinguish myth from reality?    

Update on August 28:     

Weel, blude’s thicker than water; she’s welcome to the cheeses and the hams just the same.    

Sir Walter Scott, Guy Mannering, 1815    

Checked on membership requirements this morning.  As someone not from Texas, I always thought your proof of revolutionary bloodline was all that was needed to qualify for membership in the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.  But ancestry is the secondary half of the requirements for admission into the sisterhood of approximately 6,700.  While the organization professes to encourage “anyone with a love of Texas history to join us in celebrating and preserving this heritage,” the first part of its requirements is that a woman “is personally acceptable to The DRT.”    

According to the San Antonio Express-News this morning, the Daughters officially are disowning the Texas Centennial-obsessed, Alamobsessed, whistle-blowing daughter they wish they never had, Sarah Reveley – a rather late-term abortion.  Sarah is now severely sentenced to endure shunning by many of her former siblings for the rest of her life.  Never having been in a sorority, I am unsure how this would affect one.     

But do I believe banishment is an Alamoment for Sarah?  Don’t think so.  She is too busy dedicating her energies to tracking down missing monuments dating from the celebration of the Texas Centennial.    

You might question why I inserted the second part of Scott’s quotation, with good reason.  When I was looking for the meaning, I turned to the primary source.  It is hardly applicable.  But in wandering randomly through Guy Mannering, I found another reference to cheese with a footnoted explanatory text relating to small-town life that I loved more than Scott’s writing:    

The groaning malt mentioned in the text was the ale brewed for the purpose of being drunk after the lady or goodwife’s safe delivery. The ken-no has a more ancient source, and perhaps the custom may be derived from the secret rites of the Bona Dea. A large and rich cheese was made by the women of the family, with great affectation of secrecy, for the refreshment of the gossips who were to attend at the ‘canny’ minute. This was the ken-no, so called because its existence was secret (that is, presumed to be so) from all the males of the family, but especially from the husband and master. He was accordingly expected to conduct himself as if he knew of no such preparation, to act as if desirous to press the female guests to refreshments, and to seem surprised at their obstinate refusal. But the instant his back was turned the ken-no was produced; and after all had eaten their fill, with a proper accompaniment of the groaning malt, the remainder was divided among the gossips, each carrying a large portion home with the same affectation of great secrecy.    

Straying farther afield, Bona Dea was a Roman    

deity of fruitfulness, both in the earth and in women…. Her temple was cared for and attended by women only….    

Kind of like the Alamo.  Sorry for such unrelated rambling.  Or not.  And Sarah, lift a groaning malt, but maybe skip the cheese.   

Update on August 31:  Scott Huddleston reports the “reel” Alamo is closing, so those wanting that John Wayne-fix will be dependent on “Reel History: John Wayne’s Alamo 50th Anniversary Exhibition.”  

Update on September 24:  I felt Jan Jarboe Russell stayed so completely on the tightrope without tipping either direction in her Texas Monthly article about recent issues involving the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and the Alamo that I was left blogless.  The headline was the most sensational part of the article.  Shows it all depends on your perspective.   

According to a thread posted on Texas Centennial, the Daughters viewed the article differently:  

DRT Headquarters Board Room
Austin, Texas  

President General’s Remarks:
An expulsion hearing is set for October 29th for Sarah Reveley, DRT member.
Regarding the Texas Monthly article concerning the Daughters, the author had spent a full day at the Alamo seeing and hearing about all the good things happening at the Alamo, but he chose not to include the positive notes.  

Although, when Jan spent a whole day at the Alamo, seems they might have noticed she’s a woman.  

And, to further blur the line between reel and real, the DRT, the Alamo  and IMAX are partnering to bring John Wayne’s The Alamo to a theater near you on Friday, October 8.  Click here to get $1.50 off your ticket.

Update on October 19:  Phil Collins, Ricky Skaggs and the San Antonio Symphony finally confirmed for March 5 concert.  Daughters unfold expansion plans for Alamo grounds.  And the DRT disowns another child of the Republic of Texas.  Turned, once again, to an old John Branch cartoon to illustrate.

Update on December 30:  Did you know you can buy a genuine coonskin hat harvested from a now-deceased raccoon in the Alamo Gift Shop for $79?

‘Nothing Happened’ a Good Omen

Writing historical fiction about a time prior to your birth is tricky.  I spend a lot of time rummaging through newspapers from the 19-teens, trying to understand as much as possible about what life was like during this period from which no reliable witnesses remain.  A few months ago, one of the characters in my never-ending novel borrowed several biting definitions from Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary (1911) to compose a letter to a friend. 

So I loved it when Jake Silverstein started talking about his quixotic quest to discover what happened to Bierce during a recent reading from his “chronicle in fact and fiction,” Nothing Happened and Then It Did, at The Twig Book Shop.  This search for a sensational storyline, among others in his book with chapters alternating between fact and fiction, did not end as Silverstein had hoped.  During her introduction of Silverstein at The Twig, Jan Jarboe Russell described the book’s theme as “thwarted ambition,” even though its author, editor of Texas Monthly, seemingly would be unacquainted with failure.

Silverstein’s early approach to finding topics magazine editors would deem worthy of publishing was unusual:

One day I unfolded a map of Mexico and looked for a place to live…. I had the notion that it would be good, both financiallly and journalistically, to live someplace where there was nothing happening.  That way, when something did happen, there would be no one but me to write about it.

In Nothing Happened, the author wandered from one potential feature story to another, with none materializing as planned.  But his book itself stands as proof; the stories were there all along. 

There is always a story (Although readers of my blog might suggest I rethink this theory.).  The story might not meet a writer’s preconceptions, but it is there nevertheless, an omen as defined by Bierce:

OMEN, n. A sign that something will happen if nothing happens.

The story sometimes is merely dormant, waiting to be awakened by an author, who is, as Silverstein wrote in his introduction, willing to permit:

…the real to mingle with the imagined, as it does in the deserted labyrinth of the mind.

Silverstein’s first book is a good omen (as defined by Merriam-Webster not Bierce) of writings yet to come and for Texas Monthly, where he can bedevil reporters with assignments to uncover memorable stories where, at first glance, there are seemingly none.   Don’t let any of them remain untold, like Bierce’s death, “reductus in pulvis” (pulverem) (RIP as defined in The Devil’s Dictionary).

Note Added on June 1Interview with Jake Silverstein

‘New York Times’ Making Amends?

Austinites gloated, but San Antonians exploded over the blasphemous claim made by John Edge on March 9 in The New York Times:

When it comes to breakfast tacos, however, Austin trumps all other American cities.


I have tried to refrain from jumping on the anti-Edge bandwagon, but….

Theoretically, Edge comes with impeccable foodie credentials, such as the upcoming Truck Food Nation (I confess.  I love this website.) and the fact that he currently is a finalist for the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award from the James Beard Foundation. 

But Edge was way off base with that line.  Reminiscent of the old Pace Picante advertisement blasting Cookie for serving “foreign” hot sauce (“This stuff is made in New York City.”), the headline itself is a dead giveaway:  “Tacos in the Morning?”  That is not a question; it is an assumption for a huge percentage of San Antonians and has been for their entire lives. 

Personally, I am partial to Tito’s thick, freshly made-by-hand, white corn tortillas way-overstuffed with chilaquiles, but there are a multitude of choices in virtually every neighborhood.  Veronica Flores-Paniagua of the Express-News writes that the paper’s food editor, Karen Haram, received nominations for more than 200 different breakfast taco destinations as the “best” in the city this past year.  San Antonians probably were eating breakfast tacos before upstart Austin was founded.

Dan Saltzstein‘s article, “36 Hours in San Antonio” in today’s New York Times, makes the paper more palatable to pick up again.  Saltzstein wandered far and wide off the beaten track to spotlight both upscale and quirky spots in San Antonio (although no breakfast tacos are mentioned).   He recommends a platter of the “succulent, charred-on-the-outside brisket” at The Smokehouse on Roland Avenue and the Texas burger, a Texas Monthly cover girl, at our favorite car wash, The Cove.

He dined on shrimp enchiladas at Aldaco’s Stone Oak, and waited in line for wild mushroom lasagna at Andrew Weissman’s Il Sogno.  He hit the Green Lantern on Stone Oak Parkway and wandered into Casbeers for a bit of “church music that goes way beyond hymns.”  In this whirlwind trip, he squeezes in museums and shopping at The Twig Book Shop and Melissa Guerra’s at Pearl.

Phew!  How could anyone do all that in 36 hours?  Saltzstein must have been zipping around faster than a New York minute, a phrase Barry Popik claims actually originated in Texas.  But, more importantly, why would anyone spend only 36 hours in San Antonio?  Then I looked back; the vacation schedule, despite the headline (Who writes these headlines for the Times?), stretched out over a 48-hour period – actually even longer because it ended up precisely 48 hours later upon arrival at the San Antonio Zoo, which has way too many acres of animals to see in a New York nanosecond.

Hey, New York, thanks for extending us a Texas minute to explore some of our charms.  Next time, try the breakfast tacos.

Some recent great meals around San Antonio, from a non-New York perspective:

  • The Cool Cafe, 123 Auditorium Circle:  A crepe filled with spinach, mushrooms and liberal amounts of olive oil served with sweet and crisp roasted potatoes; huge chunks of salmon cooked shish-kabob-style and served over basmati rice; half-price wine on Sunday.  Better hurry, because the new owners of the Havana Hotel seem inclined to want the Mediterranean cafe out of the way.  Liz Lambert has completed work on the hotel to instill it with the same coolness factor as the San Jose in Austin, and I am happy to learn the great basement Bar will no longer be filled with dense clouds of cigar smoke.  If Lambert can make a former “motor court” hip, she certainly should be able to make a building with the architectural bones of the Havana inviting.  Did I mention the Cool Cafe knocks 50 percent off all wine on Sundays?  Call first to be sure it has not been evicted:  210.224.2665. 
  • Tre Trattoria, 4003 Broadway:  Considering I have not been blogging long, it might arouse suspicion for me to mention this meal again.  Sorry, but this is my vision of a perfect Saturday lunch for making a couple feel as though they are on vacation:  grilled radicchio with lemon vinagrette; a pizza topped with goat cheese, pistachios and balsamic cippolini; and a bottle of A Mano Primitivo.  One might think Jason and Crystal Dady were bribing me, but they would go broke if everyone who came in placed such a budget order.  Price for two, including the bottle of wine:  $41.30.
  • Azuca Nuevo Latino, 713 South Alamo:  For a while, the kitchen seemed to suffer from attention-deficit as management focused on a northside location, but everything appears back on track.  Few restaurants present food with more artistry.  Would highly recommend garlicky tostones, tender grilled squid and the tropical fruit garden for dessert, much more decadent than it sounds.  The caipirinha is a nice change from margaritas or mojitos.
  • The Filling Station Cafe, 701 South St. Mary’s Street:  The place to grab a sandwich, such as the turkey habanero on rolls made in the teeninsiest kitchen.  There might be all of three tables tucked inside, but there is additional seating outside.  Have used Jon’s services several times to provide sandwiches for meetings, and everyone always raves. 
  • Zinc Champagne, Wine & Spirits, 207 North Presa:  The name immediately lets you know the beverage side of the menu is well-stocked; yet the bartenders do not complain about making something off-menu – such as what I have christened a “tequito,” a mojito with tequila instead of rum.  Zinc is open during the week for lunch, but seems to be trying to keep that secret.  Pears, goat cheese and pecans perk up a small Zinc salad, and the portobello patty melt with spinach, nopalitos and cheese is hearty fare.  The sweet potato fries arriving on the same plate keep me from exploring the menu much farther, despite the high praise friends lavish on the Texas salmon salad with pearl couscous. 
  • Easter lunch was bountiful, but my sister-in-law asked me not to give out her address.
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