San Antonio Past and Present, in 1.5 Days

Starting with the Mission Trail, we investigated all five of the original farming and evangelizing missions of the area: Espada, San Juan, San Jose, Concepcion, and San Antonio de Bexar (which came to be far better known as the Alamo). It was highly informative, even if sad to learn of the losses in culture and lives of the indigenous people as the missions came to the area, and it helps to explain many things about San Antonio (its staunch Catholicism even today; the extensive system of aqueducts that was created, which today is the foundation for some of the city’s Riverwalk; the source of many place-names in the city, and perhaps why these missions are the most intact of any missions originally located in Texas).

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that we are not Texan or southern, but we were less impressed by the Alamo in downtown San Antonio than most other visitors. To know the history of how many peoples fought over this territory, and to realize that all European invaders/colonists commandeered it from the native peoples, we can’t credit those who tried to defend the US Fort from the attacking Mexican/Spanish forces as entirely heroic. It is true that they were massively outnumbered by Santa Anna’s forces, and that they were basically slaughtered almost to the last US soldier. But we debate whether we should have been there in the first place. Millions dispute our opinion, but we will side with the indigenous peoples.

The city has a facility called the Museo Alameda, started in 2007 to honor the Hispanic-American culture in the area. It fell on hard times within five years of opening, was taken over by the Smithsonian and then the University of Texas. The Museo is now run by the city of San Antonio and is a mere shadow of its former self. We visited the only exhibit they have running at present, “Our Comida (food), our Culture.” It is a very well curated series of photographs and sculptures from multiple latin@ artists, and we wished more people would visit to help keep it alive.

The river walk was just magical. So well landscaped and provided with solid pathways, it is obviously beloved by visitors and residents alike. The San Antonio river flows through town, and as mentioned above, the river walk takes advantage of a former aqueduct from the mission to divert the river and create more linear feet for the Walk. And everywhere one sees the airmen/women from the nearby Lackland Air Force Base, walking with their visiting families and decked out in their crisp blue uniforms. I asked one of them if I could take his picture in honor of my father (an AF veteran). The airman very politely obliged, and I’d like to think Dad was smiling.

We skipped lunch to make time for a trip through the Briscoe Western Art Museum on the river Walk. Another peak experience. The building alone is eye-poppingly gorgeous, originally built in 1929 Art Deco design to house the Carnegie Library. But the art is even more wonderful, and includes oil and pastel landscapes and portraits, bronze sculptures, historical uniforms and costumes, and a fantastic collection of historical saddles. Not a single Frederick Remington sculpture, which was refreshing.

Three distinct cultures were well-represented: the indigenous peoples who first inhabited the great western territories, the Spanish colonists and military who followed, and the American colonists who largely dominate the land today. I suppose you could identify a fourth: the admixture of all of them. The images chosen for the galleries were such noble renderings, reflecting both women and men who made contributions in their times. Because we so rarely see ornately tooled and silver/jewel encrusted saddlery, we were mesmerized by their beauty. The museum only has three floors, easily seen in two hours, and we left hungry for more.

Two final events capped off San Antonio for us: a meal at La Fonda, a well-regarded Tex-Mex fine dining restaurant – delicious; and a night with the San Antonio Symphony, at Tobin Center.

The meal offered duck tacos, stuffed poblano pepper, cheese enchiladas, pork tamales and a bifstek taco (for George), crowned by flan and tres leches cake. The symphony offered Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Howard Hansen (the theme from Interlochen!). The guest conductor (Gerard Schwartz) had recruited his son (Julian Schwartz) to play a series of cello variations on the Mozart aria, “La ci darem la mano,” from Don Giovanni. One of my favorites. Another peak experience. Go see the symphony when you are in town. They are wonderful.

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