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San Antonio: The Little Venice Of Texas

San Antonio, Texas was a complete surprise for me.  I expected a typical busy city atmosphere, and instead found myself in an unusual and interesting environment.  Yes, there were elements of the big city but they were tempered by other features which made San Antonio a really pleasant place to be.

Imagine a big city which is hosting 70,000 extra people for about 5-7 days.  Chaos right?  Wrong.  This city had prepared for our event and everything was geared up to handle the inundation of humanity.  Restaurants were well stocked and had plenty of staff on hand to deal with hungry mouths looking for some good Tex-Mex food and some of that great Texan barbecue.

The police were really well organized and extremely gracious to the thousands of visitors. Everything that I heard from my fellow convention attendees was positive.  Accommodations were good and everyone said they were treated well.  The hundreds of local volunteers who greeted people at the airport, outside hotels, and on streets corners were full of smiles, joy, laughter and lots of helpful information.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were in the heart of the city with just a seven to eight minute walk separating our condo from the Henry B. Gonzalez convention center and the fifty thousand capacity Alamodome.  But what a walk!  This area of San Antonio is known as RiverWalk and is absolutely beautiful. A whole system of canals intertwine through the neighborhood.  Small river boats seating about 25 people are piloted through these waterways as informative guides point out places of interest and speak about the history of San Antonio.

Along each side of the canals were cobblestone walkways and shade trees.  These walkways were flanked by restaurants and shops and were criss-crossed by pretty arching bridges.  It really made me think of a smaller scale Venice.  And because the architecture of this area is so varied and interesting I almost felt as though I was in Europe:-).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

San Antonio is the site of the Alamo.  This is a famous historical monument which stands as a testament to the bravery and courage of the people who fought for Texas liberty.  In 1836 the Texian and Tejano volunteers, alongside famous characters such as Jim Bowie, the well-known knife fighter, and Davie Crockett, famed frontiersman and former Congressman from Tennessee, fought against General Santa Anna’s Mexican army.  They withstood the onslaught for just over thirteen days before they were overpowered.

On Sunday, before leaving San Antonio, we attended Mass at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.  This church was built by German immigrants and is very representative of a miniature European cathedral.  It is very beautiful both inside and outside and a wonderful place to come and worship God.  I think that about seventy five percent of the congregation was made up of our convention attendees, and the priest made a point of making us feel very welcome.

Because we were involved in a four-day convention, we did not have enough time to do this city justice.  I know that San Antonio boasts the 750-foot tall Tower of the Americas, is also home to a SeaWorld, the Six Flags Fiesta, a fine zoo, and the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park.  I certainly would be happy to make a second visit to San Antonio and would highly recommend it as a vacation destination. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Musings: Relativity & Perspective

No, I’m not going to do an Albert Einstein.  I do not have that kind of analytical and scientific mind.  But it struck me that any given situation will probably be viewed differently by each person involved in it.  I just have to think about any normal, every day conversation between myself and my husband and how we sometimes struggle to understand exactly what the other is saying – and we’re both speaking English, and are relatively on the same page!

Just recently I read a phrase that really caught my attention.  It said something like, “A mistake is just another way of doing something.”  Yesterday I read another phrase which said, “A weed is no more than a flower in disguise.”  And they both carry the same message as the old proverb, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

I remember participating in a workshop some years ago.  There were various projects and activities that we engaged in during the course of the workshop.  One that I will always remember went something like this.  We re-entered the classroom after a short break and in the middle of the chalk board was the word “track”. 

The instructor asked us to just focus on that one word.  Then she asked us not to talk among ourselves and to write a sentence using that word.  As I recall, there were about twenty to twenty five of us in the class.  There may have been a handful of sentences written that were similar.  The rest were completely unique, each offering a different meaning and use of the word.

I’m sure that this creates problems from time to time.  Going back to my husband and I, I can think of a few times when the discussion has become somewhat heated simply because of two completely different perspectives, understandings of, one word or phrase.  (We’re probably not a good example because I’m British and he’s American, so the language barrier in and of itself sometimes is a bit of a beast!!!)

But different perspectives can also bring wonderful variety to our lives.  Just think of art and architecture, and what about music?  All the unique styles created by different people enrich our lives in all those areas.  I absolutely love Modigliani and Monet and yet they create works at opposite ends of the spectrum.  As do Degas and Dali and yet both have produced works of exquisite beauty.

I cannot imagine life without the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.  But there are days when all I want to hear is Dvorak or Beethoven.  And when I’m in the mood, please get my toes a-tapping with some down-to-earth, boot-stomping Blue Grass.

On the news yesterday and today are the heart-wrenching stories and pictures from Samoa and Indonesia.  People’s lives torn apart, wrecked by savage tsunami’s and earthquakes, forces of nature over which we have no control.  Any “small stuff” problems that I may have been lamenting about dwindle into nothingness by comparison.

Probably the biggest example of perspective that I can remember in my own life happened back in the mid seventies.  I was living in Sardinia at the time.  It was a gorgeous, warm, clear August evening and the sky was littered with millions of stars forming the Milky Way.  I remember standing on the patio of my little cottage and getting a cricked neck from staring upwards.

Then I had an idea.  There was a six-foot long wooden picnic table on the patio which I covered with a sleeping bag.  Then I lay on top and in wonderful comfort began to star gaze.  It was an incredible experience.  It looked as though someone had taken a dozen sacks full of diamonds and thrown them across the width and breadth of the sky.

It was only then, at the ripe old age of thirty something, that I began to get a clear idea of what the universe was about.  As I lay on that picnic table I suddenly realized that it wasn’t just a flat dark blue background with “big stars, and little stars” painted all over it.  I understood for the first time the significance of the word “infinity”.

I became aware that the “little stars’ were in fact probably just as “big” as the others seemed to me, but that they were further away and thus seemed “smaller”.  And I also realized that if I squinted I could just barely see even “smaller” stars that were even further away.  And in that one moment the full magnitude of “the universe” hit me. 

In that one moment I was both terrified and also in total awe, and I realized just how insignificant I really was in the bigger scheme of things.  And yet I also realized just how important I must be to my God that He has chosen to place me here in the bigger scheme of things.               

Musings: Overlapping Religions

I had a physical therapy (PT) appointment today.  My left knee has been bothering me and, after an MRI, it was decided to go the PT route.  All part of the general “aging” process despite the fact that I feel like a thirty-year old inside.  (At least I don’t say “like a teenager” any more!!)

Anyway, I was lying on the PT table having my knee iced down before receiving some kind of “electronic” treatment (the proper name just simply will not come out of the “senior ether” for the moment), when I became aware of the TV making background noise.  I watch very little TV and so I didn’t really pay it much attention, choosing rather to close my eyes and focus on relaxing.

However, I heard the sounds of Spanish guitar music being played and, because I am passionate about Flamenco, I opened my eyes to see what it was about.  I forget the guy’s name, but he does a travel program on PBS and will occasionally tug at my heart strings when I catch him doing a segment on Italy.  But today he was in Spain and in that moment was talking about Flamenco dancing and the music was in the background.

After a few shots of various dancers performing he went on to talk about the various architectural influences in Spain and I mentally sat up.  He was referring to the invasion of the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors and how they had radically changed Spanish architecture and the internal and external decorations of buildings.

As I lay there I thought about the scrap of paper that sat in my “inspiration bin” at home.  On that scrap of paper is a note to remind myself to write a blog about the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine, Florida.  Under that heading are the words “Catholicism-Islam”, and just a few days ago on the internet I had read an abbreviated history of the Moors in Spain.  It was time to write the piece.

Twice in the last few weeks Richard and I have ridden our Harley to St. Augustine in Florida.  We enjoy the ride and we combine it with going to Mass in the Cathedral-Basilica.  I have been inside that building many times, sometimes for Mass and sometimes showing it to friends or family who are visiting.

Just last Sunday we chose to make our run there and, as we arrived a little early, we had time to just sit prayerfully before Mass started.  I took some time to look around and appreciate the typical Spanish construction and the beautiful artwork and decor. As I said before, I have visited the Cathedral and looked around before, but I guess I had a new pair of eyes with me this time.

For one I noticed, I mean really noticed, a small side chapel about halfway up the length of the Cathedral.  It is done in exquisite shades of green with some lovely ceramic tile work.  There was a statue on the small altar which I did not readily recognize as a known saint.

I leaned over to my husband and whispered, “Was that chapel there before?”  He replied in the affirmative and went on to tell me it was dedicated to St. Augustine.  I was quite taken aback that I had never noticed it before or realized that it was the patron saint of the town in there!  (I was also pretty flabbergasted that my husband knew something about the Cathedral that I didn’t!!)

I continued to peruse the rest of the Cathedral and it suddenly came to me, even though, as I said before, I had visited here on numerous occasions, that this Cathedral was full of Islamic nuances.  Starting with the vivid red vaulted ceiling and then taking in the intricately painted or inlaid gold decor on all the beams supporting the ceiling, it was indeed very “Moorish”.

For a moment I pictured dark, olive-skinned men with thin, black, face-framing beards.  I could see them sitting on piles of rich red and gold silk cushions piled haphazardly under a multi-roofed tent and surrounded by soft hanging red drapes held back by gold tasseled cords.  And undulating all around them I could see beautiful women dressed in diaphanous veils and marvelous jingling gold jewelry.

Guiltily I came back into the present moment and looked around wondering what the people around me would think if they could see my daydreaming.  I wondered if any of the regular parishioners ever thought how strange it was that they came to celebrate the Roman Catholic Mass in such “Islamic” surroundings.  And I said a prayer to God that maybe truly this world could come together in peace.