The Rain it Raineth

Here in San Antonio, hardly anyone has an umbrella…

by Celia Hayes

…On the just and on the unjust fella.
But mostly raineth on the just,

Because the unjust steals the just’s umbrella!

Or so runs the traditional couplet – here in San Antonio, hardly anyone has an umbrella, a proper raincoat or galoshes, because the worst rainstorms always seem to arrive unannounced. You might as well just resign yourself to getting wet, like we did over Memorial Day weekend. We hadn’t planned on doing anything for the weekend anyway. The thunderstorm woke me up when it blew in during the wee hours, the morning dawned dark and dreary, and the dogs were disinclined for walkies, so we were even less inclined to go anywhere, until it cleared up in the late afternoon.

That was when news stories and pictures of high water in downtown and in the parklands behind the Olmos dam, and in Breckenridge Park finally came to our attention. Oh, dear – another one of those places prone to flood are deep enough in water to draw the attention of local, national, and even international news outlets. How can I put this gently – it does rain in Texas, sometimes hard and long, and with flood-productive capacity, although thanks to a half-century of Hollywood movies and television, the national (and international) mental image of Texas as a waterless desert.

This might be true of West Texas; East Texas is as soggy as any other place in the Deep South. But San Antonio has its own problems with water. In some years, a shortage of it reduces home-owners to watering their lawns with a hand-held hose, while in other years it is entirely possible to drown in a sudden storm surge on a street within city limits; even without having taken the ill-advised step of driving around the city barriers, or going to muck about in the usually-dry-but now full-running-and-overflowing neighborhood creek-bed. San Antonio is still at an outstanding danger from flash floods. I cannot say that too often enough, although the danger of death from them is much diminished from former years, thanks to civic and engineering enterprise. The elementary thing about flash-floods is that they are – flash floods. They hit without very much warning, sometimes as a result of rain which has fallen miles or even counties away, and at intervals so irregular as to lull residents into complacency.

Into the 20th century, downtown San Antonio was prone to catastrophic floods; the establishment of the Riverwalk was an effort at control. It’s worked out very well, ever since – but this dear and rambling city still has water hazards. Those sections of highway downtown which run below ground level will flood. Given sufficient rain, the 281 north of the Olmos dam will be under water as well, and the stretch of North New Braunfels which runs through Alamo Heights will be running with water. Regular commuters will know the places along their route which can and will accumulate deep water. Most of the really potentially dangerous places along our surface streets are marked with bright yellow flood-gages, marked off in one-foot increments. There is a reason for this; a water level at or just above the underside of your car has a very real potential to lift your vehicle and float it away. The surface of your tires which actually touches the road, which gives you braking and steering control is only about the size of your hands (if you have big hands!) and once your wheels no longer touch the road, the best that you can hope for is that your vehicle lodges against something firm, and that rescue is not too long in coming. Never go around barriers to drive through a flooded area, be aware of those places which will flood, pay close attention to flood warnings, and know that those mostly-dry creek beds which meander through the greater part of our city will soon be full of very fast-moving water in the event of a large amount of rain upstream. Word to the wise – stay dry, San Antonio!

Our Little Backyard Garden in April

April in the Garden

by Celia Hayes

Ah, the rain which fell last week; glorious, bountiful rain, just when we had given up all hope of seeing such again. And just about when I had concluded that we had skipped over spring entirely and gone straight into summer. Having to run the air conditioner because it’s ninety degrees outside – freaking ninety degrees! – in March! That is just wrong … especially when most of the rest of the northern hemisphere is suffering cold, rain, snow. If I could have figured out a way to swap about twenty degrees of Fahrenheit for about ten inches of rain over a week or so, I would so do it.

On the other hand, the cycle of undue warmth and a sudden generous rain has worked out in the long run, so I ought not to complain too much. The big raised bed is filled with squash sprouts – zucchini, golden and the round greenish ones which my grandmother always called ‘patty-pan’ squash. This is a promising start, for as of yet they are only sprouts: Whether or not my ambition to have squash by the bag-full to inflict on the neighbors remains to be seen. The five seed potatoes that I planted at the far end of the bed are also sprouting vigorously. I had a thought – potatoes might make a very attractive bedding plant, if interspersed with some kind of flowering annual. And at the end of the season, you could harvest the potatoes; ornamental and edible!

Now the small raised bed, full of three kinds of beans is going to town. I thought that all three of kinds planted there were bush beans – but it seems that the middle row is sending out exploratory tendrils towards the chicken wire that I wrapped the raised bed in, so as to prevent the dogs from trampling all over them. My ambitions are to have two more small raised beds, so as to keep the bean crops going as long as possible, and now I see that a trellis of some kind will have to feature in them.

I had three ornamental wire plant towers, bought here and there, now serving as either tomato cages for the tomatoes that I planted in earth boxes, or as supports for sugar peas. I planted the sugar peas just last week, and after seven days there are tiny green slips sprouting in the earth box. The tomatoes in the home-made hanging containers are also thriving; they were started the earliest and so are already putting out embryonic tomatoes. The largest is the size of a marble. Several weeks ago I discovered Rainbow Gardens as a source for exotic tomato starts – a veritable rainbow of colors of tomatoes. I loved the little lemon-yellow tomatoes that we had last year; ‘Yellow Pear’ was the name, and so that’s one kind that we’ll try again. Last week I bought a huge, gangly variety called a ‘Black Krim’ which comes from southern Russia and is supposed to thrive in heat … which we can guarantee!

I’ve held over a number of plants from last year; notably various peppers which had been growing in the pepper topsy-turvey. They did OK in the topsy – not spectacular, but OK. I put them all in pots – much, much better. I will never have to purchase cayenne or jalapeno peppers ever again, and as for bell peppers – a single plant from last year now has nearly a dozen half-sized green bell peppers on it.

And that was my week in the garden – how was yours?

Hauptstrasse Quiltfest in Boerne

The Allure of the Quilt

by Celia Hayes

Once again this last weekend, we were lured to the pleasant bedroom-slipper community of Boerne by the charms of the Squirrel’s Nest on Main Street, which supports the totally worthy services provided by Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation to animal-kind of this part of Texas. This visit also coincided with the celebration of a uniquely American art form – with contemporary examples hung from storefronts, and along the sides of Boerne’s town plaza. They made a splendid show, all through downtown, and many of the businesses along Main Street (or Hauptstrasse) also had window displays incorporating quilts – and many of them were offering drinks … although we had to turn down the offers of margaritas at one otherwise inviting establishment. Were they non-alcoholic? My daughter doesn’t drink, and although I do, 1:30 in the afternoon is just to darned early. There was a lemonade stand in front of one place though. Perhaps we should have gone back…

Anyway; quilts – an essentially American fabric art form, which pretty much runs the gamut from the brutally practical to the over-the-top artistic. Many examples of the latter were on display this weekend; lovingly designed and carefully calculated to draw the eye and to show off the design skills and the artistic eye of the person who made them. (Almost always a woman in the case of modern examples, and totally in the case of historical ones.) There are three different strands in quilt design, by the way, although very often they can be combined within a single quilt. There are quilts that are patched or pieced, in that scraps of fabric are sewn together to form plain or intricate geometric patterns. Then there is the use of an applique, where the design is cut out and appliqued to the fabric of the quilt top itself – and finally, there is white-work quilting, which is used on a length of plain fabric and depends on an elaborate pattern of stitching for the effect.

Historically a theme for the quilt was chose, pattern and color was selected from material either purchased or thriftily using scraps left over from making clothing. Then the quilt top pieces were cut, seamed together, and combined through various means with a padding and a backing to provide a reasonably warm and practicable bed-covering. All clear about the concept here? Things to cover a bed with, to keep people warm with on nights which might be cold, things which were often made on the cheap, utilizing scraps of woven fabrics, flour and seed sacks, and sewn together by women who didn’t have much free time… and such bedcovers were practical things which might on occasion be thrown up upon, or have other stains from bodily functions deposited on them … (urp).

Among some historic quilts shown off in the town plaza were a number made between 1920 to 1950 or so by the grandmother of the collector who had rescued them from storage in the old family farmhouse in Kentucky. Most were patchwork, in the simpler patterns and random fabric scraps, but one was particularly eye-catching, pieced together from pink and greenish-aqua cotton fabric in an interlocking pattern of rings. That had obviously been made from deliberately purchased fabric; and very likely intended to be a show-piece, for the best guest bedroom, perhaps. Two of the quilts were interesting in that they had been pieced together from rectangular patches of light-weight woolen men’s suiting. It seems that they had come from fabric sample books, and when the company catalog was updated, the seamstress had thriftily pieced together the outdated fabric samples. It made a very heavy quilt, in simple rectangles of muted shades of grey, brown, navy, and olive; not much to look at, designwise, but I’ll bet anything that quilt would have been warm to sleep under on a cold winter night.

Korean Food Can Be Spicy

Korean Delights

by Celia Hayes

So, many of the headlines this week concern themselves with Korea, a country which I have some slight connection to; that is where my father was serving a tour when I was born. And a good few decades later, I did a year-long tour there myself. About the very first thing that I realized was that Korea in the 1990s looked nothing like the TV series MASH … and only very little like what my father remembered. Dad and his platoon with their mobile radar set-up lived in several different tent encampments near the DMZ. I spent the year living at Yongsan Garrison, in the heart of a bustling and very cosmopolitan Seoul. The garrison was itself a fairly un-crowded green island in the middle of a very built-up city – rather as if there were a substantial military base set up in half of New York City’s Central Park.

I very much enjoyed the year in Seoul, by the way – and I very much liked the Koreans that I met and worked with; tough, jolly, and rather outgoing. Someone once described Koreans as the Irish of Asia, which I don’t think was too far off. Being that San Antonio is a military-oriented town, and a lot of military – especially Army – have been rotating in and out of Korea for the last sixty years, there is a nice little Korean presence here in San Antonio. I know of no less than three different Korean church congregations in my immediate neck of the woods. Then there is the little ‘TigerPop’ fast food place that my daughter and I sampled a year or so ago. And when I first came to San Antonio, someone told me that the first and best Korean restaurants were all scattered along Harry Wurzbach, Austin Highway and Rittiman Road, in proximity to Fort Sam Houston – because those first restaurants were all started by the Korean wives of retired Army NCOs. Don’t know if it is true or not; but it looks like some the most assuming places with excellent food are along those streets.

Be warned, though – Korean food can be very, very spicy, even to Texas tastes. (Not as spicy as Thai food, though.) The dish that most of us have heard of is kimchee; basically pickled Napa cabbage, but with a kick – or as one of my military friends used to call it, “sauerkraut” with an attitude.” Very closely related to Japanese sushi is the Korean kimbab; cooked rice, and other things, rolled in a sheet of seaweed nori. The difference is that in the Korean version, the contents are most often cooked. And sometimes, they are made with a sliver of Spam. No, really – Spam is enormously popular in Korea; something that I had heard, but never quite believed until I saw assortments of Spam for sale in fancy baskets in Korean specialty groceries. The other very popular Korean snack food among my friends was yakimandu – pan-friend dumplings, which were as much like Chinese pot-stickers as to have no difference at all. Many of these delights were sold from street stalls, to the horror of the military health authorities, but to the best of my knowledge, I never heard of anyone getting sick from eating them, mostly because they came right from the burner to your plate. And against the red peppers and other hot spices, disease-causing organisms never had a chance.

And now I’m hungry for yakimandu … guess a trip down to Koreana on Harry Wurzbach is in order…


HemisFair Park in the Heart of San Antonio

HemisFair Park

by Celia Hayes

HemisFair Park, in the heart of downtown San Antonio is a bit of an anomaly as far as San Antonio parks go. It’s fifteen acres stretches from the entrance to La Villita on South Alamo, all the way to the Institute of Texan Cultures, roughly bounded on one side by the convention center, and on the other by Durango Street – now renamed Cesar Chavez, although many maps still say ‘Durango.’ HemisFair Park was not a patch of farmland or open scrub left undeveloped, (Hardburger, Comanche Hill, or McAllister) or a particularly scenic piece of property designated as parkland from the earliest days, (San Pedro, Breckenridge) or even neighborhood amenity, (Woodlawn) or even stretches along various creeks left undeveloped because of the danger of flooding. HemisFair Park was deliberately carved out from an existing residential neighborhood to serve as the venue for the 1968 World’s Fair.

Some of the urban neighborhood thus renewed was undoubtedly blighted, but a fair portion of it was not. Over a hundred buildings threatened with demolition were of some significance, either architecturally or historically and a portion of them were retained within the park bounds. Some of them seem now to be in use as office space, but others are boarded up on the ground floor – which is a pity, since they are all clustered at the La Villita end of the park, and might make some rather nice studio, retail and exhibition spaces. There is a multi-faceted plan afoot to renew and restructure the various areas of the park – to include using the the half-dozen historic mansions for just that, so here’s hoping it won’t take too many decades longer. Part of the plan also includes re-establishing part of the original street grid, to tie in HemisFair to the Southtown, and Lavaca neighborhoods on one side, and to LaVillita and downtown San Antonio on the other.

A few of the exhibition spaces built for the Fair are still in daily use although perhaps for other than the original purpose – like the Lila Cockrell Theater and large parts of the convention center. The Institute of Texan Cultures was originally the State of Texas pavilion for the fair, and the round US District Court building was the United States of America pavilion – and the Mexican Cultural Institute is presently housed in the original, but expanded and renovated Mexico Pavilion. Others, like the Women’s Pavilion are still there – but closed, pending restoration, or as support offices. One of the most eye-catching structures created for HemisFair is the “Tower of the Americas’ – still about the tallest man-made building in San Antonio. Everyone should go up to the observation deck at least once, for nothing other than to admire the peerless view in every direction. It’s also a very useful landmark for navigating around the city. The remaining grounds were re-landscaped with gardens, walkways and water-features in the mid-1980s … but pretty much everyone acknowledges that unless there is some special event going on at the park, not many people are drawn to it – especially at night. In many ways, HemisFair Park is still a work in progress.

HemisFair, although attracting a lot of attention and very well attended, unfortunately fell very short of breaking even. The fair also took a hit when it opened – two days after the assassination of Martin Luther King. Attendance never came close to matching estimates, and the Fair eventually lost over 7 million. Some of the local construction firms were owed substantial amounts by organizers; according to legend, they were paid with blocks of tickets – which they went out and sold on the street, recouping just enough from ticket sales to pay their suppliers and workers.