Monday, June 29, 2009

Old Basilica, New River Walk

I never did meet Tom and Barbara, either at their wedding, which was a couple of years before I was born, or at the renewal of their vows on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary, which was on June 13, 2009, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower, in San Antonio, an enormous church building on the West Side of the city. But as my brother Jim and I entered the basilica that afternoon, we were given a program with this cover:

We went to the basilica to see the basilica, not to attend any event. At least that was my plan, since Jim didn't care one way or the other about the place. When I visit San Antonio, I usually don't see much I haven't seen before, but I wanted there to be at least one exception to that pattern this time. Looking on line for information, I was surprised by how easy it would be to fulfill that stray desire, provided I could make it to the West Side. Even though the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower has been around since long before I moved to San Antonio in 1968, and is only a few miles from where I lived, went to school and otherwise grew up, I'd never been there. Never even heard of it. Such is the power of habit.

Wiki has better pictures of the basilica than I was able to take, especially because it was blinding hot that afternoon. Inside it was cool. Must cost a fortune to air-condition a place like that, so I made my little maintenance donation on the way out. We'd arrived right at the beginning of the Tom and Barbara's celebration, with the choir singing "Keys to the Kingdom" (based on verses in the Book of Matthew, composer anon.) and "Ave Verum Corpus" (No. 3) (Mozart), and "Ave Maria" (Lambillotte), fine sounds that wafted through the vast interior. A number of people had turned up for the event, but were so spread out that no one even looked at us.

Then the bagpiping started: "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Three" (Beethoven). Later I read that the Houston Highlanders Bagpipe Band had been hired for the occasion, and I did see them in their highland garb, getting ready outside the basilica. Boy, did they look overheated. But they did some fine piping. I knew that marked the beginning of the procession, so we left. I'm sure Tom and Barbara are fine people and all, but we didn't see the need to witness their vow renewal.

The visit to the basilica was actually an add-on to our visit to the new extension of the San Antonio River Walk. The existing River Walk in downtown San Antonio is a municipal treasure, and has been for years. I have my own fond memories of the place, especially during high school and during visits to town while in college, when I'd hang out with groups of friends there.

The extension of the River Walk from downtown to Breckenridge Park, upriver and north of downtown, has just been completed. Completed in the sense that a number of miles of new riverside sidewalks, landscaping and bridges have been finished just this year -- just in time for my visit. Sure, it was about 95° F., but I had to see that. And so we went.

It was worth enduring the heat. The extension is every bit as aesthetic as the original, the main difference being that not many businesses are located along it, yet. Give them time; there's a recession on.

The is the view looking southward toward the Lexington Ave. bridge, which was as far as the River Walk used to go (I think). All the work on the photograph's side of the bridge is new.

This is a lock just north of Brooklyn Ave.

I hadn't realized the river needed locks. A dam, yes. Olmos Dam, which I used to drive across. In earlier decades, the San Antonio River was fittingly wild and woolly, escaping its banks periodically, especially during the 1910s, culminating in the Great Flood of 1921. For more on the efforts to tame the river, which remarkably didn't end in its uglification, see this extensive article.

This is further north, between 9th Ave. and Jones.

The only business operating on the new segment of the River Walk is a VFW post that runs a restaurant. The colorful umbrellas of that place are visible in this shot.

It smelled like barbecue. Just another reason to come back someday, but maybe in October or some other cooler month.

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