The danger of playing hardball with our Library: Bookworms tend to vote

$200-cardI value my purple card. In fact, my card number is written on the top card of the flipper on top of my desk because of the frequency I log into databases online, have books sent to the “S” section of holds at the Central Library and refresh the reading materials downloaded to my Kindle.

City budget season always worries me. As the San Antonio Public Library system is pressured to open more branches to better serve residents of the entire county, if its pool of funds is not increased, services have to be cut somewhere.

Texana, tucked away on the fifth floor of the Central Library, is easy prey because, unlike the circulation numbers for romance novels, the number of people who reference the historical records of Texana is relatively small. Count me among them. Perusing the online budget, I thought Texana was safe this year, but Paula Allen broke the news to me yesterday in her column in the Express-News: “Texana Room Back on the Chopping Block.” Beginning October 1, except by special appointment, Texana only will be open a total of 20 hours a week.

But this post is not really about Texana because I know that does not affect huge numbers of people. This is about another source of funds for the Library. A source endangered by hardball politics.

Currently, if you are a resident of Bexar County, the purple card you can acquire at any branch library at no charge provides you access to a collection of books and multimedia materials numbering more than 2 million and access to almost 50,000 eBooks. Pity the poor person who lives just outside the county line, though. If she wants to access this wealth, she has to pay $200 a year for the privilege.

But those of you who live outside the city limits yet still inside Bexar County really are not paying your fair share to keep our Library operating full-time. You have been hitchhiking on taxpayers who live within the city limits. According to Library Director Ramiro Salazar, as covered by The Rivard Report, Bexar County only pays $9 for each of its users, while the city contributes $21 in its annual allocation.

A year ago, the City of San Antonio requested Bexar County up its share to a more equitable number. But, again according to The Rivard Report, County Judge Nelson Wolff says “to bark at us is pretty ungrateful.” Ungrateful? What about San Antonio taxpayers disproportionately burdened to provide services to those who live outside the city limits? We are your constituents as well. And this one is growling.

So, what did Bexar County Commissioners do a year ago? They decided to start their own library system, BiblioTech, a 4,800-square-foot library with no books. Everything is digital. Certainly, this is the wave of the future. Judge Wolff explained what they wanted to accomplish during an interview on National Public Radio:

Well, a couple of things gave rise to this. One was trying to bring library services to the citizen at a competitive price. Second idea was to break down the barriers to reading, with the eBooks that we have and without having to physically come to the library. And then it was to bring technology to an area of the city that is economic disadvantaged, highly minority, and do not have access to the Internet and the various modes that we have to access it. So we provide eBook readers that they can check out.

Those reasons are sound, and Bexar County has established an innovative, inexpensive prototype that fulfills a portion of community needs. But numerous offerings duplicate digital resources already available to those holding the purple card. So this already ungrateful San Antonio/Bexar County taxpayer is paying for duplicate services. And now Bexar County wants to cut back its annual contributions to the full-service Library system in San Antonio because it has its own system? What about the other unmet needs?

If politicians can’t cooperate enough to keep services consolidated, then Bexar County can plunge ahead without agreeing to an equitable cost-sharing arrangement.

But then, Bexar County Commissioners, you will have to face your constituents who live outside the city limits. You break the news to them. Hey, if County Commissioners continue heading in this direction, those of you who live in neighboring townships – including Alamo Heights, Balcones Heights, Castle Hills, China Grove, Converse, Elmendorf, Hill Country Village, Hollywood Park, Leon Valley, Olmos Park, Somerset, Windcrest and Terrell Hills – might have to turn in your purple cards or pay the fee – $200 a year.

Of course, County Commissioners do not have to warn their outside-the-city-limits constituents about the possible loss of their San Antonio Public Library privileges before the November election because the Library Board was nice enough to play softball instead of throwing a curveball. The motion made at last week’s meeting only requests Bexar County participate in establishing a joint task force (not the first one) to examine the city/county service model by October 31. Agreement would not have to be reached until March 31, when the Library Board will determine whether the services to Bexar County residents living outside of the city limits should be terminated because of inadequate funding from Bexar County.

If that purple card is of value to you who live outside the city limits of San Antonio, you might need to come down from your heights and hills to let County Commissioners know. Or, you can stay silent and risk having to pay $200 for it. Or you can all try to squeeze into one or two little 4,800-square-foot Bexar County Bibliotechs in search of the degree of service you are accustomed to receiving from the professionals in your neighborhood branches.

The Judge appears to think he hit a home run on this issue. But he really is stuck on third base waiting for the City of San Antonio to bring him home because this is not-an-us-against-them thing.

As one of the Bexar County constituents who checked out a few of the 7.4 million items circulated by the San Antonio Public Library this past year, I feel County Commissioners are out in left field in the wrong ballpark. Their point has been made, but it’s time to come back and play on the same team. Taxpayers just don’t have the will or wherewithal to support two teams.

You make the call.

Please note: This blogger periodically, through the years, has been engaged to provide contract services for the San Antonio Public Library Foundation. As a professional courtesy, this blogger met with a representative of my former client to issue a warning of impending blogging. In no way should this post be considered as representational of any opinion other than my own.

Also, this bookworm would never make a voting decision based solely on one issue…. but I do value my purple card and the services it brings highly.

Culinaria Restaurant Week ends: Time to head back to the gym

Starfish "tart du bacalao," salt cod aglonotti with mascarpone

We don’t dine out enough.

Correction, we dine out more than I should measured by the bathroom scale.

But, we don’t venture out often enough to support all the restaurants we love.

So, during the slowest week of the year, thank goodness Culinaria steps in with Restaurant Week to stimulate San Antonians to buck the end of the summer doldrums and Houstonians and Dallasites to drive on over for a culinary vacation. We love to see the restaurant community pull together in one joint promotion.

We did our best, but still missed so many offerings. Granted, no restaurant is going to be saved by three-course $15 lunches, but we did add a few bottles of wine to our tabs. We never manned up to experience dinner after these luxurious lunches, but here’s some of what we sampled midday this past week:

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All of these restaurants merit support:

For those of you who missed Restaurant Week entirely because you rely on the award-winning “Taste” section of the Express-News, sorry. Hope you will complain to the paper. I would be mad if I’d missed it. “Taste” boycotts Restaurant Week for some reason. Not even a tweet. There was a token mention in this morning’s paper, the last day of Restaurant Week. Normally, I applaud “Taste,” but how can a food section be worth its salt if it ignores an event this flavorful?

Thanks to Culinaria and all the participating chefs for stepping up to the plate.

As for us, we’re hitting the gym tomorrow morning and are trying to ignore the fact that several restaurants we didn’t get to are extending specials into next week. For a list of those, maybe you better depend on San Antonio Current.

*We picked the final day of Culinaria to say goodbye to Tre Trattoria Downtown. Within walking distance, Tre has been almost a weekly destination for us for the past five years. Getting in the car to go to Tre on Broadway won’t be the same, but I’m sure there will be times when we hear that goat cheese pizza with balsamic onions and pistachios beckoning us.

Remembering everyday people: Our rural heritage merits attention

Photograph of the old rock house on the Voelcker Farm taken by Dudley Harris for "Last Farm Standing on Buttermilk Hill"

Photograph of the old rock house on the Voelcker Farm taken by Dudley Harris from “Last Farm Standing on Buttermilk Hill”

Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker loved and fiercely protected their land from encroaching, encircling development swallowing up neighboring farms. The towering trees shading walkers in Phil Hardberger Park result from their stewardship.

Max and Minnie were not well-known in San Antonio, unless you were a frustrated real estate developer trying to court them. They were just plain, ordinary people. Like most of us.

Photograph by Dudley Harris of the Voelcker Dairy barn for "Last Farm Standing on Buttermilk Hill"

Photograph by Dudley Harris of the Voelcker Dairy barn from “Last Farm Standing on Buttermilk Hill”

What the retired dairy farmers never would have envisioned is that their old farm would end up safeguarded by the city that endangered it. The city’s Office of Historic Preservation has submitted a nomination to include the farmstead on the National Register of Historic Places, according to Preservation News:

The Max and Minnie Voelcker Dairy Farm, located in San Antonio’s Phil Hardberger Park, was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places this past spring. The farmstead exemplifies a turn-of-the-century agricultural landscape with preserved late nineteenth and early twentieth century buildings. The State Board of Review met on May 17, 2014, in Austin to review the application.  The Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) received a matching $10,000 Certified Local Government Grant to hire a consultant to prepare the nomination. The nomination assessment was prepared by Brandy Harris, M. Kelley Russell, Lila Knight, Ryan Fennell, Nesta Anderson, and Karissa Basse. The $10,000 grant was matched in-kind by the OHP through the execution of a survey in the West Sector Plan area of the city.  OHP staff members involved in the survey included Adriana Ziga, Kay Hindes, and OHP volunteer Brenda Laureano.  The nomination will now move forward to the National Park Service.

last-farm-coverI never met Max and Minnie but was offered the opportunity to delve into their lives deeply when retained by the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Fund to tell their story. The resulting book, Last Farm Standing on Buttermilk Hill, in turn led me to even more concentrated involvement in the history of the dairy farms that surrounded the Voelcker Farm on San Antonio’s near north side.

As I struggle to uncover bits and pieces of the lives of their neighbors from the Coker Settlement resting beside them in the Coker Cemetery and weave them together into a new book for the Coker Cemetery Association, I am grateful for that introduction to Max and Minnie. Getting to know them and digging into the past of the Coker Settlement has given me incredible respect for the tough-skinned early residents farming on the outskirts of San Antonio.

Life was hard for those pioneering farmers, and it’s wonderful the Voelcker Farmstead has been spared as testimony of the city’s vanishing rural heritage.

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Coker Cemetery

Postcard from Portugal: Pilgrimage to the birthland of San Antonio’s patron saint

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Part of the excuse for extending our stay in Portugal until mid-June was to ensure we were there for the Feast Day of Saint Anthony of Padua, June 13, the anniversary of his death at age 36 in the year 1231. Actually, the celebration is more than a day. In Lisbon, the party in honor of Saint Anthony lasts throughout June.

While we call him “of Padua,” he wasn’t from there. He only ended up in Italy because his ship was blown off course during a storm. He was born in Lisbon and studied in Coimbra, and the Portuguese have not forgotten him. His images, and a few personal relics, are everywhere.

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They love him. And why not? Few saints are more versatile than Saint Anthony in the types of prayers answered.

So, following my pilgrimage to the homeland of the my city’s patron saint, I wanted to share, in layman’s terms, a few of the things every San Antonian should know about him:

  • Saint Anthony must have been fearless. His prime inspiration for becoming a Franciscan was the story of the five Franciscans beheaded by Moors for preaching in Morocco. He yearned to follow in their footsteps.
  • Forget being impressed by horse-whisperers. Sparrows would flock to hear Saint Anthony preach. A stubborn mule would bow to take sacrament from his hands. Early on, when heretics ignored him, he turned to preach to the fishes in the river, who all popped their heads up, mouths agape, and listened attentively as long as he cared to speak.
  • Saint Anthony was such a silver-tongued orator, rock stars would envy the crowds he attracted. His final sermons had to be given far out in the countryside in the open air to accommodate the thousands who swarmed to bear witness. He needed bodyguards to keep from being stripped naked by those who wanted to snip off scraps of his robes to remember him.
  • His popularity was so great and miracles so obvious, Pope Gregory IX had to put him on the ultra-fast track to sainthood. He was canonized within a year of his death, and there was none of the fudging about waiving confirmation of a second miracle like Pope Francis had to grant for Pope John XXIII.
  • Saint Anthony protects sailors, stemming from the miracle that his ship was merely blown off-course and not destroyed in a storm. Maybe Rio San Antonio Cruises should consider breaking the all-female naming tradition and christen one barge in his honor with a little statue of him on the bow.
  • Saint Anthony helps you find lost and stolen things. This stems from a story of a naughty novice who nicked Anthony’s psalter. Saint Anthony sent such a fearful devil of an ax-wielding creature after him, the repentant man scurried back and returned the book. Some of us would find Saint Anthony’s blessing handy every time we head to the car.
  • Saint Anthony’s been known to appear to guide lost travelers. Those tourists driving the wrong way down a one-way street downtown yesterday sure needed him on their dashboard.
  • Saint Anthony helps fishermen, which means bountiful fresh sardines in Portugal during his Feast Month. You might not think that is a good thing, but grilled fresh sardines are moist and sweet. Celebrating St. Anthony’s Month would provide San Antonio with a good excuse to promote their importation.
  • And what’s better than sardines? Wine. Faced with a drained keg on his arrival in Provence, Saint Anthony refilled it to the amazement of all.
  • In Portugal, people give each other gifts of sweet basil on Saint Anthony’s Day. Wow, how perfect for here. By mid-June everyone in San Antonio could use a fresh pot of basil to replace their summer-stressed straggly ones.
  • Even the poor get bread on St. Anthony’s Feast Day. Unsure whether this tradition stems from the French baker who promised to give bread to the poor if only the shop door would open; the mother who pledged to distribute her child’s weight in wheat if Saint Anthony would bring him back to life (which of course he did); or parents donating bread when placing their children under the saint’s protection. He was such an ardent protector of children, it is claimed that the infant Jesus was seen visiting him in his cell.
  • Saint Anthony not only can heal the sick and bring the recently deceased back to life, he can reattach limbs. A man confessed to Saint Anthony that he had kicked his mother. Taking his penance a little too literally, the man went home and chopped off his own foot. Upon hearing this, Saint Anthony kindly went to the sinner’s home and reattached his severed foot.
  • Saint Anthony helps single women find husbands. Needless to say, grateful brides are honored to be chosen to be part of the multiple-wedding ceremony held on his day.
  • And this is truly cool. Superman has to disappear from one place to fly off to do superhuman feats elsewhere, but Saint Anthony could bilocate. This meant he could be preaching a sermon, suddenly remember he was supposed to be up in the loft singing in the choir and do both at once. But it also meant that when his father was falsely accused of murder in Lisbon, Anthony – then based in Padua – was able to appear in court in Lisbon in support of his father. This feat was made even more impressive when Saint Anthony brought the murder victim back to life to offer his testimony as well, leaving no doubt as to the innocence of the saint’s father.

These tales may seem hard to believe, but everyone wants to believe in miracles. Faith is powerful. But enough about miracles for now.

A pair of Spaniards, Father Damian Massanet and Domingo Teran de los Rios, both claim to have named this place in June of 1691.

We just need to be grateful the explorers entered the land the Native Americans called Yanaguana on Saint Anthony’s Day.

And San Antonio certainly needs another excuse for a citywide party.