Forget Lawrence Welk: Accordions speak many languages.


Posting after an event, after I’ve been there and have taken photos, is much more enjoyable than writing about it in advance. But this is important.

You would be angry with me for not alerting you ahead of time because this is San Antonio’s best festival. Well, second best. Right after the San Antonio Book Festival. And that says a lot in a city known for non-stop-fiesta-ing.

(Pause here and scroll to the bottom first if you would like a soundtrack to get you in the mood for this post.)

The International Accordion Festival takes place Saturday, September 13, from noon to 11 p.m., throughout La Villita. And it’s admission-free.

Expect a United Nations of sound. Some traditional. Some contemporary. All highly addictive. And it’s admission-free.

Expect the unexpected.

Accordion with a dizi, Chinese bamboo flute, and a pipa, Chinese four-string lute, employed by the Cross-Strait Trio. Chinese and Taiwanese musicians who collided while studying ethnomusicology in Texas.

The New York-based Matuto. “Appalachia-gone-Afro-Brazilian sound.”

Tsuumi Sound System. “Finnish Urban Ethno?”

The Italians, Canzionere Grecanico Salentino. With their traditional drum, the tamburello, that “sounds like a beating heart:”

The style is based on the ancient ritual of healing a dangerous tarantula bite called pizzica tarantata and a local cultural phenomenon called tarantim. Their music includes frantic strumming and mad trance-inducing dancing.

And on a much slower note, the lyrics of one of the Cansionere Grecanico Salentino’s more serious songs translates as though written to apply to immigration politics in Texas:

…we children of the horizon, washing us up, spilling us out.
No police can abuse us more than what we’ve suffered already.
We’ll serve as your servants
the children you never had
our lives will be your adventure tales.
We carry Homer and Dante, the blind man and the pilgrim, the smell that you’ve lost
the equality you’ve repressed.
No matter the distance, millions of paces,
we will come,
we are the feet
and we carry your weight.
We shovel the snow, comb the lawns, beat your rugs,
collect your tomatoes and insults….

Find the entire schedule here, and more about the artists here. And it’s admission-free.

And, how incredibly generous. Blue Squeezebox of Austin allows me to embed a whole soundtrack….

Postcard from Lisboa, Portugal: Multitude of Museums

Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporanea do Chiado

In violation of the spirit of this artwork from the National Museum of Contemporary Art – Museu do Chiado, or maybe demonstrating the truth of the message, I invite you to go fado while you observe these slides. Headsets introduce you hear some of the great musicians and vocalists associated with fado in Museu do Fado, so turn on this soundtrack and pretend you are in Lisbon.

In Lisbon for a month, we came close to visiting a museum a day. Having already posted about several, including the Berardo Museum of Modern Art and the Museu Nacional do Azulejo, the National Tile Museum, these photographs represent a few of the others. There were more, but some museums do not allow cameras.

Contemporary structures completed in 1969 built around lush gardens comprise the setting for the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, a broad collection or works assembled by Gulbenkian, an Armenian forever grateful he escaped starvation. Gulbenkian was born in Istanbul in 1869, studied in Marseille and earned a First Class degree in engineering and applied sciences from King’s College in London by the age of 19.

In 1895, his wife’s family was able to charter a ship for their extended families to flee to Egypt to avoid the wave of persecutions of Armenians. His knowledge of the oil industry and connections to the Prime Minister of Egypt opened doors for him, and he was instrumental in the founding of the Royal Dutch Shell Group and played roles in numerous ventures involving Russian, Ottoman, British, Persian, French and American oil companies.

Gulbenkian’s passion for collecting led him to assemble more than 6,000 works of art from ancient civilizations to paintings by Gainsborough, Renoir, Degas and Monet. His statue of “Diana” belonged to Catherine the Great of Russia and was purchased from the Hermitage.

Major portions of his collection were housed at various times in Paris, London and Washington, D.C. He considered housing his collection at the National Gallery in London on a permanent basis, but world politics intervened. The British government labeled him an “enemy under the act” during World War II, so, offended, he changed his mind and began negotiating with the National Gallery of Art in Washington. By the time of Gulbenkian’s death in 1955, he was still undecided what country should receive the collection, but the place where he felt most warmly welcomed during the war years – Portugal – eventually won out. I’m not sure what the fate of the director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington was when he lost the quest to gain this, but Lisboa takes great pride in the resulting Museu, the adjacent Centro de Arte Moderna and the Gulbenkian Musica.

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An installation of marble chanclas (flip-flops) was among the contemporary works layered into one house museum attempting to attract return visitors. Instead of keeping the antiques housed in Museu Anastacio Goncalves frozen in the time, the foundation regularly weaves in contemporary art exhibitions to keep the space relevant.

Our favorite house museum was that of Antonio de Medieros e Almeida (1865-1936). His ability to collect art was fueled by his successful domination of the automobile and, later, aviation market in Portugal. Included in this was an amazing group of ornate timepieces, from pocket-size to majestic.

Wish I had written down the words of explanation of why he focused on these because they were particularly appropriate for the end of our trip. But, poorly paraphrasing, the automobile magnate collected timepieces because the passage of time was the one thing beyond his control.

And, taking it farther, demonstrating I should be heeding the advice of the top work of art instead of listening to fado, money can’t buy any additional time on the parking meter of life.

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.