Ominous omens keep flying by…

OMEN, n. A sign that something will happen if nothing happens.

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)

No matter what, it’s the San Antonio Book Festival’s fault. Writing about some of the authors scheduled to appear there sent me back to a post from long ago about Jake Silverstein’s book, Nothing Happened and Then It Did, which had sent me delving back into The Devil’s Dictionary. Hence the omen reference. Add to that overstimulation from listening to five full sessions of authors talking followed by the Literary Death Match.

National Park Service photo of red-tailed hawk

National Park Service photo of red-tailed hawk

This past Thursday morning, the Mister and I headed southward for our morning walk. A hawk swooped onto a tree not 15 feet in front of us. It was a newly planted tree on the Eagleland stretch of the San Antonio River, the name of which comes not from sightings of eagles but from the Brackenridge High School’s mascot.

The branches of this 12-foot tree were not big enough to successfully support a hold-onto-your-chihuahua-size hawk; so, before we could even zip out and focus the smartphone, he flew off. While we were fiddling like dummies with the smartphone, the hawk caught something white now dangling helplessly from the hawk’s claws.

I wasn’t thinking omen yet. But a mile or so later on the Mission Reach by Lone Star, we saw another hawk swooping through the sky. We were impressed by a two-hawk day because we rarely even spy one.

But that afternoon, there was a third flying across 281 right in front of me as I headed to a meeting.

Three hawks. Now that seemed ominous to me.

Some people view hawks as messengers. Messengers bearing warnings, not usually glad tidings. I was afraid to even begin to surf the internet to find out what it would mean if three were trying to deliver news to me. I elected to prefer the theory that the hawks just happened to live nearby; it was meal time; and I was passing through their grocery store.

The next afternoon was warm. We had the doors on the second floor wide open. I kept hearing noises, though home alone.

Bravely going back up the stairs to the third floor, I found the source. A sparrow clinging to the shade on the south bank of windows.

I’m thinking omens again. Some people believe a bird flying into your house is a sign of death. I prefer the belief it means a loved one is trying to communicate with you from the grave. That seems more comforting.

Unfortunately, the windows on the third floor do not open. I was pondering how I was going to convince the sparrow to go back down a floor to the open doors when the sparrow spied this:

spring-green

The bank of windows on the north side. Well, the sparrow went for it as fast as his wings could flap through the length of the house.

Smack. Thud.

I’m thinking serious omen.

A bird breaks his neck flying into your window, particularly while inside the house? Not a good sign. A harbinger of death.

But a break came. A major stroke of good luck. When the sparrow hit the glass, he fell smack into the middle of the trashcan beside my desk onto a soft bed of kleenix, ever-present during this season of pollen.

I was able to cover him with a jacket and cart him out to the back porch. Upon my removal of the cover, he sat there stunned for quite a while. He had been tricked by those very same green leaves once, and, no fool, he wasn’t going to race toward them again. After about 30 minutes, he trusted his surroundings and fluttered home.

Surely that trumped all prior gloomy warnings.

I fretted a bit all weekend but finally decided no news was good news.

brokenwindowOur daughter solved it all inadvertently with an email with this photo attached. Aha, the sparrow must have been trying to tell me there had been a storm in Austin, and a branch blew into their house and smashed a window. Phew.

And then, on the phone later, she told me about the impending death. The Mister’s Infinity that had passed her way was in the process of passing away.

The Mister was sad. He loved that car.

But I was jubilant. Those hawks were only trying to tell me the Infinity was dying. I can handle that. I never even learned to find it in a parking lot; one silver sedan looks just like all the others to me.

I’m not paying attention to messages from birds again though; no matter what that pair of coots on the Mission Reach seems to be trying to say. The foreboding row of dark cormorants perched on the dam won’t scare me.

And those herons and egrets? They and all the other birds who didn’t use to flourish here are only here because our environment is improving everyday as the San Antonio River Improvements Project matures.

clawThe Mister and I just happen to walk right across their dining room table, often interrupting a crawfish feast, as we head southward.

And, that sparrow spared by the bed of kleenix absolutely has to be a sign of good luck.

Postcard from San Miguel de Allende: Redirecting Graffiti Artists, Part Three

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Part One

Part Two

The murals completed during this past year as part of Muros en Blanco have altered the appearance of the neighborhood, increased the sense of shared community and possibly changed the lives of some of participating youths.

Tourists traditionally have remained in the Centro Historico of San Miguel de Allende or ventured only as far out as Fabrica la Aurora. Some of them now stroll into the heart of Colonia Guadalupe in search of the murals and studios of artists working in the neighborhood. The dining rooms of Via Organica are packed.

And, most importantly, there is an added layer of communal interaction among expats living there and Mexicans whose families have resided in Colonia Guadalupe for generations.

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And more murals are on the way this month as part of the second festival. But this spring’s festival is about more than art. Part Four will be posted soon.

San Antonio Book Festival: Lifting authors from book jackets into your Library

The quotes on the back of the book are from Dan Rather, Ken Burns, Jim Lehrer and Bob Schieffer. Pretty impressive for a story about a San Antonio family.

harnessmaker_cover_smThe lives of everyone are interesting, but most take their untold stories with them to their graves.

The Kallison family, however, was fortunate to count a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist among its offspring – Nick Kotz. His book, The Harness Maker’s Dream: Nathan Kallison and the Rise of South Texas, was published by TCU Press in 2013.

The harness maker, who had emigrated to Chicago to escape persecution in the Ukraine in 1890, sensed the automobile would soon begin to dramatically impact his business. Nathan Kallison and his wife Anna were uncertain what direction to head until an older couple assured them that, in San Antonio, “the weather is mild, and there are more horses than people.” So, in 1899, the family moved to South Flores Street and opened a saddlery shop, increasingly expanding to cater to the diverse needs of South Texas farmers and ranchers.

As I struggle to encompass the families of the Coker Settlement into the confines of a book, I picked up Kotz’s book last week to see how someone who devoted years to honing his journalistic skills handles a regional story of one family while making it applicable to the experiences of others. Although I am not yet finished, the San Antonio Public Library Foundation is giving me the opportunity to hear from Kotz firsthand on Saturday.

play-ballAs part of the San Antonio Book Festival, Kotz will appear on a panel with Ignacio Garcia, author of When Mexicans Could Play Ball: Basketball, Race and Identity in San Antonio, 1928-1945, with Gilbert Garcia of the San Antonio Express-News serving as their moderator. The topic they will discuss from noon to 1 p.m. in the Auditorium of the Central Library is Our Town: Stories that Shaped San Antonio.

More than 90 authors will be featured during the one-day Book Festival, and, amazingly, it’s admission-free. Decision-making about which sessions to attend is the dilemma. But this year, mapping out strategies is simplified by the user-friendly schedule on the Library Foundation’s website and a great free app. Go to Event Base in your app store; download it; then click on the “San Antonio Book Festival” tab.

Just happened to have written recently about two other authors appearing during the festival – Mary Margaret McAllen and Duncan Tonatiuh. And, from several years ago, a post about the wonderful tales Jake Silverstein spins in Nothing Happened and Then It Did.

And, although there is a small fee, the Literary Death Match sounds as though it should be a stimulating way to end the day. The Library Foundation website describes the event:

Literary Death Match marries the literary and performative aspects of Def Poetry Jam, rapier-witted quips of American Idol’s judging (without any meanness), and the ridiculousness and hilarity of Double Dare. Each episode of this competitive, humor-centric reading series features a thrilling mix of four famous and emerging authors (all representing a literary publication, press or concern — online, in print or live) who perform their most electric writing in seven minutes or less before a lively audience and a panel of three all-star judges.

After each pair of readings, the judges — focused on literary merit, performance and intangibles — take turns spouting hilarious, off-the-wall commentary about each story, then select their favorite to advance to the finals.The two finalists then compete in the Literary Death Match finale, which trades in the show’s literary sensibility for an absurd and comical climax to determine who takes home the Literary Death Match crown.

It may sound like a circus — and that’s half the point. Literary Death Match is passionate about inspecting new and innovative ways to present text off the page, and the most fascinating part about the LDM is how seriously attentive the audience is during each reading. We’ve called this the great literary ruse: an audacious and inviting title, a harebrained finale, but in-between the judging creates a relationship with the viewer as a judge themselves.

litarary-death-matchHey, when a musical group with a name like Cryin D.T. Buffkin and the Bad Breath performs, you know you don’t want to miss it.

Postcard from San Miguel de Allende: Redirecting Grafitti Artists, Part Two

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(Link to Part One)

Blank walls are magnets for graffiti, but treating those walls as a canvas for public art projects commands respect even among taggers.

To try to halt the spread of random graffiti and alter the urban landscape, Colleen Sorenson joined with Federico Vega to launch Muros en Blanco in San Miguel de Allende. They met with city leaders, including Mayor Mauricio Trejo Pureco, and convinced them to establish Colonia Guadalupe as the city’s first arts district.

Enthusiasm was so high, they were given virtually no time to throw together the new arts district’s first event and public art projects in March of 2013. First, the pair had to identify walls appropriate for the murals and obtain permission from property owners for the project. Then they turned to the internet to solicit lead artists from throughout Mexico and beyond – Germany, Argentina, the United States. The chosen artists were housed with neighbors, neighbors who also rose to the occasion to prepare potluck feasts spread out as buffets for the starving teams of artists who gathered for meals in Colleen’s patio. Youths of the community were given the opportunity to join and work under the tutelage of more experienced artists.

Here are some of the results:

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Look for more photos of murals in Colonia Guadalupe in Part Three.