Wednesday, November 27, 2013

St. Patrick’s Day on the San Antonio Riverwalk

The first thing you notice is that the water has been dyed a bright shamrock green.

The next thing you notice is, after you take your eyes off the proliferation of strollers and women with lace-patterned tattoos peeking out of their low-cut “wife beater” tank tops, are guys stretched out in a prone position, their lace-tattooed significant others holding down their ankles, as they become human grappling irons, arms plunged shoulder-deep into the thick green, fishing for wallets or other lost valuables.

What will they find? A wallet? A toy? Coins? Bones?

It’s probably not as much as one might hope. After all, it’s March 17, and only a month and a half after the annual draining and cleaning in which all the detritus left by revelers and unfortunate disequilibriated (not a word, I know!) ones … equilibrium lost, potentially for an entire span of a weekend, by a need to lose cares in a constructed Fiesta-space – a mindspace that is both escapist and grounded in history and historical longing.

I firmly believe that there are ghosts here.

It’s a perfect setting for a murder mystery, with brightly ornamented tour gondolas with tour guides telling about the history of the place, replete with legends and facts selected to flower in one’s imagination.

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, though, and the ear-splitting keening of bagpipes are precipitously accompanied by mariachis playing polka-inflected “rancheros” with huge bass guitars and accordions. What else do these flat-bottom boats purvey? In a word, everything.  Everything under the sun.

Melange usually refers to the jumbled up rock, ice, and snow at the foot of an avalanche.

It’s the word that occurs to me now – a rapid cultural avalanche has deposited its mélange in the San Antonio River, and I’m only half-buried by it, consequently, I’m still half alive, half sentient. I’m not sure quite what to think – my independent thoughts are trained on wishful thinking and romanticism, and I love to think of ghostly apparitions of elegantly clad women from the time of the missions, and then later, during the 19th century, when mills were constructed and Germans, Irish, English, Spanish, and Mexican populations blended and awkwardly co-existed. I’m not sure about the Native Americans, so I do not mention them now.

I am pulled away from my thoughts by another group of kilt-clad bagpipers. They are clearly feeling the heat, but soldiering on, red-faced. I smile and spontaneously enjoinder, “wonderful!” and one grumpily visaged bagpiper scowls at me.

Bagpipes on the Riverwalk: St. Patrick's Day

I guess I’m just too touristy. I am wearing green, but not really in any kind of purposeful way. I pulled out a sleeveless Dri-Fit shirt and put it with jeans and hoodie and comfortable walking shoes as I commit myself to serious “ambulation” in an attempt to heal feet crushed in a car-pedestrian accident (I was the pedestrian) that occurred a month and a half earlier.

The bagpipers debark and haul their instruments on their back, catch their breath, and ascend the stone steps to street level. Their kilts remind me of policemen in Fiji, where the skirts seem tough and masculine. If feminine, the closest neighbor would be pleated skirts used in lacrosse, a lady sport with weaponry. Unlike tennis, softball, and other ball sports which require smacking a ball with something, lacrosse sticks can and should be used to intimidate.

The skirts are not wool. A cotton-poly blend, I suspect, or perhaps a new, crisp, “smart” fabric. I am impressed with the plaids.

Later, as nightfall approaches, the avalanche reactivates itself. This time, it clatters downhill with an obliterating focus on sports; college and professional. I find this to be highly depressing, but what else can be expected if so many individuals in our culture are not active participants in the life of the mind, but find ways to amuse themselves or feel emotional connection to a concept at a time when religion has been problematized, and it’s no longer very easy to achieve social mobility via education, technical skills, or entrepreneurship.

Evelyn Waugh’s novels set in early 20th-century, post-Empire England come to mind, specifically Decline and Fall, as I think of ways in which our country has been distracted from the reality of a lack of production and de-industrialization. War is one distractor, since it employs people and gives the illusion of employment security. Another distraction offers itself through the Faustian bargains of disability and other attempts at securing a government sinecure, which is, in point of fact, a go-nowhere proposition, but as yet, there are no dynamic alternatives, since re-industrialization as yet is not economically viable.

My hopes back in 2008 in the height of the economic collapse, revolved around a wisely-administered Stimulus Bill that would rebuild our infrastructure and re-invigorate industrialization and entrepreneurship. Perhaps that happened, but it is hard to see how or where in terms of macro scales.

At the micro level, ingenuity and creativity are alive, but they are often in anoxic environments, buried deep beneath the avalanche, in need of a positive environment and cheap, available credit and other ways to leverage time to have time to build productive potential and serve the needs of markets.

So what gave rise to Empires in the first place? Creativity, innovation, trade, positive institutions, available credit, educated workforce, supportive legal framework.

Which of those are missing today?

I’m not much in the mood to think in terms of dirges, but bagpipes play in more than funerals, do they not? They accompany wars, and inspire warriors to feats of valor and blood-driven sacrifice. I’d like to think of such things in metaphorical terms, even as I’m considering the avalanche of culture and global political economic events.

So I return my gaze to the green shamrock waters of the river that flows along the edge of history, of the Alamo, which in itself, hearkens back to the Anglo-Saxons’ Battle of Maldon, where heroic sacrifice meant a turning point in a nation’s conception of self. For the Alamo, it meant becoming Texan. For Maldon, it mean becoming resolutely English.

It’s always the same people who ask all the questions. I am one of those annoying ones, I fear.

For me, the idea of retreating to history and living in a tree-shaded home with a veranda and an extensive library, where I spend my time writing and overseeing the sundry activities of a working ranch (with extensive mineral resources), draws me in.

I’d like to find old manuscripts and translate them. I’d like to publish meditations drawn from my own metaphysical and intellectually-triggered avalanches, where the humanistic studies are part of a larger mélange of technology, business, and art. In the end, the ice and snow-elements of the mélange melt away, and the remaining rocks have space in the interstices for creative thought and generative impulses.

I am relieved to hear the bagpipes recede and the splash of water from fountains surge forth.

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