Centennial Olympic Park
Maybe it’s because this was an Olympic year and I just introduced my daughter to the joys of binge watching the best gymnasts in the world blow everyone’s minds. Maybe it’s because it was the twenty year anniversary of the night Keri Strug wowed us all with her stellar commitment to herself and her team. Maybe it’s just because I like parks…
My favorite part of Atlanta – the city, not the trip – was Centennial Olympic Park. I had to walk through it every day to get to the Vendor’s Hall for Dragon Con; and I am so glad I did.
Atlanta as a whole had a wild, unkempt feel to me, sporadically blasted with moments of finely controlled beauty. I’d walk from Joseph E. Boone, where the grass I think, had never been cut, to stepping into the symbol of perfection itself: Centennial Olympic Park.
Honestly, I enjoyed the contrast. As an environmentally friendly foraging hippie, I loved that the lawns were more like meadows. I found joy in poking along overgrown sidewalks with the opportunity to inspect local wildflowers. I even found a luna moth one morning, something I had never seen in person before.
But as a lover of community parks, I also found myself drawn to the twenty-eight million dollar completed project. City cleaners sweep, scrub, and constantly pick up trash, keeping the park immaculate. The statues seem to gleam, both from their artistic beauty and the city’s over all effort to maintain “curb appeal.” I found myself wondering what was there before 1996 and learned that it was a city block of old industrial buildings, some abandoned. The difference to Atlanta citizens when the park was first erected must have been startling.
I stopped to take pictures of some of the statues when I was there. I got some curious looks before people started stopping and taking pictures too. “Sheep” my friend called them, but I think it just takes someone noticing something beautiful before others stop and look up. And the monuments there are very beautiful.
Each morning I would cut across a paved walkway made of engraved stones to get to John Portman Blvd. During the park’s construction a donation of $35 got you a stone and a message. When I return to Atlanta, because I plan to, I’d like to pay more attention to those engravings. There are stories there, I think.
The weather was gorgeous. People (Yankees! Haha) kept talking about how hot it was. I was wearing a sweater most days, not the afternoons, but definitely in the mornings. My morning walks were the most refreshing parts of my day. I meant to stop and eat breakfast at the Waffle House right outside the park, but never managed to wake up early enough – or if I did, I found myself dawdling in the park instead. So, I spoiled myself and got coffee at the Starbucks in the AmericasMart. I kept looking for a local Non-Starbucks coffeehouse, but didn’t find one; again, next trip.
If there’s one thing every traveler needs, it’s a good coffeehouse. Mostly because traveling requires a kind of energy I can only get from the best coffee; but even for the non-coffee drinker, a coffeehouse is a one stop greeting center.
Your barista will usually be able to tell you how to get places, what activities there are in the neighborhood, where to find the best music and food. Your barista, equivalent to a bartender in useful information and emotional well-being, will point you in the direction of the best bookstores, the coolest non-touristy tourist sites, and can usually tell you which ones are free and which ones are overpriced.
Find the right neighborhood joint, wherever you are staying, and you will find flyers for things happening while you’re in town that you might otherwise not discover. You’ll have numerous business cards and bookmarks for local indie authors you can check out while you’re in their hometown, and you’ll be able to gather your thoughts and plan your day over delicious less-commercialized foods and drinks.
If that place is La Taza, in San Antonio, you’ll also get to check out the local art scene while your barista warms a heart shaped Danish roll to serve you with your Hazelnut latte. No, I did not take pictures of my Danish roll, I was too busy eating it while it was hot.
I did take some pictures of the walls while he was busy making my latte though, this painting of the horses in the water above the chess table struck my fancy.
There’s also a puzzle table and a slew of board games and books to access. Other decor included a not-so-Christmasy Christmas tree, dressed in flowers for summer.
The shop was about a mile from where I was staying, easily accessible by sidewalk from that neighborhood. If I had had the time to enjoy the walk, rather than flit off to book signings, I would have – walked and meandered to my coffee, that is.
I can’t wait to visit again. Maybe next time I’ll have my book signing there – it looks like they frequently have authors and musicians in the cafe. In the meantime, you might be able to still pick up my bookmark from the table near the entrance.
When I was in San Antonio Saturday, my best friend dragged me to the old Farmer’s Market – dragged is too harsh, that makes it sound like I was kicking and screaming and I wasn’t. I was happy to go and see something new, was excited about it really, except I looked past the archways from the street and my stomach sank… people. Lots and lots of people. Crowds didn’t bother me much when I was younger, they couldn’t, I went to a 5A highschool and if you were nervous in a crowd you’d drown in a sea of elbows. (I realize now that maybe they did, I just often had a hand to cling to – my now husband – when walking through those crowds, not sure my bestie would be down with me grabbing her hands to hold in public… doesn’t stop me from wanting to.) Doesn’t change the fact that I see one ahead these days and I have to summon a purpose or desire for something in that crowd in order to enter it.
In this case, food, art, and music. My trifecta that gets me through the festival experience. I love those things. And even though the Market was crowded – the worst of it at Mi Tierra – there was a little bit of space and I found myself able to breathe. Especially once I got myself to the art booths.
Right outside Mi Tierra I stumbled across two separate booths. One for Joseph Hernandez Jr. (www.josephhernandezartist.com) and one for Robert Wilkens (firstname.lastname@example.org).
It was the impressionistic style of Joseph Hernandez that caught my attention to the art in the first place. I was already tired from shopping, tired of the crowds, and on the verge of becoming very hungry. But then I saw this:
This is Joseph Hernandez Jr. He paints vibrantly, is self-taught, and stands about as tall as me. I could have stood in his booth and looked at every single painting for hours. If I were wealthy, I would have bought one of everything. My house would become a gallery to his work. I loved all the color. His use of it reminded me of Bryan Collins work even if their styles are nothing alike.
Much of his work is perfect for the tourist or native San Antonio lovers. He chooses places around town to capture on the canvas. Far more valuable than any photograph you could take of the same location.
He has just as many paintings of a random assortment, random things that inspired him… trees and branches are a running theme for him. He had a lot for musicians – a sax, a violin, music notes, etc. I can’t imagine walking into his booth and not seeing something you want to take home with you. The hard part is deciding which something.
His paintings are affordable for the art collector. Good size canvases that I’ve seen sell in the thousands by less talented painters were running between $400 – $500. You could buy a very small canvas for $25 and walk away with an original piece. His prints were what would hit your pocket, averaging at half the price of the canvas. Seeing that I opted to save for an original Hernandez, rather than buying a print. I took a business card, but came back later to take this picture with him:
Only a few booths away, closer to the Mi Tierra entrance, was Robert Wilkens – or Roberto as his wife kept calling him, and I can’t get her voice and pronunciation of his name out of my head. She’s gorgeous and so passionate about his work.
I asked to take a picture of his work and later found out that most people just take the pictures – they don’t generally ask first. I’m used to museums and conventions, rather than festivals, and I always ask. Otherwise you might find yourself being barked at.
Robert and his wife were very gracious and let me take as many pictures as I wanted. Robert is a chatterer, and I enjoyed talking to him while I watched him paint. He teased me about my tattoo – told me it said “Soy Sauce in Chinese, didn’t you know?” I picked on him for assuming I didn’t know what my tattoo said, just because I was a white girl. Some things are funnier in my head than they are out loud. Either way, Robert and I had a nice long chat about artistry and professions. We showed him a picture of my kiddo’s art work. We talked about books and my career as a writer.
“When did you first know you wanted to write?” he asked me.
“The moment I realized that ink came out of a pen and formed words on a page,” I answered.
He’s been a painter for decades, but he took the long road it sounds. He had a lot of people tell him he couldn’t make a living at it. It’s clear that he can, his work is incredible. We talked about how we encourage that artistic spirit in our children. My daughter – the child of a writer – is quite the little painter. His daughter – the child of a painter – just might be the next great American novelist.
He was a muralist for a long time, you can see the remnants of that life in some of his work. I love it, and I want him to come do some walls in Houston that need sprucing.
He’s good enough for the first lady, he should be good enough for everyone:
Artist – Muralist, Robert Wilkens has been in the arts for twenty-five years and has worked commercially for fourteen years. He is well established in all media of the arts. Robert’s talent and dedication to his work has taken him to Mexico and all over the United States of America, even to the White House in the service of the First Lady, Laura Bush. There is no other artist of Roberts caliber when it comes to working with clients. His work ethics are honest and the beauty of his brush strokes while painting murals are eloquent and always precise.
I may not enjoy crowds, but I love discovering. I love traveling and the search for new experiences and people. I love seeing something I’ve never encountered before and picking it apart in my brain, learning to describe it. New sights and smells and sounds may overwhelm me, but I welcome it as a learning experience. I am so glad we went to Market Square that day. I am glad we met Joseph Hernandez Jr and Robert Wilkens. I am glad we waited for seats at Mi Tierra, even after we were told it would be an hour and half before we could be seated (it was actually only 35 minutes). I’m ecstatic that I got to eat cheese enchiladas and suck down a Mojito before devouring more art with my eyes. (I’m mildly amused that I got carded for my Mojito.)
When I went back out to take more pictures of Robert’s work and buy a print of his with my bestie, I was pleasantly buzzed (light weight, cheap date, whatever, I’ll take the name calling)… and found this:
I want the original. It’s magnificent. The detail in the water and his pant leg is stellar. I wanted to be swept away with him, from the dirty street and into that clear, blue water, up to the moon. It helps that I find suitcases and umbrellas terribly romantic.
It helps that I find travel romantic. It helps that adventure fascinates me, even if it makes me a little nervous, I still want to experience it all. I want to absorb art through my eyes and bathe in it. I want to taste new foods and close my eyes and live the flavor. I want to meet new people and really discover who they are before I leave their presence, even if it takes a little bit of work to stay focused on what they are telling me. I want to be dazzled.
We saw it from the road when we were on our way to a bookstore. It was on the right (off Hildebrand, on our way to Broadway, I think) and I would have missed it behind the construction cones along the road and the gritty chain link National Rent-a-Fence. But the gates loomed, demanding to be seen. The statues looking like mysterious cemetery pieces, but alas, there were no tombstones.
We passed it several times and weren’t actually able to go investigate until our last day there.
First we stopped at an old Spanish mission (turned greeting center, perhaps?) with a San Antonio Zoo sign perched near the steps. I suppose we were on the backside of the zoo, or maybe it wasn’t even open, but we found ourselves in a beautiful park.
There were families, and ducks, and families of ducks. But ultimately that ‘cemetery’ was calling our names and we had to go see it. We drove back to the main street and lamented the fence. We entered the parking lot to elsewhere and lamented the fence. Then, we saw that the chain link gate was ajar. Left for someone to go in and out for the day? We determined that it must be open by day and locked up at night to keep out the riffraff. So, cameras in hand, we entered Miraflores, not knowing its name, and explored.
We found the Doctor’s name on several of the tiled benches. To my uninformed eye there was no way for me to know they were designed by Atlee B Ayres, famous San Antonio architect. I just knew they were beautiful and that they were made in honor of or for a Doctor, as the letters were mostly chipped away. Later, we would see the name Urrutia on the gates. There, in the mosaics of those grand gates, his name remained in tact and I took yet another photograph. I skipped jotting down the information in my journal for the sake of spending that precious time getting more photographs. Even though I thought it was ok to be there, something about the whole experience felt a bit like we had discovered a magic-hour of sorts and I didn’t want to waste a moment.
Though, I could spend hours there writing. What I wanted to do more than anything was stay there all day and document every fragmented tile. I longed for a library to access and investigate each piece of art and how it came to be gathered in this statuary field. The gate said the “institute” was founded by Doctor Urrutia in 1921. What institute? Who was Doctor Urrutia? What was the plan for this acreage?
Dr. Urrutia arrived in the States from Mexico in 1915 – as an exile. He was born in the town “of floating gardens” just south of Mexico City and was a full-blooded Aztec Indian. He went to medical school, graduated top of his class, and by the age of 22 was the President’s personal physician. In 1910 Presidente Diaz was replaced by Madero, who was then killed and replaced by Huerta. In all this killing and backstabbing, Huerta had got himself stabbed in the eye, and it was Urrutia who operated on him. Then, according to Walt Lockley, Urrutia functioned a bit like a puppet master for the gangster and helped him run the country.
What happened next is a biography worth reading in itself:
But after dark, Urrutia was also accused of a medical assassination – a federal senator from Chiapas who publicly spoke against Huerta, Belisario Dominguez, was arrested as an enemy of the government, in the Jardin Hotel, on October 7, 1913, then taken to a cemetery, where dark persistent rumor has it that Dr. Urrutia cut out his tongue.
Huerta threw eighty congressmen into prison at one point. Urrutia himself issued an ill-advised ultimatum to the US government, wanting official recognition, and Woodrow Wilson responded with battleships to Veracruz. In the late summer of 1914, as this government fell apart, a lot of the Huertistas and the well-to-do and ex-governors and henchmen drained out through Veracruz. Dr. Urrutia was arrested there by General Frederick Funston and was allowed to exile himself to the US: by ship from Veracruz to New Orleans, train from New Orleans to San Antonio, and two rail cars of treasure smuggled across the border later, to finance his new American life and humanitarian career.
– Walt Lockley
Urrutia died in 1975 at the age of 103, in his sleep, at his grand 15 acre estate in San Antonio. But before that would happen, he would be the first doctor to separate Siamese twins in Texas and he would build something marvelous: Miraflores. And I got to traipse around its remains.
Other artists contributed to this historic monument. According to Capturing Nature, Dionicio Rodriguez is responsible for the ‘rocks’ on the gates, but I’m not sure which aspect ‘rocks’ refers to.
In 2004, the area was added to The National Register of Historic Places, primarily for Rodriguez’s contributions. It is thought that Miraflores contains his earliest work in the states as well as the “most intact and concentrated groupings” of his work. One of those pieces is actually an extremely unique foot bridge in Breckenridge Park that caught our eyes several times.
The blog Urban Spotlight San Antonio describes a plan, in a post dated 2009, that would make the park open to the public. We saw the bridge from Breckenridge Park the post describes, but the public pedestrian walkway was blocked off and locked. I am still unsure if the entrance I used was meant for the public or not. Either way, I am glad I used it and got a chance to see so many beautiful works of art up close. (There’s an extensive history included in that post regarding who owned the property during which decades and how they used it. It’s quite interesting.)
According to SA Cultural Tours:
Much of the statuary originally designed for the park has been lost or damaged over the past several decades. Remaining features include the tiled entrance gates along Hildebrand, designed by Mexican artist Marcelo Izaguirre, as well as the 1946 statue of Dr. Urrutia that originally stood in the center of a large pool. […] The park originally featured a small tower building housing Dr. Urrutia’s library, but it has been demolished. The small remaining cottage, Quinta Maria, was built in 1923 as a guest house. Statuary moved to the park in the 1960s following the demolition of Dr. Urrutia’s nearby home include the Winged Victory with crouching lions, and the replica of Coyolxauhqui, the Aztec moon goddess.
I think my favorite… the place where I could sit for hours and reflect and write… would be near Cuautemoc. He is the last ruler of the Aztecs, extremely energetic, and makes me feel mighty and safe.
Luis L. Sanchez designed him in 1921, and it’s one of the most impressive statues I have seen in person, just for the sheer power it seems to radiate, like Achilles.
I love that Urrutia chose to include him in his garden. Regardless of the sinister rumors that still surround Urrutia and his political dealings – including this statue in his place of exile says a lot about his passions and his identity. He respected his heritage, his elders, and the past. He had a taste for art, I think, I cannot bring myself to believe that he did this for the mere sake of showing off his money. He had a library that has not survived, and clearly had a thirst for knowledge and legacy.
After many business deals and exchanging of hands, The University of Incarnate Word now stands where Urrutia wanted a hospital. The San Antonio Express reported in 1929 that Urrutia’s “grand ambition is to found a hospital here which will perpetuate his work … a hospital composed of pleasant, homelike bungalows surrounded by flowered lawns, clustered around a central House of Administration. For this purpose, he has bought an extensive piece of property on Broadway and Hildebrand.” It sounds to me as though he sought some gentle peace after his years in Mexican politics.
However, Urrutia’s “institution” remained a private garden for hosting his family and parties, for morning excursions to swim laps in the pools, and to feed his peacocks while wearing his infamous cape. I’m a little sorry the property never became exactly like he dreamed, but am glad he put forth the effort to get the gardens going.
This weekend I had three book signings in San Antonio. Each signing was at a Half Price Books location.
When I wasn’t haunting Half Price Books stores selling and signing my own books, however, I found myself being a tourist and stumbled into quiet places like Cheever Books.
So here’s the scoop on Cheever Books…
You might want to spend hours here. Don’t come for a quick peek. Things aren’t organized well, but the experience is magical. If you have the time to go on a treasure hunt you’re bound to find Gabriel Garcia Marquez in three different places within the M’s as opposed to one place in the G’s.
The poetry wall is extensive – and full of short story anthologies. There’s a lot along this wall you won’t find anywhere else though.
If I had had enough money, I would have bought this book. It isn’t common. It was in good condition. It looks exciting.
However, I settled on something more affordable.
I found these hiding underneath a stack of Horatio Hornblower books that I already own. I couldn’t get the whole set, they were roughly $10 a piece, but I did get the one on the far left and I hope to find the others again one day.
Upon any visit you are bound to find three things: a magical gem over priced, a magical gem appropriately priced, and a great book that is neither magical nor appropriately priced. Relish the ambiance and the appropriately priced gem, don’t allow your rose colored lenses to be clouded by the rest. In a book hunter’s world, it is still a marvelous visit.
There’s a review about the owner being “creepy,” but I met two out of the what I believe to be three employees for the company, and both were pleasant. I enjoyed my time in Cheever Books and would readily visit again with cash in hand to spend.
It’s not as clean and easy a shopping experience as what you will have at Good Books in the Woods (where you will find similar treasures at more affordable prices), but it is most excellent. That is not to say it’s dirty either. By “not as clean” I mean that you will find books piled in your path, much of the inventory is peppered along the floors. There are a few dust bunnies, but not nearly what you would expect among such a haphazard collection of books.
So, San Antonio residents who adore Cheever Books – when you visit Houston and you need your book fix, your store is Good Books in the Woods. Houstonians who love Good Books, when in San Antonio, the stores on Broadway are for you. (The Broadway HPB gives our Kirby location a run for its money in the awesome department.)