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.
I used to do a Weekly Low Down on Kids Books. Well, I used to pretend to do them, and really they were haphazard and sporadic at best, but sort of happened a few times a month at least.
I’m back. I’m back with a mission to share all the marvelous books we’ve been reading. Because, well, we have been reading more than we’ve let on. I know, our silence is stifling.
Title: The Snail and the Whale
Illustrator: Axel Scheffler
I bought The Snail and the Whale on impulse. I’ve been trying to do less of that lately, but it was too darn cute and the kiddo had been working on a snail painting. Plus, I was feeling a little bit guilty over keeping Christmas as sparse as I was.
A few new picture books seemed a good addition to a Jake and the Neverland Pirate lego set (the third set to polish off the Jake collection); but we purposely are trying to keep Christmas gifting simple… “What you want, what you need, what you’ll wear, and what you’ll read.” Accumulatively, we’d like for her to get no more than 4 presents from each category once all the grandparents have pitched in. Ideally I’d keep it to four items total, but I’m practical and I know the family members won’t let that fly.
So she got the rest of her desired lego collection, a Frozen tiara and tambourine, socks, new boots, and a handful of new picture books. There were some stocking stuffers and some other odds and ends – a geode science project for her school work, new paints, a painting apron, some canvases – and they were given to her in waves, not all at once on Christmas day. It gave her time to enjoy each gift before getting overwhelmed with another. We enjoyed it. She was spoiled without being spoiled. It felt like a nice simple holiday, yet kiddo managed to get everything she’d asked for.
Although The Snail and the Whale feels like a summer book – crossing oceans, travelling the world, visiting islands – we were excited to read it while cozied up in blankets and pjs. I can’t wait to read it to her at the beach once it warms up, though.
After reading this book for the second or third time, I finally asked kiddo, “So what are your thoughts?”
Kiddo, age four, says, “Other kids should read it, that’s my thought! But how about we put it where people can’t find it. So no one can tear it up.”
I think she was missing the point of the conversation. We started talking about the illustrations and what she thought. She likes the pictures, but thinks they got the font “mixed up.” I think the font is appropriately cute, but she’s learning to read and I think some of the swirly snail words were hard for her to recognize.
The book, however, is wonderful. The rhymes are fun, the pictures are fun. It’s all about adventure, having courage, and taking care of your friends. It’s definitely a great gift book for any little one, no matter what season.
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.
Title: A Thousand Days in Venice
Author: Marlena de Blasi
Genre: Travel/ Memoir
Length: 272 pages
“1000 Days in Venice,” I wrote in my journal, “I want Venice without Fernando. Venice sounds lovely. Fernando, annoying.”
I suppose I feel this way because I am happily married to a man who is nothing like Fernando. But my love, or lack thereof, for the man who swept de Blasi off her feet has nothing to do with my enjoyment of the book. The book is lovely. And what follows are my journal entries from my reading, quotes that moved me and so on:
To fall in love with a face is ridiculous – at least a face with no personality. It would be as though I were to declare myself in love with Jamie Campbell Bower off his side profile. I cannot stand that mentality. A face can only be so lovely.
“full of tears and crumbs”
“I cry for how life intoxicates.” – pg. 29
In love for the first time? But she had babies…
She laments that so many people are trying to save her from a man they don’t know. Then admits repeatedly that she doesn’t know him either. I want to save her too, no matter how terribly romantic I find it that she’s sold her house, auctioned belongings off in the airport and arrived to see her fiance whom she has never seen in summer before.
Then again, arranged marriages work – why not a marriage between people who have met a few times and spent a week together?
“Living as a couple never means that each gets half. You must take turns at giving more than getting. It’s not the same as bow to the other whether to dine out rather than in, or which one gets massaged that evening with oil of calendula; there are seasons in the life of a couple that function, I think, a little like a night watch. One stands guard, often for a long time, providing the serenity in which the other can work at something. Usually that something is sinewy and full of spines. One goes inside the dark place while the other stays outside, holding up the moon.” – pg. 147
Such a beautiful sentiment. So much truth to it. Despite the fact that she married a stranger – even calls him that, stranger – she knows marriage.
Transfer? Why? I don’t want to live another version of this life. I want to do something totally different, but together. Perhaps my dislike for Fernando is that he reminds me of myself. In this moment, I love him, he lives what I want.
I give lots of memoirs away once I’m done reading them. But this one is a keeper – there are recipes. Besides the recipes, it is beautiful. I will probably read it again one day.
Meet today’s Guest Blogger: Kim Ogonosky. She’s a reader, a writer, has the most *amazing* singing voice, and loves to travel…
I firmly believe that people who love to read are natural born travelers.
There is no scientific data to back this up; it is my [completely biased] personal opinion based on firsthand experience. Simply put, I love to read, and I love to travel.
Of course the word “travel” does not necessarily need to be understood strictly as the physical act of traveling. For avid readers who get metaphorically lost in literature, are they not, in a sense, traveling as well?
You bet they are, and I can attest to this. I traveled to Pemberley with Elizabeth Bennet where I fell hopelessly in love with Mr. Darcy. I partied with the wild, over-indulgent upper crust of society at Jay Gatsby’s mansion on Long Island’s West Egg. I’ve been to post-apocalyptic worlds and dystopian societies. I’ve traveled halfway around the world and broken the barrier of time. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, and I’ve thrown things across the room in outrage.
And if anyone dares tell me this is not a form of travel, I assure you they have never gotten lost in a book!
Aside from traveling through books, I also love to physically travel. Never one to sit still, I am always looking for the next adventure. I once said my life’s goal is to visit every single country before I die. I have 13 under my belt, which means I have approximately 183 to go. Hey, a girl can dream!
My favorite place in the world is Florence. My favorite family vacation has been to Disney World. And I definitely recommend taking your significant other to the Caribbean for a vacation that looks like it came straight from your computer’s screensaver. But the most influential trip I have ever taken was to Tanzania.
In graduate school I was given the opportunity to travel to Dodoma, Tanzania to help film a documentary about a nongovernmental organization called BRAC. Another student and I were sent there to highlight their Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescent girls program. I had never picked up a video camera before in my life, and I only knew a few choice phrases in Swahili, but off I went with just one other person, malaria pills in tow!
When I got back from Africa, I remember people asking me if I had “fun.” Yes, it was the most influential experience of my life thus far, but I would choose other adjectives to describe it: Eye-opening, humbling, transformative, educational, challenging, and emotional all come to mind.
The pinnacle moment of the trip came when the Internet at our hotel went out, and I almost had a nervous breakdown.
Now, in my defense, the reason I had the nervous breakdown was because I wanted to contact my loved ones, not because I wanted to update my Facebook profile, so it was coming from a well-intentioned place.
However, we had just spent the day in the nearby villages interviewing these incredible young girls who had faced more hardships in their lives than the majority of us could ever imagine. Many didn’t have shoes. Most didn’t have clean water. And a startling number were in danger of not finishing their educations. Yet they came together to sing, dance, play, learn about how to start their own businesses, and support one another through strong female friendships.
And here I was at my hotel, with a pool, a nice restaurant, and plenty of clean water, crying about the Internet going out.
Needless to say, I was dealt with a healthy dose of perspective in that moment.
So yes, my trip to Africa was the most eye-opening, humbling, transformative, educational, challenging, and emotional experience of my life. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I learned so much from these brave young women, and I was inspired to immerse myself in similar travel situations again. Not because it was “fun,” but because I learned so much about the world, about humanity, and about myself.
Sounds a little like reading a really good book, doesn’t it? And here we are, coming full circle!
I recently stumbled upon what I consider to be the opportunity of a lifetime. An up-and-coming travel website called Jauntaroo is hiring a “Chief World Explorer” who will travel the world for a year, while blogging and filming webisodes about their experiences. Moreover, this person is encouraged to participate in “Voluntourism” activities while traveling. Sign me up!
Yes, the competition is stiff, but if I’ve learned anything from my books it’s that you must go after your dreams. Or simply put, if you don’t shoot, you don’t score!
I went for it and submitted a video application for this position, which can be found at www.bestjobaroundtheworld.com/submissions/view/12992. It is only a minute long, so should you decide to watch, it will not take up a lot of time. After having read this and watched the video you feel I would be well suited for the job, I would be incredibly grateful if you “liked” my video. You don’t have to fill out any forms, and you can do it once every 24 hours if it tickles your fancy! This would be an incredible experience, and I would love to be given the chance to travel the world and take others with me on the journey- through the fun, the relaxing, the challenging, the emotional, and the meaningful times.
Thank you for taking the time to hear my story. I wish all of you safe, exciting, and meaningful travels, be it in the metaphorical or the physical sense. Life would be so less interesting without them.