Sunday, March 25, 2012

Washington-on-the-Brazos, March 2012

Panna Maria, Texas

Mission Espiritu Santo, La Bahia (Goliad)

Does the End of the World Feature its Own Tee-Shirt?

Mack Hall, HSG

Does the End of the World Feature its Own Tee-Shirt?

When we were young our parents taught us that we are all fallen beings, frail, suffering, endeavoring to do our best for God and for others on this weary planet, and again and again falling short.  We should always, then, be kind to each other, because we are all on the same pilgrimage.

Surely, though, we can make an exception for the people waiting for spaceships to come and rescue them. 

Yes, fellow Muggles, the world is coming to an end yet again.

This go-‘round the world is coming to an end in France, in December, so there’s plenty of time to secure a passport (“Sir…sir, you’ll need to take off the Phrygian helmet for your photograph.”) and beg for spare change for a one-way ticket to eternal vegan bliss on another planet or parallel realm of existential being-ness or something.

The free-to-be-you-and-me lot are termite-swarming to the little town of Bugarach in the French Pyrenees.  They are persuaded by The Voices that on the 21st of December a secret alien spaceship hidden within a nearby mountain is going to appear (that must be one heck of a garage-door opener), take all the soap-free granola-eaters aboard, and transport them to a world safe from any form of work or thought.

The first clue that something could be very, very wrong might come when the in-flight movie is The Hunger Games and the airline magazine is entitled To Serve Man.

The sort of people who think that milk comes from a store and that gasoline is created by polar bear fairies waving magic wands are repeatedly preparing for the end of the world.  They are the ear-budded non-readers who can manipulate the dials on little plastic boxes made in China but who cannot split kindling, tie a knot, cook a simple meal, wash clothes, set a table, change the oil, scan a line of iambic pentameter, plow a furrow, get a job, or test an idea according to the Hegelian dialectic.

They are like, y’know, spiritual, and, like stuff, and they know, like, stuff about vibrant, esoteric, Meso-american magnetic waves, like, alignment of energies that are like, y’know, totally eschatological, and, like, stuff.

Worse, they play guitars.

The Neo-Hale-Boppians are said to climb their holy mountain naked, which wouldn’t be particularly pleasant for the fellow in the, um, rear, toking on his reality-denying drug of choice and wondering about all the full moons in the sky above him.

Jean-Pierre Delord, the mayor of Bugarach, has communicated to Paris his fears of a mass suicide, which is the sort of thing that can happen when geriatric hippies who spent their formative years learning conversational Klingon come to realize that Captain Kirk is a Canadian.

Those who are prone to conspiracy theories might suspect M. Delord and his fellow townsfolk of dreaming up the space-ship-hidden-in-a-mountain thing for the sake of balancing the budget and re-paving the streets.  For the next few months all those visiting, um, mystics will want to beam up tons of fair trade coffee, hemp sandals, vegetarian meals, and of course the official event tee-shirt: “Some Old People Who Might or Might Not be my Parents Went to the End of the World and all They Got me was this Lousy, Made-in-Indonesia Tee.”

There might be a booth with folks offering to sell visitors gold because the dollar is about to collapse, and then a booth next door offering to buy gold with dollars so that the purchaser can be rich enough to buy a Mooncluck’s cup of coffee, and next to that a booth selling Rich Radio Guy’s latest book about how The World as We Know It is about to end, and help him build his big estate in Florida in which he plans to live for a long, long time.


On the 22nd of December the faithful, disappointed at being alive, will climb down from their rocks and their roofs, and beg the government of France ("Pardon-moi, senor, moi c'est est stupido, ja.") for a plane ticket back to their earthly homes.

Before a month has passed, another discount-store mystic leader will recalculate and re-conjure on his weewee board or something, and propose a new date for the end of the world, your credit card welcome, and the lemmings will again line up obediently.

The nonreader in our culture…wants to believe…The world is so vastly confusing and baffling to him that he feels there has to be some simple answer to everything that troubles him.  And so, our of pure emptiness, he will eagerly embrace spiritualism, yoga, a banana diet, or some…strange amalgam…masquerading under invented semiscientific terms, and sold to the beginner at a nice profit.

-      John D. MacDonald, Reading for Survival


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Presidio La Bahia

Mack Hall

The Soldiers’ Chapel

You could spend a day at Presidio La Bahia outside Goliad and never come across the fine old Irish name of O’Conner, and that’s pretty much how the O’Conner family wants it.  And yet if not for Kathryn O’Connor there wouldn’t be much to see.

Presidio La Bahia was established by Spain along the Gulf Coast in 1721, and after two removes was permanently located in 1749 on a hill along the Rio San Antonio near present-day Goliad.

The Presidio was a royal fortress and administrative center.  Its chapel, Nuestra Senora de Loreto de la Bahia, served the soldiers and administration, their families, and the town.  The Franciscan mission to the First Nations peoples, Espiritu Sancto, was situated down the road and across the river because, although church parade was mandatory, soldiers were still considered a bad influence.

The chapel was the first structure built, and except for five years in the early Republic has served the faithful as a church since 1749. 

The fortress, although miles from the Gulf, was the center of coastal defense against the French.  Later, when Spain was one of the first friends of the USA, soldiers from La Bahia went into action against the British.

Economically, La Bahia was the beginning of the Texas cattle industry.   Mission herds and private herds were rounded up here for cattle drives to other settlements, guarded by soldiers of the local command.

According to the pamphlet, La Bahia was involved in six revolutions and many raids, and has been a fortress for the armies of Spain, Mexico, and Texas.

La Bahia is, unfortunately, most famous for the mass murder of Colonel James Fannin and some 350 of his men on Palm Sunday, 1836 on the orders of a particularly nasty little man.  What is less known is that many of the Mexican soldiers and their wives, including Francisca Alvarez, a true mother of Texas, managed to conceal some of the Texians, and saved others by listing them, apparently some falsely, as doctors and medical attendants so that they would be spared take care of the many Mexican wounded from both the Alamo and Coleto Creek battles.

With independence, La Bahia was no longer an economic and administrative center, and although the chapel was still in use the little fortress became a source of building materials, and by the 1960s little was left.

Then came Mrs. Kathryn O’Connor, who inspired and funded a historically accurate restoration of the fort through the research and work of San Augustine architect Raiford Stripling and using mostly local labor and artists. 

A correspondent who once worked for the family remarks on their generosity and industry.  Each generation of young O’Connors begins in the family businesses with a broom and a mop, not an attitude, and while their contributions to numerous causes and charities are great, of modesty they do not put their name on things.

La Bahia and the area around it include the fortress and its chapel, the excellent state reconstruction of Mission Espiritu Sancto, the site of the Battle of Coleto Creek, the mass grave and memorial to the murdered soldiers, the birthplace of General Ignacio Zaragoza, who defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla on 5 May (hence Cinco de Mayo)1862, and the eminently shoppable town of Goliad centered on its beautiful courthouse.  The three murder sites are all on private property, and perhaps that peaceful isolation is best.

The docents on site are very welcoming, and one of them, Jeremy, allowed an old man to help raise the Goliad Flag one morning.

At the State of Texas Parks sites the staffs are equally helpful, and the springtime beauty of the woods and fields around the mission are a naturalist’s happiest dream.

Useful sites:

The wars and raids have passed, and governments come and go, but on every Sunday a priest of the Diocese of Victoria still offers Mass under the same roof raised for the purpose in 1749.

A small red flame…relit before the…doors of a tabernacle; the flame which the old knights saw from their tombs, which they saw put out; that flame burns again…It could not have been lit but for the builders and the tragedians, and there I found it this morning, burning anew among the old stones.

-Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Austin, Texas: The Capital of Preciousness

Mack Hall, HSG

Austin, the Capital of Preciousness

The democratically-elected city council of Austin, Texas has inhaled the pixie dust.  Effective in March of 2013, retailers who provide customers with a sack for their purchases will be in violation of the awful majesty of the law and the dilated pupils of the Eyes of Texas.

And not a moment too soon, I say, for who, while visiting Austin, has not feared being stalked by a drug-crazed grocery sack in the parking garage late at night?

Grocery sacks are increasingly notorious for their home invasions, and don’t even get me started about the drunken grocery sacks staggering around 6th Street.

Grocery sacks gang up at intersections and at the entrances to stores holding out buckets and demanding money “for the missions.”

You can see grocery sacks lurking in dark alleys making drug deals, and more grocery sacks luring children into lives of crime.

Grocery sacks hang out in the parks playing loud music and smoking cigarettes and stomping the flowers with their carbon feet-prints. 

There are some who presume to defend the capitalist grocery sack.  The humble grocery sack, they say, can be used over and over (in AustinSpeak, “post-consumer recycling”).  A grocery sack can cover the hot-dish for the church luncheon.  A grocery sack makes a pretty good Halloween mask.  The more Occupy-ish among us can use a grocery sack for a facial disguise when holding up a stop-and-rob in order to liberate The People’s goods from the belly of the capitalist beast.  A smaller sack can be popped loudly in order to annoy big sister – maybe the Big Sisters on the Austin City Roost.  Paper bags carry groceries, used dishes from a garage sale, good used clothes to Goodwill, ‘jammies and a toothbrush for a sleepover, and magazines and books for the nursing home. 

And in the end, the brave little grocery sack, its life of humble service at an end, is easily composted with full military honors.  If, for some reason, a beastly Republican disposes of it improperly, the remains of the grocery sack simply fly away into the country, there to biodegrade back into the natural world from whence it came, into the Samsara of life and death, to be reborn as a majestic oak tree or as a happy little petunia.

Well, comrade, that’s reactionary thinking.  Grocery sacks are evil; the Austin city council acting in concert with the will of The People and of the gods has decreed their banishment into the desert.  So let it be written; so let it be done.  Carry those carrots home in your pocket, you fascist.

Someone’s sister-in-law, and you know her, the unemployable thirty-something with the jet-pilot glasses and a master’s degree in fashion design or hospitality, is to be granted a $2 million dollar budget to persuade The People that nuisance and humiliation are somehow good for them.  Thus, subjects of Austin will not only be punished for possession of an illegal grocery sack, they will have to pay for the propaganda – um, teachable moment.

“Keep Austin Weird?”  But Austin no longer possesses a weird to be kept; Austin is now simply another dull, grey provincial town of fearful subjects trudging their grim, grocery-bagless streets with heads bowed in passive obedience to their heavy-handed soviet.