Shouting Profanity at the Squirrels

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What a long weekend. My dogs are still tired. I’ve something of a mild sunburn. And I finally discovered how many photos the SD card on my little camera will hold. 86, at the highest resolution. (I usually upload them to my computer the day after I use it — and this was two days worth.)

Sunday morning I hauled myself out of bed at seven-thirty. No big deal, normally. But I didn’t get to sleep Saturday night until 3:30.

I loaded up my video camera (as well as my little high-8 camcorder as a back-up), shotgun mike, headphones, monopod, a fistful of filters, wide-angle lens, and a couple of batteries. I stuffed it all in my laptop shoulder bag (which served me well as a production bag in Mexico in the summer of ’06).

Call time was nine at Travis Park. I was there early and strolled though the little one block square park. Lots of park benches and shade trees. And even though some swanky hotels overlook the place, there are always quite a few homeless people hanging out and often sleeping there. The homeless problem in San Antonio is huge. But, for the most, these people are as polite and laidback as those who have homes in this city. We have numerous programs and shelters to offer a modicum of help. But there is precious little to deal with the root problems: mental illness, and a lack of a network of stable and long-term support.

And so as I wandered the park, nodding to the indigent, as well as the tourists and the locals who attend the two churches that front onto Travis Park, I began trying to identify the people I was supposed to be working with.

Ryan Murray, who I met on the set of Garrison a couple of years back, was producing a little promo video for SAVA — the San Antonio Visual Artists group. I would be helping Ryan to shoot the piece. My understanding was that it would be a series of peripatetic guerilla art happenings. Why not? And, as the only person involved who I knew was Ryan, I began trying to spot artists. First off, I knew they’d not be dressed like tourists or church-goers. However, many artists I know do indeed look like the homeless … although they are less likely to walk with a limp or shout profanity at squirrels.

Shirlene Harris was the first to show up. She’s one of the founding members of SAVA. I’d not met her before, but when I was in San Miguel back in 2006, I met her daughter, Melanie, who runs a gallery down there. Shirlene had a huge stiff mesh plastic bolsa stuffed with art supplies. Other artist soon arrived at the benches at the center of the park. And as we all waited on Ryan (who was running late because of car trouble), Shirlene had us all introduce ourselves. I’d list their names, but I wasn’t able to recall everyone’s. There was a painter named, I believe, Leonardo Benavides, Jr. He showed up with his sister who was visiting from out of town. And then there was Nicole Vachier Lozano, an artists who works in glass. And then a man and two women whose names I’ll have to add later, when I get all the info.

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Ryan eventually made it, with his friend Carlos in tow. All in all, we were ten: six artists (Shirlene being one of them), two video guys, a friend, and a sister.

Our first stop, the Alamo. It was close enough, so we walked. Because we didn’t want to get chased off by the Alamo cops, we set up on the far side of Alamo Street. In fact exactly where Deborah did her mandala piece for Luminaria. And also where Nicole was set us for Luminaria with her glass melting kiln. But I didn’t know her back then.

We dropped down a plastic tarp, and the six artists stood in a circle wearing oxford dress shirts bought from thrift shops. They all had those little tool pouch apronettes which held brushes and bottles of acrylic paint. They had five minutes to paint a work of art on the back of the person in front of them. Me and Ryan moved around, shooting video. Leonardo’s sister kept an eye on the clock. Carlos guarded our stuff. We got something of a crowd of curious onlookers. And then, once five minutes were up, we scurried to pack up and move to our next location.

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The second location was a part of the river walk. Actually, I wasn’t paying attention, so I’m not sure what the street overhead was. This was more sedate. The six artists were given little art boards, smaller than a LP cover. They were given five minutes to make a painting. This might be some of the more problematic video, because I kept having to reset the iris because some people were in shadow and some were in full sunlight. It was peaceful down there with hardly any on-lookers. It felt less like a stunt and more like what it was — a group of artists painting together. Just really quickly.

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Back up on the street, we grabbed a trolly and soon found ourselves in the Market Square area. It was to be another bit where the artists painted on the backs of one another. They put on ew shirts, and we looked for a good spot in the pedestrian alley between the El Mercado and the restaurants and galleries. We headed all the way down so that the Alameda (or the Museo, or whatever the fuck they call that Smithsonian affiliate) was in the background. This time, Ryan told the encircled artists to “kick it up a bit.” He told them to walk in their circle, and continue painting on the back of the artists in front of them. I know this wasn’t too thrilling for the artists, but it was fun to shoot. Oh, and we pulled in another artist. One of the SAVA members works out at Market Square painting caricatures. Shirlene spotted him and dragged him into the ring.

As me and Ryan were shooting, I noticed that there was a man taking photos of the event. He was wearing an Alameda name badge. My question: was he just an art-lover on break taking photos of something he was grooving to, or was he collecting photo evidence to be used in some future Smithsonian litigation were we are all sued for video-taping images of a building in the background connected to an institution with a huge and humorless legal department. But we continued, and from a nearby outdoor loudspeaker Van Morrision was crooning about some brown eyed girl and the artists were soon in the rhythm of the music.

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We got out of there without incident. And then we grabbed a bus to the Freedom Torch, which is, I believe, the name of the priapic travesty of public “art” that rises up from a traffic circle at Alamo Street and Commerce. I muttered something about how “I’ve lived in this city for four or five years and as much as I’ve waited for that day when I might learn to love this sculpture which I initially thought sucked, I have to say –”

“It still sucks,” Nicole jumped in to finish my sentence.

And, you know, I love all the gifts from Mexico. Lila Downs, ginger pig pastries, Miguel Covarrubias, hell there’s not a sour note. Except this abomination.

But I digress.

We gave the artists small squares of clear plastic panes. They painted for five minutes. We were situated across from the “torch,” using it as a background.

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And then we all headed back to Travis Park and went our separate ways. A very enjoyable way to spend a Sunday morning.

Here’s a link to Nicole’s blog where she has some pictures.

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I popped by Pepe’s for their Sunday lunch special of enchiladas verde. And then I drove to the final day of CineFestival.

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I caught a great Lucha Libre documentary by Gustavo Vasquez, Que Viva La Lucha. Next I headed over to the gallery space to watch the Pocho Retrospective. Some short social satire comedies from a couple of filmmakers from LA. They were in attendance and gladly answered the questions from the too tiny audience who showed up. I believe their names were Estaban Zul and Lalo Lopez.

Some of the stuff is on YouTube. From dumb fun to witty & subversive fun. Check it out.

http://www.youtube.com/user/EstebanZul

As I was waiting for the wrestling doc to begin, I saw Jessica Torres and Sarai Rodriguez heading down the aisle of the main theater. I gave them a wave.

Filmmaker Jessica and actress Sarai are involved with the San Anto Cultural Arts student programs. They came over, shouting loudly, “if it isn’t Mister Erik Bosse!”

They’re wise asses. And, in my book, that’s an important trait. They can drift into scorchingly fast-paced clever banter. They are smart and funny. And I look forward to seeing more of their film work.

Victor and Sandra did an incredible job with the CineFestival. They had a short time to pull everything together, but it turned out brilliantly.

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Around seven I drove back to downtown. I found a place on the street to park near the OCA offices, and I walked the five blocks to Main Plaza. Sunday night was the grand opening. As I walked to the site, I matched pace with a guy rolling a double bass. “You’re with the San Antonio Symphony, I presume?” I asked. He nodded. “When you guys going on?” He told me they’d be performing at eight.

I’d heard earlier from Stephanie Keys, clarinetist, that the symphony would be playing for the Main Plaza opening. And, sure enough, I looked up and saw Stephanie walking towards me holding a little instrument case. She waved to me and hurried on.

I also saw Louisette. She’s with one of the historic recreation groups or something. Maybe the Canary Island people? Whatever the case might be, I should have taken a picture. Louisette makes a tricorner hat look dead sexy.

The plaza is certainly promising. They still need to, well, you know, finish it. You see, the contractors really weren’t able to meet this official opening deadline. It was a bit messy moving around. People were trodding over incomplete landscaping. And there were loads of people. The place was packed.

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Some botoxed zombies with the local media were up inanely praising everyone and everything. Gassy politicians and majestically tanned local philanthropists were all swooning on the heady perfume of their own rhetoric which was mildly spiced with the occasional stray Españolism. This verbal wankery went on for maybe an hour.

And then, show time.

The symphony launched into some generic eighteenth century equivalent of John Williams — guess I need to brush up on my classical music literacy. This was to cue the landscape lighting. Some halogen lights in the trees came up. Also, the rope lights which are piped along the lines of the cathedral’s facade came on (but they’re nothing new). And then, the fountains. Five of them. The water jetted up, lit beneath from lights. Very nice. And the finishing touch. Colored lights splashed up on the face of cathedral.

More money, no doubt, into Bill FitzGibbons’ account. And as much as I like these ever-changing displays of colorful LED lights swathed across buildings and highway over-passes, it’s getting a bit stale. Mr. FitzGibbons, you are in danger of becoming the Thomas Kinkade of the LED.

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In the months to come, I will make it a point to drop by the plaza for the free performances that will be scheduled.

But as I headed to my car I wondered how many homeless people, come daylight, would be dozing on the benches of the plaza? The project cost somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 million dollars. And there was a moment when the Mayor praised the Tobin Endowment for coming in at the eleventh hour for the extra 2 million for the five fountains. Well, that was nice. They’re very fine fountains. On a hot day in the summer, I’m sure they’ll be perfect places to wash your feet. While shouting profanity at squirrels.

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