The Gluten-Free Taco Challenge

I’m back to making red chili gravy and putting it on every fucking thing in sight. My mother informed me that I should cut out all gluten because of a probable genetic intolerance passed down to me. I could find out for myself, but I barely have the money to buy gluten-loaded products, let alone expensive medical tests. I gave quick thought to what I’d have to cut out. And I mean completely. Pizza, flour tortillas, sandwiches (which aren’t encased in some sort of silly gluten-free stunt bread), and, yikes!, tacos. (Taco Note to those who live elsewhere: San Antonio, and much of La Frontera–USA and Mexico–is heavily fueled by flour tortillas. And when in a place like San Antonio you say you’re getting tacos, it’s usually something folded in a flour tortilla. True, with the growing presence of taco trucks offering taquitos in the estilo of Mexico, you gonna get corn tortillas, in keeping with the street food vendors so ubiquitous to every town in Mexico. And, yes, you can ask for a taco in a soft corn tortilla in the neighborhood cafes in San Antonio, but you do at your own peril. If they don’t make their own corn tortillas by hand, you’re fucked. There are few things on this planet sadder than a store-bought corn tortilla.)

Where was I? Oh, yeah. No more pizza. Fuck! I’m fucked!

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Wednesday I attended the latest community forum of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro’s SA2020 consensus-building extravaganza. There have been, if I count correctly, four so far. I’ve attended all. And, cynically, I think they’re of questionable value. But I’ve gone this far, so I’ll keep going. There”s another in January. And that is either the last or the penultimate of these forums. The idea is for the public to add their voices as to how they would like to see this city ten years from now.

We met in the indoors basketball court of St. Mary’s University. It was an evening meeting. The Food Bank was the caterer. (They also fed us at the last one, where the breakfast tacos were accompanied by, not salsa, but one lone bottle of fucking Louisiana hot sauce.) All I can say is that no one would freak-out over civil irresponsibility of money being pissed away on sushi, prime rib, or churning chocolate fountains. We were lucky to find a paper napkin in out styrofoam boxes holding the sandwich of choice, veggies, cookie, and fruit cup. It was similar to being on Southwest Airlines, however there was slightly more legroom to enjoy our repast.

The space had been divided into about eight regions, each concentrating on a different issue. Transportation; education; crime and public safety; economic development; shit like that. I was hanging out at one of the tables in the Arts and Culture section. Each table had a facilitator. I was lucky to be at the table where Felix Padrón, the director of the Office of Cultural Affairs, was facilitating. I like Felix. He has a playful sense of humor, but he also gets things done. I was also sitting with three other people from the arts community who I know well and respect: Rod Rubbo, Liz Moise, and George Cisneros.

There were eight of us at the table. We each had a copy of the “vision statement” concerning where the arts in San Antonio should be in 2020 (this is something which had been created through the previous meetings). We were supposed to come to an agreement on what would be the two primary trackable indicators by which we would know that this vision, this desired outcome, was indeed coming into being. And then, four secondary indicators. A list of possible indicators had also been given to us. This list came from input from a previous forum. Things got pretty heated at our table. We eventually came up with a list. I’m not sure how democratic this process was, but I knew that it wasn’t so important as the next step.

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We took a break. And then each division gathered around a central table and shared their notes. We had maybe eight tables in the arts. When the indicators with the most advocates were written down on a large pad of paper, we began the process of taking turns to shout out our reasons that this or that was most important. It was essentially grassroots politics (and as I’ve remarked at least once before in this blog, what the fuck has happened to Robert’s Rules of Order?–it’s supposed to make things like this move more smoothly….). We eventually came to a consensus. But I have no memory of what it was.

I walked out with Victor Payan and Sandra “Pocha Pena” Sarmiento (they were sitting at the table beside me). When we entered the lobby of the sports arena, Sandra walked over to the tables with the remainders of the boxed dinners. She mentioned the names of a couple of artists she and Victor would be seeing later that night. They scooped up about six boxes. I’d have got some for myself. Hell, I’m unemployed. But, dammit, gluten. And, double dammit, I realized at the moment that I had just eaten two slices of bread from my boxed dinner a couple hours earlier.

This isn’t going to be so easy.

I followed Victor and Sandra to their car. They’d told me that they had extra copies of the SA Current. And I wanted one. I was curious how the group photo for the upcoming “Rudos y Tecnicos” show came out. I was in that photo.

Well, the photo looks pretty good.

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Sandra said that there was a Flickr stream from the shoot, I checked it out. Erik Gustafson is the photographer. He’s a damn fine shooter, not to mention a very sweet guy. Here’s a photo of me.

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The girls are, from left to right, Jessica Torres and Sandra Torres. Daughter and mother. (I have been, and will continue to be, a staunch advocate of Jessica, who is an important San Antonio filmmaker–and because she sometimes reads this blog, I want to see more work from you Jessica! You need a camera? Borrow one of mine. Just get out there and do some new stuff, why dontcha?)

Maybe a year ago Pocha had asked me to take part in a photo shoot. I was to play the part of a redneck Minute Man. And Jessica and Sandra would be Minute Maids. This is Pocha’s playful concept of passive resistance against armed bigots on the border. Send in sweet and polite Mexicanas with aprons and feather dusters. Pocha’s photo series — her photo novella — was apparently used at some conference on border concerns or feminists issues. I think Pocha will be projecting the photos before the three of us take to the stage (the ring), thus putting this into context.

And so, Jessica, Sandra, and I will all reprise our roles. My outfit has been upgraded to this absurd red, white, and blue sequin jacket with “USA” on the sleeves. This is all for Saturday night where we’re going to be acting. I’m no actor. And to ask an introverted anarcho-communist to be a big-mouthed nationalistic racist, is quite a request. Well, we’ll see. At least I’ll be surrounded by friends.

Rudos y Tecnicos. Gallista Gallery. 5-10 PM. Saturday, December 11. I believe the theatrical skits will begin around 7:30. The problem is, I have a paid gig video-taping a dance recital at the Hindu Temple of San Antonio, which is way the fuck up past Helotes. I hope I can make it down into the S. Flores region in time to make a grand fool of myself.

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Back on Tuesday was the screening of the San Antonio 48 Hour Film Experience. I’d given some assistance to the team led by Rod Guajardo. But, because his film hit some technical difficulties, it was not allowed into the judging. So, when Drew Mayer-Oakes, the director of the San Antonio Film Commission, asked if I’d be a judge, I agreed. The team I worked on was out of the competition, so there would be no conflict of interest.

As a judge I have been given a DVD to watch the films. And even though I attended the screening back on Tuesday, I won’t take the judging seriously until I watch the films again, with an eye to detail.

I will say this. I was somewhat disappointed. There were two or three teams who should have kicked ass because of the smart and creative folks on the crews. But–yikes! Great? Not hardly! And then there were a couple of teams who I had no hope for because they were being helmed by, let’s face it, imbeciles…or so I thought. It was truly a night of surprises!

And so, I guess it was a success. The teams which I thought would succeed and, didn’t, were off-set by those who I thought would fail, and didn’t. The fact is, things can go bad fast in these sort of quickie productions. But, it seems, things can also go unexpectedly well.

Before I sit down and watch these films again, I want to say this to the three or four San Antonio filmmakers who read my blog. If you ever do one of these film races, take my following advice. Give your writer (or writing team) at least ten hours to write the script. It’s probable that their first idea is shit. This is why you should give them the gift of time. And in this ten hour period, make sure they edit the piece into a simple yet damn strong script. Have them prune it down. And spend that same ten hours allowing the pre-production team to hover there, breaking down the script in progress. Because when the project moves into the production phase and the camera has actually been removed from its case, there damn well better be storyboards, or at least the most rudimentary of a shot list. What I’m getting at is: don’t monkey with the script during production! I know it’s tempting because of expedience. But, trust me, you’ll hate yourself later.

My biggest problems with the films which screened Tuesday night? I had no idea what the fuck was going on in most of them There were several pieces with some strong production value. But even those made me think, wait a minute, what the fuck is it that these characters are doing? When the script has been locked, DO NOT dick around around with it. It’s 48 hours, folks, and I guarantee if you treat your script and storyboards cavalierly, the whole structure will fall apart. Of course I’m talking about making a GOOD film in 48 hours. The truth is, you can break these rules left and right if the project is one of those meta self-referential intentionally bad videos. This is more in the realm of a mockumentary, and these projects come with their own set of potential pitfalls. Enter at your own risk.

These speed film contests are shit. No one can make a decent movie in 48 hours. I’m philosophically opposed to them. But, dammit, I wanted to do one myself. My problem: I was hoping that an important well-paying job in Dallas would materialize. See, I desperately need money. But the job didn’t happen. And I also didn’t make my 48 hour movie.

So, my grousing is partially sour grapes. The truth is, I respect the courage and commitment of all the people who participated in this project. And my hat is off to Drew Mayer-Oakes and the San Antonio Film Commission for creating and fostering this wonderful grass roots local contest. It does a wonderful job of bringing so many of us together in the spirit of camaraderie and respectful competition.

And, yes, I hope I can do it next year.

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