Back in the USA | Pushing the Wave

Back in the USA

Travel, 31 October 2022
by L.A. Davenport
South Alamo Street, San Antonio
South Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
This past week has been a little unusual, in that it saw the resumption of something that I have not had the chance to do since before the COVID pandemic. A couple of days after I got back from Vienna, I packed my suitcase again and headed off to the USA.

From time to time, I am lucky enough to be sent to America for work, and I have always enjoyed the chance to explore that most fascinating of countries. This time the destination was San Antonio, Texas, a city that, from fairly humble beginnings a few decades ago, has planted itself firmly on the conference map and, at least before the pandemic, used to be a regular destination.

It is quite a fascinating town, in that it has turned the centre almost completely over to tourists and other visitors. A Riverwalk lined with bars and restaurants is the main attraction, and perhaps could be thought of as a very modern, very American version of the canals in central Amsterdam, despite the obvious differences in architecture and history. There is something about walking alongside water in between relatively high buildings that lends a space an intimacy and charm, almost regardless of what you put along it. But in true US style, there is a profusion of things to see and do, with the dial turned all the way up to 10 on all of them.

But one can tire of it after a while and I found myself heading further and further downtown, along South Alamo. I was searching not only for one of my favourite eateries there, Tito’s Mexican Restaurant, but also the more authentic, suburban part of the city, where the ‘real America’ can be found.

In between the many bars and small restaurants that are strung along the long and winding road out of the centre of town there are extremely well-preserved Southern houses, some turned into lawyers offices and wellness clinics, and charming little shops. Here the roads are wide, and there are large spaces between the houses. The effect is to create a calm and repose that is found in everyone one encounters.

Even in the bar Hot Joy, which serves dangerous cocktails in a friendly atmosphere, the pace of conversation is unhurried, and everyone takes their time. I had forgotten about that aspect of the Southern way, but it’s infectious, and even with an incredible amount of work to do during my trip that left me exhausted by the time I left, every evening I was able to unwind completely with a relaxed drink and some easy conversation.
But of course Texas, let alone America as a whole, is a complex place, and full of contradictions. For all the easy Southern charm and the extremely cosmopolitan feel of San Antonio, with its huge Mexican influence, one cannot ignore the fact that it has taken an extreme stance on a topic that is, to a European, all about individual choice. How can a country based on the founding principles of liberty and personal freedom curtail the human rights of an entire category of people? It is nothing short of the imposition of a minority view on the majority.

And yet a law passed in Texas does not necessary reflect the views of its citizens, or even a significant proportion of them. I have heard people say that they will never visit Texas again while that law is still on the state statute book. I understand their views and feel their anger, but I do not believe in demonising a whole people because I do not agree with the will of their political leaders. The better to go there ourselves, talk to people, and see how we might debate with them.

On my day before taking my flight back home, I wanted to eat local and eat well. Having finished my packing and done some essential work, I headed over to Landry’s Seafood House on the Riverwalk. It was lunchtime when I arrived, and young military personnel dressed in their finest were milling around with their families in the autumn sun. I had not been to the restaurant before but it lived up to the promise of its understated but rather luxurious interior, and I had an excellent crawfish étoufée with an asparagus side, washed down with some very agreeable Pinto Grigio. The portions were modestly sized for America, and all the better for it. As a last taste of San Antonio, it left me wanting more.
Apart from a huge amount of work, and a huge amount of culture, this week, I managed to fit in a series of major and minor updates to this website. The hope is that you have a better and richer experience, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious, or at least find stuff more easily and more logically.

The biggest changes are to the ‘More’ section, where it’s much simpler to navigate and understand what you are clicking on, and to the items in Thoughts and Pieces, of which article this is one. They have finally been given categories, and the content has been classified by both category and publication date. But it’s also worth noting that there is a search function at the top of every page, if you ever want to find something without going to the trouble of navigating to it.
I delayed the final leg of my journey home to do something that, like visiting America, was impossible during the COVID pandemic.

A close friend of mine turned 40, and we had a celebration that started genteelly around lunchtime and then stretched into the afternoon and evening, replacing light traditional English bites and fizz, with cocktails and pie and mash. Then a Finnish 60s garage rock band we had seen at Glastonbury took to the stage to blow our minds and switch us into party mode before the DJ set. It was wonderful to see so many people again after so many years, and of course we all vowed to not leave it so long next time. Let’s hope we keep our warmly felt promises.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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Back in the USA | Pushing the Wave