Thursday, May 13, 2010

Location Scout #3: Castroville

Ever since I realized the part played by cotton speculators in the lesbian western I've known that part of my story would have to be set there. Not until yesterday did I realize how hard it would be not to set half the book there.

My Reverend Mom lives in Medina County, further west than my characters have any reason to go during the course of the plot (AFAIK!), so I met her in Houston Square and we walked around a bit. The original plan was to do the Historic Walking Tour, but we quickly realized the limitations of the tour for my purposes. We spent quite a bit of the morning at the Landmark Inn, in Len's day a gristmill, general store, and residence occupied by John and Rowena Vance, a couple not without prominence in San Antonio history, too. Between us, and with the assistance of the locals and the signage (though the signage has some problems; according to one historical marker, Henri Castro died in 1861; to another, in 1865) we figured out how the San Antonio Road ran, where Len would have come into town from Geronimo, and which places she would visit once she got there. Rev. Mom also helped me work out how Len gets the corpse onto Bean in the first place - the practicality of that part bothered her a lot.

Yes, writing is a solitary profession and can lead you to neglect your family; but it's good to talk through difficulties with someone else once in awhile. Usually my husband gets stuck with this part, but it's good to spread the intellectual puzzlement around.

After a picnic down by the dam (also attended by ants and a tiny empidonax flycatcher), Mom decided she'd done all she could, so I walked her back to Houston Square and started again, making notes about the original priest's house, the Catholic church (annoyingly, the first and third ones still stand, but only a photograph of the one Len saw remains), and the course of the roads before starting the tour again. I was delightfully hung up at the Old Alsatian Steakhouse, where the owners (of the restaurant, not the property) were happy to sort out for me which part of the building was standing when and to show me the barbeque pit that's going to be an archeological site next month.

By 3:00 in the afternoon, my notebook and the booklet with the walking tour map in it were both scribbled up with illegible notes, my feet were sore, my water was almost gone, I was cross-eyed from looking at early Castroville architecture, I had names and even e-mail addresses for people I need to talk to, and I knew where and when the next Conservation Society meeting was, should I decide to crash it. I think I sat for a half an hour on the bench in front of Tour House #31, Hans Meat Market, which wasn't even relevant since it wasn't built till 1910; but it has a view of the saloon across from the courthouse where Len will go to report the crime and also happened to be where my feet gave out. I was only halfway through the tour sites on the north side of the highway - for now, at least, the only ones beside the Landmark Inn that matter - but I'd come to the end of my ability.

Well, almost. I realized, looking through the places I'd managed to miss even though I'd walked right by them, that a Certain Person would be well-known at the Tarde Hotel, if it was in fact operating as a hotel at that time. And why wouldn't it be? Frederick Law Olmstead had declared it the best hotel he stayed in during his travels through Texas in the mid-50s, and the Mexican traffic would have been heavy enough to support any number of hotels, assuming that military personnel, merchants, and officials accompanied the actual cotton trains (which presumably camped on the edge of town) in anything like a reasonable proportion. So I managed to stagger by for a look at it before returning to Moby, locating a convenience store, renewing my fluids, and leaving town.

I will go back and intend to take my husband at least once. I owe it to the Old Alsatian Steakhouse to bring them some business and need to speak to them again. Possibly this weekend, though I'm also supposed to go to Belton on Saturday, where Mike Collins of Gault is having a signing for his new book. Clovis Technology , by Bruce Bradley, Michael B Collins, & Andrew Hemmings, is a technical work, but if you're into that kind of thing, the signing's 2:00 to 4:00 PM Saturday, May 15, at the Bell County Museum in Belton. I may have to ditch Pleistocene archeology for Civil War archeology in June, if I can get in with that dig; but that doesn't excuse my falling behind!

Once again I have more things to do than I am physically capable of doing. Crashing that Conservation Society meeting would have made contacts of the sort I'm going to need in order to find out what I need to know; but I would have had to stay late in Castroville and was not at all sure I could make a good first impression. So I decided against it. Now I have to follow up those leads, organize my notes, plan the Belton trip - and oh, yes, clean my house, cook my low-sodium meals, feed birds and cats and husband, keep on the right side of code compliance in my - ahem - wildscaped yard, update this blog, and make some headway on the, um, six sewing projects I want to do before August.

I didn't do any of that this morning. I wrote on the story. Because everything else is organized around that, and if I lose sight of the needs of the story, I'll be spinning my wheels and wearing myself out to no purpose.

Sometimes I compare myself with the truly dedicated people who have made the great contributions to art, science, and various other passions, and feel how little I measure up. But that only makes me more tired, just when I ought to feel energized. Much better to take half an hour off to let the brain unsnarl, and then pick a job and get back to work.

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