Friday, July 12, 2013

The Sense of Place

Yesterday was my birthday. I took it off, though not entirely voluntarily. I was wiped from showing downtown to a woman who's resided in San Antonio for five years and has finally decided she wants to live here.

Far too many people hunker down in their homes and their limited drive radius, and never get to know and love where they're living. I don't understand it. Okay, it's kind of hard for me to get out of the study sometimes, too, but when I do go places, I go there mindfully. I want to know where I'm going, what used to be there, what's cool about it.

Every place has something cool about it. Take it from an ex-service brat. Every. Single. Place.

And everywhere in the world is boring from inside a car. Get out and walk! Bicycle! Take the bus!

I resented moving as much as we did - two places in Texas before my long-term memories started forming, then two places in Alaska, my folks' home town in Iowa while Dad was in 'Nam, a suburb of Washington DC, and a long, long tour in West Texas. But it gave me good habits and a strong sense of the importance of place. Except for the Texas-Alaska move, we drove from station to station, and we stopped at historical markers. It didn't occur to me till I grew up that being in a car all day with three squabbling children might have motivated any of these stops; I internalized the notion that what's on historical markers is important enough to stop for. And it is! When she found out where we were going, Mom would check books out of the library about it, both nonfiction and fiction when she could find it. Once we were there, we went and looked at the things people from elsewhere traveled to that place to look at. When we lived in the suburb of DC, we visited the Smithsonian more than once. We took day trips to the places around us. Where ever we were, we lived there.

And when I came to live in San Antonio, this approach rewarded me more richly than it is possible to say. This town is endlessly, fascinatingly lovable. So when my friends need a native guide, I'm who they call. I may be a bit out of touch with where construction is this week or what the current bus schedules is like - but I can tell you the ghost stories for the buildings we walk past. I can take you where the egrets fish. I can show you where Switching Well happened and tell you about the clock tower of the Southwest Center for Arts and Crafts, which used to be the Ursuline Academy. And going with Old Ben Milam into San Antonio. And the bathing houses, and the bridges, and moving the Fairmount, and the riot at the auditorium, and the floods. I can give you the facts, and the stories, and the slightly dubious things the guides on the boats say.

I know this because I love it. And I love it's fun. And it's fun because it feeds my brain. When I go somewhere else, I want to go looking for this same kind of fun. I'm not afraid in strange places. I've got a little common sense and I know how to do the lost tourist dance - I'm not going to get so lost I can't get home.

Your town is as wonderful as mine. But if I visited you, I would want you to prove it to me.

Can you?

What's stopping you?

1 comment:

  1. I so agree with you, Peni! This little town I live in, just up the road from you, is loaded with interesting places and history. I love being at "the star" downtown and realizing this is where the cattle drives crossed the river on their way north. Or, this is the building where Mrs. Butt started HEB. Or this where the camels came to live. And look, there on the Guadeloupe... are two swans and I know the story of how they came to be there.

    How people can live in a place and not learn something of it's history (or its flora and fauna) I don't understand. I think their lives must be kind of boring at best, empty at worst.