Context

by Don Friedman on November 10, 2016

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The APT conference was in San Antonio this year, so of course I strolled by the Alamo. Or rather, what’s left of the Alamo, the central church. That’s it above, with a few early-morning tourists waiting to enter the site. Looks just like the postcards I’ve seen of it.

What you can’t tell from that picture is that I spent five minutes finding the spot to take a picture from that would get that result. The Alamo is right in the center of downtown San Antonio, and it’s surrounded by¬†nineteenth- and twentieth-century buildings. Here’s a more normal photo:


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The high-rise Emily Morgan Hotel somehow interferes with the Alamo nostalgia. Continuing south and crossing the street is even worse:


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That’s the side of the Alamo site with the trees. Ice cream is conveniently placed.

The problem I’m pointing out here is basically unsolvable. The Alamo became famous in the 1830s. San Antonio, as a city, did not exist then. There is no way to reconcile a pre-urban historic site with a modern city surrounding it. You can accept or not that the modern world will impinge on views of the site, but it does. I live and work in lower Manhattan and there is no visible trace of the Dutch village of almost 400 years ago. Intellectually, I know it was there, but I have to close my eyes to picture it.

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