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The Fountain of Youth Calls: St. Augustine, Florida

April 28, 2011 by · Comments Off on The Fountain of Youth Calls: St. Augustine, Florida 

Spanish Landing in St. Augustine

Dangle a visit to the Fountain of Youth in front of any woman my age and they’ll dance visions of laser treatments, Botox or wrinkle fillers in their heads. As luck would have it, the true Fountain of Youth, discovered by Ponce de Leon, exists in nearby St. Augustine, Florida. Why I’ve never visited defies explanation as my crow’s feet, furrowed brows and sagging chin beg for help.

 

I arrived one Saturday morning and found the parking lot bustling with cars, buses and tourists exiting a sightseeing trolley. The 15-acre site rests adjacent the Mantaza’s Inlet–just a stone’s throw from downtown and the city’s crowning glory, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument or simply ‘the fort’.

 

Native Timucuan diorama

I meandered into the Spring House, a throwback to circa-1957 roadside attractions of early tourism, featuring life-size dioramas. These, I might add, haven’t benefited from a dusting in over 20 years.  But, in an innocent way, the Old Florida icons are charming. I felt I was stepping back to a childhood museum visit, so heck; I was already I feeling younger.

 

I was also enthralled by a little 5-year-old boy who endlessly barraged his parents with questions. “What are those guys doing? What kind of pants are they wearing,” he asked. His Mom attempted to explain, reading from the sign telling of the 1565 Spanish landing. “But why,” he countered, that nightmarish question delivered over and over from a curious mind.

 

I stayed back and eavesdropped, and then we all proceeded toward the building’s piece d’resistance–a hole in the floor–revealing a stone shaft with a laconic spring bubbling  at about as much intensity as a pneumonia patient. Visitors are invited to partake the wondrous water from paper cups placed on a counter. Forget sipping, I gulped two glasses in hopes of some youthful benefit.

The Fountain of Youth

 

While Ponce de Leon thought he had discovered the source of longevity or everlasting life; I was seeking to erase a few signs of aging. If this is the Fountain of Youth, who knows what might be emulsified in the ionic liquid.

 

However, feeling far from a frog turning into a princess, I wandered on to investigate the rest of the archeological site. While the attraction doesn’t rank as a world-class museum, the grounds prove interesting enough and educational.  A makeshift Timucuan village had been constructed in one corner, a two-story 3-D globe presentation explains the Spanish explorations and a statue of Ponce de Leon proudly stands near the river’s edge.

 

Firing the canon

Two costumed re-enactors demonstrate the firing of an old canon every hour. Kids love this, but it was here I found a treasure–Carlos, a strappingly handsome Spaniard whose looks stole my heart.

Carlos

Art Installations along San Antonio’s River Walk

April 24, 2011 by · Comments Off on Art Installations along San Antonio’s River Walk 

Fiberglass Fish along the River Walk

San Antonio‘s most sacred and historic site will always remain the Alamo, but the popular River Walk flows an economic lifeline through the heart of the city. Restaurants, cantinas, shops, business and museums thrive from tourist and residential traffic rolling along the five-mile Paseo del Rio.

A little known and surprising story that saved the Texas waterway goes to none other than a few simple puppets. When a devastating flood hit the city in 1921, a disaster control plan was devised to prevent future damage and loss to the business district. . The goal was to drain the river and divert it through a storm sewer — then pave over paradise.

Thank heavens the clever minded Conservation Society came up with a brilliant idea. The organization performed a captivating puppet show which pulled the heartstrings of city hall commissioners and focused attention on San Antonio’s natural wonder. Afterward, Society members took the civic leaders on canoe rides designed to convince them to rescue the river. It worked.

The massive construction project commenced in 1939 and was completed by the WPA in 1941. The meandering oasis provided San Antonio with green parks and two parallel sidewalks. The water depth of the Venice-like canal ranges from just two to four feet, so there isn’t much danger if anyone falls in. However, about 2,000 partying patrons or klutzes per year take a plunge, likely begging mercy to avoid the $200 fine.

San Antonio's River Walk

A 35-40 minute cruise on the River Walk remains a must for any tourist. Riders board either an open air water taxi or sightseeing barge while tour guides retell history and interesting trivia along the two and a half mile course.

A recent $74 million Museum Reach extension was completed in May, 2009,  including a new lock and dam. The additional mile and a half from Lexington to Grayson Street included $11 million dedicated to privately funded art-projects. The San Antonio River Foundation commissioned eight artists to create site-specific art installations spaced around eight bridges.

At the Lexington Street Bridge, British artist Martin Richman installed reflective, suspended elements that dance in the breeze, scattering flashes of color like glittering prisms. I’ve seen similar dangles made into earrings, but must admit, the reflections were pleasing.

Dangling artwork reflects the light along the River Walk.

As visitors pass beneath two bridges at McCullough and Brooklyn, groups of shimmering steel-mesh panels on either side come to life and change colors. Our tour guide claimed that nearby pedestrian traffic creates even more stimulating effects.

 

Sequenced speakers under the Jones Avenue Bridge pitch “sound sculptures” from artist Bill Fontana’s blend of recorded and live broadcasts. I heard what sounded like nothing more than typical morning birdsong. Perhaps I don’t have an artist’s ear.

Colorful Fish

My favorite section of river art was the school of larger-than-life fiberglass fish suspended above the water and below the Interstate 35 overpass. Philadelphia artist Donald Lipski was the brainchild behind these whimsical creatures which reflect onto the river below. Very cool!

The tour guide also said that a sunset water taxi provides a memorable way to see the new River Walk art installations. The magic hour of twilight — a photographer’s preference — brings out the artworks’ full charisma and beauty. And then after darkness falls, indulge in libations and dinner from the varied culinary establishments along the banks as the art installations glow luminously in the background.

My hometown, Jacksonville, Florida is divided by a river, but the immense width of the St. Johns River dwarfs the petite San Antonio. In this case, however, the compact is superior because much of San Antonio’s charm and tourist traffic are indebted to the secluded ambiance of River Walk–and the legendary puppet show.

Rolling on the River Walk


San Antonio on Dwellable

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