Soul of the City

REK, St. Paul’s and the mean streets of the city

Southeastern New Mexico, that little corner that usually includes Roswell and Carlsbad, maybe Hobbs? It’s the New Mexico tax base, and New Mexico residents, a state that’s only been a united state for 100 years now (admitted to the union in 1912, do the math)?

That Southeastern corner of New Mexico is called “Little Texas.” Emotionally, it’s a part of Texas. At one time, Texas was defined as ending at the Rio Grande, that would include almost half of what is now New Mexico (Land of Enchantment).

I graduated High School out there. Did some college. As this Mercury Retrograde dredges furrows in my mind, I’m reminded of a singular scene, a lone Tastee-Freeze, silhouetted by a fall New Mexico sky, the natural orange and the neon colors.

    It’s a busted old town on the plains of West Texas.
    The drugstore’s closed down, and the river runs dry.
    The semis roll through like stainless steel stallions

    And the mission still stands at the edge of the plateau.
    A stone marks the graves where the old cowboys lie.

Rolling By by Robert Earl Keen

I first heard that song, the first time I recall, on Lyle Lovett’s Double Album, a collection of cover songs of Texas artists. Lyle Lovett’s tone is far more elegiac and sets a totally different timbre than REK’s live version. Still, both versions, with that opening line about a busted old town on the plains of West Texas, and the next stanza’s opening, about a mission that still stands at the edge of the plateau?

That mission? There’s a string of missions in San Antonio, hopefully soon to be a world heritage site, as the last standing Spanish Colonial sites.

Two of those still extant missions are favorites for me, Mission Concepcion and the latter the current “spiritual center,” San Fernando Cathedral.

There’s a plaque on the floor of San Fernando, denotes that the sanctuary marks the center of Bexar County, the center of the city of San Antonio, and the center of the (local) universe.

In the historical novel London, there’s a recurring theme, about people who live within hearing distance of the bells of St. Mary-le-bow, those are true natives of London. Have to live where one can hear the bells of a certain parish church to count as a real denizen of the area. As much as London is an international capital of finance and language?


The book itself, I read the big, hardback and I’ll keep a copy in my library, as I liked its epic scope — Roman London to the Blitz.

I would expect a nod towards St. Paul’s as the way to delineate a true London native. In the archives, underneath the cathedral, there’s a collection of images, and one aerial photo is particularly telling. At the close of World War II, the land surrounding St. Paul’s is flattened. Yet, like a glorious beacon, the church itself withstood the war, unscathed. That’s the story. There are two explanations, and one is that Hitler wanted to be crowned in St. Paul’s, the ultimate show of dominance. The other, more obvious, is that the cathedral was protected by the divine.

I won’t weigh in on opinions as I’m sure there’s a little of both at play. St. Paul’s is majestic.

The question is, is that a fair way to define a city? In Austin, the definition would — to me — include earshot of Stubbs? Shady Acres certainly was. Or would it be closer to being defined as a associated with Maggie Mae’s (the old Episcopal church, downtown)? I would suggest earshot of the now automated bells at Maggie’s is Austin.

By the same definition, in the pre-dawn twilight, is San Antonio properly defined as within the sound of the bells of San Fernando? 6 or 6:30 AM Mass.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • rhubarb Aug 10, 2012 @ 21:05

    You certainly had a true phrasing of words, K. “…this Mercury Retrograde dredges furrows in my mind….” Describes it perfectly for me, helped along by my current project of cleaning, sorting, organizing closets and shelves. Lot of things from the past, many memories sad, sweet, wistful. Got kind of a Pluto feeling to it; a feeling of destiny, fate, fortune.

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