Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas in San Antonio

The awesome Tree of Tillandsia with a neat statue at the SA Botanical Gardens

Jingle BELL time / Is a SWELL time...
Matt and I just got back from our annual(ish) Christmas trip to San Antonio to see the lights on the Riverwalk. Every year SA hangs these big C9-style lights in Mexicanish colors (red AND fuchsia, plus gold, blue and green) in the giant old baldcypresses on the Riverwalk. There are luminaries (real ones, with candles--take that, Santa Fe!) and the bridges are outlined in lights and everything reflects in swirly patterns in the water. It's a totally artificial environment (the "river" closely resembles the water rides at Epcot), but that doesn't really matter because it's so sparkly and otherworldly.

This year we decided to spend the night. We paid for a room a couple months in advance through Expedia (the only way to handle the expense at this already pricey time of year) at the fanciest hotel I've ever stayed at: the toiletries were by Aveda! I came away with about $30 in travel products after just a single night's stay. It was called the Hotel Contessa and is directly on the river, which was our principle criterion. We had big windows looking right down on the Riverwalk, which was a neat, if somewhat underutilized, feature. This was our sitting room (yeah, that's right: a sitting room. It's where we entertained visiting business tycoons and foreign dignitaries).

Well, where would YOU entertain the ambassador from Lesotho?

The Windcrest Light Up
First we drove through the Windcrest lights display. Windcrest is a town/neighborhood in SA that's famous for its lights. We didn't have good directions and drove around for a while in this rather lame neighborhood near Windcrest thinking, "Wow, this place is really overrated." Then we found the right spot and it took about 30 minutes in line to get in. Tip #1 for Windcrest visitors: get a reliable map and go in one of the side ways--the front way (by the Presbyterian church on Midcrown) is a mad, homicidal crush.

Some of the displays were pretty impressive, but it was spotty--there were definitely some unspirited backwaters. Tip #2: download Windcrest's map of their winning homes and draw out a route to follow--otherwise you'll wander aimlessly like Rapunzel's boyfriend in the wilderness.

The best--in my opinion--was the massive light display choreographed to this Michael Bay-esque rendering of Christmas carols--full orchestra, fast paced, lots of percussion, and gratuitous explosions (just kidding about that last). It sounded like the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean, but it was actually "The Little Drummer Boy." There was a tree made of several layers of lights that lit in independent spirals going in opposite directions, there was a waterwall effect of lights draped over the front of the house, there were stars on the roof that each came on independently, and there were copious tree and bush wrappings. And it was all linked to the music. We've got a choreographed display here in Elgin, but I gotta tell you, the Michael Bay Christmas was all that, squared, with fudge sauce and a cherry.

San Antonio Botanical Gardens
And then we went to the SA Botanical Gardens this morning, which was fun. Even though many of the plants were frost-nipped, the weather was so crisp and blue and cool that this was easily my favorite visit to the SABOT ever (all previous visits involved buckets of sweat).

They had a new (to us) series of entomological sculptures made of wood. Here, Matt shakes his fist defiantly at one of three giant invading ants. I'm sorry to say that the ant looked completely unfazed.

Man vs. Nature: Matt and the giant invader ants.

The conservatory complex had some of the most interesting displays, I thought. Here's a sculpture/fountain by the conservatory pond.

"Cupid's Fountain" by Susan Budge in a shady nook at the conservatory pond

And here's an absolutely ass-kicking Tillandsia sp. [?] from the main conservatory, seen from below. (Unmarked. Naturally. It's always the ones you're most interested in that are unlabeled.)

A Tillandsia [?] from below

The Tillandsia was from this fantastic tree full of them (and other bromeliads) in the conservatory. I thought the statue was pretty darn cool, too, though she has a bunch of upsetting spiky things inside the aperture in her head. The sculptor, Susan Budge, seems very interested in the idea of the vagina dentata (a meme that pops up in different time periods around the globe, positing the notion that some women's special equipment comes enhanced with teeth. That's right--teeth. I'm not making this up--see Wikipedia for details. Men can be so weird sometimes.) I kinda get wanting to play with this particular phobia (as the bad fairy in Shrek II maliciously says, "Let's explore that, shall we?"), but the upshot is a little more disruptive than I usually like my bromediad experiences--although those also tend to involve toothed apertures (Mother Nature--so kinky!) In any event: pretty neat statue from the outside. Just don't peer too closely into its face.

The Tree of Tillandsia, which looks absolutely gorgeous with the grey-aqua of this kinky statue

SABOT has a number of Crinum in their "Old-Fashioned Garden" (naturally, but sadly, not in bloom now), but they also had this blooming apparition veiled in mist in the Fern house.

Crinum in the mist

Other items of interest
I am so fond of this shrimp plant. It's not as awesome as my favorite, 'Fruit Cocktail,' but it's a pretty strong contender, with its luminous ivory bracts, lightly tinted with green.

Ivory shrimp plant

Also, Matt and I were impressed with someone's inventiveness in applying plant materials from around the gardens to a wreath. The brown comes from the trunk of palm trees, the blue is from Arizona Cypress, the green is (presumably) some other kind of cypress, and the palm fronds are, well, palm fronds. All embellished with ball moss--not as pretty as Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides), but much more authentic to the area.

Wreath from garden materials

We also enjoyed the demonstration gardens with the tiny, tiny houses. They're meant to showcase different waterwise landscaping styles (our landscape--by happenstance, not intention--is largely cottage, with a pinch of wildlife-friendly).

As sometime plant snobs, we were particularly amused by the unspoken commentary on the conventional, suburban landscape--the lot representing this "style" had the dullest house, painted the dullest color, with a big flat stretch of St Augustine, capped off with a row of boxwoods and another row of redtips (two of the dullest foundation shrubs available).

Message: you can be funky-cool like the xeriscapic house, innovative and integrated into nature like the wildlife and Hill Country houses, soulful like the Mexican courtyard house, or drearily conformist and white bread, like the dead-eyed automata at the traditional house.

The tiny, tiny houselets of "Watersaver Lane" Patio Man and the Sprawl People live in the beige house behind the Photinia. The Hill Country and Wildlife houses are beyond.

...And then home again this afternoon in time to upload some pix and blog about it.

Giant philodendron in the Fern house

1 comment:

Katie said...

Thanks! We're considering going to San Antonio after Christmas for all the sparkly-sparkly, so this was really helpful. The botanical gardens look great!

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