San Antonio, home of the Alamo (Texas IV, Travelog entry 23)

San Antonio has a riverwalk, a shady carless oasis snaking along below street level and lined with restaurants and bars, a refuge from the heat and traffic of the surface. The banks of the river are fully paved, and it is crisscrossed with bridges. Little tour boats and water taxis chug along, ducks beg for potato chips, and this time of year, workers in climbing harnesses are stringing up Christmas lights on the trees.

The spirit of Texas is very different from the spirit of the South. The South, as I have mentioned, has a defeatist, fatalist, pathos and sense of loss, as evident in the obsession with the Civil War and the weepy country lyrics about being down and out and dumped and broken-hearted and drunk and locked up. “The South will rise again” presupposes that the South is down.

Texas, on the other hand, is about the winning of the West, full of bluster and bravado, more up than down. Of course, the Alamo was a defeat for Texan forces in 1836, but the rallying cry “Remember the Alamo” led to a rout of the Mexican army in the same year so the Alamo can stand in for triumph in a way that no Civil War battle ever can, neither a loss for the south like Gettysburg nor a temporary success like Bull Run. The North still lords it over the South (putting a black man in the White House, no less), but neither the Indians nor the Mexicans pose any remaining threat to the American West.

Thus, Texans walk tall. Egon spots a t-shirt with a picture of a revolver proclaiming that “In Texas, we don’t dial 911.” Norwegians believe deeply in the rule of law (in fact, they introduced us to it: the very word ‘law’ is imported into English from Old Norse), and the philosophy behind this t-shirt is so completely wacky to the Norwegian mentality that Egon doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

It is no coincidence that Texas leans strongly toward Romney, but again I see fewer pro-Romney bumper stickers than anti-Obama ones (“Restore our freedom: Defeat Obama”; which is really too defeatist for Texas; they should follow Stephen Colbert’s lead in his simply brilliant book title: “Re-becoming the greatness we never weren’t,” which lets him have it both ways).

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