An Unwelcome Guest and a Warm Welcome

Mike and I first heard of Hurricane Harvey four days before it was due to hit the Gulf coast. The following morning, he came rushing into my study to tell me it was headed directly for Corpus Christi where our summer house is situated. Thereafter, life itself seemed like a hurricane: scrambling for the insurance documents, checking the hurricane website and weather channel every five minutes, getting our Corpus Christi workman Roberto to go by and put plywood over the vulnerable doors and windows, wondering what might get flooded or destroyed – and all the while I was constantly imagining that monster out there on the seas, slowly approaching. Just before landfall, Harvey’s direction changed slightly and instead hit the Gulf coast just north of Corpus Christi – and apart from a power outage and some ancient fences and fishing piers destroyed the town was largely unscathed. A huge sigh of relief for us was of course unfortunate for others: the inhabitants of Port Aransas on the barrier island, and Rockport, two much loved seaside towns where Mike and I would go for lunch on occasion, suffered a devastating blow. Both of these towns depend heavily on tourism; last I read, some of the businesses hope to be open in time for spring break next March, others might take a couple of years.

After the storm, and having checked that the summer house was OK, I went for a swim in the sea whilst Mike mended a fence. The little shell beach, just a short walk away, looked much the same except that I soon found out the rocks had been tossed around so that I no longer was certain of the place where I could walk in without getting my feet scratched; the water was colder and the current, unusually, was flowing out of the bay. A little further along, parts of the causeway leading to the naval station in Oso Bay was full of sand and debris but the little ramshackle restaurant we like to go to at weekends to hear music was open, its neon beer-bottle sign shining defiantly.

San Antonio was barely impacted by Hurricane Harvey, save for some strong winds, a couple of days of gentle soaking rains and more than a thousand evacuees from the vulnerable coastal areas. As I swam in our pool and gazed up at the clouds swirling around, it was hard to believe what was happening elsewhere. The weekend after the storm, Mike and I went to the opening of the new adobe studio of MujerArtes, a women’s art cooperative on the poorer west side of San Antonio. This cooperative features hand-made clay objects – pots, replicas of houses, trees of life – reflecting scenes from the women’s own lives and childhoods. Some of the artisans are very talented. On this opening weekend their crafts were proudly displayed in the new adobe building that replicates those that were commonly built in San Antonio in the 1700 and 1800s, complete with dirt floor cured with linseed oil and beeswax. The hope is that this will be the first of many such structures. Whilst there, Mike and I talked to an older man wearing a cowboy hat who mentioned that his father had built their family home in Mexico by making his own adobe bricks from mud and straw. But when work became scarce and his family decided to move across the border, his father was forced to disassemble the house as it was on someone else’s land and sell the bricks to finance the move. This man went on to tell us that as an adult he joined the military, later working in intelligence, and that during the 1980s he was stationed for several years in England where he watched the first ever drone fly.

Paty, one of the Mujerartes women at the gathering whom I have got to know a little, came to the US as a young graphic arts graduate and she designed the external and internal murals of the new adobe studio. Her work is quite lovely. During this current political climate, neither Paty nor the veteran’s family would be wanted in the US. And yet it is estimated a quarter of the people who helped re-construct New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina were ‘illegals’. So the question now is, who will help re-construct the devastation caused by Harvey?

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