How do you tell a resident of a city you're visiting, "My, what an ugly city you have. Have you considered moving?" I felt like I was propagating a huge self-deception in San Antonio by not saying that. We probably told a dozen people there how "nice" or "beautiful" we thought their city was, to which they always replied with just the prescribed tone, "Yes, we really love it here." I just hope they were lying too.
San Antonio is dreadful, somehow combining the alienation of a big city (7th largest, we were proudly told), with none of its excitement. The city is grey, desolate, car-centered, and for-sale. The area around-- from what little we saw-- is brown, flat, and straggly, without embracing the honest barrenness of a desert. The few exceptions are teeming with tourists and Mexican-reproduction kitsch. San Antonio has one redeeming quality-- its whole-buttocked mix of Texan and Mexican culture-- but we found only one intermittent stretch (near King Williams) that let that shine.
I'm sure that its residents have found the gems hidden from my 2-day-old travel eyes. But I do believe seen better and worse cities, and enough to tell the difference between the two.
Flame's "Food Representations in lots-of-disciplines" conference was great, and very quickly found the hip under-30 crowd by sitting on the floor at the reception. Mexico City was great. San Jose was mixed. Santa Elena was beautiful, with strangling fig trees. Next stop: Costa Rican beaches.