Morning walk turns into thematic parade through San Antonio’s heritage

The sky spat a fine mist on us when we set out for a morning walk. We probably would not have headed out at all were I not obsessed by the prospect of seeing longhorns herded through downtown in the San Antonio Livestock Show & Rodeo’s Western Heritage Parade and Cattle Drive, enlarged this year as part of San Antonio’s celebration of its 300th birthday.

The tricentennial meaning of the “300” on the banner was lost on some of the spectators standing next to us. Child: “Wow. There are going to be 300 cows.” Dad: “No, it means this is the 300th year of the cattle drive.”

While this was not the 300th annual parade of longhorns, cattle have been part of San Antonio’s history since Native Americans tending livestock for San Antonio’s string of missions became America’s first cowboys. Many of the Spanish terms the charros used to describe their work and equipment became embedded in the English language, as in the word “rodeo” itself.

Longhorns are not foreign to downtown, with a strong connection to Alamo Street and its plaza:

In 1876 salesman Pete McManus with his partner John Warne (Bet-a-Million) Gates conducted a famous demonstration on Alamo Plaza in San Antonio in which a fence of Glidden’s “Winner” wire restrained a herd of longhorn cattle. Gates reportedly touted the product as “light as air, stronger than whiskey, and cheap as dirt.” Sales grew quickly thereafter, and barbed wire permanently changed land uses and land values in Texas.

“Barbed Wire,” Texas Handbook Online

Sheep, goats, hogs, cows and horses often clogged the streets as farmers and ranchers brought them in from the countryside to sell to city dwellers. City folks began to tire of the inconvenience of this practice as the 21st century dawned.

Driving wild stock through our streets should be prohibited at once. Yesterday afternoon a drove of about thirty horses went up Houston street, and came near killing a child, while general travel was greatly obstructed.

San Antonio Daily Express, March 12, 1891

Hoping this herd of longhorns will not be the last to parade past the Alamo.

Much like barbed wire transformed the days of the open range, a wall some propose to enclose San Antonio’s Alamo Plaza would bring an era to an end. For many San Antonians, the Alamo and its plaza represent more than a battle site frozen and time. Their evolution before and after 1836 is an integral part of our heritage. The plaza historically and currently lies at the heart of many of San Antonio’s annual celebrations.

Texans in other parts of the state often fail to realize how tightly this plaza is woven into our urban fabric. The revised Master Plan for the Alamo now appears to recognize that concern:

An early concept of structural glass walls was shared at a public meeting, however, the final Master Plan includes no walls. The plan does propose archaeology that would reveal the original Alamo wall footings so that visitors may see what remains of the original Alamo walls.

Although this assurance is followed by:

These and other design concepts will be fully explored in future phases of the plan.

Stay vigilant.

This year’s San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo runs February 8 through 25.

Postcard from Mexico City: A few leftover “dulces huesudos”

Still had a few “bony treats” left haunting my computer from wanderings around Hallowmas and Day of the Dead. A village of skeletons was the theme of a festival in La Alameda Central. Altars were set up everywhere, including Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul in Coyoacan. “Una Ofrenda de Pelicula” exhibit in El Museo Dolores Olmedo in Xochimilco saluted filmmaking. Even shamans vending their cleansing spells in the zocolo enhanced themselves with bonemen make-up.

And then thrust in the middle were invasive Halloween traditions sneaking in more and more from el norte (see prior post). Once children discover the sweet rewards of trick-or-treating, it’s pretty impossible to close that door.

There does seem to be uncertainty about when to do what. In the Roma Norte area where we have been staying, the costumed children entered the restaurants and went to the bar areas at the back to ask the staff for treats. Sometimes they were given candy; sometimes spare change; often nothing. The businesses declining are fortunate the trick part as payback does not seem part of the formula.

Receiving mixed results, the period of requests seems extended. Families paraded their costumed kids out nightly – Halloween night, All Saints Day and All Souls Day in the confusion of adding this new tradition to ancient ones, or perhaps simply to maximize the possibilities of success.

This seasonal free trade between Mexico and el norte flows both ways. Certainly San Antonio is far richer from its artistic adaptations of colorful Dia de los Muertos traditions.

Once again, happy Hallowmas.


Postcard from Valencia, Spain: Maybe add a pair of chanclas or cowboy boots peeking out from under those hooped skirts?

Resuming our walk across the bridge in the direction from which an increasing number of hoop-skirted, mantilla-wearing women with dona hairdos were appearing, we encountered a huge swarm of costumed men, women and children. They were at the end of what must have been a hot walk – chatting amongst themselves, checking their cellphones, cooling off with beer and settling into open-air restaurants for lunch.

But more and more elegantly attired walkers kept arriving in the already crowded square, so we continued onward. Several blocks later we reached the end of the parade with the appearance of the woman who appeared to be the “queen” of the festivities. Striking in comparison to rowdy San Antonio audiences at parades taking place during roughly the same time period, only subdued polite applause greeted her, pictured above, as she passed.

Still have not figured out the occasion for this – whether it was in honor of Saint George, Saint Vincent Ferrer, the Virgin Mary or none of the above. But the predominance of crosses among the jewels does make it seem as though somehow connected with the church, which may be why the event is so reserved.

Watching this in Valencia as Fiesta San Antonio was in full swing, it seemed needing some level of excitement. It’s not as though Valencia does not know how to throw a party. The reputed wildness of Las Fallas, the Festival of Fire, in March makes Fiesta San Antonio – even Cornyation – appear extremely tame. Many natives flea Valencia to escape the days of continual explosive bombardment by eardrum-splitting fireworks and firecrackers.

And Las Fallas is held in honor of a saint, San Jose, the patron saint of carpenters. At least that was its origin. Probably as lost among most contemporary revelers today as Fiesta San Antonio’s original role commemorating the Texian victory at San Jacinto.

So, there must be a conscious desire to keep this particular pedestrian parade removed from such revelry. Open the door a crack, and any saint’s holiday can be hijacked. Santa Claus being a prime example.

But, with so much other competition, this brocade parade is almost a private patrician parade even though it takes place in the heart of downtown. Friends, family members and surprised tourists were the only ones lining the sidewalk one-deep. Most Valencians were otherwise occupied, packing the book fair and the wine festival.

The parade already has the gown-thing nailed, but don’t participants want a few more people around to admire their expensive efforts?

They are attired with splendid sashes just waiting for more medals, perhaps not as many pounds of them as now sported by Fiesta royalty. Couldn’t some of the children in the parade hand out souvenir medals to bystanders to generate a little more enthusiasm?

And, walking may symbolize a pilgrimage, but the queen definitely needs a major float to create excitement upon her arrival. A few claps must seem a paltry reward.

If nothing else; those boring shoes could go. Longed to hear enthusiastic shouts of “show us your shoes” and the resulting exuberant cheers.

And San Antonians with hair all frizzied up from seasonal high humidity during Fiesta (myself being a prime example) certainly could benefit from the importation of some of Valencia’s dona buns. A salt-and-pepper trio, please.