Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Where fiestas erupt all the time

(We briefly interrupt the series of postcards from Budapest with breaking news from Oaxaca.)

Out for a stroll last evening with no room for dinner after a major lunch at La Biznaga, I requested a route that would pass by the front of the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Soledad. The Mister was not fooled. My real mission was the Plaza Socrates in front of the basilica, home to a dozen ice cream vendors.

But, before I could even begin to ponder the flavor options, music erupted on the street below. Brass bands and dancers with floral arrangements crowning their heads were gathering for one the city’s numerous exuberant processions, Las Calendas, to call out townspeople to celebrate, usually in advance of a saint’s day. This one appears to be a warm-up for the Feast Day of the Assumption of Mary, El Día de la Asunción de María, on August 15.

The festive dancers, fearless as castillos showered sparks around them, gigantes or mermotas, stilt-walkers, a truckload of little angels and the woman in blue bearing extra rockets and castillos to set off every couple of blocks completely distracted me from my original mission.

I shall return to both the delayed delivery of postcards from Budapest and to Plaza Socrates another day.

That leaves me time to ponder whether I want to order rose or chocolate-chile ice cream. Those wouldn’t pair well in one dish, would they?

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.

Postcard from Madrid: Gigantes y Cabezudos parade to greet us

We arrived on a holiday, a three-day weekend for Madrilenos as they honor their patron saint, San Isidro Labrador (1070-1130). San Isidro was credited with hundreds of miracles, but the one most coveted by working stiffs? Angels would fill in for him, kindly taking over his plowing while Isidro lost himself in religious meditation and prayer.

Madrid has changed a lot since adopting the patron saint of farmers as its own. Arriving here after staying in small cities surrounded by farmland, we were shocked and a bit overwhelmed by the city’s size, both in the scale of the buildings and the number of people. Major sidewalks and pedestrian-only streets were packed.

But celebrations for San Isidro Labrador brought things back to a more human scale for us. The first thing we encountered was a hokey, hometown, colorful parade of Gigantes (Giants) and Cabezudos (Big-Heads) weaving through the streets. One of the shorter advance enforcers, a big-nosed Kiliki, hurled his foam weapon at Mister photographer; the event would be at home in any small town in Mexico.

San Isidro’s remains still reside here, or most of them, behind nine locks in the church bearing his name. Only the King of Spain has the key, and even he is not allowed access without the approval of the Archbishop of Madrid.

The high level of security might seem extreme, but even royalty can’t be trusted from temptation to take a bit of a saint home with them to provide a few miracles needed around the kingdom. Supposedly, Charles II had one of San Isidro’s teeth pulled to keep underneath his pillow. And what of San Isidro’s wife, Santa Maria de la Cabeza? Her head used to be trotted out and paraded around every time the farmers in the area needed rain.

Which brings us back to the parade of big-heads on May 14, followed by the saint’s official day on May 15 that began with many Madrilenos donning traditional fashions of yore and ended with an explosion of fireworks.