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.

Weather Forecast: 11 Days of Confetti Showers Ahead

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Royalty from Fiesta San Jacinto, 1915

Thousands of eggshells from February’s Cowboy Breakfast are recycled annually by volunteers from the San Antonio Conservation Society who stuff them full of colored confetti, transforming them into cascarones to crack over the head of revelers at A Night in Old San Antonio. During NIOSA alone, 200,000 cascarones are cracked. Can’t imagine what the overall total is for the entire 11-day run of Fiesta San Antonio, April 16 through 26.

Although San Antonians continue to exuberantly embrace the more than 100 events packing the calendar, few pause to remember the origins of Fiesta. The festival was founded as a salute to the Texian victory at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836.

Perhaps a reporter, though, writing a century ago in the San Antonio Light best summarized what the annual event means for natives: it transports San Antonians “from the prosaic, work-a-day world to a wonderful fairyland” – a ten-day escape from reality.

King Antonio I, 1915, San Antonio Light

King Antonio I, 1915, San Antonio Light

The year 1915 was the first year the king assumed the name of King Antonio. Following his ceremonious arrival aboard a whistle-blowing Southern Pacific train, Dr. T.T. Jackson’s chariot drawn by six milk-white horses transported him to Alamo Plaza to kick off Fiesta San Jacinto.

Queen of Arcady, 1915, San Antonio Light

Queen of Arcady, 1915, San Antonio Light

Later in the week, Josephine Woodhull was crowned as “Her Majesty, the Queen of Arcady” at the Majestic Theater. She wielded her scepter over the “Court of Old Romance.” Edged in ermine, her peacock blue velvet train was embroidered heavily with gems, shimmering as a peacock’s feathers.

Numerous parades filled the week, including the “Pageant of Caliph,” a burlesque night parade staged by the Fiesta Association. The first float in 1915 bore the “Duchess of Frijoles,” satirizing the high society coronation of the prior evening. Politicians, local to international, received “a goodly share of ‘guying,’” including a “Floating Vote” float with politicians portrayed aboard as “pulling the strings.”

A century ago, the Battle of Flowers Parade represented the high point of the week, with floats and carriages laden with thousands of fresh flowers. During the mock battle circling Alamo Plaza, even visiting Governor “Pa” Ferguson was pelted with flowers.

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Somehow, the flower-pelting tradition was allowed to continue, despite its tumultuous first year. The following is pulled from a post from several years ago. Sarah Reveley transcribed the description of the 1891 melee from an April 25, 1891, edition of the San Antonio Daily Light:

…The procession contained over 100 carriages and other vehicles, all gaily decorated and many containing decorations of real artistic merit. Mr. Madarasz’s carriage, decked in pure white lilies and variegated grasses, with honeysuckle was plain, pretty and neat. Col. H. B. Andrews’ pony phaeton, with four Shetlands drawing it, was exquisite, and J. J. Stevens’ children in a four-in-hand Shetland surrey, representing a yacht, was also very pretty….

On arriving at the plaza the police divided the procession into two lines, each half going in opposite directions and passing around the park were brought, face to face with each other. The crowd on foot pressed the carriages closely and the fight began and waged furiously for nearly an hour. The occupants of the carriages had all the ammunition while those on foot had none. They began picking the fallen roses from the pavement, and even tore off the trimmings of the carriages, and soon had the best of the fight.  Heavy bunches of laurel thrown soon had their effect, and many ladies lost their temper and used their carriage whips indiscriminately on the crowd. One lady struck Mr. Doc Fitzgerald, a passive spectator, a severe blow on the face with her whip, but did not see fit to apologise for her mistake. Mr. H. P. Drought made an ugly cut with his whip into the crowd…. One young angel with white wings appealed to the crowd for protection from the missiles saying, “I wish you men would make them quit….”

The police were powerless to keep the people off the park beds, and prevent them from tearing off the flowers. One outright fight occurred. Mr. Phil Shook, one of the horseback party, lost his temper, and cutting a man in the face with his riding whip, was assaulted, and a fist fight on the pavement resulted. Both combatants were arrested by the police. Mr. Charley Baker used his umbrella for defense. While the crowd was very dense on the plaza, waiting for the procession to come along, Mr. Cristoph Pfeuffer’s splendid team and carriage took fright on South Alamo street, at an electric car. The carriage was decorated and contained several ladies, a child and the driver. Dashing into Alamo street, past and into the crowd of people and vehicles, it overturned a buggy and horse at the corner, and its driver jumped out and was dragged under the carriage by the lines. The lady on the front seat caught one of the lines and held it, but the horses made straight for the crowd of women and children in the park and struck a very deep mass of them, it being impossible for them to move out of the way. The ladies were thrown out and their clothing was badly torn. One little boy was knocked senseless, another was bruised, and one little girl had her apron torn off.  Other children were trampled by the frightened people. The plunging horses were secured and the carriage was taken to a side street….

Some irrepressible small boys arranged a dog fight in the midst of an interested crowd of spectators, during the battle, and a regular stampede ensued. Some of the combatants whose supply of ammunition had exhausted, resorted to buggy robes and quirts for aggressive warfare, and umbrellas and parasols for the defensive….

The battle was a success, but if it is given next year, more police will be needed, carriages must not be allowed on the plaza at all, and the participants must not lose their temper.

Let the chaotic merriment begin. Viva Fiesta!