Postcard from Lisboa, Portugal: Sardines and the Saint

Somehow the sardine has been elevated to a level almost of the saint himself, Saint Anthony that is.

Outside of Portugal, he might be known as Saint Anthony of Padua. But, here in Lisboa, he is their hometown boy. He was born right here. A saint of heroic proportions, so much so that his Feast Day, June 13, is glorified by a full month of celebrations.

People have been prepping for the party ever since our arrival in Lisboa. Festoons are flung across streets. Banners hang and bleachers are set up along the broad, tree-lined Avenida da Liberdade, ready for a parade on June 12. Neighborhood groups gather and parade across town to his church on various evenings. And, in Alfama, booths come alive nightly, plying passersby with jiggers of the strong cherry ginjinha, jugs of sangria, beer, fried things and, of course, grilled sardines.

Sardines seem synonymous with the celebration, with artist-designed sardines featured on the banners of the umbrella group, Festas de Lisboa. This might stem from one of the numerous miracles attributed to Saint Anthony. Perhaps tiring of preaching to skeptics, he turned to the water and starting praising the glory of the fish who all rose enraptured to the surface, listening until he completed his sermon.

Surely, the attentive ones must have been sardines because it makes everything so convenient. Because this is their prime season. Along the coast, colorful fishing trawlers head out at night with nets to encircle the schools of sardines to bring back fresh to the docks by morning. By noon, they sizzle on grills everywhere throughout the country, the smoke and smell scenting the air heavily on some streets.

These freshly caught ones seem unrelated to the strong-tasting, oily canned sardines I remember from childhood. The fine bones of small ones thrown on the grill can be easily chomped upon, but the plump larger ones that you must filet are prized for their moist, sweet meat.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Being here on June 13th is sort of a pilgrimage, because, although named in his honor, San Antonio, Texas, pretty much ignores his day. Even his mission, the Alamo, no longer is known by his name. Frank Jennings tried to get a meaningful Founders’ Day going, and Rolando Briseno attempted to create artistic pageantry in honor of San Antonio’s patron saint.

But nothing stuck.

Yet….

 

Sporting a San Anto medal just in case

Blessed be the eternal God; for the fishes of the sea honour him more than men without faith, and animals without reason listen to his word with greater attention than sinful heretics.

St. Anthony on the river

St. Anthony on the river

It is said that on that day, June 13, 2013, the fish gathered around him.

With great expectations, they gazed upward.

So many fish bobbed in the waters of the San Antonio River, barge traffic was halted.

The fish waited and waited to hear words of tribute. They waited for sounds of great celebration.

You probably think I am referring to the honkers, the ones who exuberantly circle the streets of downtown just above St. Anthony’s head whenever the Spurs are victorious.

Which they were not doing on June 13, the Feast Day of San Antonio de Padua, the patron saint of San Antonio.

Yes, the Spurs seemed lost. And, he, the patron saint of lost things, was all but ignored. Save by the fish.

St. Anthony, St. Anthony
Turn around.
I’ve lost something
That can’t be found.

Not everyone ignores St. Anthony.

What’s wrong with this video? It’s from Boston.

"Mission San Antonio de Valero Missing," digital collage by Gayle Brennan Spencer

“Mission San Antonio de Valero Missing,” digital collage by Gayle Brennan Spencer. Visit http://postscardssanantonio.com.

This festival does not take place here. In this city. In front of his mission.

St. Anthony is not vengeful. Surely the Spurs’ loss was mere coincidence. If saints interceded in sports, would St. Anthony have looked down more kindly on the team of his namesake city or the Celtics?

After all, here, in the heart of his city, we are in danger of losing even his mission. Mission San Antonio de Valero. But it’s rarely called by its proper name. You probably know it as the Alamo.

For a while, there was a spark of hope for an emerging celebration of our patron saint. An artist, Rolando Briseno, sought attention for the overlooked day on the calendar.

Flippin' San Antonio Fiesta 2011

Flippin’ San Antonio Fiesta 2011

He brought us a Flippin’ San Alamo Fiesta and a Flippin’ San Antonio Fiesta on June 13 a while back. An emerging grand Fiesta Patronal seemed on the horizon for future years.

But, alas, this year on the Feast Day of St. Anthony, the artist instead submitted a commentary to the San Antonio Express-News.

In this published piece, Briseno explains the rationale behind his earlier fiestas:

Tejanos, the first European/mestizo settlers of Texas and builders of the Alamo, and Latinos in general do not feel welcome at the Alamo today because the narrative has been spun into one of Anglo hegemony….

Little by little, over time, the Tejano role has been written out of the history books. Now that the Daughters of the Republic of Texas are no longer in control of the narrative at the Alamo, I’m among many who hope the Tejano contributions will be given just representation.

But Briseno has faith in the great state of Texas to rectify this, so there was no grand Fiesta Patronal:

I am not performing “Spinning San Antonio Fiesta” this year because Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, the new caretaker, has stated that he would like to change the Alamo’s narrative to be more inclusive.

This could make the Alamo a place where all people can go to leave behind discord and contemplate the convergence of cultures, and this, in turn, will make for a more harmonious future. That’s an ideal worth making a shrine for.

He’s right about the ideal. But I fear he is overly optimistic in his expectations of the commissioner.

There is much pressure building among the Alamobsessive to make Alamo Plaza a shrine to one day in history. And that day is not June 13.

Unlike Briseno, I fear that moment in 1836 will conquer the layers upon layers of history of great importance to our city that the plaza represents, both before and after the battle.

I’m not debating the historical importance of March 6, 1836, the Battle of the Alamo.

I’m not demeaning the sacrifices of those who perished in the battle, whether Mexicans or Texians. My dreams of Davy Crockett go way back.

And I do think millions who head to the plaza annually would benefit from better interpretation of that event on site.

But, I wonder whether the heroes of the day would want that moment in time frozen, the moment they were shot or impaled upon a bayonet.

If you were killed in a war, would you want those left behind to focus on the exact second the last drop of blood gushed from your body? Would you want them to visit that spot over and over and over, reliving your dramatic departure?

Or would you want them to remember what went on before, while you were alive?

And would you want to feel your sacrifice was worthwhile? Instead of being a static war memorial, would you want the plaza where you died returned to a place of life in the heart of a city filled with exuberant celebrations?

Briseno might be breathing easier, but I think it’s premature.

san-antoAs there is yet a Fiesta Patronal, I think some of us better don a St. Anthony medal if we want the story of Mission San Antonio de Valero to be found.

And, maybe, just maybe, it’s a good idea to go buy one before the play-off game tonight.

That way, at least the fish will hear honkers celebrating above St. Anthony’s head.

Go Spurs, Go!candle

Post-Game Update on June 19, 2013:

Maybe medals alone are not potent enough.

Time to ignite the power of a St. Anthony candle for Thursday night.

And, if we are not going to have a festival in his honor in San Antonio, I sure wish I could spend his feast day in his birthplace, Lisbon.

Pre-Game Update on June 20, 2013:

From “Nuns calling on the fan upstairs: For the naysayers who think Spurs don’t have a prayers” by Abe Levy in this morning’s San Antonio Express-News:

Would you deny the prayer of Sister Rosalba Garcia, 85?

A Spurs flag flutters from her walker next to a Spurs Coyote doll. On her closet door are team photos and a poster of her all-time favorite player, Manu Ginobili, next to a portrait of Sister Mary Mazzarello, the Salesians’ cofounder.

The photos accompanying this story are priceless.

Bob Owen photograph in San Antonio Express-News, June 20, 2013

Bob Owen photograph in San Antonio Express-News, June 20, 2013

Flippin’ San Antonio Fiesta

This will make no sense unless you read the post immediately prior to this, but we snapped a couple of photos at the June 13 Flippin’ San Antonio (or San Alamo in some of Rolando Briseno’s posts) Fiesta on Alamo Plaza. Held on the Feast Day of St. Anthony, last year’s event had the advantage of a normal Sunday crowd in front of the Alamo. Monday evening drew considerably fewer people, so was decidedly more local in flavor.

Rolando’s statement said he wanted the event to serve as “a catalyst to bring back the city’s Fiesta Patronal”:

My hope is that this metaphorical performance will promote greater cultural and historical awareness and understanding, and initiate a dialogue leading to a re-conceptualization of the Alamo as a space for celebrating the confluences of the various cultures – Native American, Spanish, African, Mexican, and Anglo – rather than as a shrine to Anglo-Texan dominance.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Things got off to a late and slow start, so, unfortunately, the goat cheese pizza at Tre started beckoning before the Alamo pinata filled with “mixed ethnicity baby dolls” was broken.

Whether next year brings a Flippin’ San Alamo Fiesta, a Flippin’ San Antonio Fiesta or a new Fiesta Patronal, watch for it. Because St. Anthony’s amazingly potent.

In fact, I’ve been wondering whether, if you put his medal on your key ring, it will automatically rise to the top of your purse….

Update on June 15, 2011: And on St. Anthony’s own feast day, a thief steals a rare reliquary from a church in Los Angeles….

Update on June 16, 2011: Corrections for “glaring” imperfections sent to me via facebook by event organizers:

Rolando Briseno

Hi Gayle, thanks for getting back to me. For the corrections: the event did start on time – there was a procession of low-riders that were going around the Alamo, as was Luis Valderes whose truck had the statue on the back. The concept was for the start to happen the way if it did – that was intentional, not by accident or due to mismanagement as was inferred in the blog. Also, this year’s event was entitled “Flippin San Antonio Fiesta,” to be differentiated from last year’s event entitled “Flippin’ San Alamo.” The change was intentional, not accidental, and we do not flip flop between the two titles: they are different events. the blog that you sent us the link to (listed above in this message), when clicked on again, has a second part added following the event in which the above inaccuracies are present. Thank you for getting back to me and being willing to make these corrections since they are quite glaring.

And, good news from Los Angeles: St. Anthony’s relic has been returned to his church.

Update on June 23: San Antonio Current posts a follow-up interview with Briseno, who said:

We are a culture and a group that is not accepted, does not have its history. It’s not there. That’s why I have the statue upside-down. Because I am asking a favor from San Antonio, which is inclusion of the history of the Tejanos and Mexican-American people in everything. Our story has not been told. That’s why I am trying to force it.

Update Posted on June 6, 2012: Erik Bosse’s posted a video of the 2011 Fiesta:

But June 13 is almost here, can a 2012 Fiesta be found?