Monday, April 24, 2006

Y un poco más de Fiesta

For you monolinguals, the title is Spanish for "and a bit more about Fiesta". I'm on my way to the Texas Cavaliers River Parade, & since I had an item due at the Library (the Central Library is near the parade's finish, and thus not too far from where I enjoy watching it) I took advantage of my need to go there to get on-line a few moments.

Saturday morning I attended two Fiesta events, which were somewhat disappointing. Oh, well! At midday I returned to La Fiesta Apartments, where I live, to partake for a short while of a pool party sponsored by the La Fiesta management. Then it was on to work at Fiesta Texas, the Opryland-like themepark now claimed by the Six Flags chain. I work on the train there, as Depot Agent and as Conductor.

Sunday I attended the Fiesta Mariachi Mass at San Fernando Cathedral (the oldest cathedral building in these United States). The beautiful edifice was packed to the walls, including with Fiesta royalty & officials, there to be blessed. Of course, the Rector, Father David Garcia, did not ignore that the day was the second Sunday of the season of Resurrection. Afterward, I attended worship at Mexican Christian Church, my church on the Westside.

In the evening my upstair neighbor, Dennis from Detroit (he moved here half a year ago to take a civilian job at Fort Sam Houston), and I got together to go out & enjoy some more Fiesta. We watched the fireworks display finale of the Fort Sam Fiesta, from the Jim's Restaurant where I worked when I first came to San Antonio. That first year I was working that evening of the Army post's Fiesta event, & the nite manager called me over to the picture windows, to watch. So being there again while the Fiesta military fireworks were shining up in the sky was sort of deja vu! Then Dennis & I capped off the evening by strolling thru El Mercado with its Fiestas Fantasías del Mercado & listening to the sounds of live music on a couple stages & the many colorful sights of the Mexican Marketplace.

You know, it's really fun to introduce a newcomer to the joys and treasures of San Antonio, and of its fantastic party-to-end-all-parties!

And now. . . to the riverbank, to view the parade!

¡Fiesta! The Party Has Begun!

Yup! San Antonio's annual party-to-end-all-parties is under way! Actually, it sort of had an early start-up for yours truly. You see, South Alamo Street adjacent to the historic King William neighborhood hosts a block-party style event, called "First Friday" every first Friday nite of the month. And I finally got around to attending it the first Fri. of April. It resembled the block-party type events of Fiesta itself; indeed, one cafe on its outside chalkboard (where they write food specials) had chalked up "Fiesta starts here!" And as I told in my previous posting, the City Council two Thursdays ago recognized Fiesta royalty and organizers of Fiesta '06.

But. . . the official start of the party was Friday morning, in front of The Alamo. It just happened that Thursday p.m. & into very early Friday South Central Texas received some much-needed rainfall. Thank you, Lord! But the shower ceased a couple of hours before the ceremony & in en'uf time for seats to dry at the official start site. I was there, sporting my Fiesta necktie, bought in '02. Near the bottom it has the year discreetly printed on a cascarón. This year the Fiesta Store introduced a new Fiesta tie, which the store calls a "cascarón tie"; it's just like mine, without the 2002.

A local TV personality hosted the celebration (broadcast live on TV). The Fiesta Commission President spoke, as did Mayor Hardberger and former Governor Dolph Briscoe (he was Governor the first time I moved to the Lone Star State, in '76). There was live music, recognition of the heroes of The Alamo and of the Battle of San Jacinto, the cutting of a business leader's ugly necktie (accompanied by the other suited men on the platform hurriedly removing & hiding their ties) to signal the casual nature of Fiesta, and finally the breaking of hundreds of cascarones over the heads of the hundreds of folks in attendance.

And of course, lots of shouts of "¡Viva Fiesta!" answered by "¡Viva!"

I browsed the art exhibition & sale in Alamo Plaza next to the official opening site, then took the bus out to the far northwest of the county, to UTSA for their Fiesta event. Each year I try to experience at least one Fiesta event new to me, and this was it. My interest in going came to life due to my recent re-connection to my university-years fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha. I knew we Lambda Chis have a flourishing chapter at UTSA (also at St. Mary's U. & at Incarnate Word), so I was curious what the fellows in purple green & gold (L.C.A. colors) would be doing at UTSA Fiesta. Well, most of the campus event was food booths - LOTS of food booths. And the L.C.A. brothers' booth featured beef fajita tacos, with the meat being grilled directly behind the booth. So, it was freshly grilled, & dee-ee-ee-licious!

After returning to my room for a few hours respite, I went back downtown for Fiestas Fantasías del Mercado, in the Mexican Marketplace. Amid the food & souvenir booths four stages were set up for live music artists, who perform not only Tejano or conjunto music but also country or rock music. Yup! Food & live music are two BIG, BIG elements of this party-to-end-all-parties! Oh, and also family fun & games, royalty and parades. Which reminds me: the first of the three major parades (along with a number of smaller, shorter) is coming up tonite, the Texas Cavaliers River Parade. Always I look forward to that one!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The S.A. City Council

This is Thursday evening, and I've just gotten away from a visit to the VA Hospital about my hypertension. Therefore, I'm missing out on an activity I started doing a couple of times a month on Thu. eves. It's the final two regular items on the agenda for the meeting of the San Antonio City Council. When our current Mayor, Phil Hardberger, was elected last year, he put the Council (of which he's considered a member) meeting on a schedule of "B" sessions on Weds. & "A" sessions to begin with Invocation at 9 AM Thus. & end with ceremonial proclamations / recognitions at 5 PM & Citizens to Be Heard at 6 PM. As I say, since Aug. '05 I've attended the evening items on a couple of Thus. a month. But last Thu. I also attended the opening on Thu. morning, which I'd only been to once before.

I went to the morning opening because I did not have a job assignment that day, and I had found out that the senior Pastor of a neighborhood church I occasionally attend on Wed. or Sun. evenings, was going to pray the Invocation. So I wanted to be there, sort of to support him. After he prayed amd the Pledge was recited, the first item of business turned out to be the honoring of retiring S.A. Police Chief Ortiz. Now, Chief Ortiz had been elevated to that position just after I arrived here in '02, and shortly after his installation I got to serve Chief & Mrs. Ortiz at the Jim's Restaurant where I then worked as evening waiter. Several of the Council members had high praise for the retiring Chief, and so all in all I was glad I had chosen to be there. Not just to hear the Invocation by someone I knew but also to witness recognition of a public servant whom I had had the honor of serving dinner!

I left to do errands, but returned at 5 PM. Just as I anticipated, the ceremonial portion of the agenda on this past Thu. involved proclamations & recognitions for the BIG EVENT of the San Antonio year, which begins tomorrow: Fiesta! Representatives from several groups which are intimately & prominently involved in various Fiesta events, plus the royalty for Fiesta 2006, were there. The Mayor read more than one Proclamation document, and he & Council members posed for photos with the honorees. All this is typical of the ceremonial portion of each Thu. Council meeting - but that eve.'s seemed even more memorable, due to its connection with San Antonio's party-to-end-all-parties.

The Westside, where I attend church plus other activities, is in District 5, represented in her second 2-year term by Patti Radle. When she was first elected, a few folk raised objection to the overwhelmingly-Chicano barrio of Dist. 5 being represented by a non-Hispanic. But her easy re-election speaks volumes for how well she represents everybody on the Westside. I had run into Councilwoman Radle several times, including at my own church, where she had come to help with a dinner we put on for anyone who shows up, just before Thanksgiving. The Radles are members of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, just a couple of blocks from my Mexican Christian Church (Disciples).

When I first moved here I lived in Dist. 9. At the last city election (which came after my move, of course), a Kevin Wolff was elected in that district. I ran into him, too, at La Gran Posada, a delightful Christmas custom from Mexico that's become prominent here in S.A. Councilman Wolff in appearance always reminds me of the actor who played the Commissioner on the '90s TV show "The Commish"; he's always got a bright smile, too.

And how about my own Councilman? Glad you asked! I'm now in Dist. 10, represented on the Council by a young man named "Chip" Haass. I happened to meet him just after he was elected the first time (he, like Patti Radle, is in his second 2-year term), while I was working the cash register at another Jim's Restaurant, before I moved. I was impressed with him at that meeting, and except for disagreement about one issue, I've approved of his job on the Council ever since. Several months ago I discovered that "Chip" & I share an alma mater, TCU - he earning a Bachelors there & I a Master of Divinity many years earlier. So, we're both "Horned Frogs"! Better yet, in early March I found out that we are also fraternity brothers, both being members of Lambda Chi Alpha!

All this is leading to my point: I believe that the current elected government of this city is a very good one, certainly an improvement over the previous city government. I've greatly enjoyed attending Thu. eve. portions of the Council meetings and whatever earlier portions I've been able. With folks like Council members Radle, Wolff & Haass and Mayor Hardberger running the show (so to speak), I have high hopes that there will be some good changes & improvements here in the Alamo City by mid-year next year.

But right at the moment. . . there's a certain annual party-to-end-all-parties to be thrown. And few thousand cascarones (confetti-filled eggshells) to be cracked over peoples' heads! ¡Viva Fiesta!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Happy Holy Day of Resurrection!

Yesterday was the Sunday when the world in general has fun with a holiday called "Easter", named after an Anglo-Saxon female idol of spring and fertility. Hence the furry bunnies and colored eggs. ALSO yesterday was the Sunday when Christians celebrated the GREATEST EVENT in history, the Resurrection of the crucified and buried Nazarene, Jesus the Christ! I was blessed to be in church four times. And each time the wonder and awe of this most special day impressed itself upon me anew.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!!!

Also, I count yesterday, as I count Resurrection Sunday annually, as my spiritual birthday! It was on the Day of Resurrection in the Year of Our Lord 1969, that the Spirit of God called me, and I stepped forward in Red Rock Christian Church in Boise, Idaho, and stated the "Good Confession" of faith. In the previous years of my walk with Jesus on this Earth I had focused on the joy of my spiritual birthday being on this particular day (movable, of course, since the Holy Day itself is movable), in that the hope of our resurrection to eternal life guaranteed to us by Christ's Resurrection is already mine by virtue of my being "born again" (or "born from above" in John 3:3 and 7, etc.). But this year I found my contemplations running more toward being joyful that THE focus for the day is on our Savior's Resurrection - and not on yours truly! "Less of me and MORE of Christ" is my prayer.

I hope y'all had a joyful holiday yesterday. And I pray that it was far more than a day of bunnies & eggs & greeting folk with "Happy goddess of spring (a.k.a. Easter)!" I pray that y'all experienced the REALITY of the Risen Savior Christ Jesus!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Holy Week in San Antonio

"Howdy" to y'all! This is the middle of Holy Week, leading up to that MOST IMPORTANT DAY of all the year for us Christians, Resurrection Sunday, when we celebrate the rising from the dead of our crucified Savior! This also celebrates the hope of our own resurrection, when we believers will share in Christ's eternal bliss! Hallelujah!

I'd like to share a couple of things about the San Antonio customs of this most holy week of the year. First, a lot of middle-class and upper-class residents of Mexico customarily visit San Antonio during Holy Week (I think it's a school holiday there, and a time for vacationing from jobs). They come to shop, shop and shop-'til-they-drop. Oh, and we also see a lot of them at Fiesta Texas, where I work seasonally.

Second, lots of local families also do a special activity during the week, or at least the last half of it. They camp out in the local parks. Great idea, since this is THE BEST WEATHER of the year in South Texas. I found out about this custom the first year I lived here, A.D. 2002, when I lived just across Broadway from Brackenridge Park, one of the oldest & largest of San Antonio's parks. Sure en'uf, when I took a stroll thru "Brack" I found lots of tents set up, and families playing volleball, horseshoes and other games, grilling - and doing that custom which only THEN did I realize happened on Pascua, as Resurrection Sunday's called in Spanish, as well as during Fiesta.

Which brings me to the third & final item. Cascarones. That's Spanish for "eggshells", and refers to painted (or otherwise decorated) eggshells filled with confetti. These are broken over someone's head, showering confetti & colored fragments of eggshell on them. I used to think that the correct way to do this was to give the "victim" a noogie with the cascarón, but my native friends informed me, back in '02, that it's considered more fitting to hold the eggshell inside the hand, just above the head and make a tight fist to crush it, then open the hand to let down the shower - on shoulders as well as the head! Whatever the manner of attack, I truly enjoy being both the giver AND the recipient of cascarones!

Have a joyful and most holy week, and as we remember THE GREATEST EVENT of History -- the passion-trial-crucifixion-burial-and-Resurrection of the Nazarene -- a most blessed Resurrection Day this Sunday!

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Missions!

No, I don't mean those historic Spanish Franciscan edifices. I mean S. A.'s own Texas League AA baseball team! I've been a Missions fan since arriving here in A.D. 2002. My enthusiasm for this team, which exceeds even my ardor for the NBA Spurs, was sealed when the Missions won back-to-back championships in '02 and '03.

The opening of the '06 season snuck up on me, and I missed the opening game. It was last nite, on the Gulf Coast, where the visiting Missions defeated Corpus Christi.

Way to go team!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Small towns in two cities = S.A.

"San Antonio isn't so much one city as several small towns." I've heard or read this remark more than once, and I remember it issuing from both natives and visitors.

To an extent, I agree. As I mentioned in my initial posting, I enjoy traveling by bus to various neighborhoods all around the city. And truly, there have been times while off the bus for shopping, participating in some local event or just doing a walking tour, that I've had a distinct sensation that I was in some small town somewhere. And I had to consciously remind myself that I was in San Antonio, eighth largest city in these United States!

However, I feel a need to refine that above remark. S. A. is actually several small towns aggregated into TWO cities. You see, when I'm inside Loop 410 (the innermost of two numbered divided highways which encircle S. A.) I feel that I'm in the REAL San Antonio. I'm in the metropolis that has been called (by Will Rogers or somebody) "one of the four truly unique cities in the U.S.A." Even tho' downtown is getting more and more skyscrapers that are in the standard tall, squared box effect seen in any metropolitan downtown anywhere in the country, there still are some original-looking high points here. E.g. no one could mistake the Tower of the Americas for a tall, narrow left-over from a Worlds Fair in another city - I'm thinking of how you cannot mistake it for Seattle's Space Needle. Likewise, being on the South Side with the old Spanish missions or the Westside with its barrio tejano atmosphere, one KNOWS that one is is S. A.

So that's one S. A. (the original and REAL one, in my book). The other is colloquially called "Loopland". It lies, for the most part, between Loop 410 and Loop 1604 on the northern side of Bexar County. I go to Loopland, and it looks just like any other city in Texas, in the southern USA - maybe in the country. I t presents the very same multi-lane thoro'fares for carrying suburban dwellers to & from their jobs in downtown, the very same strip shopping center after strip shopping center after shopping mall, the very same neighborhoods of houses that all have the same bland appearance.

Hark! I hear Malvina Reynolds singing her 1960s hit song "Little Boxes." And they're all made out of ticky-tacky, and they all look just the same. . . .

Yeah, I think Ms. Reynolds was probably in Loopland when she recorded that hit song. It certainly does precisely for an anthem for the city. And I mean the city "Loopland". Not the REAL San Antonio!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

What's to Dislike about S.A.

This morning I overheard someone telling another about how San Antonio has become a popular & regular site for the NCAA Final Four (the Men's basketball championship played last nite, U of Florida winning). While I was listening, I considered, "Yes, of course! What's to NOT like about the Alamo City?"

Nevertheless, this "country boy" who used to dislike ALL urban entities (see my initial posting) will readily confess that there are indeed aspects of S.A. that are most unattractive, and even repulsive. This city is, after all, a human-made entity. And we humans are most definitely imperfect! Except for that one from Nazareth, the only one who never sinned and thus never deserved to die. And yet He died, for you & me!

Here are a few things to dislike most about S.A., not necessarily in order of diss-ability. (How's THAT for a new word?)

1. Over-emphasis on The Alamo. A few years back I actually made two lists, of the things I liked MOST, and the things I disliked in this city. The Alamo made both lists. It made the one because everybody, or at least all Texans, automatically associate S.A. with the world-famous battle site and shrine of Texas liberty. It's to dislike because one runs into constant reminders of it all over town! That distinctive roof line - which the Franciscan-instructed Coahuiltecans did not construct and which was not yet there at the time of the 1836 battle, is copied everywhere! I get tired of looking at it!

2. Gang graffiti. Sometimes called "tagging", this eyesore can be seen on all parts of town; in fact, the building next door to where I live has a new graffito on the side facing me. But it's especially prevalent on the Westside. Which happens to be where gangs with their crime activity are also most notorious.

3. Grackles. Those pesky birds are all black & mostly tail feathers, with a loud caw-like voice, who like to leave their smelly, dirty "calling cards" if you pass or stand (e.g. while waiting at a bus stop) under their tree or wire. They tend to gather to roost in huge numbers in certain specific locales around the metropolis, such as Travis Park downtown (a major bus stop and transfer point), Rector Street along North Star Mall, and northwest S.A.'s huge Medical Center (several major hospitals, the UT Health Science Center & attendant supporting institutions). When I say "gather to roost in huge numbers", imagine yourself in a scene from the Alfred Hitchcock horror movie "The Birds". Thus you'
ll get the picture!

4. The "bladder effect". Many of the VIA bus stops have garbage cans, which are lined with plastic bags. Sometimes the trash collectors are sloppy in installing a fresh bag, and the bag ends up hanging out of the can; when the wind blows furiously (as it often does here) the bag will bulge out and flop in the wind, looking for all the world like the bladder of some giant animal! Yuk!

5. Gated communities. The northern portions of the city abound with gated - and often guarded, sometimes gate-sentried - communities. A few of these are also found inside Loop 410. And I know a few are found in other cities. But again these sad places abound north of Loop 410 here. For me, anyone who chooses to live in such a place is truly imprisoned (or enslaved) by paranoid materialism.

6. And of course, like many a metropolitan area, S.A. simply has WAY TOO MANY RESIDENTS. To make things worse, the developed metropolitan area (homes, shopping centers, industries, etc.) really sprawls. It SPRAWLS!

Well, there's my short list of what to dislike in S.A. My old list on the positive side was much longer. I tried to limit it to my "top ten", but I still had to include a fairly lengthy set of things that almost made that "top ten"! Perhaps I shall share that list with you in the future.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The bluebonnets

This is probably my favorite time of year for Texas. In late March and thru April the weather still hasn't acheived the typical uncomfortable humidity of summer. Christians shortly shall celebrate that most important day of the year, Resurrection Day (I do not call this day "Easter" because that was the name of a pagan fertility goddess, and thus has nothing to do with Christ's Resurrection). San Antonians are getting prepared for the party-to-end-all-parties, Fiesta. And the wildflowers are blooming!

In South Texas, if there's been a rainy winter, and other conditions are favorable, the wildflowers can truly be awesome this time of year! Alas! the winter we just suffered was DRY, DRY, DRY. Hence no one expected much in the way of wildflower blooms in '06. Few pink flowers of prairie primrose, few yellow petals and dark centers of blackeye Susan, few reds of Indian paintbrush. . . and few of the state wildflower, the beautiful, cool-water-reflecting-the-sky bluebonnet. :-(

Indeed, I'd seen few wildflowers, until Saturday. That day I went out to Fiesta Texas theme park, northwest of San Antonio out IH Ten. Near the park, now a part of the Six Flags chain of amusement parks, the median for the interstate highway presented a couple of expansive beds of the little brilliant blooms of bluebonnets! What a beautiful sight! Past years have been more magnificent, but considering the weather conditions of the past several months - can you say "drought"? - we Texans must be thankful for whatever we get in the way of wildflowers in '06.