Monday, April 28, 2008

Reflections on THE Party, '08 edition

It's Monday, the day following the final day of Fiesta 2008. Unlike some of my San Antonio neighbors, I don't have a hangover. What I DO have, as every year on post-Fiesta Monday, is a case of the blues. You see, every Fiesta seems to conclude too soon; at least one event that I truly want to go to but lacked the time. After all, we're talking well over 100 events which comprise the party-to-end-all-parties! (This counts each & every day of multi-day events; even not counting each day separately would probably still total over 50.)

However, in this Year of Our Lord 2008 I shall NOT sing with Willie Nelson: "Turn out the lights, the party's over. . . ." After all, as I've affirmed so many times in my years of residence here, San Antonio's middle name is "Party"! Folks, we've just one week to rest up & recover from Fiesta. This very next weekend will be time for Cinco de Mayo celebrating! Hey! workers at el Mercado might as well keep booths and stages in place and San Saba Street closed (the block passing thru Market Square, that is). After all, el Mercado is a major venue for Cinco de Mayo frolics! Soon also, the party called "Texas Folklife Festival" will take place. And so on. And on. And on. Talk about "good times never end"!

Before we move on to S.A.'s future parties, allow me to indulge one last backward gaze at Fiesta '08. Here are some reflection about the just-concluded Fiesta 2008, particularly its final weekend.

First of all, one concluding reflection on the Battle of Flowers Parade. While I was aboard the VÍA bus heading downtown to my accustomed "stake-out" spot to watch the parade, I was glad I wasn't using a POV ("Army-ese" for a privately-owned/operated car). Not only was traffic dreadful (as usual during Fiesta). Parking was more expensive. Lots near the parade origin point were exacting $15. A little further away the price went down to $12, then on St. Mary's Street near the San Antonio Museum of Art parking lowered to $10. Riders on my bus were remarking about these prices - and THEN we passed Central Catholic High School. Students there were waving signs advertising "Fiesta parking" for $8! I remarked (rather loudly, I admit), "Look! Yay, Catholics!"

I confess that I found myself at "Fiestas Fantasías" at Market Square (el Mercado) multiple times -- even more than once on Fiesta's opening weekend! Well. . . I like the heavily Mexican ambiente of the place and live performances of Mexican and Tex-Mex styles of music: conjunto, Latin rock, Tejano, mariachi. . . . But -- smile -- I almost longed to tell someone nearby, preferably a chicano, "I simply HATE Mexican-American music! It's so danceable, it gives me an insatiable urge to dance, and I have no one with whom to dance!" (More confession: at times I simply gave into the urge and discreetly danced solo.)

If I can't really, truly dance with my whole heart and body due to lack of a partner, I can certainly enjoy simply sitting and observing while lucky couples cut the rug. A most delightful episode happened on Saturday the 26th. Inside the Farmers Market building of Market Square a large central open area has a permanent platform, a stage for song & dance performances all thru the year -- often by children of all ages. In this case a boy and a girl age 7 or 8 took the stage. He was dressed in boots, jeans, Stetson and a reddish western-cut shirt; she wore a long skirt to match his shirt. And wow! could this young, young couple cut the rug! We were all (audience surrounding that stage) hollering encouragement and clapping our hands to the beat of "Jambalaya!"

I experienced more than one incident of what I shall call "camaraderie" (for lack of a better word). The State Motto since 1930 is "Friendship" -- supposedly "Texas" or "Tejas" was the Spaniards' rendition of a native, Caddo, word that meant "friends". And San Antonio is renown as a very friendly city! So during Fiesta my fellow citizens, and visitors, let down what little guard we may have. We're all friends the first time we meet! I remember one evening I found myself listening to the group performing on the stage under the raised interstate highway passing above the west edge of el Mercado. They sounded really good -- and danceable, too! -- and I commented on such to a couple standing beside me. (I cannot say that I said it to encourage these two to get out and cut the rug, but whether I did or not, they didn't, alas!)

Finally, allow me to remark about the honoring of the military that takes place during Fiesta. San Antonio is often labelled a "military city" or some other title that hi-lites the military presence here. So it's natural that the U.S. armed forces get honored and feted all during the ten-day party! Of course, Fiesta began in 1891 as a remebrance of the heroes of the battles of The Alamo and San Jacinto -- indeed, it always falls in April so that the 21st is included, and that's the anniversary of the San Jacinto victory that won Texas independence. So we have the "Official Opening Ceremony" in front of The Alamo, and a "Pilgrimage to The Alamo" on San Jacinto Day.

And on the final Sunday afternoon there is an "All-Veterans Salute" in Memorial Plaza in front of Municipal Auditorium. I was there this year, altho' I missed the opening minutes of it and the main speaker was already into his speech. Due to the strong, gusty wind one could hear him only with difficulty. And indeed, the emcee for the ceremony at one point had to walk back to the podium and hold down the speaker's papers! This was unfortuante, because what one could hear of the speech it was very inspirational. He was a retired General Brady, who earned the Medal of Honor in Vietnam. The Medcom Band from Fort Sam Houston provided music. They quietly played "Abide with Me" while attendees filed down the walkway to the Vietnam Memorial. This is a larger-than-lifesize statue of a soldier (a medic) squatting over a fallen comrade and gazing up in the skies -- as if either in prayer or in search of a 'copter. Several people laid flowers or wreaths or bourquets along the base of the memorial.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

"Good times never end!"

My title quotes a slogan I heard many times during the four years I lived in the chapter house of Lambda Chi Alpha at the University of Idaho. I heard it especially whenever we had a kegger or dance or some other party. As this week of Fiesta 2008 goes by this slogan comes to mind again! Often!

Monday evening the Citizens Advisory Council had its monthly meeting at VÍA Metro Center, specifically the Administration Building. As soon as it was over I went down to the Riverwalk near the Central Library to take in as much of the "Texas Cavaliers River Parade" as I could. I don't think I missed much! The floats which actuallyand ltierally "float" down the San Antonio River, were as colorful as always, and there was lots of music (live or recorded).

Thursday I found myself, for only the second time, at NIOSA. "A Night in Old San Antonio" happens in La Villita for four evenings, and is sponsored by the S.A. Conservation Society. In the 1980s the family went, and I was looking forward to it, due to the sponsorship and to its publicity of being a sort of mini-Folklife, with lots of celebrating of the city's (and perhaps state's) history and cultures. Not! Shoulder-to-shoulder people, like a sardine can, and about the third time some drunk spilled his beer on me, I said, "Never again!" Only. . . thanks to strong urging by fellow Conservation Society members, with advice to visit NIOSA early, and a complementary ticket provided me, the "never again" came to an end.

I'm glad it did come to an end. I didn't get beer spilled on me, and found room to maneuver in the "Little Town". I spent much of my time in La Villita Assembly Hall, where I had been the past Saturday evening for the Ball. This time it was decorated like a German beer hall and had a live "oompa band" playing. I requested that they do Ein Prosit der Gemuetlicheit -- and then missed it (they played it while I was out exploring the rest of NIOSA). In compensation, I suppose, I got to do "The Chicken Dance" twice!

After a little over an hour at NIOSA, I caught the bus to Alamo Stadium for a Fiesta event I never miss if I can help it: "The Battle of Flowers Band Festival". The theme of '08 wasn't all that thrilling: "Broadway. . . and All that Jazz" -- also theme for the parade the next day. Still, I always enjoy the marching of the high school marching bands, the on-field performances by the three or four featured bands, and the grand finale of all the bands massing on the field and performing theme music while the fireworks burst overhead!

Surprises this year at the Band Festival were that Alamo Heights HS didn't enter its band, and the McCollum HS band is much smaller. In earlier years McCollum was enormous -- even tho' it's a Class 4A school. Lanier's band was larger than in earlier years, while Sam Houston, like McCollum, presented a smaller marching band. But the mostly Afro-American school's marching instrumentalists in uniform still presented their "jungle-beat" stepping as they marched down the stadium's track.

Friday morning I once again took my folding chair, got on the bus and after alighting near Broadway and Third I set up the chair on that intersection's southeast corner next to a light pole. It's a great location to watch the best parade of all parades and the original Fiesta event: "The Battle of Flowers". From here I view the left side of parade units (their left side, my right) as they approach on Broadway, and after each turns onto Third to head for The Alamo, I observe their right side, close up!

Skies remained mostly overcast (but not threatening precip) and it was muggy. But I think I'd rather have that than clear sunny skies and humidity!

This year I actually saw someone I knew and who knows me! Norman Collins, science teacher (and department chair) at AHHS, was in the third set of "pooper-scoopers" from the high school! I cheered him and gave him a high five! I also saw and greeted Commission President John Steen, with whom I had spoken at UTSA's Fiesta event a week earlier.

Focus of this parade, I suppose, is the floats bearing the feminine royalty who were feted at a "Coronation" event in Municipal Auditorium (only a couple of blocks north of my spot) a few evenings before. Tickets are expensive, so I don't go, but the color of the ceremony must be awesome. I day this because the lovely young ladies on the lovely, colorfu and flowery floats are engaging in the parade setting!

Years ago the "Battle of Flowers Parade" became my favorite of any and all parades I've ever seen, live or on television. On Monday evening of the past couple of Fiestas, I've come away from the "Texas Cavaliers River Parade" thinking that this particular year the river parade was so good that it would unseat BoF as my fave. BUT THEN along comes the BoF; it always manages to retain its place as Number One in the heart of this parade lover!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Weekend's over, but THE Party isn't!

Yup, dear reader, the first weekend of Fiesta San Antonio 2008 is over. But of course the party goes on for ten days total, thru next weekend. And in the meantime, I'm into the thick of it!

Saturday morning I attended one of my favorite among Fiesta events: "Walk Across Texas" at the S.A. Botanical Gardens. This time there were no signs set up near the entrance, which is thru a relocated and restored carriage house, to indicate the way to the "Walk". Considering the complexity of the Botanical Gardens, which include formal areas, a garden for the blind, an underground Conservatory, glass roofs for which jut up high above the surroundings, etc., and the manner in which the paved paths wander every which way, it's a challenge to locate the three parts of the gardens where the "Walk" is conducted. These represent three of the major ecological areas of the Lone Star State: the East Texas Piney Woods, the central Hill Country and the South Texas chaparral (or matorral, as signs in Spanish in that part label it).

After three attempts I located the start of "Walk Across Texas" and shortly was enjoying coffee and biscuits made from scratch from Pioneer Mills (here in S.A. and going back to the 1800s). This was at the Ault House, a restored cabin of Hill Country vintage. Once I'd enjoyed a cup of "java", a biscuit with gravy and another with jelly, I proceeded on to the other restored house, a German fachwerk edifice (half-timber), in the "Hill Country" area. Then I moved on to the East Texas "Piney Woods" section, which surrounds a beautiful pond, home to several water fowl. On its banks is a log cabin. And finally I briefly took in the "South Texas" area which presents an adobe hut typical of this most Spanish-Mexican portion of the state.

As I scrutinized signs and handouts identifying and detailing vegetation (and some animals) of the three regions, I considered how much I enjoyed this knowledge and this experience of God's good outdoors. I also considered how I came by this interest and enjoyment naturally. You might say it's in my genes, since my mother is also a student of botany!

From "Walk Across Texas" I went across town, to the Westside and Guadalupe Plaza, for "Piñatas en el Barrio". More singing, more dancing -- including by the flamenco dancers again (they were at Friday's opening ceremony) -- more refreshments. In a word, MORE PARTYING! I suppose that THIS particular Fiesta event is one of the most Latin-flavored, being as it is in the original barrio (Spanish "neighborhood"). And I suppose that I stuck out like a sore thumb among the sea of chicanos. No matter! I enjoy just being on the Westside among my chicano fellow residents. The song "Who's that Gringo?" says it all: "I may be white on the outside, but in my heart I know I'm refried!" Yes, dear reader, my heart is definitely and positively refried!

After a couple hours of "Piñatas en el Barrio" it was back to el Mercado for awhile. Both Friday and Saturday I was keeping an eye out for a group I had seen recognized at the City Council meeting last Thursday, and associated in some way with TxDOT, that promotes "Fiesta safe, Drive sober, San Antonio". They were said to be distributing attractive bags with this slogan in the market place. But I didn't see them at any time I was there for Fiestas Fantasías. However, I did find a sash to buy, with which to display some of my sizable collection of Fiesta medals and pins. I've acquired or bought a few dozen over the seven Fiestas of my residence in San Antonio.

Later I went home, rested awhile and then got dressed for a Ball. On my way to that event's venue I went by The Alamo to see the beginning of the ceremonial "Investiture of King Antonio LXXXVI". While seated on the bleachers before the hallowed chapel I arranged the medals on the sash. I used a Battle of Flowers button from a few Fiestas back to pin the sash ends at my waist. Then I went on over to La Villita Assembly Hall, for the "Patriotic and Historical Ball". This is sponsored by the Texas Pioneers Association and is free, but ticket-controlled. I'd used my associate membership in the San Antonio Conservation Society to finagle a ticket and a seat at the Conservation Society table. You see, somehow I'd managed to acquire a ticket last year and had enjoyed the party so much I really longed to return this year.

Because of my brief stop-over at the king's investiture before The Alamo I was still signing in at the door when the ball program commenced with the Pledge, Invocation etc. I was a bit surprised when I got escorted to the San Antonio Conservation Society table and I was the first there! There were some brief speeches by Pioneer officials, and then we were treated, as last year, to singing by the 82d Airborne Men's Chorus. They sang two verses of "America the Beautiful" -- including my dearest verse, the one that begins "O beautiful for pilgrim feet." It always makes me think of the Oregon Trail, "a thoro'fare for freedom" passing by Boise, where I grew up. They also sang, "I Am an American Soldier" by Toby Keith, and my buttons almost popped off from my pride of being a vet soldier! And from having a brother, and nephew and a best friend all currently on active duty with the US Army! The chorus concluded with Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA". Talk about a "patriotic ball!"

Fiesta royalty, including the just-invested King Antonio LXXXVI put in appearance, to be honored by the attendees and to give greetings to the same, and presents to the Pioneer officials, etc. Then the program portion of this Ball concluded with the "Grand March". This is done by having couples go toward the door into the hall and walk in single file across the floor toward the stage. As each couple neared the stage they were directed alternately to the left or the right; these circled back, beside the tables to approach the door again. Once all couples had passed toward the stage, one couple from the left and one from the right linked arms to make a foursome and the foursome walked toward the stage. Alternately each quartet was sent to the left or the right to again go toward the door. Then THIS time two foursomes linked up to make a line of eight.

So finally we had an orderly mass on the floor, consisting of rows of eight people. The band ceased the "grand march" music and played "The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You". UT alumni went crazy, of course, lifting their right hands in the "hook 'em 'Horns!" sign. Two girls in front of me responded by raising their hands in the Baylor "Bear claw". In like "protest" manner I lifted the TCU Horned Frog sign! This is done by folding the thumb over the ring and little fingers of the right hand while strongly hooking the other two fingers above these. TCU students and alumni began this sign after I was at the school earning my M.Div. (1979)

And then there was Sunday! I opened this by attending the "Fiesta Mariachi Mass" at San Fernando Cathedral. Lots of Fiesta royalty and officials were prominent in the wall-to-wall crowd. In his opening, welcome remarks, Father David García, the Cathedral's rector, remarked about how Fiesta is a time of fantasy in San Antonio, when a few people pretend to be kings or queens or royalty and important people. "And the rest of us play along and honor them." Father David also mentioned how Fiesta events also raise a lot of money for charitable causes. And as he often does in his homilies, Father David related the lectionary readings for the day, particularly the Gospel reading, to San Antonio now -- which today meant relating it well to the party!

After a small breakfast in the cafe next to the cathedral I bused over to the Westside and my church, Mexican Christian Church (Disciples). We had a pretty good turn-out for our small congregation, and I led them in the praise singing to start Worship. One song I led them all the way thru was "De Colores".

Once worshp concluded I sought out a non-official party. It's one that's sure to become an official Fiesta event after the requisite two years. This "Mariachi Fest" event had been announced by handout sheets and verbally during the "Piñatas en el Barrio" Saturday afternoon in Guadalupe Plaza. One of the speakers, in describing this new "Mariachi Fest", said that it would begins on Sunday about noon and go on "hasta que nos cansamos (until we get tired)". To which I replied, "Tanto me encanta la música de mariachi que jamás me canso. (Mariachi music enchants me so much that I'd never get tired of it)".

And indeed, while I was at the "Mariachi Fest" listening to, first, recorded mariachi music and then to two live mariachi groups -- all young people -- that I felt quite invigorated, very much "at home" here on the Westside, and definitely that "I may be white on the outside, but in my heart I'm refried!"

Friday, April 18, 2008

Fiesta '08 - Let the Party begin!

Today is the official opening day of Fiesta San Antonio 2008. Yup, dear reader, it's time for S.A.'s annual party-to-end-all-parties!

And what be-e-e-eautiful weather the "Man Upstairs" gave us for the opening! Cool with low humidity (despite a brief but noisy thundershower in the wee hours). The sky above The Alamo and the opening-ceremony site was a clear deep blue. Or as our golden-throated neighbor George Strait might say, "blue clear sky". (That's the name of one of his albums and its title song, one of Strait's many, many #1 country hits.)

In that opening ceremony, hosted by two local TV personalities and broadcast live by their TV station (a Fox affiliate newly awarded Fiesta coverage), Texas' "First Lady", Mrs. Rick Perry, was one of the speakers, as were His Honor Mayor Hardberger, this year's Fiesta San Antonio Commission President John Steen and County Judge (and former S.A. Mayor) Nelson Wolff. The most prominent speaker, I suppose, was U.S. Senator John Cornyn. He was introduced as "born in Houston, but he got to San Antonio as fast as he could!" This is a play on the popular slogan of auslanders (a Deutsch term for Texas residents who were born out-of-state): "I wasn't born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could!"

A unique element of the program for this year's "Official Opening" was that ladies of the Battle of Flowers Association, attired in their typical yellow dresses and yellow sun hats (wide flat brims and low crowns) came out from behind the stage (from the direction of The Alamo chapel), bearing hand baskets filled with flowers. They proceeded to throw the blooms at people on the stage, in the audience and each other. This was a re-enactment of the very start of Fiesta! Back in 1891 society ladies had decided to entertain President Harrison (first sitting US President to visit S.A.) AND honor the heroes of The Alamo and San Jacinto by staging a parade of carriages bearing flowers and having a "flower battle" in front of the Cradle of Texas Liberty. How delightful to have this re-enactment of how the annual party-to-end-all-parties began!

Our city's Mayor, Phil Hardberger, was attired in suit and tie, like all the men on stage and unlike Mayor Ed Garza at my first opening ceremony for Fiesta (the party in A.D. 2002), who came in a guayabera. Well, the male encee (from the Fox station) was casually attired, now that I think about it. Mayor Hardberger, among his remarks, mentioned that Fiesta was "ten days to not think!" Hm-m-m. . . I'm not in complete agreement with that assessment! However, the co-hosts took advantage of the remark later, when the lady emcee, Cynthia Lee, said that she was looking forward to not thinking for ten days - and co-emcee, Mike Valdes, quipped something like, "Oh, is that anything new (with you)?" Arr-rr-gh!

We were also treated to musical entertainment, including by a military band beside the stage, flamenco dancing and the ceremonial cutting of an official's ugly necktie, to signify "business casual" apparel for the ten days of the party. I've not minded the cutting of one tie, but in recent years all officials on the platform and men in the audience were all but ordered to come out of theirs. It's a pity that high-ranking government officials have to submit to this indignity. Today two men up there did NOT remove their neckties! Neither did I take off my Fiesta 2002 tie! Let's have a big "Hooray!" for men who KNOW that we guys CAN have fun while sharply attired!

The ceremony concluded with everybody cracking cascarones over one another's heads while shouting, "¡Viva Fiesta!" or responding, "¡Viva!" Then I took the bus across downtown to El Mercado for their Fiesta event. And then I rode out to UTSA for theirs.

Once I was on the "ugly-modern-grey-concrete" campus of the university (my description of this very unattractive campus), out near Fiesta Texas, I searched in vain for my brother Lambda Chis. In the past two years they had run a food booth, one year with kabobs for sale and the other fajitas. But in this A.D. 2008 version of Fiesta UTSA we were not to be found! Wonder why.

However, the entertainment and the food that I did sample were quite enjoyable. As is custom, at one point a goodly selection of Fiesta royalty showed up and made a processional from the building that houses the Library upstairs and the cafeteria at ground level, along a red carpet under la Sombrilla (a fancy grating that provides some variegated shade to the pavement below), to a shaded seating area. Various of the royalty were introduced and brought up on the stage, as was UTSA President Romo. I couldn't help but notice that Fiesta Commission President John Steen again sported his necktie! I congratulated him for looking sharp again, as I also pointed to my Fiesta 2002 necktie.

Later on I passed by the Cattlemen's Square on the west side of downtown' just west of the elevated IH 10-35 and north of Houston Street. This is the site of Fiesta's "Tejano Explosion" and I wanted to read the line-up of artists and groups who will perform various types of chicano or Tex-Mex music during it ten-day run. (Actually I think T.E. run a day or two longer that Fiesta's officical ten days.)

Finally, I returned to el Mercado for a while, to enjoy the live music on four or so stages set up around Market Square for their ten days of "Fiestas Fantasías del Mercado". However I didn't stay very long. I wanted to get home and get some shut-eye, to be ready for Saturday's full schedule of Fiesta partying!

¡Viva Fiesta!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Plaza de las Islas, reopened

Sunday evening (last evening) I went downtown to experience the "grand re-opening" of Main Plaza, also known as Plaza de las Islas. The latter name (Spanish), the older name for the location, refers to the islands from whence came the Canary Islanders who arrived in San Antonio in March of A.D. 1731. They founded the first civil settlement and municipal government in Texas, began the time-consuming erection of Texas' first parish church (as opposed to mission church or presidial chapel), and laid out the square (plaza) as the heart of their new town.

Main Plaza/Plaza de las Islas has seen numerous major changes of appearance over the approximately 177 years since then. And the latest radical alteration of appearance was celebrated this past evening.

I went, resigned that the square would not have the two north-south streets, which had been eliminated by the planned renovation. By this fact alone it now varies further than ever from the standard design of city squares of the colonial Spanish Empire. I was ready for this, but I consoled myself that the vista-blocking undergrowth and the ugly central fountain would be gone. And surely anything would be an improvement.


Much to my surprise, pedestrian access from the south into the central portion of the renovated square was blocked by gardens and the ends of low walls. And such access from the north into the center did not include gentle ramps for the disabled, just steps and low retaining walls which can be used as impromptu benches. The center portion's surface consisted of three things. Some areas were covered with rough and uneven ashlar (quarried stone). In at least three places waterworks consisting of small geysers or fountains of water bathed rectangles of finished stone or concrete; the boundaries of these waterworks were mostly defined by where the wet ended and the dry began. Thirdly, large areas consisted of no more than bare dirt. It was easy to guess that at our first gully-washer this "new" Main Plaza will become a muddy hog wallow!

The layout of the raised and lowered areas and the placing of permanent kiosk-like structures make it impossible that Main Street and Soledad Street will ever again pass thru the square, as before. Thus north-south traffic thru the plaza is permanently blocked. I was vigorously against this from the beginning of announcement of public hearings on plans for Main Plaza renovation.

I had read of several elements to be included in the ceremony of Sunday evening, and sort of looked forward to it. But in this I was disappointed, too. For one, catering of picnic boxes for purchase had been set up inside the new square by Bill Miller Bar-b-cue, one cookie-cutter store of which sits at the northwest corner of the square. Now, why couldn't the body that fabricated this celebration have chosen Grady's with its superior bar-b-cue, or the fried chicken of Church's (another S.A. eating establishment), or something from Jim's Restaurants?

When the male-female pair of emcees for the main portion of the ceremony were introduced, they were both from KENS TV-5, and the male in the pair was weatherman Bill Taylor. The usually sharply-apparelled Taylor was sporting a suit and dress shirt, but no necktie! At least one public official on the platform was similarly garbed (i.e., no tie). Mayor Hardberger, his wife and the cathedral's Father David Garcia were in the front row of seats up there; this trio was the driving force behind Main Plaza renovation. Indeed, conventional wisdom among S.A. citizens is that she (Mrs. H) was THE driving force.

These folk and some other spoke about the history of Plaza de las Islas/ Main Plaza. Before all the talk there were some dramatic presentations by Canary Islander descendants and a military group in period costume. In all of this there was no mention of anybody or anything that happened in what is now downtown San Antonio between the times of the nomadic Coahuiltecan bands and the Islanders' arrival in 1731. I was distressed that there was in this a forceful effort to represent that this city as a permanent community began with those settlers from the Canaries! What about the original mission, San Antonio de Valero, founded on 1 May A.D. 1718? (Years later it became the famous fort and battleground, The Alamo.) What about el presidio, the protecting fort, also called San Antonio, founded four days later? And the villa set up for soldiers' families and a few farmers and craftsmen who also settled in 1718? What about the second mission, San José, founded in 1720?

Let's hope, dear reader, that there isn't such shunning of the first decade plus of this city's true history as a settled community when we get to A.D. 2018. That is when this so unique and historic city can celebrate its tricentennial. Let's also pray that this city gets a wiser set of leaders in its municipal government by then, who will seek to undo the deleterious effects of the current redoing of Main Plaza!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Emmaus Celebration, at Mt. Wesley

Most of this past weekend, I was in Kerrville, Texas, at Mt. Wesley, church camp (or "Conference Center" as they now call it) of the UMC. All of us in attendance were celebrating 25 years of Walks to Emmaus and Chrysalis in Southwest Texas (SWTX of the UMC, that is.)

Before I left for the Celebration on Friday, I had a substitute teaching assignment at Alamo Heights HS. We had a pep rally for the Spring sports early in the morning; the theme for it was Fiesta, as in "wear Fiesta clothes". So I took advantage of this theme to wear my Fiesta necktie and my rainbow suspenders. I planned to wear them to the Emmaus Celebration later in the day, and also on Sunday.

As soon as I turned in my substitutes folder at the end of classes I boarded a VÍA bus and rode out to University UMC. From there I rode with Jay and Chrissie Smith of UUMC; Ann Rossi of Los Angeles Heights UMC also rode with us. We had a nice drive out to Kerrville; even the Friday home-bound rush hour wasn't all that bad, for San Antonio. Despite the lack of rain -- can you say, "another drought"? -- there were some wildflowers in the median and on the shoulders of IH Ten. Even a few bluebonnets. And lots of the little pink teacups of the primrose!

When we four drove up Methodist Encampment Road in Kerrville and arrived at Mt. Wesley camp, the first person I saw that I recognized was none other than Arlie Lammers! He had agreed to have me as houseguest for the weekend (wife Kitty was away on the West Coast). Arlie and I were roommates during service on the Teams for Kairos Torres #9 and #11. He's a former UMC clergy who switched to Disciples of Christ, and is a non-pastoring member of First Christian Church (Disciples) in Kerrville. He (and wife Kitty) live out in the country, in fact across the road from the site of the annual Kerrville Folk Festival. I greeted him and gave him a hug -- not an easy thing to do since he's several inches taller than yours truly. I also introduced him to my fellow travelers.

After registering I went up to the fairly new dining hall, built sometime between my two team services on Walks #1005 (August '02) and #1327 (Nov. '06). While in the hall for supper I encountered George Bradley, a Methodist clergyman and fellow volunteer in Kairos Prison Ministry. Remember, Kairos is the version of Emmaus (or any Cursillo renewal) designed for inmates. We had a great time talking while eating! After dinner he headed home (he had been here for a clergy licensing meeting of the UMC). I went to Worship in the Emmaus style in the former Moore Auditorium (remodeled, air-conditioned and renamed sometime also between the two Walks).

Saturday included four workshop sessions, with over a dozen topics from which to choose. Between breakfast and commencement of the workshops I chose to ascend the hill, actually called "Mt. Wesley", behind the camp's buildings to its summit. I chose to use the less steep paved drive going up the side of this hill, rather than going straight up on the trail. Nevertheless, I could tell that the climb was more taxing on my aging body than earlier climbs had been. (I ascend Mt. Wesley Hill every time I come to the camp for an Emmaus event, except for Candlelight.) But it's worth the physical exertion, for the view over the Guadalupe River and the wonderful Texas Hill Country. AND worth it to stand below the large wooden cross surmounting a pile of rocks at the summit. The wood came from Bolivia, sent years ago by Bolivian Methodists. For me there isn't a better graphic example of the worldwide unity and love of the Christian people!

In the morning I chose to participate in a music workshop facilitated by Yohann Anderson in the conference room where the 15 talks are done on a Walk; it actually took up both sessions. Yohann is compiler-editor of a songbook that contains songs written by him and lots of camp-style Christian songs, traditional hymn lyrics and lyrics for popular hit numbers. It's called simply "Songs". The earliest issue of "Songs" was a brown-cover book; I had a firm-spine version during high school and college and beyond. Since moving to San Antonio I'd acquired the newer green-cover, spiral-bound edition. And NOW at Yohann's seminar I bought the newest edition of "Songs": blue and containing about 1100 songs (up from over 300 in the first edition). This workshop (or seminar) was not just group singing of songs from the book. Most of it was actually Yohann teaching us techniques for making song-leading more effective. He also provided us with a handout.

In the afternoon I first attended a workshop on clergy requirements (for being a spiritual director on a Walk, and also for a Fourth Day Group), in the beautiful little Chapel of Mt. Wesley. Then I went to a small building behind former Moore Auditorium, to "Studio B" for a session called "Why Cain't We Do It That Way?" (spelled that way). By the title and brief description this was to be a discussion of sticking to the manual for presenting a Walk to Emmaus. But the presenter (facilitator), a lady who was one of four people representing the International Office of Emmaus in Nashville, had us focus first, on suggesting reasons for celebrating Emmaus, and second, challenges we face as we continue to strive to keep the spiritual renewal movement effective and viable. Chrissie Smith was one of the other participants, as her husband Jay had been another at the morning "double-length" Yohann workshop, and Arlie had been one at the clergy seminar.

Also during the afternoon I used breaks in the schedule to peruse various vendors who were set up in the former dining hall of the camp. Most of these were locals, and arlie knew all of them. The one out-of-town vendor was a fellow from Cokesbury (the Methodist bookstore chain). Noticing that he had a few music CDs I asked if he had the CD version of an audiocassette I had purchased years ago after my piligrim Walk, called "Palanca Songs". He did indeed, so I purchased it. On a later pass by the Cokesbury table my eyes happened to fall on a "De Colores" necktie! I didn't ahve a clue that anyone made Cursillo/Emmaus ties! You guessed it, dear reader; it's now mine!

Saturday ended as Friday had, with dinner and then Worship (same locales). The music group ("praise team" if you wish) which led the singing at this evening Worship was very good! And Victor Pérez, full-time clergy from Emmaus in Nashville, gave a pretty good talk ("sermon" if you wish). I was a little disappointed that my pre-conception that THIS service would be open to the general Emmaus community (like a Walk's candlelight) was wrong; only registered Celebration participants were in attendance.

Sunday morning I packed my suitcase at Arlie's house, and we drove into Kerrville as the eastern sky began to lighten. Yesterday he had actually driven me by the new First Christian Church (Disciples) building. A few years ago I had gotten a ride to a Candlelight for a Walk, stayed the night with Arlie and Kitty, attended Sunday Worship with them at the old FCC (closer to Methodist Encampment Rd.), and then attended closing for the same Walk.

The concluding Worship for the Emmaus Celebration was in the Chapel. Music was the little pipe organ in it -- this was the first time I had heard it played! Shelton Johnson, current Spiritual Director for the Southwest Texas Emmaus Community, gave the sermon, a very brief message to "go out celebrating Emmaus and being fishers of men!" Then we shared the Lord's Supper one final time, and it was time for farewells and hitting the road back to home.

Because the Emmaus Celebration concluded so early Sunday morning we returned to San Antonio in time for me to ask the Smiths to drop me off at San Antonio Christian Church, not far from their church (UUMC). Pastor here is Ed Palow; he was my roommate on Kairos Briscoe #1, and the music for Sunday Worship here is often provided, as it was this day, by Rich and Joy Drady and their group, "Just Us" (called so because it's anybody who wants to bring their instrument and play it with the Dradys). I got acquainted with Rich and Joy when I first began attending Alamo Heights Christian Church (Disciples). Worshiping at San Antonio Christian served as a great transition back into the "everyday" living in the city after the weekend of Emmaus spiritual "high"!

But. . . I didn't quite get back to "normal" right away! From San Antonio Christian I got a ride to St. Mary's University on the city's west side. Lambda Chi Alpha was celebrating its Founder's Day barbecue there this year, a month later than the past two years. But the weather was fabulous for the fraternity's event. After chatting with alumni and undergrads of the three local Zetas (chapters) and enjoying hot dogs, etc., I got a ride home with an active (an undergrad member) of Pi-Epsilon Zeta (Incarnate Word). He "happened" to live nearby, on Vandiver!

However, when I walked up to my door I discovered that my keys were not in any of my pockets. Nor in my suitcase or bag! I'd left them at Arlie's! So I had to borrow a phone to call the La Fiesta management and get let in to my efficiency. Not a good ending to a great weekend! But it didn't quench my joy in the celebrations!