My wife and myself drive to the AT&T Centre for the annual San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. I think we've been each year, more or less, although generally at different times of day and on different days taking in different aspects of the full three weeks. The first year we went along one evening and watched the rodeo itself, as staged in the main arena - a venue which has also played host to the San Antonio Spurs and Joan Jett. It seemed to be mostly about cows, lasso displays, horse-riding, cattle-rustling, competition events, and assorted demonstrations of this and that with plenty of noise. We were sat at the back, way up near the roof, and felt somewhat removed from the action, and I can't really remember much else about it. Having established the general thrust of the spectacle, since then we've turned up mainly just to look at cows. Last year we unfortunately turned up too late to look at cows and were left with food stalls and our fellow Texans. The stock show was over and the cows had all gone home.
Looking at cows may not sound like much, but it really is. These are show cows, all kinds of variant breeds, very few of which I'd ever seen before I moved here. Of course there are the Holstein cattle I know as Fresians and there are Herefords - both of which I recall from having grown up on a farm; and then there are Texas Longhorns, and even some exotic looking kind with camelesque humps and floppy ears which I vaguely recognise from television shows or films set in India and Africa. Because these are show cows, they are pampered. They are looked after and washed, even shampooed. They lounge around in their stalls chewing cud, hay, or cattle feed in the great hall where the show is judged, and most stalls have a family in attendance all lovingly brushing their contestants, even blow-drying them with what I presume must be the dairy equivalent of hairdressing equipment. It's odd to see an animal of such size with the soft, fluffy coat of a kitten, not least when the animal is patently a cow, but there's something life-affirming about it too.
This year we make sure that we get to see more than just food stalls and our fellow Texans by turning up on Saturday morning. I wear my Stetson because the sun is strong and I burn easily - although this is not in itself unusual being as I wear it most days. I also wear my Lone Star shirt, material patterned after the state flag. I found the shirt in a second hand place on the Blanco Road. They had a whole rack of the garments which I assume may originally have been part of the uniform for either a diner or a garage or something of the sort - picked up presumably as a job lot by the guy running the store. I justify the shirt as part of my effort to blend in, but truthfully I just think it's a nice shirt.
We park and head for the main entrance. There are many Stetsons worn, which I find comforting. As I say, I wear mine most of the time and yet somehow still manage to stand out as anomalous. Strangers will call out some hypothetically amusing cowboy-related remark from passing vehicles, which would probably be funnier if we weren't in fucking Texas in a city which holds an annual rodeo. The jokes, if no more amusing, at least made sense when I was living in Coventry back in England. Today however, under the circumstances I anticipate a low mockery quotient.
We enter the first large shed and look at sheep, stall after stall, some with lambs. The sheep enclosure segues into row after row of happy looking pigs. Then we are outside again, taking the main thoroughfare down to where all the food stalls are set up. We're hungry so we both have what I roughly recognise as a doner kebab but which is here termed a gyro - pronounced more like hero, which makes no sense to me.
One of the few things I miss about England is kebab shops.
We eat up and then investigate a tent full of Lego. The stock show attracts all manner of associated business, although mostly it's either rural crafts, crafts which aspire to rurality, or agricultural machinery. Lego seems some way outside the parameters of the occasion as I understand them, but I'm not complaining. My wife and myself marvel at a human-sized Woody from Toy Story made entirely out of the plastic bricks, and then we each take a seat at one of the trestle tables. Each table has plastic containers full of bricks and members of the general public are invited to work on square base plates, then add whatever they have produced to the mural to one side. At the moment the mural is mostly smiley faces and names spelled out in blocky, uneven lettering. Bess takes a handful of white and orange bricks and forms a picture of a bunny rabbit with a carrot. I assemble a rough representation of El Castillo, the main pyramid of Chichén Itzá in Mexico. I use red bricks to suggest blood on the steps leading up to the temple platform, and yellow for the sun.
Next we see the horses, and most importantly the mini-horses. Two weeks ago we drove thirty miles just to spend ten minutes hanging around a field of mini-horses and it was wonderful. There is something about the company of creatures which has a beneficial, even mildly euphoric influence. In internet terms it is generally signified by the vaguely onomatopoeic squee. I'm sure there have been scientific studies. Anyway, the point is that we both think mini-horses are wonderful, as do all the little girls who have been drawn to the equine enclosure as though subject to an actual magnetic influence. One of the mini-horses is named Zephyr, as we learn from a board affixed to his pen. His favourite film is Frozen, according to the board, although I suspect this is more to do with marketing and understanding your target audience than actual cinematic preference.
Finally we get to the cows, taking a route through a crafts market notable for oil likenesses of Ronald Reagan and others, and the cows are wonderful.
I grew up around cows, although I retain a certain respectful fear of them on account of their being so big. I was never really on friendly terms with the cows of the farm on which my dad worked, excepting Mona, who was grey and white rather than black and white, and so friendly that I was able to ride around on her back. I always assumed her colouration indicated great age, but it seems equally possible that she was simply of a different, conspicuously more sociable breed than the rest. More recently I showed my dad an old photograph, himself as a young farmhand from before I was born, stood in a field with fifteen or so Jersey cows around him. Forty years after the photograph was taken, he was still able to name every single cow in the picture. I suppose then it's in my blood, whatever it is.
It hasn't escaped me that I have come full circle by some definition. Agricultural shows were a big deal when I was a child, and I am once again a regular even if the country is different.
I'm not sure if it means anything, but the pattern is pleasing.