It is April and Fiesta has come around once again, Fiesta being the week long festival commemorating the battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto back in 1836. I've now done most of the significant Fiesta events - the river parade and that weird thing in the theatre with the kids of assorted local billionaires wearing capes made out of diamonds. The only event I am still to attend is called a Night in Old San Antonio, so that's the one we're doing this year.
I like to pace myself, not being a huge fan of crowds and all.
Old San Antonio here sounds like a term of endearment but refers to the old part of San Antonio located at the heart of the city, a village's worth of narrow streets of stone houses on the bank of the San Antonio river, just a short walk from Mission San Antonio de Valero, the building historically known as the Alamo. It's not quite the sort of thing you expect to find in America, or at least it wasn't quite the sort of thing I expected to find in America because it looks too old for something built by people who weren't native; but then I'm forgetting that we used to be Mexico.
A Night in Old San Antonio is actually four nights and mostly seems to be about drinking until you can't stand whilst stuffing your face. This is probably why I've left it until last as I've never really regarded either pursuit as a justifiable end in itself, at least not to the extent which is apparently customary for the festival.
We drive into the centre of town, myself and my wife, pay much more than normal to park, and then queue for admission to a section of the city into which we would simply be able to wander at any other time of year. It's all been corralled off, the old town, turned into a fairground with the majority emphasis on drinking until you can't stand whilst stuffing your face. We queue for about fifteen minutes and then the gates open. We already have tickets so we get wristbands advertising the fact. Most of the old houses are stores and their associated workshops during the day, mostly artisan stuff, people making things for tourists, but generally quite nice things, I suppose. We don't really have any equivalent of the plastic bobby's helmet so far as I'm aware. Most of the old buildings are closed up now because it's early evening, excepting those serving as either eating or drinking places. One road is lined with small scale fairground stuff, stalls in which you throw things in order to win underwhelming prizes, but otherwise it's food and booze.
We enter a Germanic tent, acknowledging the significant Texan presence of settlers from old Deutschland. There is an oompah band, and men in lederhosen and frauleins drinking from biersteins until they can't stand whilst stuffing their faces with bratwurst and schnitzel and all of that good stuff. We have something to eat and sit for a short while, pacing ourselves - basically saving room for tacos.
We rejoin the crowds and shuffle along the narrow streets, eventually finding ourselves in a sort of Gaelic appendix, a few stone steps off the main track leading down to the river where three verdantly attired persons play Irish music, one of them banging a spoon against a bodhran. Everyone wears green and clover-based imagery is in abundance. They're drinking the Guiness, in all in all in all, until they can't stand whilst stuffing their faces with potatoes, so they are. I'm beginning to feel uncomfortable because I know actual Irish people and I feel like I've stumbled into the equivalent of the Black and White Minstrel Show.
We're quite near some Irish-themed pub. I can't remember what the place is called but it's surely only a little way further along the riverwalk. There's a menu outside from which my wife and myself read out the names of self-consciously Irish sounding drinks to each other until the prospect of a refreshing pint of Black & Tan stunned me into silence. I knew the term only as the nickname of the notoriously brutal Royal Irish Constabulary Special Reserve, which is probably through my having had grandparents of vaguely Northern Irish heritage. I never realised that the Black & Tan was also an unrelated drink, so it initially struck me as kind of stupid and tasteless, like something with which you would wash down that delicious Sinn Féin pizza with a side of H-Block fries; and a top o' the mornin' to you too, pardner.
Having had our fill of the Emerald Isle, we visit one of the few shops which is still open. The place is run by Marisol Deluna, a friend of my wife. Marisol designs textiles, makes clothes, and is apparently quite a big deal in her field. I can see why, because the clothes and the fabrics look classy even to me; but the woman herself is in New York right now so we don't get to see her.
We wander further, and I have a drink to pass the time, which isn't so enjoyable as it should be. Drinking at events such as this tends to be more enjoyable if you're already drunk, in my experience. We watch people drinking until they can't stand whilst stuffing their faces. We have some tacos filled with beef cooked right there before us on massive grills big enough to accommodate several humans should the need arise, although thankfully it doesn't. The air is full of smoke, which is not unusual for San Antonio, and there is a live band playing in a sort of courtyard. They're very energetic, but unfortunately they're playing hits from Grease, Beatles numbers and that sort of thing. The crowd seem to like it, and I suppose the band are good at what they do.
The taco is stuffed with peppers and onions and I have to tip my head backwards to form a chute in order to eat it, which isn't very dignified but I don't suppose it matters. Three little girls are performing Call Me Maybe by Katy Perry at a karaoke booth on the corner of the street lined with all the fairground attractions. We watch them for a minute mainly because they're obviously having serious fun singing the song, and will remember this moment for a long time to come; and it's better than watching persons even older and fatter than I am singing You're the One That I Want. Then Bess throws a few foam balls at wooden boards in which holes have been cut, failing to win any of the prizes on offer; and we go home because we've already covered the ground twice and feel we've had all the fun there is to be had.
A couple of mornings later we watch the Pooch Parade, a less formal Fiesta event held in the suburbs. Everyone with a dog comes along and walks a set route for a couple of hours, and about half of the dogs are dressed as Batman, or Barack Obama, or some other public figure. This is the fourth Pooch Parade we've attended in the same number of years, and it's always fun. My personal favourite is the sausage dog who usuallys comes as the Red Baron in a scarf and occasionally with flying goggles, pulled along in a cart customised so as to resemble a blood red German triplane of the 1920s; but for some reason he's not here this year.
Maybe next time.