SAN ANTONIO -- "Every true Texan has two prides: his hometown and the Alamo," famously remarked J. Frank Dobie, a former journalist, folklorist and rancher.
I agree. My pilgrimages to the Alamo began as a teenager when my grandfather first took me to the storied mission. I was appropriately awed at being in the spot where 189 defenders took their last stand against a Mexican army of several thousand. They held out for 13 days, resulting in everlasting glory and the birth of a nation (yes, Texas was a nation before it was a state.)
Over the years, I have returned to the Alamo many times, most recently this past April while I was in town for Fiesta San Antonio. The tiny mission (one of five in the city) will always be sacred ground to me.
The Fiesta and the Alamo are forever intertwined as one of the former's premier attractions -- the Battle of Flowers Parade -- began in 1891 to honor the heroes of Texas independence at Goliad, San Jacinto and of course, the Alamo. Since the parade passes right in front of Alamo Plaza, many of the colorful floats pause for the laying of flowers at the Cenotaph. Seeing float riders hop off with bouquets of yellow roses in hand has been known to cause even non-Texans to tear up.
Don't worry -- all is not high drama in this parade which has evolved into one of the largest in the country (this year's had 45 floats and 26 marching bands.) There is humor as well. Many of the floats feature princesses decked out in elaborate beaded gowns depicting everything from the Texas flag to the flora and fauna of the state.
Elaborate they may be, but the gowns aren't the clothing item most paradegoers want to see. Chants of "show us your ... boots" echo through the crowd, with the young ladies obligingly raising their voluminous skirts to show off equally elaborate footwear.
The Battle of Flowers Parade is a highlight, but over the festival's 10-day run, activities range from a mariachi Mass at San Fernando Cathedral to art fairs and musical performances to boat parades on the San Antonio River and celebrations in the city's La Villita (Little Village.)
The largest of the La Villita celebrations is "A Night in Old San Antonio (NIOSA)," a four-night party honoring the diverse cultures that shaped the city.
From Froggy Bottom to Frontier Town, Irish Flats to Sauerkraut Bend, the 15 culturally themed areas take over parts of La Villita. They offer food and entertainment from not only South of the Border, but from unexpected places such as China, the Canary Islands, Germany and the Czech Republic, all of which had an impact on the city.
Helpful hint: Be sure to wear comfortable shoes as there is a lot of ground to cover, and loose-fitting clothing as it will probably be hot. Ear plugs might come in handy as well since music ranging from Irish folk ballads and Spanish guitars to German oompah bands and country/western groups reverberates throughout La Villita (loudly, I might add.) Still, if the large crowds are any indication, NIOSA is a must during Fiesta.