It is Fiesta week here and according to the San Antonio Express, more than 3 million people have come to the city to celebrate.
The first Fiesta parade was held in the late 1800s, to honour the heroes of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto; groups of women decorated horse-drawn carriages which they paraded in front of the Alamo whilst pelting each other with flower blossoms. The (later) Battle of San Jacinto spelled the defeat of the Mexican army, freeing Texas to become a sovereign country. It remained so for ten years, before joining the United States. One is reminded of this brief period of independence by recent bizarre calls to secede from local Republicans, unhappy at the presidential election result.
The opening day of Fiesta still takes place before the Alamo and Mattie recalled that last year we had only been in the US a week or so at the time. When I look back to those somewhat disorienting early days of our emigration, I remember Mike and I filling in forms and taking Mattie to get jabs before she started her new school, as well as searching for a new home. This year, things have been a lot less frenetic during Fiesta week and Mattie and I attended a ‘Night in Old San Antonio’, held at La Villita, a small historic village situated on the riverwalk in downtown San Antonio. La Villita was once home to native Americans, Spanish colonialists and then Mexicans and this annual event highlights the impact of various cultures on San Antonio and Texas.
The little Czech town of West that was partially destroyed last week because of an explosion at a fertiliser plant was already well known in Texas for its bakeries, and particularly kolaches – Czech pastries filled with fruit, meat or sometimes vegetables. Mike reminded me that on Mattie’s and my first visit to Texas back in 2005, we stopped at one of these bakeries, ‘The Czech Stop’, and I recall Mike buying several fruit kolaches for us at the time. I was pleased, on glimpsing a local newspaper in Starbucks the other day, that ‘The Czech Stop’ had not been damaged in the explosion; in fact it remained open throughout the night serving pastries and acting as a shelter. (Articles like these would have been on the front page of national newspapers if not for the other horrific event last week, in Boston.)
Apart from the word ‘kolache’ the Czech language has had little impact here, unlike Spanish – San Antonio is fully a bilingual town. Though it struck me the other day that Mattie and I have more than one language to learn now: I had asked for an ice lolly in a shop downtown, only to receive a blank look from the Hispanic lady on the opposite side of the counter. So I pointed to the fridge. ‘Ah, you want a paleta,’ she grinned at me. ‘What do Americans call them?’ I then asked. ‘Popsicles,’ she smiled.
Mattie speaks another language of sorts, too, at school. I recently gleaned that one doesn’t say, ‘What’s Up?’ now, but simply ‘Sup?’ ‘So what do you say back?’ I asked her. ‘I just toss my head and point upwards,’ she grinned. Once, when she announced a high mark in some school tests, I, in the spirit of things, announced, ‘I think that deserves a High Five!’ But Mattie looked at me over her glasses and said, ‘Mum, I think we need to talk about limits.’