Saturday, May 2, 2009


Charreadas are Mexican Rodeos. A "Charro" is a cowboy.

We were mesmerized watching one of these here in San Antonio.

The same day, we'd been to see the regular Stock Show & Rodeo - bull riding and mutton bustin' event, complete with a fantastic lighting show, the riders in shining, neon chaps with fringe and a professional emcee over a sound system.

By contrast, this was more like a very large family picnic. It was outdoors at a small arena, had a laid-back vibe, yet some of the events were pretty dangerous. I thought the traditional garb was cool. Big, embroidered bowties, specially decorated sombreros with contrasting stitching, girls with huge, bright, full skirts with colored stripes spread across the horses' backs.

There was a large speaker propped up on the bleachers, playing "Viva Zapata!" type music the whole time.

It seemed to be such a family affair. I think most people were there to compete in an event themselves, or to watch family members.

I saw one man ride his horse over to the snack bar, eat his nachos while sitting there in the saddle, and then drop the trash into a can, from up there on high.

We saw the two events listed below.

The following is an excerpt from the San Antonio Charro Association website:

Mangana ... is done on horse and on foot ... [T]he roper on horseback twirls his rope around his horse, springing it over his head at least once, while a wild horse is chased around the arena. As the horse passes, the rider, must catch the front legs. In the second [event], the roper, while standing on the ground, twirls the rope around himself, jumping through and back through the loop as a wild horse is chased around the arena. When the horse is next to him, he catches the front legs.

Paso de Muerte (Pass of death) is the final event. In it, a rider jumps from his galloping horse onto the back of a galloping wild horse and rides until it stops bucking.

Charreada is sometime called the national sport of Mexico, but it is more then that, it is a Tradition. This is because the relationship between men and horses is an integral part of the Mexican psyche, as exhibited in their language. A gentleman is Mexico is called a caballero or horseman.


Wow. I see why it takes two years out to plan all these events ... !

In the ten days, we saw the following:

(Which might not seem like much, but keep in mind that school, work and regular life were still going on the whole time!)

The Battle of Flowers Parade

We ended up buying tickets for Broadway bleacher seats, which is right at the beginning of the parade route. We parked on Cunningham and walked down about 3/4 of a mile. Maybe could've parked a little closer because we got there pretty early (11:45). We had to walk down the east side of the street (which was bad: it was a single file line through standing people, stopped every once in awhile by those trying to set up their foldable chairs, or discuss what to do next - friends took an adjacent street and cut over, which worked much better) and then we had to actually cross Broadway between parade marchers (these were the "Vanguard" - which was military marching units that begin the parade before the floats and things start at 12:30). It being our first year here, I didn't know how crowded it would be (I imagine it varies from year to year; this year there was some rain that morning that might've kept people away). There ended up being quite a few empty chairs along the street that I noticed. Then our section of the bleachers was not crowded. We were able to put our feet up and have plenty of room for our lunch coolers, and a good view up above the street level. The weather turned out to be perfect - overcast and not too hot, with a breeze. The parade was long, but I honestly didn't notice except for my back and legs getting a little cramped. It was not boring! Floats were interspersed with marching bands, alternating with horses and the girls with their gowns. We were right under the overpasses here. Some sections (I think "O" were under the highway and therefore out of the weather). One fun thing about sitting in this area was watching people with those giant floating balloons get them down and underneath. Another thing was that trucks would honk as they zoomed by above us.

The Pooch Parade

Which is also a 5K walk and confusedly listed (for me) as lasting from 8 'til 12 (now I get it). We made our way down to Abiso and Arbutus around 10:15 and they were all walking by. I was fascinated and couldn't take my eyes off all the different doggies. Felt kind of badly for the ones that were dyed pink and blue, but I don't suppose they care! Heck, they're getting a nice walk and time with their owners out of it, plus lots of other friendly people to meet. We saw many of sombreros hanging under furry necks.

The "Coronation"

Not very well-attended by spectators other than those directly involved with the tradition. When the girls came out in their special pose of arms at a certain angle out from their sides with wrists bent, they actually looked like lit-up Christmas trees, the way the stage lights glittered on the dense rhinestones and beads which are attached by hand to three layers of fabric.

Some men wear tuxes and some women wore silk suits to this ceremony. I did however see what certainly must've been a busload of tourists, and one man was no lie, wearing a red hawaiian shirt. There were what seemed like a thousand young people, seating everyone, wearing military dress of navy jackets and white pants, adorned with plenty of gold and ribbons. These were students from the Texas Military Institute, a private school in town.

I was shocked at the deep "bow" that each duchess (24 of them), and the princess and queen execute facing their male escort. It's more of a yoga pose in which they completely collapse to the ground.

The store Julian Gold (on McCullough) has large display windows where they put several gowns and trains after Fiesta, well-lighted so that they glitter and sparkle. Which is nice for getting a closer look. I went to the Witte exhibit of gowns and trains from past years and found it disappointing. There were just a very few examples and they were somewhat crunched into glass cases. Also, Jefferson Bank on Broadway has two trains displayed on their walls for good viewing. They plan to alternate different ones from different years.

The girls and their outfits ride color-coordinated floats that are a big part of the Battle of Flowers parade and I admired their good-natured assummptions of their roles, which really is one of ambassadors of the city. The whole "coronation" tradition is a very big draw for the entire Fiesta event in San Antonio, which of course brings a lot of income to the city. Every few seconds throughout the parade the women are shouted at to, "show your shoes" and they pull up their heavy skirts and wave their feet at the crowds, wearing incongruous footwear instead of the expected high heels - usually cowboy boots of some kind, but I also saw sequin-covered sneakers with ribbon laces.

NIOSA (A Night Out in Old San Antonio)

The theme is, "foods of many lands" meaning to represent all the peoples who settled in this area, and there are sections where you can find escargot and beignets from France, sausage on a stick from Germany, and Mexican condensed-milk dessert bars, plus much more. Booths are decorated with colorful streamers and flags, and participants dress in costumes of some kind. The whole event is a fundraiser for the Conservation Society (preserving historic homes and land in San Antonio). Many people wear big straw sombreros onto which they glue a large assortment of small objects. Some hats had themes, like the Spurs, others looked like people had bought up an aisle's worth of random items at the dollar store, and then set to work with a glue gun. Strangers cracked confetti eggs (cascarones) over each others' heads. Note: I have never before been part of a crowd that moved as one, like an amoeba.

Watched the River Parade on TV

It was a novelty to see floats that were boats. Their riders were a little less active than those on solid ground, seeming to want to keep their feet firmly planted. This parade features the Texas Cavaliers, the men's philanthropic organization that contributes to children's charities and is a driving force behind the coronation tradition.

* The period, red-jacketed "Army Old Guard" Fife & Drum Corps were all over the place during the ten days. I saw them impressively perform at the Coronation, marching down the runway with smooth precision. They were standing in the Arneson Theater for the river parade. They marched through the throng at NIOSA, tweeting expertly. They were in the Battle of Flowers parade.