Gotta Have Heart

You Gotta Have Heart!

Ah, yes – Fiesta Time is here once again; San Antonio’s very own Mardi Gras but with more couth. Or at least we like to think so. Around here, when the floats with the Fiesta female nobility pass, the crowd shouts, “Show us your shoes!” and not anything more revealing than that. Of all the scheduled events during a nearly-two-week-long city-wide block party, one of the most well-attended (to judge by the crowds every evening) is NIOSA, or Night In Old San Antonio, which features every kind of food booth imaginable in the little squares and streets of La Villita. One of the long-time favorites of NIOSA is a South American version of meat-onna-stick called ‘antichucios’, which a long-ago volunteer discovered while on an assignment in South America.

The recipe that I found calls for a marinade made by whirling 4 chopped jalapeno peppers in a blender with a little water and adding the resulting pepper slurry to 1 ½ cups red wine vinegar, 1 cup water, 1 tsp each cumin, paprika, and oregano with 2 tsp salt, ½ tsp black pepper, and a couple of crushed garlic cloves. Cut one large beef tenderloin or sirloin or top round into 1-inch cubes and marinate in the pepper/vinegar spice concoction overnight. Thread onto skewers and roast over hot coals, basting with marinade. The original version called for beef hearts – which since they are a muscle – are rather tough and need a powerful marinade. Otherwise – it’s like chewing steak-flavored rubber bands.

And I know this because – back in the day, when my parents were raising four children on a single salary, my mother joined a food co-op which offered serious bang for the food dollar. One of those bargains was beef hearts. Mom would bake it, thinly slivered in a casserole with rice, and my father would inevitably break out in song – from the musical Damn Yankees:

Damn Yankees

“You’ve gotta have heart
Miles ‘n miles n’ miles of heart
Oh, it’s fine to be a genius of course
But keep that old horse
Before the cart First you’ve gotta have heart!”

The casserole was an oblong enameled cast-iron number and very heavy; they loved each other very much, since Mom never hauled off and brained Dad with it.

Speaking of food, and saving money on it and all – the last couple of weeks of mild weather have done wonderfully for my little patch of back yard paradise. The first embryo tomatoes were spotted this morning, and the plants are simply covered in blossoms. This might be the year that I actually have enough tomatoes to think about canning and preserving them. I followed a suggestion on another blog for making raised beds – a circular construction of chicken wire, lined with weed barrier, and filled to within ten inches of the top with leaves, which gently compost as you grow stuff in the top ten inches or so of soil. It’s working pretty well so far – even better than topsy-turvey hanging planters. The raised bed full of potatoes is also thriving, and the pole beans are launching themselves up the poles with energy and enthusiasm. What a difference just over two weeks!

Oh – and if the thought of downtown Fiesta traffic gives you the willies – check out the Running of the Wiener-Dogs in Buda. This year’s poster is a wee bit of a change from the usual movie-theme. This year it’s a TV show: Yes, it’s Dog Dynasty…

San Antonio Book Festival

In the Shade of the Big Enchilada

By Celia Hayes

Well, that is the fond nickname given to the Central Library building in downtown San Antonio – a hulking cube with geometric cut-outs, painted in a shade of dark orange which always reminded me of paprika. This last weekend, the Central Library and the campus of the Southwest School for Art and Craft across the street from it was the site for the second annual San Antonio Book Festival. This is the kind of book bash which is a small brother of the Texas Book Festival, which is huge, as far as local writers are concerned. Alas, the Texas Book Festival is so huge, that I couldn’t even begin to afford an exhibitor table there, either as a writer for my own books, or as the owner of Watercress Press and for the benefit of the authors that we do publish. But I could afford a single table at the San Antonio Book Festival, so off we went, very early Saturday morning, with two tubs of books, a tub of table accoutrements, some nicely-printed flyers enlarging on what Watercress Press could do for you, and a tall standing vase filled with origami flowers and leaves which had the company name and website printed on the origami leaves.

by Celia HayesThe rows of exhibitor tables were already set up in the parking lot of the Southwest School – three or four rows of neat white pop-up canopies, and white-topped tables with blue skirts, each neatly numbered and the exhibitor’s name in larger letters. We were supposed to have help from volunteers in orange tee-shirts standing by, ready to assist, but the ones which we saw on the way in seemed mostly uncertain of what they should be doing for us; in any case, what materiel we had could be easily moved on the folding dolly. I wound up dragging it all myself, and locating our table; easily enough, since I had been sent a map of the exhibitor layout.
It was overcast the entire day, and early on there was an occasional gust of breeze which sent flyers and business cards and other papers all over the place. If the sun had come out, it might have been quite pleasant – but in any case, it was better than our last outdoor venue – Christmas on the Square at Goliad, this last December, which event was utterly wrecked by bitter cold. Perhaps there would have been more foot traffic through the exhibitor area, but I can’t complain.

Of the three Watercress authors who took a stint at the table, the first was pleased because he sold two books, the second because we made contact with a woman collecting author information with an eye to setting up events on base at Randolph AFB, and the third because I sent her over to speak to the people in the Texas Association of Authors booth. That is a relatively new Austin-based group for independently-published Texas authors. I have met some of the members before, and better yet, thumbed through their books. Better yet, I had even bought one of them, a reference book on early Austin history. They are set up to do events with an organization table, with all of their members’ books – including the aforementioned Texas Book Festival, which happens every year in late October, on the grounds of the state capitol building in Austin. That basis alone would be an excellent reason for joining them.

Home again, at the end of a long day, exhausted and ready for a glass or two of wine, a frozen pizza baking in the oven and an episode or two of the old TV series Upstairs, Downstairs. And that was my weekend – yours?

Renaissance Fair

Ren Faire

by Celia Hayes

I’ve always thought there was a need in these mostly settled American late 20th century time for people to dress up and be something else for a while. There are local hard-core historical reenactors who do get very, very deep into this, in part to educate people generally about specific events and times in American history. Then there is the Society for Creative Anachronism, where lurk those folks who do more of the European medieval thing, with jousting and swordfights and all that. And the science fiction conventions, where fans of particular movies and TV shows costume for the duration, and take it all very seriously. My daughter and I had a friend through the Salt Lake City con who routinely dressed as a Klingon. One year he came as a Star Fleet officer, and we didn’t recognize him at all, until he spoke – he had a strong Scots accent. But then there are those who just get into it for fun at a Renaissance fair, where the costumes and gear are required for performers and vendors, and optional for the rest of us.

I only did the full Tudor/Elizabethan costume once – when Mom took us to the original and founding Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Southern California, sometime in the late 1960s. Which was held at that time in a dusty and live-oak grown park in Agoura, a place which so little looked like England that it may as well have been a tropical island in the South Pacific. By which I mean, it didn’t much look like England at all. But the enthusiasts set up booths and pavilions and tents, and there were jesters and jugglers and Queen Elizabeth’s court, all in heavy brocade and velvet costumes, and vendors selling whole roasted turkey legs, and pastries made with whole wheat flour – which tasted pretty much like cardboard. Banners flew in the clear California summer air, there was heraldry everywhere, and some kind of Rennaissance-ish costume was encouraged.

I made costumes for my younger sister and myself. Mom had sacrificed a couple of tablecloths, a sheet or two, and I had bought a couple of packets of RIT dye – my usual raw materials when it came to costumes – and a large roll of gold fabric upholstery braid bought from a small upholstery shop on Foothill Boulevard which was going out of business. Their bad fortune, but my good, for I paid only a couple of dollars for the roll of braid, and it was enough to lavishly trim a pair of Tudor-style gowns – with matching French hoods. I think I drew up the patterns by eye from a costume book, inspired by having watched The Six Wives of Henry VIII on the local public channel. We brought our costumes and changed in the ladies’ lavatory … and then sweltered for the rest of the day. I can only imagine how the performers in heavier costumes with the required underpinnings of corsets, bum-rolls and multiple petticoats suffered in the heat, all day and every day.

This weekend, though – we’re getting back into a little of that, with the Lost in Wonderland event – a tribute to Tim Burton movies, by the look of their Facebook page, but it looks like a gathering for the same kind of fans of the SCA, Ren-Faire and cons. And next month – there will be a local Ren Faire at St. Francis Episcopal Church. There is a discount for coming in costume, but my daughter absolutely refuses to play.

Quarry Farmers and Ranchers Market

The Quarry Farmers and Ranchers Market

by Celia Hayes

It’s one of my habits – established when we lived in Athens in the early 1980s – going to the local street or farmer’s market. It was the custom of the country that every neighborhood had a day of the week, when a three or four-block length of one of the main streets in the suburb would be blocked off, and the local vendors and farmers would set up two rows of booths and sell to the community, beginning just before dawn and continuing through midday. It was usually seasonal fruits and vegetables, and each little booth pretty much specialized in one item – lemons, or artichokes on long stalks, or potatoes with patches of the damp soil they had been grown in still clinging to them. There was an egg-vendor, who sold the eggs in cones made up of newspaper, and a storekeeper with a larger trailer who had a variety of dried beans and macaroni, and often a crate of live snails, rustling and clicking their shells together. All was absolutely fresh, straight from the farm and cheaper than cheap.

I’ve always hoped that our farmer’s markets here could duplicate that experience; and the goods are fresh and straight from the farm, but alas, not as inexpensive as they were in Greece. The farmer’s markets here do have their advantages though; the one held every Sunday morning save Easter in the parking lot of the Quarry Market is a perfect example; as half the venders seem to do the traditional fruits and vegetables, the other half a wide assortment of prepared gourmet foods. [Curious though, I didn’t find the Quarry Market on the GoTexan Farmers Market list. (They probably should be listed.)] Cheese and chocolates and pies, oh, my! Imagine a pie made with fruit or nuts from Nanette Watson’s Frio Farm, with their own eggs, butter churned by Nanette herself, and with her very own home-brewed flavoring extracts. That is a piece of pie that it is a delight to savor.

We cruised the two rows of booths – threatened rain didn’t seem to hamper turnout at all, though there were some vendors on the Quarry Market Farmer’s Market list who didn’t seem to be there because of it. Most everyone had samples on offer – and scrumptious they were. La Panadaria’s chocolate bread was absolutely scrumptious, and the chocolate samples from High Street Chocolate were out of this world. Peggy at High Street (she lives in Comfort, of course) is adventurous with flavoring, too – she has one flavor of chocolate, called Spicy Aztec which features … well, red pepper, among others. That is a chocolate with an interesting burn, which sneaks up on you. My favorite is a thin expresso-flavored chocolate, which I believe would be absolutely divine as the chocolate element in gourmet chocolate-chip ice cream … and if Peggy could work with Nanette at Frio Farm, and combine home-made ice-cream from Frio Farm’s eggs, cream and vanilla … I believe they would have something which would make Ben and Jerry’s finest taste like something from Tasty-Freeze.

The final booth that we visited was – I think – the Lemonade Company, purveyors of fresh-squeezed lemonade and orange juice. The scent of the oranges teased me from three booths away. There is nothing so evocative to someone who grew up in Southern California as the scent of fresh oranges and lemons – and the sublime flavor of the juice freshly squeezed. Nothing like it in the world, and it has spoiled me ever since for supermarket orange juice. And that was my Sunday morning – yours?

Making the Art Scene in San Antonio

The Art Scene

by Celia Hayes

So, contra the belief that the wild and crazy art scene is all in Austin, and there is nothing much in San Antonio save the military bases, medical centers and the Alamo … there is an art scene, and I have pictorial proof, now that my daughter is becoming interested in it. And more than just interested – it’s a matter of professional involvement.

To backtrack a little; my daughter and Edith, her best friend from high school (St. Francis Academy, Class of 1998) having despaired of ever finding full-time, well-paid and remunerative employment doing something rewarding – or at least, something they do not hate – have decided to go into business together. Edith is an artist in pastels, and quite gifted. My daughter is madly creative with origami, the art of folding paper into astonishing and ornamental shapes – including tiny crane and tulip earrings – and all sorts of other charming ephemera. As I told Edith, when she was worrying about being seen as a sell-out by trying to make a living from her painting, there is a word for someone with a gift who just plays around with it and never tries to get back expenses. That word is ‘hobbyist.’ And someone who creates art, shares it with the world at a fair market value – whatever that value might be – the word for that person is ‘professional.’ I wouldn’t want to see her go as far into monetizing and mass-producing her paintings like Thomas Kinkade The Painter of Light ™ did – but the guy did manage to make a very good living from it, and I wouldn’t mind seeing my daughter and Edith meeting a market demand.

So, I have urged them both to try and start making a living doing what they love to do; starting small, of course – working the website (Pastel Junque) and various local art shows and events. Edith does have a following already; she was much more deeply involved in the local art scene … but I think her involvement was more like wading knee-deep in it. Now their joint venture is making a concerted effort to plunge into the deep end; to make more appearances at craft shows and art events with an eye to being where the customers are. They had their first roll-out a couple of Saturdays ago at Renewable Republic on St. Mary’s Street, downtown. Besides being a provider of solar panels, insulation and general green services to homeowners, they also have a garden and party venue out in back … along with a yurt. It was boiling hot, and threatening thunderstorms later on, and they didn’t actually sell all that much in the way of trinkets, prints and paintings – but it’s just the first step.

They hope to be included in the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center’s Hecho A Mano/Made by Hand this fall, and to have a vendor table at couple of local Christmas markets in November and December. In the mean time, they’ll be at various First Friday events in Southtown, and Second Friday at Tobin Hill … and who knows? They just might be as popular as Thomas Kinkade.

Hauptstrasse Quiltfest in Boerne

The Allure of the Quilt

by Celia Hayes

Once again this last weekend, we were lured to the pleasant bedroom-slipper community of Boerne by the charms of the Squirrel’s Nest on Main Street, which supports the totally worthy services provided by Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation to animal-kind of this part of Texas. This visit also coincided with the celebration of a uniquely American art form – with contemporary examples hung from storefronts, and along the sides of Boerne’s town plaza. They made a splendid show, all through downtown, and many of the businesses along Main Street (or Hauptstrasse) also had window displays incorporating quilts – and many of them were offering drinks … although we had to turn down the offers of margaritas at one otherwise inviting establishment. Were they non-alcoholic? My daughter doesn’t drink, and although I do, 1:30 in the afternoon is just to darned early. There was a lemonade stand in front of one place though. Perhaps we should have gone back…

Anyway; quilts – an essentially American fabric art form, which pretty much runs the gamut from the brutally practical to the over-the-top artistic. Many examples of the latter were on display this weekend; lovingly designed and carefully calculated to draw the eye and to show off the design skills and the artistic eye of the person who made them. (Almost always a woman in the case of modern examples, and totally in the case of historical ones.) There are three different strands in quilt design, by the way, although very often they can be combined within a single quilt. There are quilts that are patched or pieced, in that scraps of fabric are sewn together to form plain or intricate geometric patterns. Then there is the use of an applique, where the design is cut out and appliqued to the fabric of the quilt top itself – and finally, there is white-work quilting, which is used on a length of plain fabric and depends on an elaborate pattern of stitching for the effect.

Historically a theme for the quilt was chose, pattern and color was selected from material either purchased or thriftily using scraps left over from making clothing. Then the quilt top pieces were cut, seamed together, and combined through various means with a padding and a backing to provide a reasonably warm and practicable bed-covering. All clear about the concept here? Things to cover a bed with, to keep people warm with on nights which might be cold, things which were often made on the cheap, utilizing scraps of woven fabrics, flour and seed sacks, and sewn together by women who didn’t have much free time… and such bedcovers were practical things which might on occasion be thrown up upon, or have other stains from bodily functions deposited on them … (urp).

Among some historic quilts shown off in the town plaza were a number made between 1920 to 1950 or so by the grandmother of the collector who had rescued them from storage in the old family farmhouse in Kentucky. Most were patchwork, in the simpler patterns and random fabric scraps, but one was particularly eye-catching, pieced together from pink and greenish-aqua cotton fabric in an interlocking pattern of rings. That had obviously been made from deliberately purchased fabric; and very likely intended to be a show-piece, for the best guest bedroom, perhaps. Two of the quilts were interesting in that they had been pieced together from rectangular patches of light-weight woolen men’s suiting. It seems that they had come from fabric sample books, and when the company catalog was updated, the seamstress had thriftily pieced together the outdated fabric samples. It made a very heavy quilt, in simple rectangles of muted shades of grey, brown, navy, and olive; not much to look at, designwise, but I’ll bet anything that quilt would have been warm to sleep under on a cold winter night.

HemisFair Park in the Heart of San Antonio

HemisFair Park

by Celia Hayes

HemisFair Park, in the heart of downtown San Antonio is a bit of an anomaly as far as San Antonio parks go. It’s fifteen acres stretches from the entrance to La Villita on South Alamo, all the way to the Institute of Texan Cultures, roughly bounded on one side by the convention center, and on the other by Durango Street – now renamed Cesar Chavez, although many maps still say ‘Durango.’ HemisFair Park was not a patch of farmland or open scrub left undeveloped, (Hardburger, Comanche Hill, or McAllister) or a particularly scenic piece of property designated as parkland from the earliest days, (San Pedro, Breckenridge) or even neighborhood amenity, (Woodlawn) or even stretches along various creeks left undeveloped because of the danger of flooding. HemisFair Park was deliberately carved out from an existing residential neighborhood to serve as the venue for the 1968 World’s Fair.

Some of the urban neighborhood thus renewed was undoubtedly blighted, but a fair portion of it was not. Over a hundred buildings threatened with demolition were of some significance, either architecturally or historically and a portion of them were retained within the park bounds. Some of them seem now to be in use as office space, but others are boarded up on the ground floor – which is a pity, since they are all clustered at the La Villita end of the park, and might make some rather nice studio, retail and exhibition spaces. There is a multi-faceted plan afoot to renew and restructure the various areas of the park – to include using the the half-dozen historic mansions for just that, so here’s hoping it won’t take too many decades longer. Part of the plan also includes re-establishing part of the original street grid, to tie in HemisFair to the Southtown, and Lavaca neighborhoods on one side, and to LaVillita and downtown San Antonio on the other.

A few of the exhibition spaces built for the Fair are still in daily use although perhaps for other than the original purpose – like the Lila Cockrell Theater and large parts of the convention center. The Institute of Texan Cultures was originally the State of Texas pavilion for the fair, and the round US District Court building was the United States of America pavilion – and the Mexican Cultural Institute is presently housed in the original, but expanded and renovated Mexico Pavilion. Others, like the Women’s Pavilion are still there – but closed, pending restoration, or as support offices. One of the most eye-catching structures created for HemisFair is the “Tower of the Americas’ – still about the tallest man-made building in San Antonio. Everyone should go up to the observation deck at least once, for nothing other than to admire the peerless view in every direction. It’s also a very useful landmark for navigating around the city. The remaining grounds were re-landscaped with gardens, walkways and water-features in the mid-1980s … but pretty much everyone acknowledges that unless there is some special event going on at the park, not many people are drawn to it – especially at night. In many ways, HemisFair Park is still a work in progress.

HemisFair, although attracting a lot of attention and very well attended, unfortunately fell very short of breaking even. The fair also took a hit when it opened – two days after the assassination of Martin Luther King. Attendance never came close to matching estimates, and the Fair eventually lost over 7 million. Some of the local construction firms were owed substantial amounts by organizers; according to legend, they were paid with blocks of tickets – which they went out and sold on the street, recouping just enough from ticket sales to pay their suppliers and workers.

Texas Gifts

The Gifts of Texas Are Upon You

by Celia Hayes

It is that time of year again, isn’t it? It’s that happy season when custom commands that gifts large and small, yet always carefully and tastefully chosen, are bestowed upon spouses, children, families, kinfolk, co-workers, neighbors and sometimes even relative strangers. It doesn’t matter much that it’s Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanzaa; custom commands that suitable gifts be exchanged at this time of the year – and in fact, the relative health of our national economy often depends upon lively retail sales during the last fiscal quarter of the year. Coincidentally, I most always have good sales of the printed editions of my books during this time, although that may just happen because I bestir myself to go and participate in seasonal craft fairs then.

This is also the very best time to go out searching for Texas-themed gifts – that kind of gift that is completely and totally uniquely Texas. I mean, I have never in any of the other states I have lived in or visited, seen cake pans or blocks of cheddar cheese shaped like the state itself, or – with the possible exception of Hawaii – seen the state flag and/or map featured in such a wide array of garments.

And if one went for Texas-themed and Texas manufactured foodstuffs of an easily-transportable nature, the sky is the limit. There are so many small local gourmet firms manufacturing pickles, jams and chutneys, salsa, olive oil, BBQ and pasta sauces, herbs and spice mixtures … not to mention smoked and cured meats and sausages, and the output of Texas vineyards … that I firmly believe you could live entirely off the output of them year round. I believe about the only haute-gourmet foods not being produced locally would be Strasbourg-style goose-liver pate and true Russian caviar … and I would not be in the least surprised to find out that some ambitious and more than usually ambitious Texas capitalist is having a go at those, too. These enterprises have a happy knack of going large, too. Once upon a time, when we were newly-arrived in San Antonio, the only place where we could find Fisher & Weiser sauces and jams was a couple of outlets in Fredericksburg – and now they are in HEB stores everywhere, and even – miracle of miracles – available through Amazon.

This year, we are going to do good gifts for our neighbors again; last year, it was flavored olive oil and herb vinegar, with a little round of home-made cheese and a small baguette of home-baked bread. This year, it’s going to be a selection of home-made preserves, especially the ones that we made as a cheaper and healthier alternative … and then discovered that, wow, they were really good: A jar of mixed vegetable pickles, or okra pickles, packed in with spiced pineapple spears, and a small jar of either strawberry or fig jam. The jars will be packed into small craft-paper shopping bags, and padded with red and white gingham pattered tissue paper – something simple, tasteful and inexpensive. It’s always good to get back to basics – and something edible is always welcome.

Hill Country Road Trip

Road Trip: Fredericksburg by Bulverde, Sisterdale and Luckenbach

by Celia Hayes

Some time ago, my daughter and I discovered the back road route from our North-East San Antonio home, to Boerne; basically, going up 281 to Route 46 and then west to Boerne. This last weekend, we went a step farther, by going north up Bulverde Road and bypassing the horrendous 1604-281 nexus entirely. Really, as they get closer and closer to completing the interchange, traffic just gets worse and worse. And once we got to Boerne, we decided to take Ranch Road 1376, or the Sisterdale Road north to the Pedernales Valley – this turned out to be a fantastic way to get to Fredericksburg; scenic, little traffic and just about as rapidly as by the highway … except for being tempted to stop at so many interesting places – even if it were only to take some pictures.

The first of these temptations was just outside old Bulverde, proper; a charming Victorian cottage painted in bright yellow with aqua-blue trim and shutters, with a low stone wall in front, and some old stone buildings behind. It’s actually the remains of the old Pieper homestead. Behind the cottage is a the original stone farmhouse, which has barely held on to it’s original shake roof, and the stone barn beyond it, which has not. The current owners are in the midst of restoring the Pieper house, which when first built was the largest stone house around. The house and barn, and the backyard – shaded by an immense oak tree – is currently being used as an event venue and the pretty cottage is a bed and breakfast. We pulled in to take some more pictures – and wound up getting a tour of the whole place. I only wish that I had enough money from my books to buy a place like it; it’s spectacular in a low-key kind of way.

On to Boerne – with a pit-stop at the Squirrel’s Nest for my daughter’s weekly thrift-shop fix – and into the Hill Country by way of Sisterdale. Sisterdale was one of the original German settlements founded by the Adelsverein pioneers – one of whom was the Baron Westphal, Karl Marx’s brother-in law. Today Sisterdale is a little string of a hamlet spread out for several blocks along the road, and distinguished by Sister Creek Vinyards, housed in an old cotton gin building, and the Sisterdale Dance Hall and event center. My daughter was more interested in the swap meet going on next to the Sisterdale Market … and I was interested in the market because it was housed in one of those old 1920’s era peak-roofed cottages, with bead-board paneling throughout – and it actually seemed to be a very complete and efficient little one-stop grocery. So – discouraged my daughter from making a bid for either of their two shop cats – and on up the road.

Luckenbach is the next hamlet of any distinction, mostly because of Willie and Waylon and the boys. Besides the dance hall and concert venue – another destination in itself, the Armadillo Farm campground sprawls alongside the road. It seemed pretty crowded this last Saturday, although since it was a long weekend, I should not have been surprised. We were tempted to stop in at Uptown Luckenbach, mostly so I could take a picture of the towering old factory building – mostly gone to rust, but still spectacular. There was also a souvenir shop on the grounds, but a hand-painted sign noted that sometimes it was a self-help arrangement. That afternoon was one of those times.

We did eventually get to Fredericksburg – but that is another story.

For all your San Antonio Real Estate needs, call Team Randy Watson of Mission Realty at 210-319-4960

Guten Tag – Oktoberfest and Wurstfest

Guten Tag, Y’All – This is Texas!

by Celia Hayes

When I first came to Texas, at the express request of the US Air Force some (mumble) seventeen (mumble) years ago I thought I knew all there was to know about the place: the Alamo of course, and the Riverwalk, too. I knew that Houston had a Grand Opera, that Lubbock was a flat as a pancake griddle with some Monopoly houses set on it, I had read Edna Ferber’s Giant, and I knew about cattle drives and the King Ranch, and that Texas was called the buckle of the Bible Belt … I knew pretty much what any well-read traveler could pick up through the medium of pop culture and the base library.

What I did not know, until well after I got here and began to look around – was how very much more there was. Like all those other ethnic and cultural groups who came to Texas and make their mark – of which the Germans were the largest and most distinctive part. Who knew that Gillespie, Kendall, Comal and Kerr Counties had been almost exclusively German-speaking since before the Civil War and well up into the twentieth century. Now I do know – having spent the last few years researching and writing about that fascinating anomaly, as well as partaking in a good few of those local and particularly German celebrations. Right now we are coming up on Oktoberfest, as celebrated here in Texas. The original and still-ongoing Munich Oktoberfest began in the first decade of the 19th century, as celebration of the marriage of King Ludwig (then Crown Prince) of Bavaria to suitably Germanic princess, to which the general public was invited to attend. Once in the mood to celebrate, everyone was keen on keeping it on, and so it metamorphosed into agricultural fair – since this would be about the time that the yearly harvest was completed – a horse race, a parade … and all sorts of other things, to include beer, music, and partying.

So, it’s an honorable tradition, now having been celebrated for two centuries, almost without interruption, and those parts of Texas settled by Germans have taken to celebrating also, with suds, wurst, gusto and enthusiasm. No, really – you may see more funny hats at these bashes than you would have ever thought possible. In the main, they are local festivals, where outside enthusiasts are warmly welcomed; just as everyone is Irish for St. Patrick’s Day everyone is German for Oktoberfest – or in the case of New Braunfels, Wurstfest.

The most conveniently located Oktoberfest is in San Antonio, on the verge of Southtown, at the sprawling venue and gardens owned by the the Beethoven Maennerchor. One of the other big enthusiasms brought to Germany by German settlers was an appreciation for music, specifically choir-singing. The Beethoven Maennerchor Oktoberfest organization has a lovely outdoor terrace, where the revelry will continue for two nights; Friday and Saturday, October 5th and 6th – and Friday is coincidental with First Friday in Southtown.

Fredericksburg Oktoberfest, a short hour’s drive north in the Hill Country also has theirs, beginning on Friday, October 5th, but it continues through Sunday, on Marketplatz, in the heart of downtown Fredericksburg. This year, organizers plan for a mass performance of the chicken dance on Main Street, among other entertainments and diversions.

And finally – ever the non-conformists, New Braunfels’ big autumn German bash celebrates for sausage and beer rather than beer and then sausage … Wurstfest New Braunfels takes place later than everyone elses’, starting on the Friday before the first Monday in November; this year it all kicks off on November 2nd, at the permanent venue in Landa Park. So, get out the lederhosen or the dirndl, put on those cowboy boots, and get ready to party this month — German-style, in the heart of Texas.