Contributing Editor Andrew Nelson offers us a metaphor, or perhaps medalphor, for San Antonio's Fiesta...
Wandering San Antonio during Fiesta Week you'll encounter a lot of people whose jackets, baseball caps and sashes are emblazoned with dozens of brightly colored medals making them look like walk-ons from an opera set in a 19th century Spanish military academy.
Medals are to Fiesta what beads are to Mardis Gras - currency, status symbol and collector's items. They are bartered and sold – even auctioned. One on eBay, a 1941 version, is selling for more than $299.
Other people buy them at San Antonio's official Fiesta Store, but I can't seem to figure out where it is.
San Antonian Christa Emrick was doing Fiesta with a good three dozen hanging from her sash.
"Each group will make one," she says pointing to several. "I've got one from a military organization, an AIDS group, and a German group. You can even make your own," she said fingering an elaborate one set with greenish stones. "This is one I did." The San Antonio Express has a great roundup of all the different kinds.
It's one of the niftiest elements of Fiesta in that anyone can make something and join in the fun. Sure, there's a big social scene – I saw one "king" and his "court" of debutantes roll by in a police-escorted motorcade of gas-guzzling Cadillac Escalades. (No one in that kingdom got the memo about going Green, apparently.) Yet the official Fiesta appears much more accessible in its way than, say, the secret krewes of New Orleans with their exclusive balls, open only to a small group of rich families. That may be because San Antonio is optimistic about its future and remains vibrant economically. Dynamic cities tend to steamroll hidebound customs - but something changing as fast as San Antonio has a real need to keep traditions if only as an anchor in times of great change. So when they pin a medal on you at Fiesta, they're actually helping to pin down the past, securing it in a city that is speeding headlong into to the future.
Photo: Andrew Nelson