The cloistered campus of the Southwest School of Art & Craft in downtown San Antonio is a far cry from the raucous, Rabelaisian crowd that attended the Fiesta Oyster Bake on the city's west side. Here, set amidst 1851-era limestone buildings, the flesh is mostly covered, more apt to display Ralph Lauren polo ponies than tattoos. The art on display is highbrow, but the humidity's even higher - it is hot today - so people are lingering in the cool shade of the oak-shaded courtyards where fountains splash, just as the Ursuline nuns must have done when this was their convent 150 years ago. Today's event is the 35th annual art fair, and the artists are of a national caliber – spread out inside the complex in bright tents that display their oil paintings, ceramics and sculpture. The fair's getting crowded. I'm worried someone might elbow a glass vase (the prices here aren't cheap) and be out a few grand.
No one cares. The 12,000 or so participants are all too busy gabbing with friends, sipping drinks and tapping their feet to the music of the Sisters Morales, a pair of soulful singer-songwriters up on a stage between a pair of French-colonial-styled buildings. The folkies are pumping out a catchy Spanish ballad that the crowd adores.
"They say Austin's got the 'cool'," someone says, "but San Antonio's got the soul."
And, it seems, few travelers know about it. Fiesta is a big deal in the city, of course, and throughout Texas, but it is nowhere near as popular – nor as overrun – as Mardis Gras. It's local, it's neighborhood and it's authentic.