Notebook

Something to cluck about
All over the western United States people are hoarding breath
mints in preparation for the Gilroy Garlic Festival, an annual
tradition intended to lighten rubes’ wallets while they visit the
town that does not produce very much garlic.
Something to cluck about

All over the western United States people are hoarding breath mints in preparation for the Gilroy Garlic Festival, an annual tradition intended to lighten rubes’ wallets while they visit the town that does not produce very much garlic.

They’ll eat garlic ice cream, roll in tubs of garlic and purchase garlic suppositories to enjoy in the privacy of their own homes.

Hollister has just “enjoyed” the Independence Rally, a paean to the profligate waste of fossil fuels and the profligate consumption of beer.

This celebration of “the birth of the American biker” ignores the fact that bikers were doing just fine, thank you, before the summer of 1947 when a few cyclists got a little rowdy in downtown Hollister.

But it’s a party and the beer’s cold.

Wither poor San Juan Bautista?

Fear not. It’s time for the Chicken Dance!

The first annual San Juan Bautista Chicken Festival and Parade is coming!

The poultry pulchritude starts at 10 a.m.

The brain child of the local Chamber of Commerce, the feathered frolic includes a crowing contest (presumably for humans), a chicken street dance (a word picture that needs to be suppressed), a parade honoring – get this – the Chicken Queen and her court, a YMCA kids’ zone and a … chicken barbecue.

That agenda just raises waaaay too many issues to discuss in one edition of The Pinnacle.

San Juan celebrates domesticated fowl because of the town’s reputation as home to a free range flock that people either love or love to hate.

One city councilman recently proposed a barbecue as the answer to the town’s “chicken problem.”

A few years ago, an errant rooster strutted into one of the town’s trinket shops, and apparently panicked at the sight of some particularly distasteful bit of bric-a-brac. Flapping wildly about the shop, shards of cheap crockery flew everywhere. It’s been difficult to locate a gilded rendering of a cocker spaniel ever since.

A visit to San Juan City Hall not long ago revealed no fewer than 10 chickens merrily cavorting on the lawn out front.

That’s all good. We’re very much in the pro-chicken camp. They’re colorful, independent and they proclaim that San Juan is a special sort of small town, just the way many of its residents do.

We Love the Chickens.

Back to the festival.

It’s sort of traditional to consume the comestible that we honor. No one would dream of suffering through the summer heat, throngs and dust of the Garlic Festival without eating a ridiculous amount of garlic.

So it’s not surprising that the main course at the Chicken Festival is chicken.

And San Juan has a long tradition of grilling chicken as the fund-raiser of choice.

Memphis may have the barbecue franchise. Santa Maria’s got tri-tip down. But San Juan has chicken, and it has no equal. Bring an appetite.

On to the chicken dance. One has to wonder – given that this is the first annual and there is no precedent to draw from – will any songs be allowed other than that annoyingly perky polka that requires dancers to flap their arms, chicken-like?

And the parade! Funny hats have to be de rigeur. Perhaps as this extravaganza grows, rules might be conjured, like the Rose Parade’s requirement that all floats display flowers, that only real feathers be used to embellish floats.

Finally, the Chicken Queen. One has to wonder, does the crown require crow’s feet? Oh, the glory of it all! Just imagine, some day some proud husband will tell a friend, “y’know, my little woman was crowned Chicken Queen of 2007!” The friend will shake his head in mute astonishment, certainly.

Anyway, the fun starts at 10 a.m. and does not stop until 5 p.m. While there’s a stiff tariff just to inhale one’s next breath at the Garlic Festival, the Chicken Festival provides a refreshing alternative.

Everything is free – except for the food.

San Juan’s hoi polloi have recently observed that the tourist business seems to be a bit slack.

That’s a shame, because the town has charm for all the right reasons.

After rifling the antique and gift shops and taking a gander at the mission plaza, there’s not much to do in the way of scripted, costly diversions.

What it has is a chance to amble and visit. A few minutes sitting overlooking San Juan Valley from the old rodeo bleachers is restorative. The town is packed with wonderful restaurants. The mission plaza appeals for its scale, beauty, historical connections and its notable film history (see Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”). People are friendly. The pace of life is civilized and the town is walkable in the extreme.

For those who’ve never paced the San Juan District Cemetery, plan on a large chunk of time. Headstones honor survivors of the Donner Party. History is writ large throughout Boot Hill.

And, there’s the chickens.

See you there.

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