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Waterfront Park: Cinco de Mayo

(For the new story – Cinco de Mayo 2012 – click here!)

The 2011 Cinco de Mayo Fiesta is this weekend at Waterfront Park in downtown Portland, kicking-off the park’s event season. From now through August is a series of big-tent happenings here – the Rose Festival Fun Center, the Jazz, Beer, and Blues festivals, and more. These events are well-attended, especially when the weather is nice.

Where the park now sits used to be a freeway called Harbor Drive in the 1960’s and early 70’s. It was demolished in the mid-1970’s, and according to Wikipedia, Portland was the first city in the United States to get rid of a freeway, a move considered a “milestone in urban planning.” With the support of Governor Tom McCall, it became Willamette Park. Now it is a place to walk, run, bicycle, meet friends, have lunch, toss frisbees, and enjoy views of the water, boats, bridges, and the east side of the City.

So even though I wince a bit each time workers set up their chain link fences for a big event here, I also enjoy the culture and community that these events bring. And it is remarkable that we have such a large, beautiful open space in the heart of the City, that is easily accessible by bus and light rail, and that is well-suited to this purpose.

Friday I spent my lunch hour at the Cinco de Mayo Fiesta. The weather was dry, but that night it started to rain, so it probably looked a bit muddier than this later.

At one end of the grounds was an enormous tent with a stage, and a woman was speaking about the experience of becoming a US citizen. But most of the Fiesta consisted of American-style carnival activities, and cultural attractions from Mexico and other Hispanic cultures.

Carnivals fascinate and horrify me at the same time. Maybe they do this to everyone. Maybe this is their appeal, I am not sure. For example, I am fascinated by the fact that anyone would ever want to do this:

This video is from YouTube. At night the rides look glamorous, unlike the creaking flywheels, straining cables, chipped paint, and the tired expressions on operators’ faces evident on my lunch hour visit.

Here two young men walked past the warning sign,

and were beckoned to go on a ride called The Zipper.

They did, and seemed to have a good time. Of course, to go on the ride they had to stop here first:

On the ride shown below, young children sit in the stomachs of enormous plastic spinning overall-clad bears – horrifying in its own way!

There were carnival games,

and carnival prizes. At a carnival, no one looks twice at a man who walks around like this:

In fact, it seems that carrying around plush animals is something men enjoy doing here.

There were carnival souvenirs for sale, some actually under the Morrison Bridge.

And, there was carnival food:

I contrast this with the wonderful aromas coming from the Fiesta food stands: smoked chicken quesadillas, asada, roasted corn on the cob, and much more. This impressive tower of meat turned on a vertical spit and was topped with a whole fresh pineapple.

Beautiful and healthy fresh fruit to enjoy:

Above is a picture of chicharrones de harina, which, according to one website, are flour pellets fried in rendered pork fat.

There were many little shops like the one shown below, selling jewelry, sunglasses, wool ponchos, straw hats, fancy leather belts, and other things from Mexico and elsewhere:

One booth had handmade Day of the Dead dolls – each one unique:

This airbrush t-shirt stand seemed popular with young people:

The Cinco de Mayo Fiesta goes in many directions all at the same time, so seems a bit scattered. But clearly it brings people together in celebration. I would guess that the former Governor would approve.

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