Wednesday, September 2, 2009
All's Fair at the Fair...
Alright, I spent the day at the Minnesota State Fair Saturday. I love that once a year I have to physically prepare myself for a fair. More on that in my Yelp.com review of it here. We hit the Creative Activities building to check out Lisa's award-winning strawberry jelly, we saw the state's biggest boar (testicles the size of my head, no lie), we took a tour of some of the campers that make me celebrate humankind's ability to cram the necessities of life into no more than one hundred square feet, and we also celebrated Michelle Bachmann's craziness immortalized in three, count 'em, three separate seed-art pieces (see below for one of them).
There were the butter heads of Princess Kay of the Milky Way, there were the curds (of course), and there was heritage square. Heritage square is this little area between the Midway and the Grandstand that is a celebration of State Fair history, and Carnival culture in Minnesota. I love the fair because every year I get more disillusioned with public life, but every year there is a place where I can go and be one hundred percent public for a day and no one judges me for it. It is a real, geographical place that we all (200,000 of us) converge on to be swept through the streets by the crowd and be offered so many options of how to spend our precious fair hours, show off our wares, or interact with our elected officials. Or one could watch a parade of costumed llamas, or win a giant stuffed banana, or get scared out of one's wits at the haunted house.
We got to see the Rockabilly show from Deke Dickerson and the Ecco-fonics at one of the free stages (see right), and then we got to wander the midway after dark and take in the lights, the sweat, the carny raconteurs, the fried dough smell, and the awkward teenagers trying to impress one another.
Here's why fairs like this are still relevant in the twenty-first century: They are the last remaining vestige of original festival Americana. They are the only place one can still see the Family Farm in all its glory. They are one of the rare spots where all the pretense is thrown out the window and buyers aren't afraid to haggle and hawkers aren't modest. They are one of the only places left where everybody in the community comes together with all our diverse interests and ideas and we just exist together, and if we don't like someone we meet, to hell with it, we'll spend some time chatting anyway - we're at the Fair after all. It's the only place I've ever bummed a smoke from a guy and spent the next twenty minutes talking (as a city boy) to him about crop yield. It's the only place I've ever had a political debate with someone I don't agree with not devolve into either a shouting match or quiet resentment (because at least we could agree on the cheese curds, maybe).
I know the festival of the harvest goes all the way back to pagan times, but there's just something so quintessentially American about it in my mind - maybe instilled by the Pilgrim Thanksgiving stories from my elementary school days, but I think it's more than that. As I said in my review on Yelp (not to plug that again), it is a bacchanal of proportions that match our wide horizons. As Midwesterners, we in Minnesota are part of one of the largest and most productive agricultural regions on the planet, and as such whether one lives in the city or the country or a small town one has a basic connection to the land and its offerings that makes us respect the end of summer and the onset of autumn. That is why State Fairs are still relevant in our culture, and I am thankful to my state for putting on the best damn one there is (see below).