There’s something particularly charming about a festival or fair in a foreign country, don’t
you think? I know I feel fortunate when I happen across things like a Sunday morning flea market in Florence, or the procession to St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna on the Feast of Corpus Christi (that’s a national holiday in Austria, by the way – we were also surprised to find that everything was CLOSED!).
Since I don’t have the time or money to chase down European holidays on a regular basis, summer is a good time to remind myself that there are delightful events right here at home. A visitor from France or Italy would be equally charmed, I think, to run across one of our many strawberry or sweet corn festivals, or to walk the midway at a typical American county or state fair.
Late last summer my mother, brother and I decided to drop in at the Geauga County Fair
here in Ohio. I hadn’t been to a fair in years and had forgotten what fun it can be. We arrived hungry and ready to treat ourselves to “fair food” – corn dogs, a sausage sandwich with peppers and onions for Bob, and a tricky kind of potato chip that comes in one long, swirly piece for my mom. (Sadly, there wasn’t room after all that for either funnel cakes or fudge, both of which were on my “must eat” list!).
While Mom and Bob placed bets on the harness races, I wandered over to the halls displaying needlework, baked goods, jams, jellies and other traditional home skills. Growing up in a very small Ohio town, I had friends who lived in the country and raised animals or sewed and baked to enter the competitions as part of their 4-H Club activities. Goats and rabbits were popular choices among the kids I knew, though my friend Linda, in Texas, has granddaughters who raise and enter steers for competition and auction at their Texas fairs.
I enjoyed walking the aisles admiring handmade quilts, elaborately decorated cakes worthy of any “Cake Boss” show, jars of pickled peppers and watermelon rinds, and much more. Blue, red and yellow ribbons indicated who had excelled in their category. I saw some adorable miniature horses in one pavilion, and wondered if the glossy cows in another were destined for dinner at a steak house or a life grazing and giving milk on one of the local farms.
As we left, we ran across a little band of dapper gentlemen that looked like they belonged at a fair in 1912 instead of 2012. They serenaded groups of mostly older folks cooling off at picnic tables in the shade, as others streamed through the gates, either excited about spending an evening on the midway or like us, heading the other way to go home. Toddlers in strollers grinned blue, sticky sno-cone smiles. Amish girls wearing bonnets and rubber flip-flops held hands and dashed from the infield to the stands to join their friends between horse races. And teens with piercings and torn jeans made eyes at each other over bags of caramel corn.
I think it’s so personally enriching to experience firsthand how people live their lives in different parts of the world. When I travel, I feel like all my senses are on alert and I am so appreciative of the world around me. I guess that’s because everything is unfamiliar and therefore, to me, fascinating.
With an open mind and curious intent, it can be equally enriching to see what’s going on just over in the next county. Happy summer travels to you – near and far!