An alternative view of American life

For those of us living outside the US many of the impressions we form about America comevegetable display from the images we see on TV.

Cop shows, freak shows, reality shows, a world of extremes and a world of excess – TV portrays polarity in all its forms.

We see fabulous wealth or rust-belt poverty, gross obesity or stick-thin waifs, we see the mad, the bad, the sects and the weirdoes.

As a counterbalance, I wonder if there’s a better way to picture life in the US than by way of a State Fair like the one at Monroe?

Here is Middle America, in all its rich variety, and thoroughly at home with itself.

My visit on the opening Friday was sun-kissed and spectacular. Gaudy, frivolous, competitive, intense, but above all great fun.

I filled my face with pulled pork and curly fries, washed them down with an enormous Diet Coke, but just couldn’t cope with an Elephant’s Ear or a Corn Dog. Just. No. Room.

How is it that such artery-clogging, salt-surging, sugary highs are accompanied by such stomach-churning entertainment?

One of the rides was a 360-degree loop with a terrifying delayed upside down pause at the top for its paying punters. I’d have paid – to come down before my lunch did.

Another, featured a slow ratchety ride to the top of of a tall column of steel followed by a gut-wrenching, accelerated drop.

All the fun of the fair to be had and no shortage of people wanting to frighten themselves, or gawp in crazy mirrors, or impress a gal with their dead-eye shooting and win a cuddly toy.

But the bits I enjoyed best were the craft and livestock and agricultural sections.
Dazzling quilts, glowing pots of honey, primped and preened animals, vegetable displays of abundance and perfection.

This is the best of the best from a rural community that is still close to the earth, that understands the rhythm of the seasons, that knows about good husbandry and passes the hard-won knowledge down through the generations.

Rosettes are the currency craved by teenage girls with ramrod straight backs, riding plump ponies.

Prize cards for the best coney or biggest squash or longest bean may seen scant reward for the dedication and care required.

But they come with a quiet satisfaction and a glow of pride at being the best and fulfil a deep-rooted instinct in all of us to strive, to improve, and to progress.

What a fabulous day out.


One comment

  1. Paul,

    I know this world well. I grew up amongst the cornfields of northern Illinois an hour and a half west of Chicago, and my first jobs in journalism were in rural, mostly agricultural communities. My father still volunteers at the local county fair. Thanks for this reminder of the joys of the fair and the rhythms of rural life. As bland as it might seem to most Londoners where I live now, I miss this life.

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