Thursday, October 6, 2011

A fair to remember


Set against the crimson sunset, San Miguel's fairgrounds looked like a Shangri-la of striped circus tents, fluttering Mexican flags and hundreds of twinkling multicolored lights.

As we drove up to the dusty parking lot the sights were not quite a mythical--ticket booths and guards frisking everyone as they entered--yet the excitement of going to an annual country fair remained. You strain your neck at first, trying to figure out what's there to see, which way to go: Food to the right, mechanical rides to the left. The voice of carnival barkers hawking must-see, never-seen-before spectacles. How is this different from last year?

September is a huge month for San Miguel. It's Independence Month, celebrating events and heroes that in 1810 set in motion the eventual freedom of Mexico from Spain. San Miguel and neighboring Dolores Hidalgo were two towns at the center of it all.

Plus it's the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, which concludes with insane fireworks display at 4 a.m.--the alborada, in the town square. Insane for the amount of gunpowder used as well as the absence of even the most rudimentary safety measures: Rockets fire from all corners of the square and the rooftop of the old municipal building, while a packed crowd oohs and aahs at the noise and lights or ducks for cover when the spent munition comes back to earth. It's insane and exciting.

And for the last two weeks of the month there's also the San Miguel Fair, our equivalent of a state or county fair in the U.S., though much more modest. Years ago I remember attending the Texas State Fair in Dallas which, as it befits anything Texan, seemed as big as Rhode Island.

Stew vividly remembers the county fair when he was growing up in Iowa. There were not only
Ferris wheels and roller coasters but pavilions and more pavilions holding contests for everything: the biggest watermelon, tastiest pie, handsomest chicken--or cow, sheep or whatever. The possibilities for winning a ribbon were endless.

San Miguel's fair had a dimly lit livestock area with enormous sheep representing strange breeds, and some cows patiently ruminating and looking like they couldn't wait to go home.

There was also weird stuff. A tent close to the entrance supposedly housed a woman with a body that was half-snake and had come to San Miguel all the way from La Habana, Cuba! A recording of an announcer describing her bizarre anatomy was followed by a plaintive female voice inviting people to come visit. I didn't quite understand the half-snake, half-woman schtick, and she didn't sound very Cuban anyway. I took a pass.

Another tent housed a Komodo dragon, an albino boa and some other animal rarity, which we were assured were all LIVE! Not in a jar or plastic model! For your own safety, please stay away from the display cases! Didn't fall for that either.

But the core feature was the rides and games, and the delighted customers, mostly children. Nothing exotic, mind you: Bumper cars, Ferris wheel, merry-go-round and various other rides whose main attraction was the thrill of going around in circles, whether in a little airplane, car or boat. The only daring ride was a 30- or 40-foot high tower that raised people up to the top, paused for a split second and then dropped them to within six feet of the ground, for an adrenalin jolt of about 30 seconds.

Stew noted that there was no roller-coaster.

The games were all far-fetched, especially since almost all the customers were kids who'd have to fetch a rubber duckie with a six-foot fishing pole, shoot a balloon from 15 feet away or perform some other impossible feat.

For someone used to first-tier county or state fairs or amusement parks, the San Miguel event is small-potatoes. But to the locals--particularly kids--it's an irresistible once-a-year thrill, a chance to be dazzled, whipped around by some contraption, eat cotton candy, or dreamily walk around holding hands with your girl friend for a couple of hours, all for about two dollars.

This was our second visit and I plan to come back next year.

Fairs are so fascinating. 
My brothers love this ride. I don't. 
Waiting for customers and planning my life. 
Too much alfalfa, not enough exercise is not good for your figure. 

Not the biggest Ferris wheel in the world, 
but certainly one of the fastest I've ever seen. 

Bumper cars, a perennial favorite: Boy is this fun or what?
Impossible to win, but fun to try. 

It wouldn't be a proper fair without cotton candy, would it?

--30--

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