Monday, August 30, 2010


We arrived in Louisville a little before noon on Saturday, keeping in phone contact with our friends awaiting us in the shade of the big cluster of buildings which make up the Kentucky State Fair.

This was my first Fair all-on-concrete---we even PARKED on concrete, walking acres to the exhibits, rather than parking in what amounts to a field like here and back home---the buildings stretched WAY to the right and WAY to the left, housing almost everything we toured.

It was an odd Fair to me, accustomed to the heat-and-bustle of the Mid-South Fair, with its scents of the cattle barns and the aromas of the food kiosks, the outdoor scrambles and passings and the all-day glare of the Memphis sun, with the rattly racket of the Pippin punctuating the day like an old train on rickety tracks.
There was where we used to make our way through the Midway and the outdoor activities to the few cool spots---the indoor exhibits, the quilts and pickles, the wedding cakes, the half-ton pumpkins and the endless plates of vegetables and gourds and seeds, as well as the long table-filled buildings with sellers of honey and woodcarvings, cheap gadgets and Posturepedics.

And now later, the past twenty years of Fairs here in Indy have been the same---a little less heat, perhaps, but all the same scents and exhibits and proud young sequined singing groups and hearty cloggers giving their all to the floor in their matching T’s and bouncing rhythms, with the music of the midway clashing with the barkers’ cries and the have-to-shout-to-talk of the milling crowds. We flow through the clusters of food brokers like water past rocks, smelling every fried food scent in the history of Time---some in the same eternal grease---with the enticing signs and even-more compelling aromas; we ponder the jars of jewelly jam, the jar-aquariumed pickles and okra and squash; we long to touch the fabric of the intricate quilts and wedding dresses, caress the softness of the tiny knit booties and hats.

But the Kentucky Fair was almost ALL indoors.

In the great heat of noon-time and the absence of any shade or place to sit with our picnic, we voted to save the packed lunch for our supper, and we had lunch in a BBQ tent, right next to the big one with the kickin’ band and the Margaritas almost flowing out the tent flap---great fun atmosphere all around us.
Chris and Lil opted for the Brisket Sandwich and all the fixin's:

And Ben and I had the Pulled Pork Sandwich (What Else WOULD You Have, when you can get it?)

The lunch was surprisingly tasty, considering their venue, (and come to think of it, I swear my chair sat on GRASS---the only spot of green all day). There were passable beans and very nice potato salad, a deli-case slaw (but a necessary ON for the sandwich---it’s the LAW). A great pile of shredded raw onion sat unwanted in the corner of the cardboard container, perfuming the air with its sharp redolence, and adding just the right SOMETHING to the savor, though never actually consumed.
We all had strong, sharp soft drinks, no stint to the carbonation and flavoring, with the remembered tongue-sting of a real, glass-bottle Co-Cola, fished from the icy depths of an old-fashioned tub cooler and upended for those first few throat-tingling gulps.
We walked and looked, strolling and veering around crowds and strollers and big bags of souvenirs carried by a great cosmos of humanity, daring the sweat of the outdoors, enjoying the Summer entertainment and admiring the work of others’ hands.

The oddest thing was that even the kine and horses and pigs were ensconced in big hermetic cool-rooms, vast as arenas. But on the next-to-last day, not even the hay-strewn floors and the chill of the air could eclipse the overwhelming aura of sheep and goats and cows, too long on concrete and too far from home. We picked our way through puddles and droppings and all sorts of muddle on the floors, wishing there were grass outside to give that old-fashioned shuffle-scrub to our shoe soles. Mine, luckily a garish pair of green-rubber clogs, are outside sun-drying right now, after sitting in a Clorox bath in the laundry room.

It was just so strange to be there, to be entering the big wheeze-shut doors, to step into a bright-lit, tile-floored building which could just as easily host a Shriner’s convention or a convocation of purposeful WMU ladies with their purses firmly on their arms. The juxtaposition of so many animals in their own cubicle-warrens with their owners staying there for the two weeks was oddly the same, with their mattresses stacked Pea-Princess deep in one empty stall. A pair of little girls in a stanchion-cordoned small “room” bounced on tiny mis-matched beds and sat cross-legged to play a hand-clap game in their personal rectangle among all the others imprisoning sheep and their haypiles. The fluorescent cool spaces of a convention hall were a bit mind-bending as we walked barnish aisles and quickly escaped all that farm essence.
The prize winning Blue-Ribbon Half-Ton Pumpkin---the lighting doesn't do justice to the creamy peach of the colors, like a perfect, ripe persimmon on a stark November tree:

And Gourds and Vegetables:

I did not make these pictures---they were provided by our dear hosts, as Chris didn’t take along a camera. I hate that we didn’t get a picture of it, for the Best In Show quilt was, indeed, a show-stopper---it was a free-hand marvel of swoops and swirls and appliqué and too many fabric patterns to count, all in a wonderful kaleidoscope of hand-made ribbons and cutwork and 3-D and peacock swirls, with a flirty half-fringe of sash-sewn fabric swagged down. It was one of those things you have to look at in sections, and you remember it in sections, somehow, with no way to put the whole scene into your mind all at once.

This was a great Fair, winding down like a grand party with the bouquets slightly wilting and the canapes soggy there at the end---a wonderful thing of purpose and talent and pride, with the tired hosts eager to turn out the lights and go home. And it was just DIFFERENT from the outdoor stuff we’re used to.

We parted ways late in the afternoon, to meet later at our hotel, where we had our picnic supper.

And of that, moiré non.


L Vanel said...

You took me there, thank you. What a pumpkin and those gourds!

Denise :) said...

Looks like fun! Our state fair was this weekend (Alabama), but I wasn't able to go. Glad I got to enjoy the KY fair thanks to you! :)

Linda J. said...

Thanks for the visit to our Kentucky State Fair. It has been many years since we have visited the state fair, but I have many memories going there as a child when school didn't start until after Labor Day. With school starting here on August 11th, it's more difficult to visit with the children.

Tonja said...

Oh, Rachel! Your words just pulled me along with you...past the cows and horses and pigs and sheep. Then on to the foods...oh, the smells! I do love a good funnel cake! Oh and your description of those coles in a bottle. Nothing tastes the same! Love them! And, the exhibits! I heard it all...with you!

I do not think I would enjoy all that concrete and all that 'inside' either.

Glad you made it home safely!

Southern Lady said...

We haven't been to the Mississippi State Fair in years, but reading about your day at the Kentucky Fair has my mouth watering for Salt Water Taffy, hot egg rolls, and candied apples (I just eat the "candied" part). I always love seeing the blue ribbon winners, too, and my favorite thing is watching the miniature pot-belly pig races. They're hilarious!

Thanks for sharing your trip to the fair with us, Rachel. You made it seem like we were right there with you, experiencing all the sights and sounds!

mustard seeds said...

Oh...memories of the Pippin. You know we don't have the fair here anymore. I have such fond memories of going every year. We even got a day off from school to go. Ha. Looks like a nice fair in Louisville.