State Fair Diary: love, actually

The opening and closing scenes from the movie "Love, Actually" occur in an airport, with images of joyful, tearful reunions. As the reunion montage rolls, Hugh Grant (playing England's prime minister) tells us:
Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around. 
I am a sucker for this stuff. I cry like an ugly baby every single time. Gulping in air and sobbing uncontrollably. It's the same for me at the Minnesota State Fair. Every year I attend this reunion of people, place, animals, and food. Every year I feel such joy, pride, and love for my people, my community, my state. We aren't perfect, far from it, but by golly we do our best.

Sure, I was miffed this year when Paula Deene was invited to attend opening day. I stood at my post near the Sustainability Stage distributing samples of organic, locally grown melon. Every single time someone approached me asking, "Is this the stage where Paula will be?" I grimaced and answered with a terse, "No. This is the SUSTAINABILITY stage." Seriously, State Fair. Paula Deene? In the year that Minnesota was ranked 2nd worst for racial inequality. In the year that will be remembered for police shootings. During a time when most of us agree we need to make the State Fair more welcoming toward all people in our community. Why Paula Deene?

I pushed aside my annoyance and concentrated instead on the reunion at hand. During my recent trip to Sweden we discussed with Swedes their inability to brag about what they do well. It just isn't done. In fact, when I asked a 20-something to describe her three greatest characteristics she looked at me with fear and bafflement. As a result of their Scandinavian humility trying to describe to them the brag-fest that is the Minnesota State Fair was difficult. The Fair began as a marketing ploy, demonstrating to outsiders that in Minnesota we have the fattest pigs, milkiest cows, largest produce, and best of the best. That sort of bragging isn't done elsewhere.

Certainly, we do have the fattest pigs and milkiest cows. Our produce is stunning. Our bakers make the most beautiful cakes and pies and lefse rounds. Our canners make the most elegant jars of pickles and jams. Our bees make awesome honey, our trees provide us with delicious maple, and our church basement ladies know their way around light tasty meatballs. Our 4Hers know how to dress their llamas. We got it going on, Minnesota.

All through the twelve days of Fair, we attended concerts (Jim Gaffigan! Tanya Tucker! Some polka playing German band from New Ulm or something! Garrison Keillor!). We ate the new food (lefse wraps! deep fried licorice! cotton candy sparkling wine! duck bacon wontons! tamales with mole sauce! deep fried smores! wild rice meatballs! beef pockets! egg rolls on a stick! Izzy's ice cream!). We ate the old food (corn dogs! cheese curds! deep fried olives! salmon on a stick! walleye fingers! perch fingers! walleye cakes! pretzels! crepes! hotdish on a stick!). We stepped carefully through the cow and horse barns. We ooohed and ahhhed at the political crop art. We smiled when we saw the ribbons our friends' pears, cookies, and bracelets won. We jostled strangers in line for corn or beer and quickly become friends. We chatted on the shuttle leaving the fairgrounds about the dogs at the Northwoods stage who played frisbee, the Butter Heads, the 4Hers and their nifty projects, the parade, the fire at the french fry stand, or how many ribbons Marjorie Johnson won this year, and just how do you tell Fairchild apart from Fairborne? And of course, we talked about the weather; this mild cool weather, so unusual at our hot sticky get-together.

Every day I made plans to meet with friends I hadn't seen in a few days, a couple of weeks, even a year. Every day all around me I heard squeals of joy as other friends and family met up with each other. In unison our groups of reunited loved one hugged each other tight at the places we meet up every year: the Blue Barn, around the DNR fish pond, at the DFL booth, for the free photo calendar at Education Minnesota, and at Tejas for that annual Beergarita.

A lot of people I know don't like the Fair. They curl their lips and say something snarky about the Great Sweat Together. They complain about the crowds and the weirdness of it all. I don't try to convince them otherwise. No sense in arguing with those who don't feel the way I do. The Minnesota State Fair is a thing of beauty. It is a reminder that we do our best in Minnesota, and we continue trying to do better. We cheer each other on. We appreciate what we have. And for a few short days, twelve of the best we offer, love is all around.




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