Right up there with parades as one of the great simple timeless joys are fairs, state and county, little and big -- fairs where pigs are judged by girth, freaks given stages, paint-peeling rides sway in the summer breeze, dignitaries face-slapped with wet sponges, balloons get popped to win Iron Maiden mirrors, and everyone eats way too much funnel cake.
We collected favorites/favourites from our US and UK offices as a means to get the conversation of what's the best. Here are a few standouts, starting with the US:
This is a classic small-town fair, held for five or so days every July 4, a couple hours north of New York City. It's in a small village park behind the local grocery store, which is transformed by lights, carousel music, the exciting whir of rides all around, and all the fair food you'd expect complete with hand cut fries, snow cones, and fried dough. But the coup de grace is the fireworks, a dizzying display of colors surrounded by gentle Catskill mountain peaks, and viewable within valleys all around. Those 'in the know' line up for the Ferris wheel at 8:45, focused on the calculus that will result in the ultimate reward: sitting at its highest point at 9 pm when the show stops. -- Matt Goldberg, Melbourne
Oregon Country Fair (a three-day event in early July) outside Eugene has got to be a contender! It's in the woods and all the hippie types build these intricate cool artistic structures and it's tons of fun. Good food, loads of crafts. (Next one: July 8-10, 2011) -- Aimee Goggins, Oakland
The Minnesota State Fair is a timeless classic and captured by F Scott Fitzgerald in his short story A Night At the Fair. My best memories of the fair? Eating pork-chop-on-a -stick while checking out the Moo, Baa and Oink Booths and seeing the Space Tower lit up at night. (Next held: Aug 26-Sept 6) -- Heather Dickson, Oakland
Growing up as a young kid in Northern California (near Lassen) we always enjoyed the County Fair Rodeo: barrel racing, calf roping, bronco riders, the riotous clowns risking life and limb to help cowboys/cowgirls escape bucking beasts; and of course, the thrilling bull riding contests and the stock auction. (Next held: July 21-25!) -- Scott Stampfli, Oakland
The single greatest state fair in the country -- has to be -- is Iowa's. And has been, pretty much, since it began in 1854 (including as the inspiration of the bad 1945 film 'State Fair'). Over a million come to the 11-day event in mid August (planned for August 12-22 this year), see what pig gets award for the biggest (though my heart goes out to the runner-up), and try all sorts of things on a stick, including deep-fried HoHos, hard-boiled eggs, potato lollipops, 'fudge puppies' (waffles covered in chocolate syrup) and 'chicken-lips-on-a-stick' (no worries, it's just chicken strips with hot sauce). Plus Darius Rucker of Hootie's going to be there this year. -- Robert Reid, New York City
The Alameda County Fair is the typical county fair -- with funnel cake, rickety rides, and bands that had their heyday in the 1970's or 80's.
A few years ago, for the first time I actually went into the 4H exhibits. There I fell in love with a pig. Not just any pig -- it was Some Pig. She was free of mud and markings, save for around the eyes that made her look like a glamorous starlet, so naturally I called her Zsa Zsa. She and I looked at one another and formed a special bond. 'She's a nice pig,' said the kid who owned her. 'Too bad she'll be bacon soon.'
I FLIPPED. I could not let that happen, but what could I do? Build a pen on the balcony of my apartment? I couldn't buy her, so I tearfully said goodbye. She nuzzled my hand and I vowed never to eat pork again. But I like to think that Zsa Zsa charmed someone else and she's living on a farm somewhere with clean hay. I hope. And since I didn't make good on my no pork promise, I hope I never ate Zsa Zsa, either. -- Karen Finlay, Oakland
FROM THE UK
We recently wrote about the ancient tradition of the country show in England. Meanwhile, Dan Green, of the London office, touts Lambeth Country Show, actually held in Brixton in south London in mid July. Events include such immortal events as 'Sheep Shearing/Baking Through the Ages' demonstrations and footballer-themed dog shows. As Dan puts it, 'Seriously though it's pretty cool. More jerk chicken stands than you can shake your rice and peas at, alongside owl displays etc. It's quite a disparate mix, but always tends to be a good day out and really reflects the diverse nature of the borough.'
A bit more rustic is the Wimborne Folk Festival, which Heather Dickson (an Englishwoman living in the Bay Area) touts for its 'Morris dancers, Scottish cloggers, Ceilidh bands and troupes with names like Loose Women and Spank the Planks.'
Elsewhere, there's more to look for than the agricultural-oriented county fairs, says UK Travel Editor Tom Hall. He writes:
'More commonly visited than county fairs are garden fetes, school fetes or church fetes which include bric-a-brac, jumble sales, tombola, books sales, home baking for sale and perhaps an event where the local dignitary gets wet sponges thrown at them. At my Primary School garden fete my Dad used to operate a stall called 'Bash a Rat' where an elaborately constructed wooden guillotine was fixed up to a length of pipe which had rats dripping with blood painted on the side. He or a helper would send a sewn-up stuffed sock down the pipe and the child would attempt to trap the 'rat' in the guillotine. If they were successful (3 rats for 50p) then they would receive a goldfish.
So as you can see your US State Fairs don't really come close.'
--> That's the start. What are your favorite fairs?