Tuesday, July 22, 2008

All's Not Fair

L.P. Hartley once wrote that the past is like a foreign country because they do things differently there. As a corollary to that, I would add that foreign countries are like foreign countries because they also do things differently there. Profound, no?

How so? you ask.

I offer, by way of illustration of the aforementioned profound observation, the innocuous county fair. As a child I spent much of the summer pining for the fairs which, like cotton candied mushrooms, sprung up in southern Ontario towards the end of August. Fairs which, I would add, for kids were also dark harbingers of the End of Time as they normally closed on Labour Day (the first Monday of September). School began on the following day. Such was the bitterest irony of childhood.

For the past few weeks, harbinger-free ferias have been popping up everywhere in Spain and so, having temporarily exchanged my Publicity Truck Anthropologist hat for a Spanish Fairground Anthropologist hat, I would like to offer a few observations/comparisons between the fair that Señor Gato Gringo and I visited in modest, unprepossessing, nondescript La Línea and that of the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), Canada's mega fall fair extravaganza held in Toronto.

1) Admission
La Línea: free
CNE: $10

2) Beer
La Línea: a major brewery is a corporate sponsor, so expect to be able to buy a can of Cruzcampo at every vendor's stall, including ice cream stands. Because this is a fair, you can also expect to pay the exorbitant price of 1.50 for a beer. You may, however, walk about the fair grounds - and throughout the city for that matter - with an open can. Salud!

CNE: a major brewery is a corporate sponsor, but don't expect to be able to buy a can of Labatt's Blue at any vendor's stall, including ice cream stands. You will have to purchase your brew at licensed bars, beer halls, and restaurants. Because this is a fair, you can also expect to pay the exorbitant price of $4.00 upwards for a beer. You may not walk about the fair grounds - and throughout the city for that matter - with an open can. Cheers!

3) Midway Games
La Línea: yes, you can while away the hours demonstrating your shooting skills with an air rifle and target. Boring no? Ahhhh, but your prize isn't a mirror printed with a Rollings Stone album cover but a glass (or two) of regional wine or sherry. This is Shooting for Shots (as seen right). Uh-oh! - won too much and having difficulty aiming your rifle? No problem! - apparently everyone is a winner at this game and lack of accuracy is no impediment to being handed a shot of manzanilla. Goodness, even the people who run the games are tippling!

Shooting for Shots ... bwahahahahahaha. No.

4) Midway Barkers
La Línea: barkers here don't bark which leads me to consider renaming them. Perhaps we can call them mute-ers. Although you can find barkers along the midway and behind the stalls of their games of chance, they will leave you alone. Often, when they're not having a shot of wine, they appear rather bored. If you suffer from feelings of low self-esteem, better to avoid the midway.

CNE: barkers here are worse than their bark (apologies for the skewed metaphor) and it is best to abstain from making eye contact with one of their ilk, lest your manhood be impugned and you end up spending $55 just to win a $3 Shrek doll.

4) Portrait Studios
La Línea: likely to jump at the opportunity to dress up in costumes from the Old West and have your photo taken in front of a backdrop of a real sort-of bona fide bogus saloon? Well, you can't do that here but you can send your kiddies off to dress up in traditional Spanish costumes and sit at a table replete with a bottle of sherry and awaiting glasses.

CNE: Taking photographs of your children holding wine glasses aloft is not encouraged but you can dress up in costumes from the Old West and have your photo taken in front of a backdrop of a real sort-of bona fide bogus saloon.

5) The Virgin Mary
La Línea: blessings from the Virgin are actively sought among midway barkers and vendors, and it is not uncommon to find photos of her displayed among prize lots of stuffed dogs and penises (see right: virgin on the bottom shelf, penises on the top ... whatever would the Pope think?).

CNE: the Virgin is conspicuously absent.

6) Closing Time
La Línea: the word flexible jumps to mind. The feria closes when people go home. Throughout the week, midway lights were turned off between 5 and 6 a.m. On the final night - or morning - we joined fair-goers on our bus to work. At 8:30 a.m. The fair had just closed. If you're not much of a night hawk, the kind people who organized raffles considerately selected 2:30 a.m. for the drawing of winning tickets.

CNE: closes sensibly at midnight (exhibition buildings at 10:00).

I could continue - in between beer and homemade potato chips I did take extensive albeit illegible and greasy notes - but I think I've made my point rather impressively. And the point, in case you've lost track of it, is that
foreign countries are like foreign countries because they also do things differently there. And by differently, I mean very differently. Olé.


Bluestreak said...

Love your fair comparison, very nice. I´ll give you that, fairs are much better here. Even if all the stuff you had mentioned wasn´t better, even if it was just the beer it would have won me over. And there´s one thing fairs here don´t have that I am really happy about: corn dogs or other weird semi-edible stuff on sticks.

Cath said...

Beer at CNE: $4. Beer at Blue Jays game: $9.
All is not fair.

Anne said...

I am still kind of excited for the CNE though, even if they DID have a creepy army recruitment tent last year...

La Gatita Gringa said...

I loved the Ex and if I were in Toronto, I'd be there shoveling Tiny Tom donuts into my mouth.

NINE DOLLARS for a beer?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I love the ferias here in Spain.

cog said...

county fairs were a high point of the social calender when I was growing up; who were you going to go with, who would you go through the funhouse with, would you get a kiss when the Ferris Wheel was at its highest?

Plus, your cow/horse/pig/cobbler might win a prize.

good times.

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