Monday, September 04, 2006

Five Amazing Twin Cities Things, part 3: The Minnesota State Fair

They’re calling this the Great Minnesota Get-Together, and you need visit only once to see why: everyone goes. Coming from Michigan, where people are actually afraid to attend the State Fair, this is a refreshing change. And because everyone goes, everyone participates, so you see more animals, more quilts, more tractors, more jars of prizewinning jam, more everything, all crammed into a verdant corner of St. Paul.

There is food. The big joke is that everything is on a stick, and most of the items served this way normally don’t require a stick. The obvious corn dog is a staple, but then there’s the less obvious: egg rolls, hot dish, spaghetti-and-meatballs, calzones, walleye, pickles, alligator sausage, scotch eggs, espresso, marshmallows, deep-fried chocolate chip cookies, and macaroni-and-cheese. On a stick. No kidding. I did not sample any of these, but I did have cheese curds, which are another fair staple, and a finer use of cholesterol has never been devised.

There are ideas: political candidates, parties, and religious groups. Eric caused the obligatory scene at the Republican Party booth, screaming “Get the stink off me!!” as he ran from the building. I enjoyed the Eco Experience display, which focused on conservation and sustainability with everyday applications. If you ever wanted to convert your car to burn fryer oil from the neighborhood KFC, this would be the place to start, but there were also less fanciful and more practical conservation options, including passive solar, wind power, and energy-efficient appliances.

There is art. The fine arts pavilion has credible art, as opposed to the Michigan State Fair’s feeble offering of Bob Ross-inspired landscapes. My favorite arts endeavor, however, is not in the fine arts pavilion, but in the agriculture building: crop art. Minnesotans spend their long winters gluing seeds to board, and show off the results at the fair. Themes range from portraits to politics. This seems to be unique to Minnesota, and it is a testament to the great patience of the souls who participate. Here’s a small sample:

http://www.cropart.com/cagall01.htm

There’s entertainment: we saw bent polka combo (and Tiny Tim’s former backing band) Brave Combo. There’s also big name stuff in the grandstand. My friend Ted was pumped about seeing Kenny Rogers. The Lutherans can see Prairie Home Companion. We contemplated going to see the Flaming Lips, but opted for the Monks instead. It was going to pour that night, and having just heard about my friend Liz’s brush with death in Budapest, evading a storm that killed four and injured 300, I figured attending a grandstand show in a thunderstorm was not a good idea.

There are animals, which is my favorite fair attraction. We saw big Percherons getting dressed up for draft horse competition, and a weird miniature horse agility competition. In the Miracle of Birth barn, there are lambs, calves, chicks and piglets only hours old. I didn’t see Minnesota’s Largest Swine this year (the Swine Barn was closed), but it always draws a crowd.

And there is weird: let’s face it, it’s part of the appeal of every fair. The fair Queen and her court have portrait busts sculpted in butter. Whole families wearing matching outfits paraded the grounds. The last remaining touring freakshow appears at the fair. I can only imagine the unfortunate tattoos on display the night of the Poison show in the grandstand. Weird (and tolerance of the weird) is what makes America great, despite what the current administration would have you believe, and there’s few places that show it off better than a fair.