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We went to the Oregon Country Fair yesterday. I'd been told by a number of people "oh you HAVE to go to the Fair, you'll love it," but the three most enthusiastic endorsers (as I suggested a few days ago) gave me totally different reasons why I should go. Some were more right than others. What I had demonstrated to me, basically: a) I am really, truly not a hippie, and b) I have a very, very high tolerance for hippies.

Endorser #1 said " it's just a big fun scene, and the food is really good." She was right about that: the food was really good. Not the same sorts of vendors one sees at a county fair--I think only one or two even offered anything deep-fried. Complicated Indian thalis, excellent rich carrot cake, slices of fresh yellow watermelon, Peruvian tamals, raw-foodie juices, hibiscus lemonade, fantastically flavorful handmade artichoke-tofu ravioli... for most of the day I took care just to graze, but right before we left Lisa and I both got big meals we could share, just because it was all so good.

Endorser #2 said "it's a total back-to-nature experience--wilderness, trees, naked people everywhere sitting around fire pits, swimming in the rivers," etc. Well, yes and no. Trees all around, yes (I put on sunblock but don't think I needed it, since there was near-continuous tree cover), and beautiful scenery, but the nature part is extremely managed: the paths are broad and flat (although not quite broad enough to move at a decent clip once the real tourist congestion starts in early afternoon), and then to the sides of them are vendors' booths and such, and then beyond that there's usually a tall fence, and past THAT are the campgrounds for the "fair family" (the people who work/perform/have booths there, who are the only ones allowed to camp over or to stay on the Fair premises beyond 8 PM). I mean, there are a bunch of drinking fountains. (Note that I am not complaining about this at all; just noting that the presence of nature is not unmediated.) Not exactly naked people everywhere (beyond a bunch of topless-and-ornately-painted women & occasionally men), aside from the Ritz Sauna, which was pretty great. One huge and moderately toasty sauna (maybe 50 people in it at any given time, aged roughly 3 to 75, occasionally singing songs that I'm guessing were of fairly recent vintage and Wicca-related); one smaller and very very hot/dry sauna (could fit up to perhaps nine people at once; when there were fewer, people tended to do yoga in it); a bank of cold and adjustable-temperature showers; and the fire pit my friend mentioned, which had a jazz trio playing next to it and 30 or so people lounging around it.

Endorser #3 said "you're a big Burning Man buff, right? I bet it's a lot like that." As I'd suspected, they're very very different, despite certain surface similarities. Burning Man is about what's possible when commerce is taken out of day-to-day interactions, and when it's forbidden to be only a consumer of culture, and secondarily about pulling off really stylish stuff in a very challenging physical environment. The OCF is very much about commerce and spectation--really nice, non-mass-produced commerce and spectation, but still--and the glorious-ridiculousness factor is a lot lower. This ultimately becomes part of almost EVERY kind of interaction people have. (The OCF is also a lot more kid- and family-oriented: there were children and babies and teenagers everywhere, as well as a healthy number of gray-haired folks, and a lot of the people I talked to said "this is your first Fair? Wow, I've been coming since I was two.") Everyone with the holographic wristband that indicated they were among the elect said "it's different after dark"/"it's way better after dark, when all the tourists leave"/""it's all, you know, family then--you can trust everyone"/"you have to camp here to see what it's really like"/"after dark is when all the real action happens," etc. I bet they're right, and next year I really want to see if I can participate/camp there--it sounds like my kind of thing. But there's still the insider/outsider issue: the participants who spend eight hours a day interacting with the spectators.

I'd been advised to dress up, so I wore Lisa's silvery-pastel wig, the spangly shirt I'd worn at the 801 shows, and a pair of weird black vinyl pants I'd gotten a couple of days ago. Which were fine and not inappropriate and all, but a lot of people were wearing serious hippie chic--not really tie-dyes/jeans, but clothes whose main characteristics were bright color, rich texture and general flowingness. Brought a Polaroid camera, a bunch of film and some razor-point Sharpies to do my "imaginary tattoos" routine (i.e. I take a Polaroid of wherever you'd like your tattoo to be, draw the tattoo on the Polaroid, and give you the result; a good way to strike up conversations with people). About half the people I did it for asked me how much it'd cost; a few couldn't believe I was doing it for free. Second-saddest response: a woman for whom I'd just drawn some kind of rosebush-type thing on the Polaroid of her her upper arm & was having a nice conversation with, once I handed it to her, tried to give me a five-dollar bill. (No! Put it away!) Saddest response: guy who'd asked me to draw a mushroom being visibly alarmed when I actually started to draw one--he'd thought he was going to get, you know, actual mushrooms.

I passed a lot of nice-sounding entertainment--string bands, fiddlers, a marimba ensemble, etc.--and had wanted to see the Black Peppercorns, who cancelled--but only really sat down to see one thing: the "girls' circus," which was really sort of a semi-pro variety show with a little more acrobatics than usual. There were a few men (in drag) in the cast, but it was mostly women and girls--some of them very very little. A dozen or so of the smallest ones came out near the beginning dressed as ravioli, and another one (on stilts), dressed as a chef, came out to "stir" them in the middle of their tumbling act. It was the sort of circus where the synchronized six-person juggling act can go about 10 seconds at a time before someone drops a pin or two, and the sort of crowd where that's totally okay.

Anyway. After all that, you still want some music? Okay. Soft Pleasing Light's "adinfinitum" (removed) is a pretty simple song--mostly just a single time-altering chord, and some decorative voice and a few other instruments hung on it to keep it interesting--but I always liked how it gets that huge floating effect with very low-tech means. The story of Soft Pleasing Light appears here; this version of this song was originally on a split single with Rob Christiansen, packaged in somebody's curtain that had been cut up and silkscreened. Thanks to Bill Fantegrossi for permission to post it.

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This page contains a single entry by Douglas published on July 11, 2004 3:47 PM.

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