At The Blue Hill Fair

Yesterday we ventured over to the Blue Hill Fair in Blue Hill, Maine.  It’s a big deal locally, and we paid a visit to get our taste of small town America.  The Blue Hill Fair has everything you’d expect to see in a local fair, from livestock and quilting and produce contests — like the impressive array of bright green vegetables shown above — as well as the kind of vomit-inducing rides that you remember from the fairs you went to in your childhood.  Who doesn’t recall their first ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl?  (And for that matter, isn’t it hard to believe that Tilt-A-Whirls are still out there, motoring away and causing people to go careening from one side of the ride to the other?)  The Scrambler was there, too, but no sign of the notorious Rotor.

We also watched a fine performance by the Red Trouser Show, put on by two long-time friends who now make their living traveling the circuit and performing at fairs and functions across the globe.  These guys were great, both in terms of their juggling, tumbling, and acrobatic efforts and in their witty banter and ability to get the crowd into the show.  It was a great reminder of America’s vaudeville past and how a simple performance by two people equipped with flaming torches and a ladder can create a memorable experience.

In addition to the elements of your basic small town fair, however, the Blue Hill Fair has something extra.  Because author E.B. White spent a lot of time in this part of Maine, the local lore is that the fair that is a key part of the story of Wilbur the pig in Charlotte’s Web is based on the Blue Hill Fair.  As a result, near the livestock exhibitions you can find a little pen with a dozing pig — two of them, in fact — sporting a blue ribbon because they are “some pig.”  No sign of Charlotte or her web, however.

And those of you who remember the story in Charlotte’s Web will recall that the wily Charlotte enticed Templeton, the rat, to accompany Charlotte and Wilbur to the fair by promising him gluttony beyond compare due to the food available along the midway.  If Templeton had been at this year’s Blue Hill Fair, he would have been a happy camper — you could find every imaginable kind of fair food there, from fried dough to funnel cakes to cotton candy, caramel apples, and bacon-wrapped hot dogs.

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In Praise Of Bingeing Technology

You can argue about the value of some technological advancements that we have seen in our lifetimes.  Is the invention of Roomba vacuuming robots, for example, really a good thing?  However, the significance of one development is indisputable:

The ability to engage in TV and movie binge-watching during the cold Midwestern winter months is one of the greatest leaps forward for the human species since the ancient Egyptians developed papyrus.

tmp_uirc5w_4f3814e036213fed_harry_potter_photoConsider this week in Columbus, Ohio.  It has been so absurdly cold, with ambient temperatures hovering, with leaden immobility, in the single digits and wind chill factors below zero, that there is absolutely no incentive to go outside voluntarily.  Unless you’ve got to go to work or to an appointment, there is no rational reason whatsoever to venture into the frigidity.  So, you’re stuck inside.  What to do?  Well, you could read a book, of course . . . or, you could be intellectually lazy and binge-watch TV, thanks to options like Netflix and Amazon TV and cable channels that offer premium options.  The last few days Kish and I have curled up on the couch at nights and begun watching the entire Harry Potter movie series — thanks, HBO and AT&T Uverse! — and it’s been a lot of fun.

You don’t have to watch the Harry Potter movies, of course — you could watch The Wire, or Deadwood, or Lost from start to finish, or a whole season of 24, or the John Wayne westerns in sequence, or the Thin Man films from beginning to end, or every movie in the Shirley Temple collection.  With the amount of new content being produced these days, and the amount of old TV shows and movies that remain available for casual viewing, your binge-watching options are virtually infinite.  And whatever you choose, you’re going to be entertained . . . and out of the cold.

I’m not suggesting that binge-watching TV is something that people should do constantly, week-in and week-out — but when the cold fronts plant themselves in your neighborhood and going outside becomes a bleak, frigid experience, binge-watching is a wonderful option to have.  As I said, it’s right up there with papyrus.

Grand Old Opera House

One cool feature of Stonington is the Opera House.  It’s one of Stonington’s most prominent buildings, with its large green facade facing the bay and its old-fashioned lettering, complete with a period at the end.  Kish and I went to a screening of Stephen King’s It there on Friday night.  I can attest that going to watch a creepy movie about Maine written by Maine’s most celebrated writer in an old building in Maine, and then walking home in pitch darkness trying to steer clear of sewers, definitely increases the flesh-crawling quotient of the film.

The Stonington Opera House has an interesting back story that tells you something about how the commitment of individual people can make a difference to a town.  The current structure was built in 1912 and housed opera, vaudeville, plays, and movies, but fell into disuse.  (You can read about the building’s history here.)  According to locals, it was abandoned and in danger of being torn down before a group of people formed the Opera House Arts, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, specifically to renovate and operate the building.  The project received donations and support, recently a new wing was added, and the Opera House now features year-round entertainment and cultural offerings.  Kish and I are looking forward to attending a live performance there one of these days.

Imagine what a loss it would have been if this iconic historic building had been demolished!  But because some far-sighted folks were willing to take a chance and invest their time and effort into a project, the building was saved and the lives of the people of Stonington and its surroundings are a little bit richer as a result.  It sure beats the swing of the wrecking ball.

Trigger Warnings And The Bard

We’ve reached a milestone of sorts:  students at Cambridge University in England have been given “trigger warnings” about studying the plays of William Shakespeare.  According to reports, undergraduates in English Literature at the school — which is located just north of the Bard of Avon’s old stomping grounds in London — were cautioned that a lecture focusing on Titus Andronicus and The Comedy of Errors would include “discussions of sexual violence” and “sexual assault.”

william-shakespeare-the-life-of-the-bardThe decision has provoked a useful debate about the “trigger warnings” that more and more schools seem to be using in their academic curricula.  Advocates of such warnings say they serve to advise students about discussion of topics that might be upsetting because, for example, they might remind students of a traumatic personal experience.  Detractors of trigger warnings say it infringes upon academic freedom, because teachers will self-edit to avoid discussing difficult topics, and that it gives students a distorted perspective by leading them to believe that they can simply avoid learning about the ugly realities addressed in history and literature.

I’m in the latter camp.  And I think that, once “trigger warnings” become accepted in any context, the debate inevitably will shift to whether even more trigger warnings are needed, and how exactly they should be worded, and what students should be permitted to do to avoid the potentially upsetting topics.  The slippery slope seems pretty slippery and pretty steep.  It’s hard to think of any play by Shakespeare, for example, that couldn’t plausibly be the subject of a “trigger warning” because of violence, incest, insanity, sexual misconduct, bawdy humor, or depictions of characters on the basis of gender, race, or religion.  And what history course wouldn’t be riddled with trigger warnings about wars, plagues, racism, sexism, and general human misery?  How could students possibly get a real, meaningful education if they were allowed to skip courses that addressed topics they might find personally upsetting?

I think the use of trigger warnings, while well intentioned, does a real disservice to our young people.  It indicates that they are viewed as so brittle and weak that they need to be protected from mere words and knowledge, and it also gives them a distorted view of what life is going to be like.  The real world doesn’t give trigger warnings to allow people to avoid confronting upsetting topics or situations, and you have to wonder what kind of hyper-delicate, head-in-the-sand adults are going to be produced by school systems and colleges that employ trigger warnings.

As Shakespeare himself wrote in Marc Antony’s great soliloquy in Julius Caesar:  “Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.”

Tubing It

Today we took an inner tube float trip on a segment of the Medina River in the Hill Country of Texas.  The river drifted lazily beneath a canopy of shady trees, the cool, crystal clear water felt good against the keister, and the ice-cold beers went down easy along the way.  There may be a more relaxing way to spend a Friday afternoon, but if so I don’t know what it is.

The wise river tuber carefully ties up to the cooler tube, by the way.

Avoiding Barside Embarrassment

When you go up to a bar to order a drink, you want to project a certain nonchalant yet decisive elegance with the bartender that shows her that you’ve been here before and you know what you’re doing.

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The goal is steely-eyed, white-jacketed, Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca-like cool certainty, as opposed to waffling or floundering or acting like goofy Clarence the Angel ordering a flaming rum punch at Nick’s, the hard-drinking bar in the alternative, George Bailey-free universe.

Knowing how to correctly pronounce the drink you’re ordering sure helps.

Would you know how to order a caipirinha, which the national drink of Brazil?  Made with sugarcane distilled spirits called Cachaca, lime, and sugar, it packs a lethal punch and is pronounced kai-pee-reen-ya.  Or let’s suppose you were up in Sweden during its endless, dark winter and wanted to warm yourself with a glass of traditional mulled wine, called glogg (with an umlaut over the o, too).  Appropriately, it’s pronounced glug, which should be easy to remember after you’ve swilled down two or three of them, because Swedish mulled wine tends to have a lot more alcohol than the American version.  Or let’s say you’re in a somewhat daintier mood, and feel like having a sgroppino to top off your meal.  That’s an Italian concoction of Prosecco, vodka, and lemon sorbet that’s pronounced sro-pee-no.  (You wouldn’t want to order that one at Nick’s, by the way.)

Hospitality Training Solutions has provided a guide to the correct pronunciation of these and other cocktails, to ensure that you project an image more like Bogie and less like Clarence the next time you belly up to the bar.  And remember, too — people rarely mispronounce beer.

Mysterious Object 

We’ve been doing some cleaning today, and I ran across this unknown metal object.  I put a buckeye next to it to give an idea of its size.

I have no idea of its function, but it’s nicely made and appears to be pretty old.  Anybody have an idea what this object is?  It’s destined to become a desk toy at my office.