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New England Village Fête

August 5, 2010

I have been back in London for a little while now, and I must admit that I am already feeling a bit nostalgic for New England. Despite being very busy, my time in America was truly lovely, and I am seriously considering the offer of a transfer to the New York branch of my company. While I love England dearly, I feel that it would be nice to have a change, and while I have not decided definitely, I am discussing the possibility with my CEO.

One of my favourite places in America is without doubt the state of Vermont. As I previously posted, I have made multiple weekend visits to the “green mountain state” to visit friends there. Perhaps part of the draw is that the Vermont countryside reminds me of places in Scotland, and I can almost imagine hearing my Grandmother’s voice calling me in for tea, but I find much more than that to attract me to the little wedge-shaped state situated just under Canada. Vermont is quite unlike anything else I have seen in America. While there are urban areas, there is always a beauty, and a realness, if you can say that, about everything. It is difficult to describe the gentle peace that comes with wandering through the woods, or of spending a few hours on a farm fixing fences and moving cows between pastures (my idea of a mini break might be a bit different from yours). If I do move to the states for any period of time, I will try very hard to position myself as close to Vermont as possible.

During one of my final weekends in New England I made the trip to Vermont one last time. There is a tradition in the states to hold “County Fairs”. These (typically) one-weekend events are very similar to the more British phenomenon of the village fête, not that such comparisons are not particularly valuable. The important thing to know is that it is traditional for a county to put together an annual festival involving animal showing, large quantities of concession stand fried food, and a midway of rides seemingly designed to mark that food “return to sender”. I had attended at least one of these fairs every summer I spent in New England as a child, and was delighted by the opportunity to visit another after such a long time. I flew to Vermont on a Friday afternoon and met my friends at the airport in Burlington. We decided to make an evening of it, and I took them out to a very pleasant restaurant “L’Amante”. It is situated just off the main shopping area of the town. Burlington is a very small city, but charming, and I enjoy poking about when I am there. If anyone finds themselves in town and has a bit of time to kill, it is very easy to do so on “Church Street” — a pedestrian marketplace lined with shops, cafés and restaurants. If you are looking for L’Amante, it is just down a side street called College Street.

Anyway, the next morning we got ourselves together and made the short drive over to the fair. It wasn’t particularly busy, as we were on the early side, but we enjoyed ourselves as we wandered through the animal exhibits, petting goats and discussing breeds of cow. Farmers were busy fetching hay and water, and I saw several children braiding a Percheron’s mane. While I do enjoy spending time with animals, I must admit that events such as this provide an unparalleled people watching opportunity. At one point I bought a maple syrup flavoured ice cream and stationed myself at an outdoor table where I could observe the passing masses. After a while, a man sat at an adjacent place, and in the easy, comfortable way that works in the country, but would get you tasered in the city, struck up a conversation with me. He was perhaps in his 50s, not old, but starting to grey and run towards a paunch. It turned out that he was a local farmer and was actually going to have several horses entered into the horse pull that would be taking place later in the afternoon. The man, let’s call him Charlie, was witty and definitely enjoying his day. While we only spoke for a short time, he made a comment that made me think. It wasn’t a particularly nice or PC comment, but it was undeniably true. After a group of particularly large persons walked by, Charlie leaned over to me and said: “Have you noticed that many of the people who go to the fair haven’t made very many good life decisions?” My first inner reaction was to deny the statement, but just then, a woman walked past dragging a little girl by one hand, and holding a cigarette in the other. She had to have been one of the biggest women I have ever seen, and it seemed that almost every visible inch of her was covered by tattoos and piercings. I was reminded of the woman “Murgatroyd” I saw in a London Starbucks and blogged about a while back, except that while Murgatroyd was skeletally thin, this woman could probably be harpooned and boiled down to use for lamp oil. I couldn’t know anything about the woman’s condition, or how she had come to be who she was, but I was forced to admit that there had been some bad decisions made along the way.

I moved my gaze and saw a man buying a sausage. He wasn’t nearly as large as the woman had been, but he was clearly working on it. He was wearing a sleeveless shirt and had a tattoo that I realised had to have been an entire dragon on his back, as tips of wings ran over his shoulders and down his arms, and a head rested on the back of his neck with flame down one side — all in muted strange colours, and distorted by rolls of flesh. Next, my ear was caught by a loud conversation being had nearby by two women who were discussing the merits of different brands of cigarettes, while their young children played definitely within earshot. I can hardly imagine the amount of second-hand smoke those children have already been exposed to, and there is no doubt that they will be smoking as well, as soon as they possible can.

While I take an incredibly open-minded view to most people, I found myself reluctantly agreeing with Charlie. I didn’t want to, I wanted everything to be as wonderful as the weather and the maple-flavoured cotton candy I could smell being spun in the next building. I wanted to think of everyone as mature and well-reasoning adults, but Charlie’s comment was painfully accurate and more far-reaching than maybe even he realised at the time. The world is full of people who haven’t made very good life decisions. Everyday people become addicted to drugs, eat themselves into heart failure and strokes, smoke cancer into their lungs, start wars, and squander money (the USA managed to loose about $9-billion recently [link]). And for every person who brings bad luck onto him or herself, think of the number who have no choice in the matter — the thought is so painful it gets blocked out far too much of the time. No matter how much I might have liked to argue with Charlie, I had no ammunition with which to fight, and instead had to nod my head and murmur agreement.

  1. Please note, this is an updated version of the post. If you read yesterday’s version, please read this one, as I feel that I didn’t get my point across adequately in the older version. Thank you for reading!

  2. I didn’t read yesterday’s post. I agree, in fact, I was watching a young woman with a child the other day and got the impression I knew what her mistake had been.

    Are tattoos, branding, piercings and so on a form of self harming – a cry for help?

    Vermont does sound a wonderful place. My dad was a farmer, they spend a lot of time alone, plenty of time to think deep thoughts.

    • Thanks anjiknut. I feel a bit odd about this post — I would rather have written something that was purely about how lovely Vermont is, but for some reason this is what came out. I think I’m going to do some more editing to take some of the personal descriptions out. I myself have struggled at times with obesity, and know only too well how easy it is to gain weight — I think I may have chosen the wrong image for the result of “bad choices”. I will give it some more thought. Meanwhile, I’ve posted an entirely fun post that doesn’t make any attempts to think deep thoughts.

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