Friday, September 29, 2006

New England's great state fair is in's some observations...

WEST SPRINGFIELD - The mixing of agriculture, state pride, gimmicks, gadgets, performances and corn dogs that is known as the Big E is back for its annual run and as usual the fair is its usual a blend of the familiar and the new.

This reporter spent an afternoon at the Big E looking for both the new and old and is happy to report he found both.
This year's edition posed the question whether or not martinis and state fairs are a good mixture. From the satisfied looks of the people enjoying the fair's new signature cocktail, the "E-tini," one might surmise the unlikely combination seemed to work.

Rick Hebert was behind the bar and he said the "E-tini" was a blend of locally produced V 1 Vodka, Godiva Dark Chocolate Liquor, vanilla extract, cream and chocolate sauce.

The idea behind the drink was to replicate the flavor of the popular Big E creampuff.

The "E-tini" was one of several being offered at the price of $8 and Hebert said that they were a hit with fair goers.

Some people may go to the Big E for the entertainment, while others enjoy the selection of fair food. I'm an example of taking the boy off the farm, but not taking the farm out of the boy.

The Mallory Complex is a favorite of mine with its "milking parlor" that allows children and adults like to see cows being milked to its exhibit of products made from New England wool.

I just like to wander around and look at the various animals. While I was there sheep judging was going on. The complex was filled with sheep and cows and the people were getting many of their livestock ready for the ring.

The animals in the Mallory Complex change over 13 times during the fair, so if you go multiple times to the Big E, you'll see something new there.

Other agricultural displays can be seen in the Farm-a-rama building. The displays of all that is grown on family farms had quite a few winners from western Massachusetts with Michael Pietruska of Southwick picking up third place.

I love gadgets and the Big E remains a serious gadget destination point. This year displays of wood stoves seem to be everywhere as well as various devices that pick up pet hair from furniture.

What always amazes me is the Big E continues to be one of the few places for a very old-fashioned - but effective - way of selling merchandise. The company that makes Oxy Clean has been at the fair for years and despite the fact they are selling their products in stores supported by national television commercials, they are back at the fair with an Oxy Clean detergent ball.

Their representatives do demonstrations that result in substantial sales - I saw dozens of people walking around with the detergent balls.

It's reassuring in this time, when so many exchanges between people are made through technology, to see this one-on-one salesmanship.

Now despite the promise I make to my wife every year, I couldn't resist getting something. As I've got a lot of painting to do I was intrigued by a device that rolls your masking tape onto windows and molding apparently effortlessly.

I elected, however, to buy a painting device that rolls your paint right next to molding perfectly without having to mask it. I'll let you know how it works.

I sometimes yearn for the days of 20 years ago when the fair had numerous traveling attractions from a car supposedly owned by Adolph Hitler to a wax museum on wheels to the world's smallest horse to the world's largest lobster.

Today there are fewer and fewer of these kind of features, but the best one at the fair is Bear Country. For $1, you get to see a variety of obviously contented and well-kept bears from a conservation farm in a clean and air-conditioned trailer. It's probably the best buck you'll spend at the fair.

Those attractions are part of what I call the inexplicable part of the fair: things you don't expect to see and are not quite sure why you're seeing them, but they are there.

For instance, there is one booth near the Better Living Center featuring items from Mexico and among them were rows and rows of colorful Mexican wrestling masks. Is there a demand for them? I don't know.

There was Bryan Berg in the New England Building who was building a replica of Fenway Park out of playing cards. It was fascinating in an odd way.

For $20, a company called "Dance Heads" would make you a DVD featuring three people lip-syncing to a popular song while their heads were superimposed onto animated cartoon bodies. The booth was drawing quite a few on-lookers to watch the process.

The State Buildings are always interesting because of the image each state wants to advance to the one million-plus Big E attendees. Each building has a delicate balance between industry, tourism and commerce.
Of course, I'm a partisan, so I like the Massachusetts offerings a lot because so many of them are from here, western Massachusetts. Koffee Kup Bakery, Chicopee Provisions, Wilbraham & Monson Academy, local farmers and honey producers, Atkins Farms, Shriners Hospital and the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners were among those with displays.

So the face of Massachusetts the state chooses to present at the Big E is largely our face. Well, it is the Commonwealth's best side.

The Big E runs through Oct. 1.
©2006 Gordon Michael Dobbs. My words alone.

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