I went to the animal fair, the birds and the beasts were there, the big baboon by the light of the moon was combing his auburn hair, the monkey he got drunk, and fell on the elephant’s trunk. The elephant sneezed and fell on his knees and that was the end of the monk, the monk the monk.
My Poppa Hy used to sing that song to me, I sing it to all the babies I meet. They love it, they think it is hilarious, especially if you bounce up and down while singing it. This was the song going through my head on the way to The Common Ground Fair, an annual event produced by MOFGA, aka Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.
The Fair is like a Ren Faire + 4H + Shakedown Street + Folkfest. If you get none of those references its a big fair all about organic farming and gardening and a great place to buy things like hand carved wooden spoons, candles, gourds and yarn while learning about home burials, composting, and maple syrup production, listening to many folk singers, and eating a variety of organic food stuffs ranging from lamb sausage to pie cones to fried tofu to tacos.
It was the tacos that brought me to the fair. My friend Juliana owns the Tic Tac Taco stand, and I joined her team this year. Before I tell my taco tale, and complain about my sore shoulder and spasming finger, I have to, have to, have to exclaim my utter admiration for what an enormously detailed operation her taco stand is.
MOGFA has a lot of rules for food vendors, some make sense and some are just the kind of rules that exist so that people who love rules can enjoy creating them. Everything has to be organic, most of it has to either be grown or raised in Maine or selected from a list of MOFGA approved food products. All rice has to be brown and all bread products whole grain, which simultaneously lessens everyone’s enjoyment of the food while providing them with a modicum of self delusion.
Juliana has been doing this for 6 years, her tacos are delicious, she makes everything but the tortillas from scratch, she used to make the tortillas herself but she finally found a woman in Portland who makes organic corn tortillas. When I say she makes everything from scratch I don’t mean oh she opens up some cans of beans and adds stuff, I mean she soaks the beans, she creates her spices mixes, she makes her salsa, she makes her own cheese and her mother even raised the chickens. It really is a huge and amazing undertaking and she does it beautifully.
My taco adventure took me way out of my comfort zone, I was neither a leader nor did I offer much creative or culinary input. The fairgrounds are about 2 hours from my house, so I stayed the weekend in a camp Juliana’s family owns. I had the option of camping at the fairgrounds. I’m really happy I didn’t take that option, though I did prepare for it by buying a lot of ridiculous crap. Juliana made the arrangements and I just elected to trust. I was so far out of my control freak comfort zone. I bought a bunch more ridiculous shit, some food I didn’t even really like and got ready for my 3 day 3 night adventure.
Wednesday at about 3:00 am, Aunt Flo arrived and kept me up worrying for the rest of the night.. We are all supposed to be all out in the open about our periods now, but it is still a bit cringey for me to share this intimate detail of my life with cyberland, however its a part of the tale.
I don’t have a ladylike period, those pink boxes are not for me, its not delicate its horrendous and foul and it saps my energy like mad. In the spirit of the Common ground Fair I ran to Morning Glory Natural Foods and instead of just stocking up on wine and cheese like I usually do, I bought some homeopathic drops (Shepard’s Purse). They smell like rotten celery and were intended to “ease uterine floodeing“. They did not live up to the elaborate and antiquely worded promises from the website.
I find this happens a lot with homeopathic drops, tisanes, teas and such. Perhaps my spirit and body are just not open enough to embrace the power of suggestion but they seem like a lot of over priced chicanery. The $24 I laid down would have been better spent elsewhere, perhaps on a pair of cozy socks, at least then I would’ve felt coddled. This all put me in the perfect mood for a hippy fest. I didn’t feel like being natural or loving. I needed to lie down a lot, take prescription drugs, eat crunchy salty things and watch telly and I was about to spent 3 days on my feet, 8 hours of each day with only a port a potty at my disposal.
I was terrified my non organic bleached cotton supplies with plastic wrappers would be deemed verboten by fair authorities and taken away from me, and while I had no doubt I could find a 100% organic cotton reusable menstrual item with which I could “free bleed” at the fair, I just couldn’t face the possibility. I jammed my essentials into a silver quilted fanny pack that matched my (plastic) water bottle and Mr. Coffee brand warm drink cup. Do I know how to fit in or what?
Day one started out just like any sort of terrorist cell operation would. A woman I had never met would pick me up on her way back from Portland and deposit me in a cabin in the woods where I would be met by yet another woman I had never met with whom I would drive to the fair on Friday morning.
Jesse Mae and her son Liam arrived at 4pm on Thursday to pick me up and deposit me at Juliana’s camp.
(For Non-Mainers: A camp is a rustic house usually near a lake or the river whereas a cabin is even more rustic, perhaps in the woods and perhaps without amenities like indoor plumbing and a cottage is a more elaborate house more likely near the coast.)
We had a bit of a visit and she kindly drove me to go get water once I realized that the water there was not potable and she realized that I panicked easily.
And then I waited, alone in the woods near a lake, in the dark, waiting for all the bears, axe murders and cannibalistic pigmen to descend upon me. I was also waiting for Jill, I didn’t have her number, I wasn’t sure what time she would show up so I settled in, booted up a movie on my kindle and made dinner. It was very, very quiet.
I made one of my favorite alone dinners, pasta with garlic and greens and a fried egg, I tried to relax but since I am not generally a very relaxed person I anxiously awaited the sound of Jill’s car, or the car belonging to the people who were coming to murder me, whichever got there first.
That’s when Jill called saying she would see me in the morning, she was out with friends, I assured her I would be fine, I’d lock the door, then she told me that the door didn’t lock.
I drank two glasses of wine. Ignoring ALL THE SOUNDS outside that were probably acorns but possibly pigmen I went to bed. There I proceeded to toss and turn and cramp and bleed and panic and weave in and out of a fitful sleep laced with overtones of the Harry Potter audio book that I thought would lull me gently in to the arms or Morpheus (which it did not). At 3am the rain started, now I had some thing else to worry about.
I got out of bed an 5:15, showered-ish made coffee, ate a granola bar and waited for Jill. Once she arrived the 3 day taco adventure would truly begin. I was basically in a fugue state, half asleep, my faulty uterus was leaching all my energy and the last thing I wanted to be was the whiny JAP amoungst the happy hippies. I just wanted to go home, and sleep but I couldn’t I wasn’t that kind of person, I made a commitment so I soldiered on.
Friday — it rained, a lot, I found that I had the time to visit the port a potty about 15 times throughout the day to take care of my lady business. What joy! Despite the rain there were still quite a few attendees and while rolling tacos I started compiling a list of all the allergies and food sensitivities that the fairgoers shared with the ladies at the front.
Topping the list was everybody’s favorite the Gluten Allergy whether real or imagined, diagnosed or not the big bad gluten was a big bad issue. Tic Tac Tacos were 100% gluten free, it said so on all of the menus and signs. But the anti-gluteneers could not be too careful and made sure to ask, sometimes twice just to make sure not a molecule of gluten passed their lips. I know its a real thing, I understand that so many people have issues with it, I just don’t understand why it all has to be so aggressive.
Lactose allergies maintained a close second with vegans and vegetarians. The rest of the list was more specific:
- onions but not garlic
- garlic but not onions
- seeds but not nuts
- nuts but not seeds
- pine nuts ( who doesn’t make their tacos with pine nuts?)
- limes but not lemons
- wheat (separate from gluten)
- goat cheese
I’ve worked in hospitality long enough that none of this was a surprise, but doesn’t it make me wonder if I am ignoring some important food sensitivities that I may have. Maybe I’m allergic to oats or black berries or pineapple or cumin. Am I so out of touch with the subtleties of my body that I don’t realize that I am allergic to possibly everything? I can’t over do it with the lactose but what adult human can?
It all seems so exhausting to me.
Friday night Christian arrived at the cabin, we had a rustic dinner of kielbasa and beans and I fell asleep while he was telling me a story. I’d like to report that I slept through the night and woke up refreshed but, alas, that did not happen. I could not stay asleep and ended up on the very slim, hard couch staring at the ceiling until the alarm went off at 5:30. Showered-ish again, made coffee woke up Christian and we got in the car and drove up to Unity- google maps bringing us up the loooong way so we were late and I was anxious. I hate being late.
It was a beautiful day and there was record attendance 30,000 people at the fair that day. Most of them had tacos.
The fair was not all work, well it was about 98% work, since that’s what I was there to do. On Saturday I got out of the taco tent for a few minutes to walk the fair with Christian and see the animals. I went to visit the fancy chickens, sheep, goats, horse, alpacas and pigs. Cows by the way are freaking ENOURMOUS up front, really, really huge, this one cow’s hip was at least six feet high. A little baby cow licked my fingers, it made me feel bad about loving hamburgers, but then I got over it. The day ended about 6:30 and we drove back through the darkening countryside, which only scared me a little bit.
On the way back to the cabin we stopped at the supermarket to get something for dinner and elected to stuff ourselves turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes and wine, thus insuring a full nights sleep. It was close, I only woke up twice.
On Sunday we did it all over again, google maps gave us an entirely different route option which got us there a half an hour early rather than an hour late (WTF). We had enough time to get a breakfast sandwich at the Ridge Top diner. Eat there if you ever find yourself in Unity. Every single thing that came out of the kitchen looked amazing. Our breakfast sandwiches were on enourmous griddled soft chewy rolls with holes that they called bagels, the eggs were fresh and tasted like they came from someone’s backyard chickens rather than Sysco and there were generous amounts of terrific smoky crunchy bacon.
That morning I also met a Llama and her mama. It was the very best thing ever, my favorite part of the fair. I love llamas, when I was a little girl a llama ate my hat right off my head at the Central Park Zoo. Zoos were different back then, the monkeys used to be in one big cage and people would toss them lit cigarettes to smoke. Yes, back in the 70’s even the monkeys smoked. I may have fed my hat to the llama, my grandmother knitted it and I hated the big puff on the top. For twenty more years she lamented the loss of the hat, I still feel a little bit bad about it. Anyway I love llamas, I love their long eyelashes and their long necks and I want to brush their hair, this llama leaned into me while I pet her, just like a dog or a horse I was smitten.
And all of the sudden it was over, we left a bit early Christian had to work in the morning and I was starting to get loopy. We took a turn around the fairgrounds before we left, looking for something buy. There was a lot that I wanted but nothing I needed so I ate a lamb sausage. Then we got in our little car and drove back through the beautiful country side happy to get closer to the coast, to the sea and the river and our home.