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Why We Love State Fairs

After my state fair post a few weeks ago, someone mentioned that they had never been to a state fair. When I love something a lot, sometimes it’s difficult to explain in detail why I enjoy it so much, beyond, “IT’S AWESOME, GO!” So I asked some friends and family why they like their state fairs. Here they are: 

Laura Ellis says the Kentucky State Fair is her happy place: 

  Just waiting for some pigtails. 

Just waiting for some pigtails. 

"When I was growing up, the Kentucky State Fair was always the last hurrah of summer, right before school started back up, and my parents took us every year. My mom says one year when I was around 4, we were looking at the goats, and she glanced away, and when she looked back, a goat was eating one of my pigtails — so I have to think the fair is at least partially responsible for my lifelong love of interacting with all manner of animals. Besides childhood memories, I think I love the fair because I relate to it so much; the fair is this weird, boisterous, musical, kitschy, kind of redneck, eclectic, country-ish entity that just happens to be in the middle of a city... like me!” 

This year, Laura takes home the Most Hardcore Fair Fan for living at the fair during its 11-day run as part of "a special embedded journalism project". 

Trevor Zickgraf, on the California State Fair: 
“...my favorite part of the California State Fair is the plethora of craft beers. California has become increasingly crafty when it comes to suds so being able to sample all that the Golden State has to offer is great. The food choices are also good but honestly, why go to a fair and try anything other than fried food. The best thing I've tried is the fried grilled cheese sandwich. Strangest fried item: Fried Kool-Aid. Finally, our fair does a great job with music. You won't find any A-Listers but acts like Belinda Carlisle and Blues Traveler were there this year. There's also this Queen cover band whose lead singer is a dead ringer for Hot Space era Freddy Mercury.”

Several years ago, I saw Boyz II Men at the Kentucky State Fair. There were only three Men (or Boyz?), and traffic to the fair meant we arrived in time for the last two songs. Still worth it. Then we wandered into the ticketed Def Leppard show, so I consider that a successful evening of fair-going. 

  Riding the Texas Star in 2002. 

Riding the Texas Star in 2002. 

Michael Golden (full disclosure, he’s my brother) on the Texas State Fair: 
"Lots of state fairs have Ferris wheels, but I doubt many have ones like the Texas Star. Despite the cliche, it's not the biggest in the world, or even in the States, but it still gives a great view of the festivities. There's nothing like rising high above the noise and chaos to find a bit of peace and perspective. It's always worth the wait, and if the line is too long, it's just an excuse to grab a turkey leg (2nd favorite thing!) and join the queue.”

Emily Beliles (more full disclosure, she’s my cousin) on the Virginia State Fair: 
"My favorite part of the Virginia State Fair is definitely the pig races. Watching little, happily squealing piglets fly around a track is pure joy. The bigger the pigs, the slower the races, and inevitably there's one or two hogs that get sidetracked by something interesting they find to sniff along the way. Sitting on hay bales and listening to the announcer's intense introductions and moment-by-moment Nascar-like descriptions of each race is half the fun. It's definitely the one show I never miss!” 

Fried everything, turkey legs (my favorite fair food), livestock, animal shows — these are some of the things that make me want to go to the fair every year. Plus, tickets are cheap, so you can spend all your money on Grater Taters, food on sticks, and beer. I particularly love the craft contests, both for the range of skill and strangeness on display. Someone made an intricate, flowery quilt; someone else made a horse out of seashells. Winners, all. 

So go forth and find a state fair to attend. If you’re in D.C., there are still at least five coming up in the next few weeks that are kind of close. 

 Sea horse. 

Sea horse. 

Favorite D.C. Places: Cherubs and Goose

Here are some cherubs strangling a goose. 

  What did that goose ever do to those cherubs? 

What did that goose ever do to those cherubs? 

This fountain is in one of the two main floor atriums in the National Gallery's West Building. The weirdness of the statue makes this atrium superior to its east wing counterpart, which is identical but for the blander fountain. I saw both statues last weekend, and I can’t remember what the other one is. It’s definitely not angels roughhousing with a goose. 

When taking visitors to the National Gallery, we always go to the rotunda, whose Italian marble pillars, dark floors, and Pantheon-inspired dome always get a "Wow." But the garden courts are cozier, and the skylights, greenery, and Goose and Cherubs put this particular indoor courtyard among my many favorite spots near the Mall. It’s a perfect place to hide from the weather, if you can soldier through the summer humidity or the dreary winter to get to the museum. The chairs around the atrium mean you can sit, people watch, eavesdrop, or read a book for as long as the museum is open. It’s full of light, it's free, the landscaping around the fountain changes every few months, and you’re surrounded by art.

And at least last weekend, it was relatively empty. The tourists were all lined up down the street at the Natural History and American History Museums. 

The Burro Lady is Real

I was looking for an old rough draft on one thing and found this instead. I wrote it about a year ago. As I haven't posted anything in months, now seems as good a time as any. Happy Friday. 

There are a few moments I think I’ve dreamed. 

The caged tiger at the Louisiana gas station off I-10, where we stopped to refuel in the middle of the night on a family road trip. 

Getting lost in the Basel alleys early in the morning during carnaval and repeatedly running into groups of masked, drum-and-pipe-toting revelers. 

These memories, like most, need verification after a while. I pull out a journal, contact a friend, or in the case of the tiger, confirm with Google. 

Of all my uncertain, dream-like memories, none is more surreal than the woman on the burro. 

In 2002, three high school friends and I convinced our parents to lend us a truck and their trust to drive around Texas on spring break. We left Houston for Dallas on a loop that took us north to Amarillo, west to the Davis Mountains and Marfa, then south to Big Bend. As we drove from Marfa to Terlingua, through scrubby desert and the starts of mountains, the woman on the burro appeared, heading towards us on the road shoulder, gone almost as swiftly as we registered her, probably because we were speeding. Had three other people not seen her, I would swear I dreamed her; even though three other people saw her, I still recalled that memory with a twinge of doubt. The woman on the burro felt like a ghost. 

A few weeks ago, a friend from that trip shared this article on Facebook with me, confirming the burro lady is real, not a shared hallucination. 

"You were in the middle of telling your mom, your friend, your lover—whomever—the kind of story you tell on a road trip. Your eyes light on an unexpected shape on the roadside ahead, and as you get closer, spinning along at 70 mph, you stop talking, your mom or your friend or whoever is looking now, too, at the elephantine hump that’s moving steadily down the bar ditch, and you realize, “Hey, that’s a woman on a burro."

It was exactly like that. 

My first reaction to this post, “OMG, you found her! SHE’S REAL.” Before I could finish that thought, I opened the link, and all my excitement faded. The article that brought the burro lady back to me immediately took her away. Burro lady died. In 2007. 

But y’all. The burro lady is real. I kept this to myself for at least an hour or two after finding out, because saying, “The burro lady is real,” sounds idiotic, a point that was emphasized when I finally told my husband, who said, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” I’ve tried for weeks to put into words how much this news, despite its age, meant to me. I think about Terlingua often. It’s a lonely place, but knowing I know someone in that cemetery, even if I don’t actually know her, makes me want to go back. 

What memories do you think you've dreamed? 

A Monumental Bike Ride

Drive from Arlington into D.C. on 66 and you cross the Potomac with a grand view of the river, the Kennedy Center, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial off to the right. I’m prone to neck-craning anytime I’m near water, and with the added distraction of monuments, I become a danger to myself and others. After making this drive a few times, I realized I needed to get myself, sans car, to the bank of the river so I could do all the looking I wanted before I drove off the bridge. On Monday, I finally rode my bike down the Rock Creek Park Trail to the river. Apart from a few steep inclines and some bike-shaking cracks on the trail, it's an easy, pretty ride past the zoo, a par course, a cemetery, and the beginning of the C&O Towpath Trail. 

 (L-R): Kennedy Center & trash, Theodore Roosevelt Island, Key Bridge & Georgetown.

(L-R): Kennedy Center & trash, Theodore Roosevelt Island, Key Bridge & Georgetown.

Once I got a good look at the Key Bridge and the river bend between the Georgetown Waterfront Park and the Kennedy Center (and all the trash that collects there), I kept biking. Since I haven’t been to the mall at all since moving here, I continued my bike ride past the Lincoln Memorial, then decided to find the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, which I’ve never seen. It’s on the Tidal Basin, and since I’d also never been there, I decided I should bike around it and get up close to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. From there, I closed my Tidal Basin loop, pausing to check the paddle boathouse schedule (Wednesday-Saturday this time of year) and stare at these tiny, iridescent fish flashing just below the water’s surface.  From there, I headed home, stopping at the par course pull-up bars to test my upper body strength. 

 
 Fish not pictured.

Fish not pictured.

 

This bike ride made me realize that while my neighborhood has started to feel like home, I haven't yet grasped that these monuments are also part of home. I have to remind myself that it usually takes at least six months for me to get really comfortable with a place. In the meantime, the ride inspired a few more exploration goals:   

Visit Theodore Roosevelt Island.

Explore Lady Bird Johnson Park.

Follow the Rock Creek Park Trail all the way down to Hains Point, where the Potomac meets the Anacostia. 

Just Exploring the National Library of Medicine

In June, I spent two days at the National Institute of Health's Library of Medicine, where a librarian friend who’s encouraging me to look into librarianship introduced me to her co-workers in various departments. Here are some things I learned about the library.

There’s a daily tour at 1:30. I was the only one it. On the lower level, a set of dioramas shows the collection’s movement from downtown D.C. to Maryland. The collection lived in Ford’s Theater between 1866 and 1887. Today, it’s on the NIH main campus in Bethesda, where it moved in 1962. The building’s Cold War design includes a collapsible ceiling that would allow the roof to come down and seal the collection. This is terrifying. Let’s not dwell on it. 

The library offers extensive online resources, including Turning the Pages, an online look at 13 rare items from the collection. I’ve flipped through all of Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal at least twice, and Hanaoka Seishu’s Surgical Casebook is a gruesome diversion. 

In the library’s History of Medicine division, they have a Nobel Prize on display. This department also organizes exhibits of their archives. They’re currently showing a selection of pictures of nurses, part of a collection of 2,588 postcards assembled by an RN and donated to the library. You can see it here

During my behind-the-scenes wandering, I got to visit the library’s conservation lab, where I met a woman preparing to restitch the binding on a book whose pages she had finished washing. Various librarians talked about Rare Book School, which offers classes mainly in Charlottesville. Who else wants to go to Rare Book School? 

My NLM visit succeeded in getting me to think more about pursuing librarianship (while introducing me to the term “librarianship”), and I’m grateful to my friend and her colleagues who took the time to speak with me. You don’t have to be a maybe-librarian to visit the National Library of Medicine. It’s open to the public, and anyone can get a library card. Or you can skip the Metro ride and security checks and explore the resources from home.  

A Visit to the JFK Presidential Library and Museum

As the vice-president, you probably expect to be invited to White House dinners honoring international visitors. Yet on the suggested guest list for the Kennedys’ 1962 dinner for André Malraux, the French Minister of Cultural Affairs, the First Lady had to pencil in the “LB Johnsons.” Perhaps whoever assembled the list took the Johnsons’ presence as a given?

 
 

We visited the JFK Museum and Library at the end of May, our second presidential library (LBJ was our first). The Malraux dinner guest list draft and the seating chart were two of my favorite exhibits. Under the “Theater” section, the guests are deemed “not avant garde enough.” At least two guests have “Who is he?” written next to their names. Because we have an amazing tool that Mrs. Kennedy did not, we can find out quickly who Justin O’Brien was. Google turns up a Columbia French professor who translated the Nobel prize-winning French author André Gide and wrote his biography. He seems like a good candidate for a state dinner, especially if they were looking for more French-speakers to attend, as the notes suggest.

I would look at a whole book of notes on guest lists for state dinners. 

It’s always interesting to see the gifts presented to the President and First Lady by other leaders. When was the last time you got a gold and diamond purse as a gift? Morocco’s King Hassan gave this one to Mrs. Kennedy. The president of Pakistan gave her a horse. 

 
 

The LBJ museum collection is more expansive, but JFK’s presidential term was so much shorter. Happily, there was no animatronic JFK. There was, however, a video of the president playing with a goat.  

So that’s two presidential libraries down, and 11 to go. Have you visited any? Which was your favorite? 

Update to the Boston To Do List

Our time in Boston is quickly coming to an end, which means I have very little time left to get through this list. I keep thinking of more things I want to do, but I’ve accepted that this list will go unfinished. 

Here’s what I’ve accomplished from the original list.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum -

Look at this courtyard. This alone is worth the visit. In fact, I spent most of my time here and in the ground floor rooms around it. My favorite thing besides the courtyard was the Spanish cloister. The hall is lined with 2000 painted tiles that Gardner’s artist friend, Dodge Macknight, brought her from Mexico. Gardner installed the tiles herself.

Peabody Museum - I visited on a whim one afternoon and learned about Harvard’s Native American history. The college’s 1650 founding charter states it will educate "English & Indian Youth of this Country in knowledge: and godliness.” The first brick building on campus was the Harvard Indian College. Only five or six names of Native American students who attended the college are certain; only Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck graduated, and he died of tuberculosis a year later. His classmate, Joel Iacoomes, was to be valedictorian that year, but died before graduation. In 2011, Harvard awarded him a posthumous degree. 

 Sonic Arboretum

Sonic Arboretum

Institute of Contemporary Art - we went on the last day of the “When the Stars Began to Fall: Imagination and the American South” and the “Sonic Arboretum” exhibits. I went for the Stars exhibit, but I loved the Arboretum, which was a room full of these horn speakers playing an Andrew Bird composition. Also fun: the hallway overlooking the harbor and the living room-sized elevator. 

Whale-watching - I audited a marine biology class this semester, and as the year-end field trip, we went whale-watching. Last semester, I went on a field trip to a chocolate factory, and now, whale-watching. Field trips are really cool at Harvard. 

We saw one Sei whale. Apparently they are a rare sight.

Christian Science Plaza - I still have some exploring to do here, but we did go on the Mapparium tour. It’s only about 15 minutes long, but it’s really bizarre and wonderful. The tour takes you into the three-story, stained glass globe of the world as it was in 1935. There’s a light show, which means various parts of the globe light up as you hear “welcome” in different languages. This sounds cheesy, and it is a little bit, but it’s still presented in a way that made me a little teary-eyed.

Great Molasses Flood plaque in Puopolo Park - I almost gave up on this when we went to look for it. It’s described as “easy to miss.” That is true. If you’re looking for this plaque, it’s in the low, stone wall near the entrance of the park, in between Puopolo and Langone Parks. If you’re looking at the bocce pits with your back to the street, it’s on the right. 

So that’s about six things out of twenty on the list.

But I've also done things that weren’t on the list, like biking to Walden Pond and swimming in it again, even though it was breath-takingly cold; ringing the bells in the Lowell House bell tower (“houses” are where the students live, but you would never call these accommodations “dorms”); handling Ansel Adams prints in one of the libraries; and spending an hour in a Harvard art museum study room with my favorite images, Andre Kertesz’s “Chez Mondrian.” And then there are new things I’ve learned about that should go on the list, like visiting Spot Pond in the Middlesex Fells Reservation, or the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, or taking a ferry to one of the Harbor Islands. 

We have visitors this weekend, which usually means more sight-seeing… and maybe tackling a few more of these “To-Dos.” For those with Boston experience, I welcome any suggestions on the one thing we have to do before we leave. 

On Serendipitous Travel Moments, or Being in the Right Place at the Right Time

For one of the classes I’m auditing this semester, I’ve been reading Henry Brooks Adams’s autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams. Adams was the grandson and great-grandson of presidents, and though he worked as private secretary to his ambassador father, wrote, and taught at Harvard, in reading his autobiography, you get the sense that he never really did anything.  He did marry, and his wife, Marian (“Clover”) committed suicide by drinking photo developing chemicals. You don’t learn about this in his book, because he doesn’t mention Clover or her death at all. 

Although Adams didn’t talk about his wife’s death, he commissioned a statue in her memory (Atlas Obscura has a great post about the memorial). Today, you can visit the Adams Memorial at Rock Creek Cemetery in D.C. We spent a few days in Washington over our spring break. I thought about looking for the statue, but spent the time visiting museums and friends instead.

On our first day, we went to the Smithsonian American Art museum. On the second floor, we walked around a corner and there was a replica of the Adams Memorial. Had I read that Atlas Obscura post, or done any research beyond a quick Google maps search, I would have known this was here. Finding it by accident was more fun.

 Replica of the creepy Adams Memorial.

Replica of the creepy Adams Memorial.

On our first day, we went to the Smithsonian American Art museum. On the second floor, we walked around a corner and there was a replica of the Adams Memorial. Had I read that Atlas Obscura post, or done any research beyond a quick Google maps search, I would have known this was here. Finding it by accident was more fun.

A few years ago, I arrived in San Francisco for a work trip on the last day of the Garry Winogrand exhibition at SFMoMA. I dropped my bags at a friend’s and ran over there for the last few hours of the show. What I didn’t realize (because again, no planning) was that it was also the last day the art museum would be open for the next three years, so admission was free and there were activities (like hat making) happening around the building. I saw the Winogrand, and as the museum closed, watched a dance performance in the lobby.

I love incidents like this. I could have planned for either of them (we know I need to work on my planning). But if I figure out where the thing is, how to get to the thing, and if the thing will be open, that seems like enough planning ahead. I like going out to see what I can find — or what will find me.