On Sunday afternoon, July 31st, we went to the festival grounds on the lakefront for German Fest. We hadn’t been to a German Fest for several years and wanted to get back to it.

We had a good time walking around the grounds and sampling music on a lovely afternoon. There was a good turnout, but the grounds were not packed like it would have been for Summerfest or Irish Fest.

Among the groups we listened to was Alpensterne, a quartet from Minnesota, who performs traditional tunes to a rock beat, with some of the fastest yodeling we have ever heard. They put on a very lively, fun show that had a lot of the audience members up and dancing.

The Donau Schwaben youth dance group put on a charming display of traditional dancing, most of which were couples dances. The group had four young men and six young women, an unusually good proportion for folk groups, which tend to be female-heavy. (Although it must be said that only one of the young men appeared to be enjoying himself: the others expressions ranged from Solemn Duty to Grim Death--.)

(A semi-serious tip for young men seeking to make friends with nice young women: seek out an ethnic dance group you can reasonably express interest in. You don’t necessarily have to be that ethnicity, and knowing the language isn’t required. All you need to do is to be willing to learn to dance. You will be outnumbered by young women who are typically healthy, in good shape, care about their appearances, and likely have nice, old-fashioned values. The enterprising young gentleman should be able to take it from there--.)

Another group was the Pommersche Spaldeel Freistadt, a community cultural group from Freistad, Wisconsin, which has a long tradition of preserving its ethnic Pomeranian culture. (Pomerania is a region that makes up Northeastern Germany, including the city of Gdansk, and Northwestern Poland. Ethnically and linguistically the people are Germanic. Since great-great grandfather Otto emigrate to America from Gdansk/Danzig as was, I had thought there was a chance that we were Pomeranian. However, having checked the Festival’s name lists in the past, the name Rihn only shows up as Prussian.)

Unusually for an ethnic festival, I had difficulty getting something to eat for dinner, not because there wasn’t anything, but due to timing. I had wanted spanferkel (spit-roasted pork), which I am particularly fond of, but found they were out, and the next pig wasn’t due off the spit for two hours. Mader’s German Restaurant had a tent with sit-down service and a good looking menu, but almost the moment we sat down, we were blasted out of the tent by a German brass band playing at parade volume ten feet away. I finally got a nice kassler ripchen at one of the volunteer-staffed booths. Georgie had a very good Wiener schnitzel from another booth.

We had a good look at the vendors, and Georgie found a nice ring set with three colors of amber, which was nicely priced so we bought it. We had a very pleasant time, and were glad we had gone.

One thing that struck me is how different the various ethnic fests are in character. Irish Fest, which we always go to, is very large, the largest Irish Music festival anywhere in the world. Most of the performers that take part these days are professionals (depending on how you count the various Irish Dance schools). Music is mostly traditional, although groups like Gaelic Storm are quite modern, and sung in English, a good thing in my opinion, since I don’t find Gaelic a very pretty language to listen to. The spirit is pretty much always jolly fun, what the Irish call craic. Quite often a significant number of the performers are not local and some from Ireland or other countries.

German Fest, on the other hand, is more earnest fun. There are more amateur groups represented, music is mostly traditional, and mostly sung in German. Most of the performers are relatively local, although there’s usually some group from Germany like a children’s choir or church choir. Dance groups tend to be community groups: if there’s a school of German dance out there I haven’t heard of it.

After having been to Irish Fest, I excitedly went to an early Festa Italiana, looking forward to finding out a lot about Italian folk music. I was surprised therefore, to find out that the ideal Festa performer would have been Tony Bennett or Dean Martin, had they been able to get them. (Bennett may actually have been here since--.) So, most of the music was basically “lounge” music, with a smattering of opera. The one group from Italy I recall was a Sicilian brass band. The major attractions were Italian food (good, but I can get that any time) and the still outstanding fireworks display, which one can see perfectly well for free from outside the grounds, so I haven’t been back for a long while. (Looking up this year's entertainment schedule for Festa, that's still pretty much what it's like: Joe Scalissi: Dean Martin Tribute; Doo Wop Daddies; John Micheal Coppola and the Four C-Notes (UW Marching Band 5th Quarter Performance??).)
On Saturday, July 30th, we attended the Milwaukee Dragon Boat Festival, held at the Veteran’s Park Lagoon on the lakefront. This annual event is organized by the Milwaukee Chinese Community Center. When we got there, we were immediately impressed by how many people had turned out. We found that there were more than forty teams taking part. Since a standard Dragon Boat requires a crew of twenty rowers, plus coxswain and drummer, that meant that there were more than 800 racers, plus supporters and festival volunteers taking part, not to mention unaffiliated spectators like ourselves.

I was rather surprised to see that there IS such a thing as a standard Dragon Boat, but there is. They resemble modern canoes in construction, wide enough to seat two paddlers abreast. The paddlers use a specialized paddle, similar to a canoe paddle, which evokes the boat’s probable ancestry as something like the Polynesian “war canoe,” but without outriggers. The boat comes to a point at either end. The steersman stands at the stern, steering with an oar, and the drummer perches on an elevated stool in the bow facing the paddlers. The boats come with small detachable decorative dragon heads and tails that are attached for racing.

The festivities officially began with Opening Ceremonies at 10:30AM, with introductions of dignitaries, including the Chinese Consul up from Chicago. There was a traditional Dragon Dance, preceded by the ritual “Wakening of the Dragon,” in which case the pupils of the eyes of the dragon puppet were drawn in. For this dragon dance, the performers held the puppet aloft on poles, and wove it intricately around and about with motions that reminded me of a drill team.

This was followed by music and dance performances of a number of different traditions and styles, martial arts demonstrations, and a fashion show of the famous Chinese dress style, the qipao (also known as cheongsam, or sometimes “Mandarin dress.”)

Many of Milwaukee’s large companies have gone all in sponsoring boats. Harley-Davidsan had four boats, Miller Coors two, Northwestern Mutual three, and Rockwell Automation a croggling eleven boats!

Heats had been going on since 8:00 that morning, since Dragon Boat racing is a bit like horse racing, in that an individual race doesn’t last long, and there’s a bit of reshuffling time between heats. In the interims, there was a small number of vendors to browse, and a number of alternative food sellers. We got teriyaki chicken on skewers for lunch, which Georgie found too salty, but I thought was OK.

We didn’t stay until the championship races, which happened at 4:00PM—a long day of racing for some participants! It’s hard to tell from the web site if there was an overall winner, but the fastest time of the day was one minute, 19.78 seconds, by Arashi-Pilot Freight Services, in the Diamond Championship Final Race.
Despite having bought advance tickets in February, we couldn’t fit getting down to the Bristol Ren Faire until absolutely the last day, Labor Day Monday, but had a very good time. The weather was perfect, in the 70s and dry, and traffic down to Bristol in the morning was light and free flowing despite the construction zone that backed up southbound traffic later in the day.

We got there just after opening and strolled in with no line at that time. We started our usual tour, and bought some very good brownies to snack on at the new “Green Angel Kaffee Haus” on Guild Hall Row (a good thing in more than one way, as it turned out--), chatted with “Jayne the Foole” at Blackheath Books, got good seats for the noon jousting session, and visited friends at Court, and Master Felix Needleworthy at his shop. We did quite a lot of shopping around, as there are very attractive discounts on the last weekend, which gave us ample to do while waiting for a chance to get lunch. By the time the jousting was over, the turnout for the Faire was so great that lines at the more popular food stands were hugely long, and it took until more like two o’clock for the queue at “Maiden Voyage” (the fish and chip shop) to get down to a mere ten deep (as opposed to fifty--). So, it was a good thing that we’d had the brownies to sustain us.

We did find one particular prize while shopping, and bought Georgie an outfit from Pendragon Costumes that can be useful for both Ren Faire and Steampunk, and very versatile in application of its parts.
On Saturday, July 14th, we spent the afternoon at the annual Bastille Days street fair downtown. We had a good, if low-keyed time. The music we heard was pleasant enough, but nothing that caused us to stop and listen. We got a nice lunch from the Coquette Cafe booth, Croque Monsieur for me (melted Gruyere cheese over ham on lightly toasted bread) for me, salmon croquettes with remoulade sauce for Georgie, and an order of "pommes frites", which in this case were French fries, but dusted with a tasty herbal coating and served with "home-made" ketchup, which was more like a marinara and very good. Dessert was beignets from Alliance Francais, which were obligatory.

The weather was close to ideal, with passing clouds and occasional breezes keeping the temperature down below beastly. (We were quite willing to get rained on, but Nature did not oblige.)

The other things we come for, the people watching, street performers, and shopping, were all fun and interesting, even though we didn't find anything to buy. But, given the summer so far, it was just nice to be able to have a pleasant stroll around downtown.
On Friday, August 8, we made the second of two visits to the Wisconsin State Fair: there are really too many things to see and too many good things to eat to digest in one trip. The Friday trip included two things that we were particularly interested in: The Belgian/Percheron draft horses, and the Golden Dragon acrobats.

Draft horses, as with a number of the other animals, are at the Fair at different times. The first week, the Clydesdales are featured, and while these are inarguabley magnificent animals, we find the Belgians and Percherons more aethetically pleasing. All of them are HUGE. A four-month-old colt can be as large as an adult horse of other breeds. It's really kind of intimidating to realise that the animal is not only taller than I am at the withers (in excess of 17 hands) but all the length of the back. Nevertheless, these powerful beasts let us rule them, and it is awe-inspiring to see a young girl perched on the docile shoulders of one of them as she plaits ribbons into its mane. We watched judging of the Junior Mares Cart Class for both Percherons and Belgians, and I was pleased that after watching a couple of rounds I was able to pick out the best in class by carriage and stance.

We caught bits of other performers, but made a particular effort to catch the whole performance of the Golden Dragon Acrobats and were not disappointed. (In our opinion, this was worth the price of admission, alone.) The show was on a stage in the big exhibit hall building, which gave necessary height for the performance, and fortunately, there was not too much ambient noise. (The hall has a metal ceiling, which gives the general acoutical ambiance of a galvanized washtub. More than one musical performance in the building at one time results in cacaphony--.)

The troupe consists of a dozen or so women who gave some outstanding and new (to us) exhibitions of strength, flexibility, balancing, and juggling, some of which were truly astonishing. Imagine juggling a solid wooden card table with your feet while lying on your back, and then tossing the table (with your feet) to another person, and catching the one that has been tossed to you by a third person! Imagine lying on your back, balancing candlesticks on the soles of your feet, palms of your hands, and forehead--and then turn over onto your stomach--.

There was one aspect to the performance that bemused me. The 'star turn' was the only act presented by a man. (There were six others with the troupe who did "roadie" work and general tumbling--.) This was a classic chair balancing routine, wherein the performer ends up doing handstands twenty or so feet above the stage atop a stack of balanced chairs. It is very impressive and requires great balance and enormous strength. However, I do not think that it was as difficult as many of the acts the women did, but drew much more applause. I suppose the fact is that American audiences are more impressed with overt strength than subtle skill, and the placing of the acts shows the Chinese have figured this out--.

(Digression: I have become fond of the distinction between "easy" vs. "hard," and "simple" vs. "difficult." Easy/hard refers to the effort required; simple/difficult refers to the complexity of the task. Therefore, rolling a large rock uphill is hard, but simple. Repairing a watch is easy, but difficult. In this context, the women's juggling and balancing were very difficult, but perhaps not so hard. The man's stunt was hard, but not nearly so difficult--.)
Georgie and I had a relaxing Labor Day Weekend (by our standards--). This meant getting up a half-hour earlier than we normally do on working days on Saturday in order to drive to Madison for the Farmer's Market. We had planned to meet friends there, and indeed a number did show up for the 9:00AM (ish) rendesvous: Henry Osier, Sari Stiles, and John and Carol Ferraro all made it. Sari, Carol and John were all new to the Market, so we had fun going around with them and pointing out the vendors we particularly like. As expected, this is High Season for the Market, and we bought many good things, inlcuding cheese from Bleu Mont, fresh trout fillets, corn, tomatoes, smoked pork, grass fed beef, lamb, and of course croissants from L'Etoile's cafe operation (delicious, as always!).

After packing our purchases in the cooler, we went our separate ways, leaving the others to explore Madison as they would, since we had comitted to visit my parents at the nursing home in Wyocena.

It was a very pleasant drive up to the small village in Coumbia County where the Health Care Facility was located. We visited with them for an hour or so before shoving off to put our groceries in cold storage. I hope our visit gave Dad and Mama some comfort, since it's apparent that they are not very happy there, despite the fact that it's probably about as good as a nursing home can be. They have a large double room and have their own TV and refrigerator, and the staff seems pleasant and careful, although of course they are not as numerous as might be desired. The thing that bugs my father the most is that the state canceled his driver's licence on his doctor's recommendation, so they are pretty much stuck there. Not that they ever really went anywhere when they lived at home, but I think it's partly the principle of the thing.

We got home late afternoon, and had bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches for supper using the Market tomatos--yum! In the evening, we watched "Pan's Labyrinth" (previously reviewed in this journal) on DVD and reaffirmed our opinion of how good it was, noticing some subtleties we had missed on first watching at the theatre. We did not know that the movie was about to win the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form). In my opinion, the award was well deserved.

Sunday, we slept in, and found that very refreshing. About noon, we went out to the Waukesha County Fairgrounds (aka Expo Center) for the second day of the Wisconsin Highland Games. This event has been going on for a few years, but this was the first time we had gotten out to it. All in all, a nice little Highland Games, with a slightly broader spectrum of participation than the more traditional Milwaukee Highland Games that go on first weekend in June. Notable was the presence of the local Society for Creative Anachronism, which put on some entertaining demonstrations of fighting during the day. There were a nice variety of vendors, with a bit more emphasis on gear (swords and knives) than the Milwaukee Games, which has more clothing and music. Nevertheless, my major purchase was a lovely Irish wool shawl/capelet for Georgie. Since I like swords and such, I was intersted to see that, while there were some good deals to be had on workmanlike swords, such as reproduction basket-hilted broadswords, with the exception of traditional Scottish pattern dirks and skean dhus, most of the daggers, ect., were purely decorative--the kind of things with elaborately decorated pot-metal hilts.
There was also a good variety of ethnic and non-ethnic foods, including, we were glad to see, the Infamous Welsh Cookie Company--we bought two dozen.

I used to say, back in the day when Wisconsin's football team was uniformly at the bottom of the Big Ten but still filled the stadium every weekend, was what the University was doing was throwing a party for 80,000 with a football game as part of the entertainment. It seems this way with Highland Games as well. We had a pretty good ethnic fair going on, while off to one side the judges and participants went about the serious business of Scottish and Irish Heavy Athletics largely ignored by the crowd. (The SCA fighting got a bigger audience at any given time.) I think this is because most of the events are done at a very deliberate pace; a weight is thrown or tossed, measurements paced off, repeat. Once you've seen a bit of the more outre events such as tossing the caber or the sheaf toss, it's not very exciting unless you are really interested in the nuances of the hammer throw versus throwing the weight for distance. Most Highland Games in these parts don't include events like the Kilted Mile footrace, and Sword Dancing is a separate competition if there is a Dance Contest. I would like to see some of the Heavy Athletics men doing the Sword Dance--I bet many of them could, and seeing man of that size do it would be impressive.

We went home and dined on the trout we had bought at the Farmer's Market (delicious!). After dinner, we had an invitation to an Open House for the new residence of our friends Kevin and Julie Dixon-Seidel, at 84th and Rogers in West Allis. After a year of shopping for a new home, they found one with a lot of really nice features, and we were glad to help "warm" it for them.

Monday morning we slept a bit late, but got up and around in time to do a few chores before going to the Oriental Theater for the 1:00PM showing of "Moliere." A detailed review will follow, but this movie attempts to do for France's preeeminient playwrite what "Shakespeare In Love" did for Shakespeare: humanize him, and shed some fictional light on his early career. The film is a very enjoyable romantic comedy, and one does not really need to know anything about Moliere's work in order to enjoy it.

Monday evening, we relaxed with books and sewing preparing for the return of work on Tuesday.
Besides the annual huge music festival that occupies Milwaukee for the first part of July ("Summerfest"), nearly every other summer weekend from mid-June to Labor Day and after features one of the "ethnic festivals"--Italian, German, Polish, Irish, African, Arab, Native American. "Bastille Days" is unique in that it does not take place at the Lakefront or State Fair Park, but is a free street fair that occupies several downtown East side blocks including Cathedral Square Park and extending to the front door of my office building. Of course, not only does one have to walk out a lunchtime to take in the music and the sights, but it's very easy to hang out after work for food, music, and shopping. Since there's also a bus line that runs from close to our neighborhood to the building front door, it's comparatively easy for Georgie to bus down and meet me at quitting time for a "date".

This year we thought the festival was particularly good. They did a way with the cumbersome "ticketing" process for food and drink so that you could just walk up and buy what you wanted from vendors for cash. Also, the Blatz stage was changed from over-amplified rock to acoustical music, which made the ambiance a great deal more pleasant. The food vendors we favored were all present, so we dined on excellent Jambalaya from J.T. Bones, and ice cream crepe from Cream and Crepe Cafe, and begniets from Alliance Francais. Best of all was Big Bad Voodoo Daddy playing on the main stage from at 5:00PM. (There was a strong New Orleans theme this year with Mama Digdown's Brass Band marching through the area as well--). We found a shady spot with breeze and a good view of the band and dancers and had a great time. I was suprised at how many people of all ages know the basic Jitterbug that goes well with a lot of BBVD's music, but particularly pleased and amused to see one couple that could do an authentic "Mooch" to "Minnie the Moocher." Boutique shops and vendors fill out the booths with scads of bright-colored summer clothing on offer, and about ton of silver jewelry. We spent a couple of very good hours before stolling back to my car and home.

Faire/Fair

Aug. 24th, 2005 10:03 pm
Ironically, it seems we decided to head down to Bristol Renaissance Fair the same Saturday that Madisonians Tracy Benton and Bill Bodden did, and we totally missed seeing them, or they us. Not that we knew the others were there. The grounds are somewhat winding and there are hundreds of places to be inside, not to mention lost in the crowd, but considering that we spent a good amount of our time haunting the clothing shops, it is strange we didn't meet. Most of this trip was spent looking at the shops, although we took in the nobles' dancing, and refreshed our memory as to a lot of the other performers briefly. We did decide that, if we won a lottery jackpot we would need a truck to haul away loot form Bristol--boots, blades, clothes, jewels--oh, my.
This year there were a few new vendors, including a kilt maker, and several of the stores seemed to have been rearranged and brightened up, which made the experience more pleasant. Georgie bought a multi-colored "scroll" skirt from Moresca which may show up as part of her carnival outfit at WisCon--.

The following Saturday we made a somewhat abbreviated trip to the Wisconsin State Fair. The weather was good and crowds reasonable, but the two friends we were with, who are both dear to us, unfortunately are getting so arthritic that after the initial entry to the park, anything more than a few minutes of walking requires a rest break. Add to that that they will NOT eat breakfast before coming, so that the first thing that must be done is a trudge to the middle of the fairgrounds to get omelets. Resultantly, at least half the fair visit consists of sitting in some more-or-less uncomfortable spot chatting while second winds are gathered. We like chatting with our friends, but we can do that anytime--. Nevertheless, we managed to get in a minimally satisfying sample. Some years, we've had time to make more than one trip with one on just our own so we can cover the ground we want to hit. Next year, we'll have to plan that.
On Sunday, we went down to the Festival Grounds at the lakefront for Asian Moon Festival, the first of the ethnic festivals we usually get to during the season. I had expected a heavy turnout due to the excellent weather (a change for Asian Moon, which for years has suffered through weekends that were rainy or cold or both--) but I was surprised to find free parking on the street, and the pay parking lots near the festival grounds were virtually empty. As it appeared, early turnout was quite light, but the grounds filled up to a respectable level as the afternoon went on. Some of the reason for this was apparent in the schedule, which was only a half-day for Sunday, and the festival had put its major attractions, Japanese jazz pianist Hiromi and a DJ/dance act called Karma Sutra, on Saturday evening. Nevertheless, what we came for were the more purely ethnic attractions, shopping, and, of course, food.

We found the most interesting events to be at the Potawatomi Stage, starting with the Okinawan Taiko Drummers of Wisconsin. This is the second time we have seen them, and it appears definite that Okinawan Taiko is a different style than the Japanese drumming made famous by Kodo and played in this area by the Chicago Buddhist Temple group. Okinawan Taiko is primarily a movement-based art form, more like dance or drill team work. The group uses only two drums, a small hand drum, and the familiar quarter-barrel sized drum, and only one drumstick each. They move and beat the drums to accompany pre-recorded music with vocals. They are fun to watch, but if you want the intricate and hypnotic drumming of Japanese taiko, you will be disappointed.

For hypnotic music, we had the next group up, billed as Indian Music Ensemble. Consisting of sitar, tambura, and drums. This group played short pieces and excerpts from Indian Ragas—classical music compositions that can be hours long. Georgie was particularly fascinated by the intricacy of the music. I have enjoyed sitar since my initial exposure to it in the 70’s, and was very impressed by the quality of the performance.

Then we went to eat, and got food from two new vendors, Peony and Indus Valley. Indus valley had some of the best samosas we’ve had, and the Peony pork buns and pot stickers were also excellent. We topped off with a combo appetizer plate from Phan’s Garden and were very well fed, indeed. (We think Asian Moon has the best food of any of the festivals.) While dining, we were entertained by Dujima Sanojo, performing traditional Japanese dances on the Miller Stage.

After that, we went back to the Potawatomi stage for a group called Yellow River Performing Arts, which was a Chinese variety troupe. The first number we caught was a woman singing in a very beautiful and powerful operatic voice. She was followed by a very lyrical demonstration of tai chi chuan set to music. Then, there was a theatre style song-and-dance routine. Next, a young woman played a couple of songs on an instrument similar to the Japanese ‘koto”. The final number was a medley of regional dances. These were very interesting, since it appears that mainland Chinese culture has analogs to surrounding regions, which made one wonder where they actually originated. One costume looked very Korean, one set very Mongolian, and movements in one dance strongly reminiscent of Balinese dancing. Another used paper parasols one is used to seeing in Japan, but the costumes were clearly from Southern China.

Ironically, Asian Moon Festival is still one of the smallest festivals in Milwaukee, even though it represents all of Asia and fourteen groups get together to put it on. We always find it fascinating—and delicious.
Holiday Folk Fair, 11-22-03

After several years of missing it, we kept our calendar clear for the Saturday before Thanksgiving to get to the Milwaukee Holiday Folk Fair. The Folk Fair is kind of a condensation of the various summer ethnic festivals, although in fact it predates any of them, and includes a lot of groups that don't get included in the summer programs.

One of the major emphases of the Fair has always been folk dancing, and instead of the one or two big shows per day that you used to have to buy a separate ticket for, now they have numerous smaller programs throughout the day. We got there early on Saturday and found good seats for the twelve thirty show, which included Finnish, Spanish, Greek, Ukrainian, Polish, Romanian, and African-American among others. It's always very interesting to see the various dance groups and what it says about the communities and the groups. I always find the Finnish sweet and sad, since the group is always only gray-haired couples with no young people. By contrast, the Ukrainians and Greeks were large groups with lots of young men and women, important for the very athletic and exciting trepak style of the Ukrainian dancing in particular. The African-American dancers were all women, but had male musicians. The Spanish Flamenco group was also all women, but dressed as men. (I remarked to Georgie that this made sense, since if you are just starting out a group/school, black pants, bolero jackets and hats are probably lots less expensive than flamenco dresses--).

The other attractions of the Fair are food, shopping, and the cultural/craft exhibits, approximately in that order. We bought and sampled pastries from the Bavarians, Swiss, and Donauschwaben, pork loin dinners from the Czech, spring rolls from the Thai, and rosewater lemonade from the Arabs at various times and found it all good. (Donauschwaben are ethnic Germans whose ancestors moved into the valley of the Danube, or Donau, river.)

Shopping this year was rather lackluster, and we didn't buy anything significant. One thing that frustrates me is that the Japanese, Chinese, and Korean dealers all seem to concentrate on cheap crap like backscratchers and crude bamboo flutes, or plastic toys, which I suspect are aimed chiefly at the pocket money of the multitudinous high-and grade-school students that are always bussed in to these affairs for a cultural field trip.

We saw a variety of lovely display booths, which are often set up as a room from a home. Having just come back from Ireland, we were disappointed by the plainness of the Irish booth. On the other hand, the Turks had a fascinating "Turkish bath" setup, and Georgie was particularly taken with the beautiful fabric of the traditional towels, which had gold embroidery!

Instead of being spread out over several buildings, the whole Fair fit into the huge new exposition center at the State Fair grounds, which made everything very convenient and comfortable. On the other hand, it seemed that there were fewer food vendors and dealers and more dancers than in years past. (Staffing the food booths is hard long work-dancing is more fun and short-term, which may have something to do with it.)

We had a very enjoyable time and were glad to have made it this year.
Sunday, August 26th was quite literally our last chance to get down to the Bristol Renaisance Fair, which we have done at least once every summer particularly for the last few years since friends of ours have started working there, either as merchants (Felix Needleworthy) or members of the Court. Of course we dress up, and over the years have acquired good enough outfits that even people who work there take us as part of the company. The drive down to Bristol was actually quite pleasant (no construction this year!) and we got to the Faire just before the gates opened for the day. We let the initial crowd surge through, and then went in, noting the many small changes that have been added to make the grounds more pleasant. These included fountains, flower beds, statuary, and other details that made the place seem more like a permanent installation. We noted the shade canopies over the new bleachers at the Tournament grounds with approval, but guessed correctly that the seats would fill up quickly.

The main activities at the Faire are shopping, eating, and taking in the various entertainments. We covered the entire grounds over the course of the day, but our only major purchases were at Blackheath Books near the end of the day, although I also got a good deal on a "sword frog" (the thing that attaches a scabbard to your belt) from a leather worker in "Shoplatch Lane" who also gave us a blow-by-blow description of his adventures at the Pennsic war. We stopped in to visit with artist Erin McKee, who's been a regular for years, but has decided to sell her shop, as she and her husband have decided to take a few summers off to do other things.

As to eating, I sampled a "giant brat" (very good, but usual bratwurst sized) and the turkey legs (also good). Georgie stuck with our usual standby, fish and chips from Maiden Voyage, which were up to the usual high standard. We washed the dust out of our throats with lemonade and "sassafras."

Of course, the whole fair is entertainment, and interacting with the various merchants, street workers, and passing performers is a great part of the fun. We happened to be in a great spot to catch one of the royal processions, who passed within arm's length of us, and we noted that the Court seemed to be both more numerous and particularly magnificantly dressed this year. The performances we took particular effort to catch were the Kaminari Daiko (Japanese taiko drummers--period, just not locally) and the Royal Falconer.

Kaminari Daiko gave a short but vigorous set, and seemed to be having a really good time. They did well, and it was a lot of fun to see and hear.

The Royal Falconer was working at the Tournament grounds with hawks, horse and dog, and his skillful assistant. As expected, the bleachers were filled, but we walked around behind the uninhabited Royal Box and leaned on the back rail, which gave us a good view and turned out to be an exciting spot. While working the falcons, a male perigrine chose to alight in the Royal Box, and landed not five feet from us. Very exciting. One of the Harris hawks also took a rest in the rafters above us. Not quite as thrilling as for the people seated on the grass who had one of hawks literally land right beside them, but good enough for us.

We ran out of steam about four PM and headed home, but it was a very good day.

http://www.renfair.com/bristol/index.php
Milwaukee's Irish Fest is the world's largest Irish Music and cultural festival, and is held every year on Milwaukee's lakefront festival grounds in mid-August. Events start Thursday night and end Sunday evening. Sunday was our day to go this year, and we headed down about 12:30 in the afternoon. It was a beautiful clear day, but HOT in the sun. Fortunately, the grounds has shady spots, tents, and it is always cooler within a few yards of Lake Michigan, so relief is available. Interestingly, this year, we seemed to spend most of our time listening to local groups: Blarney, Leahy's Luck, and the Billy Mitchell Scottish Pipes and Drums are all Milwaukee-based groups. We caught a bit of the set by Gaelic Storm, which was expectably standing-room only, even in the vast Miller Stage area. We also made a point to take in the Clan Donald pipes and drums out of Green Bay. They are not as polished as Billy Mitchell, but still a very up-and-coming pipe band. Of course you can soak up a lot of music just walking around the grounds from one area to another, and we did that to check out the dealers and cultural exhibits. (We bought a book on Irish folk tales and some lovely jewelry.) We were interested to see that the Irish Tourism displays focused on Galway and the midlands of Ireland, where we are going this fall, which seemed like a sign. We picked up lots of literature.

Scottish band Altan had been a big draw for us, but their show was at 8:00PM, and by 7:00 we were worn out, so we decided to retreat home and listen to them on the stereo. All in all it was one of the better days we've had at Irish fest in recent years.

http://www.irishfest.com/
http://www.folklib.net/if/irish2_fest.shtml (Irish Fest Discography)
http://www.leahysluck.com/
http://www.billymitchellscottish.org/welcome.html
http://home.new.rr.com/cdpd/cdpd001.htm (Clan Donadl Pipes and Drums)
Besides the ethnic music festivals that fill Milwaukee's lakefront in the summer, summer is also the season of the Church festivals. Every weekend some, or even several churches, are having parish fairs with the obligatory bingo, beer, polka music, carnivals, and church suppers. St. Rita's is the Catholic church nearest us, and the third weekend of July is always their festival weekend. They have a fish fry on Friday, a spaghetti supper on Saturday, and a chicken dinner Sunday afternoon. We always go for chicken simply because it is so delicious! It is spit-roasted over charcoal until falling-off-the-bone tender, and very nicely spiced. There are a number of caterers in Milwaukee who specialize in such things, and Croatian-American foods, who does the cooking, does a lovely job. The church ladies do the serving, and have come to recognize us even though this is the only event we show up for. Seven-dollars fifty cents gets you a savory half-chicken, German potato salad, coleslaw, roll, butter, and a wedge of watermelon. You can't beat it for good eating!
If you like fireworks, Milwaukee is a great town to be in in the summer. Not only are there at least two and sometimes three days of fireworks for the Fourth of July, there is a major fireworks display for the start of Summerfest, fireworks every night of the State Fair, and many of the ethnic festivals have them as well. The best of these is Festa Italiana, which goes on the third weekend of July. The first couple of years of the Festa, they imported fireworks from Venice, some of which were so concussively loud they blew windows out of the nearby office buildings. In latter years, they have stuck with Bartolotta, our local (but still Italian) fireworks maker. Bartolotta makes a special effort to provide its most beautiful and intricate effects for this show, and this year's effort was easily the most beautiful fireworks display we have ever seen. The fifteen minute show expended shells at a constant rate more usually seen in lesser shows finales, with a minimum of two effects aloft at any given time for the majority of the display, and frequently more. This show had the greatest variety and subtlety of color, and intricacy of shapes and effects we've ever seen. It was truly beautiful. The actual finale was a spectacular excess. Not only did it include the usual "rolling thunder" barrage of salutes, but the overlapping air bursts of color were so intense as to be near blinding. Magnificent! This continues to be the only show we actually go all the way down to the lakefront to see, and continues to be well worth it.
The season of Milwaukee Ethnic festivals kicked off June 13 with Asian Moon Festival, and we went down to the lakefront on Saturday the 14th. We got there before the grounds opened as we particularly like the Asian Fashion show, which was to start at noon. Asian Moon Festival is a pan-Asian event that brings together the Milwaukee area's Asian ethnicities and interest groups from Turkey to Japan. it has consistently been the smallest of the fests, and this year had a smaller portion of the grounds than past years, with only three event stages, plus the obligatory martial arts and cooking demonstration areas. Turnout unfortunately seemed low also, which was a pity since the weather was both warmer and drier than years past.

The Asian fashion show is a parade of ethnic garb, including Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Hmong, Indonesian and Thai this year. As usual, the Thai women, who exhibit a variety of formal and court attire representing several dynasties of Thai royalty, were most beautiful and elegant, although all were interesting.

As for performances, we made it a point to take in Kerry Leung, who demonstrated Traditional Chinese Musical Instruments, The Chicago Matsui Daiko group, who performed Japanese dance, songs, and music, and the very interesting Tuvan throat singing, a Central Asian style in which the singer is actually to produce two tones simultaneously, a bagpipe-like drone low in the throat, (hence the name) and a higher mouth-voice. The effect is very singular and hard to describe. The performers were Americans from Chicago who had taught themselves the technique from studing native recordings, but who are going to Central Asia for study on site later this year. We also caught part of a performance by a Siberian woman, which had striking parallels to native american styles in tonality, drumming, and her feathered headdress.

Dealers and food were another major attraction: there were tons of silver jewelry, jade, statuary, Hmong needlework, and facinating books to catch the eye. We enjoyed Vietnamese spring rolls, Chinese lemon chicken, pork buns, and Hmong barbecued duck with fried rice--all very good.

We had a good time as we usually do, but we are concerned about the future of the festival, since it seems to be struggling.

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