Is there anything on Earth like a county fair — that instantly familiar mixture of the sacred and the profane, or rather, the powdered sugar and the animal droppings?
The Arlington County Fair may not be as extravagant as its counterparts in more rural areas, but it has all of the features that make a fair a fair: pungent yet mysterious aromas, hyper-caloric food and rides specifically designed to make small children revisit said food in reverse.
In an urban village such as Arlington, a county fair can represent a return to nature, or at least a return to things you won’t see wandering down Washington Boulevard any time soon.
A popular attraction this weekend at the fair, held at Thomas Jefferson Community Center, was the small petting zoo that featured llamas, goats, baby pigs and a large but very shy turtle. Children of all ages were amazed that they were allowed to get up close and personal with the friendly — if not friendly-smelling — beasts.
"It’s his first pig encounter," said Joe Schulte as his three-year-old son Jack had his palm sniffed by a young piglet’s damp snout.
But while the excitement may have been in the fair’s midway, which featured rides, food and, of course, pig racing, inside Thomas Jefferson’s cavernous gymnasium was where Arlingtonians met and mingled.
Booths and tables, featuring everything from prize winning cookies to plastic replicas of human fetuses, lined the room from wall to wall while fairgoers ambled around soaking in the scene.
Representatives from county government departments stood behind cardboard dioramas and fielded the questions of passers-by. "A coworker said he got a question about what to do in the event of a UFO sighting," Colin Dentel-Post, who was with the Office of Zoning Administration, said.
In one corner of the gym the Arlington Barbershop Chorus sang a rendition of "Hello Mary Lou" that was spirited and endearingly sloppy. In another corner, Tom Merz and Larry Kelley with the Beekeepers Association of Northern Virginia sold every different color of honey one could possibly imagine.
But, of course, the main attraction at the Arlington County Fair was, as always, the pig racing.
Hundreds of people gathered ever few hours to cheer on the noble swine competitors with names like Pigfoot, Frankenswine and (oddly) Kevin Bacon as they scampered around in a circle, with facial expressions ranging from terrified to excited to more than a little confused.
Not everyone at the fair was as enthused as the pigs were, however.
Jacob Sequeira, 17, from Falls Church, was forced to go by his parents and was underwhelmed by the attractions the fair had to offer. "It’s OK," he said, "But the food was a little on the crappy side."
However, others embraced the nature of the fair head-on. First-time fairgoer Rich Hillelson was having a marvelous time looking at all the oddities and inanities showcased at the annual event.
"I love all this crap," he said. "It’s a hoot."