Travel Tuesdays and the Prance of the Behemoths

I can’t think of a comment that wouldn’t simply be gilding the unicorn cow, so I’ll let this speak for itself:

See the Unicorn Cow!

If you live in New England and have at least a passing interest in unicorn cows, adventurous deep-frying, squid-shaped hats, apples, and/or llamas, I recommend The Big E highly. It takes place in West Springfield, MA, and is the Northeast’s biggest multi-state fair, pulling crowds of over 150,000 on peak days. It does feel a little more commercialized than smaller fairs–one building is seemingly dedicated to as-seen-on-TV gadgets–but its size also lends it an ebullience that’s worth experiencing at least once. You’ll come away a little dazed, but happy and possibly brimming with llama-enthusiasm.

It encompasses a gallimaufry (sorry, I love that word and I never get to use it) of competitions, displays, acrobatic performances, old-style sideshows, maple cotton candy stands, crafts, circus ephemera, and the like. In short it is by turns weird, impressive, delicious, and adorable. My alma mater lies not half an hour away, but somehow I never attended in my time there or the years since. A local friend graciously offered to help remedy this.

We arrived via a flood of people that deposited us in the Labyrinth of Fried Food Adventure. (If the area had a name, that wasn’t it. But it ought to have been.) The creative souls vending there had fried everything it is possible to fry, and some things I would have thought impossible. How does one fry butter without creating a melted mess? I’m a vegetarian and a little leery of oil possibly also used to fry meat, so I didn’t try anything, but I’d love to hear a thoughtful evaluation of the fried Oreo’s merits.


We then spent a pleasant hour or so watching the Prance of the Behemoths. By which I mean the draft-horse-driving competition. Dear readers, draft horses are amazing. They are glossy, high-stepping leviathans that move with impossible grace. We watched them pull prettily-decorated buggies, lumbering in lovely synchrony around the show ring.

After a foray into the pavilions comprising the Avenue of the States (in which vendors from all six New England states sell thematically appropriate crafts and foodstuffs; interestingly, the inside of each state pavilion is considered part of that state, and sales tax adjusted accordingly), we headed to one of the petting zoos. Petting zoo verdict: sheep are jerks, alpacas are divas, goats are very cool people once you get past the whole horizontal pupil thing. They leaned against us happily when we scratched their ears.

Following an important pierogi stop, we continued to the best place on the fairground, if not in the whole of New England: The Land of the Llamas. Llamas everywhere, tufted ears flicking and shaggy fluff-pantaloons shaking gently as they walked. We made the llama rounds, then proceeded to the llama show ring, in which a novice-class llama obstacle course competition was underway. (We were unsure at first whether “novice” referred to the llamas or their handlers. After some discussion, we concluded that the llamas were probably the novices in question.) The llamas made by and large a pretty impressive showing. Even if they hadn’t, it’s tough to watch llamas and remain un-charmed.

(Okay, you caught me: I was trying to sneak the word ‘llama’ in as many times as possible. Wouldn’t you, given the chance?)

We wandered for a while after that, encountering an unexpected coup in the form of the unicorn cow enclosure. We wavered, but decided not to go inside, content with the glorious mental pictures we’d formed. Eventually exhaustion vanquished us, and home we went.

Sadly, the Big E is over for the year, its fairgrounds cleared of llamas and maple products. But I’ll be back when next September rolls around, and encourage you to check it out too!


I will conclude with this photograph of David Bowie in chicken form:

David Bowie's chicken doppelganger.