Thursday, March 4, 2010

Cultural Activity: Salon d’Agriculture

France is famous for it’s food, and this morning at the Salon d’Agriculture I realized more than ever before that fois gras, camembert, and rôti d’agneu don’t come into being in prepackaged form. It turns out that they come from geese, goats (or, more specifically goat’s milk), and lamb, all of which I had a chance to see today in their living and, um, not so living forms.

The Salon d’Agriculture is essentially a huge agricultural fair that gives farmers from around the country a chance to display their prized produce and animals, while giving politicians a chance to display their agricultural savvy to rural voters. Rebecca, Ariel, Courtney, Rosalie, and I were lucky (?) enough to experience the political aspect of the Salon immediately after arriving. As soon as we headed into building 2, we were crushed by a huge crowd pushing toward a group of reporters. Apparently some famous politician had come in, and everyone was fighting for a chance to see him. Given that Nicolas Sarkowzy is the only living French politician I could possibly recognize, seeing the back of politically-gifted middle-aged man’s head didn’t seem to be quite worth being trampled by a herd of Frenchman.

Fortunately we managed to escape the mob and make our way to building 2 to meet up with the Ricks. After finding them, we all decided to split up because of the crowd, so I headed off to explore with Courtney and Ariel. This building definitely brought back memories of Montana Fair, since it was filled with cows and sheep, but these were the biggest cows I have ever seen in my life. I definitely wanted to pet them and the sheep we saw but decided it would be a good idea to eat before making friends with the animals. As we wandered around looking for food, we were given free samples of flavored milk (mint milk is delicious, incidentally) and watched a man juggle bottles of milk. Who knew that dairy could be so exciting? We finally managed to find a booth with inexpensive paninis, but I’m pretty sure they were inexpensive with good reason. That was okay, though, because I was excited to head to building 4, where dogs, cats, and horses are shown.

I’ve been missing animals desperately since coming to France, so I was determined to get some good-quality puppy and kitten time at the fair. Luckily some friendly trainers in building 4 let us pet their dogs while they waited for competition. I think one of the most unusual things about France has been seeing how well behaved all French dogs are. Granted, the dogs I saw today were national champions, but it’s true of all the dogs I have seen. They almost never bark, jump on people, or pull on leashes. In fact, many of them aren’t even put on leashes at all.

Anyway, I also had a chance to see some beautiful cats, but they were all in aquarium-style cages, so there were no cuddling opportunities. I did, however, get to pet a donkey, who seemed annoyed by my affection. Oh well. By that time, the building was getting pretty crammed as well, so we left after seeing a few horses and passing by the dog competition, where a dog was herding geese.

We stopped in for a quick visit to building 7 to see area specialties from all over France and its overseas departments. We mostly focused on the overseas areas, since they had live drums and fun costumes. Although we had to pass on the various rum-based drinks, we got a chance to try some weird, spiky fruit from French Guyana. It tasted surprisingly like a grape. The fair was a really fun experience, but by then we were finished with being packed in with so many people, so we made a break for it.

A few overall impressions from the fair:

1. French people don’t form lines very often – they generally just form a blob of people near entrances or food counters. This is unexpectedly efficient.

2. If I were to form an opinion based on the beverage options at the fair, I would assume that people in the French overseas departments drink nothing but rum.

3. Crowds are gross.

4. I think I need to sneak some kind of pet into my French home. The Boissys wouldn’t notice a pony, would they?

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