31 August 2010
Turista Libre: Tijuana Fair
For a month or so every August the Tijuana Fair pulls into Parque Morelos, a massive patch of greenery in the eastern half of the city that foreigners seldom see. A decent trek from either border crossing, it's generally a gringo-free zone.
Common thought would trick you into thinking a fair is a fair, no matter where. You risk your life on a few rides, you clog your arteries with a few funnel cakes, you waste the water bill money trying to win a life-size stuffed Tweety Bird, and you go home.
Less than five miles south of the border, that routine was shot to shit immediately after crossing the threshold, where a death-defyng raindance was going down in the sky just inside the gates. The Danza de los Voladores, or the Flying Men Dance, of the Totonac of modern-day Veracruz.
After dancing around a 30-meter pole, four or five guys scale their way to the top, bind their feet with rope and throw themselves headfirst into the air, twirling upside-down until reaching the ground. According to myth, the ritual was created to ask the gods to end a severe drought.
Drifting back into the ordinary waters of international carniedom: the turistas crossed paths with clowns, some on stilts -- others peddling balloon art -- and living statues.
And temporary tramp stamps.
As far as gluttony is concerned, the tried-and-true staples know no frontiers: cotton candy, kettle corn, etc. But while fried Coke and Krispy Kreme chicken sandwiches are strangely all the rage north of the border, star menu items on the other side of the fence included huaraches (a giant sope of sorts, the true Mexican pizza), corn on the cob on a stick, churros, Tostilocos and fried tamales.
Game row yielded the chance to win new cell phones and ceramic Precious Moments Our Lady of Guadalupe banks.
Then there were the gimmicky sideshows, which proved just how carnie the carnies can go: 10-peso peaks at alligator ladies, two-headed goats, furry chickens and the world's smallest girl, who, unlike the wee lass Photoshopped atop Mary Poppins' palm on the sign, was actually nothing more than a little butterball wedged into a trick bed, watching TV.
But perhaps the most unmissable wallet thinner of the evening were the floating human hamster exercise balls, inflated by your everyday leaf blower. The five-minute, 40-peso romp in the pool winds up being more of a riot for everyone outside the plastic bubble, as you spend most of that time unsuccessfully trying to stand up.
This all came as a mere tease to the acres of seasoned rides: turbo tilt-a-whirls and collapsible roller coasters with names like "Kamikaze" and "Wild Mouse" that force the leery gringo to let go of any concerns regarding the secondhand use of car seatbelt buckles.
Concerts happen nightly at the fair, and over on the main stage on this particular evening was a mini Mexican Coachella: Hello Seahorse! -- a Mexico City band that Pitchfork calls "an explosion of overdriven drums and synthesizer lines (and) icily recorded vocals," with "seeds of minor-key melancholy underneath peppy Casio lines" -- and nouveau punk en español by Vicente Gayo.
Despite the fact that it was their inaugural performance in Tijuana, and a well-executed one, too, another icy act all but stole the show: Tecate.