The Canadian National Exhibition is Canada’s biggest fair, founded in 1879 to showcase Canadian products, inventions, and agricultural innovations. It’s your local fair taken to its most extreme level – bigger, crazier, more crowded… more expensive. Every year, during the 18 days of the fair, about 1.3 million people will walk through the gates. I was one of them on Friday.
There is a midway packed with games of chance and “skill”, designed to part you from your money in the most exciting way possible – Whac-A-Mole, Crown & Anchor, Shoot Out The Star, Skee-Ball. The rides are of the travelling variety, and therefore limited in the scope of thrills they can provide for adults… but for the kids, they’re the best thing ever.
The Food Building is a slice of heaven for the junk food connoisseur. There were booths for a dozen nationalities: Greek, Thai, Italian, British, Chinese. Pizza, pirogies, Montreal smoked meat, poutine of every variety, chicken ‘n’ waffles, beaver tails. You could probably eat something healthy if you really tried… but who’s there to do that? Not me. Despite it’s non-Canadian-ness, I ate a Donut Burger for lunch: a beef patty smothered in cheese and bacon, and sandwiched between two Krispy Kreme donuts instead of a bun. I’m sorry to tell you that it was delicious – sweet, salty, tender, fatty and rich. It was topped with lettuce and tomato, as if that faint nod to the vegetable kingdom could stand against 1500 sugar-laden calories. It was, truly, an Epic Burger… but I’ll never eat one again.
The Marketplace and the International Pavilion are the CNE’s bazaar, with vendors offering merchandise from all over the world. Some of it was tacky and odd, but this has its own sort of charm. You could buy Iranian rugs, Israeli jewelery, Chinese vases, Russian dolls, Peruvian textiles, Ugandan carvings; Sham-Wows, magnetic bracelets, rubber-bristled floor mops, cake pans, silk scarves, dog collars, sheepskin slippers. I found a tiny Nepalese booth selling hand-knitted mittens for $10 – of course I snatched up a pair. The vendor claimed that they’re made from a blend of sheep’s wool and yak fibre… I’m not sure I’d swear that there’s actually any yak in there, but the single-ply wool is good and sturdy and surprisingly soft. They’re lined with polar fleece, and the jolly stripe-and-wave pattern is cheerful without being obnoxiously bright. I love the many-coloured fingers.
I can see that these mittens were made by a skilled production knitter, and designed to make money – the yarn is fat and fluffy so you need to knit fewer stitches, and the cuffs are as short as they can be. But they’re well-made, with even stitching and no mistakes that I can see, and the wave pattern is cleverly laid out so that it’s not distorted by the thumb increases. Click on the picture to make it bigger, and look at that thumb gusset: see how it starts near the middle of the palm? That’s unusual – most Western mittens with a thumb gusset start increasing at the edge of the palm. I don’t know if this a traditional Nepalese mitten method, or if the knitter chose it because of the wave pattern, or perhaps it uses just a little less yarn… and when you are knitting for pennies, every yard counts.
I’ll wear them this winter; they’ll keep my paws toasty warm, and when I put them on I’ll think of the knitter that made them… somewhere in Nepal.