August 17th, 2015

Fairs and Festivals

On Saturday, August 8th, we went to the Bristol Renaissance Faire. This was an unusual outing for us, since it was Time Traveler’s/Steampunk Invasion weekend, and we decided to go in summer Steampunk attire, rather than the Ren Faire garb we usually wear when attending. There were quite a few other people in Steampunk outfits, including several other members of the Milwaukee Steampunk Society, but we were still in a minority compared to the hordes of attendees in mundane clothes.

The cloudy, relatively cool day made it an ideal day to be at the Faire, and rain the night before had quelled the dust. Turnout was very heavy: when we left about three PM, all nearby parking was full, and there was an unbroken stream of cars still heading into the outer parking areas.

We had a very good time, consisting mostly of a leisurely stroll around the grounds, chatting with acquaintances, shopping, and snacking. Oh, and having our pictures taken. I can’t recall any occasion at which we had so many strangers ask us for pictures. Partly, this may have been due to the understatedness of our outfits, which some of the people said were “elegant”.

Between events like this and Lytheria Halloween, I can’t count the number of perfect strangers that have pictures of us in their collections. I sometimes picture future generations looking at the family photo album—“Who’s that, Grandpa?” “Oh, just some people we met. Great outfits, though!”

On Sunday the 9th, we doubled down, and went to the Wisconsin State Fair. We tended to follow our usual routine there as well, although we did see some things we had never seen before, notably the pig judging. We happened through the pig barn as a couple of classes of spotted sows were being judged, which we were surprised to discover does not just consist of weighing and conformation. The pigs must also be shown, which means walked around the exhibition space. This is done by guiding the animal with a “show stick,” a light rod about three feet long. One guides the pig by tapping the side of its face on the side you want it to turn away from. It’s quite interesting to see a sow being driven in this manner by a boy or girl obviously less massive than the pig, especially when it gets off course.

In the horse barn, we encountered miniature donkeys (about the size of a large dog), something we hadn't known existed, although evidently, unlike miniature horses, the small donkeys are part of the natural size range of the animal, and are still used as beasts of burden in some places.

We got our usual lunch at the Wisconsin Cattlemen’s stand, which I think has some of the best hamburgers on earth. I’m sure they use prime beef, but there’s just something about them other than that.

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Irish Fest 2015

On Saturday, the 15th, we made our annual trip to Irish Fest, and, again, had a splendid day. There was a lake breeze, which kept the temperatures on the festival grounds quite pleasant, and there was no rain. (Friday evening had been interrupted by a short but violent storm passing through--.)

This was the 35th Irish Fest, and the organizers had decided to recognize it as a significant anniversary, with the year’s theme being “Living Tradition.” This suited us just fine, as we tend to prefer the more traditional styles of music.

The first group we went to see was Myserk, which draws inspiration from Brittany as well as Ireland. With the somewhat unusual instrumentation of two wooden flutes and guitar, they played a very mellow set with interesting music, which we found very enjoyable. Like a lot of the groups, they had dancers join for some numbers, in this case from a school in St. Paul. I particularly appreciated the dancer’s traditional steps, relatively simple but becoming costumes, and natural hair, which was a nice reversion from the typical overdone dresses and “Irish Dance Hair” many schools use.

Next, we chose Athas, at the relocated Celtic Roots stage. Athas gave us a very nice program of old and new pieces. We picked up some snacks from “The Gaelic Baker,” which were excellent.
At 2:30, we went to take in Blackthorn Folly at the Milwaukee Pub Garden. Appropriately enough, they are a “pub band,” and played a set full of boisterous and amusing pieces, such as “Johnny Jump Up,” which Georgie hadn’t heard before and found particularly fun.

Next, we went to the Tipperary stage to hear Full Set, a band from Ireland making their first appearance at Irish Fest, and I’m sure I am not alone in hoping it will not be their last. With six players (bohdran, fiddle, uleiann pipes, concertina, flute, and guitar), their arrangements have the depth and intricacy that I associate with the great Chieftains, and which I particularly enjoy. We bought one of their CDs.

Lunasa at the Miller Lite Stage was next, and very popular. This is one of the largest performance areas, and we found all the regular seats filled buy the time we got there. Fortunately, there was plenty of seating at the adjacent picnic tables, and we could hear the performance perfectly well, although not see much--.

Shopping was good—there was lots to look at, and Georgie found a nice skirt. We took a break from our usual bridie and sausage roll dinner upon observing (and smelling) that American European Foods had real spit-roasted spanferkel, which we hadn’t had in years. I got a dinner, and Georgie ordered the roasted lamb sandwich. Both were delicious and really hit the spot.
Our last major set of the day was Cherish the Ladies at the Aer Lingus stage. Cherish the Ladies always puts on a splendid show, and this was no exception. It was unfortunate that there was a bit of fuzz in the sound system for this set, but that didn’t keep us from enjoying it, although the experience could have been better.

After that, we wended our way out, sampling enough of the Billy Mitchell Pipes and Drums to be satisfied, and picking up an obligatory box of “Mother Machree’s Irish Strudel” to take home.
This was one of the best Irish Fests musically that we can recall.

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The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Sunday evening, our power went out, due to a tree limb down the block falling on the wires. (Probably broken in Friday’s wind, and wilted in Sunday’s heat--). So, instead of sitting home and sweltering in the dark, we moved up our intention to see the new “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” movie and went out to our nearby cinema.

We both enjoyed the movie a lot. The plot is an origin story, something I don’t believe was ever done in the TV show, and shows how CIA operative Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) meet, first as opponents, then as reluctant allies, and finally become (less reluctant) partners. Some of the reviewers have criticized the film as more style than substance, but, in the 1960’s style was what it was all about. (After all, in 1960’s television, you couldn’t have the overt sex and ultraviolence that passes for substance in cinema these days, so you had to have something to attract viewers.) Director Guy Ritchie and his coterie of co-writers did a nice job of capturing the “U.N.C.L.E.” feel, with location establishing shots, and multiple split-screen montages. True to the TV series, although there was considerable violence, notably in the climactic assault on the villains’ lair, it was handled with a light touch and no gore. Also, the bad guys were ultimately defeated by an exercise of wits, and not merely by measuring who has the greatest endurance in a bare-knuckle slugfest—astonishing. This was the thing we appreciated most about the film. Most updates/reboots take the basic premise and then impose modern standards of speed, brutality, and amorality. “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” most avoided these clichés.

Cavill and Hammer do nice jobs with their re-imagined characters. Solo is both a decorated soldier and a notorious art thief, dragooned into the CIA’s service as an alternative to prison. Kuryakin is a veteran of the Soviet Special Forces who volunteered for the KGB, but has unresolved anger issues relative to his father--. Unlike the TV show, where Illya tended to do most of the breaking-and-entering type work, both men share the heavy lifting, although Solo’s path-of-least-resistance style contrasts nicely with Kuryakin’s (often equally effective) bull ahead tactics. The rivalry between the two is fought out in every field from spy gear to fashion and is fun to watch.

The men are well matched by the ladies, Alicia Vikander as an equally reluctant member of the spy team, and Elizabeth Debicki as the exotic and deadly master villain, “Victoria”. Victoria is a great character with wonderful fashion sense, and who, if she were in a James Bond movie, would, in my opinion, go down as one of the great opponents, along with Goldfinger and Scaramanga.

The plot is a 60’s classic nuclear paranoia idea, which plays out well enough, although it must be noted that a good part of the fun comes from noting the 60’s and spy references. (Hearing part of the TV U.N.C.L.E. theme on the radio; characters named for SPECTRE agents; ect.)
The movie ends with U.N.C.L.E. going from an ad-hoc to a formal team, which makes one hope there might be sequels.

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