Thursday, July 05, 2007

I observed 4th of July in two different countries. They were about half an hour apart.

In Fairfax County, Virginia, for a week, I attended a crafts fair in the morning, held at the Vienna Coummunity Center. The highlight of the fair was the antique cars show. Lovingly maintained, polished to a shine, the cars ranged from early twentieth century open carriages to classic 1960's convertibles. Visitors were encouraged to vote for their favorite car. A few of the cars carried plaques declaring their winning places in previous years' polls. The owners, lounging behind their machines or lingering to answer questions, were all white, all men.

The visitors were predominantly white too, many of whom were older couples, some were young families, a few teens. Past the cars, a country music band tuned up on an improvised stage. The fair stalls were pitched in a baseball field. I saw two East Asian couples, and another East Asian and white couple, strolling among the stalls. My sister told me there were more East Asian families at the pony rides and the bouncy castles. There were more asians at the fair, but they were sellers, the craftsmen, if you will, and not visitors. One Hongkong couple were selling bags they made themselves at home. A trio of Thai were selling knick-knacks of an Indochinese appearance. The sole black person I saw was an African American woman selling, you guess it, African artefacts: totemic and animal carvings, bead necklaces. There were white sellers too, of course, hawking less ethnic-defining wares like potpourri, greeting cards, artistic photographs and rock fossils. One woman was selling beer bottles flattened by a slow process of heating.

The center, which housed more stalls in the basketball court, seemed to be a hive of community activities. Besides a Phoenix Club for young people, it organized activities and tours for more mature residents. Immediately outside its main entrance was a stone memorial, in a blaze of flowers, commemorating a man called Martinelli who had been mayor, planning commissioner, and architect of the center.

The other world I entered in the evening was the Lake Fairfax Park. Cars snaked into the parking lots, disgorging would-be viewers of fireworks, adding to cars and families already there in the day. Here it took some time to find a white face. Latin, Mexican, South Indian and black families staked their places around a barbecue, a football, or, as it grew dark, a squib. The families must have learned from past experience the best spots in the park. As in the Vienna fair, I did not see any gay couple or family.

Nearer the lake stood the food stalls, one selling funnel cake, the second chinese snacks like lo mein and spring rolls, the third hot dogs and hamburgers. The line for funnel cake was the longest. Another stall sold American flags and long flourescent sticks that could be bent into circlets.

The end of the "national anthem," played over the public address system, signaled the start of the fireworks. The display was quite spectacular. But before it had quite ended, families were moving to their vehicles, and vehicles were making bravely for the main road. No one wanted to be trapped in the crush.

Thinking over my two disparate experiences later that night, I remembered the one place that bridged the two in my day. In Tysons Corner, a shopping mall, different peoples mingled as both sellers and consumers. Two men heading towards an exit, bags in hand, looked as if they were a couple. I bought a tank top from H&M and got the second one free. I would bet the man in front of me in the line was gay. But of course, unlike at the Vienna Fair or Lake Fairfax Park, no one in Tysons Corner was sharing a communal and symbolic experience with anyone he or she did not come with. Unless shopping is the representative experience of Independence Day.

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