As it turns out, I still love the EX, even though (or maybe because) it's been 10 years since my last visit. I love pretending once a year that maple fudge is vegan. And I love the bizarre marketing, like the table that sells "Forces Of Valour" war toys, including scale models of military hardware used by such forces of valour as the German army in 1944. Actually, I'm not such a big fan of that last one. I'm also not big on distinctions between "good guys" and "bad guys," but I am pretty sure that in 1944 those German planes weren't just bringing everyone schnitzel.
I wouldn't be so concerned about a packaging oversight if it weren't for the fact that some of the Luftwaffe's modern equivalents are being treated as entertainment.
Unless you were hiding in an active volcano, you probably heard the Air Show. And unless you want to invent some new expletives for me, I probably can't describe the joy of having my neighbourhood buzzed by fighter jets.
Equally elusive is the elation of sucking on smog earlier that day while watching six Dufferin buses go by before finally squeezing in for the ride along a street congested with cars. Jets continue to scream overhead and I wonder how many people riding with me might have had some direct experience of that in their home countries and what they think of the noise.
By the time I reach the fairground I can feel the rumbling in my teeth, and a woman in an "American Pride" T-shirt has established a radar lock on my "No War" T-shirt. Another squad of jets explodes into sight. Everyone tenses up, moms instinctively grabbing their babies, and I look up to see the dystopian birds climb and then dive toward the windmill. No surprise - if the thing catches on, the warplanes could be out of a job.
The Ex's predecessor was the Canadian Industrial Exhibition of the early 1800s. Back then, the fair was an attempt to glimpse the future, and there was little doubt where that future lay: down a path laid by further industrialization and lit by "the wonder of electricity." There are still some glimpses of the road ahead to be had - including the rapidly approaching fork between today's U.S. oil war machine and a future where we don't need to steal fuel from anyone because, hey, the sun and the wind are giving the stuff away for free.
The CNE actually does a pretty good job of hiding something so bloody tall. The windmill is virtually tucked away in a corner of the grounds. And while it's a stone's throw from the "KidScience" (why do people think kids don't like word spacing?) building, there aren't any exhibits there on the science of sustainable power. If they can make shiny new filaments produced by the good people at 3M Corporation interesting, couldn't they have dolled up a solar cell or two? Or at least pointed an arrow out the window toward the whirling blades?
There could be some signage, too, to draw people's attention to the irony of gathering around the Shrine Peace Memorial to watch warplanes frolic. The monument is a statue of an angel atop the globe, around which are carved the words "Peace be on you - be the peace." It was donated 50 years ago by the Shriners' Ancient Arabic Order, and some F-15s like the ones in the show are returning the favour by donating cluster bombs and 100 rounds of ammunition per second to Arabs half a world away.
People encircle the statue but pay it no heed. The angel, holding two palm leaves high, doesn't seem frustrated - only tired. As the audience disperses, I stand and watch her for a long time, trying to catch her eye, but her patient gaze is fixed out on the water as she waits for the palm leaves to catch the breeze from the windmill.
Ultimately, the rest of the fair is worth it. Carnies yell at me; Bandaloni the one-man band plays the first song I ever learned on guitar; I eat too much fudge.
At night, from atop the giant Ferris wheel, I wonder how long before that blinking scene below could actually be a self-sufficient exhibition of all our greater possibilities and some day become what it always looked like to me as a kid - a fleeting and magical place.
And I get over the Forces Of Valour thing. There are, after all, parts of Germany that get a quarter of their power from the wind. In an age when "freedom" smells like napalm, that sounds a lot like valour to me.