Sunday, October 24, 2010

From godly comes greedy

Amish country, it said on the map in the area surrounding Berlin, Millersburg, Sugarcreek and Walnut Creek, Ohio.
Even before we had seen it, we had images in our heads — horse and buggy clip-clopping down the highway, guided by a stoic driver unsmiling behind long, probably white, beard, as he goes about his business (turns out the road’s shoulders are extra wide and sloped to suit the rigs), men and women in distinctive clothing marking their religion and way of life (saw them walking placidly down the highway or side by side in town, seemingly oblivious to the repeated stares they generated), farmyards without mechanized equipment (eight heavy horses grazing in a field so knew what kind of farm it was) and harvests in the fields (a crop gathered into stooks is a solid hint.)
What we didn’t expect was all the kitsch.
While the Amish aim for the roadside dollar in a quiet way with signs for their hand-made furniture or farm produce, their neighbours capitalize in full American style for the dollar generated by the mystique of yesterday’s way of life.
The black silhouette of a horse-drawn buggy is everywhere, on everything from cheese to ice cream.
Every birdhouse sold at a craft fair is tagged as handmade, even though it looks remarkably similar to any wooden birdhouse sold anywhere. McDonalds has its golden arches towering over a couple of flower-filled buggies, not to mention its buggy parking sign. It’s any excuse to make a tourist town out of any village near an Amish farm.
It cheapens what was built on a people’s belief.
The Ohio countryside is beautiful, fertile land. It gathers attention all on its own but it’s the way merchants attempt to get travellers to stop and spend their money that cheapens a beautiful area.
From our perspective, the trouble with all this is that it works. Streets are clogged with tourists eager to take home a souvenir of their travels. Stores are clogged with merchants eager to help them with that.
We drive on, holding on to the image of the Amish going about their daily business as we go about ours.

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