Free show bags at the Easter Show.

How much have you spent on show bags at the Sydney Royal Easter Show? How much are you planning to spend, or how much do your kids expect you to spend?

What if those show bags were free?

In the early days of the Easter Show, show bags were all free.

In the good old days the show was held at the Royal Agricultural Society grounds at Moore Park, in what is now Fox Studios and the EQ complex beside the SCG, and show bags were sample bags. The bags were distributed by various companies and were originally quite useful. They included products like food staples, soap and laundry liquid, and allowed families to stock up on essential items for free.

Realising the popularity and the potential of the bags, confectionary companies began to offer a sample of their existing products, or a new product, in the hope that crowds would enjoy their products then rush to stores to buy more in the weeks that followed. It was also effective PR for the companies.

The bags themselves were much smaller, and were paper bags which carried the logo of the company. They contained a limited number of products which guests normally snacked on as they wandered the agricultural displays or admired the prize winning cows. They did not hang heavily off the handles of prams while burdened parents lumbered from ride to ride behind children high on sugar.

At one point, the samples were given out for free in the mornings, then sold at a small cost in the afternoon.

It is a stark contrast to the show bags of today. Companies from a diverse array of industries compete with each other to outsell their rivals, in a massive hall that could house an entire airline fleet. Bags are now predominantly plastic, as are many of the contents. Food and confectionary companies still dominate the selection, but pressured parents can now splash out on bags from football clubs, Hollywood movies, toy companies, lifestyle programs, cartoon characters and even Aussie rock legends. In the high-tech present, bags are listed online with a description of their contents, and sell for as much as $30.00.

Show bags can even be ordered online and delivered to your door. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Isn’t the show bag part of the grand experience of attending the show, negotiating the crowds, seeing the livestock and fruit stands, watching the woodchopping, eating dodgy takeaway and vomiting on the pirate ship?

The sample bags belong to an era when the Easter Show was more focussed on the agricultural aspect. It was dedicated to bringing together farmers from across the state to socialise, network and compete for best in show, and to educate and entertain city-slickers about life on the land.

Preparing to greet the dead.

They will commune with the dead. They will welcome the unliving into their lives, for one night only.

The people of Guanajuato join their compatriots in creating elaborate artworks and displays to honour their ancestors who will share the earth with them on this one night of the year. Mexicans young and old will hang ofrendas in homes and public places which carry images of skeletons and other macabre images. For on Dia de los Muertos, the deceased return to the earth and walk among us.

Mexicans will bring forth the dead so as to never forget them. To remember the relatives who were once part of their lives. To pay their respects again and again and not just at that person’s funeral. The annual tribute to their ‘antepasados’ allows families to honour the dead without the overwhelming emotions of a funeral immediately following a passing, when grief releases a torrent of sadness. They will honour all of the dead in colourful and striking public installations, over which they have laboured for hours and hours.

In a land all too familiar with drug wars, gang violence and death, perhaps Dia de los Muertos helps local people come to terms with death.

Mexico is colour. Vibrant colour. Bold colour, and this is true of the installations which welcome the deceased.

Mexicans will celebrate. They will laugh and smile and sing. They will eat and drink and be merry, even when surrounded by death and the unliving. Because even in death, Mexicans will find joy and fun and happiness. There is always an excuse to socialise and to party. Deceased Mexicans wouldn’t expect it to be any different.

The families preparing the public and private installations do so with pride and joy. They smile at the striking images of skulls and gore. They revel in their distinct indigenous customs which survived the Christian influence of All Souls Day and the cultural colonisation of Halloween, which fall on the same day. Yes, they celebrate both of these traditions, but they have never strayed from the expression of Mexican culture which is Dia de los Muertos.

God bless my Taxi.

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We craned our necks for the source of the excitement. We could hear it but we couldn’t see it.

What was it?

Horns blaring, engines roaring, people shouting, music blaring, bells ringing.

From atop the hill we had a great vantage point over Zacatecas and its surrounds, yet we still couldn’t determine the source of the noise.

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Was it a protest, was it a celebration, a festival, a fiesta, a beauty contest, a football game…?

It’s often hard to tell in Mexico, as any event seems to be a perfect pretext to become boisterous. Any day, any time.

The origin of the pandemonium eventually revealed itself. A fleet of brightly decorated taxis rounded the bend and climbed the hill in a convoy of commotion. Vehicles were draped in streamers, covered in balloons and painted or wrapped in the national flag. Red, white and green dominated the scene as more and more taxis wound their way up the hill to the church.

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Why?

To be blessed, of course.

On this particular day, the taxis of Zacatecas were receiving their annual blessing from the priest and, through him, the almighty. They were asking for protection and, no doubt, many lucrative fairs for the next 12 months.

Patriotically-adorned taxis and motorised mayhem lined up outside the church and the noise eventually subsided as the drivers and their family and friends waited for the priest to bless every vehicle in turn.

While the event certainly surprised me, it was not entirely unexpected. Sure, I’d never seen taxis blessed in my own country, but I had noticed during my time travelling in Latin America that taxi drivers would bless themselves every time they drove past a house of worship.

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The procession of taxis had interrupted our quiet inspection of La Quemada archaeological ruins, so we decided to return to the city. With tired legs and the burden of history upon us, we realised the best way to return to the city safely, and saintly, was by taxi.

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Step back in time.

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Everything stopped. Everyone fell silent. Candles flickered in the darkness and threw tempered light across the rows of fruit and vegetables lined up in the market stalls.

Thinly clad feet shuffled in the soft light and murmurs surfaced from unseen corners of the vast space. Whispers of an unfamiliar tongue slowly emerged. Soft laughter and truncated sentences.

The voices spoke K’iche’, and rolled off the tongues of local women dressed in the traditional clothing which draws thousands of people to the textile market in the small mountain town of ChiChocastenango in central Guatemala.

From our vantage point on the balcony of the first floor, we witnessed a rare sight. As a blackout plunged the hall into darkness, we gazed down upon a market operating as it would have done for hundreds of years. Local people speaking their indigenous language, to the light of the candles, dressed in traditional clothing and selling produce from the land which has sustained them for generations.

A fortunate experience indeed.

Image: Rachelle Blake

 

 

 

The none too subtle art of photographing people.

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Travel offers countless opportunities to take wonderful photos. Exploration of new frontiers allows us to perfectly capture landscapes, architecture, cuisine, monuments, ruins, culture…and people.

Most visitors yearn for a keepsake image of local people in traditional attire, but capturing such an image can be problematic.

During a trip through Central America, my travel buddies and I wanted some photos of elderly Guatemalan men in traditional clothing in the villages on the shores of Lago Atitlan.

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We were mindful of keeping our distance, aware that the men may not like to be put on the spot with the request for a photo. We also wanted to photograph the men in their natural setting. Most of all though, we wanted to photograph the men because they looked so stylish.

The question was, though, how do we take a photo of the men? We could ask them to pose, but that seemed disrespectful and the photos were likely to look stilted – and we had no interest in being in the photos ourselves as we were dressed in the clothes that had served us during the last 3 months of backpacking.

We decided that two of us would pretend to pose, near our subject, while the other took the photo. The photographer would point the camera at us and just happen to catch the man in the frame.

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Despite our concerted efforts to appear natural and innocent, most of the men knew they were being photographed. One seemed displeased, others unconcerned and a few shot us a small knowing grin as they saw us fail to hide our own laughter.

We persevered with this charade for some time, and only captured a few images. We felt more foolish with each attempt and decided that enough was enough. It was time to get the bus back to the hostel.

At the bus stop, what did we find? A number of local gentlemen on their way home, looking extremely dapper. This time, my two travel buddies brushed off their fledgling Spanish and asked the men for a photo.

The men happily obliged.

I guess another thing that travel teaches you is that anywhere in the world, no man can resist the charms of two attractive young women.