Boom! Rattatate, rattattate, rattattate! Boom. Boom. Boom! Rattatate, rattattate, rattatate.
I found my head nodding in time to the energetic beat as it reverberated against the houses. Nabbing my boyfriend, J’s, hand as we crested a bridge I set us on course for the source of the sound. We dodged and gently nudged our way through the wall of people listening to the music.
Mill Road had gone from channeling a stream of cars to bursting with a river of strolling revelers. It was the Nile in flooding season. The local shops and international stores joyfully slurped up passing folk—their wares sparkling under the attention. Other islands of sound and bobbing bodies stood against the flow of curious incoming visitors. You never knew what you were going to float past next!
The focus of this festival is local trade—be it in goods, entertainment, food or service. Busker bands and troupes were out in full force, sharing what they could bring to the party. There were art shows, antique shows and charity shows. Hand-made crafts rested next to locally made soaps and sausages.
If you are a food fanatic, or “foodie”, then you’ll wish the Mill Road Winter Fair wasn’t designated to only one day of the year! Food tables and booths overran the sidewalks!
What A Difference!
This was my first time traveling down Mill Road and it was fascinating to contrast it with the student-dominated centre of Cambridge. Here grocery stores sported ingredients from around the world. Organic shops cropped up among the bakeries and liquor shops were nestled in between. Narrow allies led to sewing shops, antique warehouses, tiny theatres and community halls.
And here’s a shocker—I think I only saw ONE traditional English pub on the whole street.
There was a leap from an overwhelming presence of international brand names to the majority of shops hailing from the neighborhood alone.
J and I were ecstatic. J gushed over the impressive collection of global recipes and I squealed over the custom toys and costumes.
The Pressed Parade
Only once was our attention drawn from the trinkets and cookies, and that was so we could watch the parade push past. We’d heard about it as we nabbed lunch.
While J’s sandwich was toasting on the grill the shop staff dove into their memories to describe what was coming. I was curious about how the busy road would be cleared and inquired about it.
Oh, there will be police officers who walk ahead of the parade and move people to the sidewalk, said one of the men.
Minutes later, just as the two men said—well kind of as they’d said—around noon some police officers casually wandered past. Then there were people in neon vests with outspread arms directing onlookers to the sidewalk.
Immediately after the volunteer crowd-dispersers followed a dense blob of youth decked in vivacious colours. Each section was led by a bearer of a towering set of fans. These tails, which could make a peacock proud, could be seen long before and after the bearer had passed.
Girls spearing floppy discs (haha not those floppy disks) pranced down the road. I have no idea how they got through doorways with those hilariously wide skirts. I also kept having flashes of bumper boat fights in my head.
The dancers dipped and swayed. They looked fabulous, surreal even, with their wobbling skirts, but I was a bit disappointed to note their outfits had been greatly simplified from last year.
In previous years the carnival participants had wielded sticks, which they could use to ripple loose fabric attached to their skirts. The final effect looked AMAZING in the videos.
Maybe too many eyes were nearly poked out?
It was very tight when the parade squeezed through. Even without the stewards herding people the onlookers would have had no choice but to flee to the sidewalk .
International or Local?
According to its website, the Mill Road Winter Fair was founded to celebrate the mix of cultures in the area. While I did see a diverse banquet of food I’m not entirely sure I felt this festival showcased a diversity of culture. The art and the performances felt very… British.
This perspective could well have been a result of my tour. The event stretched for kilometres and walking along its length meant I missed a lot because the shows weren’t constant. I did see a tai chi group and I heard there was a mosque that invited people to ask questions and join in prayer (I’m definitely doing that next year).
In the end though the foreign element felt quite subtle.
Could this be because I’m from Canada where we are like HAHA FOREIGN whenever we celebrate our diverse cultures? Could be.
Maybe I’m stuck on stereotypes and expected obvious cultural symbols when people just wanted to share some modern music and food. This is also very possible.
Either way, as a winter fair featuring local food, dance and art this is a great event. It moves away a bit from the pomp of the centre so you really feel like you’re participating in a neighborhood event.
It totally reminded me of the annual trade shows back in Brooks, Alberta. Except of course, ours are held in hockey arenas instead of along streets.
Don’t worry. We remove the ice first!