Monday, September 18, 2006

Off the Beaten Path

This is Downtown Arthur, IL, taken from the north end. It's about 40 miles from my place, and I spent Sunday afternoon walking around and taking photos of this little town and another, Arcola, IL. They're 9 miles apart from one another, and known foremost for being Amish communities, also with a large Mennonite population.

I'm often more surprised and contemplative after visiting these towns, than I am by anything I see in a big city. It's true that Venice Beach offers up a guy with naught but two tufts of hair on his head, dyed red, and molded into horns, and with a bright red tail tattooed on his back.

But Arthur finds me standing in line at mini mart, behind a young man, with sleeves of ink. He wears his ballcap backwards, and bounces to tunes on his iPod. In front of him, a young Mennonite girl, in a pastel pink dress that falls past her knees, and her hair tucked into a white cap. A long white ribbon from her cap is tossed over her shoulders. They are about the same age. They are both buying candy, a beverage.

This, I think, is culture clash like none I witnessed in Los Angeles.

And there's more.

Arcola is often referred to by those in our Mexican community as "Little Mexico." I found a brief article in their local paper about the Hispanic community, that began building in the late '60s when folks started moving here from Cadereyta, Mexico to work in the Broom Industry. (Broomcorn, for those of you that don't live around here. Broomcorn. Broomcorn Festivals. Broomcorn Brooms. Read Dave Barry's take.). Cadareyta, the article says, is often referred to as "a sister city" to Arcola.

As I walked around Arcola, several cars passed me, rattling with the beat of loud Latin music, the drivers all nodding a hello. These guys asked me take their picture. Ok. Click.

On the advice of friends, I stopped into a little hole-in-the-wall, Mom & Pop place called Taco Tako. $6 gets you cinco (that's 5, goober) bistek tacos (handmade tortillas!) with cilantro, cheese, & lettuce, and a side of grilled onions, hot sauce, and fresh lime.

There are less than 5,000 people in these two towns, combined (2,662 Arcola, 2,203 Arthur) and yet, they are amazingly rich in cultural and religious diversity.

There is, of course, quite a bit of tourism in these places, people come from miles around for Amish crafts, quilts, and cheese. Tour buses hit the hot spots: Rockome Gardens, and the Cheese Factory. But they are both "don't-blink, or-you'll-miss it!-" sized towns.

My advice, as it is anywhere you go, is to get off the beaten path and open your eyes.

Because there's so much to miss, if you blink.


  1. Anonymous4:03 PM

    We saw a lot of great places like that in our 6 months of travelling your country. Never saw one spider though.

    Great photos from that nice camera of yours.

  2. The photo of the birds is FANTASTIC!

    I think interculturalism is an everyday thing - you just get on with your life. All the drama you hear about it is just a tiny part of life. By and large it's just everyday folk minding their own business and getting on with things.

    Sometimes it's nice to be reminded that people do get on after all.

  3. Love the bird picture! It's really cool but a little creepy.

    Is a bird in my hair?? Get it out! Get it out!!
    I think of that whenever, I think of Momo's bats too.

  4. Love this post!
    We have several Mennonite towns in rural Kansas and I love the farmers market and craft fairs each summer.

  5. great post....
    your last picture is my favorite, tho all were great.

  6. This is awesome! My inlaws are in Lancaster PA - also Amish country. We love to see the kids play as we drive up through the country.

    The mix there sounds wonderful. And the Tako place! Yum! I might have to make it there....

  7. Towns so small that the "Entering" and "Leaving" signs are on the same pole. [wink]

    Great post.

  8. These are fantastic photos! Did you have to take any courses to achieve results like this?

  9. Dogbait: You've traveled this country more than I have! The spiders are all at my house.

    Sveny: Thanks. And you're right, of course, about people just getting on.

    PP: Birds can kill you.

    Jodie: The quilts are lovely, aren't they?

    Jay are: The birds seem to be popular; there are more to come.

    Wendy: Yes! Come for tacos! No martini's in there though.

    Wil: You got it! I did take a few pix of some interesting signs while I was there.

    Stephen: No classes, but one back in high school. Ahem. Several thousand years ago, when there was such a thing as film. I'm still mucking my way through the manual on this camera. But thank you.

  10. Your pictures are always breathtaking...

    Absolutely loved the pic of the lil' girl on the trike....

    It's amazing and astonishing to see such culture clashes in a country that speaks so much on globalization and such things...

    Loved this post!

  11. Anonymous10:04 AM

    The Annual Mennonite Relief Sale (in the other twin cities) has awesome quilts that are auctioned. The food is good too!

    RE: Deal on insurance. Sorry, I don't sell it, I'm a researcher - vehicle and occupant safety. However, I encourage you to ascertain whether you are taking advantage of all the discounts available to you through your current insurance carrier. :)

  12. plwacYou know, I read 100's of bloggers and am read and linked by hundreds more but you're still one of my favorites. You're an amazing artist whatever the medium and one of the most wonderful and thoughtful people I know. And cute to boot! Love ya!

  13. Lori- amazing how you can see past the obvious...Loved the pics too, but I know you see past the surface

  14. i love your photos especially the 2nd one named "intersection 2". I am intrigued by "small" towns. They have a mystery that big cities lack.

  15. Anonymous10:08 AM

    This was a great little tour--thanks for sharing!

  16. Tuscola now has 3 Mexican restaurants: El Vaquero (in the old Hardee's building on Rt. 36); Las Penitas (which is downtown next to the pharmacy), and Los Potros (also downtown across from the vet's office). How does one small town support 3 Mexican restaurants???


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