The mass generation and distribution of electricity. Agriculture. Powered flight. The author is responsible for none of these things, though has taken advantage of all. What to say of Amish ice cream? It's delicious. Amish ice cream, you say. How do they freeze it, those Amish people?
In freezers. How else?
I took a trip through Amish land, or possibly landt, by means of a wagon. Statistics? Two horsepower. Enough for the purposes of tourism. I piled into the wagon after all the other tourists, slyly securing the end seat. Why the end seat? Far enough away from the front of the wagon and the rears of the horses to make a difference, should the rears of the horses decide to contribute to global warming. In that regard, the entire landscape overpowered any efforts the horses engaged in.
The rear seat was the best seat to sit in, for purposes of photography. I prefer to record pictures of landscapes, rather than of people. A clear field of fire was mine for the taking, in capturing scenes of where we'd been. I snapped away, careful not to offend any Amish people by taking uncalled-for photographs.
Often, taking photos, I'm thought overly-polite for asking permission to shoot certain images. When I ask, it is with good reason. Many times, I've been right to ask. The reward is often a shot taken in tranquil conditions. It's harder to snap a photo with an insecurity guard breathing down your backside.
We were escorted through this land of plenty by a Mennonite. He was the hi-octane version of an Amish type, wearing shades. Several Amish wore shades. I suspect this was to provide a mild barrier to photography, as much as to protect from sunlight.
The Amish women in the shops knew that tourists would take pictures. Curiosity drums up tourist dollars, and supplements farming income. The oft-photographed Amish women retained their modesty and thought nothing of false pride. Appearing in pictures they'd never see, the workers - for workers they were - had no time to ponder the complexities of technological tools the Amish way of life had set beyond them.
Pride, vanity, Kodak. These have no place in the scriptures of the Pennsylvania Dutch who live in Lancaster County. On we trotted, the landscape turning itself into one vast tourist trap/food-basket. A return to the garden of plenty, minus the serpent, for the farmers who prefer to live in some other century. To an extent, as the Mennonite (and some ice cream) revealed.
We rolled along, passing the odd buggy. A buggy is tiny. Enclosed. With room for a farmer and his wife. We tourists rode in a wagon, on our own peculiar trail. Occasionally, Amish bicycles whizzed by. To prevent stirrings of laziness in the riders, these vehicles had no seats. They were half-bicycle and half-scooter. All-Amish. There seemed to be no compulsion for the riders, all children, to wear safety helmets. Then a car would pass. Not Amish.
A pleasant burbling Hebraic chatter went on. Israeli women, whose distasteful expressions required no translation, coughed at the fine farmyard smells wafting across the fields. Closer to me, two Texans sat and made the same faces. Hilda was photographed accidentally as I faced the camera forward to cover the left of the wagon and the buildings beyond.
Yes, Hilda's face was a picture all right. She had difficulty breathing, given the circumstances. Later, I alarmed myself in reviewing the photographs. I'd taken a surprising number of shots at awkward angles. Turning the camera upside-down and casting it out to the side so that I could capture the buzz of the wagon's rear wheel as we rattled down near-empty roads.
There's a shot of the roof. How did I get that? Was I standing on someone's shoulders at the time? Why hadn't I fallen from the vehicle? Jacob the Mennonite outlined the history of the Amish, seemingly unaware of my acrobatic feats. I had become Yakima Canutt, reborn.
Tours through castles seem destined to end at the gift-shop. Any organised tour in and around Niagara Falls leads to the same inevitable halting-place. So it was with the wagon ride through Lancaster County.
Jacob the Mennonite answers questions posed by the Israeli women, with the questions filtered through one representative translating into English. Side-effect. This gives the translator the appearance of having a deep desire to BE Amish. A quirk of forcing all the questions through her mouth, perhaps. Or perhaps there is more to it than that...
Passing signs for all sorts of things triggers a Vietnam flashback. Odd, as I've never been to Vietnam. The sign indicates the business of A&S LANTERNS/COPY REMF. CO. My mind flitters through to an expression common to that them-and-us mentality of soldiers the world over. R.E.M.F. A statement outlining the opinion of frontline troops, with regard to the nature of those other (fortunate) soldiers stationed in the rear echelon. It is not complimentary.
The whir of the wheels. Some misconceptions about the Amish, dashed. The smell, always the smell, of fertiliser doing what it does best. And the gradual, casual, detour into a farm with its wooden buildings, the ever-present barn, and a silo.
Yes. It's the gift-shop. An elderly Amish man offers food from his table of wares. Food, and trinkets. Horseshoes. Money changes hands. I'd like a picture of the scene, to remember the man by. Jacob the Mennonite cautioned us concerning photography. If we must shoot pictures, shoot from behind. I do this, at a distance, and no cultural clashes occur.
Children zoom by on scooters. I have the impression that they do this for fun, until reaching a destination which leads to journey's end and the beginning of something Americans would call a chore. The suspicion always stayed with me that the word derived from a share. Actually, a chare, or turn, of work. So I'm not far off.
We rattle around the well-used circuit. Amish education comes up. School, up through the 8th Grade. That's that. An Amish child is old enough to enter school, and goes through those eight grades of learning. Then it's time to start working for a living. According to Jacob the Mennonite.
He also mentions a rather hazy prohibition against a wire leading from the house. This is the telephone. Idle chatter is sinful. Though Amish men, working in the fields, carry mobile telephones in case of accidents. This is a sweeping chat, and may not apply to many of the Amish men we see ploughing the land.
Our long journey is almost done. I cut through the Hebraic rhythm. It has subsided somewhat, as all Israelites aboard the wagon are clutching strongly-scented handkerchiefs. The Mennonite goes without. Whirring of wheels. Clopping clatter of horses as they amble close to a halt. My Scottish accent scythes through the air.
All eyes turn expectantly to me, there, at the rear. The writer, blowing cover to make some profound statement concerning the very nature of existence itself. An earth-shattering moment set down in the annals, providing elucidation and wisdom beyond my years.
"...we PAID to smell this."
Text © RLL, 2011. Photo of double ice cream © RLL, 2009. This biography told you what all biographies of writers should tell you. That writers like to write. Visit the blog, REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE, for a free story on the Hallowe'en page - The Chalice in the Snow.