ISF dancers

Japanese (and other) dancers pose for a group picture during Saturday’s International Street Fair in uptown Athens while awaiting their turn in front of the stage. Photo by Dennis E. Powell.

It wasn’t where it usually is, and it was cold – even a bit of snow fell from time to time – but hundreds turned out Saturday for the 2018 International Street Fair.

This year’s edition was held on East Union Street, north of College Green, instead of up and down Court Street, as is the tradition.

“It coincides with Moms Weekend this year, and the uptown merchants didn’t want us taking away all their parking,” said Athens Mayor Steve Patterson, who was at the fair. “I’ve talked with [OU] President [M. Duane] Nellis, and we’ll have a meeting, with all the interested parties, to work out a schedule going forward” to avoid conflicts, he said.

The event is usually held late enough in the spring that the weather is warm and pleasant, but that wasn’t the case Saturday as temperatures hovered in the 30s for much of it, with the occasional snowflake drifting down.

Though the event was more physically compact, and chillier, than previous versions, it didn’t lack for enthusiasm. The most popular and visible of the many parts of International Week, sponsored by OU’s International Student Union, the fair includes tables and booths representing many countries whose presence is felt through students here.

Some of the displays involved games such as the popular “chopstick race,” where participants pick up small, round, hard candies from one dish and place them in another, using only chopsticks. Other booths let fair-goers try on the native costumes of various countries – Patterson himself was treated to the native headwear of Oman, a country always lavishly represented at the fair.

One of the most popular aspects of the fair, as always, was the food, with candies and treats, noodles, Indonesian sate, kebabs of various sorts, and an International Street Fair favorite, corn on the cob, marinated in soy sauce and grilled over charcoal, served each year by the Japanese student organization.

There was entertainment, with the stage this year set up in Howard Park. It featured a range of native dance, live music, and a few speeches, such as the distribution of certificates of thanks by International Student Union President Carla Triana.

It was also Moms Weekend, so many student participants came with their mothers.

“You should have the corn – it’s great!” said Carmen Thorne, a senior from Marietta, Ohio, who attended with her mom, Rena. Carmen is a member of the Japanese Student Association. Rena attended OU. Did she come to events like this with her own mother? “She would never have come to something like this,” she laughed.

Though it never got to spring-like temperatures, the fair did enjoy a little sunshine later in the afternoon. But as always, the warmth at the International Street Fair came from something more than the weather.

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