“I knew a girl from London,” says the guy in the gift shop. “I went to London to meet her family. I lost her. I still don’t … I don’t know. The one who loses all will gain all.”
He works the gift shop in Amish Acres. It’s the Amish safari near Warsaw. He takes our money and encourages us to watch the “free movie”. He isn’t Amish. There is nobody Amish to be seen. It’s the Sabbath. They’re hiding. We buy the house tour with no clue what we are paying for, and browse the gift shop.
There’s a theatre here. They’re playing Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys. The director (probably) is on the phone through a door and Katherine, Kaffe and I all stop to listen as he’s ranting about theatre and we all know these rants. As in London, so in Amish Acres. “They’ve made so many changes I don’t recognise it. It’s like watching a totally different show,” shouts the man. “I’m … there’s no point in … I’m not watching Act 2.” Bless. I haven’t seen it. But I suspect that anyone who throws their toys out of the pram to that extent is not a collaborative artist.
We don’t see the show. We go to “the movie”. The movie is a slide show, largely incomprehensible, skipping and jumping through biblical history with an eye to Luther, and to the Anabaptists and Mennonites from which this determined little sect grew. The Catholic/new age musician Enya provides the entirety of the background music. It is narrated in a monotone and you can hear the narrator’s lips. I shiver. I imagine the tickling of beard on ear. He is saying these words to me but they make no sense. The images don’t correlate with the words. Flicker picture lipsmack words. It’s like I’m in an experiment. I absently check the sides of my head for electrodes. Is this an eventuality that the simulation programmer didn’t think through? Did he give the creation of the Amish film to the intern?
We leave before it’s finished because it seems to be endless and we worry we are stuck in a loop.
Finally we go on a tour of a freezing wooden house. I’m sure it would’ve been nice if the stoves were lit. But they’re not. Not for the “English.” Apparently anyone not Amish is called English. Our guide keeps referring to herself as “English” where she’s evidently not. By the way, this account is the contents of my head, not her tour. She spoke, I looked at the cracks. That’s my way.
The Amish are “the fastest growing faith in America”, but not through evangelism – through breeding. They’re popping out babies like wet gremlins.
This sect of a sect of a sect evolved in Switzerland, I’m told. They hate the “German” army. Buttons? Not for them. When they’re ten years old they stop having buttons and have to use straight pins instead to fasten clothes. Buttons are for the army. Moustaches? Absolutely not. That’s for the Kaiser and the Prussians. Or is it the Germans? Apparently they don’t like the Germans, that’s what we are told. It’s at odds with what I’ve been led to believe, where they came over in the 1750’s before Germany existed as a nation. But like with the Mormons there’s a lot of “shhh stop looking at it so closely” going on here. And I reckon many of my friends don’t properly understand the Austro/Hungarian empire that gave rise to WW1. And I’m amongst them. But back to the Amish:
Even though they can’t look in mirrors they have a bit of polished tin to keep that Kaiser moustache away. This has me thinking about messages via facial hair. The Kaiser with the lavish moustache that the Amish eschew. Hitler with his unusual squared mini moustache – surely a symbol too. Talking about what? Lack of flamboyance? The need to trim back? But I keep getting distracted. I’m not writing about moustaches. Oh the Amish.
What do they believe in? Outwardly it’s an austerity and a desire not to embrace labour saving devices.
I’m no expert. But it seems to be about making sure life is busy and hard – If you’ve got too much time to think you think too much. I can understand that. Thought damages faith. Minimise thought, maximise faith.
In this community, they bought a swamp for cheap, and then with single-minded determination and almost impossible degrees of faithful hard work they turned it into this calm dry fertile community we visited today.
They collect rainwater runoff, stored under the house, but that was their drinking water as well as their washing water. Since that’s an invitation for typhoid, someone suggested building a mill to pull water up from deeper down. “WITCHCRAFT!” Shouted half the village, and left their own homes in high dudgeon. Half of the rest died of typhoid before the mill was finished. It was “Too much of an increase in technology.” But it stopped people from dying. Surely it was ok? But maybe it was God’s plan that the casualties took themselves out of the very limited gene pool. With this evolutionary process working over thousands of years you could breed a human that is immune to typhoid. Problem is, said human would be prone to all sorts of other nasty conditions that come out of limited gene pools. But that’s ok. Amish people likely don’t believe in genetics. God’s plan.
And this is what’s curious. They pick and choose what is acceptable. At what point is something too modern? Who decides? They have ingenious devices for coring apples, grinding meat, making butter. These devices are all manual. That’s likely a part of it. But they are still technology. A wood burning stove is technology. I’m not here to unpick it though. I’m mostly curious as I’m always looking at the edges of stuff. With any belief system, after a degree of unpicking you arrive at “Just because.” (AKA faith).
But what I see is people making work for themselves, in a good way. I see that bringing them together as a community. I see that binding them together, with a very strong sense of themselves vs OTHER. And I kinda like them, the weirdos.
They work with their bodies from waking to sleeping. They don’t give themselves time to think. They just do. And they know how to make things into other things. They make soap and detergent out of time and byproducts.
In this polarised world the Amish are not subscribing to the religion of opinion. They’re living sustainably. They’re absent from debate but have managed to strike a balance where tax is paid even though they are separate from the system. In California more people have opinions about flame wars than wildfires. In Amish Acres they’re working too hard to give a damn about the latest celebrity feud.
It’s a shame it’s based in faith. But social justice is a religion just as much as the old faiths are, and social media is the temple. We are always going to police behaviour based on nebulous beliefs, and identify ourselves into groups based on what we think about ideas.
The Amish sing lovely songs, and live carbon neutral. Their eating habits didn’t work with our company though. “Even the beans have got ham,” our waitress tells us.