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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    First Prickly Pear Festival rough around the edges

    First Prickly Pear Festival rough around the edges

    If there’s one thing guaranteed to cheer me up, it’s a prickly pear. They look menacing, taste great, and they’re about as Arizonan as fruit gets. They even have a cool name.

    So I was a little let down by Saturday’s first-ever Prickly Pear Festival. It wasn’t terrible, and it was held for an impeccable cause — Education, Mentoring, Visually Impaired Association (EMVIA), a nonprofit organization that helps the blind — but it was certainly a lot less than it could have been.

    Like a lot of Tucson festivals, this one was held at Rillito Park Race Track on First Avenue south of River Road. Hoping to avoid the heat, we drove out there just after sunset. After finding a parking space and paying $5 at the gate — with the promise of one free drink with the ticket — my friends and I began wandering around, eager to see what there was to offer. To be fair, our expectations were probably cranked up a shade too high. As I said, I really like prickly pears.

    At first, it seemed promising enough. A friendly fellow gave us a demonstration of how you can crush prickly pear fruit into prickly pear juice. A smiling woman showed off her prickly pear cakes. A jewelry merchant nodded a gruff hello at us.

    That was about it.

    We paused by a stand with free prickly pear snacks and a prickly pear cookbook for sale. When my impressed friend asked how one of the snacks was made, the woman behind the stand snapped back that the recipe was in the book. Chastened, we said thank you and goodbye. She ignored us.

    We bought prickly pear drinks — a lemonade for me, margaritas for my friends. They tasted virtually identical, and a lot more like water than like lemonade or margarita. We drank them, eyed the jewelry and the overpriced food for a few minutes, and glumly trotted toward the exit.

    I don’t mean to pick on this well-meant little festival. It’s a great idea and it could be made into something fabulous. But it reminded me of how small-time so many of these local events feel. Tucson is a great city with a rich and multi-faceted culture. Why do so many of our local events feel so cobbled-together and shallow? Why can’t they match the excitement and flavor and weirdness of our town?

    Why not spice the event up a little with some kitschy absurdity? Why not, say, put a giant papier-mache prickly pear plant in the center of the field as a sort of surreal mascot? Why not get someone to dress up as a prickly pear and explain the ins and outs of desert life to kids? With a little more effort and imagination, this festival could be as rich and delightful as the wonderful Tucson International Festival, now in its second year.

    Events like the Prickly Pear Festival could also benefit from a slightly more inclusive feel. Though most of the vendors were friendly to us, we could tell we weren’t the target audience for the event. The key to that is better promotion. Next year, the festival organizers should try to stir up a larger audience.

    Most importantly, they ought to put some real juice in those prickly pear lemonades.


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