Amish vacationers
August 24, 2020 4:05 PM   Subscribe

Where the Amish go on holiday [BBC video, ~7min]: For nearly a century, families from Amish and Mennonite communities around the US have gathered in the small town of Pinecraft, Florida to mingle and relax. Photographer Dina Litovsky [insta] captured beautiful photographs of the Amish at leisure [New Yorker, April 2018]. posted by Westringia F. (24 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hmm. I'm assuming that these were taken with permission, since some of them seem to be at private gatherings, but it'd be nice to have that explicitly said. Obviously, it's generally legal to take pictures of anyone in public, but it's not always courteous.
posted by tavella at 4:15 PM on August 24


She talks about that in the video. She gets permission, and she also made some of the pictures into a little book, which she gave to people whom she photographed. It sounds like her subjects have complicated views about photography (just like they have complicated things about a lot of things): they don't object to having their pictures taken, but they don't feel comfortable posing for pictures. So they candid pictures that she takes are a way for them to get a document of their experience, within the boundaries of their beliefs and customs.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:20 PM on August 24 [20 favorites]


Thanks, A&C! I had just read the New Yorker article, couldn't watch the video right now. Good to know. The Amish in Pennsylvania get a lot of tourists treating them like a freak show, so I'm a little sensitive about it.
posted by tavella at 4:30 PM on August 24


It's not specifically about religion for me, I just find it very unpleasant when people treat any visible minority group as if they were animals at a safari. Like... if they just happen to be around while you are taking pictures, that's fine, but if you are going to follow people around and take close-up pictures, I'm a lot more comfortable to know that you asked if they were okay with it first.
posted by tavella at 4:58 PM on August 24 [2 favorites]


Which this photographer obviously did! So it's cool to see the pictures of people outside their normal world.
posted by tavella at 4:59 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


Both my parents are from Ohio and my father grew up in Amish country (although he is not Amish) and at some point someone in my family married someone from an Amish family so I've been to family reunions where there were more horses and buggies than cars. I've also attended a barn raising, which was astonishing.

I have a lot of respect for these people. Although I find it curious that there's a place in Florida where they go to holiday because that seems like a lot of travel.
posted by hippybear at 4:59 PM on August 24 [7 favorites]


That looks serene and lovely and... I kind of want to go. It's got that whole "simpler time and place" feel to it and it looks like a nice escape from, you know, everything.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:25 PM on August 24


[one removed - please don't make random religion potshots, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:53 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


Our son and daughter-in-law live in northern Indiana, right in middle of Indiana’s Amish communities. To say the Amish are a complicated subject would be an understatement. Apparently, the local deacon determines how strict the rules are, or, through what sort of pretzel logic will cell phones, trucks, electric bikes, computers, etc. be allowed.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:01 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


very nice. My grandmother's folk came from Lancaster, spent Alot time there. Don't agree or like that postion thorzdad, complication being a key item.
posted by clavdivs at 6:38 PM on August 24


Enjoyed the photos. Having grown up in Amish county (western NY), it wasn't necessarily the images of leisure and candid family life that grabbed my attention -- all of that could be seen in our community. It was the sheer suburbia-ness of the settings. Low-slung buildings shoulder-to-shoulder, sidewalks and asphalt running in between.

Trying to reconcile the backdrop and the subjects made for some enjoying scrolling.. but the image of the volleyball game stopped me cold. That was completely recognizable from my youth. One of the Amish church/schools was located on a road my friend lived on, and I drove by it all the time. There was a baseball field in the schoolyard, and driving by after school or on weekends, it was invariably deserted. My young self understood a bit about the cultural differences at play (no Little League games, say) but I couldn't understand why there was never anyone there -- not even some simple pitch-and-catch.

But the first time I drove by late on a summer Saturday evening, 9pm or so, I'm remember what I noticed first: the line of buggies along the road, or the floodlights washing over the field. It was a scene! As we passed the field, I distinctly remember three things: the traditional dress of all the men & women playing, all the emotions on the faces of the players, and how it all seemed to live protected inside this bubble of floodlights with summer darkness extending all around. That volleyball photo (not baseball but still) captures that moment incredibly well.
posted by Theophrastus Johnson at 6:41 PM on August 24 [6 favorites]


When I was 7 years old, my dad took me on a road trip from central NC to Washington DC. It was there I had my first encounter with Amish people. In the Air & Space Museum. In the IMAX theatre. What I now assume was a bus tour group, filling multiple rows, watching The Dream is Alive - a doc about the space shuttle.
posted by thecjm at 7:15 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


The Dream Is Alive in IMAX is AMAZING! I probably saw that film a dozen times; it is so so good!

The launch sequence with that sound system is truly great and also the emergency escape on the giant screen is really memorable. It's been decades! Wow! Thanks for the memory jolt!
posted by hippybear at 7:23 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


I’ve backpacked in the Grand Canyon several times. Almost every time I’ve hiked out (except the last trip, when the rain was just pouring) I’ve seen several of them, both men and women, descending in for a short day hike down Bright Angel Trail. They’re dressed just as you’d expect, and they’re all friendly as they pass by. Like I said, almost every time I hike, they’re up on the last mile or two of BA. I kinda look forward to seeing them on the way up.
posted by azpenguin at 8:59 PM on August 24


"Apparently, the local deacon determines how strict the rules are, or, through what sort of pretzel logic will cell phones, trucks, electric bikes, computers, etc. be allowed."

They're actually usually decided by a vote of all adult church members -- men and women -- meeting twice a year to discuss the Ordnung, or community rules. (Votes to change rules must usually be very large supermajorities.)

The logic of them is fairly easy to follow, once you understand the goals. In general, most Amish/Mennonites/other Plain People strive to, well, be plain and modest in dress (since vanity is a sin, and flashy clothing is one of the easiest ways to emphasize inequality in a community); to preserve and strengthen families and communities; and to preserve distinctive aspects of their religious tradition, including a radical commitment to non-violence, separation from civil society and its demands, local governance, no mustaches, etc. (I started typing this comment being very careful to specify the differences among different Amish, Mennonite, and related groups, but I have decided I'm just going to say "Amish" for most of the rest of the comment because I'm ending up with like four sentences clarifying the specifics for every one that has information. So just assume for the rest of this comment that I'm talking about some but not all Amish, Mennonites, and Plain People, and I'm mostly talking about the ones who are easily marked out from broader society by their clothing -- you probably know some Mennonites who just wear polos and khakis and always look a bit 1950s preppy, but nothing that proclaims "Amish.")

So you start to see how different groups can answer questions about technology and modern life in very different ways. What about cars? Well, they make it easy for families to scatter to the four winds, and for people to spend long days away from home. So Amish don't (usually) own them, because cars tend to weaken families and communities. But what if you're living in Shipshewana and your sister married a man in SW Wisconsin? Some Amish groups say that is a use of cars that strengthens family, for you to go and visit her, so it would be acceptable to hire an Englischer to drive you. Other Amish groups say "write letters." Taking a vacation? Well, again, some Amish groups would say "stay close to home, don't travel." Others say, "This is an opportunity to spend time as a family, to rest as even God rested on the Sabbath, to meet with others who share our faith." (And most of the people in the photos -- at least the ones who consented to be photographed -- are from slightly looser groups, you can tell by the colors of the clothes. Also by the shoes. Also very strict Amish will not consent to be photographed so that their faces are visible; they'll allow it only from the back or not at all.) Some Amish allow phones on farms for emergencies and/or for contact with work (more Amish men work at jobs off the farms these days), but require them to be in a little "outhouse" (usually out by the road where the telephone poles go by) -- because having a phone in the house invites you to pay attention to distant people instead of your family and friends who are in your living room, and to be constantly interrupted by outsiders. But placing it some distance away so you have to use it with intention doesn't, some groups decided, have the same negative effects on family and community. (Similar conversations are happening around cell phones but I know a lot less about that.) In fact, a lot of their conversations around the effects of technology on communities would be very at home on MetaFilter!

Of course patriarchy enters into a lot of these questions -- it's amazing how machines that make men's farm work easier often turn out to be okay, but machines that make women's housework easier are not. (Oh, but the farm machines are outside the home, and the sewing machine is inside it! they will protest. Eh.) Also, they're humans, so they act like all humans with rules -- some of them cheat! And others set themselves up as community rule arbiters!

But the Amish aren't dour and joyless! They're not the sort of Calvinists who think having fun makes God mad; people just assume they are because they're very strict and old-fashioned, and most of what most Americans know about "strict, old-fashioned, and Christian" comes from the Puritans and the Salem Witch Trials and so on. These are people from a very, very different set of religious traditions! (For one thing, Puritans are way too fucking violent for the Amish, and in many cases the Amish fleeing Europe for the US were fleeing Calvinist-run states that were insisting on military service for all men.) But most Amish advocate taking joy in simple things. Uno is very popular among the Amish, as are other common family games that don't involve gambling. Many Amish like to patronize local restaurants and try different cuisines -- if you live anywhere near Amish country, you may have local restaurants that have hitching posts. And if you live anywhere near Amish country and you enjoy hiking, fishing, or bird-watching, you will definitely run into local Amish enjoying those hobbies.

Now, don't romanticize the communities. They're very patriarchal, they're places where it's hard as hell to be a square peg, and like most closed, patriarchal communities, they have a lot of problems with child abuse and sexual abuse, because women and children have VERY limited contact with outside authorities who might be able to help them, and the communities -- because they are considered weird -- have a strong incentive to protect their abusive members from discovery. And it's almost difficult to express how emotionally violent a punishment shunning is, for someone who grew up in one of these close-knit Amish communities and, for whatever reason, feels they have to leave.

But most Amish are normal, friendly people who, if they see you out birdwatching, will happily chat with you for a bit. Or if you're a mother with children at a highway rest stop, one of the women might ask you which way to go to find something (because other women with children are considered less threatening/dangerous/likely to be creepy). Many of them like sightseeing, and Amish groups who've hired a 15-passenger van or chartered a bus are a common sight at Midwestern rest stops, and have been for more than 40 years. Many Amish are suspicious of Englischers -- outsiders -- because they do work hard to keep their communities separated from wider society, and because a lot of people treat them like sideshow exhibits, or even shout ugly things at them. But their theology also takes really seriously the idea that we're all children of God, and if you're friendly and polite and not-weird, most will meet you with that same friendliness.

One of the ways that that many stricter Amish communities have been evolving in the past 20 years, that's very interesting to me, is that they've been allowing certain kinds of (usually charitable) contact with Englischers that would previously have been entirely off-limits. Mennonites have a missionary tradition, but the Amish really don't, and most stricter Amish groups have tried hard to minimize contact with secular society (opting out of social security, opting out of schooling as soon as possible, etc.). But after that horrible school shooting in an Amish school some years ago, the community -- which had never accepted outside money -- accepted donations for the girls' medical care, because (as one of the church elders said, but more eloquently), We can't see this outpouring of love and support from our Englischer neighbors and people across the country as anything other than an expression of God's love, and it would be sinful to reject that love. And that was astonishing! And after Katrina, several Amish communities sent skilled carpenters down to New Orleans help rebuild, which was ALSO astonishing! The Amish are always there in the clean-up after local disasters, but driving several states to help non-Amish not-near-neighbors was an unheard-of thing! That is way, way outside my theological expertise, but I'm super-interested in observing this change, where stricter Amish communities seem to be interpreting their "neighbors" to be a much broader set of Americans generally, rather than their Englischer neighbors within buggy distance, and I always interrogate friends who study the Plain People because I think it's such a fascinating shift. (I sort-of think it's at least partly driven by more Amish working off farms, which typically involves a lot more contact with Englischers. But I eagerly await the books that will come out in 10 or 20 years looking at shifts in Amish theology in the first couple decades of this century!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:20 PM on August 24 [66 favorites]


I think there's probably something to be said for the careful, considered adoption of new technology to benefit the community, in contrast to the consequences-be-damned free-for-all most of the rest of the world is going with.
posted by Harald74 at 10:55 PM on August 24 [2 favorites]


Anyone know what (apart from fried fish) is served at the fish fry?
posted by Harald74 at 10:56 PM on August 24


Eyebrows McGee thank you so much for your detailed and considered comment!
posted by Megami at 12:29 AM on August 25


Mennonites are gay-inclusive, I've learned. I live in Quaker and Mennonite territory, and am descended from one of the oldest Mennonite families here, except it's only chance I moved into this area. My family left the faith 4 generations ago, when greatly grandad became a doctor.
posted by Goofyy at 7:14 AM on August 25 [3 favorites]


Another place you will frequently see large groups of Amish is on the trains. I took the Empire Builder from Seattle to Glacier and then, after hiking, on to Chicago, and on the second leg of the trip I would say about one third of the my car was a group of Amish families traveling together. As Eyebrows McGee noted, I suspect I was with a looser group, because I noticed that women, almost without exception, were wearing crocs.

I was able to spend a (long, dilated train-zone) time talking with a head of a family in Michigan, and it was one of the more interesting conversations I've had. Among other things, I was struck by the combination of sophistication and business savvy—ultimately, he was managing a farm, which included complicated steam-based machinery but also migrant labor, so he spoke fluent Spanish—and extremely particular ideas of the larger world. This latter point is almost certainly, of course, colored by my experience and expectations, but I remember that, in the middle of conversation, he suddenly mentioned that, if things kept on progressing, he fully expected that Obama would force Amish children to become homosexuals, in which case he would be forced to join distant relatives in South America.
posted by Stilling Still Dreaming at 7:19 AM on August 25 [2 favorites]


My wife's family lives in Sarasota, so in visits there we routinely see the Amish folks around -- especially around the east-west corridor Bahia Vista st, which is where many of them have vacation homes in a little village. Also there is a down-home-cooking restaurant called Yoder's that's pretty darn tasty. However, Yoder's real claim to fame is PIES. Around Christmas, it's pretty dang hard to get one -- they sell out FAST.

Yoder's also has a gift shop, which is where I made the somewhat alarming discovery that there exists a whole genre of Amish romance novels, about which we cannot stop giggling.
posted by uberchet at 8:22 AM on August 25 [2 favorites]


In the summer up in the eastern Sierra of California one will see honeymooning Plain couples camping at Brown's Owens River Campground. I said hello one year to a couple from Ohio who were delighted to tour the Western US and camp as they were starting their marriage before they fully settled down to farm life. And I was delighted to hear their account of Yosemite and the Grand Canyon.

Another year a large family group came with a large canvas tent and a wood fired stove that was set up in the tent. It was rather awesome.
posted by msjen at 9:59 AM on August 25


I particularly like the shot outside the ice cream parlour with the three teenage girls sitting on a bench eating their cones. There's something timeless about the expressions & interaction it captures, like they could just as easily be non-Amish modern teens, or equally a scene from a Renaissance painting.
posted by terretu at 1:28 AM on August 26 [2 favorites]


The Yoder's I mentioned is in Pinecraft. If you look on Google Street View, you can see the area. The plain-looking houses behind Yoder's are the village; on the opposite side of the street, the RV park is also largely populated by this community.
posted by uberchet at 6:02 AM on August 26


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