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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thing 117: The Folklife Festival

Weaving from Bhutan

"We FINALLY went to the Folklife Festival," I told my dinner companion as we sat over salsas and ceviches at Lauriol Plaza, in answer to the fairly innocuous question of what did you do today?

"You couldn't possibly have done that yet...isn't it always the tradition that they hold the Folklife Festival at the hottest, sweatiest time of year? Part of the tradition is melting into a pool of sweat!"

Oh, rest assured. It was plenty hot for the annual Folk Life Festival, which closed this past Sunday. GFD and I went on the very last day, and melt into a pool of dusty, Mall sweat we did.

We also housed a plate of ribs in about a minute and half, walked through an authentic Buddhist Temple from Bhutan, and scratched our heads and said "NASA?"

Let me go back for a second, for those of you who didn't make it to the festival this year. Every year, for two weeks around the 4th of July (when the mall is at its sweatiest and dustiest), the Smithsonian erects a great many tents and pavilions and picks three cultures from the world to showcase in all their native, folk glory. There's always food, music, dancing, arts and crafts, and educational demonstrations, lectures and performances. In other words, it's a good time, sweat and all.

This year, the cultures highlighted were Texas, Bhutan and...NASA. NASA was celebrating it's 50th anniversary, and I guess spent a bunch of dollars to be spotlit at the festival, but come on. A folk culture it is not. GFD and I kept wandering around it saying "but isn't there...oh, I don't know...a WHOLE museum dedicated to this?...Like, right over there on the Mall already?!"

But Bhutan and Texas were pretty cool. Mostly, GFD and I ate our way through both cultures. We went to the Texas BBQ house and ate ribs.

Texas ribs Folklife Festival
Then we went ate the national dish of Bhutan, ema datsi, which is chilies with cheese and potatoes, and white rice with some kind of red rice mixed in. To be honest, we were nervous. But it turns out, it tasted like queso with jalapenos. Not so weird or exotic. It actually might have come out of an industrial can of nacho-grade queso, so underwhelming overall. We did think it was funny that the same thing could have been purchased at the Tex Mex booth, and we probably wouldn't have noticed. We also ate pork dumplings (God I love dumplings) inexplicably served with salsa that also seemed to have borrowed from the Tex Mex booth.
Ema Datsi Folklife Festival
The music part of the Texas exhibit was great, with an opry house tent, and a dance hall tent. We heard country music, two stepping, and mariachis in the course of the hour we were there. And the arts and crafts piece of the Bhutan exhibit was pretty good too. Their weaving and textiles are bright and fun, with Buddhas and dragons and bright pinks knit with reds and blues and greens in lively patterns. They even assembled a model Buddhist temple, the pieces of which were hand crafted in Bhutan and shipped to Washington, DC for assembly. And inside, there were live monks making music (and looking remarkably hot and bored)!
Monks from Bhutan Folklife Festival

It's too late for this year if you missed it, but next year be sure to go, even though you are guaranteed to dissolve into a sweaty mess. There is great music, good food, and a lot to see and do. I imagine if you have children, it is an ideal place to let them run and see and touch and dance. And maybe next year, they will focus on three actual folk cultures. Or maybe they will highlight the Department of Homeland Security instead.

Coming up: SotG!!!!! See you there! HBO Dance-off promptly at dusk.

Join me over at the
Cork & Knife, where I tackle jam-making.
Get in my belly.


Lori said...

holy smokes thats a lot of food! wish i had made it down there this year, but sadly i did not...