Thursday, June 25, 2009

folklife festival 2009

Yesterday I had a very nice afternoon with Keith down on the national mall. We took the metro downtown and visited the 43rd annual Smithsonian Folk Life Festival. I was very keen to buy a t-shirt so we went straight to the marketplace and got one for each of us. Mine features the Welsh national symbol of the red griffin on a pale gray ground. Color being pale means in the hellish heat of the coming summer months I will have a cool shirt to wear any day it is sunny and hot! Then we rushed over to find some lunch. Keith had a craving for Peruvian roast chicken so we headed to that restaurant and each enjoyed a quarter of fresh bird with hot green sauce and a few french fries. Then the touring of the really fun stuff began. 
Of the three featured cultures I was most interested in seeing the Welsh part because at some point years ago I had a crush on a real Welshman from Pembroke who visited our home when I was a kid. It was great all the crafts people were so warm and willing to tell stories and converse with us while telling about what they do. First was a lovely woman who does baskets and showed us how she uses all those flower grass leaves to twist up "twine" from them once they are dried in a drawer. She showed us twines made from these flowers leaves: day lily, Siberian iris, narcissus the Welsh national flower, croccosmia a flower she says no one seems to know here. We told her ours just started blooming and we are very familiar with them. Keith asked about her book and how she got all that plant material through customs! She was surprised too and had been given a lot of extra material to work with from the Arboretum staff's cuttings. So for her everything about coming to DC worked fine. The stone wall builder Stuart Fry was the next crafts man we met. He showed us his stacked stone gates and walls and his book of images from work he has done at home in Wales. Amazing tall walls of stacked stones that use no mortar to hold them up. Some of these old "deer park walls"  as high as 10 feet tall.  He got stone from Pennsylvania quarry that was so excited to get rid of the shale stones that no one else can use that they offered him a deal to set up business here in the states just to get rid of the stones. He is happy in Wales but told us we could learn and do it with them if we were interested that lots of people were begging him to come fix American rock walls that were originally built by Welsh, Irish, Scottish immigrants. He started late in life because his mother wanted him to get an education and have a desk job and credit cards and all that stuff but he always preferred being outdoors he told us and when she died he left the desk and took up wall building as his full time pursuit and he later found out that some of his relatives in the past were wallers. That he told us gave him a genetic explanation to the feeling he had that he needed to do this work all his life. 
We visited a sculptor named Howard Bowcott who was busy building an amazingly sharp pyramid of stacked slate and he gave us a card with his new website. He explained it wasn't on Google yet and he was very concerned that his website builder had left him at a disadvantage but Keith explained it is pretty easy to get listed. He said we could see lots more of his work in photos on his website and he will be trying to get it on Google's search engines this week. Meanwhile I found it by going to and I really enjoyed his modern work with local materials and traditions of the Welsh culture. 
Another guy working in Stone had come and lost his carving chisels and tools in UK customs. They had the cap stone for a church he was planning to carve this week and no tools so his partner and wife gave us a tour of the photos and told us about their Welsh Springer Spaniels in many of the pictures. Very cute dogs much like my old springer Baxter who was English. These dogs have red and white instead of black and white markings and hut pheasants in the Welsh country side with their owners. We had a great talk with her about our city and sent her out to eat on 7th Street for her third night in DC since she was asking if there were other busy areas besides Georgetown where they ate the first two nights. 
Finally we ate some Welsh dinner Glamorgan Sausage?
Glamorgan sausages, traditionally made as a way to make use of stale bread and leftover cheese, are now a staple of Welsh menus. After adding onion or leek, a little mustard, and a beaten egg for moisture, the mixture is molded into sausage shapes, dipped in breadcrumbs, and fried. Served with a pickle or chutney, Glamorgan sausages are enjoyed by vegetarians and meat lovers alike.
It was lovely vegetarian meal. Then with a couple of Dove ice cream bars for desert we headed to the evening concert of a group of Welsh musicians. Welsh harp, flute, fiddle and guitar played the sweet tunes some passed down by Roman Gypsies! 
Jigs, hornpipes, waltzes and Aires were all on the night air. A large wooden dance floor got a pounding from the toddlers all the way up to grands with white beards and hair danced almost to every one. 
Funny thing was all the Welsh kept talking about the heat. Wednesday had only 86ºF 30ºC for a high yesterday with low humidity wasn't bad at all and a breeze most of the day. We expect 90º+ today and the dreaded HHH weather starts this week in DC so they are in for some really shocking heat soon. I was really worried they didn't know what was coming but there are medical staff down on the mall to help if they are overcome and lots of cool AC in all the museums nearby. I highly recommend a visit to Washington DC's living museum of crafts, culture, food and music down on the Natioanl mall every summer. 

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