The Tourist In Residence

Embrace meaningful experiences.

BRB Ran Away to the Circus

BRB Ran Away to the Circus

It’s hard to be a kid. First of all, you’re short and the world is incredibly large. Second, grown ups care a whole lot about stuff that is boring. I mean, I literally thought my parents were insane for listening to hours of Car Talk on our many family road trips. (I know that I’ve become old because I now hate to miss the Saturday broadcasts of The Best of Car Talk on NPR. I know. I’ll see myself out.) So when I saw a young girl’s eyes begin to wander at the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival, I saw myself - glazed and indifferent about the world while it seemed like my parents cared SO much (NO dad, I will never read the newspaper every day why are you suggesting I start now - which, again, ha).

This girl’s mother also noticed her lackluster attitude. “If you can’t tell me the cultural significance of an object”, she loudly proclaimed to draw her daughter’s attention back, “We can’t buy it in the gift shop!”

Oh. My God. Parenting goals.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival spreads out on the National Mall.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival spreads out on the National Mall.

An enormous gate at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

An enormous gate at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Every year, for about two weeks over the 4th of July, the Smithsonian takes over a swath of the National Mall to present all aspects of a particular culture. One year it was Peru, another focused on China - and yes I did want to learn more about all the forms of embroidery from various factions of the Hmong people, how did they know?! That particular mother and daughter moment was at a stall featuring modern Kenyan art - sculptures created from cast off flip flops.

Making a friend during the Peru edition of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Jeez my hair was long. The patriotic beads were because it was the 4th of July. Don't judge me.

Making a friend during the Peru edition of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Jeez my hair was long. The patriotic beads were because it was the 4th of July. Don't judge me.

The aforementioned embroidery from the Chinese edition of the Folklife Festival.

The aforementioned embroidery from the Chinese edition of the Folklife Festival.

This year the Folklife Festival celebrated its 50th Anniversary, shining a spotlight on the traditions of the Circus Arts - which I’ll admit I scoffed at. Again, I would rather examine the intricacies of global forms of embroidery than the history of clowning (which is not anti-clowns, I just really like embroidery - is that weird?). A massive big top tent featured performances while trapeze artists flipped and flew outside. The newly reopened Arts and Industries Building had aerial acts with the strongest, most poised teenagers I’d ever seen. I watched a girl who couldn’t be more than 13, with more elegance and body strength than I could ever hope to have, dangling above a crowd by a thread. (Later I saw her in a ball cap and tennis shoes darting awkwardly through traffic to cross the street. Phew, even super humans are still regular teens).

An aerial artist delicately balances above the crowd at the Circus Arts Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

An aerial artist delicately balances above the crowd at the Circus Arts Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is one of those rare things that occurs reliably and is consistently fascinating. And did I mention it’s free? I would never recommend anyone try and plan a trip to DC to catch the Cherry Blossoms (there’s too many variables to guarantee you’ll see Peak Bloom) and I would absolutely recommend you try to align your trip with the Folklife Festival. There’s tons of food and drink vendors (along with those specifically presenting food from the culture for the festival) but  if you need to get out of the heat you can hike up to Chinatown. (Which is what I did. Because I was with a friend and it was time for day drinking, ok?)

An artist on aerial silks performs at the Circus Arts Smithsonian Folklife Festival while a crowd watches intently.

An artist on aerial silks performs at the Circus Arts Smithsonian Folklife Festival while a crowd watches intently.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go Google ‘adult aerial silk classes’ - but only because I read the placards and understand the tradition behind them.

Lava Rocks on Iceland's Ring Road

Lava Rocks on Iceland's Ring Road

Photo Diary: New York City

Photo Diary: New York City