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.
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.
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).
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?)
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.