Hilton Head Island, Sunrise to Sunset

For the past week, I’ve been visiting my family who have all retired to Hilton Head Island, 20160814_065333South Carolina.  None of them were Southerners by birth, but no matter.  There seem to be many more relocated Northerns (like our family) or Midwesterners than actual natives in HHI these days, since the original Gullah inhabitants have been priced out of the upscale beach-access properties (called, rather colonially, “plantations”) that now dominate the island.  It is a nice place for a week’s vacation.

There is the aforementioned beach, with water as warm at a bathtub and a gentle approach to swimming depth.  Swimming pools, including my sister’s own backyard retreat.  And good second hand-stores.  What more could you ask for in a vacation?  Well, if you want to venture from The Plantation, you could go visit the Coastal Discovery Center museum (its a Smithsonian Affiliate!) with indoor and outdoor displays about fl20160816_195623ora and fauna.  Or go kayaking, parasailing, paddle boarding, etc. etc.  We went on a very nice sunset/fireworks boat tour with my sister’s Rotary Club members.  Dolphins obligingly made an appearance, as well as the full moon.   It was a good respite from the Washington, DC area swelter – which comes for most of us without a beach and/or our own swimming pool – and work.  From sunrise (which I always try to get up in time for, and usually don’t make it) to sunset (which is great from the water), HHI is a nice place to visit.

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Plants and Human Wellfare

The last couple of days, I have had encounters with giant plants.  First, in my own garden where the Giant Pumpkin Plant of 2016 (see image above) threatens to take over the whole side of our yard, and into our neighbor’s yard as well.  (Maybe due to the bees doing a great job of pollinating?)  I went out to check on why the heck the squash plants were not producing any squash yesterday morning, and I discovered the Giant Fuzzy Squash of 2016, pictured here in its 16″ glory.  Not sure it is still edible, we will find out soon.  I20160802_075318f so, it is all we will be eating for awhile I guess.  Send me some squash recipes just in case!

Then, last evening, some friends and I experienced the unfortunately named Corpse Plant of the U.S. Botanical Garden, which has just bloomed.  By now just about everyone in Washington, DC has heard of, and perhaps visited, this phenomenon.  At least it seemed like everyone in DC was there last night; it took us about 45 minutes to get inside.  This giant plant supposedly smells like some combination of rotting flesh and rotten vegetables, but we couldn’t get close enough to catch a whiff.  Maybe for the best.  I didn’t get a photo because my phone battery died (ironically considering the subject matter), but you can get the idea from this link of photos from CBS news.  Photo #9 is pretty much the way it was last night, huge crowd and all.

Plants are pretty amazing, in general.  Giant plants are even more amazing.  Giant squash…well, I would prefer smaller more tender specimens, but I guess I should see it as more to love, right?

 

 

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Cooking with the Canadians

In the heat of the summer, you just sometimes want to kick back and watch some television.  If, like us, you only have broadcast tv, you sometimes find yourself looking for interesting fare on the “channels between the channels” – those weird channels that have popped up since broadcast tv went to whatever the heck format it is in now.  ION life is one of those channels.  Despite the annoying and frequent commercials for products only available on tv and attorneys who will help you get money for various medical malpractices, this channel can be fun and instructional.

I have been sampling a couple of their cooking shows the past few weeks.  These (and most of the other programming) seems to be Canadian-based, but that’s okay.  I like Canada – it seems like a good place to  consider retreating to in case He Who Cannot Be Named gets elected president, except in the winter maybe when somewhere in the Caribbean might be preferred.

img_sub_chef-at-large First up, Chef at Large with Michael Smith.  Before I read the description of the show on the ION Life web site, I thought it was called “at large” because this guy seems to be at least seven feet tall.  He towers over all of the other people he encounters on the show by at least a foot or two.  But, no, it is called “at large” because he goes on the road and features interesting cooking destinations like trains and rafting trips.  Considering his size, this makes for some interesting logistics as well as interesting cooking contexts.

Next up, Loving Spoonfuls with David Gale.  During each episode, this guy visits a different ethnic grandma in her kitchen and they cook some delightful dish packed with butter, deep fried, or oimg_sub_loving-spoonfulstherwise totally bad for you just as authentic ethnic food usually is.  First, they go grocery shopping.  Then they start cooking.  If the recipe calls for booze, Mr. Gale always needs to sample some of the rum or vodka liberally.  Some singing and dancing usually occurs as well.  The grandmas seem to love him, although I have to say I think he is slightly creepy.  He does manage to sneak in a pretty good oral history interview during the cooking, though, which along with the recipes makes this a folklorist-approved show.

I cannot recommend other shows on this channel that I have not watched yet, but if you get ION Life, check out our neighbors to the north as they cook, kibitz, and pronounce things ending in “-out” as “-oat.”

Counting on My Interns

The intense ten days of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival are over, and our Txiki-Txoko Kids’ Corner is just a memory now.  20160629_120345The tent might even be gone by now, and the only remains will soon be a very large circle of dead grass and a few crayon and colored paper bits ground into the hard-baked soil.  But my 2016 summer interns and I will remember the moments of joy, frustration, laughter, disappointment, and exhaustion that made it an area where we hope kids had fun and learned something about cultural traditions.

Our favorite times might have been the visits of the Basque and California participants who demonstrated their skills, danced, composed, sang, and taught the kids in a way only those with a deep knowledge of a culture can.  But, we also did our share of teaching and passing on what we had learned about Basque culture.


20160710_165541 (1)One of these activities
was Basque Number Bingo, which I generated from an online template that allows you to turn just about any string of related words or images into a bingo game for kids.
(Don’t you just love the internet?  It was called Bingo Baker in case you want to try it!)  All the interns had to learn to count to sixteen (there were four rows of four on the bingo cards) in order to be on the ready to conduct Basque Number Bingo with random kids if/when the occasion arose.  (Usually this meant that some participant who was scheduled to come to us had cancelled for some reason and we had a big hole in our schedule and we had a bunch of kids to amuse with activities of our own devising.)  The numbers were ingrained into our memories and probably will be forever – bat, bi, hiru, lau, bost, sei, zazpi, zortzi, bederatzi, hamar…

Thus the metaphor of the title – I felt as though I could always count on my interns throughout the whole event.  Anne and Sara to keep the schedule updated and to help decide what to fill in with if we had a sudden hole.  Leah to conduct “salt experiments.”  Tyler at the ready to keep track of the myriad day camps in the colored t-shirts and pinafores.  Lila to politely ask parents to fill out the family survey.  Hannah to draw us a new interactive mural for the back wall.  Aliyah to keep the interactive triptych stocked with post-its and markers.  Our repeat volunteer/adopted intern Sam to do everything asked of her.  And a hundred other things they did from rearranging the chairs and tables for new activities to teaching whale origami, to soothing some little kid who banged a knee while playing “Duck, Duck Lamia” or “San Fermin Day sponge tag.”

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I have had many great groups of interns over the years – you know who you are, and thanks to those of you who came to visit during this year’s Festival – but each year’s bunch are special.  I may have been working on the Festival for an amazing 30 years (gulp!) but this will probably be the only year they participate before they go on to other exciting endeavors, and they will hopefully always remember it as a hectic, sweaty, but rewarding experience like no other.  Thanks for the memories, gals!

Wet Hot Floral Father’s Day

Got your attention, didn’t I?  Well, sorry to disappoint because this title refers to a very sedate (due to the afternoon heat) walk around the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.  20160619_130916These wet and wild gardens are one of those hidden gems in Washington, DC that you can easily miss – in fact, we did the first time around because there is no sign (and apparently no exit off Kenilworth Avenue) if you are heading north, and we had to turn around at the Pepsi factory.

Well, when we finally got there, we were rewarded with blooming water lilies and lotuses.  We saw some red winged blackbirds and a mother duck and a couple of ducklings, lots of dragonflies, and a frog.  Then we left in pursuit of some pupusas back in our home territory of Arlington.

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We ended up at La Union, and one of the pupusas Steve ordered had “edible flowers” and cheese in it.  (The flowers are apparently called flor de loroco and you can buy them jarred in Latino groceries.)  So, he got to visit some flowers and eat some too for Father’s Day.  Not bad.

Looking Into Painted Screens in Highlandtown

Yesterday was the annual Maryland Traditions Folklife Festival.  This is a great one-day event in the heart of the Highlandtown neighborhood, usually in mid-June but it was a little early this year.  Part of it is out on the street and part inside the historic Patterson Theater which is now an arts center.

20160604_142012Well, anyhow, in the afternoon my good friend and colleague Elaine Eff and a young and enthusiastic representative from the Highlandtown Business Association (Amanda, I never caught your last name, sorry) led a tour of the painted screens of the neighborhood.  What, you never heard of a painted screen?  Well, luckily, Elaine has written the definitive book on the subject, so you are in luck.  But, for more immediate gratification than waiting for your amazon.com order to show up, you can check out some information on the Painted Screen Society’s website.   You can even learn how to create your own painted screen at one of their workshops.

I love the idea of being able to look out of the front window of your Baltimore row house, which is virtually right above the sidewalk, and being able to see out while no one walking by can see in.  It is like reverse voyeurism.   The screens traditionally depicted a bucolic scene complete with mountains, a lake, a swan or two, and a rural mill or cabin.   In other words, like nothing you would ever see on the landscape of Baltimore.  Nowadays, nouveau screens are being painted with actual Baltimore scenes as well as abstract art and whatever else the painter and/or patron wishes.  A great tradition finding new life.

Here are a few we saw on our tour.20160604_15065820160604_150503

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I Got Misty

Last weekend, my husband and I treated the interns staying with us (who are both from Europe) to a trip to Niagra Falls and Toronto.  Blame it on my mother, but whenever I hear the words “Niagra Falls” I cannot help but think (and start acting out even) the old vaudeville sketch of an earlier generation… slowly I turn, step by step…

20160520_160854Jennifer, the intern from the Netherlands, wanted to do the iconic Maid of the Mist adventure – in which you pile into a tour boat with a couple hundred of your fellow tourists, all bedecked in blue plastic rain ponchos, and are transported as close to Horseshoe Falls (the bigger of the two) as possible without capsizing.  I am always up for a boat ride, so I accompanied her even though I had done this at least once (maybe twice) in the past.

20160520_162135Despite the cattle-like treatment of the blue plastic line-up by the staff handlers (“Move up – move along!”) and the rush of teenagers to the better viewpoints, I have to say the experience was still awesome.  Especially when you get to the base of Horseshoe Falls and the cold mists hit you full force.  This makes you abandon your camera and just live in the moment (because you can’t see anything through the viewfinder except water, for one thing).   I have to admit, I got a little choked up – the majesty of nature and all that.


You forget for the moment
that both the American and Canadian sides of the falls are a rabbit warren of tourist traps.  It is just you, and The Falls, and millions of tons of water tumbling and churning endlessly.  There before tourists and Ripley’s Believe It or Not existed, and there forever exerting its endless power.  The refreshment of those few moments was not all in the cold spray and the wet hair (blue plastic is not effective against The Falls).  I got misty in more ways than one.

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Backyard Bee Movie

20160514_114145Last Saturday, we had a drama unfolding in our backyard with a cast of thousands.  Thousands of our neighbor’s honey bees, that is.  According to bee literature available online, when a hive with its own queen becomes too crowded, the queen and her entourage decide they need a new palace.  So, they swarm en masse into the air, and then alight, as a huge clump clinging to one another, in whatever temporary haven is convenient.  In this case, one of the trees in our backyard.  I have to say that I was terrified at the initial swarming – I was out in the garden doing some weeding, and all of a sudden the sky was full of bees circling in the air.   But once the bees are safely in their huddle, only a few scouts fly here and there, searching for a proper new home.  They then come back to transmit information to the rest of their hives mates, and they somehow all decide where to go next.

Needless to say, the beekeeper wants to entice them to come home to establish another hive in the backyard, not to find some dead tree in a nearby park or other cozy den.  So, he arrived in his full bee regalia to try to make that happen.  Having never done it before, he had a few false starts.

 The process involved cutting down the branch with the bees, and trying to head them into the empty hive.  (This is when watching from an upstairs window feels much safer than watching fr20160514_130903om outside, even from within the screened-in deck.)
Bees everywhere, some dutifully entering the empty hive box, but most regrouping into another tree clump in record time (seconds!).  If you don’t get the queen into the box, the other bees are not buying it.  Finally, our neighbor got the queen in and the other bees followed, and the drama came to an end.  But, while it lasted, it was a fascinating glimpse into the Secret Life of Bees (which you should read, by the way, because it is a great book).

Culture is Alive in Armenia

P1060046I have been in Armenia on a work trip for the past week.  (Yes, I am only planning to go places that begin with “A” from now on.)  It’s been an amazing experience.  Since one of the focuses (foci?) of the project we are working on is food, eating has been a big part of the trip.  Since I am planning to write a work blog about “Armenian Snickers,” I will not mention them here, you will just have to wait for that.  But, we have been eating a lot of delicious food.  Yoghurt (madzoon) is a whole new experience here.  Each morning at breakfast at our hotel, I try another combination of nuts, jams, and honey (and even corn flakes) with this thick drained version of yoghurt – think the best Greek yoghurt with no sour “bite” to it.  Also, it is made into soup called “spas” with grains and a particular type of herb (it looks like tarragon in the soup, though I am sure people use different types of herbs.  This recipe calls for cilantro.)  Imagine our group of researchers in Areni, in the Vayots Dzor province, at a bed and breakfast which also serves lunch on its patio, eating this refreshing soup for a second course.  First course consisted of a variety of salads (one with horse sorrel is particularly good in my opinion).   Main course was a sort of chicken and wheat stew called “harissa.”  P1060047Then tea or strong Armenian coffee and “gata” (cake).  This was after visiting one of the most spectacularly situated historic monasteries in the country, called Noravank.  Good food, beautiful scenery, kind people, interesting (though sometimes tragic) history… Armenian culture is alive and lively, like its yoghurt.  P1060025

Attention to Detail in Arkansas

Two colleagues and I recently traveled to Arkansas to give some workshops at the Delta Heritage Symposium.  On the way from the Memphis airport to Jonesboro (home of the Arkansas State University, go Red Wolves!), we visited the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home in Dyess.    Dyess was an interesting planned community, built by the U.S. government as a WPA project in the 1930s.  Families were picked after a rigorous application process to come live there in brand new houses, albeit in a reclaimed swamp, with designated farm land to work.  (Remember the Johnny Cash song, “Five Feet High and Rising?”  That was about a notorious flood which brought water to their front door in Dyess.)

Kitchen at Johnny CAsh Boyhood home, Dyess, AR

Yes, the Cashes were poor, but they had a nice new home and by all accounts they tried to keep it up well.  I was impressed by the level of detail in the restored house – lovingly recreated with the help of surviving family members.  We were quite impressed at the little touches – historically accurate cleaning products in the kitchen pantry, shaving cream and cod liver oil on the bathroom shelf and a lot more – as well as the bigger items – furniture, quilting frame, linoleum “rug.”  It felt as though a family could walk 20160414_164910 (1)right into it and live in Depression-era style, quite well just as is.  Attention to detail.

During one of our workshops, one of our activities was an open interview (we call them “narrative stages” at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and they usually include a couple more people) with Jonesboro sign painter Vince Pearcy.  Vince learned his art from a master sign painter in the days of lead paint (this prompted a whole discussion about what the consequences were of those earlier sign painters messing around with lead paint without any protective clothing, but that is another story).   Vince paints new signs based on old photographs (he painted the one on the reconstructed Dyess Theater, for one) and commercial signs, but one of his favorite things to recreate are signs from “ghost marks” on the side of buildings.  He has done some dandies in downtown Jonesboro, including this one on the side of the Arts Center.  It emerges from the plaster and brick, unfinished but just right, like a glimpse into a past we can feel and may even want to touch.  It is sharp in its detail, but still haunting.  (Maybe that’s one good reason to call them “ghost marks”?)  Again, attention to detail, continuing to amaze and delight.20160415_185634

 

Look around for attention to detail in your travels, or even right in your neighborhood – or home. In a museum, on a front lawn, or on your own bathroom shelf.  It seems to be a human trait which we often look past.  When we should using it to look into the past.