Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Folklife Festival 2012: "Citified: Arts And Creativity East Of The Anacostia River"

The second area of focus for this summer's Smithsonian Folklife Festival is Anacostia. For those who are unfamiliar with Washington, D.C. let me say this--you will be hard pressed to find a more diverse, interesting, and historically-segregated city in the entire country. Anacostia is the traditional "ghetto" of the nation's capital, and I mean that with no disrespect. Accepting the urban American understanding of the word ghetto, Anacostia is overwhelmingly black, poor, and lacking in access to basic economic, welfare, and cultural amenities. Anacostia has a high crime rate with outsized criminality around drug usage, sexual exploitation and violence. Just this past week two children and a counselor at a summer camp were shot in a spray of bullets that involved gang activity and had nothing what-so-ever to do with any of them. That is the popular image of Anacostia.

Anacostia is also a rich cultural enclave. There are many wonderful, dynamic, and selfless people who believe in the power of community to catalyze change who are devoting their lives to making Anacostia a vibrant and invigorating place in which to thrive. Arena Stage, one of the pre-eminent regional theater companies in the nation, is located there. The Frederick Douglas Museum and Cultural center testify to Anacostia's centuries long location as a folcrum of justice and civil evolution. My resent visit to the Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens is a example of Anacostia's natural beauty and resources.

And yet, a strange choice for the Smithsonian Folklife festival. A choice that feels easy and inexpensive. Of all the foci this year it was also the thinest in terms of ideas and space. I found this to be the most disappointing aspect of the festival, because you have what ought to be a hometown advantage, and it felt squandered and dis-respected en large.

And yet those who participated were wonderful, even as the organizing theme was hard to pin down. "Good Hope & Naylor Corner" never did become apparent to me as to what it is. Confusing.

As I watched, the tent became alive with the story telling of Master Griot Baba-C. He epitomized the heart of those afore mentioned Anacostians whose faith in their community drive them to become beacons of hope and life. The festival owes such performers a better venue in which to express their visions than the one provided.

And if there simply isn't enough depth in Anacostia--and I don't believe this to be the case--to fill out a third of this festival, then create another opportunity like a series at the Kennedy Center.

The only other thing happening during my visit was a demonstration of spray-paint mural making.

Hungry and with two options: Barbacue and Azerbaijani cuisine. How cliché can you get? Black neighborhood = barbacue, right? On the other hand, Azerbaijan and Anacostia?! Really? Other than occupying the same volume in a traditional was hard to make the connection, but easy to make the choice.

I love food. I am not afraid to experiment. I went with option 3 "Toyuq Shish Kebab. To drink, I picked "Dyushes". I should have known that things weren't good when the hunky guy operated the cash register behaved like I was his first EVER customer, and the cash register was a complex algorithm-contraption, and clearly labeled, pre-packed, styrofoam carry out containers where mysterious creatures dangerous to the touch... Oh, the joys of hindsight! I didn't even complain when he rang it up as 9 + 4 instead of the posted 9 + 3 (perhaps there was a tax?).

Feeding thousands from under a tent miles away from the source of production is a challenge for a well-heeled operation. It can only be a nightmare for a novice establishment--I don't think there is some mega-Azerbaijani-festival-food conglomerate out there. So suffice to say that the picture on the placard did not deliver what it promised.

Furthermore, I have this dear, dear friend who has a fixation on how food born pathogens affect the digestive track. She always claims some set and certain time frame from ingestion to reaction. It's a number like 16 hours and she claims a scientific superiority when espousing her understanding of's a battle I never think worth engaging. I know it's poppycock! Lunch at 12:30--violent gastro-intestinal response began at 3:30 and continued again and again and again until 4:30 and then slept until 8...awoke to another episode, and now at 10:30 steady as she goes. So much for Azerbaijani food!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The thing is DC Gov health inspectors come several times per day, unannounced, starting in the early morning, and inspect all the food and preparation process thoroughly. If anything is not up to the rather strict standards, that food is trashed. If there is a repeat offence, the place is shut down. So there shouldn't be any "pathogens" in any of the prepared food at any of the food stands on the Folklife Festival. However, if our bodies are not used to that type of food, there might be some problems with digestion. Although, considering that they serve anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 customers per day, for 10 days, that would have been a lot of complaints had there been a problem with even 1% of the food.