WASHINGTON – The Smithsonian Institution seemed different.
Couples were dancing on a floor in a tent June 30,waltzing with grace but still lost in this music that came from somewhere else.
It is the 40th Folklife Festival on the National Mall. Tents and stages were set up in one of the biggest parks in D.C. Everything was perfectly prepared to host the internationally renowned annual festival in spite of the torrential rains that had flooded Washington the week before.
This summer,the festival celebrated Alberta,native basketry and the Latino music of Chicago. Those three themes charmed the Washingtonians and tourists over the festival's two weeks,which end Tuesday.
Alberta,a western Canadian province,is celebrated in the heart of America's capital. Its music,stories,craft industry,foods – everything that makes the culture and traditions of Alberta unique – were presented at the Smithsonian.
Gery Galloway,a computer consultant in Washington,said it was his first visit to the Folklife Festival. “My wife is from Alberta,” he said. “She used to work for the Royal Tyrell Museum in Alberta. I think that it is amazing to see the world communities across a festival.”
The first stage and first contact with this different civilization was “Allez Ouest” or “Go West,” a band that performed June 30. The four singers enchanted the audience with their acoustic instruments and their magic notes. On the dance floor,some older people tried to find the good steps to dance correctly to this music. Allez Ouest melodies sound like French tunes but are simply Albertan.
Mireille Moquin,the only woman in the group,recited a sweet song in French. Her brilliant performance made spectators feel the sadness of the lyrics,even if they were misunderstood.
Allez Ouest chose the language of Molière to deliver home-grown Alberta music. But it did not prevent listeners from receiving the music's universal message.
On the other side of the park,on the Jubilee Stage,another band was performing: the Corb Lund Band. Three cowboys played guitar and bass,and a younger crowd danced in the Albertan country style. The style is influenced by Corb Lund's “experiences riding horseback,chasing cattle and rodeoing in Southern Alberta and living on the family farm and ranches,” according to the group's Web site.
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is a feast for all the senses. In the foodways stand,Tim Wood,a chef,explained some traditions of the culinary art in Alberta.
Wood also demonstrated techniques and recipes to make a success of a healthy Asiatic meal. He steamed broccoli,celery and cabbage using traditional methods. He accompanied the dish with a pure Chinese sauce containing soy sauce,ginger and sesame oil.
“It is so interesting to learn about Alberta economy,society,crafts,habits and traditions,” said John Clifford,an engineer,of Washington. “We really enjoy ourselves here,” added his wife,Angie Clifford,a Realtor.
Even the Royal Canadian Mounted Police came to D.C. With their red coats and black pants,they answered visitors' questions with a large smile.
“What is the equivalent of the RCMP in USA?” was one of the questions. In fact,there is no equivalent.
The RCMP is the Canadian national police service. It is unique in the world because it serves as a national,federal,provincial and municipal policing body. Constable Leilani Collins said that the RCMP works to preserve the peace and maintain the law with honesty,compassion and integrity.
Sports are present at the Folklife Festival,too. When it is about Canada,it is about ice sports – hockey and figure skating,their costumes and the best performances – and Abertans shared their passion for these sports with Washingtonians.
A small rink was installed,but no one expected it would have ice,as Washington's temperatures rose into the 90s when it wasn't raining. At the entrance to the rink,children stood in line to shoot a puck with a hockey stick. They all made a goal – seeds of future championships – thanks to a friendly goalkeeper.
The children were awaited by Hal Eagletail,a storyteller. He told stories and songs about the Tsuu T'ina Nation,where he was raised. With a different content from fairytales – no princesses here – the Albertan stories brought the same magic and enchantment to the kids who asked for more at the end of each story. Through his memories lived in the Tsuu T'ina prairies,Eagletail transmitted good advice and values to the children.