Friday, June 30, 2017

Wianki in D.C.

On Saturday afternoon, after a 22 mile ride with Marc in the morning, I took my bike down to Margie's, from where we were going to cycle down town to the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool. Here the Polish group that we'd celebrated the end of Winter with were having a summer solstice celebration, called Wianki, The Festival of Wreaths. An explanation is here.
As we pulled up on our bikes, many of the group were standing together in amazingly colorful and intricately decorated costumes, representing the different regions of their country. They all looked very proud wearing their outfits and I felt a little glum that England doesn't have a national costume like these, worm by all generations during cultural events.
There was an area on the grass where people could make wreaths. Fresh carpetweed with tiny pink flowers was heaped in a huge pile, to be used as the base of the wreaths as it could be twisted easily into a circle shape which was then tied with ribbon. Natural and silk flowers were also supplied to adorn the wreaths. But before we could start the American National Anthem was being sung and people stood still and fell silent. Then the same man sang the Polish National Anthem, which was followed by loud cheers from the crowd. Immediately afterwards Polish folk music was played and the dance groups got into formation. We all sat on the steps to watch, and people down by the water turned as the music and bright fabrics flashed by before them.
I only had my G15 camera but despite having to zoom in on the dancers from my position on the steps, the photos didn't turn out too badly. I admired their zeal and enthusiasm. I was sitting still but could feel the glare from the sun and these dancers didn't seem to be barely breaking a sweat. They stomped and twirled, hopped and twisted, one minute dancing as a large group and then breaking off into pairs. They were fabulous. The crowds clapped to the beat and with the Washington Monument, WWII Memorial and the Reflecting Pool as a backdrop, it was perfect. The small band sounded like an orchestra and got an upbeat tempo going without a pause.
This dude rolled past during the dancing and I had to deviate from what I was shooting to get a shot of him. Wish I could send him a copy, I think he'd like it.
After the dancing came some Polish folk songs and while we listened to these we decide we'd better make our wreaths before all the material had been used up. After reading the meaning of Wianki, only young girls, particularly unmarried and without children, were supposed to wear them, but whatever, we could pass with our youthful beaming countenances!
I think we all did exceedingly well with the few remnants of straggly weeds remaining. I hunted the ground for dropped silk flowers and found a few downtrodden pieces which helped to add some color to our headgear. Emily's was easily the best, I couldn't stop laughing with pieces sticking out like horns or antenna. From one angle, Margie looked like she had an arrow entering one side of her head and departing from the other, but none of this is conveyed in the photos, and I think we all looked super. Izabella had a Polish style blouse on and being a native looked like a natural. We all squinted into the afternoon sun for our group shot and then watched the others.
One girl looked as though she had a complete hedge on her head, but after checking on Google images, hers was actually the most authentic. Some young lads decided to have a go, and I marveled at their ingenuity of using ivy since the carpetweed had all been used up. I wish I'd researched this better before taking part as I would have liked to have added some crystal beads, small colored flowers, feathers and a whole load of bling to my head dress.
Then as the sun dropped behind The Lincoln Memorial, a golden hue lit up and softened the marble columns, casting a halo around the maidens as they stood on top of the steps. They waited in a line as the Polish dancers, this time in American country dancing costumes twirled and leaped for one last time, culminating in a 'cowboy' being hoisted on to shoulders and carried off, carrying the US flag.
The maidens walked single file down to the water's edge and placed their wreaths on the ground. Most had small battery lit candles inside. In Poland, the wreaths would be placed in the river. If it just stayed near the bank then it was assumed that the maiden would remain single. If it floated to the other side, a possible suitor could collect it, meaning marriage might be in the future. The worst that could happen was if the wreath sank, and that could mean death. but here on The Mall, the wreaths couldn't be placed on the water so the maidens laid them at their feet. Then they all joined hands to dance. This was the end of the festival rituals. The band played for a while longer while we sat and enjoyed our picnic of sandwiches, sausage and peppers, cheese and crackers and an amazing Margie concoction of peach slices and spearmint leaves that had been soaked in white rum.
We sat on the steps, chatting until the sun disappeared and the night time crept upon us. I ran up to the Lincoln Memorial to check on Abe's huge shoe and to grab a shot of the Mall before darkness enveloped us completely.When we left it was dark, most of the crowds had gone home, and we slowly made our way through the streets of DC to Margie's house. Another weekend flown by!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Colorful Country Carnival

The local newspaper informed me that Amissville Volunteer Fire and Rescue was having a carnival, so after work on Friday, I drove down. It's only about 25 minutes from my house, and I took all the back roads, with my windows down, the sweet smell of hay wafting through the car. Like many of the locals, I just left my car on the grass verge of the highway and walked up to the bank, weaving slowly through the large crowds already in attendance. Journey's 'Don't Stop Believing' was playing alongside the traditional carnival organ music that was blaring out from the carousel, and amazingly the combination didn't sound too bad. Young teenagers strolled past sporting confederate flag tattoos on their cheeks, many of the women wore cowboy boots with jeans, shorts or dresses, and I looked down at mine, scuffed and worn, glad that until I spoke with my accent I was able to mingle in.
Until it was dark enough to see the rides' lights I just strolled through the carnival, watching the kids trying to win hermit crabs or quarters and their fathers showing off as they attempted to dunk basketballs through hoops in one go. Young girls stood in groups and giggled as they stood in line for the ferris wheel. The food and drink vendors were busy, handing out hot dogs, cotton candy or fresh lemonade. The aromas were delicious and I was glad I'd eaten dinner before coming here so I could avoid the temptation of these treats. although I have never been a fan of funnel cake or those large soft pretzels, so I walked past those quite easily without a backward envious glance at whoever was tucking into their feasts, content to just sniff as I passed them by.
The daylight slipped down over the horizon, leaving the sky a dark but bright blue, and the lights of the rides twinkled like flashing jewels. Because it was a small family run carnival, these rides were older and not lit up with thousands of the new glaring and brash LED lights that the newer rides are adorned with. I was happy with that. Even though there were less bulbs decorating the sky this evening, the colors were richer and warmer, the whites giving of a softer yellow glow rather than the piercing icy whites of the newer bulbs that always made me squint.
The carousel looked like a spaceship about to take off, the moving horses with their riders just a blur. The deep whirring of the rides, and the clunking of cogs as the engines strained to build up the speed accompanied the squeals and laughs of the riders, shouts and whoops and grinding and grating.  The throbbing of the machinery could be felt through the ground as though the carnival were a huge creature pounding the earth, with us people clinging to its back.
We always called this ride the American Whip back home, loving its speed as it hurled us from side to side, trying to scare us as we slammed towards the railings, only to whip back at the last second. I had to wait a while for the ride to start, my boots tapping to Copperhead Road, itching to perform the line dance routine that I'd learned years ago with my friend Belinda. The ride built up speed and I took my photos. I wasn't sure if it was because I'm older or because of health and safety regulations but it certainly was moving as fast as I remembered,
I left after a couple of hours, The crowds had actually increased, it seemed all the small villages nearby had left their TVs and were here tonight. I imagined empty homes, lights on but no one at home, or pets or parents enjoying a few hours of peace. For sure all the noise and excitement was in this small space tonight, and although I'd enjoyed the frenetic brilliance, I too was glad to eventually climb the hill to my peaceful home.