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The Smithsonian Folklife Festival: Chilies, Astronauts, and Texas Swing

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is on the Mall June 25 through 29 and July 2 through 6 with performances, exhibits, and more. This year it showcases Bhutan, Texas, and NASA. Festival director Diana Parker spoke with After Hours.

How are festival themes decided?

The process is incredibly democratic—anyone can come up with an idea. People bring programs to us, or ideas come from Smithsonian scholars doing research. We’re looking to see if there’s an interesting story to showcase. We start talking to the country or the agency, like NASA, and then start fundraising. When we have that in place, we slate it for the next available year.

Is there any connection among Bhutan, Texas, and NASA?

No, but links always reveal themselves. For example, the national dish of Bhutan is melted cheese with hot chili peppers. Well, that’s nachos or quesadillas if you put it on tortillas. We’re doing a demonstration with a Texas cook and a Bhutanese cook about chilies and cheese. In Bhutan, they have pride in their chilies, which are extremely spicy. I know it’s going to be an interesting discussion over who has the hottest chilies.

Any other food highlights?

There’s a large Vietnamese population in Texas; there also are strong Czech and Polish communities. So there will be Vietnamese food, a Polish sausage maker, and a Czech kolacky maker. The winemaking area is also terrific. People from Texas wineries will explain the process from vine to bottle.

Who are some of the speakers and demonstrators from NASA?

A range of people. Scientists and engineers will show what they do that led to us getting to the moon. We’ll have people who work in the food labs making food for the astronauts, people who sew the space suits, people who work in the robotics lab.

What are you most looking forward to?

That’s like choosing your favorite child. Bhutan is going to be fascinating just because there’s so little known about the country. I traveled there and found the people to be open, warm, curious, and bright. We’re building a Bhutanese temple on the Mall; the Bhutanese are doing traditional woodwork and paintings for it. It’s going to be stunning.

For details, click here.

To Do: Tastes of Texas at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

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