The National Arts Festival is billed as Ten Days of AMAZ!NG. I might have been upset about the misuse of the exclamation mark (some of us have to be grammar nazis, right?), but the ads I saw on deviantART also say 'And we wouldn't put that exclamation mark there unless we really meant it'. That justifies it for me, which means my first impression of the festival this year was positive, rather than sternly neutral.
I'm not in Grahamstown as a 'festino' as such, but it's impossible to avoid being sucked into the culture of the festival at least a little. Besides, I don't know why anyone would want to avoid the fun. Today we visited the Village Green; my senses are now very satisfactorily sated.
'Green' is perhaps something of a misnomer, since the field was covered with wood chips for as far as the eye could see. Admittedly, my eye could only see a few hundred metres in any direction until it encountered a marquee of some sort, but to a city girl it was quite impressive. Scattered about the wood chips thickly, but not uncomfortably, were the people.
The people are really what make the whole thing work. The percentage of people dressed unusually was certainly higher than in most places – people weren't (on the whole) dressed weirdly, but rather in that style that one finds at Eisteddfods, drama classes and, well, art festivals. There was a mishmash of languages, too. English was predominant, but I heard snatches of Afrikaans and (I think) isiXhosa too. If was a better linguist and had listened harder, I'm sure I would have picked out more.
After observing the dreadlocks, the scarves, the wood chips and the size of the green, I began to pay some attention to the content of the fair: incense, artworks, instruments, clothing, food stalls; something to appeal to every sense. I felt mohair blankets and wished I had a reason to buy them; I didn't though, so I had to move on. Many of the stalls were burning incense. At first I found it somewhat repellent, but gradually I became more used to it. It's not what appealed to me most, but it was an important addition to the sensory experience. The smell of cooking seemed irresistible, so we stopped to buy delicious pancakes. Later we watched traditional singer-dancers and enjoyed picking up the beat of their drums.
By the time we left the green, I felt saturated. It was almost a relief to visit the shopping centre, so busy that it felt more like Jo'burg than Grahamstown. I've been given more than sufficient input for one day: now I need to process it. In a few days I might know whether or not I want to buy a trumpeting wooden elephant, a set of performing sticks or a marionette. For now, I'm just trying to appreciate the experience of more sensations than I can pour into a single blog post.