Brxl Bravo -- Brussels, Belgium, March 2-4, 2007
This biennial event transforms the European Union capital into a caldron of artistic expression. For three days Brussels celebrates the arts in all its forms with 100 plus theatres, museums, cultural institutions and public spaces presenting performances and works in visual arts, theatre, dance, film, literature and architecture. The fusion of these art forms unites to create an accessible and dynamic artistic program for all age groups and especially good for travelers on a budget. Over 200 events take place in 100 venues throughout the city and the best part is that a three-day pass costs only 10 €. The schedule is laid out in a simple day by day, morning afternoon and evening events format, with color and number coded venues. It also lays out how you can reach each venue by bus, tram and subway (Metro). The Brxl bar operates daily and offers snacks and alcoholic beverages surrounded by works of art and performances. At the same venue, enjoy Oxalys as it performs Claude Debussy's Chansons de Bilitis and Pièce pour Psychè amid the Roman collection of the Musee du Cinquantenaire. Or experience Kube, a large-scale maze-like visual arts installation that encourages the public to explore the realms of the imagination taking place at St-Katelijneplein. Visit the Pantalone Arthouse for La Ville Imaginaire - Laboratoire Architectural, an ingenious and striking construction game and interactive artwork for inventive children, who can take part with or without their parents working within an imaginary city. Visit the festival website for detailed listings of all events and venues at www.brxlbravo.be.
Khao Phanom Rung Fair -- Buri Ram Province, Thailand April 1-2, 2007
Located on a hilltop in North East Thailand with panoramic views of the countryside, Phanom Rung is a recently restored impressive 11th century Khmer temple dating from the early part of the Angkor Wat period, adorned with superb stone carvings. This is the only Khmer religious monument constructed on a natural mountain. This annual spring festival features a daytime procession of Deities and Celestial Beings that makes its way up the sacred hill and then by night, an impressive sound and light performance completes the event. The timing of this event coincides with an incredible natural and engineering phenomenon whereby at sunrise, the sun beams through all 15 doorways of the Phanom Rung sanctuary. The Khao Phanom Rung festival reflects an ancient folk belief that one should make a pilgrimage to the summit of Khao Phanom Rung to pay homage to the gods, deities and celestial beings that reside on the mountain at least once in a lifetime and this tradition has been carefully preserved by the residents of the region for centuries. Other festival highlights include the performance of ancient propitiation rituals to appease the gods, folk music and cultural performances, live demonstrations of sandstone sculpting, a Khmer Cultural Trail exhibition, a traditional open air fair with stalls offering local products, Arokayasala traditional healing stations and a Hope bai, I-san-style dinner. Expect lots of dancing, colorful traditional costumes, drumming and food set amongst spectacular scenery and an architectural masterpiece.
Gangaur- Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, March 21 -- April 7, 2007
The Gangaur Festival is one of the most important local festivals in a plethora of colorful cultural events held each year in the state of Rajasthan. It is of particular importance to women who worship Gauri, the consort of Lord Shiva, and is a celebration of the monsoon season, the upcoming harvest and most importantly marital bliss. Gauri or Parvati symbolizes saubhagya (marital bliss) and is the embodiment of perfection and conjugal love which is why the single women worship her for being blessed with good husbands (plural), while married women do so for the welfare, health and long life of their spouses and a happy married life -- something for everyone. The festival begins with the day of Chaitra and continues for 18 days. For a newly-married women, it is obligatory to fast (eat only one meal a day) for the full 18 days of the festival in the year immediately after her marriage and many unmarried girls, hoping to get married do the same. Images of Gauri are made of clay for the festival or wooden images are painted and displayed. Women decorate their hands and feet by drawing designs with myrtle paste, from simple flowers to intricate geometrical designs. On the evening of the seventh day and for the following ten days, unmarried girls form a procession through the streets, singing songs while balancing traditional earthen pots with a burning candle inside on their heads. They collect gifts of cash, candy, oil and other foods from the community. On the final day of the festival, the girls break their pots, throw the debris into wells and enjoy a feast paid for with the money and foods they have collected. The last three days are really the climax of the festival with women decorating their Gauri images, making them look human and placing them on their heads as they walk through the city. The celebrations are held throughout Rajasthan but are best known for their color and pageantry in Jaipur.
Easter Jar Smashing -- Corfu, Greece, April 7, 2007
You've heard of Greeks smashing plates but this is a ceramic symphony. On the beautiful historic island of Corfu, the locals take smashing pottery to new limits as they destroy kitchen loads of tableware. It's noisy, it's interactive and let's face it, it's fun. Easter Saturday sees people in Corfu Town and in villages all over the island celebrating the end of the 40-day Lenten fast by letting off a bit of stream. As soon as the church bells signal the end of morning service, it's time to start throwing anything breakable (usually pots and jugs and often full of water) out of windows on to the streets. Although this is perhaps the most interesting and unique part of Easter Saturday, it is by no means the only celebration in Corfu Town. The day starts early at the Church of St. Mary where an earthquake is simulated at 6am representing the earthquake described in the Bible after Jesus' resurrection. Later that morning a procession starts at the Church of St. Spyridon the Epitaph, the legacy of 16th century Venetian rulers who at the time outlawed the Good Friday procession so the Corfiots just pushed it back a day. At Old City Hall, music emanates from a live performance by a Philharmonic orchestra. In the middle of the street of the Old Town a large barrel filled with water and decorated with flowers is put in place so that passers-by can throw coins in it. People guarding the barrel chase coin tossers and if they catch one, they throw them in the water barrel, only to reward them with the money within it. At 11pm that night, the community gathers in the main square for a holy mass by candlelight, each candle being lit from the holy flame. Locals return home and place candles on their balconies, illuminating the city and then at the stroke of midnight a huge bonfire is ignited.
Parade of the God of Medicine -- Temple of Ching Tzu in Hseuhchia, Taiwan, April 27, 2007
Taiwan loves a festival and a parade with several monumental events taking place throughout the year. The Parade of the God of Medicine (Bao Sheng Ta-Di), a 10th-century healer named Wu Pen, is a visually stunning event best seen at either the temple of Pao Sheng in Taipei or the Temple of Ching Tzu in Hseuhchia -- although it is celebrated at nearly 200 temples across the island. The 15th day of the third lunar month is traditionally celebrated as the birth date of the God of Medicine but the parade takes place four days before hand, so dates change annually corresponding with the lunar calendar. A two mile-long procession begins at Ching Tzu Temple consisting of colorfully costumed dancers priests, pilgrims and musicians. Giant floats decorated with flowers, each telling a story from the legend of the God of Medicine, are paraded plus huge statues of the medicine god carried on the shoulders of pilgrims. The highlights of the parade are performances by the various theatrical and dance groups, the Chen Tou. One rather alarming feature of the parade is worshippers who throw themselves under the procession walkers so that they will be trampled upon, thereby exorcizing evil spirits and demons. The parade proceeds to a location where Ming dynasty loyalists arrived when they ousted the Dutch from Taiwan to claim it for China more than three centuries ago. The high priest then reads a historical proclamation and the parade erupts into afternoon celebrations.
Sagra di San Efisio -- Cagliari, Sardinia Italy, May 1-4, 2007
Italians love an excuse to don historic costumes and celebrate their heritage, and one of the best annual examples is the city of Cagliari's festivities in honor of their patron Saint, Saint Efisio, a third century governor of the island who converted to Christianity after a revelation and was later executed for his religious choices. To commemorate this, thousands of pilgrims dressed in traditional medieval costumes, congregate in the city to watch and participate in a Palio (traditional horse race and related pageantry) at Ippodromo del Poetto (Poet's Hippodrome), a procession with an effigy of the Saint as he makes his way back to the Sant'Efisio Church and a musical concert. 2007 marks the 350th anniversary of this celebration and promises to be even more spectacular with parades, dancing, ornate costumes, bands and musical performances. Preparations actually begin on April 29, with citizens starting to decorate the houses and shop fronts. Limited information is available in English through the commune's website at www.comune.cagliari.it.
Melbourne International Comedy Festival -- Melbourne, Australia, April 4-29, 2007
I do admit some bias when it comes to outlining this festival, which happens to be in my home town. But that aside, this is one sensational comedy festival and April in Melbourne is always fun. The festival itself is one of the largest of its kind in the world, featuring home grown performers as well as guest artists from around the world. In total, more than 1,000 comedians appear in over 100 shows including comical theatre, debating, stand-up, a short-film festival, theatre, musical performances, improv, cabaret and street entertainment. Irreverent local productions include the Puppetry Of The Penis team in Res-erection, The Scared, Weird Little Guys in The Stumped, Tammy Anderson's Itchy Clacker and the Umbilical Brothers in Thwak (for those with pre-school kids, you may recognize these guys from The Upside Down Show and the voices behind Maisy). From the U.S. enjoy Jim Henson Company's, The - PUPPET UP! Uncensored and Rich Hall, and from the U.K. Stephen K Amos' More of Me and Shappi Khorsandi's Asylum Speaker. Ticket prices are available online and vary from approximately US$10 to US$50 with most events taking place in and around the Melbourne Town Hall in the center of the city. A full program for 2007 events is available at www.comedyfestival.com.au (under ticket sales).
Lag B'Omer Pilgrimage to La Griba -- Djerba, Tunisia, May 6-7, 2007
This event intrigued me as I had been fortunate enough to have experienced Lag B'Omer in Israel and it seems that this ancient festival extends beyond the boundaries of the holy land into Tunisia. These celebrations center on the 7th century B.C. La Griba synagogue in Djerba where a small but active Jewish community still exists in the villages of Hara Kbira and Er Riadh. While the Jewish world commemorates Lag B'Omer with bonfires and prayer, Djerba stages a very different style of celebration in the form of a procession which attracts thousands of international pilgrims -- Jews and non-Jews alike. A shrine thought to contain a stone from the first temple of Jerusalem is set up inside the synagogue and filled with eggs (ensuring the fertility of women who place them there). Outside, a wooden monument and menorah are paraded through the streets covered in offerings. U.S. tour company Tunisia USA (tel. 800/474-5500; www.tunisusa.com) actually runs a ten-day Jewish Communities tour of Tunisia that coincides with this festival. See their website for more information.
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