Much in the same way that the food of a region can tell a story, we often learn about the culture of destinations we have visited through the art of the busker.
We have gained insight into traditional music through instruments and songs we had never heard before, peeked into the history of visual art styles, been dazzled by feats of magic and skill, and discovered how the preparation of street food can be art in itself -- all while being entertained, amused and wowed.
Here are our favorites:
The amazing Chinese zodiac sugar artist of Zhujiajiao
In the little watertown of Zhujiajiao, China, we were intrigued by a young man creating beautiful candy artwork of the symbols from the Chinese zodiac.
Using only a spoon and a slab of marble to cool the molten sugar, he made remarkable lollypops in just a few seconds. It seemed a shame to eat such fine work, but we justified it because they were too delicate to try to keep. Plus, the caramelized sugar was much too tasty to ignore.
Turtle shell percussion: A Garifuna band in Livingston, Guatemala
When we heard about Livingston, a tiny outpost on the Guatemalan coast with an intriguing history and only accessible by boat, we just had to go. Livingston has Guatemala's highest concentration of Garifuna, the descendants of the Carib and Arawak Indians, and West Africans who ended up along this coast after much trial and tribulation.
The human statues on La Rambla in Barcelona
If the heart of Barcelona, Spain is the old city's Gothic Quarter, known as Barri Gòtic in the local Catalan dialect, then the aorta must be La Rambla. The stretch of streets has become one giant open air theater and is truly one of the world's premier venues for street performers.
The dynamic palm frond artist of Savannah
In Forsyth Park in Savannah, Ga., we ran into street artist extraordinaire K.C., weaving palm fronds into flowers. Seeing he had an audience, our weaver worked wonders with the foliage, sprayed it with rose scent, and offered it to Veronica. To top of the experience, K.C. filled us in on the history of the roses he creates, while barely looking down at his fingertips as he worked.
Just plain fun: The incredible water goblet musician of Prague
In front of the opera house in Prague, Czech Republic, the incredibly talented (and hysterically funny) Peter uses water filled brandy snifters as his instrument. He played with the skill of a concert pianist... perhaps he should be inside the hall.
Learning about the Sound of Music in Salzburg
The plaza, Domplatz, in Salzburg, Austria, has become a gathering place for performers in the town where Mozart was born and The Sound of Music was filmed.
We were drawn to a mesmerizing sound from an ancient instrument known as a Cembal d'amour. The design is much like a clavichord, except without the piano-like keys. The Cembal is played with mallets directly striking the strings.
The art of octopus balls in Osaka (it's not what you're thinking, you dirty bird!)
No food says Osaka, Japan more than these hot octopus-stuffed balls of deliciousness. Takoyaki, which translates to fried octopus, has become the definitive snack, in a city that is known for out-of-control food.
We were captivated by the expert cooking demonstration going on beneath one of the giant cephalopod signs and stopped to observe.
Rocking the spoons in the hills of Arkansas
Music runs through the veins of the folks in Arkansas' Ozark Mountains, and the hotspot is Mountain View, where musicians come down from the hills every Saturday and jam. It's music, pure and simple. Instruments taken from everyday life, like the washtub bass, washboards, and spoons are played to create traditional tunes. And don't get us started on the harmonies...
Scaring the spirits out of the rainforest: Mocko Jumbies on St. Croix
The highlight of the Jump Up festival on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands are the Mocko Jumbies, the famous stilt walkers known for their distinctive dancing. The meaning comes from Moko, an African god and Jumbi which is a West Indian term for spirits or ghosts, so they are "Good Gods" or "Good Spirits."
This art form originated in Ghana, West Africa and was adopted by the people of the
Caribbean. It is said by many that Mocko Jumbies ward off the evil Jumbie spirits that roam the St. Croix rain forest by night. History aside, the Mocko Jumbies carry on the tradition of an art form that is pure joy to watch.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
YOUR TURN: Are you a street performer lover? Tell us about your favorites!