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Best Festival 

Festival of Nations, July 22-23, 2006

Trees were down everywhere, the gnarled wreckage of July's record-smashing storm. Hundreds of thousands of people were without power. But in a corner of Tower Grove Park, the tents were up and the air was thick with music and aromatic smoke. The Festival of Nations, presented by the International Institute, was its own little world: a two-day celebration of St. Louis' immigrant populations, a full-on party that would attract 60,000 visitors before the weekend was out. But despite the huge number of attendees, the Festival of Nations never felt uncomfortably crowded. Everyone was doing their own thing, perhaps because there were so many things to do. The movable feast included Bosnian cevapi (lamb-and-beef sausages served on homemade bread that tastes like the happy marriage of naan and funnel cake), Polish latkes and pierogi, and Argentinean empanadas (in spinach, ground-beef and creamed-corn varieties). There were dancers, and beautiful crafts — Russian dolls, tiny beaded Taiwanese purses, handmade jewelry from Senegal, bright Peruvian dresses — that carried amazingly reasonable price tags. There were make-it-and-take-it crafts for the kids, caber-tossing and tae kwon do in the "World Sports Meadow," even watering stations for four-legged attendees. For seven years, the Festival of Nations has been one of the most welcoming, entertaining events in St. Louis. This year it was also a place of respite, a breezy break from the smothering heat in powerless homes. A beacon — with snacks.

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