Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Seguna Semana y Tiempo Libre

Although I had a good first week at the internship, the second week was even better and significantly busier. The week revolved around going to four conferences, working on articles, and researching community service projects. Despite the small office, my acronym-association really does some pretty cool and important things on both the local and national levels. I’m glad to be working there and contributing in some small, intern kind of way. The work in my first two weeks makes me confident that I chose this internship over being a research assistant at a different internship I was offered.

I also took advantage of some cool DC events. On Thursday night, I went to the film selected for the Museum of African Art’s North African Film Festival. The film selected was Raja, by a French director and set in Marrakech, Morocco. At the event, I ran into someone who stayed at the same hostel in Marrakech that I did, but a few months earlier! What a small world. The film was…interesting. Dr. Valerie Orlando from the University of Maryland facilitated a thought-provoking discussion with the audience that revolved around Orientalism, who controlled the discourse in the film (and the sociopolitical context in which the film takes place), power, and agency. In addition to hosting an excellent event, the North African Film Festival gave the audience members stickers, flyers, and movie-sized boxes of candy for free. And free is like gold to interns.
Once Saturday rolled around, I went back to the National Mall and took some time to enjoy the beautiful spring weather. I stopped by the Smithsonian Castle, which was an eclectic mix of small exhibits that showcased some of the artifacts in the larger Smithsonian collection as well as history of the institution itself. The castle is cool on the outside, but a bit weird on the inside, considering that a sarcophagus containing the founder’s remains is the first thing past the front doors. After the castle, I went to the Hirshhorn’s outdoor sculpture garden. There are exhibits indoors, but I haven’t had a chance to go there yet.
After the outdoor exhibits, I went to the National Archives. The Archives are not actually part of the Smithsonian Institution, despite being surrounded by them, and is actually run by the U.S. government. I feel like the people in charge of security for the National Archives really took National Treasure seriously, because I have never been in a museum with security on par with an airport. It was really cool to see the actual Constitution (flanked by security guards) and Declaration of Independence, in addition to an amazing Civil War exhibit. I decided not to be a complete tourist so I didn’t buy the replica Declaration for the bargain price of $2.95, but I might have to go back. In other interesting souvenir news, apparently interns and staffers have to run flags up and down the flagpoles at the Capital building and these flags are available for purchase, marketed as “flags flown over the Capital.” As an intern myself, I feel like I could appreciate the story behind such a flag and really empathize with that intern.
I still had a little time to lose after all the museums closed and before meeting friends, so I went back to the favorite Barnes & Noble to finish that Kurt Vonnegut book. Of course, all the stories are excellent, but these are my personal favorites from this collection: “Tango,” “With His Hand on the Throttle,” “Ruth,” and “Out, Brief Candle.”
After finishing the Vonnegut book, I went over to Dupont Circle to meet some MSU people at Kramerbooks. Kramerbooks is a combination between a bookstore (with a pretty good selection), café, and bar/restaurant. The desserts are famous, so another trip is in order soon. In addition to dessert at Kramerbooks, a visit up the Washington Monument and the National Museum of African Art are on my list for next weekend.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Salaam Smithsonian!

I spent my first weekend in DC with a nice balance of touristy and resident activities. Since the weather during the weekends has been nice, each day has included time just wandering around the National Mall, with the Washington monument to the west and the Capital building to the east. I also had the chance to meet a friend from MSU at an Indian restaurant called Delhi Club in Arlington across from the Clarendon metro stop. The food was great and the menu relatively priced, considering DC food prices. There were also free “refills” of rice, which is always a plus.

On Friday evening, I had the chance to meet with another friend for the Sackler’s Iranian film festival choice, Please Do Not Disturb. It was thought-provoking film, tying together the stories of three individuals and might actually have been the first Persian comedy that I have ever seen (“comedy” for a Persian film means far more comic relief than usual, but still an intense drama). The Meyer Auditorium at the Sackler gallery was like Wells Hall, and large enough to accommodate the crowd that had gathered for the film. It might have been the most Persians that I have seen in one place and I was surrounded in a sea of Pinglish (Persian + English).

Once the actual weekend hit, I took some time to see the four best Smithsonian museums (the American Indian museum is really good, but I saw it in October, so these were the next four on my list): the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Museum of American History, Museum of Natural History, and the Air & Space Museum. All were incredible and definitely warrant multiple visits.

That Saturday, I spent about three solid hours in the Holocaust Memorial Museum, a memorial that is an important reminder for humanity. Definitely need more time because three hours still was not enough time to fully grasp all exhibits and see everything in the museum. Below is part of a video seen toward the end of the museum and is part of survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein’s story.

With an hour left before the museums closed, I went to the Museum of American History. February is Black History month and on one of the upper levels, there was an actor teaching young children about the sit-ins. While a museum of African American history is currently under construction, there was a fascinating exhibit at the American History museum – a collection of art and artifacts by the Kinsey family. The range of artwork and historical documents was incredible and I will have to return to see more of it. The American History museum also has a Julia Childs exhibit, complete with her kitchen and segments from her television program and appearances.The next day, I got back on the museum circuit and stopped by the Museum of Natural History. The museum is pretty interactive and there were a lot of families and their children. The obvious highlights of the museum were its impressive dinosaur and human evolution collections. The new Cyprus exhibit was also fascinating, as the island was a crossroads where several civilizations converged. There is a special Chinese Orchids exhibit which brings a nice feeling of spring to the DC climate. The museum also has a very cool forensic anthropology exhibit with remains and artifacts found in the Jamestowne settlement entitled “Written in Bone.”

After browsing the Natural History museum, I stopped by the Air & Space Museum. The planes and other equipment in this museum are amazing. The museum has the original plane that Wilbur and Orville Wright flew at Kitty Hawk as well as Amelia Earhart’s bright red Lockheed Vega plane in which she set several aviation records. Other planes on display include Charles Lindenberg’s “Spirit of Saint Louis,” the U-2 spy plane, and the original military plane that became the first to fly faster than the speed of sound. In addition to its large World War I and Space exhibits, the museum also houses a large collection of missiles, drones, and warheads. Cold War era Pershing and Saber missiles create an imposing presence as soon as one enters the doors. Others include the first ICBM designed by the United States, de-activated warhead capable missiles, and the equipment used to launch satellites into space (and the anti-satellite ASATs).After each day’s museum excursion, I wandered over to 12th & E streets, where there is a Barnes & Noble store with a Starbucks café. On my first trip there, I discovered a newly released collection of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. short stories entitled While Mortals Sleep. I’m going to wait to purchase it until the paperback edition is out, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t read it…

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Hafteh-e Aval

Before starting the work week, I spent some time with my cousin visiting Kabob Bazaar, a Persian restaurant in Arlington, VA. We then drove back into DC and then spent time walking around Washington, D.C. and visiting the Sackler and Freer Galleries. The Sackler has several interesting exhibits, including an extraordinary exhibit on the Shahnameh. The exhibit has amazing artwork and does a wonderful job showing the history of the Shahnameh and re-telling Ferdowsi’s epic stories. The Sackler website has images of the pages as well as all of the detailed information about them. The exhibit will be at the Sackler until April 17th. For more information, please click here.

(Jamshid is at the left, and Zal & the Simorgh are on the right).
Working in the capital for one week has been great so far. Being back in a big city is such a welcome change from Michigan, especially since I escaped the epic blizzard that caused Michigan State University to have its first snow day since 1975 and did this to one of the busiest streets in Grand Rapids:
Since I basically arrived here and immediately jumped right in, I didn’t ever really have time to figure out public transportation before starting work. DC just confirms my beliefs that every place that calls itself a city should have a metro system (or an el train for Chicago). But, unlike the metros in New York City and Madrid, a commuter cannot purchase monthly passes. While monthly passes are expensive, they are always great investments for frequent metro users and save the commuter money. In Washington, D.C., no such monthly pass exists and rides for all public transportation systems must be purchased individually each way. Additionally, the price for the metro ranges from approximately $2.00 to $5.00 each way (yes, interns should actually get paid) depending upon the time of day. So, I have resigned myself to the bus. There are a myriad of bus companies in DC but one of the cheapest and most convenient is the red Circulator bus. The lines run back and forth through the major parts of Washington, D.C., and the buses come every 10 minutes. At $1.00 per ride and free transfers for an hour, the Circulator makes getting around the city relatively easy.
There are also so many different organizations with three or four letter acronyms that it is impossible to keep them all straight. I’m beginning to think that 26 letters in the English alphabet is insufficient for DC. In working for one of these acronyms, I have also learned how small non-profit organizations can actually be. However, there are also a lot of important and well-connected people in DC and with prominent organizations hosting events daily, there are unprecedented opportunities to interact with the foremost thinkers in various fields. And all of them are addicted to their blackberries. As part of my daily tasks, I have written drafts of current events, drafted an article for the group’s newsletter, contributed in brainstorming sessions, as well as plowing through website database management work.
In addition to work-related events, I had the opportunity to attend the Eurasia Foundation’s Armenian-Turkish Musical Evening concert. The event was held at the Cosmos Club and featured several extremely talented Armenian and Turkish musicians. One of the best songs performed was written by A. Khachaturian called “Maaryam.” There were people taking real photographs, but I was extra classy and snuck a cell phone shot.
There are two interesting film festivals in February that I have heard about thus far. The first is the Iranian Film Festival 2011 at the Sackler and Freer Galleries. Every weekend, on Fridays (7:00pm) and Sundays (2:00pm), a recent Iranian film is shown. On the final Sunday, February 27th, there will be a three-film documentary special called “Art, Politics, and Women’s Voices in Iran.” For more information about the Sackler and Freer Galleries’ film screenings, please visit their website.
I just learned this past Thursday from a fellow commuter on the bus that the National Museum of African Art also has its own film festival, the North African Film Festival. Luckily, the films are on Thursday evenings at 7:00pm and do not conflict with the Sackler’s showtimes. The films are free and also include moderated discussions with leading film directors, critics, and scholars. Because the films are free, the venue filled up quickly. I tried to make it to Cairo Time, but the room had already been filled to total capacity and security was not admitting anyone else. Hopefully, I will be able to attend more after work.
On Sunday, February 20th, there will be a roundtable discussion of Algerian cinema, sponsored by Howard University and the Algerian Ministry of Culture, and will feature Danny Glover, Ahmed Bedjaoui, Rachid Bouchareb, and Manthia Diawara. Should be very interesting. I’ll be sure to ask Danny where the angels are.

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