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 The range of artwork and historical documents was incredible and I will have to return to see more of it.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…


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