Preserving Cultural Knowledge: A Day in DC

I had a whole day off last week and what did I do? Go to a presentation on the Holocaust and an exhibit on rebuilding Afghanistan… I sure know how to have fun!

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Joking aside, it was a very enriching and informative day that I thoroughly enjoyed.

I started the day off at 10 am when my alarm rang and rushed to the metro (without breakfast, whoops) in order to make it to the Holocaust Museum downtown by 11am.  Metro was running smoothly for once so I made it just in time.

During the summer the Holocaust Museum hosts interviews with Holocaust survivors every Wednesday and Thursday in their auditorium. Admission is free. They also record the interviews for their podcast “First Person: Conversations with Survivors of the Holocaust”

With the death of Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor, Noble Peace Prize winner, and writer (if you haven’t read his memoir “Night” then you should), I’ve been thinking about how Holocaust survivors won’t be around for that much longer.

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The speaker yesterday was a woman from modern day Croatia (Yugoslavia at the time). Most of her family died in concentration camps including her parents. The last time she ever saw them was when she was only three years old. She survived by living with neighbors and her uncle who was Catholic.

She spoke about bullets whizzing through the windows of her house and a close call where her uncle almost got shot.

At the end of the interview she said she was worried that the people of Europe had forgotten their past, and were forgetting the importance of tolerance.

I’m so glad I went, preserving these first hand accounts of the Holocaust is so important and I’m glad the museum is recording these interviews and putting them out there for others to listen to.

It was really hot out and the sun was quite direct (probably should’ve brought some sunscreen) so I decided not to walk too far.

I went to the mall where the Smithsonian Folklife Festival was going on, but I had already been down to see it the previous week so I decided to stick to the shade of the trees lining the mall.

I was hungry so I went to one of the Folklife festival food stands by the Smithsonian Castle and got some delicious Peruvian Mango Gelato. (SO GOOD!)

As I was sitting in the shade eating my gelato I noticed a sign outside the Freer and Sackler Galleries for the exhibit “Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan” and I remembered that I had wanted to see it.

After passing by hoards of children attending Smithsonian summer camp, I descended into the Sackler Gallery (the Freer is currently under renovation) which is housed mostly underground so it was nice and cool.

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The Turquoise Mountain exhibit starts off with a video giving a brief history of Afghanistan and the city of Kabul then opens into a large room with alcoves dedicated to the crafts being revived in the Murad Khani district of Kabul, which was restored by the Turquoise Mountain organization.

I cannot begin to list all the praise I have for this exhibit! It truly is one of the most informative and engaging exhibits I have ever seen!

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The exhibit uses large projected videos and photos of the artisans working and beautiful examples of the artist’s works (you are encouraged to touch some of them!) In the center is a small gazebo with cushions and picture books for children about Afghanistan and iPads that let you explore the Murad Khani district.

The crafts featured in the exhibit are woodwork, jewelry making, calligraphy, pottery, and weaving. The exhibit gives a detailed description of the processes involved in making the crafts and the story of at least one artisan from each craft including an amazing story about a deaf woman who makes jewelry.

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If you haven’t seen this exhibit and you live in the DC area then you need to go NOW! It’s free, and not crowded at all. Hoards of tourists will walk above you as they rush to the monuments and Air and Space museum while you enjoy a quiet, air-conditioned, and spectacular exhibit.

After spending about an hour at the exhibit, I was starving so I hopped back on the metro and got off at Dupont Circle to try and find an Indian restaurant I had read about. The place is called Pansaari and it was quite difficult to find (it’s under the street level) but well worth it when I got there!

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Pansaari is not really a restaurant, it calls itself a “community space” and while it does serve food (on cushy sofas) it also sells spices and Indian crafts and hosts Indian cooking lessons.

They serve meals on the weekends and snacks and chai during the week. It was pretty empty when I got their around 3pm but I had some delicious masala chai and a potato vada (a savory treat that looks like a donut) with different chutneys.

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As I went back to the metro I stopped by my favorite used bookstore, Second Story Books, and picked up some art history books (including a book on the Dutch painter Jan Steen which I have been looking for forever! I might have done a little dance in the store when I found it…).

I’m so glad I went on this little adventure. Usually I am loathe to go down to the Mall during the summer but I was able to avoid the tourists by visiting some of the more unknown parts of the Smithsonian.

I learned so much and I can’t wait to see what I will find in DC next time!

 

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