This diary post is a part of a 30 day trip that I am taking this month which it also happens to be my first ever International trip. So for the next 30 years I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary.
Day 10, 26-7-2012 – In my hotel room, Washington DC, Local Time: 2321, Pakistan Time:27 July 2012, 0819
Today was the day when we headed back to National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) after spending 3 days at the Freer and Sackler. It was good to be back and see the always smiling face of Carol Butler. We were suppose to meet her at 9 am in front of the Constitution Avenue Entrance, but considering our lack of orientation with DC still, we stood waiting in front of the National Mall entrance for well over ten minutes before realizing that we were on the wrong side of the museum.
The discussion today was a general orientation to Smithsonian and especially to the Folk life Festival that the Smithsonian holds each and every year. The discussion was kicked off by Robert Leopold who is the Consortium for World Cultures. He talked a lot about how it is important to make things relevant, considering that the Smithsonian is an organization that is being run by the taxpayers. And therefore, when organizations such as theirs go to the Congress, they need to know and have the answers to what purpose are they serving. He also talked a lot about the many different projects with which the Smithsonian is currently involved in, like the “Our voices on the air” which brings together the many different indigenous voices on Radio on a single platform. I have to admit, by the end of it all, I had a serious crush on the man.
The second part of the discussion was led off by Diane N’Daiye who looks after the Folk life Festival. Now this is the first time that I have ever heard of the Folk life Festival, and when I say “this is the first time”, I mean since the time I have been in the US. The Folk life festival brings together the various cultures and voices from all over the world onto a single platform where people from across the borders can engage with each other. This is no doubt something very close to her heart, since she narrated her own experience about how hard it was for her to understand as a child. She shared with us her childhood memory of how in a discussion with her friends who were telling about their Thanksgiving experience, which of course, rotated around Turkey, she felt like an outsider and cried about it, since she only had Curry and Roti.
She also talked about how it is important in her job and line of work to engage with the various practisers of culture. I like that word, although I don’t think I completely agree with it. See for me, culture is not something you practice. It is something that is embedded in you. But I can understand in which context she was talking about.
The last part of the discussion revolved around question and answer session, in which I asked a few questions which were really bothering me. What I really liked about this session was the fact that these people actually encourage question, and they don’t just say “good question” for the sake of saying it. They actually listen to it and will even come up to you later on to say the same. They will never claim that they know the answer but nonetheless, there is a general understanding that until a question is asked, it can’t be answered.
After this discussion, we headed off to the Staff Canteen for Lunch, and from there we went to get out shuttle to MSC, Museum Support Center. The MSC is a storage and a research facility for the Smithsonian NMNH and some of its other institutes as well, and this place is simply amazing. The place is simply huge and I bet you can spend the next 5 years of your life in there and still not be done seeing everything. We were shown around the place by Dave Rosenthal and Jake Homiak – both of those guys are incredible; Jake Homiak is simple hilarious. We were shown around the entire facility and I am simply in awe of the place. We first toured the more simpler facilities, the photography section, conservation lab etc, before we headed to the main treasure island – the Storage Unit. Apparently, there are 4 pods, each pod being on 4 levels, and with each containing almost ten shelves in a row. People, the Smithsonian Collection is no joke. And this is just the anthropological and ethnographic collection.
The most interesting highlight or fact of the day: Jake shows us the Archives Room and tells us that the paper in this room will be, if stacked, will make five time the height of the National Monument. Yet… this is hardly the biggest collection in DC. In fact, this is one of the smallest Archives; he reckons that the Congress library has just their record book room as big as this. Can you even imagine? I know I the hell can’t!
After this, we were taken by the lovely lady Rae Beaubien to the Museum Conservation Institute and shown the various facilities and laboratories that they have. I have to say, they have the most dedicated people that I have every seen in my life. I loved her, and the tour that she gave us, although I do have to say, that it was a bit exhausting.
The day ended at around 4:30 pm when we again took the shuttle and headed back to our hotel. The rest of the day was pretty non-exciting, with us simply loitering around. Although I did get my laundry done today, and I must say, my clothes smell nice 🙂 Not to forget, this was my first experience with these sort of machines and the dryer and all. I liked it!
Dinner was a weird deal, with our hunger getting the best of us, and us relying simply on Mashed Potato, Noodles, Leftover Rice and Mac and Cheese.. it is as weird a combination as it can get!