USA Diaries – Day 25 – Poetry Dreams becomes a Reality!

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 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary.

Hello! The last week or let’s say the last stretch of this journey is really turning out to be exhausting. Not only are we losing our mind, trying to get everything done, but even the timetable that we have is making us feel like we are trying to just pack in everything… and let me say that such a thing tends to takes its toll. Plus I miss home! One month is long enough to stay in a place which is the complete opposite of what your home used to be.

So Day 25 (5 more days to go) started off yet again at 9 am in the morning, but today we were supposed to start off our day at the Chazen Museum of Art and meet the director, Russell Panczenko. We were to understand the main purpose of the Museum and how it relates to the University as a whole. But my interest remained in understanding that in contrast to Washington DC, which is a big tourist destination, how a town like Madison attracts crowds and people towards it. Well the answer given by the Director was the most simple and brilliant answer that I could have expected. They simply make and organize shows which would be a big attraction for the local crowd. And it is here and at this very moment, that I got to know the FLW (Frank Lloyd Wright) is owned by the whole of Wisconsin as their hero. And more importantly, Taliesin – which was his studio – is only a short distance away.

During this trip we also got a chance to see their Storage Units, which have been installed with State of the Art Equipment and also all that goes on Behind the Scenes – which included the Loading Deck, their underground additional Storage.

The building which we visited is the new wing of the Museum and an extension to the original building which had many of its own issues. The new building is one of the few extensions that I have ever seen which gives respect to the old structure. The extension carries on to the new interior the same feeling which is there in the old building. The most important feature for me of the overall complex is how even the bridge that has been made between the two buildings to link the old to the new, is not only to conserve the Pedestrian Mall, but also takes use of the bridge as the Gallery Space as well.

The end discussion of course with the Director himself was one which was one of the most interesting aspects of the day.

After the visit to the Museum we had the chance to grab lunch and today we decided to enjoy the many kiosks that seem to appear automatically on State Street during lunch hour. We were told to try the Jamaican Food, but I went to this other vendor which had Teriyaki Chicken, and sadly I have to say that the choice was not a very good one.

The second session of the day was dedicated to Dr Mark and his wonderfully amazing Experimental Archaeological Techniques. We started off first with understanding how the Faience Beads were made by the Harappans. We were told about the Stone that they use, the way they used to roll it in to form, the way they used to give it the signature and the art work that they did.


I made the cylindrical beads which can be centred by two circular beads!

Afterwards, while half the group – who in my opinion are completely crazy – decided to head off to the Stone Making Class, I opted for Pottery. Now this is something that I have always desired to do… in fact there was a time when I asked my mother to let me get admission in this Institute so I can actually learn it. But well… I finally got my chance on Day 25.

I have to say it is not as easy as it seems – but well then that seems to be truth about more or less everything in the world. On my very first try I shifted the clay off its centre on the wheel, and Dr Mark at this point had to come to my rescue. I then started again to get in shape my Matki – which is more or less a small cup which is used to have drinks or water or something. Anyways, it was really hard and half the time I was just praying that Mark doesn’t lose his patience with me. But he is truly a wonderful teacher; he kept saying “This is the way you learn”!

The class ended, and we decided to head off to the hotel, but not without a few stops first. The first stop of the day was at this lady who was selling handmade antique jewellery. Afterwards we even called in a friend of my roommate – Katie. Now Katie has been working in Harappa Sites for more or less a considerable period. And it was with her that we headed off to Macy’s.


Dinner was a Nepalese affair…. That’s right.. We headed off to the Nepalese Restaurant on State Street. And I have to say that their menu had a lot of variety. I got myself a Nepalese Dish – I can’t recall the name – but the oddest part for me was that they served the Dal or lintel as an actual soup item. But it wasn’t so bad!

The rest of the evening consisted of a lot of Facebooking and Email Checking!





USA Diaries – Day 21 – And thus the final goodbye to DC!

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 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Day 21, 07-8-2012 – In my hotel room, Madison, WI, Local Time: 2302, Pakistan Time:08 August 2012, 0902

Yesterday we celebrated our last day in Washington DC and therefore it is completely safe to assume that the day was a bit emotional…. Or at least some parts of it were! The day started off with an effort to wrap up everything and to get all those lessons and lectures done that we wanted to learn about.

That meant an early start… well actually not so early from the American Standards…. It is astonishing for me to know that Americans het their day started at around 6:00 am.. and more surprizing than that is that not everyone goes to bed early. Since I have now been to a Pub Restaurant I can claim that most people are out for late hours and they enjoy their lives. They drink, they sit with friends, they joke around… more or less they try to get the most out of their lives.


So early morning start….. and as usual, we gather at the Eastern Island Statue. Now let me tell you a bit more about the Eastern Island. The Eastern Island has become this wonderful space for us where we always meet. And today was the last time that we met there!

From Eastern Island, we headed off to the Museum of American History, where we met the Curator of the Numismatics Collection, Karen. Now Karen is a wonderful person who has a strong opinion about things and she has a laugh that should melt mountains. She is very understandable of the various policies and problems that are there in our Work Community and how they are to be tackled. She was a researcher in Biology (I think) but then she switched her fields and since then she has been working with the Museum of American History.

She walked us through the Numismatics Gallery and after that visit we were forced to agree with her that the space does no justice to the million or so collection that they have. She also showed us the new space where the Gallery will be shifted, she showed us the vaults, the coins from the various regions, including the Czar Collection, and the coins issued by Catherine the Great.

But please excuse me since I have little or no interest in Coins. What was interesting for me during this trip were the comments and POVs I got to hear. It realy makes my blood boil when after seeing all of this – that we are seeing – some people (Read Pakistani’s) – can continue to close their eyes and think that what they have is the best and nothing can be better than that, that nothing can be better than what they already know. , that nothing is worth learning. I hate these sorts of people! These people should be locked up in a room and gassed!

The argument in the room also moved to how coins are usually a subject that is considered to be more of a “Man” hobby than a woman hobby. And that led to a whole new argument about the status of women in our country. There is another thing that I protested about – however, I did have to keep my tone in check. When the argument took a turn where the men in our country started praising the condition of the women and the status that they hold, I had to say something. It is not that they are wrong – it is just that this is not the whole picture. I am not going to get in this debate right now – But let’s just say that in a country where 96% of the women don’t have rights, the conditions are not well then!

I had protested once before as well. Last week there were 5 bomb blasts in Pune and that meant that our friends from Pune were worried about their friends and family back home. It was also a moment when we all felt a bit closer to each other. It was when this lady who is with us from the Lahore Museum said that “Oh in Pakistan a bomb blast is a daily routine” that I could not stay quiet anymore and I said out quite rudely and abruptly, “No they are not and especially not in the Urban Centres”. So let me explain what I meant by that! When someone gives a statement like that, it interpreted in my mind as she is making a joke of this tragedy! That the lives of people who die are not worth anything, it meant that they are so common that they have no value or worth as a tragedy anymore. So yes I protested and I am not at all sorry for that!

The second session of the first half was about Lighting and how to have suitable lighting for the Museum which is not only environment considerate but also does not damage the artefacts and remains. The lecture was delivered by Virginia who has been doing Theatre lighting for the last 22 years before moving to Museum Lighting – which she has been doing for the last 4 years now.

So after this we came back and had our lunch the last time – Turkey and Mashed Potato with Gravy! I have to say for the last meal in the Smithsonian this was a pretty good treat! After lunch, we had to have a session with Carol Butler – the amazing lady who we have been in love with since the very first day. She has this wonderful personality which is always so full of energy, and she has a wonderful mantra to keep her going day after day – which she calls as the “Registrar Mantra – which goes like this “I am cool, I am serene, I am flexible”.

We had one last tour of the various Collections within the Natural History Museum and we saw some pretty amazing stuff, like Dinosaurs Skull, Dead Squirrels, Insects and Mosquitoes!

Squirrel Bones

That is the skeleton of a Monkey



So we had our last session on how to deal with issues that we may be facing at work places, and then we had a session on Re-entry. Now I will really like to take a moment her and thank her for doing this session with us because well every experience chances you in some way or the other! Already I have experienced so much in such a little time, and I am sure that maybe it has changed me in some way or the other! I have no doubt in believing that going back to Pakistan will be an experience in its own and dealing with all those tiny little problems that seem to take a toll on our lives – the lack of Electricity, Water, Options, freedom, The variety of Choices, and so much more.

But before this it was time to become part of a cult that is Carol’s own invention – a cult that is held together by a Marble. This cult or network is spread across so many countries and people and is a reminder to us that we are all part of a bigger world. That in some way we all face the same issues and problems every single day of our lives and together we can always come up with a solution. The concept was simple – each person gets a marble as a reminder – this marble idea comes from her eccentric aunt. The very personal story goes something like this that whenever someone used to say to her aunt “Oh you have lost all your marbles”, she quickly used to retrieve one from her bag and say “No I haven’t! I have still one left”… I don’t know how I saved myself from crying.

After the re-entry was time for the Certificate Ceremony!

And then the final good byes… but what is a good bye without a final group picture… and what can be a better location that the Eastern Island.

After hugs and kisses, we came out of the Mall Entrance to find a big Screen – or more precisely “Screen on Green” sponsored by HBO. I had seen this before but I really didn’t know what it was more. Well the idea is that every week in Summer HBO puts up a big screen on the Mall and plays a Classic movie for everyone – free of cost.

And I have to say this was a wonderful experience. Americans love to picnic and despite being a Monday by 6 pm (the movie was due to start after dark – which is typically around 9 pm) the Mall was full of people. They had come directly from work, some people were saving seats for their friends, some had even bought their pets along who sat with them and enjoyed the movie and food. When the movie finally started from the middle of nowhere (for us) people got up and started to dance. The dance hardly lasted for 2 minutes but apparently is a tradition! The movie up for the night was “Psycho” and it was a truly new experience. People laughed, drank and just had fun! When the movie ended, everyone picked up their trash, stuffed it in the bins and headed for the metro.

The rest of the night was spent in packing and then just crashing on our beds, to start a new day, which will be taking us to Madison, Wisconsin.


USA Diaries – Day 20 – A day to get the “Bloody Tourist” Stuff done!

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 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Day 21, 06-8-2012 – In my hotel room, Washington DC, Local Time: 0024, Pakistan Time:06 August 2012, 0924

Today was “fit-everything-in” Day – which basically means that being the second last day that we will be spending in DC, I needed to get started on my list and get done with as many things possible. This included getting the typical “Bloody Tourist” Stuff – a term a guy at my work place used to describe my desire to see the typical places like White House, Washington Monument etc. Anyways, the morning started with my decision to go and see the Sunday Mass at this Church which is located right next to the hotel in which we are staying. I had no idea what was happening there, considering the fact that I have never really attended a Mass before in my life. But nonetheless, I did everything that I could do by copying the people around me. I have to say that the Church was a truly magnificent structure. The details and the Stained Glass work inside the building was superb and not to mention the lady who was singing the hymns – OMG – Her voice could truly open the sky above. The crowd was a mixed crowd with a lot of younger people with their kids also present in the crowd. When the Mass was over, I asked a man in charge if it was okay for me to take the pictures, and he encouraged me more than anything to go and take as many pictures as I want. This place was truly serene.

At 10:45 am, it was time for us to drive away to Mt. Vernon – the wonderful home of George and Martha Washington. Now I don’t know why but when we entered the place and saw the orientation movie, since then I have been in love with their story and how they got together. So much so that I even bought a book about her and their life together. The book is called “Martha Washington: An American Life” and is written by Patricia Brady. The Mansion was beautiful and showed the love and dedication that each of these individuals might have put in this place and making it into a home.

I liked this place much more though to Williamsburg and the main reason for this was the scale of this place. This place was much smaller and much more quiet and it had a certain intimacy to it which was completely absent from our experience in Mt. Vernon.

The most moving experience however was the one seeing the Slaves Quarters and how they lived in those times. The beds were miserably small and I really doubt that anyone could have lied down straight ever in these beds. I was really moved by seeing the condition of the way they were treated. And therefore it was equally moving to see the Slaves Memorial that has been erected close to the Tomb of the Washington’s.

I then took some time out and headed towards the Wharf and I have to say that it was one of the best decisions that I made that day. The Potomac River is a sight to see and the wind was just perfect. The environment was so serene and peaceful and I could have sat there and enjoyed the weather for days and days. It was just the most wonderful experience ever.

There are so many things that I just loved about this place, the pathways, the forest trail, the wonderful views that you can catch of the River from almost every part of the site – Mt. Vernon is truly a wonderful experience.

Oh – and the Museum, do visit it too. The entire life journey of Washington has been captured so wonderfully and in the most interesting manner. It just makes you wonder about the effort these American’s put into each and everything thing that they do. The other half of the Museum showcased the furniture and the jewellery from the Mansion but photography was not allowed in the hall. It covered the various aspects of the Mansion life, including the food that was cooked in the time of Martha and you can even find the recipes of them in the gallery.

After coming back to the hotel, and half an hour rest, I decided to take a long walk to cover the “Bloody Tourist” List. So via Metro, I got off at the Smithsonian Station and start to wonder towards the most probable location for White House. Now I knew that it has to be on my right, but I had no idea about the exact location. It is therefore, I would like to take a minute, and thank the wonderful people who work in the Signage Department of DC because it wasn’t for them and the wonderful signs that they have put up all over DC, there was no chance in hell I would have ever gotten anywhere. Oh and it was raining today!

It was only due to the signs that I kept finding my way and finally made it to the back side of the White House. There was a huge crowd outside the gate of the White House and nobody was bothered with them and what they were doing. No policeman or Secret Service man came up to people and told them to get off the rail or don’t put you hand beyond the rail or any such crap. People were allowed to take as many photographs as they wanted and go as crazy with their posing as they cared – That is not something that you can expect to happen in Pakistan EVER!

I then walked up to the Vietnam Memorial and finding it was a bit hard. Firstly it was raining and secondly, this time I had no idea about whether to turn left or right even. But here is when my Lonely Planet guide came much handy. Thank you Lonely Planet People .. you have saved another wanderer. Anyways, so I finally reached the Memorial and I take my pictures and head out towards the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, when I hear a man talking about eh Memorial and the concept being it. I just stopped in my tracks and started listening to him; he talked about how the Veterans just by the word of mouth got to know about this memorial and they started sending in money, about how the competition was announced and some 400 entries came and were exhibited in some Air Hanger close by, about how the idea was that by this memorial it would be exhibited how the war cut the people and the nation right in the middle and that is why the structure is not rising but is splitting the Earth and Landscape, how the winner of the design was a 20 year old student of Architecture from Yale. It turned out that the man was the Guide for a group of people who were in town doing Baseball tours – which basically meant that they were looking at all the Baseball Stadiums in the country or something. I have to say that they were the most wonderful people since they let me be a part of their tour so generously.

I then headed out towards the Thomas Jefferson Memorial…. Now Lonely Planet People, you need to zoom in on that area more where the Memorial is, because I took one hell of a wrong route. I have to say I was pretty scared today, so scared in fact that I had to stop and ask the Old Town Trolley Driver if it was even safe for me to go down that path or not. He guaranteed me that there will be nothing wrong since the Park Police is still patrolling the area. Well it was such a long road that I have to say that his words hardly comforted me for more than five minutes. I walked and I walked and I walked, until I finally saw the Memorial. There was another tour guide driver standing with whom I confirmed my pathway. And then once again asked him “Sir Is it really safe to go there at this time. I mean will there be people in there?”. And he goes “There better be my 59 people who went inside”. I was relieved. So I went inside, and there were so many people inside – I don’t think I have ever been so happy before seeing people.

Anyways, on the way back, I reconfirmed the closest Metro from a Police man and then stalked this couple halfway until I finally recognized the area in which I am. Apparently there is a short cut to get to the Memorial, but that I only discovered on the way back. And finally after an adventure that lasted 3 hours, I was back home. I have to say it was fun being scared in DC.

USA Diaries – Day 19 – Free Day equals a trip to the Zoo!

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 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Day 19, 04-8-2012 – In my hotel room, Washington DC, Local Time: 2121, Pakistan Time:05 August 2012, 0622

Today was a free day for us – Today was also the last free day we would have in DC – Today was also the third last day that we were spending in DC! So it meant that there was a long list of things that we wanted to do but time was just not on our hand. Tough choices had to be made – which museum to prefer, which other places to hit, shopping or sightseeing or just sleep? I tell you the idea of sleeping was pretty tempting, but nonetheless, I decided that Zoo was a must for me! But first – a stop at the Congress of Library! The Library is one block down from where we are staying but beside that we have not been able to actually go there! The reason has been the lack of matching our timing! The library closes off at around 4:30 pm – we don’t ever get free before that. But I am glad that I made it there today. The place is magnificent – and it is truly a tribute to the great thinkers that we have had in the last century.

The exterior of the Library or more specifically The Thomas Jefferson Building is a grand building and it proudly holds these busts of these great names – which includes Goethe, Thomas Jefferson, and many more – right on top of the entrance gate.

The interior are just as grand and magnificent! The entire ceiling is covered with these magnificent panels and Cherubs and Quotations and once more these great names – oh and some of the most wonderful murals which show the evolution of knowledge.

However I did learn one thing today – It has always been told to us in our lectures that ornamentation is something that was done without any reason – that it was simply a decoration element, and something which required too much resources. That is not the case! The ornamentation are a way to add to the concept behind the building and the function which it is suppose to serve. There is such a strong rationale behind using these form for ornamentation. The usage becomes essential in creating an atmosphere that this is in fact a temple for Knowledge. For example, this Cherub on the side of the Stairs illustrates the various fields which are housed and which constitute the part of Scientific fields – One Cherub being a Physicist, another a Chemist or a Cook, or a Philosopher, etc.

The panel below illustrates the various form of Literature, with the two Cherub on the side showcasing Comedy and Tragedy and the middle one showing Drama.

The exhibition that were put up at the Library of Congress were truly amazing. One of the exhibition was about the Early America and how the Conquest and the search for new resources changed the world. There is also a Thomas Jefferson Library which is on display, but one of the best exhibition is about “The books that shaped America”.. it was nice to know that there were so many books that I had actually heard of .. and even read! I remember this one kid that was beside me who exclaimed to his parents and siblings “Oh my God, Charlotte’s Web is also here.. Can you believe it came out in 1952!!!” – I have never read that book!

It was an amazing Place!

So with much difficulty I decided that the second stop should be the National Zoo – Little did I know that this will be my last stop of the day! Why you wonder? Let me explain – I left my hotel at 9:30 am, Walked to Library of Congress, Roamed around, Got out by 11:30 am and went to the Metro, reached the Zoo at around 12:30 and then got out of the Zoo at 5:00 pm – Yes it took me a full 5 hours to see three-fourth of the Zoo! Apparently 5 hours even are not enough to see the whole Zoo! They need to make smaller Places I tell you!

Anyways, it was a delight to see the Pandas and the wonderful Outdoor Pavilions where we can see the animals in action, the Pink Pelicans, the King Vulture.. and then there were so different types of Turtles.. .I am missing my turtle a lot actually and I really need to go and meet him. I miss him.



By the end of this zoo trip, I was so dead tired that I didn’t have the strength to go anywhere and came straight to my hotel. The rest of the day was usual – we cooked and ate and now we are just talking away!

USA Diaries – Day 16 – A Night walk on the National Mall!

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 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Day 17, – In my hotel room, Washington DC, Late updating

The day had started off with a continuation of our time with Cathy Hawks, Conservator for National Museum of Natural History. The discussion again touched the various topics like Conservation Management, Storage and Pest Control and similar such topics. It has to be said that any time with her is just not enough. She has so much that she knows and that she shares with everyone. I was however, late for my class, and the reason for that was the most simple one ever – I overslept…. I think DC life is taking its toll on me.

For lunch that day we decided to hop off to this refreshment kiosk outside of the museum. I have to say that it wasn’t one of the best thing I have had in DC… in fact, let me say It was the most expensive and bad food that I have had in DC! Actually, it was so bad that I didn’t even take a picture of it.

Moving on, we had our session with Carol Butler after lunch in which we talked about Collections Management and what it means to work with a vast collection. We talked about their care and the problems that NMNH faces with regards to such a strong collection. We talked about how a collection is only worth something when it is coming in the use of researchers and other scholars and what it means to keep collections relevant.

The second part of this session was taken up by Bill Billeck who is working in the Repatriation Office and is taking care of returning the artifacts of Native American back to them. He talked about how this process is becoming an important step in opening up a dialogue between the Native Americans and the Museum and how such a dialouge has been important in changing the image that many people have had of Archaeologists and Museums as looters who took the stuff of their lands without the permission of the local communities.


The afternoon session with Bill had to be cut short though since it was time for our meeting with Richard Kurin – The Undersecretary for Culture and Arts at the Smithsonian. The man has so much knowledge and he surprised us with his knowledge of Urdu and his amazing address to us in Urdu. He is a very knowledgeable man who shared with us many of his stories, including his time in Haiti after the devastating Earthquake hit it. He shared this remarkable story of human spirit in which the people of Haiti after losing everything, their shelter, their musical instruments, their belongings, came out on the street and they SANG! I thought it was a remarkable story which demonstrated the power of culture and of the human resolve that we have.

The man is so nice that he even gave us free copies of his book “Saving Haiti’s Heritage”!

Oh let me share some pictures of his office – located in the “Smithsonian Castle”, the interior of this place is simply amazing. His conference room has these amazing Greek tiles (replicas) all around and there are so many books that cover his table that it is insane.


For a more informal type of a conversation, we headed to a shaded place near the back of the Castle and found ourselves some benches, where we continued our discussion on Culture and its evolution and Repatriation and all other aspects of it. Carol Butler has such an amazing point of view about things and the world and it comes with an association with the Smithsonian that has continued on for almost 25 years.  The informal session ended with an agreement on when and where we are suppose to meet for our night walk at the National Mall. Time decided- 8:30 pm.

So at 8:30 pm we were waiting outside the Smithsonian Metro Station and as soon as all of us had gathered, we headed straight to our first destination – The Washington Monument. Now we had been seeing it since our first day in DC, but we haven’t had the chance to come and see it up close. So today was an opportunity – however taking pictures at this time was definitely becoming a big issue.


The second stop being the Second World War Memoiral..

And then ofcourse to the Lincoln Memorial…


We even made a stop at Vietnam Memorial but since the light were so low it was impossible to take any photographs. But I plan to go there again and take some more photographs.

By the time the trip was over and we finally made our way back, it was almost 12:30 am and therefore there was nothing open or anything except for a Bar plus Restaurant. And since we were hungry like hell, we decided to just go in there and have whatever we could find. The menu was amazing looking, and I chose for myself Grilled Cheese Sandwich, while my friends ordered Chili and Kidney Bean Omlette and Bacon Burger. I have to say that the place was so amazing, it was rustic with all these amazing pictures and posters on the walls. It was really nice! So you can enjoy the pictures, while I enjoy my sleep for the night.




USA Diaries – Day 15 – There goes our Luggage Weight Limit!

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 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Day 16, – In my hotel room, Washington DC, Late updating

So Day 15 was a very non -happening day and therefore quite unusual – we haven’t had one of those till now. However, the only downside of this was that the day had to start as early as 9 am… we hadn’t had such an early day before as well….. So safe to conclude the day was to completely unusual. We were scheduled to be with the amazing Conservator of NMNH or National Museum of Natural History, Ms. Cathy Hawks.

She is an amazing lady (the word ‘amazing’ has now officially gone into overuse on this blog). She has such a wealth of knowledge and experience, and she shared so much of that with us. Not only she made notes for us of all her presentation, but she also made a CD for us which has these amazing  resource guides. I was so amazed to see this, I mean who bothers much with a group of people coming in from third world countries, but she really had put in an effort in sharing her knowledge with us and for us to take so much more back from this experience. I was completely taken a back.

We had the whole day with her and in that time we covered the various facets of Risk Management and Conservation. She told us about a million small and simple tricks that we can use in our own context which won’t even cost much money. She is simply a well full of knowledge.

We even took a tour around one of the storage facilities and we even met a wonderful .. Meet Mr. Beaver…!

As I said, this was an uneventful day! Anyways, the only other highlight of the day was that we had food, but amazingly I didn’t take a picture of that even. I did take a picture of this!

I think we only had left overs or something since I have no photographical evidence of any dinner. I think some days just are like that!

Oh, and the reason for title is simple – that day after our session got over, we skipped over to Freer and Seckler and got these wonderful books for ourselves. We have been getting so many books that I am so pretty sure that our luggage weight limit is about to go out of the window!

PS: Excuse the bad quality picture – I took it with my phone just now! So excuse that – But this is a book we got through Freer and Seckler and this is just one of the many that we have been getting! So god have mercy on our luggage!


USA Diaries – Day 13 – Welcome to Williamsburg

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 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Day 13, – In my hotel room, Washington DC, Late updating – Isn’t that good enough?

So day 13 was all about the visit to Williamsburg, which is only about 2 hour drive away from DC. What this means then is that we had to get up early in the morning and be ready at more or less 7:30 am. With absolutely no will to get up, I got out of bed that morning, before getting ready and heading to the van which had been booked for our trip to the place. And of course, it was a given that during the entire duration of the trip we did little else then sleep. The times in which I did wake up, I only noticed the amazing highway and the wonderful vegetation and the forest through out the stretch of the road. It was amazing the way the highway had been designed, with separate exits for food and gas every now and then. I don’t think anyone has ever been so excited about highways.

When we finally got there, well we simply couldn’t wait any longer for the day to start. So at the gate you are greeted by this big map which shows you all the major destinations that are there to be seen on the site. The map can be quite intimidating as one starts to wonder “Hmm, how the hell am I suppose to see this huge site?”. And after my experience with National Air and Space Museum, I worry about the size of these places. They can be huge!

So anyways, we proceed inside the building, we get our tickets and our pictures taken, and then we head out towards the Shuttle Service to get the bus and make it in time to see the war enactment.

The entire place is like magic, it is like you are taken back in time. Everything is the same. We took our first stop at the Capitol, where the war enactment was about to happen and we saw how the uprising was created.



Then we took a walk around and saw the various crafts that were being practiced by the people of that time, from Basket Weaving,

…the doctor office…

….the wigmaker… who was a very funny lady and joked about the poor men in town who are too cheap too afford the nice wigs….

…then the Jewellery Shop.. who was making these really wonderful spoons and ladles, ……….


…the dressmaker, who discussed why the fabric back then was so much smoother and wrinkle free since the plant wasn’t cut too short…

After that, to ease off our hunger we headed to this lovely tavern called the Chowing’s Tavern. The place was small and quite antique looking.
The people were dressed as if they had just stepped out of a movie. Me and my friend Amrita ordered the soup first and then the Roasted Turkey Sandwich on Potato Bread (for me) and Marble Rye (for her) with Potato Salad. Needless to say, we enjoyed the food thoroughly.

The site also had a beautiful Church, which was the oldest church in the neighborhood. It is a beautiful but humble structure, with a few graves still erected in the garden. The surrounding is peaceful and very serene.


The next step was the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Art Museum, which had some of the most wonderful and related to my taste collection – in other words, there was Furniture and Dresses in it. I loved every inch of that space. There were wonderful little grandfather clocks, diamond earrings, dresses, textiles, plates, soup bowls, glasses, silver, and god knows what… but as I said before, it was beautiful!

The last stop of the day – or so we thought – was the Palace. This was initially the Governor’s Palace and as such had some of the most beautiful interiors and garden. The place had been burnt down, but quite interestingly, the house had been built on the same foundations as the original house. The house had a great display of sword and guns. And not to forget, food – which, sadly enough, is cooked for the display after every few days and then wasted away.

Oh, btw we had the most amazing tour guide person, she was simply hilarious, engaging and wonderful. I loved her!

The final final last stop of the day was at River James, which is the place from where the first Europeans came into this land. The River is huge and quite calm. There were so many families that were just lying and doing their own little BBQ… how I was jealous of them. I really wanted to just take my shoes off and head into the water but sadly that was not possible. But still, it was good to stop there and just relax for a few minutes.

Two more hours of drive down the – now very busy – highway, we were back in our hotel and finally collapsed. I think we had leftovers only for dinner.




USA Diaries – Day 12 – 7 million people a year is an understatement!

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 days I will be posting here all my weird thoughts and commentary. 

Day 12, (I have lost track of time) – In my hotel room, Washington DC, Late updating

Day 12 or this Saturday was our day off. This meant that we had the choice to do whatever we wanted to do. A few decided to go and visit their families, others thought that it will be much better that they head off to NY, while others just decided to rest. For us, the choice was of visiting more museums than what we have already seen. The day was suppose to begin at 9 ( as per our friend Rajesh) but we hardly left the hotel before 10. So at 10 in the morning, we headed off to the Museum of African Art. I had been very excited to go to this museum, since there was the display of “African Cosmos”. The first thought that came in my head when I heard about this exhibition was the starting page from the book “Roots” written by Alex Haley.

You see in the starting page the story starts with the father of Kanta holding him up to the stars and saying something like “There is nothing above you”. I thought this was one of the most important moments in the life of that child and a seriously wonderful tradition. So I really wanted to go there. The first thing however you see as soon as you enter the museum (although that was only there for the weekend – I think) is a blue round tent. The tent is actually a planetarium sort of thing which shows the Southern Sky – or sky as seen from Africa – which we in the northern hemisphere can never see. The night African Sky was amazing.

Nancy Mcwright over at the Free and Sackler Gallery had mentioned that the use of space inside the African Art was completely different as compared to the FS, although the two buildings have been designed as exact duplicates. The first difference when you enter into the African Art is the use of the interiors. The interiors at African Art are more regional and indigenous. There is also a lot of play of colour and most importantly, there is no confusion at all. FS Galleries can be extremely confusing. God knows, that I am still confused inside it, but in African Art there is nothing of that sort.

There were certain really amazing displays in the Museum, including Jewelry, Daily usage toys that people in Africa used to make for their kids, masks, ritual clothes etc.

A Ritual dress


A Stool


Another amazing thing was the statue that I am sharing below. This statue done by an African artist, Ousmane Sow, shows the Haitian leader Toussaint Louverture freeing the land from repression. The sculpture is so striking in so many ways, in the way the sorrow and the mixed emotions of freedom and grief cover the face of the women kneeling before him. The sense of responsibility in the leader himself is more than apparent and has been caught perfectly by the artist.

There is also another exhibition that is worth seeing, although once again I have to say that Modern Art is still not my thing. The exhibition is a photography/mixed medium by the photographer turned Painter (or maybe it is the other way round) Leyla Essayandi. Her work is really worth seeing. We were not allowed to photograph the work therefore I have no pictures of it to post here (except one), but one should really give it a try. It is all about the position of women in the much fantasized and romanticized harems of Africa. Some of the pictures are actually truly very haunting.

The African Cosmos exhibition was not what I expected it to be. The work actually traced the way in which cosmos have been depicted in the various writings and paintings, but for some reason it didn’t hit the right spot with me. Maybe I still had Kanta on my mind when I walked through it.

My second stop was at the Hirshhorn Museum. So again this was Modern Art and not what I would normally prefer, but there were certain experimental pieces which made me both, be in awe of it and question the very thought process and his mental stability. One of my favorite pieces of course was Kandinsky – and I am so glad I can now be one of those snobs who can raise their noses up and see – “Well its nothing compared to the real Kandinsky” ! There was also a piece by Frank Lloyd Wright, which was a design of the windows that he did.


The Kandinsky

Frank Lloyd Piece



There was also a very wonderful installation that was done in the museum. The name of this upcoming exhibition is “Belief+Doubt” and is done by the artist Barbara Kruger. It was truly a wonderful piece. The sayings that were plastered all over the  basement level were both intriguing and definitely made you wonder.


The last stop of the day was at the National Air and Space Museum… now someone said to me a few days ago that almost 70 million people come to this museum every year. I really thought than that they may have lost their mind, but the fact of the matter is that I, after my visit am sure, that this number is an understatement. I am pretty sure that there were that many people only yesterday in there. There was so much crowd in it that it was impossible to see anything. You could not walk and actually see anything. You were just being swept around by the very sea of the people that was there.


The Museum is huge.. it is actually ridiculously huge. My friends – who decided to skip the Hirshhorn Museum and were there an hour before me took almost 3 hours to see the museum. I took 2 hours and even then I will never in my life say that I actually saw it – I just glanced through the museum. I have yet to believe myself that it took me 2 hours to just glance through it. It was ridiculous the size. There were around 8 galleries, each covering a different aspect of Air and Space. There were lines for everything – for getting in the Planetarium, the IMAX theater, the plane, the spaceship – even for the washrooms for heaven sake.

But there is no doubt that some of the stuff there was pretty cool – like the Wright Brother plane model, the space shuttle, Apollo Space Shuttle, The moon rock, the Howard Hughes Plane, the first plane that crossed the Atlantic, and god knows what. But all said and done, It was a zoo more than a museum.

The museum trip was enough to convince us that it is now time to rest. So we headed back to our place and spent the rest of the day indoors.

USA Diaries – Day 10 – MSC, Here we come!

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.

Robert Leopold

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.

Jake Homiak

Dave Rosenthal

A letter which we saw in the Paper Conservation Room written by Alexander Graham Bell.

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!

USA Diaries – Day 9 – The day we hopped to Pentagon City!

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 9, 25-7-2012 – In my hotel room, Washington DC, (Late updating)

This is yet again a late updating, which is much due to the fact that the day was simply exhausting. It was to be our last day at the Freer and Seckler and thus filled with many things to do and see. At 10 in the morning, we simply headed off to our first workshop of the day, with Jeffrey Smith. He is one of the most sweetest man that I have ever come across, and it has to be said, that this was one of the most useful workshops that we have attended so far. The main reason for this was most probably the hands-on experience that we got in the workshop. With Jeffrey we had the chance to explore this software which is called the TMS – The Museum System. And this is a fantastic system. It is easy, the interface is clean and with so much detail. Me and Jeffrey had a chance to talk for a while, in which we discussed the need to sometimes understand that certain things are beyond our control and that we can’t be perfect. After the class, it was once again, maybe for the last time, off to the cafeteria of the Energy Department…. sigh.. I will miss all that food. 

After lunch, we had a meeting with the Archivist, David Hodges, who was an amazing guy. And was sweet enough to show us some fantatsic stuff that they have in their Arhives. This included a Palm Leaf manuscript, which one guy from our group even got around to translating.

After this, we all went to pursue our appointments, mine with Kelly Swain, the exhibit coordinator. She is one of the most sweetest lady and I have a whole new level of respect for her…. the lady gave me a free gift. What do you expect then?

She showed me the exhibit “Shipwrecked” that I was much interested in seeing, since she had talked about it in her presentation. I have to say it was a totally different thing from what I have seen in the Smithsonian Museums.

After our classes, we decided to head towards Pentagon City. IT was a really cool place and some of the shops were not so bad. I had a good time there.

And do you know that DC is beautiful at night?