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Passport DC Embassy Open House photos and chronicle: and the best embassy I visited this year is…

May 5, 2009

Those of us who live in DC know very well that this city is a very international place. Not only is where hundreds of foreign diplomatic missions are located, but also several multinational organizations, businesses and colleges bring a very diverse crowd to live in the city -at least temporarily.

Photos by me unless noted

In DC you can find people from every corner of the world, and they bring along their traditions and cultures, which are celebrated in special events. Check the cultural programs of each embassy periodically!

Precisely, last week Cultural Tourism DC, organized Passport DC “a two-week celebration of DC’s international culture, featuring open houses and cultural programming at Washington’s embassies and international centers.” It started last Thursday April 30, until Sunday May 9, 2009.

You can see the complete program here.

Last Saturday May 2, I went to the Passport DC’s Embassy Open House. There were over 30 embassies opening their doors to the public -well partially at least- and some even made the effort of showing free live music, food and useful information through videos and printed brochures.


Because of lack of time, I could only visit four embassies this year: Indonesia, Colombia, Haiti and Saudi Arabia. Here are some photos and comments about the embassies I visited — by order of arrival. Also, I am including some great photos shared by the embassy of Venezuela.

(*) Footnotes are from the Passport DC info program.

Indonesia

The Walsh-McLean House -where this embassy is located- is a very famous landmark in DC, because of its history and luxurious design:

Constructed for Thomas F. Walsh, the mansion that now serves as the Indonesian Embassy was once the social center for Dupont Circle and Washington itself, as it was the most expensive private house built to date, at the cost of $835,000.

The line of people to enter this embassy was one of the longest, but the entering process was very fast and organized. The main entrance is very welcoming, big doors, big wooden staircases, stones, golden framed paintings covering walls, a beautiful color glass ceiling, etc.

The place was in juxtaposition with the cultural program of Indonesian dances and music. A nice contrast indeed. No food here – but we got a nice brochure with a map and and an impressive DVD about Indonesia.

Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia

(*) Location: 2020 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Metro: Dupont Circle (Red line)

“Take a guided tour of this historic building, a private residence built at the turn of the 20th century once known as the Walsh Mansion. Also, view cultural artifacts from Indonesia and a short film.”

Colombia

Located at the historical Thomas F. Gaff House, in Dupont Circle:

The architects who designed the mansion for Thomas F. Gaff in 1904 created a modern American rendition of an early seventeenth century manor house. A wealthy Midwestern businessman, Gaff had the house built as the primary residence for himself and his wife, Zaidee.

I had been to this Ambassador’s residence years ago, when a delegation of Indigenous shamans from the Amazon were visiting and I was helping them. Then Ambassador Andres Pastrana and his family were very polite and I thought the house reminded me an old hacienda of Peru. But this time it looked smaller, more like a classical old American house with Colombian art and fresh flowers everywhere.

The spaces for the public to visit were limited to four rooms and a cute patio. There were coffee drinks and candy, and brochures giveaways. The hosts were attentive but they did not provide much information at our arrival – not even a warm ‘welcome’…

Embassy of Colombia

(*) Location: Ambassador’s Residence, 1520 20th Street, NW

Metro: Dupont Circle (Red line)

More info: www.colombiaemb.org

Enjoy a self-guided tour of the Ambassador’s residence, including a showcase of contemporary Colombian art and fresh Colombian flowers that are shipped weekly to the Embassy. Learn about culture and cuisine and discover the natural beauty of this country.”

Haiti

This beautiful house is located on the “Embassy Row” by Sheridan Circle. Honestly, it looks better from outside -and here I am aware of the fact that Haiti is a country with limited funds. But you know, I grew up poor and when guests came home, my family knew how to receive them and we made the best we could.

The Haitian embassy looked like it needed some attention and please the decor is wrong: who would place a 1990’s leather couches in a neoclassical house, next to a 1960’s wall clock. I mean, the highlight was that you could actually meet the Ambassador of Haiti standing in his office (!) which was full of colorful paintings; “My wife placed her father’s paintings so everyone knows he was so talented…” he said while one of his employees (?) was working in an adjacent desk.

The funny part is that people stood in a long line -not me- just to get half a cup of fruit punch. That was it, but nobody would know that until getting inside. I have to admit the fruit punch was good, and in my way out I saw a big screen TV and chairs with people chatting. The only door to enter and exit was half open – and no security measures were taken, anyone could walk in freely without anyone greeting you.

Embassy of Haiti

(*) Location: 2311 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Metro: Dupont Circle (Red line)
For more info: www.haiti.org

“Indulge your senses at the Embassy of Haiti by viewing an exquisite art exhibit infused by Haiti’s rich history and culture. Discussions with some of the artists will take place at 11am and 2pm. You will also enjoy live Haitian music while sampling Haitian food and Haiti’s famous Barbancourt rum punch.”

Saudi Arabia

The main reason I went to this embassy is because I saw it in Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 911” documentary. I thought I wanted to see what is like the embassy of one of the richest and strongest U.S. allies. This building is different, contemporary – 1980’s corporate style architecture, big spaces and lots of security, cameras and what not. As soon as you walk in the presence of Arab culture is noticeable.

A very handsome man with a Saudi regalia welcomed us, he gave me his Facebook but I forgot it. There were sweets and Arab coffee available, yummi. You could get a photo dressing an Arab dishdash (?) robe, and headress or gutra. There were musicians, artists and I got my name wrote in Arabic calligraphy.

After few minutes there wasn’t a lot to see about the embassy itself -although the paintings they had (1930’s) are amazing!- but there was a lot to learn from the people: a very nice experience that mostly was enjoyable because of the friendly attitude of Saudis. At least for the occasion.

When we were leaving, a family arrived with a cute boy and I asked for their picture – all women walked away but the kid was allowed to be photographed.

Royal Embassyof Saudi Arabia

(*) Location: 601 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Metro: Foggy Bottom-GWU (Blue and Orange lines)
For more info: www.saudiembassy.net

“The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia presents opportunities to learn about the history, development, and culture of Saudi Arabia. Embassy staff and Saudi students will be on hand to answer questions and to guide visitors through displays, exhibitions, and live performances.”

Venezuela

I missed the chance to visit the Venezuelan embassy -I heard it was one of the most crowded embassies last Saturday- because I had to run to my best friend wedding! But I had been there before and I think is one of the most interesting diplomatic sites in DC. The architecture of the house -Art Deco- definitely makes you feel like you are in Miami or a tropical city south of Florida, say Caracas? The house was built in 1939 especially to host the embassy –listen to this brief history podcast– and its open spaces and big windows with an elegant but not pretentious decor, make the place very enjoyable.

These are photos kindly sent by Ronald Rodriguez -taken by photographer Néstor Sánchez– from the Embassy of Venezuela. From my experience with Passport DC, I can see in these images that the Venezuelans made an effort to give a personalized reception to their guests- something I only saw at the Saudi Arab embassy that day.

Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

(*) Location: 2443 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Metro: Dupont Circle (Red line)
For more info: www.embavenez-us.org

“Take a tour of the Ambassador’s residence and art collection where some of Venezuela’s most important painters are represented, and enjoy live music and traditional beverages.”

Also, check this link to read a press release of the embassy of Venezuela, including a fun video (in Spanish) that was prepared by the embassy. Obviously I missed out big time, hopefully next year I will be there!

People walking on Massachusetts Avenue NW.

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