No Need to Travel: World Comes to D.C.

Posted April 29, 2009 at 4:54pm

This year’s Passport DC festival is the first for the Royal Thai Embassy — and the embassy is certainly making the most of it.

Minister-Counselor Pattrawan Vechasart said the embassy’s open house on Saturday — in conjunction with open houses of embassies throughout the city — will showcase the “seven magics— of Thailand: food, art, dance, music, movies, massage and tourism.

Choosing seven aspects to feature was not an accident. Seven is also what the digits in the embassy’s address — 1024 Wisconsin Ave. NW — add up to, and seven is what the date May 2 (5/2) adds up to as well.

“It will come up to be lucky seven,— Vechasart said. “We tried to get all this lucky magic number to come together.—

Vechasart highlighted massage in particular. For $10 visitors can get a 10-minute massage. She also devoted special attention to the room that will feature Thai art, including paintings from one of Thailand’s famous “elephant artists— who paints.

This is the second annual Passport DC. Coordinated by Cultural Tourism DC, the event began in 2008 as a way for area residents to gain “access to the inaccessible,— according to Reshma Sinanan, who coordinates the festival as Cultural Tourism DC’s director of membership initiatives.

Sinanan said last year’s 24 participating embassies each received about 13,000 visitors on the day of the open houses, and estimated that a total of 57,000 guests hit about four embassies each.

“For [the embassies] it was a fantastic experience. It’s a great way for them to reach the American public,— she said.

This year, 33 countries have signed up to host open houses on May 2, and others will join the festival by hosting events throughout the following week.

Venezuela is among the countries returning to host a second open house. Cultural Attaché Patricia Abdelnour said the embassy received almost 1,000 visitors in just a few hours in 2008.

“Again we will give a tour of the Ambassador’s Residence where our visitors will have the opportunity to view the fantastic art collection that includes the works of some of Venezuela’s most important artists,— she wrote in an e-mail. “The final stop of the tour will be at a hall where traditional refreshments will be served, as well as folkloric dance workshops and a traditional crafts demonstration will be taking place.—

Sinanan said one of the best parts of last year’s open houses was the interaction in the streets as people waited in line to get into the open houses. They spoke with strangers and enjoyed snacks from different countries. At some embassies they learned new dances and browsed marketplaces with traditional fare.

Cultural Tourism DC will provide a free shuttle service on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. that will follow a route starting at 1900 Massachusetts Ave. NW at Dupont Circle and continuing down Massachusetts Avenue, Connecticut Avenue and New Hampshire Avenue.

Though the open houses are the heart of Passport DC, they are far from being the only events in the 10-day festival.

The festival kicks off tonight with a reception at the residential complex Moderno in Northwest D.C. The reception will feature an exhibit, a silent auction and international music. Proceeds will benefit Passport DC. Most of the other events are free.

Through May 9, embassies will host events such as concerts and art exhibits. On May 9, the last day of the festival, the International Children’s Festival will be held at the Meridian International Center. Families can visit booths from about 20 countries at the fair, participating in activities and learning about the cultures. A complete schedule is online at passportdc.org.

The festival gives Washington, D.C., area residents a chance to meet their international neighbors, and just as importantly, it gives the visiting diplomats a chance to share their cultures with Americans. For the Thai embassy, that seemed like a “very, very good idea,— said Vechasart, adding that it would build on the Thai festival the embassy organized at Union Station last year.

The European Union, which held its first open houses in 2007, will hold the third annual European Union Open House from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Europe Day, May 9. Though the EU open houses are separate from those affiliated with Passport DC, they are similar. Visitors can tour 18 embassies, in addition to the EU’s own delegation house, and take part in arts, music and food-related activities. More information about that day and later events during Europe Week are available online at europeindc.com.