And I'm Faith Lapidus with
EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Washington, D.C. is known for its many
monuments, museums, and government buildings. It is also home to embassies from
more than one hundred seventy countries.
Many of these diplomatic
buildings around the city have interesting histories. Some embassies are in large historical homes. Others were built
more recently to represent the building design of their countries. Many
embassies hold special cultural events. Join us as we travel the world by visiting the embassies of Washington.
We start our tour in an area
of Washington called Embassy Row. About fifty embassies are in this
neighborhood. Many are built along
Massachusetts Avenue. Some embassies are in large houses built by wealthy
Americans in the early twentieth century.
TOUR GUIDE: "This is the
Indonesian Embassy. And it was originally built by Mister Walsh. Now Mister
Walsh came over from Ireland without a penny in his pocket and he went to
Colorado and struck gold."
That was the voice of Sonia
Justl who gives tours for the company Washington Walks. On this tour you can
learn about the interesting history of many old buildings before they became
For example, the Embassy of
Uzbekistan is in a richly decorated home built in nineteen hundred and six by a
wealthy banker, Clarence Moore. But Mister Moore did not live to enjoy his
house for very long. He died on board the ship Titanic, which sank in nineteen
twelve. This building served as the Canadian Embassy before Uzbekistan bought
it in nineteen ninety-six.
However, sometimes there are
problems with diplomatic ownership of historical buildings. Not all countries
take good care of their buildings. For example, the embassy of the former Yugoslavia
in this neighborhood is empty. Two of
Pakistan's former diplomatic buildings have been empty for years. The buildings
are slowly falling into disrepair.
Some countries, like Pakistan,
build new modern embassies and leave behind their former buildings. Other
countries have political or financial problems that take attention away from
the condition of their embassies in Washington. People who live in this costly
neighborhood are not happy that some of these buildings are falling apart. It
is hard for city and federal officials to take action because embassies have
extraterritorial status under international law.
Further up Massachusetts
Avenue visitors can see larger and more recently built embassies. The designs
are very different from each other. For example, the Turkish Embassy is a large
three-level modern building covered in brown stone and brick. Detailed designs
in iron cover the building's tall windows. The Brazilian Embassy looks like a
large box made of black glass.
Some embassies are works of
art. For example, the Italian Embassy
is near Massachusetts Avenue. This very modern building is made up of striking
angular lines. It is covered in pink stone imported from Italy. When you walk
into the main hallway, you can look up to see a huge glass dome ceiling. The
embassy's eighteenth century Italian art collection hangs in rooms that have
very modern furniture and design.
Nearby, the Embassy of Finland
looks like it is built out of blocks of glass.
Its design is modern, but it fits in nicely with the natural environment
around it. A screen of plants covers part of the front of the building. Inside,
visitors can look through large glass windows deep into the wooded areas of
Rock Creek Park.
The Finnish Embassy holds many
interesting exhibits. For example, four years ago the exhibit on the Finnish
clothing and design company Marimekko was very popular.
While we are on the subject of
Europe, let us go to another area of town to see a very new embassy. The
Swedish Embassy is on the Potomac River in the neighborhood called Georgetown.
It is in a building called the House of Sweden, which also contains an event
center and corporate housing. The glass building is a good example of Swedish
design. It is smooth, simple and very modern. Visitors can see exhibits on
subjects such as cars, the environment and art and design.
Not far away, the Embassy of
France is in a gated area off Reservoir Road. The embassy's cultural center, La
Maison Française, organizes many cultural events. For example, in June the
center invited thirty local bands to celebrate the summer at its yearly music
festival. This fall, the center will offer French movies as well as many
concerts including baroque, classical and jazz music.
If you are very lucky, you
might be invited to a party at the home of the French ambassador. This
extraordinary home in the Kalorama neighborhood looks like a gothic palace.
Organizations like the Washington Opera sometimes hold events in this beautiful
house. The ambassadors of Turkey and
Italy also live in large historical homes that are famous for their building
design and beauty.
Last month, China opened a new
embassy in the area of Washington called the International Center. C.C. Pei and L.C. Pei of Pei Partnership Architects designed the building. They
are the sons of the famous Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei who also worked
on the project. Measuring more than ten thousand square meters, this is one of
the biggest diplomatic buildings in Washington. The Chinese government brought
in hundreds of Chinese workers to build the huge project, which took three
years to complete. C.C. Pei said the areas of plants around the embassy were
influenced by Chinese and Western traditions to create a natural and calming
Several other embassies are in
this area along International Drive and International Court. These include the
embassies of Ghana, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Israel and Egypt.
In another area of Washington,
the Mexican Cultural Institute is housed on Sixteenth Street. It is in a large home built in nineteen ten
by Emily MacVeagh. She was the wife of the American secretary of the treasury
at that time. Today, the institute offers many musical and artistic events as
part of the cultural side of the Mexican Embassy. For example, every November,
the institute invites visitors to see a large altar made for the Day of the
Dead festival. Last week, the Spanish guitarist Abraham Carmona played his
In May, many embassies took
part in an event called Passport D.C., organized by the non-profit group
Cultural Tourism D.C. Embassies around
town organized cultural activities and opened their doors to the public. For example, at the Pakistani Embassy
visitors could watch movies from that country.
The Japanese embassy set up a traditional teahouse and showed its lovely
stone gardens. The Iraqi embassy invited the public to enjoy traditional Iraqi
food and music. Cultural Tourism D.C. plans to hold the event again next year.
Embassies often are affected
by international political events. For example, in nineteen ninety one the
Iraqi ambassador in Washington left his post at the start of the Persian Gulf
War. Now, Iraq has a new ambassador and a new embassy. The United States does
not have official diplomatic ties with Cuba. So Cuban representation in
Washington operates through the Swiss Embassy.
Embassies are often places
where the public can express their opinions about a country's actions or
events. For example, in March, protestors demonstrated in front of the Chinese
Embassy after Chinese police attacked Buddhist religious workers in Tibet. When Britain's Princess Diana died eleven
years ago, people left flowers at the British Embassy to honor her.
The closest diplomatic
building to the offices of VOA is the Embassy of Canada. We visited an exhibit
there called "Fifty Years of American Photojournalism." It shows many
photographs of important events in American history and culture. We also met
with Carolyn Strauss, the cultural counselor of the embassy. She told us more
about the exhibit.
CAROLYN STRAUSS: "We're delighted
because we think these images resonate very much with Americans as well as
Canadians because they're shared experiences through the last century of war,
peace and conflict, and world
celebrities and leaders. "
Miz Strauss explained why
cultural programs at embassies are so important.
CAROLYN STRAUSS: "Cultural events speak very
much to a country's values and project a nation as perhaps almost nothing else
does. You can have political discussions and you can have trade discussions but
culture really demonstrates what a culture's values and iconic moments are all
Embassies in Washington and
around the world have an important role to play in supporting culture and
diplomatic ties among nations.
program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I'm Bob Doughty.
And I'm Faith Lapidus. You can
see pictures of several embassies in Washington on our Web site,
voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for Explorations in VOA Special