1. Fun for Free
Although living in DC is notoriously expensive, experiencing fun things for free is actually very easy. For example, the entry to all the Smithsonian museums is free. Still I had only visited one Smithsonian in November before I made it to the National Portrait Gallery. A guided tour (free, naturally) led by a volunteer was a great way to get an overview of the vast collection and learn a few funny anecdotes of U.S. presidents. The most memorable part of the visit were the life masks of Abraham Lincoln from 1860 and 1865. I certainly hope that my five years with Nokia did not take as great a toll on my health as the Civil War took on Lincoln’s.
There is a free performance at the Millenium Stage of the Kennedy Center every night at 6pm. My first millenium-staging was the Capital One Comedy Night. The stars of the evening were Sara Armour and Kurt Braunohler. Watching stand-up comedy in a foreign language is quite an acid test for language skills and cultural knowledge, but I had a great time. I was pleased to realize that I seemed to understand most of the jokes – probably equally many as in the case of Finnish stand-up comedy…
Other fun free things in February included free cupcakes and cookies at the AIA gift store, an “ahh-some” free yoga class, a free visit to a luxury gym, swimming for free, and danah boyd‘s book launch event.
2. Oysters, Tarts, and Buns
My birthday was in October, but I got to relive it in February when my sister was visiting DC. As a birthday present, my parents had authorized her to take me to a nice dinner. Accompanied with one of my foodie friends, we indeed had an excellent dinner at the table in Shaw. The 4-course tasting menu consisted of oysters dressed creatively (e.g. with grapefruit), beet carpaccio, trout, and a passion fruit dessert. So good! After the dinner we headed to a neighboring bar, A&D, to celebrate my sister’s name day. That was actually in December, and my present to her was to take her out for a drink in DC.
I was not the only one whose birthday was celebrated in DC in February. February 5th was the 210th birthday of J.L. Runeberg, the national poet of Finland. Why would we celebrate that? Some might say because Runeberg wrote the lyrics of our national anthem. Most Finns would admit, though, that the real reason why Finns still celebrate his birthday every year are Runeberg’s tarts. The poet had a sweet tooth. Once when the family was out of anything sweet, Runeberg’s wife Fredrika had to invent a pastry, the prototype of a tart that according to the legend the poet enjoyed for breakfast every day since then. I made a batch of Runeberg’s tarts for our Super Bowl Party, and as they were a big hit, another batch for the Red Cross colleagues.
In the end of the month, there was still time for another traditional Finnish baking project: Shrove buns. These buns are a premium version of the most typical Finnish pastry. They are filled with whipped cream and either almond paste or strawberry jam. The debate of which one is the correct filling is most likely never-ending. I opted for strawberry jam this time, for very pragmatic reasons: that was easier to find in the grocery store. A funny detail is that most of the buns had been eaten by the time I realized that Shrove Tuesday was actually only at the beginning of March this year, so I was accidentally a week early.
3. DC Independent Film Festival
One of the things that I missed from Helsinki during the beginning of the year was the brilliant documentary film festival DocPoint. Hence I was more than happy when I heard of the DC Independent Film Festival. The festival started with a feature-length documentary film Partners for Peace. The documentary follows a group of American and Canadian women on a trip to Israel and Palestine on a mission to learn about the decades-long conflict and to support local female peace activists. Among the audience were several members of the delegation, including writer and activist Jaclyn Friedman and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jody Williams. They shared their thoughts, experiences, and frustration after the screening. I’m pretty sure this was the first time that I went to see a movie with a Nobel Laureate!
The second movie that I saw during the festival was 3 Mile Limit directed by Craig Newland from New Zealand. New Zealand Embassy sponsored the event by catering the audience with kiwi delicacies, such as savory pies and Moa beer. The film is based on an unbelievable true story of a young guy who is a huge fan of rock music and starts a pirate radio station to break the New Zealand Government’s monopoly on broadcasting in 1960s. After the film, the audience had an opportunity to ask questions from the director over a Skype connection. 3 Mile Limit was chosen as the best international film of the festival.