Smithsonian VIP: A special report for our members
“Game of Thrones” Comes to Life
How the famous fantasy show drew on historical events
A still from “Game of Thrones” (HBO)
Already missing “Game of Thrones” after Sunday’s series finale? Smithsonian contributor Meilan Solly has you covered. She reports that archaeologists are excavating a site in Scotland that inspired the show’s infamous “Red Wedding.”

Solly writes, “In [George R.R.] Martin’s fictional world, the massacre follows a broken promise—namely Robb Stark’s decision to marry for love rather than fulfill his pledge to marry one of Lord Walder Frey’s daughters. As a result of this decision, a bevy of characters associated with House Stark are murdered by their hosts in the aftermath of a wedding ostensibly arranged to cement an alliance between the two families. The real 1692 massacre was precipitated by centuries of clan infighting and a belated pledge of support to the newly ascended English monarchs, William and Mary.”

The Red Wedding wasn’t the only “Game of Thrones” scene inspired by real-life events. The Battle of Blackwater Bay featured in the show’s second season drew heavily on the Second Arab Siege of Constantinople. The HBO series has the character Tyrion cutting through the opposing army with a giant chain, a move the Romans used to defeat the caliph’s forces.

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Sharing a Meal at the Museum
Thai artist highlights communal dining and political protest in new exhibition
(Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden)
It began as a dinner party.

When contemporary Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija was still an undergraduate student at the Ontario College of Art and Design, he found himself wanting to make curry, a dish from home. However, curry calls out for a communal meal; cooking it requires lots of attention and produces big portions.

“I realized that I couldn’t eat it all by I invited friends to come over, and then they would just start to show up every Sunday automatically,” he says. “It wasn’t as if I was a very good cook, and I still say that today. But it became something that was definitely ingrained into the back of my existence.”

That college tradition is now amplified in Tiravanija’s exhibition “(who’s afraid of red, yellow, and green),” which opened May 17 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. As visitors move through the gallery space, featuring large-scale murals of protest images and projected documentary shorts, they are offered samples of curry, catered by the Washington, D.C. restaurant Beau Thai.

In an artist talk on the eve of the exhibition’s opening, Tiravanija spoke with curator Mark Beasley about the exhibition and his own creative journey. He explained that the three colors in the title not only represent different varieties of curry in Thai cuisine, but also serve as references to conflicting factions in the political protests that have wracked the country in recent years.

When he first staged the installation in Bangkok in 2010, Tiravanija said he was thinking about how a communal meal might help bridge the gaps between the royalist “yellow shirts,” the more rural, grass-roots “red shirts,” and the “greens” of the royal armed forces.

“I decided to bring these curries together, as a background to what I was thinking: How do we think of this situation—how we live together, or how we eat together?” Tiravanija said. “And how is it that it’s not possible to think beyond this kind of color division?”

The original exhibition featured images from Thai protesters, but the Hirshhorn installation brings in other historic dissenters, from American suffragists to Million Man March participants. And the murals aren’t done yet: Artists will continue to add layers until the exhibition ends in July, and visitors are encouraged to participate by tracing images projected on the walls, Tiravanija said.

Though in this case Tiravanija is not the one cooking up curry on the gallery floor, the exhibition still represents one of his artistic threads of bringing function and purpose back to inanimate objects. The artist recalled walking through the Asian art section of a museum and seeing objects that he considered to be everyday tools displayed as cultural artifacts.

“I was saying to myself, I really need to retrieve these objects out of these cases and try to put life back into them,” Tiravanija said.

Or, as he describes it in other words: It’s like taking Duchamp’s urinal off its pedestal, screwing it into the wall and putting it back to its original use.

Maddie Burakoff

“Rirkrit Tiravanija: (who’s afraid of red, yellow, and green)” is on view at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden through July 24.
book cover
A Special Selection from Smithsonian Books
The Smithsonian First Ladies Collection
Admire the nationally famous collection of first ladies’ gowns and learn about the contributions made by the women who wore them
What We’re Reading Now
A recommendation from a Smithsonian staff member
(Hachette Books)
In November 2015, Tom Patterson was crawling in the bowels of the Red Pyramid of Egypt with his wife, Steffanie Strathdee, when he began to feel ill. At first the couple thought he had food poisoning, but the diagnosis turned out to be far worst.

As his condition deteriorated, he was medevaced to Frankfurt and then Thornton Hospital at UC San Diego. A formidable pathogen called Acinetobacter baumannii, the worst bacteria on the planet, was killing Tom. The superbug festered in a football-size cyst in his abdomen.

Fortunately, Tom had a secret weapon: his wife. Steffanie is an infectious disease epidemiologist and professor at the UCSD School of Medicine and she could slog through reams of published papers on medical topics, call upon resources and make critical connections—and she did so with dogged persistence, trust in her intuition and attention to detail. Fifteen antibiotics hadn’t helped Tom, no treatment options were left, so Steffanie had to step up.

The couple’s new book, The Perfect Predator, A Scientist’s Race to Save Her Husband From a Deadly Superbug, describes the process and happy outcome. It’s a medical thriller for the antibiotic-resistant age.

Steffanie vaguely remembered from her undergraduate days a novel approach called “phage therapy,” the use of viruses that prey on bacteria. In virology lab, students couldn’t see phages with a light microscope, but when they pipetted them onto a petri dish holding a bacterial culture overlaid with agar, the phages ate holes in the agar. This was evidence that the phages were destroying bacteria. One phage researcher called them “nature’s ninjas.”

Because she was a PhD, not an M.D., she had to find a doctor who could carry out phage therapy, but she quickly learned no activity—not even clinical trials—was occurring in the United States. She found articles on phage therapy from the 1930s and ’40s, and current use in former Soviet bloc countries. Phage therapy, she learned, was largely abandoned in the West after penicillin came to market in the 1940s. Phages, she wrote, "as a group are notoriously misunderstood, underappreciated and often maligned, even in the world of science.”

Plowing ahead as Tom wasted away (he lost 100 pounds from his 6-foot-5 frame) and working with a talented team, she obtained approval for experimental treatment. She coordinated a complicated process to find, harvest and process phages (some came from sewage) to take down the Acinetobacter. It involved scientific collaboration, procedural paperwork, clinical plans, and committee reviews and approvals. Finally, the Thornton team received phage preparations from Texas A & M and a Navy research lab. Precious minutes ticked away while the hospital pharmacy brought the phages to the safety level required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This was uncharted territory, with bold guesses. No one knew the ideal concentration of phages to optimize their killing potential while minimizing the chances of septic shock (Tom had seven cases during his illness).

Four months after the vacation in Egypt, the phage cocktails were injected both intravenously and directly into the infection site. Recovery wasn’t immediate. Tom had another bout of sepsis. Finally, after eight weeks of treatment using a combination of two phages and an antibiotic, the Acinetobacter was on the run.

Steffanie wrote that when she was at a low point during the ordeal she recalled a painful memory that served to renew her strength. As a child, she existed on the social fringes, at least once the target of bullies when some boys lit her on fire as a prank. As her long blond hair burned, she dropped to the snow, rolled and threw off her jacket. “I just did what I had to do.” That’s what she had to do again. She decided, “This bug has messed with the wrong epidemiologist.”

Jeanne Maglaty, copy editor

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Smithsonian in the World
Is it possible to design a butterfly-friendly city? A new exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt Museum explores how urban areas can offer sanctuary to the embattled insect. Read more at CityLab.

Andy Boyce, a conservation ecologist who works for the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, spends his days at the American Prairie Reserve, working to return the land to its natural state. The 500,000-acre reserve is like a science experiment, on a massive scale. Read more at the Washington Post.

A new study by NASA found that the moon is shrinking, resulting in “moonquakes.” Thomas Watters, lead author of the study and senior scientist in the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, said, “Some of these quakes can be fairly strong, around 5 on the Richter scale.” Read more at Smithsonian.

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