Thursday, January 22, 2009

Trekking Toward History

If you traveled to DC or watched the coverage of the Inauguration of President Barack Obama, you've undoubtedly had your monthly fill of cliches and patriotic rhetoric. So I'll keep the sentimental responses I had watching all this to a minimum, but I will admit to having teared up on more than one occasion.

We had the chance to travel down and witness the event with some friends we rarely get to see these days. But then "witness" is a bit of a euphemism. We had no tickets to any of the events at which the new President made an appearance, and in fact the closest we actually came to him was when his motorcade sped by (meaning we were separated only by a few yards of space and, of course, 5 inches of bullet-proof glass) outside the Verizon Center.

Here is what the concert on Sunday looked like from where we stood.
Thanks to the technology that has brought us Jumbotrons, however, we were able to see that the tiny specs on the stage were in fact (in no particular order of importance to me, but more of a reflection of our photos that came out ok...does that sound detached enough?):

Bruce Springsteen

Stevie Wonder and Usher


Oh, yeah, the 44th President of the United States was there too (couldn't resist having my photo taken with his digital likeness on a massive screen 200 yards off to my right):
He went on for a while (actually his speech here was my least favorite of the weekend...more or less a "greatest hits" from the campaign...which is fair enough when you consider he had to rock the house two days from then at his inauguration...which in my humble opinion he did), so Bambino and I switched places:

It was freakin freezing down there on The Mall (we had hand warmers, toe warmers, and layers and layers and layers), but wisely we left the flasks at home. The short-lived warmth provided by a shot of Bourbon was not worth repeatedly subjecting oneself to the horror that was the Porta-Johns.

Monday we visited with some art world friends of ours, including Leigh and Jamie of Conner Contemporary, whose fabulous new location has given me the worst case of gallery envy I've had in a long time. Afterward they treated us to the Palace of Wonders, a burlesque club on H Street. Here's the Master of Ceremonies (from the balcony above)

In addition to sword swallowing, flame eating, and one particularly disturbing trick with a screwdriver, the act included a snake charmer who got about as intimate with two large boas as I'm sure the law allows. Here she is seen, again, from the balcony.
Bambino is not particularly fond of snakes, so he refrained from the post-show photoshoot with the writhing reptiles. Leigh and I, on the other hand, being art dealers, are not anywhere near so squeamish (I'll let you connect the dots as you please on that one):

We caught up with our friend Tyler later as well (always a informative treat!) who introduced us to Zola's, but we had an early start the next day, so we headed back to our friend Anne's in Virginia. Anne deserves a Medal of Honor for putting up with the international crew of revelers she hosted (of course, she instigated most of the silliness, so don't feel too sorry for her). Here's one of my favorite photos of the kind of maturity engaged in all weekend long (that's our friend Jo from London racing Bambino ... perhaps, it's just best not to ask):

It took us 2 hours to get from Anne's home to the Mall on Inauguration Day morning (a 20-minute trip normally). The Metro trains were so phenomenally crowded, we ended up taking one the opposite direction to the end of the line, just to get on one that would eventually head back in again. If you saw the photos of live images from the Capitol Building, then you know it was a sea of humanity in attendance. Here's what it looked like looking toward the Capitol:

Yes, that's can't actually see the Capitol in that photo (it's up there, about half a mile away)...welcome to our Inauguration Day experience! Again, though, there was a jamboree of Jumbotrons, and the audio was remarkably clear given how far we were from the swearing in ceremony:

I'd give Obama an A- on his speech (high praise from me, actually). It was truly inspiring and such a refreshing experience to hear the leader of the nation say things that didn't make me roll my eyes and impulsively feel the need to parse what I thought he surely must really have meant. The mini-panic I felt each time Bush used a metaphor was replaced by a profound sense of relief that here was an intellectually competent person about to take over running things. People cheered a number of times throughout the speech, but mostly the crowd simply nodded in thoughtful approval, often looking around to see confirmation in the response of those next to them these sensible things were indeed being uttered by the leader of the country.

Two points in particular made me incredibly happy we've elected this man. First was his assertion that the years of promoting a false dichotomy (between upholding our nation's values and keeping us safe from terrorism) are over ("As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals"). I've never believed we had to surrender our civil rights (or strict opposition to torture) to be collectively vigilant. In fact I've felt that the more rights we surrendered, the more we've essentially accepted being ordered to hand over the responsibility to stay calm and stay aware that I believe we all own. Bush never conscripted the entire nation into doing anything truly effective in fighting the so-called war on terror, and that was his single greatest failing as our President, and why we're still as vulnerable as we are. Terrorists should be weary of the people of a nation, not just its military.

Second was Obama's message to the leaders of other countries that their people would judge them by what they build, not by what they destroy ("To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy"). Those are the words from his speech most likely to reverberate and spread our ideals as we enter a new era of truly global interconnectedness, IMO. It's a measure we'll use to judge our own leaders from this point as well.

But there are months and years in which to see how those ideals are lived up to by the new President. He's in office and working hard already. I remain as hopeful as ever, despite the obvious challenges we all face. Besides, when all else fails, a man can always measure the success of his life by the love he feels toward and from his family and friends. I adore the friends we participated in history with this week, and as corny as it might sound, our trip to DC was extra special for us because we were there together. Here's the motely crew doing their best Eskimo impressions at the concert:

From left to right, back row, Anne (from Virginia [originally from Virginia]); Kevin (from Seattle [originally from London]); Ann (from Seattle [originally from Massachusetts]); yours truly; Gary (from London [originally from Scotland]); front row, Bambino (from New York [originally from Kyrgyzstan]); and Jo (from London [originally from Kent]).

Labels: Obama, politics


Blogger Donna Dodson said...

Thanks for sharing your photos on the blog and for bringing the experience home to your readers. Your photos remind me of the 2 or 3 times I've visited Washington DC for political marches and the overwhelming sea of people! I went down in the late 80's to march for women's rights and again in the early 90's to protest the war. But back to the present moment... I was very moved when the chief justice said 'Congratulations, Mr. President' at that moment it felt like we had won something big and historic. On that note, I was talking to my mom yesterday who said Obama's inauguration reminded her of JFK being sworn in and the hope he brought with him and the youthful ideals of a new way of thinking and a younger generation. I wish him the best!

1/22/2009 09:05:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

The pics with each of you in your furry hats and Obama in the background are keepers, true souvenirs to be cherished in the future.

As for me, the endless line of Porta Johns/Joans stretching out towards the Washington monument answered a minor question I had asked myself as I watched you all on TV.

Glad you had a good time.

1/22/2009 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger jec said...

Wasn't it wonderful? Well worth the crowds, long waits, freezing temps and all that walking (we were either walking or standing for 8 hours straight on Tuesday).

I got to see the concert up close (press pass put me up front, to the right of the stage) and cried through the whole thing. Even musicians I never particularly liked -- like Garth Brooks -- moved me. It was so beautiful to see 200,000 people of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, orientations and beliefs singing, dancing, cheering and crying together.

What an amazing experience.

1/22/2009 10:50:00 PM  

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