Leonardo"s Notebook by Mattheus Mei

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Inauguration Week Redux

Providentially my computer broke down towards the beginning of my stay in DC. In fact I only got in one post on Sunday/Monday about the potential for various dinners while staying in Old Towne Alexandria.

I say Providentially because I know that I would not spend much time in the District and stead stay holed up (albeit warm) in the house blogging and obsessively surfing the Internet and checking e-mail (as of yesterday after fixing the laptop I had over 100 e-mails in both my personal account and the mattheusmei@gmail.com account. Needless to say it's been a chore going through and sifting the messages (don't get me wrong I appreciate the mail, but still). At any rate.

So last week, obviously the crowning of the week was, Tuesday, but the other days were jammed pack full of fun and excitement. Monday night we went to one of those infamous "Georgetown Cocktail Parties." I slurped down dirty vodka martinis and munched on various non South Carolina hors d'oeuvres. I spent most of the time talking with two gents - one Gabor Steingart, and Clifford Block. Gabor is the Senior Correspondent in Washington DC for Der Spiegel, and Clifford works in the Berkley, CA area for NutritionQuest.
Wednesday I got to spend some QT with a dear friend who works in nonprofits, we had lunch at Proof. After that I spent the afternoon in the National Portrait Gallery. The Gallery had only recently obtained this infamous Shepard Fairy original.
Unfortunately the Stephen Colbert painting had been moved. After wandering around the entire museum late in the afternoon I met up with my friend's wife who was at her office and couldn't join us for lunch.

Thursday was a whirlwind day when I went to the mall and the American History Museum to get a glimpse of the Stephen Colbert painting which, appropriately or not, was across from the Dumbo exhibit. It's then that I got caught up in the mix of the pro life march. Just an observation, what a white bread crowd. I agree with them mostly, but it was strange to see a crowd of mostly high schoolers and elderly and practically all white. The day before my friend who I lunched with cynically remarked that most of the kids were there to get out of school for a couple of days. I don't know if that's the case for all or even most though I'm sure there was some joy by more than a few hapless teens to get the hell out of dodge as they say. After glimpsing the iconic Colbert I headed up the metro to meet a college friend, who now works for a defense contractor, for lunch. He had a head cold (which in retrospect probably explains my own cold more so than the exposure to the weather)
Later that afternoon after a brief respite, I met up with a seminarian friend of mine - one of the few persons of colour, that I noticed - involved in the Pro-Life March along with some brothers of his. We walked to an Irish bar in Chinatown (yeah I know) and had a few beers. Afterwards I had to meet up with PS and our hosts and some other friends for our final dinner at Bombay Club.

But you're not here for all those activities, you want to know about Tuesday I'm sure. The few tweets that got out that day can't begin to paint the picture of what it was like to experience Inauguration Day. It was so cold my phone actually froze and kept cutting off. It had a full charge when we left the house but the frigid temperatures actually zapped the juice out of it and ultimately I gave up on what was becoming a futile effort and just enjoyed the day.

We got a relatively late start on Tuesday morning. Considering that lines were forming at the Metros as soon as they opened at 4:30 and just as large of crowds were already filling the mall before even the dawn's early light (heh). We made it to the metro around 8:30ish and only had to skip two trains before hopping on the yellow line to head into the district. And while the metro wasn't packed to Bombay's standard - as one friend noted - it was crowded enough to not want to get on if you suffer anxiety disorder. I had to keep my eyes focused on PS or my right arm for most of the ride myself just to keep from feeling to claustrophobic. We were already aware of certain closures for security purposes. We had initially planned to get off at L'Enfant plaza, unfortunately the operator announced that the crowds were too thick at that stop that they literally couldn't fit anyone else on the platform as the lines were slow as people were being deposited into a secure area already overflowing with even more people. So we got off at the next stop which was Chinatown.

We maneuvered from entrance to entrance, only to find amazingly thick crowds milling about organizing into, not lines but, waves in an effort to get onto the mall. It was at the entrance to the mall closes to Ford's Theater (yeah these waves "lined up as far as four large city blocks away from the mall to get in). At this point in time it was decided, and pretty much confirmed by the movement of the crowds and the directives of the security that the entrances all the way to the Washington Monument were overwhelmed with people trying to get in. This was at 9:30 AM.
Approaching the entrance to the mall several blocks away on 19th street near H street.

So we headed away from the mall and as the crowd began to thin, relatively, and began the long trek down the mall past the Washington Monument towards 19th street. As we approached what was our entrance point the crowds became as thick as honey, and just as sweet. Cheers would erupt spontaneously along the route, and it made me chuckle when I heard what sounded like a shofar, in the distance. Upon closer examination it was a little kid blowing on a horn, but not a shofar. The pictures I tried to take do the crowds no justice. The camera just couldn't pick up the depth and scope of this sea of happy humanity. As I said you could feel the emotion in the air. The frustrations along with the hope. At one point as we were approaching the mall I heard children singing. Yeah children singing, angelic and sweet, gushy I knnooowwww.

We worked ourselves around a frozen Constitution Gardens Lake where people were - foolishly methinks - walking on the Ice around towards the Lincoln Memorials long reflection pool - also iced over. I'm not sure that I can accurately paint the picture of just how cold it was that day. Granted I'm a South Carolinian and we wear fleece pull overs and jackets as soon as it drops below 55 degrees. At this point we could still move forward towards the Washington Monument even as you looked back and saw that the Lincoln Memorial itself was filling with folks. The authorities had Jumbotrons placed intermittently up and down this portion of the mall and apparently even beyond the national obelisk. We decided to move forward as we already began planning our route of exit as the crowds swelled around us.


We moved up to the World War II memorial. This was my first time seeing this monument. It was very nice and actually rather practical as folks were sitting on it's steps, had crawled up its ramparts found seats on it's pedestals. It's here we found a space near enough to a jumbotron. The crowd was very responsive to what was being shown on the jumbotron as well as to the sounds from the mall around. At one point in time a loud cheer went out as the motorcade began its seemingly slow approach to the capitol up Pennsylvania Avenue. Then there was the loud resounding *thud*thud*thud* of gloved hands as Colin Powell appeared on the screen. It was like a low rumble of thunder that became louder as it the clapping spread from the Capitol end of the Mall to us.

The entire ceremony and ritual was beautifully orchestrated and performed. Diane Feinstein was an excellent speaker and in the cold listening intently, because that's what you do to keep your mind of the cold, I can tell if she runs for Governor of California - she'll do well, though I hope she stays in the Senate. Then came Rick Warren's peculiar prayer where the way he emphasized the names of the Obama children came across... well, it just seemed peculiar. Then Aretha came forward and had nearly everyone around me in tears of ecstasy. And on that note of tears I should say that several times throughout the morning I came near tears as I was emotionally overwhelmed by the crowds and collective emotions of the city. As funny as it sounds I've never felt so intune with the emotions of a crowd in the way that I did that morning. But I digress.

After Aretha came Joe Biden's swearing in which elicited an eruption of cheers and cries of joy from the crowd which were only bested by the swearing in of his commander in chief after the musical interlude arranged by John Williams. I managed to capture the swearing in and a portion of the reactions for Barack Obama on my camera's video option. It's dizzying to watch but sums up the crescendo of emotion for the day - indeed the collective catharsis of the past 8 years.

The crowd fell silent after nearly exhausting itself cheering and listened intently to the President give his inaugural address.
Others with more schooling have analysed the speech enough already, needless to say my own reaction is we finally have a President who people want to listen to what he has to say. Who challenges and engages people as opposed to talking at them. I spent my formative years in the cocoon of Cheraw, SC and my impressionable young adulthood under the heel of the Bush-Cheney axis, for me it was a totally new experience, and to have one that does it so eloquently and poetically. I read a review of that very post modern prose poem delivered by Elizabeth Alexander after Obama's address. Suffice it to say the image is telling in so many ways when the poem for the inauguration is more prose and less poetry than the address given by the President. It was during Ms. Alexander's speech that our crowd began heading towards the road.

We walked around the Tidal Basin up the 14th street ramp onto 395, across the Potomac to the GW Memorial Pkwy. As we crossed the Potomac another large rumble from the crowd arose and we looked off to the north and saw why -- George and his entourage aboard Marin 1 were flying to Andrews to depart from DC. Around the waterfowl sanctuary where all manner of Canadian Geese and terrorist mallard live plotting to bring down the planes of the nearby by Reagan National Airport. And finally to the airport where we opted instead of riding the metro which was by this time already slammed packed (reports were being twittered of lines 100 people deep just to get on ). We hopped in a cab went back to old towne, got a quick lunch and I quickly passed out from exhaustion. I'll always remember that day and look forward to telling my descendants about it.

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