Monday, January 19, 2009

Inaugurating the Inauguration

So here we are in DC with both kids in a gorgeous house that, as the 11-year-old said, "outclasses ours." We're staying with a really interesting couple - Bob, a military historian, and Kate, who is all over the internet for grilling Bush on foreign policy. They're swapping with us in the summer, so now I am anxious to fix the place up before July when they stay over.

We arrived yesterday in the afternoon after a five hour drive that was not too bad, considering we were in a car with two kids. I know there is an American romance about family car trips, but in my mind, being trapped in a car for several hours over several days with kids on a highway is DEATH. But there were no meltdowns, no whiny declarations of boredom, no property struggles over the back seat, not even demands to use the bathroom. About the only incident was that we couldn't find a bathroom when we stopped in Old New Castle too early at 9:30, but a nice lady at Jessop Tavern let us in, telling us that she was going to the inauguration too the next day.

Our hostess Kate had said that parking was okay on Saturday, but when we arrived, Eastern Market was in full swing and there was not a space to be had. After driving around for a while, Bob called to check on our progress and we decided to unload the car first. The kids made a beeline to the fusbol table and they probably would've been happy thwacking the ball back and forth all afternoon, but I told them to bundle up for the concert at Lincoln Memorial.

Kate, who was already at the Memorial, had told Bob that it wasn't too crowded yet when we first arrived at the house, but as we made our way to the metro, we found ourselves in a gathering crowd that just continued to gather as we got off at Smithsonian and made our way towards the Lincoln Memorial. We didn't get too far past the Monument - the Memorial looked like a toy house way way way off in the distance. Two jumbotrons were about half a mile away, which I could occasionally see if I danced around the tall people in front of us. Marcelo started to complain that he couldn't see anything and spent most of the concert acting bored, despite Matthew's attempts to interest him in the event. It didn't help that he didn't know most of the celebrities, so he spent most of his time trying to balance on a rock.

Bruce Springsteen kicked things off with a rather blah song that no one recognized and the event continued with a roster of celebrities - Stevie Wonder, Forrest Whitaker, Tom Hanks,Tiger Wood, Bono, Beyonce - with a few unusual picks - Laura Linney, Jack Black, Rosario Dawson. Since I couldn't see anything, I ended up listening more intently to the speakers. Surprisingly, the most passionate and clear-speaking star was Samuel L. Jackson, who spoke about Rosa Parks' accidental heroism really beautifully. Tom Hanks' speech about Lincoln was the most unwittingly hilarious. It was punctuated by something that sounded like the Star Wars soundtrack. Dancing around the tall people, I realized this sound track had to do with some images that were being projected, but if you couldn't see anything, it sort of sounded like, "Lincoln was a quiet and melancholy man..." (Cue ominous sounding music...) dah dah DAH DAH!

Much mention was made of the Civil Rights Movement, and the holy trinity of politician acronyms - MLK, FDR and JFK. People wove back and forth through the crowd, hoping to find some place where they could see and be more part of the action. Where we were, the mood was definitely excited but no one was really moved. The grass was cold to stand on and no one could see anything and thirty years of cuts in arts funding in schools has left a lot of people not knowing any American folk songs or having any central social connection. The songs that most people knew were Lean on Me, Shout and American Pie, though my teenage son didn't know Shout at all, and only knew American Pie through something taught in math to remember the value of pi that went Pi, pi, mathematical pi, three point one four one five nine... so that's what he sung instead. Garth Brooks was the one who sang both Shout and American Pie, so unexpectedly, Garth rocked the concert.

The most exciting singer, though, was Bono, but not so much for what he sang, but for his chutzpah in saying, "This is not just an American Dream, but an Irish dream, a European dream, an Israeli dream... and a Palestinian dream!" There was a pause between his mention of Israel and his mention of Palestine, which Matt and I later agreed made you think how awful it would be if he left it at an Israeli dream. The crowd went wild.

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