Saturday, January 17, 2009

Inauguration Interlude (1)

It felt a bit like Barcelona today.

I was in the capital of Catalonia in the summer of 1992 during the Olympics. I'd managed to get a ticket to some 100 meter heats. But what I most remember was the sense of camaraderie among the throngs wandering the streets at all hours as the games unfolded. I'd lived in Barcelona for a year in 1987-88 and been back for long stretches so I knew the city well. But those few weeks in 1992 somehow felt different.

I was reminded of that feeling as we walked down Pennsylvania Avenue today, past the White House, heading towards the Capital---taking it all in before Tuesday (a sort of calm before a pleasant storm if you will). And I was struck by, yes, how many people of color I saw. African American families, Asians, Latinos, looking like they were on their respective family holidays---digital cameras and cam corders in hand, strollers (which will be prohibited on the Mall come Tuesday, for security reasons), mostly everyone wearing hats and gloves.

At one point, to get warm, we wandered into The Willard and slipped into the Round Robin Bar. Bill had "The Harrison" (warm apple brandy); I had "Winter Therapy" (steamed Bailey's), and Marlene the "Sugarplum Toddy." Because it was only Saturday, I imagine, it wasn't at all crowded, though the people sitting at the adjoining small tables were clearly from out of town. We were there for about an hour. I took a moment to return a phone call and spent a bit of time talking with Peter Ramos, who shared with me some great news: Roberto Tejada's next book of poetry had been recently accepted by Wesleyan University Press.

As we wandered out of the Round Robin into the hotel lobby we stopped for a moment at a large TV screen: Obama was about to speak in Baltimore---one of his stops today on his historic train ride from Philadelphia. There was a couple standing next to me, middle-aged, who were in town from New Mexico and would be attending the inauguration; they'd landed tickets from their senator. I mentioned to them how much I liked Santa Fe, Madrid, Albuquerque. I lament that I didn't get their names. Warm words, nevertheless, exchanged.

We continued down Pennsylvania, past the Newseum, until we finally found ourselves standing behind a low partition, oh, about 100 yards from the platform where the swearing in would be taking place. There was a huge jumbotron screen off to the right broadcasting a college basketball game in high definition. Workers were setting in place what looked to be the final chairs for those with tickets. Again, there was a healthy throng of visitors milling about, taking pictures, looking back to glimpse the monument three miles away.

We continued our trek and made our way past the Capital dome, on the right, and walked behind it to stroll across the area where a helicopter, on Tuesday, will land and take the 43rd president up and away and out of our collective hair, the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress just beyond.

Pennsylvania Avenue continues, and down it we went till we got to Mr. Henry's on Capital Hill. We went in and had an early supper, after which we boarded the Metro at Eastern Market to catch the orange line back to Arlington.

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