Saturday, January 24, 2009

Obama Inauguration, Freakie-Stylie-Like, Pt. 2

1/20/09, DAY THREE:

We knew we had to get up early, but we had also agreed that we wouldn't be getting up at 5 or 6 a.m. like the folks who were planning on standing in the cold all day. No, we figured we'd get to our all-day Obama party at 9:30 a.m., in time for the brunch that came with it. It was not easy for your narrator to get up at 7:30 a.m. Or to move quickly enough for her counterpart. I drank three glasses of water - which I should have drunk before going to bed - and managed to get myself together. Like trooper trained by New York City daytime-to-nighttime-can't-stop-at-home-and-change-16-hour-days/nights, I figured out the proper clothing that would keep me warm during the day and allow me to be stylin' at night. Black strapless dress w/hoodie on top, thick black tights, knee-high boots. The only thing missing was the right necklace....

Our host, Joe, offered to drive us in to wherever we were going because the news announced Metro delays. Apparently, by 7 a.m., the Mall was already full and hordes of people were backing everything up by trying to get in. Joe drove us back to U Street. We had started at U Street and kept going back. We fell in love with this area. The historic neighborhood, known for being the stomping ground of Duke Ellington and other jazz greats, was where we planned on spending most of our Inauguration Day. We bought advance tickets to an Inaugural party produced by Brightest Young Things, a party network in D.C. that gets both large and indie bands and artists together for mayhem. The mayhem would come later that night. Now, we just wanted to see President Obama and have a good breakfast.

We got to Bohemian Caverns, the site for the BYT Inaugural, and found things to be running a little late. I guess they should have had a little water before bed, too. No stress. I grabbed a seat and watched, along with the other early attendees, the events leading up to President Obama, while Vincent sprinted to the nearest drugstore to buy lots of newspapers commemorating the greatest event in my lifetime. The restaurant area of the joint, where we were watching on mega-screen and listening on super-mega-speakers (ouch!), was filling up fast. Still no brunch. After some more waiting, some more annoying Katie Couric nonsense (did she really say "visual image?"), and strange dealings with people who didn't know how to charge for brunch, I finally got my plate. Wait, who's that in line?? Someone from San Antonio? In the same place for the same purpose as me? Didn't think I'd see a fellow Gemini Ink writer out here, but that was crazy cool and made me that much more excited for the Inauguration. We said our hellos and then settled down to hear Katie Couric stifle it and let the main event happen.

The place was packed and everyone hushed as Diane Feinstein made her opening speech. We tolerated Rick Warren's prayer until his saucy pronunciation of "Sasha" - that made everyone bust out laughing. Aretha's hat brought on giggles, too. I LOVED it. Go, Aretha! We cheered when Biden was sworn in, mainly because we were getting closer. Vincent mused that we would have, for a few minutes, a President Bush and V.P. Biden. I dug the multicultural quartet of Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Montero and McGill. Everyone cheered loudly when Couric announced that, technically, Bush's term had expired at noon. Probably the best thing she said all morning/afternoon.

Finally, Obama was being sworn in! Here it was! Actually, happening! We all stood up in our little U Street space, just like the VIPs on TV. We laughed nervously when Obama tripped over the first words he had to repeat. He's human, after all. But he got through it, and we CHEERED! Couples were hugging each other. Tears of joy were flowing. Mimosas were tinkled together. We were cheering for a good five minutes, it seemed, only stopping when it was clear that he was starting his speech.

And then we listened.

And it was beautiful.

The way I see it, Obama welcomed both religious persons and atheists. He, in a diplomatic way, apologized to the nations we've taken advantage of in the past. He condemned greed and praised being a grateful community leader. He spoke eloquently and reminded us all that we do have grace and beauty in our United States; we just haven't valued it and promoted it in the ways that we should have. We were all so happy and so moved. We listened to every word, memorizing our favorite parts. Now how long has it been since we've listened to a U.S. president in that way? This was the first time in my lifetime. Heck, even Vincent, a New York cynic, was moved to man-tears (those are tears that well up but don't actually fall).

After Obama finished his speech, we all stood up again and cheered again! Of course, time to celebrate, but now I must bring in the pet peeve.

Very few folks in my vicinity listened to the poet Elizabeth Alexander. I've heard mixed reviews and, I suppose, she is no Maya Angelou, but she certainly is no Robert Frost (not to say Frost doesn't have his merits, but....). Regardless of what you thought of her words, I do think it is important that we give poets a little more respect in the U.S. I liked Alexander's words, even though in the poetry circles they might seem old news. It was important that she draw a picture that allows us to see all of our different faces, our different faces in terms of work and culture. How often do we remember that this is what the U.S. is? This is important to me because I still find students who do not understand the importance of acknowledging the experiences of U.S. people of different backgrounds or of the people who live near us in other countries.

Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery brought back the flavor that everyone seemed to want. He was great! Charming, clear, deep and with flair! I'ma hafta get me a copy of that prayer.

Vincent and I were glowing and didn't exactly know what to do with ourselves after the event was over, but we knew we weren't staying at Bohemian Caverns. We wanted to walk around D.C. before the concert and party that was part of our Inaugural package. We already had our silvery glitter bracelets that would allow us re-entry, so we took to the streets. An Internet cafe and a great necklace to go with my strapless dress were my objectives. Vinny wanted good music.

Can you believe that we didn't find one Internet cafe or one music store? Everything is "free wi-fi," of course, and we are guessing that music is just downloaded in D.C.? However, I did find a great art and jewlery shop. Dekka is in a walk-up and it occupies two floors. The speech had just ended and the cool Argentinian woman attending the store had already managed to mix the speech with some techno/house music which was pumping throughout the store. The walls were filled with very reasonably priced graffiti art and pop art; they have a very cool collection of vinyl records with Obama's image on them in contrasting bright colors. I would've bought one, but how to transport it back to San Antone in one piece? I concentrated on the one-of-a-kind jewelry and found a black and amber Cleopatra-like necklace that was just the right vibe. I spoke with the attendant in Spanish and we bonded on Obama and his image outside of the United States, which is VERY different than that of his predecessor. Vincent liked some of the music for sale, but wanted a larger selection; they just have choice tracks there and they are probably a little overpriced. Still, it was the only place we found music for sale. We said "Ciao!" to Dekka and the friendly owner, and moved on.

Moving on meant more walking, because we wanted to see every bit of everything. The architecture in D.C. is gorgeous and the people were all in good spirits, so the cold wasn't a big deal for us. We walked from U Street to Georgetown and decided to dig in some bookstores, which had to be good because they were close to the university. Well, they were. We went to Bridge Street Books and it had one of the largest poetry sections I'd ever seen in a book store. Usually, poetry gets a shelf. Bridge Street gives poetry several floor to ceiling shelves that take up a wall. It's clear that some of the books are for students, as they are labeled for specific classes, but a lot of the stuff would be appealing to all. They have great sections on Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and have the standards for anyone interested in cultural studies or political science. We love Bridge Street Books. I bought Sonia Sanchez's Homegirls and Handgrenades. There were so many things I could've bought for my dissertation and this seemed the most reasonable. We were digging for at least an hour.

After this, we wandered, peeking into windows and then decided to head back to U for dinner. There was an organic Italian restaurant that stood out to me. We'd eat, then head back to Bohemian Caverns for the concert/party. This was a long walk. A very long walk. But it was a very cool walk, too. At one point we found ourselves on New Hampshire Avenue and this street has embassies, fancy fraternity houses, and beautiful mansions where, apparently, many parties were being held. We tried not to stare as men in tuxes and women in long gowns and coats walked by. Interestingly, even the $3,000 ball people were in good spirits because they looked at us and smiled and threw a "good evening" out, here and there. It was a very interesting walk and I was surprised to see how close all of this was to U Street.

Vincent's hip was hurting and my leg was getting a little sore by the time we found the organic Italian. The restaurant's name is Coppi's and we did not know what we were in store for. Vincent and I shared the tortelline di castagne, which was plenty, and it had flavors that I didn't know existed or that could be combined in that fashion. Savory lamb sausage and sticky carmelized dates - mmmmmm! The warm, cozy restaurant was made that much cozier by the sweet waitstaff. Big fans of Coppi's.

It was around 9 or 10 p.m. when we got to the Brightest Young Things party, I think. They handed out Obama cupcakes and had four floors of young fun. The top floor had the coat check, VIP area and a photographer. The floor below that had the rowdier bands and DJs. The floor below that was the restaurant where we had watched the Inauguration in the morning/afternoon; there they played good music and still had the TV on. The cavern, the basement floor, is a work of art that reminds me of where Vincent and I got married. Everything is plaster art, with faces coming out of the walls and seating within little caves and such. There, the mellower bands played. We got to hear Love Language, Mixtape DJs, The Art of Junk and Team Facelift. We loved Love Language, Mixtape DJs and The Art of Junk. We even, at the invitation of the band, got on-stage and got funky with Art of Junk! Well, they asked just about everybody to get on-stage, so it wasn't that big a deal, really. :) Team Facelift, even though they were representing Brooklyn, got on our nerves. Uncreative frat boy music, methinks. I mostly enjoyed seeing all the clothing that was transformed into Obama gear. They were selling trendy Obama dresses with his image spray painted on them, but I was watching the budget.

Not sure if it was 2 or 3 a.m. when we decided we'd had enough. We'd walked all day and I danced for a good hour or so in da club, so we wanted to get some rest. We easily caught a cab to Joe's, took one last look at each other and smiled at our luck. Who would've thought that two artists like us would have been there? I had the best sleep. Obama's in the Black and White House sleep.

1/21/09, DAY FOUR:

I had homework to do. We got up late and had breakfast at noon at a chain place in the business district. Vincent and I were cranky that it was almost over. After breakfast, I went to the library because it was the only place I could find Internet access. I waited for a hour to be able to do my work for an hour on a limited-usage computer. I managed to get my response to Calvino (2 pages), my freewriting (a page) and my "in-class" writing assignment (don't remember the number of pages) all done with two minutes to spare. If you recall the last blog, my task was to write a sixth memo for the next millennium. The memos that Calvino wrote addressed what writers should do in their work, the qualities the best writing has. Calvino wrote of quickness, lightness, visibility and others. Vincent and Eric offered relevance and necessity. I liked their options, but I didn't like the words. I opted for a phrase, a phrase that President Obama has used in several speeches: Make it plain. I referred to the Gil Scott-Heron monologue where he states, after seeing some sort of fancy, elusive art, "Must be deep." I think that we've forgotten, in the search of being deep, that writing, and other art forms, should also "make it plain." I also wanted to use a phrase that is Black. An African American phrase, to be specific. In this way, I tied together my experience in D.C., my love of African American culture, and my love of writing. I had fun doing this assignment.

Vincent, in the meantime, found a place to purchase music: the library! They have great CDs for a dollar or less. He bought Herbie Hancock and something else, I forget. I was glad he got his fix in. :)

The Portrait Gallery and its connecting museums were just a few blocks away, so we decided to spend the rest of the day looking at portraits of supposedly important White people. It was the only museum that made me angry. Why are all the portraits so glum? Does importance mean depression? Laura Bush's was the only one with a smile and I can't stand her phony grin. Oh, well. Fortunately, it is connected to the American Art Museum and Reynolds Center, which was the only place I actually saw a significant amount of Latino work represented. Now, I only saw a miniscule fraction of D.C., so this isn't saying much. Still, I hope that in the future, I will be able to easily find more of the Latino side of the city. I've heard there is a significant Cuban population in D.C. and I'd like to see how the Afro-Latino pop. is represented. Nonetheless, we love the Reynold's Center, with its neon exhibits and flickering monitor walls.

Can you believe the trip hasn't ended?? It was so jam-packed, it's hard to get it all down. Okay, we took a breather in Chinatown, which was around the corner from the museums, and there we met a friendly restaurant bartender who told us that he pretty much slept in the restaurant for the past week and didn't eat much between serving patrons. We thanked him and all of D.C. for doing such a good job. After some hot sake, we braved the cold again and walked through the Howard University area to get back to U.

Ethiopian food was the goal, because one of my profs said it is excellent in D.C., but those restaurants were too full. Instead, we went to Indulj, where we had Southern-style tapas. That's right. And to our delight, a live jazz band, Pete Muldoon and friends, was playing. This was unexpected and a perfect final act. I was having so much fun, I bought my dad an Obama tie from one of the patrons. I'm not sure if he liked it.

We headed back to Joe's to sleep for a few hours before a 6 a.m. flight - ugh! I don't remember much about the flight except that U.S. Airways charges $2 for any sort of drink and the attendants are rude. One last airport image does stay with me, though: McCain items on clearance.


(If you want to see the BYT pictures they have on their site, click here. Not for the faint of heart.)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama Inauguration, Freakie-Stylie-Like, Pt. 1

1/18/09, DAY ONE:

Vincent and I, wearing our warmest gear, excitedly took Frontier Airlines to Denver, Colorado, and then quickly switched planes to head for Washington, D.C. First of all, Frontier Airlines still offers free drinks and your first piece of checked luggage is free, although we didn't check anything. Frontier rocks. They were on-time and efficient, which allowed everyone on the plane to revel in the great mood we all shared. I did most of my assigned reading for class on the plane (Six Memos for the Next Millennium), but the electric energy made it hard to concentrate.

One of the airline attendants started some call and response with us, asking, "Where you headed?"

"D.C.!" we shouted.

"To see who?"

"Obama!" we shouted back. We all applauded and cheered when the plane landed (although, that's nothing new for Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, but I digress). Even though it was 10 p.m. when we arrived, we were all amped.

A quick Metro ride got Vincent and me to the Petworth neighborhood, where our humble host, Joseph, picked us up and drove us to his home. Yes, we were two of the thousands who were staying in a "stranger's" home. Joseph was really nice, but being the paranoid Latina that I am, I couldn't sleep the first night. Not only was I worried that I might be ax murdered and I hadn't showered, but I was also anticipating seeing old friends, checking out the city, and singing, "Ding, Dong, the wicked bitch is dead," at noon two days later. I let my imagination go to ridiculous extremes until about 3 a.m., when I finally got some needed rest.

1/19/09, DAY TWO:

Vincent was starving by the time we got up. I got ready in record time, but that didn't make things easier when we got to our desired U Street neighborhood. Damn, was everything packed! I didn't care, but Vincent was ravenous. I made jokes and looked at all the beautiful D.C. people. All the ladies had their hair done, men were wearing furs, we saw preppy men in bow ties and lots of beautiful textured hair in locks and thick curls the colors of honey and paprika. I saw one blonde tourist in heels without hosiery and wondered how long that would work for her in 20 degree weather, but she looked like Blair on the 1st season of The Facts of Life, so I guess that made up for it. Everyone was stylin' to the point of camp and I loved it!

We decided to wait in line at Creme, on U Street, one of the only places that was open and serving breakfast. We waited about half an hour, but it was totally worth it. I had the Chesapeake (eggs benedict with mouth-watering crab) and Vincent had the hearty chicken and waffles. We made friends with the couple next to us - it was crowded, okay - and they offered us good advice on where to go and how to get around.

Next, I called Papi - it was his birthday on MLK Day, so I had to send some love. I left a message for Onome, and called Eric and Richard, old Kenwood acquaintances. The guys had just woken up and said they'd call back when they were ready to hang.

Vincent and I decided to head toward where the action would be taking place the next day: the Mall. We took lewd pictures of the Washington Monument, which isn't the most original thing to do, but we couldn't resist. Afterward, we wandered into the sculpture garden and found that Joan Miro had answered the Washington Monument's presence with a sculpture of his own. I'll just say that it is a more feminine version of what the Monument represents.

Our ultimate goal was the African Art Museum, which was excellent. Now, there's something you need to know about the Smithsonian Museums - they are crazy. You will get lost. You will be underground and then all of a sudden find yourself in another museum. But it will be a great museum! After looking at ancient art from the Congo, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Egypt, Madagascar, Kenya, Malawi, and Ethiopia, among others, we wandered into a few modern African American exhibits, one of which featured the work of our friend Leslie Hewitt! We were so surprised to see her there, and totally delighted! Goooo, Leslie!

The last treat was wandering into the exhibit titled, After 1968: Contemporary Artists and the Civil Rights Legacy. This photography exhibit compiles historical images of marches, riots, violence and unity within the civil rights movement in the United States. In addition to the historical photos, we also see an experimental look at African Americans in advertising, sans the logos, which creates a haunting effect and starkly shows how color is displayed for profit.

After seeing wall after wall of these images, which came right after sculptures of kings and queens in Africa, and the sweet, generational work of our friend, I felt very privileged to be in Washington, D.C. during this unique time. More importantly, I felt honored to be sharing this experience with so many beautiful people of all ages: children just born, abuelitas, men and women, young students. What an education for me! How blessed am I!

I emerged from the humid underground vaults of knowledge overwhelmed with information and ideas, and anxious to see what would come next.

After reaching daylight, Vincent and I checked the phone and realized that we missed a call or two. We got in contact with Eric and agreed to meet at the Lincoln Memorial, which I had never seen. When we tried to get close, we realized that just wasn't going to happen. It was as crowded as everywhere else. School groups, church choirs, Bears fans (Chicago in da house!) and all sorts of folks were excitedly running around. We took distant pictures and through a series of calls and texts, found Eric and Richard by the Port-A-Potties. Ah, how poetic!

I cannot describe how strange it is to see someone after so many years. You have an almost indelible image of the person as a child, and here he/she is, with grey hair, or with a mature physique that no longer implies, "I haven't gone through puberty yet!" What differences do they see in me, I'm still left wondering.

We all introduced/reintroduced ourselves and agreed to find food and drink, not necessarily in that order. It was somewhere around dusk and the light was quickly fading, which meant it was getting colder. However, Richard, who works for the Environmental Protection Agency, was our reluctant guide because he has only been in D.C. for a year, not much less than Vincent and I have been in San Antonio. We ended up using Eric's iPhone and Richard's instincts to get to Georgetown. It was a long walk, but Vincent and I really enjoyed it. I am NOT joking about this. San Antonio is not a walking city and we desperately wish it were.

We ate at a pub and the wine was amazing. My steak was too big and Eric ended up taking the portion I didn't eat, even though he'd already eaten a rack of ribs. I think all our walking made up for this. Dinner conversation was fine, but what I remember most is that we all have significant others who are younger than us. My cougar tendencies are mild. Vincent is only four years younger. Eric's wife is five years younger. Richard beats us all, even if we combine the years, okay? What's up with Kenwood people? Is there Viagra in Harold's Chicken or what?

Drinks kept pouring at Mie N Yu, a swanky club/restaurant, where lots of tourists were drunk and bragging about Oprah staying at their hotel or Larry King or some other VIP. A couple of 40-something blondies were interviewed by a local station and nearly fell on the floor, girls-gone-wild-style. This was one of my favorite parts of the evening.

And then I realized, the Inauguration is just a big, freaky party for nerds. Obama has made it a little more glamorous than usual, but boy were these rich people partying. Not a lot of his modest vision was happening on 1/19. Everyone would need some sobering up the next day, I thought. But not at the time. At the time, I had one of the sweetest brandies in my life. Vincent and Richard followed my liquid lead, and this led to talks about the paper I had to write - would my sixth memo for the new millennium (which is supposed to address a virtue that all writing should have) be an attempt at consistency (which author Calvino neglected to write), or necessity (Vincent's word), or relevance (Eric's word). I didn't have to decide over brandy, or over the perfect three olive martini that was coming next.

By the second olive, the guys were exchanging lewd jokes. I must say that one of my mami's jokes, about Bush being given an indigenous name by a tribe, made it into the mix, which I thought would please her. All of a sudden, we noticed the bar was emptying and this brought home why we were there. We had to get up early the next day! Or, later, actually!

We quickly said our good-byes and grabbed cabs. Time to rest and get ready for the moment that I never thought I'd ever see. Why was I so lucky? And why was I so thirsty for water??


(For pictures of my trip, befriend me on Facebook.)