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.)


Toro said...


You did a fabulous job charting our Inauguration adventure. You got everything in except...

My famous shave. Immediately after leaving the Bohemian Caverns following Obama's speech, we went a half block down the street to a very local barbershop. The barber and his two friends were very friendly and charging. One of the men was telling us about the legendary Ben's Chili Bowl. He asked us if we went, and wetold him we weren't about to wait 2 hours for a bowl of chili, no matter how good it tastes. He said that wasn't the problem. The real problem, he said, is that you give them a 20 dollar bill and you only get 4 dollars back. Now that's just a sin.

The barber, who has had the place for almost fifty years, showed me a thing or two about shaving my head and face. We joked with him and his two friends some more, mostly about the prices of things during the inauguration. The barber's one friend coined a term, saying they were charging "Obama prices." We shared DC, Chicago, and NY stories, and then I paid for the shave... 19 dollars! I guess he too, was charging "Obama prices." But the experience and the company was well worth it.

Then we head back up to U Street, where we stopped in Dekka...

Grisel said...

I knew I'd leave something out. Too much to grasp. I loved the clean close shave moment and felt a little bad that I was invading boy territory, but happy to see my honey get all cleaned up. He looked fine! Still does. Always will.

And I believe Vincent meant "friendly and charming" but given the Obama prices, "charging" wasn't too far off.

Anonymous said...

Aw man, I was hoping someone would blog an account of their experience around the inauguration but to get it from you guys?!?!? That was really cool! I felt like I was there! This really is a treat for those of us who couldn't make it. Thank you so so so much Grisel. Now at least I have some memories around what was happening over there, even if they are not mine, they were seen through the eyes of two of my favorite people in the world!!! That gives me ownership, at least just a little bit. ;)

Love you guys,
Bobby DeJesus

Grisel said...

Glad you liked it, Bobby!