I’ve gotten so many emails over the past day or so asking me about my experience in DC for the inaugural that I decided just to write up a little bit of how it was for us. It’s bound to be full of typos, and I have no intention of editing or even rereading it, so feel free, as usual, to delete if you have no interest in tales of my dinner with Daniel Buolud, my view of Aretha Franklin’s hat, and the inefficacy of hand and foot warmers after 9 hours in the freezing cold.
Our trip to Washington started out in the paradigmatic way of all family excursions. We were shafted by United Airlines. I won’t go into the details, but suffice it to say that the end result was two different routes, and me weeping in the Chicago airport until the gate agent took pity and hustled me down the jet way to the plane. Her instruction to “take any empty seat” did not, alas, include the flatbed in First Class.
I did make it to DC in time to hear Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road ensemble play what I think might have been one of my favorite concerts of all time. Perhaps it was the burbling good will in the room, the joy of the occasion, the company (I sat with my friends Rachel Goslins and Julius Genachowski, who got me the ticket), but the ensemble seemed downright inspired. Especially the blue-haired lady with the weird bag-pipey thing.
The next morning we slept through our tour of the Air & Space Museum, alas, but made it to our noon appointments. Michael refused to attend the Harvard Law School brunch with me (I wonder why) and took the kids with him to the Newseum. where he was one of the readers of the Constitution for the video they make every inauguration. Presumably they’ll post it here at some point.
I had a nice time at the brunch, saw many classmates, a surprising number of whom look strangely middle-aged. So middle-aged that the next time I looked in the mirror I nearly collapsed. Because it turns out I look that old, too! How did that happen? I hadn’t noticed at all.
Highlights were definitely seeing Derrick Bell and Martha Minow, two of my favorite professors. Lowlight? My 5-inch Chloe boots. Which looked fabulous but nearly crippled me.
After the brunch I walked most of the way to the Lincoln Memorial (in stocking feet, in subfreezing weather, with aforementioned boots slung over my shoulder) where Michael and the kids had staked out awesome seats for the inaugural concert. This event, which we nearly didn’t bother to go to, was without a doubt the highlight of our trip. The six of us were dancing madly to U2, shrieking the lyrics to American Pie (why not have Don McLean sing it himself?), and hyperventilating with hysterical tears at the sight of Pete Seeger and Bruce Springstein singing This Land is Your Land. They sang every verse Woody Guthrie wrote. Even the Commie Pinko Wobbly ones.
After it was over, we made our way back to the hotel, the last part of the trek in a pedicab, the driver of which seemed entirely unphased by packing 6 people into his cab and schlepping them up a series of every steeper roads. His calf muscles were the size of basketballs.
That night Michael and I went to the National Finance Committee thank you party, which was basically a room full of people drinking, hugging, and trying to rub up against Rahm Emanuel. That got old fast, so we miraculously found a taxi to take us to Joan Nathan’s house where the chefs coming in to cook the Art.Food.Hope dinners were being feted. There was a lamb roasting on a spit, sausages that must have been flown in from the BBQ pit in the Elysian Fields, and the world’s most astonishingly delicious chocolate chip cookies, to name but a microscopic portion of the meal. Zeke (age 11) took it upon himself to work the cheese table, directing guests to the blue, which he said was the tastiest. I had a delightful conversation with Tom Colicchio, during which I complained about the corporate sponsorship of Top Chef and he reminded me that it was television, and sponsorship was sort of key to the whole thing. The “you idiot” was implied but understood. He’s actually a super sweet guy and wrote a nice note to Rosie and Abe who had stayed behind at the hotel in the company of a babysitter.
Highlights of this evening? Hanging out with Rachel and Julius (see above), chatting with Rachel Maddow, whom I would like to marry (but for husband and four children fouling the works), and meeting the charming and adorable Ezra Klein. Lowlight? Being unable to cram another wafer-thin morsel into my mouth despite understanding the value of the chocolate chip cookies. I will dream of every cookie I didn’t eat, and berate myself accordingly.
Next day the kids and Michael went to the museum after having lunch with my brother Paul and their cousins, and I went to help prep the event at the Phillips Gallery, which was gorgeous even before Alice Waters worked her magic. Truly inspired and lovely.
Then tea at Rachel’s house with a group of charming women, and quick change into inspired Lanvin cocktail dress lent for the occasion by the lovely Lisa Brown.
Then on to a magnificent Art.Food.Hope dinner at the home of Marian and Stuart Lemle, cooked by none other than Daniel Boulud. Marian had turned the house into an entirely sustainable wonderland, with lights and centerpieces to die for. And Daniel’s food. My god. I can’t do it justice. Suffice it to say that after dessert and candies were over, I tasted a madeleine that finally made me understand what Proust was nattering on about. Chef Daniel himself is delightful and charming, and if you ever have the opportunity to have him whip up dinner in your kitchen and roast a lamb in your fireplace you should definitely take him up on it. (HAHAHAHAHAHA). Aren’t you sorry you didn’t take me up on my invitation to join us for Art.Food.Hope? We raised a very nice sum for DC Central Kitchens and Martha’s Table, and talked food policy and environmental policy and inaugural gowns until 11:30, when we promptly made a frantic dash across town to the Huffington Post party, which we arrived at just as the last of the guests were being pushed out the door. None other than Will.i.am told us we were too late.
This was only the first of many many events for which we had invitations but didn’t manage to get to. The Blue Diamond Ball. The West Ball. The Home States Ball. The Neighborhood Ball. We missed Jackson Browne, and JLo, and the Dead, and Beyonce, and the Beastie Boys, Sheryl Crow, Citizen Cope, and Justin Jones Kory, De La Soul, Santogold, and Moby and on and on and on. But it was freezing, the crowds were huge, and there was just too much to do.
Did I mention it was freezing? My God. That bitter cold was honestly the thing I’ll remember most. The tears froze on my cheeks. And trust me, I spent a lot of time crying.
The next day was the big day. The reason we’d come. Inauguration Day. Somehow we’d manage to trick our friends Andy and David and Julie and Ryan into agreeing to take the kids to the parade so we wouldn’t have to brave the crowds with them. We began working our way from our hotel to the Capital at around 8. By 9:30 and through the Herculean efforts of yet another pedicab, we made it to the “Purple” gate. Ah the Purple gate. The torments and tribulations of the Purple Gate. Our tickets were Purple, supposedly better than silver, not as good as the Orange seated tickets, and definitely not as good as the podium, which seemed reserved by and large for friends of Dianne Feinstein (including a fair number of folks who had been, well, ambivalent about Barack’s victory. But whatever. Post-Partisan blah blah blah). We didn’t rate seated Orange tickets (boo hoo) but we had our Purple. And we were very very lucky. We were in a massive crowd for about an hour while we waited for the gate to open, but then we got in. Thousands of Purple people, including people who’d been working and raising money for Barack from the beginning, and people who’d paid for the $10,000 special seats, never made it out of the Purple Tunnel of Doom. Read all about the horror here.
I must admit to being mildly (or not so mildly) furious about some folks who spent a lot of time trashing Barack in the press sitting close enough to read the spine of the Lincoln Bible, and others who sweat blood for two years spending the inauguration ceremony crammed into a tunnel by overwhelmed DC Police, but we were lucky, and we’re grateful, and my revenge (known only to myself and, well, to five thousand of my immediate friends and family) will be to never donate to certain politicians ever again. (Ha! See how it feels when you don’t get that $100 dollar check from me).
But as I said, we were lucky and we were in the huge mob, crammed shoulder to shoulder, jubilantly cheering. Highlight? A voice behind me saying, “87-year-old woman, coming through.” There was absolutely no way to make room for her, we were jammed like toes in a too-tight stiletto heel, but we somehow managed to clear a path so that this woman, born in the early 1920s, when they still lynched people who looked like her, who survived Jim Crow, who took part in the civil rights movement, could inch her way closer to the front of the crowd so that she could see her president take the oath of office.
Ah the oath. Roberts, hamstrung by his inability to speak a sentence with a split infinitive, managed to screw up the most important moment in the lives of millions. Does it show a profound lack of respect? Or just a profound case of nerves? I suppose your opinion might depend on whether you think Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 was wrongly decided. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, in the same spirit that led me to stop singing Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye after a single verse. Encouraged by the generous woman standing near me to be Barack-like and magnanimous, I sang only in my heart.
Of the poem I will say only this. Why oh why do poets insist on reading in that “poet-speak?” Too bad they didn’t ask Michael to do it. He would have rocked the house (and yes, he writes poetry, too).
We then made our way through the souk of hideous inaugural souvenirs, many of which I bought just because, well, they were there, and I’ll always regret not buying more of them at the Convention. We worked our way to the parade route, where we found our kids and our friends FREEZING. They’d been there for hours. Hours and hours. Finally, we couldn’t stand it anymore and convinced a kindly Secret Service agent to move aside the gates and usher us across Pennsylvania Avenue (a violently shivering child howling that he can’t feel his feet can, it turns out, accomplish anything) and into the medic’s tent. Sophie, Zeke and I ran out in time to see Michelle in her gorgeous yellow dress, and President Barack Obama (yes, I cry whenever I say those words out loud) walking up the street in the bitter cold. Zeke even managed to exchange a wave with Barack.
That night we put on our glorious outfits -- my fabulous Vera Wang gown was a loaner from the marvelous Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis -- and headed first to George Steven’s house for a lovely party, during which I talked to Yo Yo Ma for long enough to feel lightheaded, and then to the Google party. We’d heard the balls were deadly. Too many people, nothing to eat, cash bar. Michael really didn’t want to go, and I’d been so wrong about the parade that I agreed to give them a miss. I’m a little disappointed, but it was great to reward Julie, Ryan, Andy and David for their superhuman kid-wrangling efforts with tickets to the West Ball. And reports of the Home State Ball were pretty grim. But still, I wish we’d gone, and I anticipate the imminent arrival of false memories attesting to my presence at all three balls to which we were invited.
And there it is. 2 and a half seconds after he was sworn in, Barack suspended Bush’s last-minute frenzy of regulations. Since then he’s signed orders ending torture and closing Guantanamo. He’s instituted lobbying rules. He’s made a series of ever more brilliant appointments. Honestly, it feels like an Onion headline, “Democrat Elected, World Changes.”
And for me? No more organizing for a while. No more spreadsheets. A return to my work and to my kids. But honestly, folks, have you ever been so happy? I will never forget the sight of two people standing side by side: a middle-aged black woman in a fine-looking hat, and a scruffy hipster who’d spent the last year volunteering for the campaign. They were both crying.