Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oh Happy Day

What a great and historic day. It felt great to be alive and great to live in the United States. We got in to DC on Monday night and right away one could sense the buzz. The lobby of the hotel was full of people who had come from all over the country just for the event. When we went for dinner, PF Changs was packed to the gills and in the background one could hear the conversations. It was all pretty much about one topic. (No surprise there!)

We woke up at 5 and were at the subway station by 6 AM. It took us two hours to get to the Mall (a trip that typically takes about 30 minutes). The train was packed. Excited conversations permeated the air. The guys beside me were from NY, the Hispanic couple behind me were from California. I even saw a Canadian flag or two. Talk was about last minute pardons and whether Bush could pardon himself or do blanket pardons of anyone involved in the torture program prior to an indictment etc.

Once we got there the impact of being 2 people in a sea of 2 million became evident. We were carried around like flotsam on this sea of humanity. Somehow the tidal currents were not in our favor and the riptide of people kept pushing us out further and further until we arrived at 15th street a good mile and a half from the Capitol and at the Northwest corner of the Washington Monument. It didn’t really matter though. We were there and the moment was sweet and our hopes were high. After 8 dark years of ruinous rule one could feel a palpable sense of hope emanating throughout the crowd. The boil that had bothered us through our long and dreary winter was finally going to be lanced. A new dawn was on the horizon.

The mood was joyous but not boisterous. It was not the joy of winning a superbowl but a quiet and beautiful joy that I've actually never experienced before. It was also a uniting joy. Older more conservative generations and the young united in a common purpose.

For me it was sweet to be amongst my peeps. People generally of the belief that Bush and Cheney did little good (inferred from the vociferous boos when he was introduced and the singing of the "nah nah, Hey Hey goodbye" song etc). People of the belief that Bush and Cheney with their mendacious, molestation of our Constitution committed some serious crimes against the American people and ruined our international reputation.

My regret was that I did not have a tape recorder. There were so many older African Americans in the crowd. I would have loved to have interviewed them and capture their responses. Some other people did just that.

The emotions were building. The spirit of MLK seemed to be present everywhere. I knew when the moment came, when Barack finally placed his hand upon that Bible, I would shed a tear. It was inevitable and when the moment finally came at 12.05 Eastern time (by my watch) I did. I shed a tear and thought of all the ones who went before, who made this moment possible. I thought of MLK of course and Rosa Parks' dignified "No" that started it all, of Emmet Till and his indescribably painful death at the hands of a white mob, of Freedom Riders and the four little girls who died a fiery death in the 16th street Baptist church in Birmingham. I thought of JFK and RFK and their courage to stand up to Bull Connor and George Wallace, those unrelenting agents of hate. I thought of barking dogs and water hoses and the vicious beating that John Lewis endured. All of this pain was unnecessary but it made the eventual victory even sweeter.

Rick Warrens prayer was more of a speech, than a prayer but a splendid one indeed. Let there be no doubt that God is in the public square in this great nation. The next time a conservative manufactures a crisis about a war on Christmas or the lack of God in our national discourse, point them to the Mall on Jan 20, 2009. So many of the heads were bowed in quiet reflection while Rick Warren prayed. This is a god-fearing nation whether you like it or not. Ending it with the Lords prayer and a direct call to Jesus in his many names "Haysoos", Yeshua etc would also have sent a reassuring message to evangelicals especially those that did not vote for Obama. (Not sure whether the ACLU will concur :)

Pastor Lowery's benediction was the bomb though. Now there is a man (87 years young) with some serious style and panache….He ended with asking the crowd for an Amen three times and they complied with a roar.

Then the day took a challenging turn. DC is not set up to handle an influx of 2 million. Is any city really? The waits to get back to the suburbs were horrendous. We waited in line 2.5 hrs at L'Enfant Place station. People were collapsing from a lack of air and heat exhaustion (They turned off the air in the mall it seems). Visions of the New Orleans superdome during Katrina briefly flashed through my mind. But all was eventually well. The national guard was present along with helpful Transit authority cops. The crowd was extremely well behaved and helpful, passing bottles of water and still generally in good spirits. We finally boarded the train and got back to McLean, VA around 6 PM and caught up on all the things we missed during the day on TV.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The day before the great day..

Tomorrow Barack Hussein Obama will place his hand on the Bible and take the oath of office from Chief Justice Roberts. I will be in the crowd watching and will probably be in tears. His elevation to the highest office was something that even true believers like me doubted (mainly because we just did not want to be crushingly disappointed like 2004). But he pulled it off!!!

It is such a relief to finally have a serious, thoughtful and intelligent man as President. For 8 years we have allowed the Office to be tarnished by a mediocre man, who with his reverse Midas touch, managed to turn everything he touched into ashes. We wish Bush godspeed as he travels to Crawford and we pray that he finds fulfillment doing the things he does well such as clearing brush, jogging and walking his dog.

We got to Washington 4 hours ago. The city is abuzz. You can just feel it in the air. At dinner people are talking about tomorrow and strangers are asking me if I am going to the mall. Its a beautiful time to be here. Finally after the long darkness, after the vicious adn divisive partisanship of the last 8 years, hope has come to us.

We wake up early tomorrow to catch our subway downtown....Hope to get in around 6 am and get a good seat. Will post more tomorrow evening

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Glories of XVIII th Century France

We spent our last day in Paris reliving the glory of 17th and 18th century France…..Versailles Palace although aging definitely gives one a sense of how fantastic it must have been when the Sun King walked its corridors. Some interesting trivia….apparently after WW I it was in terrible disrepair and JD Rockefeller made a huge contribution to fix it up….consequently there is a plaque in the welcome hall commemorating his generosity from the people of France….(there has been such great support between France and the US historically that it is so unfortunate that there has been this animosity in the last decade…hopefully this is a temporary thing)

The Louvre was generally underwhelming….This was my third visit to the Louvre but my first as an adult and my first since the addition of the IM Pei Pyramid (I hated it initially but after about forty minutes staring at it, freezing to death (-12 degs C today) as we waited to get in, it did kinda grow on me and I began to appreciate (slightly) the juxtaposition of this supremely modern object against the classical style of the Louvre's facade - I still think it is an acquired taste though….the first reaction for me was to say "what the hell were they thinking?")….

I was actually quite bored with the Louvre after an hour…there only so much nude Greek anatomically correct male marble statues and paintings of the baby Jesus suckling at Mary's exposed bosom that one can take before tuning out completely…..After a while to make it more interesting I would look at a painting from afar and try and guess what the scene was depicting……since most scenes in the neo classical period are either from the Bible, the Iliad or the Odyssey I got a few right but after a few attempts even this…..my made up version of "Louvre Pictionary" also started to lose its thrill…..The one thing I did love was when sometimes the artist would take great leaps of imagination and throw in something surreal…..like depicting Job at the foot of the cross on Golgotha for example…..or the boy David carrying Goliaths severed head that seemed to be the size of a boulder and as big as David's entire body….

I won't comment much on the Mona Lisa other than to say that its always struck me as completely boring and an unworthy symbol of Leonardo's consummate genius…...I've also never understood the general publics fascination with the painting…..

Venus de Milo is more interesting…..from the rear…I was unaware that she is showing some serious crack…..clear proof that the Greek sculptors had hip hop influences :) (what was missing was the semi exposed Tommy Hilfiger or CK Boxers though)

We hit the Egyptology section which was more interesting especially the non mummy and non sarcophagus exhibits….I found the Egyptian furniture, jewelery and women's toiletry kits (tweezers, combs, brushes etc) extremely fascinating since these were typically about 2500 to 3500 years old (i.e. they were made when Abraham was alive - just to put their age in perspective :). I fully expected the Rosetta stone to be part of the collection (since it was Napoleon who found it during the Egyptian invasion) but was politely told it was in the British Museum (damn British….they steal everything from everybody!!)

I am actually pleasantly surprised the French are not as unfriendly as I expected…in fact on average they are quite friendly and helpful (another stereotype blown :). I find that it’s the French folks that work in the hospitality business that are terrible in my opinion…most of them should not work in the hospitality business period...…they are cold and completely indifferent to the customer….

And for my final observation of useless trivia :)….….most French cabbies (based on a highly non empirical casual observation by myself and my lovely wife) seem to be white Frenchmen…..hardly a minority to be seen driving a taxicab!!!!….This is probably the first advanced country I've visited where the cabbies are native born folk and not immigrants (actually not Indian or Pakistani to be honest)…I'm assuming its got something to do with the taxicab unions perhaps….or maybe we are just imagining things!!

Spain is next…..

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Years Eve at the Eiffel Tower

So we spent New Years eve at the Eiffel Tower….it was beautiful but strangely the fireworks lasted only about two minutes (budget cuts in the City of Lights perhaps?). They did light up the tower a beautiful blue and had some funky lights going up and down (reminded me of the thrill running up Chris Matthews leg :) - sorry lame political joke!!!)

The crowd was raucous and totally drunk. We took the Metro from our place towards the Arc D'Triomphe and the subway car was getting more and more crowded…They started singing football songs in the car and stamping their feet and I was getting a bit jittery as visions of British soccer hooligans flashed through my head. We got to the station at the Arc (Charles De Gaulle - Etoile) and that’s when we saw the full extent of the crowds and kinda decided it was not worth it so we took the train back to Bir-Hakeim which is the stop for the Eiffel Tower and got off there and watched the show from there.

Prior to going out for the evening we attended vespers and caught a bit of mass at Notre Dame…It really is a magnificent building and the vespers were just gorgeous….sung by a Chinese girl who was probably 5 ft 5 inches in her heels but her voice (mezzo soprano) filled the building (I'm guessing the knave is at least a 100 - 125 meters long)…..anyway the vespers were so beautiful we want to go back for matins tomorrow if we wake up on time:)

The mass was celebrated by a priest from Africa and all the attendees were tourists with cameras (except for the first two rows in a 300 row church). The Catholic church in the US imports priests from Kerala and the French import it from their old African colonies it seems. The guy looked about 21 years old. Clearly the Catholic Church is having trouble with the membership drives both in the pews and in the pulpit in France just like every where else.

Paris is surprisingly full of Indians and Sri Lankans (we had dinner at a Greek Restaurant run entirely by desis :). They all speak French and almost no English which was a bit shocking. I'm assuming that hearing the brothers mangle their beautiful language must cause the good professors at the Sorbonne or La Societe Francaise to probably want to attack them with their croque monsieurs