I've never been to DC. How nice to receive an invitation to stay with friends during the days of inauguration festivities! What truly surprised me was how powerful the experience felt. It was nothing I expected at all. Everything felt immense, from the size of buildings to the vastness of the National Mall (you can't tell this from television or photographs!) to the collective mood of goodwill coming from over a million and a half people. Everyone I bumped into was happy. Strangers were nice to each other. That it was also the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday put things into a perspective I didn't even realize would affect me so profoundly. From "I have a dream..." to our first African-American president, right here where I was standing.
With not nearly enough time to visit much of anything I wanted to see my first time in DC, I poked my head into a few museums and wandered by chance into the National Museum of the American Indian which happened to be sponsoring a three-day festival of multicultural performances entitled "Out of Many." Armenian dancers, Japanese storytellers, Native American flute players, salsa bands, African drummers, bluegrass bands... the list went on and on. I felt compelled to spend my two days clapping, stomping, swaying, singing, and dreaming to some of the most wonderful performances I've experienced.
On Tuesday morning, after a night of insomnia, I woke up in the dark at six, ate toast and a banana, and layered on my wool socks and tights, a couple shirts and a sweater, gloves, scarf, and my old heavy army surplus coat with the serious hood and we headed out to the Metro. After seeing the line of people waiting and realizing we'd never make it onto a train, we decided to walk the three and a half miles to the Mall. Once there, we parked ourselves in front of one of the JumboTrons next to the Washington Monument (did you see me waving?) and waited two hours in the nineteen-degree weather for stuff to really get started.
The Itzhak Perlman/Yo-Yo Ma "Air and Simple Gifts" performance was probably my most unexpected moment of joy of the entire trip. Yeah, okay, they weren't really playing, but whatever was coming out of the speakers was echoing through the canyons of empty streets and buildings, slipping through crisp, cold air and finding its way to my ears from ten different directions in the most ethereal angel-song I could ever imagine. If you were at home, warm, watching it on tv, you missed this magic. And then the feel of almost two million people cheering at once after the oath of office. And then the feel of hugging strangers next to you after Obama's address. As my feet turned to blocks of ice I wondered ever-so-briefly whether staying inside and watching it on television would have been a better idea - nope. This was SO worth the almost-frostbite and the seven miles of walking in boots not meant for walking. This was history. And I was there.
These are a few from the National Museum of Natural History. The "Birds of Washington, DC" exhibit was especially beautiful. It was tucked away in a basement hallway, like a little secret treasure, lovingly watched over by a bust of Spencer Baird, "founder" of the museum, who for some reason didn't make the cut to a more "important" floor. Perhaps they thought he would prefer the quiet company of his birds as opposed to life under the spotlights of the entrance hall. I know I would.