Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lights out: 5 am

And thank God I work for myself, at home. Probably would have stayed up to watch the Inauguration regardless, though, I think. (And be paying for it now in spades.)

Well. Great speech, of course, although he almost lost me when he overloaded the water metaphor early on and changed it in, if you will forgive me putting it like this, midstream -- from rising tides to still waters vs. raging storms, all in one sentence -- which I put down to the youthful indiscretion of speechwriter Jon Favreau. Actually it would be fun to fisk the speech but one must get on and earn one's living, and in the meantime I thought the delivery was flawless as per.

Loved all the shots of the crowd, one by one and en masse. Thought the First Lady carried off the OTT dress (which I hope hid thermal underwear), with the aid of her own radiance and of the brilliant combination of contrasting heavy, dark, saturated colours on and in her hands and hair. And as for Aretha Franklin's hat: if you look like that, dress up to it, I say. I loved the way people's clothes reflected the cold: the crowd in ear-flap caps, Franklin all bunnyrugged up below the hat in a matching soft all-enveloping winter cape, even the pianist (of all people) complementing her speccy three-string pearl necklace with a fetching pair of fingerless mittens.

Apparently Teddy Kennedy collapsed at lunch after the inauguration and was taken out on a stretcher, but I was glad he saw the important bit and I bet he was too. Clinton, Bill not Hillary, looked monumentally pissed off about something right up until he walked outside. Jimmy Carter looked almost unchanged since the 1970s. Bush Senior looked scarily doddery and perhaps should not have been outside and walking around. Bush Junior looked haunted, miserable and scared. As well he might.

After I decided to stay up, I went to the great big 24/7 servo up on Grand Junction Road for an early paper and some strengthening snacks and the joint was jumping at 2 am, including a couple of graveyard-shift coppers with blood sugar issues. Back home again, I settled down to watch, determined not to get all emotional no matter who said what, but didn't even get as far as Obama's speech; I was reduced to a wet mess the minute the ranting-Baptist-type chappie who made the Invocation mentioned Martin Luther King, and again at the end when the Navy launched into four-part harmony one verse into the Star Spangled Banner. There is something visceral about that harmony moment in choral music, the moment when the music spreads out sideways, like the opening of a fan. Or, as the great Dorothy Dunnett once remarked, 'Music, the knife without a hilt.'

Also loved the poem after the oath. Obama commissioned poet Elizabeth Alexander, Harlem-born and now a professor at Yale, to write the poem for the inauguration ceremony. It was not the usual official state-commissioned stuff but a beautiful, simple set of clear images celebrating the value and virtues of ordinary people's everyday lives, their capacity for dignity and beauty. Oh and with, in the middle, a sharp truth and another wet mess moment. 'Say it plain: that many have died for this day.'

What was even more fabulous than the poem was the fact that thousands of people shut up and listened to it, as they did when that quartet of legendary musicians played John Williams' intriguing arrangement of 'Simple Gifts' (from traditional Shaker music via Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, and that article suggests the extraordinary depth of reference that characterised almost every segment of the inauguration ceremony), which is one of my favourite pieces of music. I was reminded of the two things I love most about Americans in general: their beautiful courtesy, and the fact that they love and respect music and poetry.

Apparently the cello was made of special cold-resistant carbon fibre. And speaking of the cello, never mind how cute Obama is; I think I'm in love with Yo-Yo Ma.


Wendy said...

I was wondering how those valuable string instruments were coping in the freezing weather.
Yo yo ma is an absolute darling. you can see he just loves playing that cello.
And the Shaker Hymn is one of my all time favourite pieces of music.
And as for Aretha's hat...that made the whole ceremony worthwhile! Where can I get one?

TimT said...

I liked Elizabeth Alexander's poem - I certainly didn't have the same reaction as Adam Kirsch, though some of the points he makes are interesting - but felt a little thrown by her recitation style. Slightly disjointed, as if she was deliberately pronouncing each word with a little too much emphasis. I've noticed a few poets do this; I think it may be a consequence of writing poems for publication in book form, rather than public recitation.

Anyway, just an odd thing that I noticed. At least the US have poetry figuring so prominently in their affairs of state.

Anonymous said...

I've had fun learning what "fisk" means, apart from fish in Norwegian.

Anonymous said...

Great post! The sheer smiling joy on Yo-Yo Ma's face was one of my highlights. And the box of tissues was in use here, too.

lucy tartan said...

Dress OTT? Naah. It's Michelle I am in love with, though, so perhaps I'm biased.

kris said...

The inauguration was totally worth getting up for!

The almost 2 hour ceremony passed in minutes. My cat Raven was the only of my pets to join me on the couch. How amazing to see all those people stretched out from the Capitol building to the Lincoln monument.

I am so excited at the desire of people to connect with this man. The human spirit hasn't been suppressed by the last 10 years - only hiding.

It was also replayed at the NLA over lunch. YAY!

Anonymous said...

Well I cried, sniffled, howled through Aretha, was yet again intrigued by Obama's flash of humour as the little footstool appeared for his wife just before the oath and that switch to something again as he gave the Inaugural speech. Whatever he may do as President, he is fascinating to watch.

Deborah said...

And speaking of the cello, never mind how cute Obama is; I think I'm in love with Yo-Yo Ma.

Yes. I could leave home for a man who plays the cello like that.

lucy tartan said...

BTW - Wendy - you can get Aretha's hat from Mr Song Millinery in Detroit.