Judging from the headlines here, a lot of Austrians, and Europeans in general, are excited about the 44th President of the United States. After his election, one glossy magazine put Obama on the cover with the words "Die Hoffnung der Welt" (the Hope of the World.) This morning, Heute, the conservative tabloid given away free in the subways(and swallowed whole by a frightening number of straphangers), called its front page story on the Inauguration "Stark, cool, gut (Strong, Cool, Good.)
Is that a time-warped reference to TLC, or is it just me? "Crazy, sexy, cool"? I don't care--I think seeing headlines like this here is Alright, Uptight and Outta Sight.
Americans, Austrians, Africans and everyone in-between celebrated the swearing-in at a half dozen big parties across Vienna. Even though I was still woozly from a case of food poisoning (!), I brought my American-Austrian-African family to the rumpus on the Badeschiff. A friend helped throw the party for her organization, Democrats Abroad; the Badeschiff is a barge (moored on the Danube Canal) with a pool and transvestite DJs. As soon as we stepped inside, I was bumping up against every American I do and do not know in this city. Their moods ran the gamut from magnanimous to giddy.
The place was packed. I heard a 'Hi, Pat!' and someone was shaking my hand before I'd turned around to see who it was. The last time I'd seen this former colleague, she was practically hissing, as she told me what a terrible boss I was! Later, a fellow teacher from Webster University was standing next to me and almost blew a gasket as she belted out "The Star-Spangled Banner." The three African women on the other side of us were all beaming, sitting on a tabletop, sitting on top of the world. I even ran into an American lady who I'd met in line at Caritas (the Austrian Salvation Army) just last weekend. The Badeschiff was stinking with embassy officials, diplomats, NGO folk, UN thugs and ex-pats. I had a good time.
The girls too. Though Anette almost cried several times during Obama's speech. Adinah was asking a million questions: like many observers from the past two hundred years, she was particularly puzzled about the role of the Vice President.
V. just wanted more pretzel sticks.
It still didn't (doesn't) feel real to me. I almost lost it when Aretha sang. But that (and that hat) was just another level of surreality. The gigantitude of the moment is hard to express.
The entertainment at the party was several huge screens showing the live CNN feed of the inauguration, against which a few unfortunate live onstage human musicians were competing. As I tried to make sure Adinah and V. didn't tumble off their bar stools, I stared at images of the Mall in Washington DC, a place that evokes bittersweet memories in me. I've never liked DC. Too many politicians live there. And it's full of people who believe in the government. Since the Gulf War, I've only been to DC, and to the Mall, to protest. To march and chant and holler and sing out against the crimes of pro-life assassins and anti-Muslim presidents. Almost eight years ago, on my fortieth birthday, Anette and I went there to protest the invasion of Iraq. At the time, most of my best, most leftest friends thought I was crazy to question Bush/Cheney's War on Terror. The President called us enemies of the State, and a lot of really scared Americans agreed with him. So I remember the Mall as a place where we were always allowed to parade, but never to be heard.
But on Inauguration Night, my twisted-up brain tried to look at the Mall like it was a new place. Was it, on this grand day, still ground zero for the politics of deafness? Or could it really now be a place, again, of ideals and clear vision?
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The next morning, Osterreich, the other tabloid given away free in the U-bahn here, published a tiny photo of Adinah and I at the Badeschiff party. I look bemused, and she, in her "Obama's in the House: 1-20-2009" t-shirt, looks beautiful.