Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Pope and the President: What I Didn't See at the White House on Such a Momentous Day -OR- Another D.C. Mass(ive) Outdoor Event, Another Great Disappointment

The entire White House ceremony welcoming Pope Francis as seen in this YouTube video on The White House channel. It should remain active at least while Obama is President.)

To be clear, I saw and heard NONE of this -- just the muffled band music and a few wisps of Pres. Obama's speech and none of Pope Francis' remarks. Rather, this entry explains what I DID experience.


I'm posting this entry after work since I cannot take my computer home tonight because I do not have my book bag. That is due, in turn, to my attendance at the Papal arrival ceremony for Pope Francis this morning at the White House (more on that below).

I'm including some pictures of that event and of others of Pope Francis' day here in D.C., but without captions (the image names contain the identifying information), although the image total for this entry is limited. To be clear, I actually took about 10 pictures but deleted all but two of them since it just wasn't worth going through the trouble of posting them. Needless to say, many other people took far superior pictures and I'm sure those are posted all over the internets.

As it is, Francis' visit to D.C. is in full swing and the WaHoPo is in full coverage mode -- and in this case, that's a good thing. The link is here (embedded): Pope Francis in America.

To be clear, His Holiness is also going to Philadelphia and New York on this maiden voyage of his Papacy to the United States.

This Pope -- owing to his bold pronouncements on climate change, helping the poor, immigrants, etc., and his general social progressivism -- in recent weeks has set off the conservative entertainment complex in apoplectic fits even while the "Left" in America (that would be mushy centrist in a normal country) by-and-large loves him despite its general agnosticism-to-outright atheism. The sh/tty Post being the Post, it has featured some of this vitriol including by George "F-U" Will, who along with Dr. "Chuckles" Krauthammer represent the apotheosis in Koch Brothers Establishment Republicanism.

The good news is that it doesn't matter a fiddler's f/ck what George F-U Will thinks about Francis. It's like a single barnacle breaking wind on a blue whale -- that's how much it matters. Besides, the GOP has much bigger problems this year into next. All that matters within the epistemologically closed, inverted Marxist world of the conservative entertainment complex / Vast Rightwing Conspiracy is that Will's attack represents the internal Party Line.

By the way, that Frank Rich piece (linked in the above sentence and mentioned in my previous entry) actually altered the lead image accompanying it from the photo-illustration of Donald Trump wrapped in an American flag to one of Donald Trump in a late Colonial era wig.

There was no mention of the swapping out of the image, but I'm mentioning it here.

OK, as for my attendance at this morning's event with about 11,000 other people ...

For starters, I realized it would be as crowded as it was when I stopped at Floriana last night and, upon proudly saying it to Dito, he replied (paraphrasing), everyone had an invitation including himself. This was seconded by the young, straight power couple seated next to me. They also had tickets.

In order to have gotten close enough to make the event worthwhile, I would have had to get down to one of the two ceremony entrances (on at the northeast corner of Lafayette Park at H Street NW and Madison Place and at Pennsylvania Ave. and 15th Street NW) by, like, 4AM (and, thus, stayed up all night). Instead, I went to bed shortly before 11PM and -- after a somewhat roiled night sleep during which I toyed with the idea of not going and moved the 415AM alarm time back an hour to 515AM -- I got up about 5AM.

I got ready and headed out into the cool, crisp, crystal-clear, cobalt blue dawn around 615AM, air temp around 62F with a north-northeasterly breeze.

Without going into any detail, suffice it to say that I RARELY see the world at that hour (maybe four or five times a year) even though it is often so incredibly pretty. This morning with a northeast maritime flow off the distant Atlantic Ocean, the sky was exceptionally clean and clear. Orion was still visible high overhead, as was radiant Sirius high in the southeast.

Venus was the real gem: Dazzling radiant-pearl white high in the eastern sky in its "Lucifer" (light-bearer) mode. There was another star-like object lower in the east (as I saw while looking down U Street) that could have been Mercury, although it was a tad high for that.

Venus always looks huge -- and its odd to remember that when we look at it, we're actually (and always) seeing a crescent (since it is inside the orbit of Earth). And my understanding is that Venus and Jupiter always and Mars when it is exceptionally close appear as "disks" in the sky of Earth -- specifically, the size of nickel as seen from 500 feet away (a very shiny nickel, that is). By contrast, stars are veritable points of light of vanishingly small "disk" size.

There were a number of joggers out at that hour. It always amazes me how people run around practically naked and completely vulnerable in the early morning dark including in urban settings. (I do my jogging on the treadmill at the gym, although I am skipping tonight and will go tomorrow.)

I walked down 16th Street to the White House, the day brightening, the stars slowly dimming into invisibility. There were already a lot of cars, trucks, and buses on the road and the world quickly became noisy.

I spoke to a lady walking her little black terrier dog (Miles) that initially stared at me motionless deciding if it liked or disliked me. (The lady run her hand in front of the dog's face to snap him out of it. I think he had decided he didn't, but then she and I started talking.)

Andrea and I were texting so I knew there was a mob, which I started to see around H Street. Lafayette Park was blocked and fenced in complicated ways with make-shift fences set out to create wending paths for the thousands of people arriving. I had a red stripe on my ticket rather than the more selective blue (where you got to sit in the bleachers).

There were two crazy people a block apart haranguing into microphones -- one with an elaborate sign declaring the Pope to be the Anti-Christ. I'm not sure why crazy people are allowed to harangue the public (it's not a free speech issue, it's a you're-a-crazy MF'er who should be locked up and get out of my face and life issue). Soon, though, that ended.

I got to Lafayette Park around 645AM and eventually onto the White House grounds -- South Lawn -- by 730AM-ish. Everything was mobbed with thousands of people. The only thing that made it nice was the fact that the morning was unusually beautiful. Despite the recent drought, everything was so leafy green around the White House. The rising Sun created such stunning patterns of light and shadow.

Lafayette Park smelled in places like a barnyard -- either from horse manure or that "fragrant" mulch used often in the spring that I liken to "perfumed shit."

As the Sun rose, a northeasterly breeze started to kick up and there were fair weather cumulus clouds rushing in from that direction in a cerulean sky. There was a weird drone circling high overhead (not to be confused with regular passenger jets passing over D.C.) that was above those clouds. (I saw that drone last night with its twin winking red LED lights. I think it was circling over the Vatican Embassy location near the Naval Observatory.)

Anyway, it soon became clear that the whole thing was going to be a bust for me. I had nearly two hours to wait (the event finally started about 920AM), mostly standing, although by the time it started, the Sun had risen enough and was warming enough that the thick dew on the ground dried and I was able to sit down at a far end of the South Lawn (near the Obama family garden).

I thought I might be able to at least see the Pope and the President from 300 feet away but it turned out the folks I was seeing were frickin' TV cameramen standing on boxes and thus completely blocking any view. The fact that the South Lawn slopes down away from the White House made it a sort of anti-amphitheater.

I heard almost none of the speeches, and although there was a large outdoor TV monitor showing the speeches, it was awkwardly placed. The bleachers and shrubbery further blocked any view, and the crowd was much too thick to even try to get a better vantage point.

In the end, I only saw Pope Francis and President Obama with my own eyes briefly from a more side location but I didn't stay there long. In fact, I just wanted to leave and headed to the east side giant gate, but it was closed and locked with a bevy of heavily armed Secret Service men (and a few women). Yes, I was briefly locked IN the White House. (A lot of people who had shitty or no views were already lining up to leave.)

Per my comment above, maybe the Pope and the President could have held up a shiny nickel ...

To be clear, the Pope actually gave an awesome speech (in English), mentioning unjust discrimination, safeguarding religious liberty, and the imperative of addressing climate change.

This is what I believe to be the White House CoCoRaHS weather station, South Lawn, The White House, Washington, D.C., 7:47AM September 23, 2015.


The only noteworthy things I saw (behind green-painted picket fences rolled out for the occasion) were the White House CoCoRaHS weather station, what I am sure was a beehive colony, and up close that South Lawn fountain (the actual fountain was blocked by a high wall of hedges and a fence within it, but the water it shot up went surprisingly high).

As for the bees, there were a number of them buzzing about but I didn't get any sense of aggression -- more curiosity -- if only because there was precious little food. (There was a table where free bottled water and chewy granola bars of some sort were being offered; I took one of each.)

An old Saucer Magnolia tree (left) and a (possible) beekeeper beehive colony, South Lawn, The White House, Washington, D.C., 7:48AM September 23, 2015.


I did not keep the cheaply-made program handout nor the small American and Vatican flags (the former went into the garbage and the latter two went into a planter outside the Williard InterGalacticContinental Hotel).

Before heading to the office, I walked to the Metro Center Macy's by 1015AM and bought a new belt and new wallet, both of which I needed, and then headed to work.

So that was my pre-work day. My workday was kind of busy although few people were in the office (most were teleworking).

I intend to telework tomorrow given that the National Mall is likely going to be thronged tomorrow with the potentially huge "Moral Action on Climate" rally and spillover crowds from Francis' scheduled address to Congress.

That's all for now. I may or may not update the blog tomorrow (Thursday) night as I won't have my regular computer but the loaner I borrowed. Tomorrow will be a gym night, although I may sneak off to the gym around 5PM.

Oh, yes, one last concluding thought: These D.C. mass (as in "massive") outdoor events involving high-profile visitors, rallies, or objects of interest ALWAYS go like this. There are always a bazillion people and you end up seeing nothing but instead just waiting, roped-in and herded like so much steerage behind walls and walls of security.

Back in a more innocent time in my life (late 1995), I recall the Vermeer exhibit at the National Gallery of Art and the hysterical bullshit associated with that with absurd lines and breathless WaHoPo media coverage. (I reminded my mom of that as she was in town and she and I and Mike G. tried to get into the NGA but that was a total failure.)

Of course, that was back in the halcyon days of the Washington Consensus, but let's refrain from that discussion now.

The first Obama Inaugural featured the same over-the-top crowds, security, and great disappointment for most in terms of seeing the new President.

And on that note, let's end this entry.

OK, that really is all for now.


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