Monday, January 26, 2009

A Change is Gonna Come

Every morning this week, I have woken up and thought to myself, “George Bush is not going to be the president today, even a little bit”. And I can let out a little sigh of relief. A slight loosening of those tense neck muscles that have gotten progressively worse over the last eight years. I think it might be a morning ritual for the next four years.

This week I have often felt the need to kick myself for being out of the country during this year (not only did I see only 3 of the movies up for Oscars, I was not in the country for Obama’s election or Inauguration!). Luckily everyone else in the world cared about D.C.’s January 20th events, so I was able to watch news coverage of the Inauguration on French television. While I would have preferred watching the ceremonies online or in America (the voice-over translation of Obama’s speech was mind-splitting. It’s not so bad when you can hear the original speaker’s voice and the translator’s voice when one of them is speaking English, and one of them is speaking, say, Swahili, but when you understand both languages, it’s like the two sides of your brain are duking it out over which language should reign supreme. It turns out that neither one does, because Obama’s speech came out sounding something like this: “I would like to vous remercie, President Bush, pour les services you provided for our notre patrie”. I had to rewatch that one on Youtube a few days later.)

The coverage of the day was, well…French. Really French. The show started at 4:30 pm (10:30 DC time) with a feature on how Michelle and Barack met, fell in love, and then married, complete with voice-over translation of Michelle’s initial disdain for the name that has captured millions. Later in the program, during the endless procession of old politicians, when Michelle Obama, America’s new First Lady, walked onto the stage (stairs, whatever…) the male reporter remarked on her dress, stating that she was “wearing an elegant gown of…I couldn’t even say what color”.

Another French oddity regarding the coverage was the (mostly) inexplicable presence of Miss France 2009 at the Inauguration ceremony in D.C. side-by-side with a French reporter. I suppose, given her American mother (and thus her dual French-American citizenship) she had every right to be there. What I couldn’t understand was the French news’ habit of constantly tuning back in to hear Miss France 2009 weigh in on the events as they unfolded. “What do you think, Miss France 2009?” “What does Barack Obama’s race mean to you, Miss France 2009?” At one point, the French news anchor was incredibly confused and disappointed because when they cut to her position in D.C., only the reporter was there—the beauty queen having gone out to mingle with the crowd. The best part was after Obama’s speech, when they cut back to her clutching her tiny American flag, bawling her eyes out.

The banter of the news anchors throughout the introductions and processionals including a joke that the new American president has already broken his first promise, as he and his family are moving into the white house sans new puppy.

After Roberts and Obama stumbled through the oath, after Aretha sang her heart out (it was not, incidentally, over when the *big-boned* woman sang), after sermons were spoken by a gay woman minister and a righteous (in the totally awesome sense of the word) old black man, when the French credits were rolling, Seal’s cover of “A Change is Gonna Come” filled my tiny little studio in southern France. The aptly (although cheesy at the same time) chosen tune, sung with so much soul in a voice that most people were sure had withered with that 15 year old Rose, was not made less meaningful by my certainty that a French executive producer was sitting in a room somewhere in Paris, congratulating himself on his cleverness. He shouldn’t be too quick to congratulate, in my opinion. The song is amazing, of course, as is Seal’s rendition. But the title is all wrong. The change isn’t gonna come. The change has already come. It has been a long time coming, and I am sure more is to come, but it’s here. It’s now. Three days into office, and President Obama has begun the steps for closing down the 7 year old facility at Guantanamo Bay, he has proposed plans for pulling troops out of Iraq in under two years, he has taken steps towards building a better economy, towards improving environmental conditions in the US, blah blah blah. You know the rest. Barack Obama is not a miracle cure—he won’t fix the world, or even our country, overnight. But that change is here. And I won’t apologize for my idealism, because for the first time in my life, I feel proud to be an American, and I’ll hold onto that feeling, that hope, that faith that I have in a better world, until you pry it out of my cold, dead (probably from nuclear holocaust or something that happens as a result of Obama’s election) fingers.