Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

Washington DC

My elegant and sociable mother-inlaw received an email this week warning that, should she wander on to her balcony to smoke on Monday, somebody might shoot her. The Secret Service is eager that nothing should go awry when our president is inaugurated for his second term. The inaugural parade route stretches a dozen city blocks along Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol, where the president gets sworn in, to the White House. The route is lined with office buildings and museums. There are few apartments with a view of the street, and my mother-in-law lives in one of them. When my father-in-law was alive, they'd throw a big party on inauguration day for friends, journalistic colleagues and a few politicians. There would be cocktails and cigars at the balcony railing and an atmosphere split between gaiety (for those who liked the incoming president) and grumbling (for those who did not).

The emails from building authorities stress that, although a man's home is his castle, it might be wise to follow 'commonsense guidelines, such as no glass containers or no lit smoking material over the railing. In other words, nothing in the hands that could cause the sharpshooters across the street to become nervous.'

That's what I call a party atmosphere.

Not in living memory has Washington been so drowsy on the eve of a new presidential term. Police are estimating only half as many people will attend this inauguration as the last one. This time feels ho-hum because last time was historic. Barack Obama was the first black president, which is great, but not the kind of achievement you can build on. It recalls Thomas Love Peacock's Headlong Hall:

'I distinguish the picturesque and the beautiful, ' says the critic and landscaper Mr Gall, 'and I add to them, in the laying out of grounds, a third and distinct character, which I call unexpectedness.'

His companion Mr Milestone replies, 'By what name do you distinguish this character when a person walks round the grounds for the second time?'

Four years ago the inaugural was an extravaganza, like a ball out of Tolstoy crossed with a folk procession out of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Christopher Hitchens threw a party on the eve of it. All sorts of exotic people were there.

Christopher was in the lobby of his building when we arrived and he brought over a beautiful middle-aged blonde woman, saying, 'You know the lovely Bo Derek, don't you? …

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