The Weekend That Was: Correspondents, Opera, the Derby and Much More

Weeks and days, and seasons and news can be blue or incessant—we get floods and a street in Baltimore collapses onto a train track, and the buzz of war lingers over the Ukraine like lightning, and all people can talk about and write about is Donald Sterling, a rank racist and the contents of his conversation with his non-girlfriend, which spread like rancid mints over the internet and there are horrible mud slides and forest fires, and the plane is still missing and people are still shooting each other, it’s enough to make a body weep but out of sight of any iPhone lest we ourselves go viral.

Then comes along a weekend, and it’s not that it makes you forget everything—the net never sleeps—but that it makes you think of other things for a while, that there are stories out there with no speculative qualities, days and nights that run into each other with nothing but serendipity, full of the spirit of photographer Walker Evans, who told us to go out into the world with hungry eyes—and, we might add, ears and a spring in the step.

That’s why, even as we notice that the city is changing at a hard-to-believe pace, we also notice the rites of spring, the end of April, the improbable rise of a horse who made his own birthright, Washington residents and visitors bursting into the streets to visit embassies all over the city, and other Washingtonian pouring toward the Washington Hilton and sundry other party sites for the city’s annual rite of awkward fame and glitz. Others did other things and did not feel left out of the scheming of things, the rhythm of season and song. We blended our own daily comings and goings into the buzz around us, partook of the things we could, and read stories about the world and paid our bills, and picked up the dry cleaning and groceries and watched the beginning-last of the blossoms fall from our neighborhood trees, creating hundreds of white—but not red-carpets.

This is what happened on a month of Saturdays and Sundays—every bike rack in the city appeared empty, and everyone went out and about. En route from dry cleaning and laundry, and across Massachusetts Avenue to Whole Foods in Glover Park, we saw crowds stand in line for a very long time, mess up traffic patterns, and generally act like the inquisitive family of man, woman and child to visit the opening salvo of some 50 embassies in the city which had opened their doors for the annual rite of Passport D.C. This yearly event, which has grown from its small beginnings as an impromptu even by European Union embassies several years ago, now stretches across the whole merry month of May, and it has become a major attraction because: it is free, it has exhibitions, music, bags, and the opportunity to travel the whole world over or at least a good portion of it by way of visiting the embassies of countries not our own, and hear languages we do not speak, but wish sometimes we did.

As we drove up Mass. Ave., we the crowds around the embassies of Japan, Ghana, South Africa, where Nelson Mandela is still freshly ensconced, and lines form in our neighborhood for Mexico, and the Spanish Cultural Center, and in Dupont they formed up for Argentina and a host of others. Crowds were everywhere, the sun delivering the weather goods.

That night, the who’s whos, but not the Who, of This Town, which is Our Town, but not our town, gathered at the Washington Hilton for the annual rite called the Washington Correspondents’ Dinner, in which the media by now almost helplessly rounds up the usual celebrities and some new ones, to sit at tables and preen—who’s hot, who’s not, the best and worst dresses and addresses and so which cover four pages of the style section with roughly 36 photographs. The president and a comedian make jokes, Oscar winners and news folks dressed as movie stars arrive while movie stars do the same. The Style teaser headlines pretty much tell it all: Richard Marx and Rick Springfield? Whatcha got in that goodie bag? Um, I’m with the band, who was the biggest diva? Three-day blowout, and handing out the superlatives, the latter ranking the best lines, the awkward moments and more. Oh, look, the most interesting man in the world. You kid you not.

It is impossible, of course, not to feel a little envy for not being there, because this mash-mish-mash of celebrities, Hollywood, Hollywood on the Potomac, swag, parties, pre-and-post-and during just sort of comes through town like Moby Dick, swallowing everything, including a lot of champagne. If you’re not in there, you’re out there, like so many people we saw gawking as guests arrived. Two country music stars were there—Brad Paisley and Bob Schieffer. But, then again, if Willie Robertson of the “Duck Dynasty” is there, how exclusive can it be?

As it was, we were 20 minutes late getting to the Kennedy Center for the opening night of the Washington National Opera’s “The Magic Flute,” us and many children dressed to the nines, along with Newt Gingrich, and opera buff and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and not one single member of the Ducky Dynasty. This seems to happen yearly now: the WCAD and the WNO opening night. Do not know whether to laugh or to cry, but we were in awe of set and costume designer Jun Kaneko, on display on stage and in an exhibition. It was a magic “Magic Flute.”

Other things happened: the Adams Morgan BID kicked off its summer season of concerts at Columbia Road where bikers stopped to listen, and the new kids on the block—the babies and the pre-schoolers and the dogs and the parents stopped to listen. I talked about the way-down-the-road election in November, and stopped by Joseph’s House, the hospice for the homeless, where they were holding a yard sale, and I saw signs asking for news of Romeo, their house cat, which had disappeared months ago, but had apparently recently been sighted. In Georgetown, the Chanticleers were at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Sights and sounds, and music and musings.

And the best story of the week popped out of the Kentucky Derby, where California Chrome, an odds-on favorite, oddly enough, rode to a smooth victory. Here’s the thing: this West Coast horse, head-held-high beautiful stallion, was brought to hallowed Churchill Downs from California, by way of parents who were bought with a grand total of around 5,000 bucks, by a couple of regular guys, had a trainer at age 74 in his first Kentucky Derby , leaving doubtful experts in the dust.

This is class triumphing over Class and breeding and big money, always a good story in these our times.

Here’s an idea: Whether he wins the triple crown or not, somebody who with a little class and imagination ought to invite California Chrome to next year’s White House Correspondents Dinner instead of Kim and Taylor, and Katie and the rest of faddists.

I might just kiss a Duck to get in there, just to sit next to California Chrome.

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