Thursday, November 06, 2008


Election Night in Rome - how to contain myself?

A large bar and grill at the Termini train station, hundreds of Americans crammed inside. Homemade Rome for Obama posters decorate the place, which is already fairly exhausted-looking by the time we arrive at 4:30 am, the party having started at 1 am. At the pancake breakfast buffet, there is a choice of two kinds of pancakes: the Obama cake, the darker one, is filled with candied fruit and tastes disturbingly like the awful fruitcakes of my youth. The only bad coffee in Rome. But I am grateful to be here, thankful to the folks of Democrats in Rome who have brought us together.

The crowd is mostly white. A lot of young people, but other ages too. Ben is the only child. He has begged to be allowed to come and after first saying no (as his Evil Twin emerges when he is tired), I relent. After all, what is more important to his future: A good night’s sleep so he can be alert for a one-hour Italian class and some math out of a workbook or witnessing the most historic presidential election of our lifetimes? I am so glad we are all here together – and our friend Eve – and the sweet interracial couple from Ohio who sit next to us – and the other wondrous folks in the room – and the thousands dancing in the streets of DC – and the millions celebrating around the world.

It is when they call Virginia that I begin to weep. I know it is the hundreds of thousands of new residents in the northern part of the state who have swung the state. But I also know of the thousands of tireless Virginia progressives like my cousin Yogi, my Aunt Mary Jo – lifelong Virginians, Virginians from families that have lived in Virginia for 400 years. They’ve worked their whole lives for this moment, this space to breathe. And then too the Virginians who never thought they’d vote for a Black person for president, who at first were afraid, who grew up on a diet of suspicion and contempt. Some of them, too, voted for Barack Obama, I am certain of it, glimpsing a new way forward.

It is 5 am and I can’t stop crying. I don’t realize it, but it is 8 pm on the west coast and the polls have closed in California. Within minutes of announcing Virginia’s triumph, CNN calls the presidency for Obama and the restaurant – its two stories of tired, sweaty expatriates – explodes. As does my weeping – all the caution and reserve and anxiety and fear rushes out of me and my body heaves and sobs. Ben is surprised at the force of it and keeps hugging me. We are all hugging now as people all over the world are doing at this same moment, as I know my friends and comrades are doing in DC, and dancing in the streets. Here it is more restrained, though Eve is crying as hard as I am and the whooping and hugging and cheering continue.

We stay for the speeches and I cry through both, even McCain’s. The incredible lightness of this moment, Jesse Jackson crying in the crowd at Grant Park, surrounded by a million sisters and brothers, all colors, all ages. And not a squeaker, a landslide. The lightness, the joy.

We walk home through the dawn of Rome, as the sun comes up in the clear sky, the rains of election day having swept the city clean. We are wearing our ROMA AMA OBAMA T shirts and grin at everyone we pass. Some smile and point, others turn away. But with only the slightest encouragement we raise our arms above our heads and chant, OBAMA! OBAMA! We laugh and buy Ben a celebratory cornetto con cioccolato. At home I step out on our terrace and look out at Rome, look out at a new world.

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