Talk Description to Me

Episode 33 - Inauguration Week

January 22, 2021 Christine Malec and JJ Hunt Season 2 Episode 33
Talk Description to Me
Episode 33 - Inauguration Week
Chapters
1:47
The Washington Mall
4:59
Washington DC Security
10:26
The Field of Flags
14:06
COVID Memorial
18:16
Presidential Inauguration
27:58
Bernie Sanders Memes
Talk Description to Me
Episode 33 - Inauguration Week
Jan 22, 2021 Season 2 Episode 33
Christine Malec and JJ Hunt

This was an American Presidential Inauguration week like no other. With the nation's capital in lockdown, a field of flags standing in for real-life spectators, enhanced security to ward off further insurrection, and a COVID memorial to honour the 400,000 US lives lost in the ongoing pandemic, the visuals from Washington continue to provoke strong emotions.  Join Christine and JJ as they describe the visuals of American history in the making. 

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/TalkDescriptionToMe)

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

This was an American Presidential Inauguration week like no other. With the nation's capital in lockdown, a field of flags standing in for real-life spectators, enhanced security to ward off further insurrection, and a COVID memorial to honour the 400,000 US lives lost in the ongoing pandemic, the visuals from Washington continue to provoke strong emotions.  Join Christine and JJ as they describe the visuals of American history in the making. 

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/TalkDescriptionToMe)

JJ Hunt:

Talk description to me with Christine Malec and JJ Hunt.

Christine Malec:

Hi, I'm Christine Malec.

JJ Hunt:

And I'm JJ Hunt. This is talk description to Me where the visuals of current events and the world around us get hashtag in description rich conversations.

Christine Malec:

Well, we're quite optimistic that next week, we can post part two of our 2020 urine review. About this week, we are going to continue on with our coverage of the extraordinary events in Washington, DC. And this week, we are going to be talking about the inauguration. But one of the many unique features of this inauguration was the fact that so there was a few opportunities to listen to it live described, which I just think is fantastic. So I'm sure many of you appreciated and participated in that. And so our focus today isn't going to be exclusively on the inauguration. But we're going to talk about some of the the events and the spaces and the context around that. And so we thought it might be helpful to start with the actual Mall in Washington, because that was the focus of so much activity. And to give some context about that, and then some of the things that happened there. So JJ is is that a good place to start?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, absolutely. Let's map out the Washington Mall a bit. So when people talk about the mall, they generally mean the long rectangular park in downtown Washington. This is between the Lincoln Memorial and the reflecting pool at the West, and the Capitol building to the east. And more or less in the center, just west of center is the Washington Monument that's the 555 foot tall, white marble obelisk. And that's like I said, just to the west of center in this long rectangular Park, it's about 1.2 miles long, that's about 1.8 kilometers, 656 feet wide, about 200 meters wide. And so roughly about two major city blocks wide and about a dozen blocks long. And I have I've been there. I'm Canadian, I'm not from the US. But of course, I'm subject to all of American history in American pop culture. And so being there in the presence of these buildings, these monuments, these gathering places that I've read about in history books and seeing an archival footage and seen in movies and on TV, I did feel the weight of the place like it is unimpressive, imposing place. The park area between the Washington Monument and the Capitol building is it's like a three roughly a three by eight grid of rectangular lawns. And on the outside there are like these two rows of lawns, these two columns of lawns that are treed. And then this the row or column in the center is just flat lawn. And all of this grid of separate spaces, is there separated by wide footpaths. And there are only a couple of roads that actually cross through the park in this, you know, whatever doesn't block long space only a few roads cross through it. And it's lined with museums imposing civic buildings. And really, any one of these civic buildings that are on the sides of the park would be the most impressive civic structure in kind of any other midsize North American city. They are all very impressive. And the Capitol building and the surrounding grounds there to the east of that grid that I just described. That's kind of like the head of the table, right? It's bigger grounds slightly separated. And for an event like this for an event like the inauguration Normally, the steps of the building would be packed with hundreds of honored guests, maybe 1000s in the immediate grounds surrounding it, but in this case, that wasn't so much the case. That wasn't exactly how it went.

Christine Malec:

Now, I think that there were visuals before the inauguration that were kind of worth contextualizing Is that right?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, for sure. I mean, the first thing to understand is the, the way security shifted in Washington between the riots and the inauguration. It shifted dramatically and I've spoken to friends who are there, of course, watch watched a lot of footage and, and seen images, something like 25,000 National Guard troops, you know, came to Washington in this a week and a half, two weeks. And there are images of these soldiers in full camouflage. They integrated tactical vests and flak jackets, they're all carrying assault weapons, on, you know, cross body shoulder straps or you know, attached to their tactical vests, wearing helmets, COVID masks, and they're everywhere, ever. I mean, 25,000 troops in the city, there are images and videos of the soldiers sleeping on the floor of the Capitol Building. Hundreds, hundreds of soldiers lying on the marble floors of the visitor center, they brought cots into the building outside the soldiers were patrolling the streets. And these are organized troops moving through the city in their in their units, right. And and their attire, the way they move, the weapons that they're carrying, and the sheer numbers provides visuals that point to a force that is to be taken seriously. This is a different kind of police presence than then rioters would have faced when they arrived at the Capitol building. And then and beyond just the troops, the fences, these tall fences, seven foot tall fences with loops of razor wire around the top to form a massive perimeter. And these loops of razor wire. So imagine like a slinky, a giant slinky, and each loop has maybe a dozen double sided razor blades attached to it. And these connect to the tops of these, these fence panels. So again, like seven foot tall panels of they're called non scalable fencing. We've talked about these before, it looks like chain link, but the the links are very close together, so you can't get a toehold in there. And there are layers, various perimeters that were put up around important buildings and then around the mall itself, and then around neighborhoods. So you would have to go through these various layers of security. I heard one security expert say that the city was essentially fortified. It looked like a ghost town, there were military checkpoints all over the city. So these are like open air tents that that span an entire street. And they have standing barrels underneath the tent with no gap large enough for a vehicle to pass through and armed soldiers or intelligence agents checking everyone's documents. There were boarded up stores and banks and restaurants, essentially no one but reporters were were allowed into this area like you were either part of the the machinery of the inauguration, or you are reporter and that's it, like the streets in videos that I saw in news reports and such entirely 100% completely empty. It was crazy.

Christine Malec:

One of the things that happens on this podcast is that we try to sort of move past the literal description into context, but also reaction and so I wonder JJ how comfortable you would feel to give some adjectives to how it feels to look at that because you started by saying how familiar you were with that visual vista and the effect that it had on you before and I wonder if it's appropriate for you to just kind of give a sense of what it's like as a sighted person to look at that.

JJ Hunt:

I mean, it's eerie to see it broken down like that and I think a lot of news reporters you know, who are doing on air spots from inside this referred to like the only other time they've seen cities this empty were in times of war, you know that everyone's gone. There's nothing but boarded up buildings around there are these military checkpoints. It's oppressive. It's eerie, it's creepy. This is beyond the kind of empty that we are now almost getting used to in lockdown situations. You know, like you know, we're in Toronto, you go out at night for a walk in Toronto and you can cross what are normally busy streets because they're there aren't even counting out and the only a handful of neighbors around we're kind of used to a version of emptiness in urban spaces that we we haven't experienced before. And yet, this is worse. This is truly empty, nothing but military, nothing but security. And it does it there. It feels creepy. That's the word that I would I

would use:

creepy.

Christine Malec:

Let's talk about the field of flags.

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, the field of flags. So what the inauguration committee decided to do was put out 200,000 American flags to represent the people who were unable to attend. Because the inauguration was going to be essentially by invitation only. The hundreds of thousands (or in the case of Barack Obama, million) visitors that would sometimes flood the mall area, flood that that grid of lawns, to see the new president being sworn in, they weren't allowed to attend for COVID reasons, but also for other security reasons. And so the field of flags was set up in those in those parks. And they were different sections because the park is broken up into sections that were different sections, where these flags which were like somewhere between knee and waist high flags on small flag poles that are like stakes that could be staked into the ground. They could they could form kind of different separate art projects. So there was one section that had red, white or blue flags, arranged to create one giant US flag when seen from above, there were some there's one section with red flags arranged to create a map of the USA. Then there was one section where they had state flags, which have a dominant color, arranged in strips basically, that went all the way across this park. And what it created was like a striped carpet effect, when you saw it from above or from a distance, you could see all of the the flags from one state and then all of the flags from another and you create this blanket effect this carpet effect. There were also 56 pillars of blue light around the outside. So this was illuminated at night. And these search lights essentially pointed straight up at the sky, these blue crisp blue lights 56 of them to represent the states and territories shining straight up creating these towers of light. And when these photos are, when photos of this situation are taken from ground level, you can see the individual flags have maybe dozens of them as they pack the frame of the image. But when you get higher, then you start to see the art projects as a whole. So you can see how they're laid out to look like a giant American flag, you can see the outline of the continental US right as you're higher and higher, which was really interesting. And I also found it interesting the difference between seeing this during the day and seeing it at night. Photos of these American flags in these fields. on a on a crisp, sunny day with a bright sky It was kind of joyful and uplifting and it you know was proud and energizing. And then at night and when the lights going down. That's at dusk when it's kind of a dim golden light. It looks quite somber and dignified seeing all of these flags lined up and and there's no wind or breeze necessarily the flags are just draped is really interesting to see how the lighting the time of day and the vantage point affected how I interpreted this emotionally when I was looking at these pictures and videos.

Christine Malec:

Speaking of emotional response, let's talk about the COVID Memorial.

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, the COVID Memorial. So between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial is this memorial reflecting pool and it's almost half a mile long, 167 feet wide. And it's a it's a long rectangular generally calm pool of water without without a railing around the outside. So the kind of footpath along the outside of it just ends straight at the reflecting pool. So you end up with this very calm, long rectangular pool of water and it reflects the image of the great monument at either end. So either the Washington Memorial at one end or the Lincoln Memorial at the other end depending on where you're standing depending on your van point, you're going to see the reflection of one of those monuments at either end both in the daytime, or at night because they illuminate those buildings. And you can see the illuminated reflection in the pool. And what they did for the COVID Memorial along the long sides of the reflecting pool, they, they installed these illuminated, like these glowing boxy lanterns. So each one looked like a miniature golden tower, I'm guessing somewhere between me and waist tall, you know, somewhere in there, and they were to perfect rows on either side of the long reflecting pool. And again, from ground level, each individual light is quite clear and distinct separate lights. But from high above, they become these unbroken strips of golden light to rows side by side, on either side of the reflecting pool. And you know, we often talk about the iconic image, what's the iconic image from this event, it's become really important these days to have these iconic images that can be passed around, that kind of get stuck in people's heads as the image of an event or of a moment and I would have to say the iconic image of this memorial was a picture of the the two first couples elect elected at that time at the standing at the end of the pool and they were perfectly centered facing the Lincoln Memorial. So on the right was Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden. And on the left was Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff. And we're seeing them from behind we're behind them, they are between us and the reflecting pool, and each couple is there holding hands. The men are wearing dark coats on the outside. And Harris, Kamala Harris, is wearing a long tan coat and she's to the center left, Dr. Biden, she's in a like a plum wine coat to the center right, and the women are standing apart, the two couples are separated in between them in the reflecting pool is the golden shimmering reflection of the obelisk, the [Washington Monument]. And if you follow that straight line of the obelisk, and the reflection all the way to the far end, as it recedes to the you know, to the back of the pool. You can follow that straight line right up the obelisk itself, it's illuminated as it looks glowing. This white marble obelisk in this kind of dusty steel blue sky. And of course, the pool is lined with two rows of COVID Memorial lights on either side. And they recede into the distance. And it's just everything about this picture is perfectly centered, and, and calm and the couples holding hands. It's really quite a quite a beautiful moving image.

Christine Malec:

Now, for the inauguration itself. As we mentioned at the beginning, there were multiple opportunities for live description. And so maybe we can talk about some specific images or important sort of symbolic moments that maybe you weren't, didn't have the time to be focused on and elaborated on in the live description.

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it's it's always tough when you're doing live description of an event like this. You know, the describer is often just presented with whatever video feed is being filmed. And you have to get your description in between moments of not only speakers at the event, but commentators that are part of the the news crew, so it can be rather difficult. So we'll just try and fill in some of those gaps as best we can. So for this inauguration, the seats were placed at a distance people were spread out. So it had a different feel to it when you were watching this on TV. And I was reflecting on this, because the last time we saw this building in major news events and in lots of videos, the stairs were absolutely flooded with rioters and it was a chaotic situation, to then go to this very orderly view of the steps of the Capitol Building. With all of these folding chairs spaced out at a distance. It was quite stark right. There were masks on. Pretty much everyone everyone was wearing a COVID mask unless they were at the podium. I found it really interesting. Someone would rush in and wipe down the podium but speakers, they had like little, you know, alcohol wipes or whatever they would wipe down the podium. They tried not to capture that on film they would they tended to cut away to, you know someone in the audience or another dignitary or whatever. But you could catch in the background or just the beginning or end of someone wiping down the podiums. I thought that was kind of interesting. And then there are some of the some of the big performers that that came up Lady Gaga for example, Lady Gaga wore this massive red skirt. So it was a dress but the skirt part of it was, it was like she was swaddled in a red theater curtain. It was just enormous. And the top, the bodice of this dress was fitted a fitted smooth black top, and she had on a brooch. That was, I mean, it was almost a life sized golden dove that had an olive branch in its beak, just a massive brooch. And her hair right now is dyed white blonde, and her hair was tied up in a braid. And there was a strip of black ribbon that was woven into this white blonde hair that kind of was holding her hair up. And she performed with a golden microphone that was that was the Lady Gaga set. Jennifer Lopez, she was bedecked in what looked like pearls and diamonds. She had a lot of jewelry rings and you know big earrings. And she was dressed in a in a soft kind of sparkly looking floor length white coat. And she had on a white outfit underneath. So white pants, white blouse with a ruffled kind of collar area and gathered sleeves. And after she performed I thought this was an interesting kind of lovely little moment, she turned to Vice President Harris and she kind of did this quick little mimed hug gesture before being escorted away because people weren't hugging. People weren't. People were bumping knuckles instead of shaking hands and or bumping forearms instead of shaking hands. And, and so and Jennifer Lopez went to leave she kind of turned to Kamala Harris wanting to give her a hug. And just gave her this kind of mind air hug. walked away as that was the kind Those were the kind of moments you know, between performers coming forward because no one could touch Garth Brooks. He wore a black suit with no tie. He had a giant silver belt buckle on and wore a black cowboy hat. And he tipped his hat at President Biden and then removed the hat before performing Amazing Grace. And then, you know, of course, there were a couple of moments that got to me. And and you and I know each other well enough, we've we've done a number of these episodes, of course, and you know what my buttons are? Right?

Christine Malec:

Yeah. And vice versa.

JJ Hunt:

Oh, totally, totally. And so my buttons, of course, are people being lovely to one another. And there were a couple of those moments. So one, one of the people who was escorting Kamala Harris, in her kind of entourage, was a black man, a good looking black man kind of brought across the chest, wearing a tan overcoat and a long blue scarf. And I saw him several times, he was usually standing a few steps back behind Komal Harris, as she was making her way through the Capitol building across the grounds. And then as people arrived, approaching the podium, so we're all of the the dignitaries were, you know, surrounding the podium, people were introduced, and this gentleman was introduced as the Acting Deputy Sergeant of arms officer, Eugene Goodman. This was the officer who was inside the Capitol Building during the riots, who used the color of his skin, the fact that he's a black man as bait to lure the members of the Capitol Hill mob. Oh I remember so well when you described that. And so he was called on to be one of Harris's escorts.

Christine Malec:

Gasp!

JJ Hunt:

Official escort.

Christine Malec:

I have chills.

JJ Hunt:

I know! Of course, you couldn't see him because he was in this very handsome tan coat, this blue scarf, and he had the COVID mask on. Out of uniform I didn't know him. And it was, it was quite something when there was a gasp, I think, for a lot of people, when that announcement was made. Like "Oh, it's him. It's him!"

Christine Malec:

So then did people recognize him by the name then? Or did commentators point out who who exactly was because you used his name a few times when we described that, so I

JJ Hunt:

I think I mean, certainly once he was announced, remembered. then commentators went on about that. I'm not sure if that had been announced in advance, that he had been promoted onto her detail. But certainly after that announcement, a lot of commentators reminded the audience of what that story was.

Christine Malec:

Oooh! Chills.

JJ Hunt:

I know, I know. And then another moment that gave me chills and frankly had me kind of squealing a little bit with glee was Andrea Hall, a career firefighter and President, I believe, of the International Federation of firefighters. She was called on to read the Pledge of Allegiance. And the Pledge of Allegiance of course, very standard, important fare for Americans. I actually lived in California just for one year in grade two (I should say second grade) and I can still say the Pledge of Allegiance. One year, grade two and I know it. It's so important.

Christine Malec:

Is it spoken every day in school?

JJ Hunt:

Every day at the beginning of school, every event, "I pledge allegiance to the flag..." It's very, very important. And so Andrew Hall steps forward to do this. And you know, it's super important, but also people hear it all the time. So sometimes I think maybe it's taken for granted. Andrew Hall steps forward, she's a good looking black woman, quite broad Gasp! Oooooh! across the shoulders, especially in this uniform she's wearing; a black dress uniform, the fir fighters uniform. It's got a d uble breasted blazer with str pes around the cuffs, she's go a white cap on with the shor black bill or visor pulled q ite low. It's worn just above th eyes. But then instead of putti g her white gloved hand over her heart, she begins signing he pledge as she speaks. It was stunning. I mean, having the person saying the pledge of allegiance, signing it at the same time, front and center at the podium, not to the side.

Christine Malec:

Oh my god.

JJ Hunt:

Not in a separate panel. Fully integrated. And with no fanfare, this was just this woman signing and saying the pledge. I cried, I absolutely cried. And then when she turned to leave, she saluted President Biden and he gave her a fist bump. And off she went. And you go on to Twitter, if you want an emotional power up, go onto Twitter and look up the hashtag Andrea Hall and the comments from people in the accessibility community and people in the disability community, people who use ASL, people who use description and who rely on this. People were gleeful! Front and center at the podium. It was wonderful. It was.

Christine Malec:

How many how many times in these days do we get moments so pure? Just pure purity like that?

JJ Hunt:

Exactly. Oh, was wonderful.

Christine Malec:

Now, a bit surprisingly, perhaps, I don't actually follow the news all that closely. And so when JJ and I were getting ready for this episode, he asked if I knew about the Bernie memes and I said, "No, I don't. Tell me" and so he was two seconds in and I was giggling already. So lay it on us JJ.

JJ Hunt:

Ah, so the Bernie Sanders memes. God bless Bernie Sanders. So most of the people showed up, all of the dignitaries showed up for this event in their best. In their formal wear. And I have to say, I was talking with my wife about this last night. There was something quite nice, as people who have been in lockdown for almost a year, you know, we're just walking around in our in our jeans and comfy pants.

Christine Malec:

Day pajamas! Day pajamas. They're called day pajamas!

JJ Hunt:

Exactly! You know, we're not going to nice restaurants. We're not, you know, there are no Christmas parties or New Year's parties that we're going to. No one's getting dolled up. And so there was something really quite lovely about watching an event where everyone was dolled up. Everyone was looking their best. It was really nice. But Bernie Sanders, he came dressed in a GoreTex parka. An olive green GoreTex parka. He's got these wooly mitts, these giant oversized mittens, with like brown and white and black zigzagging diamond patterns on them. They're just fantastic. And everyone has, almost everyone at the event either has a black COVID mask or a COVID mask that is custom made out of the fabric of their dress or their coats so that they're matching. Not Bernie. Bernie just, you know, pulled a surgical mask out of his back pocket and slapped it on his face. It's not centered. It's kind of off to the side. God bless him! And there's a picture of him, because all of the chairs are spaced out, sitting on this folding chair, legs crossed, the legs are crossed tight so that his his shins are kind of parallel. And he's got his hands folded and crossed on top of them. And because he's got the parka, it's kind of puffy in there. So his hands are crossed in front of his belly kind of high. And he's, you know, he's kind of hunched over a little bit. He's balding, sil er hair at the sides. And be ause he's separated from everyon , it was very easy for the inte net to cut him out, and digit lly paste him into hundreds of o her environments, and in pop cul ure moments, and paintings! An so what you end up with are the e ongoing wonderful memes. o I'm just gonna, I'll just t row them out there. So here's Bernie looking exactly like this; cross legged, and he has been digitally put into the subway, into the Oval Office, onto a roller coaster, as part of the Last Supper, as the fly on Mike Pence's head, into the Prince of Bel Air's thrown, onto the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones, sitting beside Totaro on a rainy day, on the bench beside Forrest Gump, on the Central Perk couch with the cast of Friends, selling produce at a farmers market, in a convention center craft show booth, in detention with The Breakfast Club, as baby Yoda, in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, and sitting outside the Sopranos butcher shop with Tony, Paulie and SiL and the crew. Wonderful, wonderful.

Christine Malec:

Ha ha ha! Before the show, you described him as looking like someone's grumpy old grandpa who got stuck at the barbecue and he's just sitting there by himself

JJ Hunt:

Ha! Mopey and cru ty, hunched over. To sonify t is picture, it's just "Ungh." hat's the whole thing, the who e thing. And then he was put int fine art. There's a wonderful p otograph atop the Rockefeller Ro kefeller Center when it was be ng constructed in 1932, a black nd white photo, I think t's called Lunch atop a Skyscra er. And it's all of these wor ers on a beam high, high, high bove New York City. Very famous hoto. He's in that. The Sunda Afternoon pointillist pai ting; he's in that. Washington crosses the Delaware; he's in t at. Edward Hopper's diner paint ng; He's in that. And my fa orite; as Venus in the Birth o Venus. The Birth of Bernie.

Christine Malec:

Ha ha ha! We love making this podcast. If you love hearing it, perhaps you'll consider supporting its creation and development by becoming a patron. We've set up a Patreon page to help cover the costs of putting the show together. You can contribute as a listener or as a sponsor to help ensure that accessible and entertaining journalism continues to reach our community. Visit patreon.com slash talk description to me that's pa t ar e o n.com slash talk description to me have feedback or suggestions of what you'd like to hear about here's how to get in touch with us. Our email address is talk description to [email protected] Our Facebook page is called talk description to me. Our website is talk description to me.com and you can follow us on Twitter at talk description.

The Washington Mall
Washington DC Security
The Field of Flags
COVID Memorial
Presidential Inauguration
Bernie Sanders Memes