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Having a ball: sequins and cowboy cookies

Though toned down, Bush's inaugural is set to be most opulent ever, despite war and tsunami

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 19, 2005


Call it Washington's version of the Academy Awards, except that a presidential inauguration occurs only once every four years - and now extends to four days.

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A local wit once described Washington as Hollywood for ugly people. But the beautiful people have nothing on the monumental sweep of official Washington for throwing a party.

From the lens of the television cameras - the way most of the world will see the Inauguration - the marble city may never look more beautiful. The Willard Intercontinental Hotel, where President Grant coined the term "lobbyist," has fitted each of its windows facing the parade route down Pennsylvania Avenue with American flags. The massive Corinthian columns in the National Building Museum, freshly faux-marble painted, are still the classic backdrop for a presidential ball.

But out of camera range are signs that this inauguration - the first since 9/11 - is different: the check points, high fences, Jersey barriers, anti-aircraft guns on the lawn of the Capitol, the blocked-off streets, and severely restricted access to all events including the parade.

"There is true frustration and anger over the fortification in our city," says Judy Scott Feldman, chairman of the National Coalition to Save the Mall. "I'm staying away from downtown D.C. as much as possible. It's too distressing."

GOP takes the parties nationwide

For Washingtonians, a presidential inauguration is the biggest party of the year, but one to which few who live here will be invited. Only 9 percent of voters in the nation's capital voted for President Bush, compared with 85 percent for President Clinton in his second term, and invitations to the most glamorous events are limited mainly to big donors. (The Commander-in-Chief Ball, for military personnel who served in Afghanistan or Iraq and their families, is a notable exception. Tickets are free with a Pentagon invitation.)

For those not on official invite lists, there's always the option of joining or hosting one of some 32,000 house parties for President Bush on Jan. 20. Party kits are available on the website, which urges activists to bring family, friends, and the president's supporters together on Inauguration Day.

For the uninvited in the capital, there are also other options. Antiwar protesters are setting up their own bleachers on Pennsylvania Avenue. Some locals are planning their own unofficial parties.

With nine official balls, candlelight dinners, concerts, and an expected $44 million in spending, the 55th inauguration in Washington is on track to be the most opulent ever - despite a war in Iraq and a deepening natural disaster in Asia.

Washington's newest luxury hotel, the Mandarin Oriental, is preparing for a "three-day Inaugural feeding frenzy," including 400 pounds of lobster, 16,000 pieces of shrimp, and 250 dozen "Laura Bush Cowboy" cookies.

Opulence and frugality