Day for Bonfire Night; or, On a Bum Note of Triumph

However disheartening California’s majority rule in favor of amending the state constitution so as to protect an institution for which millions of divorced Americans have shown little respect, 5 November 2008 is still a day to inspire confidence in a democracy’s ability to refine and redefine itself, to let go of old prejudices so often upheld as time-honored traditions. To update and appropriate “On a Note of Triumph,” Norman Corwin’s cautiously optimistic radio play in commemoration of VE Day: “Seems like free men [and women] have done it again!” Perhaps, it seems even more of a victory to those living in Europe and elsewhere around the world.

Like many non-Americans anxious for change in Washington, I stayed up all night to keep track of the election results. Watching the BBC coverage, I was struck by the enthusiastic response to the outcome, even though it should come as no surprise that most people around the world are relieved to see the Republican rule of proud indifference come to an end. I was tickled by David Dimbleby’s hilariously awkward interview with the cantankerous Gore Vidal, who refused to explain his enthusiasm about the Obama victory to an audience he assumed to be ignorant of America’s civil rights movement and the Republican mindset that impeded it. Perhaps, the world does not understand what it means to be an American; but now, for the first time since 11 September 2001, the world is once again eager to learn and willing to empathize.

Here in Britain, 5 November marks the anniversary known as Guy Fawkes Day, or Bonfire Night, when the threats of extremism and self-righteousness go up in smoke. Generally, it is the figure of Gunpowder Plotter Guido Fawkes that is burned in effigy. Tonight, though it may well be the Republican legacy that the British are eager to consign to the flames. Change, after all, is only a dirty word to those incapable of coming clean about a past that is far from spotless. And, given the state of our global economy and, more importantly, our globe, mend our ways we must.

Today, 5 November, also marks a personal anniversary. It was on this day, four years ago, that, after nearly fifteen years of living, working and studying in the US, I left Manhattan to impose myself on the Welsh and the British at large. I intended the departure date to coincide with the previous election, thinking that the result might either be so decisively against my kind as to eclipse any misgivings about moving and—allowing me to wash my hands of a country whose people were reckless enough to re-elect George W. Bush—or so encouraging and propitious as to send me off into uncharted territory with a sense of hope and a feeling of elation.

It turned out to be the former, of course; but that did not keep me from visiting to Manhattan and from feeling very much at home there. You may not read the anxiety into the above picture, one of the first photographs taken of me after my move to Wales, a Principality theretofore unknown to me. Before moving, I had shed nearly twenty percent of my body weight, as if resolved to let go of my past or determined to leave behind what could not be retrieved, as if I were trying to convince myself that I needed to regain weight on British soil in order to make it British. If you look at the image of me posted in the previous entry into this journal, you will notice that I did regain the weight, largely owing to Welsh meat and home cooking.

I owe it to my partner, with whom I am yet barred from forming a legally recognized union amounting to matrimony, that I am feeling at home in our remote cottage halfway up in the Welsh hills, a place that, the wilds of the rain forest or the Congo notwithstanding, could hardly be more different from life in Manhattan. How wonderful it is to be celebrating this historic moment of harmony as a very intimate part of my own journey . . .

4 Replies to “Day for Bonfire Night; or, On a Bum Note of Triumph”

  1. That vote in California was a bizarre footnote to an otherwise great election. However, it was the state constitution that was amended, not the U.S. – one of these days there will be a landmark case at the Supreme Court that will decide this issue once and for all. It will be Obama who appoints the next justices.I enjoyed the video you linked. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Of all the states in the union, California is the one from which I had expected rather more openness. I was glad someone shared the clip on YouTube. Without such material, I\’d have little to talk about.


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