Sunday, January 27, 2013

There's a story behind this photo: Destiny’s touch reaches from Venice to Inauguration Day

General, Monica, Me and Roberto-Inauguration Day

I’ve just returned from Washington, D.C. where a contact or two—and a lot of luck—placed me at a slew of Inaugural weekend events: three cocktail parties—one at Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro's beautiful Capitol Hill home, one at the Woman’s National Democratic Club to honor our newly elected Congresswomen, and one organized by the Italian American Democratic Leadership Council to award Jim Messina, Obama 2012’s campaign manager, with the IADLC Machiavelli Award.
In between meeting people, networking, raising more than a few filled glasses to our President and while waiting for Inauguration Day to roll around, I packed lunches on National Service Day at Martha’s Table Community Center, took a tour of the Capitol, visited a Capitol Hill club to pick up tickets for the swearing-in ceremony, attended a concert at Kennedy Center, visited two must see art galleries: The National Gallery and the Phillip’s Collection, and simply enjoyed being in our nation’s capital with my husband and dear friends. These activities and the buzz that filled the streets of Washington, D.C. created an electrifying prelude to the Swearing-In ceremony and Inaugural Ball.

However, all weekend long we were forewarned with stories about people who had had tickets to the Swearing-In ceremony in 2009 but started out too late and because of the massive crowd didn’t make it to their seats. So, on the morning of January 21, 2013 my husband and I rose before the sun, dressed in layers against sub-freezing temperatures, and headed for Capitol Hill. We weren’t alone. Washingtonians, tourists from afar and Americans inspired by their country and the re-election of President Obama began to spill out of their hotel rooms and homes. Like salmon swimming upstream we all headed in the same direction. We quickly caught the Red Line from DuPont Circle, and ten minutes later exited the Metro at Union station. After a short walk we breezed through security and arrived at our seats by 8 a.m.—and what incredible seats they were! Sure, we had beaten the crowd, but three and a half hours sat between our arrival and the start of the ceremony. So now what? Well, I did what one does when thrown in the middle of an eclectic crowd. I busied myself with people watching.

Soon the strangers around us became acquaintances; briefly introducing ourselves we asked each other to snap our photo while standing with the flag draped Capitol at our backs. I spoke to proud military men and women in uniform; met two female lobbyists wrapped in not-very-politically-correct mink who seemed satisfied with giving me only their first names; television celebrity Star Jones—dressed in winter white—smiled softly, and sat across the aisle from us; a former assistant-attorney general from Texas and a School Board Supervisor from San Diego representing the Latino community sat to my left; a Pakistani businessman who proudly showed us a photograph taken of him shaking the President’s hand sat to our right; a small group of women with lovely southern drawls sat behind us and pointed out people they didn’t know while saying he or she must be somebody. But then when I stood and left my seat to warm up, and capture a snapshot of the crowd thickening across the National Mall, I came face to face with a very beautiful African-American woman carrying a very professional camera. She seemed familiar. I thought she must be someone famous, someone I had seen somewhere before and just couldn’t remember her name. And then, when I mentioned how astoundingly beautiful the crowded Mall looked from our viewpoint, she responded: Are you from Venice, Italy? It was one of those surprising moments when you say No way!

View of the National Mall-Inauguration Day 2013
She is Monica Morgan, a professional photographer, who I knew simply as a woman who, last fall, was sitting in front of me on a waterbus headed for St. Mark’s square. She and two lady friends had taken the wrong waterbus and, overhearing their conversation, I came to their rescue. I told her to get off at the St. Mark’s stop with me and I’d put them in the right direction. We made small talk: Where are you from? She’s from Detroit, I’m from Los Angeles. How long have you been in Venice?  etc. etc…She said she came to Venice to renew her wedding vows the next day, and that she thought taking a gondola would be nice: Any suggestions? Well, getting married in Venice and gondolas are certainly two things I know something about. So, I told her my husband is a gondolier, that though he wasn’t working the following day I’d be glad to introduce her to him and one of his colleagues. I did so. Between the waterbus ride and a brief chat in front of  the Doge's Palace we spent about 30 minutes together on that autumn afternoon in Venice. On that day, Monica, I and her friends exchanged business cards as I pointed them in the right direction. I’m sure my card sits in a stack similar to the one I keep at home, and so we never heard from one another; not until Inauguration Day in Washington, D.C.

Capitol Hill on Inauguration Day

I didn’t meet Monica's husband that day in Venice, who, I learned from Monica, brings another Italy-United States connection to this coincidental meeting. So I was even more pleased to meet this bear of a man with shoulders as broad and wide as his warm smile at the Inauguration. His name is General Holiefield, and he’s the Vice President of the UAW—United Auto Workers. That’s the other Italian connection: He works, side by side, with FIAT’s Sergio Marchionne.

If there ever was a time to say it, this is it: Either destiny likes to play with us or it really is a small world!


  1. What a wonderful story of connection! Also how exciting for you and your husband to be at the inauguration! What a proud and patriotic experience!

  2. Just one word came out from my mouth: WOW!!!!! I just love fate!

  3. I loved this, Marie, and I'll share it on facebook.THank you for being a WRITER! I looked for you and Roberto in the crowd! This was the first time I followed an inauguration on live web (Huff post) which was GREAT! No more non-stop Italian TV comments and translations covering the sound. I felt so proud to be part of the US of A.
    Also, you deserve to be lucky and go to all these exciting parties because you are so generous. LOve, Susie

  4. Hi Marie,
    Loved this story and the beautiful way you told it. You are a true adventurer. Glad to be able to live inauguration day through your eyes. And yes, there is a plan running through our lives. So wonderful when it becomes apparent.

  5. Must admit I'm envious, but also pleased for you that you got to experience the inauguration "up close." I'll bet Monica told lots of people about her serendipitous encounter with you in Venice, and then to find you again on another continent in a crowd of thousands? Wow!