“I guess it's been a really exciting time for you folks back in England.” I had just been introduced to one of Washington's most seasoned political observers, and his assertion caught me slightly on the hop. “Well...”, I responded, uncertainly, “we did just win a big cricket match, and then there's Wimbledon, too. Also, we've had quite a heatwave. Oh, and the economy seems to have picked up a bit. So I suppose our mood has improved a little.”
“No,” he said firmly, “I'm talking about the Royal baby!” I had to assure him I wasn't being in the least sarcastic. It's just that I'd forgotten all about the boy George: I'd been interested in his birth as a news event, but his arrival had not even touched the outer shores of my life, so I had to admit that it did not register on my list of reasons to be cheerful.
Does this make me a bad person? I wouldn't say so, but even in the most politically charged, grown-up, cynical town on earth, it appears that they welcome the chance to treat Royal matters with seriousness and utter respect. It's rather charming, actually, and in this city of a thousand receptions, the hottest ticket in town in recent weeks was for the party held by the British Ambassador to celebrate the Prince's birth.
The elite of Washington society, movers, shakers, politicos, business leaders, and media figures gathered on the landscaped lawns of the ambassadorial residence to consume roast beef and miniature Yorkshire pudding canapés and toast the new arrival. The excitement may partly be explained by the fact that it gave everyone an opportunity to escape the day-to-day drear of Washington politics, and indulge in...well, a little escapism.
For a city consumed by process, so much so that government has effectively been brought to a standstill, the British monarchy represents romance, personality and an engaging narrative sweep. It is easy to see it another way, of course, and walking through the city, it is hard to miss, carved into stone everywhere you go, extracts from the Constitution, or quotes from famous historical figures, all of them proclaiming the beautiful essence of the United States, that the power rests with the people, all of the people. The country belongs to them. They are trusted with it. Anyone can be President. It's not a birthright.
I knew all this, of course, but there was something about seeing it writ large - literally - that I found rather affecting. I read each of these quotes with a gathering sense of awe, rather in the way I would imagine an American would feel on seeing Windsor Castle. I can understand why Washingtonians are enraptured by our ruling elite. All that pageantry and history. And now real-life, untarnished, modern love story. With a baby to boot. Try as hard they might in America's capital to invoke the spirits of the past, building mini Mount Rushmores on every street corner, it just doesn't quite hit the mark. At least that's the way it comes across when you talk to ordinary Americans. Theirs is a country founded on the will of the people, and it seems there is precious little romance in that.