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Monday, February 06, 2006

 

An Evening of Ironies: Celebrating the Golden Anniversary of Alaska's Constitution

Wow. Fifty years ago today, (February 6th, 2006) the delegates to the Alaska Constitutional Convention signed their names to the document they had just finished crafting. After spending 75 intense and long days at it, the work of 55 people was now ready to bear fruition to the soon-to-be State of Alaska and its people.

We Alaskans celebrated that momentous event this past weekend, with a celebration in honor of its fiftieth birthday, held at the place where it was crafted all those years ago.

Of the original 55 delegates to the Convention, only five remain alive today. Three of them were present at the festivities, the other two were too ill to attend.

The celebration took place mostly on Saturday, the 4th. There was a four-hour Q&A symposium with the surviving delegates held over in the Schaible Auditorium on Saturday afternoon. This was ollowed by a dinner at the Wood Center ballroom, then the worldwide premiere of the KUAC documentary on the Convention, in the Davis Concert Hall with a reception afterward in the Great Hall.

I went to the dinner on Saturday and watched the movie afterward. The evening was full of ironies, multiple layers of them, actually.

First, when we got to the ballroom, there was a string quartet set up outside the doors, with a microphone on a stand in front of them, hooked up to a speaker inside the ballroom itself. Evidently, we would be serenaded by cello players as we dined.

I went in and found a table without a number (such was my ticket for the event), and took a seat. After a bit, the food servers came out and started laying out the salad appetizers and dinner rolls. People were trickling in (the dinner was supposed to start with a "cocktail hour" at 5:15 and dinner itself at 6:15) and finding seats here and there. I ate my salad and watched people mill around, waiting for things to get going, I supposed, as the strains of Handel and Bach and other classical music wafted in from the speaker at the side of the room.

The event was semi-formal (emphasis on the "semi" part, the invite said "Black Tie Optional" for example) and I knew there'd be a, shall we say, variety in the clothing and dressing styles of the attendees. I was not disappointed. Most of the people were wearing formal wear, elegant dinner gowns, floor-length dresses, suits, ties, etc. But there were a few outliers, for lack of a better word.

Like this one. Lady, granted this was a "black-tie optional" event and granted that this was a semi-formal event, but there still was an air of importance to the evening. We were, after all, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of our state's constitution and its signing, complete with guest speakers, and all the pageantry and elegance that stems from such an important event.

So, the question I have of you is this. Why did you come to the event wearing two shirts, one over the other, apparently a t-shirt of some kind with an Alaskan eagle emblazoned on the front, (sort of) longish sleeves you'd rolled up your arms a bit and not only that, a shirt about three sizes too large for you that hung down around your waist like a lost child or something?

Why? And to compound that act of sartorial carnage, you had on jeans and heavy shoes that looked almost like hiking boots. Plus your hair was frazzled and a bit unkempt. Lady, you looked like you'd just gotten out of bed five minutes before you got to the event.

Why, oh why did you take such a cavalier attitude to the staid formality of the proceedings? Granted, this is Alaska, but still, you could have at least made some kind of effort to appear at least somewhat presentable.

I was still trying to figure out the reason for this woman's lack of fashion sense when I heard the familiar strains of a song being played by the quartet outside the room. After a moment, I placed it. It was the theme song to Titanic, the James Cameron film from 1998, which came out more than four decades after the convention whose anniversary we were celebrating.

I started laughing at the absurdity and the irony of it. The quartet was earnestly trying to channel these guys for some strange reason. The irony works on several levels, some of them contradictory. The song is about lost loves, remembrance, and a yearning for closure, as is the movie whose theme it is. It's a poignant irony, given that most of the delegates to the convention are now dead, as one of the signers remarked in his short speech at the dinner, he could remember all those who'd gone on before, choking up a bit as he said it. He was also helped up to the podium as he's well past 80 years old now, I think.

But, on the other hand, I had this picture of Celine Dion showing up in the old newsreels from the convention, belting out a version of her song ("Yea, Nea, whenever you're done, I know that the voting will go on ...") as the delegates studiously went on about their business. I suspect that if she'd been there singing to them, they'd have finished a lot sooner than the 75 days it took them to complete their assigned task. I half-expected one of the players at the end of the song to get up and announce to the other cellists, "Ladies, it's been a pleasure to play with you tonight, Godspeed to all of you! (as the S.S. Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration sinks into obscurity?) or Leonardo DiCaprio to come running through the ballroom with Kate Winslet, followed by Captain Smith and Thomas Andrews or something.

Then, they played that that Aaron Copeland song made famous by the "Beef, It's Whats for Dinner" advertising campaign, ironic considering that beef was on the menu that night.

Finally, after we watched the movie over in the Great Hall and came out for the reception afteward, there was a bit of generational and sartorial irony happening. This radical feminist, in-your-face, Bush-bashing slam poet was having a show in the Salisbury Theater, at about the same time as the documentary showing. Both shows ended at about the same time.

So picture this. You have a bunch of old white guys, old fogeys, elegant dinner gowns, suits, ties, etc. milling around the Great Hall while at the same time, a bunch of twentysomething fans of the radical slam poet, Alix Olson, are coming out, ready to stick it to the man, take over the world, and rock the vote, Sideshow Bob 'dos, nose rings and other piercings, floor-length mulicolored dresses (presumably made of organic fabric and hand-dyed), long scarves, parkas, scrappy-looking young folks looking for all the world like they'd just wandered off the set of a Phish video or Ralph Nader rally milling around off to the side a bit.

Generation gap indeed.

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