We've all seen those historical films, with courtesans in splendid costumes crowding the throne room, while raucous crowds filled the plaza outside.
In real life, we've criticized the advent of government as spectacle, but now we have government-as-spectacle purged of crowds.
Did you see the solemn procession of President and Mrs Bush (hips swaying just enough to catch the eye without being lascivious (God forbid!), flanked by (I think) Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki and what might have been a secret service man, down the endless ramp to the still desolate quarry of what was the World Trade Center, to lay two wreaths in the pools of water that mark the spot where the towers stood?
Bagpipes were playing, but the camera kept close in - strangely close in. At times it reached street level, but only barricades were visible: no people. No people on the rooftops (sniper's paradise!), no people anywhere.
It was so eerie! After laying the second wreath in the company of a lone Marine, as the President and Mrs. Bush walked back to the ramp to exit the scene, the secret service man appeared briefly at a respectable but watchful distance, a woman in jeans (I think) hovering behind him, then he disappeared again, only to rejoin the presidential couple as they reached the ramp. (More careful observers will forgive any lack of precision here, I was not taking notes and only realized the full import of what I had seen this morning.)
This morning I mentally compared yesterday's scene with those of preceding years, and feel quite sure that then, the stage on which the solemn remembrance played out, was full of people. Turning on the TV, I see that this morning's ceremony, like those of years past, involves crowds: Mayor Bloomberg, not the President, presiding.