All gone to look for America

I think this is my 4th or 5th visit to the USA, and the country and its culture continues to both delight and disappoint. I have always said that, could I chose any country in the world to live in, I would chose England. And after a week here, in the delightful south, I still would.!–more–>

What strikes every Brit in America is the sheer space and size – the massive Mississippi, the swathes of swamps, the colossal cotton fields. We have just arrived at the north shore of Lake Pontcharain, a salt water lake of 630 square miles. Our biggest lake – Windermere – would fit in here over 100 times. From here an incredible 24 mile long causeway crosses the lake into New Orleans. We will drive down there tomorrow, before I catch my flight to Houston, Texas. A state which could swallow the UK three times (if it spat out a few indigestible parts of northern Scotland).

We met a woman in a winery today. We were asked, as we have many times “Where yall from?”. I have started to say “guess”. Not a great move – I mean, do I have an Australian accent really? So we say “England”, and when they say, “which part?” we say “the middle”. Few have heard of Nottingham or Leicester. Today I just said “Shepshed” and smiled.

The woman in the winery had just been to England. Not only that she had visited EVERY castle in England. Now I’m not sure how many castles there are in England, but there are at least 9 beginning with the letter T. She did stress she still had to do the castles in Wales. And that a castle had to have three storeys to be a real castle! (presumably with an elevator)

I went for a walk up the Mississippi at dawn. As I ambled back, I met a very friendly old guy, who was on a revenue collectors convention (very taxing). He told me where he was from and how this place was steeped in history. I happened to mention that I lived in a town which is over 900 years old. He started to talk about his knee replacements.

What can we conclude from all of this about our American cousins? They are typically friendly and approachable and at ease with themselves and others. They do live in a country with some important and fascinating history. Our country is smaller but older and deeper, in terms of history and culture. Some Americans do not perhaps appreciate the latter, but that’s ok.

And yes – their country is huge. Therefore houses are so much bigger and possess more land. People are very tied to their state and homeland, because the USA as a whole is too big to lassoo your identity rope around. We said we were English. The other couple said they were Texan, and one from Ohio.

The towns sprawl. We just went out for a walk in Covington to walk off a percentage of our Chinese banquet. We saw only an endless creation of roads, chain motels and hotels, petrol stations, ubiquitous fast-food outlets and healthcare centers. And signs everywhere. A cacophony of words in neon, paint or plastic. Telling, selling or proclaiming something you cannot possibly live without, like burgers, gasoline, real estate, waffles, replacement hips, donuts or religion.

The town has no centre, no heart and no soul. Not that anyone seems to worry. This is the country of the car and lattices of streets, all laid out on a blank canvas. People drive around endlessly from place to place, filling their stomachs, self-image or psyche.

Give me the cosy, bordering on squashed, English village, town or city any day.

Large can be liberating. Large can be awe-inspiring. But small is secure. Small is beautiful.

* from America (Simon & Garfunkel)

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