Monday, 19 September 2011

AMURIKA part 1

It's been a month or so since I arrived home from the USA and I cannot help but feel, time enough for my trip to have fully sunk in enough to write a little about.

The USA is a place both entirely familiar and yet still surprising at every turn. Perhaps it is because so much of my life has been informed by reference points from this country. New York with its iconic yellow cabs is eerily similar to the virtual world of Grand Theft Auto 4 and the place names: Brooklyn Heights, Long Island and Cypress Hill seem to float into being from the semi-mythical popular culture locations that have been pivotal in my formative years.

I really don't think it needs to be said that there is nowhere on earth like New York. Eddie Izzard once said that he wished the whole world were like Manhattan. I can't say that I fully subscribe to his view, but certainly if the world cannot be Manhattan then Manhattan can try and stuff itself with as much of the world as possible. The sights, smells and sounds of New York can be utterly overwhelming: the endless chatter and crush of tourists, the hustlers and pretzel sellers, the odd mix of vast corporate offices and homely side-street markets, the coca-cola store next to a homemade lemonade stand and the daredevil way in which New Yorkers happily step into the path of oncoming traffic. Even for someone raised in London, walking through New York is like being assaulted even if the only actual intimidation comes from the persistent stand-up comedy hawkers who throng the streets plying their trade in sub-par gags and utterly failing to see the irony in their chosen occupation.

I have just written a paragraph on New York and I fear that this post may descend into simply listing my trip, sentence by sentence in order. I started this post attempting to write about America holistically but this is almost certainly a mistake. If there is one thing that defines the USA is its astonishing difference. On the East coast I sampled the grand museums of Washington DC whilst living comfortably in suburban Virginia and taking a wander down to the falls at Potomac. I day tripped to Baltimore harbour and visited the Museum of Visionary Art, quite possibly the best art gallery I have ever visited.

The highlights of the first part of my trip:
- Empire Betrayal Day fireworks from a roof in Washington DC and the constant fear of death from rather less authorised displays going off in the streets around.
- Baltimore. A diamond not always seen by tourists. I'll admit it. I went because of the Wire, but Baltimore is a wonderful old town filled with fantastic food and incredible attractions.
- The falls at potomac.

I'll end this first post with a big thank you to the Crumleys. For some reason they felt that allowing me to stay in their house for a week was not an utterly dreadful idea. I am both surprised and extremely gratified. Thank you so much.