In Travelling through America - 2011 I have related the impressions of an outsider.
|Travelling Through America -2011
I have been visiting North America for a while now and have always been fascinated by the vibrancy and the forbearance of the people. I don’t know whether to Americans change is explicitly visible. Perhaps the negatives receive more emphasis. But, to an outsider like me, change is very much visible. This change might not be unidirectional, the process is complex for sure, but make no mistake, it is there.
New York is still a vibrating gyrating megalopolis which has been hardly hit by the downturn. The bars and restaurants are packed, Broadway is doing brisk business, Lady Gaga is definitely not a lady anymore and my Indian lawyer friend is planning to buy a mansion in the Hamptons. The situation is certainly different elsewhere, in Florida and Detroit, in Vegas and California. But, there is no sign of recession or impending depression in the big apple. In New York the woes of the world are far away and the frenzied partying goes on as usual.
My daughter, an architecture student, takes me on a walk to the New York High Line Park project where she worked during her Fall Semester. It reinforces in me the belief in the innate ingenuity and resilience of the American people and their ability to innovate and adapt. The High Line is an elevated New York City linear park built on a 1.45-mile section of an abandoned former elevated freight railroad spur called the West Side Line, which runs along the lower west side of Manhattan; it has been redesigned and planted as an aerial greenway. The recycling of the railway into an urban park has spurred real estate development in the neighborhoods that lie along the line. It arose from a basic realization that it costs substantially less to redevelop an abandoned urban rail line into a linear park, rather than to demolish it. A hotel has been built arching over the high line and I ask myself in astonishment, “should a hotel be there at all?” and my daughter laughs and says, “why not” and I realize that the over arching structure questions the fundamentals of accepted received wisdom. Perhaps this symbolizes the essence of an American rebirth.
America is changing and adapting in a very positive way, though Americans may not realize this themselves. Some things continue to remain the same and I have often wondered why. Perhaps it is the geographic isolation from the rest of the world. Yes, Americans (though not Canadians) continue to be relatively ignorant about the rest of the world. I drop by at the HQ of the National Geographic in Washington’, get a member’s discount at the shop and am amazed at the exhibitions bringing the rest of the world to the US, in fact, bringing the world to the rest of the world. I congratulate myself in being a Geographic member since 1982, an organization that has spurred me into adventures across the world, from the depths of the Great Barrier Reef to the heights of the Himalaya, to the grottos of Lebanon to the deserts of Arabia. But a large number of Americans remain unaware of the rest of the world.
The tour guide at the Capitol explains the details of the surrender of Lord Cornwallis the British General to the US Army. I mention that it is the same Lord Cornwallis who was in India. And, the guide asks me whether Cornwallis was Indian. ‘‘Of course not”, I explain. “The British were in India for 200 years during the colonial period”. “I didn’t know that”, the guide barks into his speakers for the whole Capitol to hear, “but my daughter should know, she has a 3.7 GPA”. That was funny, but it drove home a point that an American friend had made. A well travelled American knows more about the world than most people, but those who haven’t know the least. I meet a doctor in Rhode Island, a highly educated and intelligent person and he confirmed that his medical practice kept him ‘in state’ and his questions on the part of the world that I currently reside in, could easily be termed ‘imperial’.
A police officer flags me down as I drive through the hamlets of upstate New York. “Do you realize how fast you were driving?” I put on my sorriest face and tell him that I hadn’t realized that I was over the speed limit. The difference between the speed limits on the highway and interior roads is quite large and being used to the highway for a while, I hadn’t stuck to the speed restriction and so I apologized. He took my international driving license, looked at it and realized that I wasn’t a local.
“You speak extremely good English, how come, is that your primary language?” he asked. He was extremely surprised that an ‘international’ could speak English with some fluency. Perhaps it was a local trying to pass himself off as an international.
I give him the same spiel on the British influence in India for 200 years and that………
“I know” he countered; “I’m letting you off with warning” he smiled and sent us on our way.
We spent a wonderful holiday at a lakeside resort in Lake Placid, in the Adirondacks. It was very peaceful on the Mirror Lake and we were in the midst of vacationing American families. It was a revealing experience. Older members of the families were being cared for; the younger members were receiving all the attention from the adults, who, like all of us over the world get a glimpse of our own fleeting youth through our children. We canoed and we kayaked, we walked and we drove, and we ate and drank to the lees.
It was amazingly peaceful and I was admiring the lake view from the balcony adjoining our room. I must have been motionless for quite a while. Suddenly a voice from below asked me, “ how long do you think you would want to stay on the Adirondacks?” I was stumped for a while and at a loss for words. “Well”, he said, “assume that money wasn’t an object”. “Perhaps the whole of summer”, I replied and we started a conversation. And, strangers became friends.
One of the great discoveries during this trip was when I realized how well war veterans are looked after in the States. It is a lesson for the rest of the world. And, it is not the government agencies that I am talking about. It is the men and women from ordinary walks of life who are the real angels. I was in a group that was taking care of World War II veterans. The sheer compassion was something to see and experience. For me, it brought back some faith in mankind. All was not lost, yet.
The America that I found this time has finally come to terms with the aftermath of 9/11. The extreme paranoia seems to have faded away and the people have moved on. With the politicians embarrassingly politicking, the media concentrating on the façade, with elections around the corner, most people perhaps do not realize the subtle but fundamental changes that are taking place in the United States. The country is going back to the basics. It has always been the only country where meritocracy has been held supreme as opposed to the hierarchical structures of the old world (including China) and it is the only country that could have produced a Steve Jobs.
As the world is watching a looming European implosion with bated breath, the tide is quietly beginning to turn. The gloom may resonate with many Americans that "We had Steve Jobs. We had Johnny Cash. And we had Bob Hope. But now we have lost our jobs, our cash, and our hope". Perhaps hope is just around the corner if the American body politic, driven by the people, on the process of re-building a new America that cherishes hard-work that creates more jobs rather than financial wizardry creating mega paper profits.
My journey is over this time, having dropped my younger daughter to university, and having caught the fag end of hurricane Irene, I have returned home to find this resonating voice from America. This is what is being demanded by angry Americans taking to the streets across the country in "Occupy Wall Street" campaigns, away from the politicians and away from the extremes of Tea parties. For the first time I see cynicism turn into positive energy. Americans are finally looking at the depths of their soul and all the things that have made them truly great. And, I am hopeful – for America, and the rest of the world.