Letter from America

17 07 2008

Does anyone remember Alistair Cooke’s weekly radio piece “Letter from America.” It should have been a blog, he was a man before his time.

I am a South African and I’ve been in the US for about 2 weeks now, and I’ll probably be here for another week or so. So I thought it would be good to write something from here for all my South African readers. Some US readers may find it interesting also.

It’s quite a change being in rural northern Kenya a month ago with the arms trade and the teams clearing out land mines in southern Sudan and the primitive life, and then being in NY and LA.
We were on the tarmac at JFK for 4 hours, waiting in a line to take off, and that on the back of a 10 hour layover. That’s the last time I use a travel agent (no offense meant it you are one).

Right now I’m in a city that rivals Cape Town for it’s beauty… Seattle.
It’s a marvelous place, water everywhere you look. Eagles, Ospreys and Deer all around you, and the biggest trees you could imagine. Apparently the early colonial prospectors, looking for anything that could be used to bolster the slave driven, European rival-economies of 400 years ago, reported that the timber here was “too large to be practically harvested”. Of course industrial milling changed all that and Tacoma – a city 100km south of Seattle – was a millers paradise.
Actually at the moment I’m staying closer to Tacoma than to Seattle, right at the end of the Puget Sound in a beautiful little place called Gig Harbor (no u’s in harbor here). Mount Ranier is visible at this time of year, it’s a perennial snow capped peak engineered over the centuries by the volcanic release of the San Andreas fault. This whole coastal region before the rockies is beautifully punctuated by these massive mountains with their heads in the clouds.

One of the attractions here is a ride on a Seattle ferry, something which I insist on doing whenever I’m here (and my wife just rolls her eyes). And this afternoon is ferry ride time! These ferries take about 30-100 vehicles and a couple hundred people, maybe as much as 1000 – I don’t know; and are a little like a floating mall. And the scenery from the ferry is just gorgeous everywhere you look; the ride is about an hour and a half.
Seattle city is one of those places that just oozes culture and beauty. It’s intelligent in every way, an obvious reflection of the people and the culture, and it’s about as photogenic as a city can be.
Friday is independence day and we’ll go and hang with the patriots at a fare at Federal Way. Along with Ben & Jerry’s pink Harley ice-cream bikes; Air Force Tomcats and 2nd WW Mustangs (and a Harrier or two); and fundamentalist Christians with sandwich boards and flyers yelling “Turn or Burn!”
Now when I say ‘fare’ what I mean is about 5-10km of beachfront with stalls and shops and food (so much food) and trucks and music and games and activities… it’s a little overwhelming and impossible to do in one day.
And then the fireworks, which have to be seen to be appreciated.

But it’s pretty clear, being here, that the American lifestyle is under more pressure than ever before since the war of independence. Locals blame it on terrorism, oil prices and a myriad of other things. But the reality is that the American dream-society is crumbling from within. Somewhere an invisible line of liberality has been crossed; there has been one too many ludicrous law suits, and it seems to me that America has crossed a point of no return.
But still, it’s nice to bask a bit in the glow of a brilliant, but fading, star.