Friday, September 03, 2004

Paean to America

Yes, I know it is completely unfashionable, in this desperate and compromised age, for third-worlders like myself to have any good words to say for America. I do try, now and then, to agree with my politically savvy friends, some of them American, many of them Indian, that there is much amiss in the land where the Mississippi flows.

En route here, I try to have the kinds of experiences that my fellow third-worlders have at the immigration barriers, but have failed yet again, on this trip. I have generally been greeted warmly and with no suspicions, have felt disarmed and grateful, have not been turned away, have felt guiltily delighted to be back once more. In my first week or so, I continue to be cautious in my responses, I try to be objective. Or at least, that's how I've been in these posts, at this blog, on this trip.

But today, I am in my sister's home in rural Pennsylvania and can no longer contain myself. I must break down and confess that I have always loved America and that there is no point trying to hide behind political correctness and planetary realities: this is one of my dark secrets and here, on this blog, I am finally forced to confront it. Yes -- the name of this blog says it all -- yes, I love America.

Every part of this confession is tainted with guilt. There is no extenuating circumstance. Even the moment of cross-over, the moment when I first became aware that I was suffering from a crush, was a hopelessly childish one: it was 1964, I was eleven years old, in Bangkok, where my father was the Indian Ambassador. I was with my parents at the annual International Fair, which was some sort of charity event at which each of the Embassies show-cased their countries' products. Most of the countries had interesting displays. Ours was full of silks and crafts and a few Air India Maharaja figurines.

And the US stall? The US stall was awash with toys. That's it. TOYS. Big, small, cuddly, furry, mechanical, colourful, silly, serious, funny, clever. I can even remember the presenter at the stall shamelessly parading a long-maned pony worn across his neck, like a sort of big shaggy stole, as he posed for the TV cameras. Yes, it was utterly manipulative, devoid of taste or elegance, hamming for the audience and as breathtaking as an anaconda.

Even at the time, I knew from the politics at my school (two schools, actually, because there was a mid-term switch) that there were various reasons for hating the "Yanks" -- that neighbouring Vietman was a mess because of them, that they were bullies and autocrats, hypocrites and ... oh, so much more and so much worse. Nevertheless, there was the stall, and it was BURSTING with toys. I was rivetted and could not look away. In a sense, that early fascination, the knowledge that I had been ruthlessly manipulated, and that I didn't care, has stayed with me, and coloured me, ever since.

All through the years, I've had friends who have tried to talk me out of my idiotic fixation with the New World, who have tried to force me to see reason. And I DO see reason. But ... I continue to love America, unreasonably, illogically with all the warts, and horns and ugly bits. I know I should be apologizing for my lack of conscience and perhaps my lack of taste. But I don't apologize. I am glad to be here, despite all.

I should explain a little about this house. I've been visiting it since the mid-seventies. I have, so to speak, seen this home grow up from being a comfortable living space that my sister used in the early years of her life in the US as a doctor, in a country she wasn't sure she really wanted to live in, but found herself in regardless. It was always an attractive home, but now, when I think of what it was and what it has become, it is like seeing a dear friend mature from mere prettiness into beauty.

The house began with colours and textures and artefacts almost exclusively imported from India. But now it includes almost as much from India as from here. In the early days the local art-items were jokey things, cute rather than elegant, clever rather than enduring. Today, when I look around, I see a hand-made closet that is practically Debussy, it's so smoothly and stylishly dissonant, with a sinuous ripple running right across it, and up and down it too, so that you absolutely have to stroke its surface, and enjoy the sheer joy of its crafting.

I see a small mobile made from chunks of coloured glass. I see the handsome panelling of the kitchen-cum-pantry. I see the prints and hand-blown glass. I see the dressed stone of the newly renovated backyard, forming a tiny piazza-like space just before the garden proper begins, with clumps of bright and slightly reckless flowers overlooking an oval lawn, that's been shaped to suggest a magic pool, filled with solid green water.

Yes, yes, politically, there is much to hate about America. And yes I know that politics should and does colour so much and everything about the lives we live on this planet, we 7 billion bi-peds with the big brains and the small, calculating hearts. And yes I know I belong to one of the subject cultures, one of those that will be harmed by the influence that the US has had on the world and will continue to have on it whether the rest of us want it to or not, whether it succeeds in its goals or not. Yes, I know I should be fearful for myself, and others like myself -- the non-American citizens of the world, for what the US can do to us, or make us do to ourselves.

But today, a warm and sunny day, enjoying my sister's house, feeling unbearably and disgustingly complacent, I try so hard to plunge downwards into a pit of anger and dissatisfaction, and keep coming up ... happy. So I wanted to share this moment with you, friends, even though I know many of you will be sneering, and many of you will realize that you have always known that I am unfortunately soft in the head, sentimental, easily-seduced, lacking in morals or taste, cannot be trusted, cannot be respected, must be discarded -- all regardless, I wanted to share a moment of pleasure and honesty: yes, I do love America, I love being here and at this moment, headily and incautiously, give thanks for the abundance around me.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm! I like it, what you have to say. I'm anozzer thirdworlder that luvs to travel to America n too has had no problem - yet - with getting in. It's funny, but MY sort of first face-to-face with Yankees was at a Trade Fair too. They used to have an annual one in Delhi (at the space now called Pragati Maidan) and in those days the biggest, most dizzying Pavilions were the ones of the US n the then USSR. The latter was scary for me, really, because the sputniks n cars n other gadgets they displayed were gross n ugly whereas the stuff in the US pavillion was positively fascineshwarz (oh dear, have I given my ID away?). N what was most thrilling for me were the cars on display. I've always been a BIG car freak, ever since I was that high, n the US cars were just "Gorge (on) Us". But, anyway, now it's just the sense of s-p-a-c-e that one encounters there that I revel in n the sheer size of their trees n the colours of their flowers n the 'enormousness' of their desserts n the variety of their confectionary...just ignore the 'bushes' is what I say n the fact that a large proportion of the people you see there voted to get 'bushed'.

Marginalien said...

Haha! Yessar, ah knows who you is! And thanks for your agree-able-ness -- as you know, there are MANY who would find such sentiments barfable. *sigh* Maybe it has something to do with being fond of dessert? Just desserts, just dessert, dessert, justly or even deserted dessert.

Dream Debutante said...

Reagrding your coming out: you are very brave, and perhaps that's why you deserve to enjoy that brave new world they call America. My spouse is in love with America too and I have never forgiven it. The spouse loves NY best, dreams of eating through the apple to find its core. After reading your blog, I have decided to not go on about it so much. After all you cannot choose who or what you love...

Marginalien said...

Thanks, Maiden Over! But I'm not brave, just reckless and not very ambitious. It has become a badge of lowbrow chic to admit to liking the US but -- as must be obvious from my paean -- I don't care. I'm 51! My take on growing old is that I can throw caution to the winds and do whatever I like coz there's less and less time in which I might have to suffer the consequences.

Maybe your spouse and I should meet up some time ... ? We can eat apples together.

Dream Debutante said...

Sure, and you can make apple pie together. I've never been there, no wonder my apple pies don't turn out right - always a bit too crumbly.
I keep trying to convince the spouse that the apple's rotten, but that's only because I've never been to NY. What's the famous line? Live in New York once in your life, but leave before you become hard. Live in North California (Carolina??) one time but leave before you become too soft.

Marginalien said...

Hmmm ... something tells me we have met, Maiden Over! The North Carolina connection ... is it true? Are you an architect? All regardless, thanks for dropping by. Apple pie is always welcome, crumbly or otherwise!

Dream Debutante said...

Cross connection ho gaya hai aapka. Self not architect. Not of buildings, anyway. Just a web browser.