Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Thank you, America

It's proving rather difficult to get anywhere near the blogging platform these days. But I cannot let tomorrow's Thanksgiving celebrations in the USA pass by without acknowledging them. In Europe it remains deeply fashionable to hold the US in contempt. There is an odd kind of American conservative who even does this, convinced of the inferiority of American culture as opposed to the European.

But the problem is wrongly posed. America is in some senses only an extension of Europe, a sometimes strange and a sometimes successful experiment undertaken by Europeans for reasons we all know about. Those who first celebrated Thanksgiving were Europeans on a trip which had only just lasted slightly longer than a journey on Ryan Air. They were hardly the first European settlers though; the Spanish were there some time before them. What am I saying in fact? Well, that European culture is American culture. It belongs to America inevitably.

Of course, I don't mean to downplay America's essential otherness in comparison to the European thing. Its deliberate setting aside of so much of the old continent's ways partly explains why it belongs to what is known more broadly as the New World. But where can I flee where I will not find myself? The traffic back and forth between the US and Europe has been constant for good and for ill.

Even now, America has perhaps a greater chance of preserving what made the civilisation of Europe so distinct: its Christianity. While significant parts of Europe promise in the next few decades to become as lost to the Church as the African and Middle Eastern dioceses in partibus infidelium, the US seem to offer up case after case of the invigoration of Christian life, a renewal in contemplative communities, courage in the public square. Arguably the heterogeneity of its current episcopate has allowed it to begin to escape from the sickman blues of Vatican II more quickly that a local church like England and Wales where parochialism and cronyism are still ingrained.

And then there are all the things which make me smile about the US. The ubiquitous air conditioning, the easy cuisine, the help-yourself-to-my-fridge hospitality, Wendy's, Taco Bell, Kansas City, Santa Fe and Washington DC, the muppets ...

the redundant expressions like 'How can I help you today?' (as opposed to tomorrow, I suppose?) and the sudden uppitiness of the shop keeper when Englishmen innocently ask if he has anything 'cheap' for sale.

I suppose when one spends one's formative years in a country, as I did in the US as a young man, it marks one deeply in ways that one cannot change. I'm sure that is true for me. But, still, it is en pleine connaissance de cause - as the French say - that I'm deeply, deeply thankful for the US, for the funny, irritating and delightful companions of my American sojourn, and to everything from its glorious landscapes to it crappest tin-pot beer, for being there and for being that irreducibly annoying, inexorably pleasing country strung somewhere between here and the other side of the planet, its heart free of irony and its waistline slung amicably a little lower than it ought to be.

Which reminds me of a true American anecdote with which I will finish.

Pat had been some kind of ranger in a vast American country park. For all I knew, he was friends with Yogi Bear. In any case, he was a blood-red American, and one time over coffee he asked me with pride and a rhetorical flourish why America had never been invaded.

'I don't know, Pat, so go on and tell me,' I replied.

'It's because we all have the right to bear arms' he said, beaming a smile and with just a small glimmer of stars and stripes in his eyes.

'That's interesting,' I said, 'but it does make me wonder, Pat: have you ever seen the sea?'

He looked at me totally puzzled, so I pressed him further, 'Surely you're aware that the US is bounded on either side by oceans that are thousands of miles wide.'

'Hmmmm,' he conceded, 'but we'll be ready for anyone who ever crosses them!'

Perhaps the conversation has been embellished in the remembering. No matter. What else is remembering for? But I like to think he is somewhere there still, slurping his coffee and making sure his guns are ready for when the invaders arrive! I meanwhile am free in my mind to wonder freely down all the lovely roads I remember from Virginia to New Mexico.

God bless America! And today of all days: God bless, America.


Anagnostis said...

I'm glad you've posted. That last one was a daily reminder that 40 years of trying to play the guitar has been a complete waste of time.

Frederick Oakeley said...

Such praise for the US is surprising, when their political system is in meltdown and their parties at such loggerheads that they have lost all sense of the national interest. With 4% of the world's population they produce well over 20% of the polluting gases that are changing our climate and yet even Mr Obama will go to Durban utterly unable to help the rest of us face up to the consequences of man's greed. Yes, God bless America, not least because unless there is an urgent change of heart, particularly among Republicans, the world's richest nation will drag the world to diaster.

Ches said...

Well, forgive me for not confusing a nation with a state. I don't know what came over me!

Toby said...

I love the US. In some ways it's the world in a microcosm to me; it seems to have the best of everything and worst of everthing, be at the forefront of destroying culture and then at the forefront of reviving it, it's impossible to comprehend adequately from the outside, but so easy to stereotype.

Ches, I shall regale you with a few of my best US anecdotes from my time working at the Hard Rock when we meet in Brum soon.

PS Some of the beer may be awful, but I've still never heard a better name and strapline for a beer than the six-pack I bought in Utah: "Polygamy Porter - Why have just the one!?"

Ches said...

Looking forward to it, Toby. Will be in touch soon.

David said...

Thank you, Dr. Sudlow. I'm an American who has long enjoyed your blog, and appreciates your wisdom, good humor, and your solid and sane Traditionalism. God bless!

Ches said...

David, I'm keeping my real name off here as much as possible, but thanks for your comment.

David said...

I understand, Ches. Thanks and keep up the great work!

Lazarus said...

Lots to criticize in America, but I find the knee jerk anti-Americanism of many of us Europeans incredibly irritating. A particular bugbear is the criticism of Americans for not knowing any European history or geography. Fair enough. But how many of us know anything of the history of the US and thus of key aspects of the creation of modernity?

And where would we be without Spam and similar culinary innovations??

So, indeed, a belated happy thanksgiving to America and Americans, and thank you!