Given that it is July 4th, I thought I’d do something a little different. It’s my fourth straight celebration of American Independence, so at this point the barbs directed my way about how the Americans kicked Britain’s ass and all that have gotten old. I don’t consider myself a patriot at all, so the Americans that teased me quickly became disappointed at my indifference. For most Americans, it’s hard to understand the lack of love I have for the country of my birth. I don’t hate it, I just think being proud of where you were born- something you have no control over- is kind of illogical. I prefer to think of myself as a citizen of the world. I care more about ecology and the state of the planet than the inane quibbles of the man-made constructs of nation states. Anyway, enough of all that. My semi-permanent presence here has brought about the expectation that I ought to get in the festive spirit. And I won’t lie- July 4th is usually good fun. But to me, it’s just an excuse to hang out with family and friends, and eat a lot of food. Even though I am ardently against any kind tendency toward state worship, I love a good picnic and the Americans know how to party better than anyone else.
So I’ll make this post a celebratory one. I will infuse it with festive positivity. When I first got the idea to do a July 4th post, my mind turned toward the past. Let’s rejoice, after all! This blog can be fun, right? Let’s make it fun. I know most of you are out setting off fireworks, getting turnt, or playing cornhole (a name I still find hilarious). So here’s a short list of 10 things I LOVE about the USA that have served me well during my time here.
1) The Sports
I love the fanaticism of Americans when it comes to sports. I think there is one place in society where zealotry isn’t a cancer, and that’s sports. Over here it is just consumed differently. It’s a community event, a family event. You go to a baseball game here and there’s nothing else like it in the UK. The game itself is only one aspect of it. The food and drinks are great, and everyone’s there just to hang out. Kids run about the stadium playing. You see your neighbors in the next row and chew the fat. And when it comes to college football, the whole city shuts down and gets behind the team. In the UK, if you’re not into soccer, you can reasonably walk around town and not even realize there’s a game on, much less know the result. Whereas here, you can’t escape it. Everywhere you go- hair salons or grocery stores- you’ll see the team colors. I like that.
2) Oreo Ice Cream Sandwiches
I love the variety of ice cream here in general. I’m all about it. It’s my biggest vice. But there is just something so quintessentially American about ice cream sandwiches, and the Oreo ones are the best.
3) Theodore “Bull Moose” Roosevelt
My roommates Aaron and Anne-Marie are high school sweethearts, and when they were teenagers they made a student film about TR for a history project. The more I researched TR, the more inspired I became by what he called the “Strenuous Life”- a personal philosophy of his aimed at living life vigorously and courageously every day. It’s about perseverance and returning to the fray after you fail. It’s also about pursuing as many experiences as possible in life- be it tai chi, astronomy or competitive eating. Do everything and do it all the time. Reinvent yourself every day. TR was a small, sickly child from a wealthy east coast family- but he devoted himself to becoming a rugged cowboy and a badass sportsman. I’m convinced that TR is perhaps the greatest pound-for-pound genius the USA has ever produced. If you want to find out more about him, you absolutely should watch the 2014 documentary The Roosevelts: An Intimate History by my favorite documentary filmmaker: Ken Burns.
4) The “Hidden Gems”
America is massive. San Diego is about as far away from Nantucket as Nantucket is from Bristol, which is where I come from in the UK. Everywhere you go there are the usual restaurant chains, but if you know where to look, there are also a myriad of highly specialized places. Our favorite at the moment is a little Vietnamese joint that makes artisanal smoothies, milk coffees and iced teas, called Hello Tealicious. Because America is so huge and so wealthy, its residents are afforded little businesses that have such character and quality.
5) The Books
I could do a whole post on my top 10 favorite American authors. I’ve read from a bunch of literary badasses, including Ernest Hemingway, Anne Tyler, Robert Frost, Thomas Wolfe and Cormac McCarthy. I usually give William Faulkner as my favorite.
6) The Birds
Once I was at Aaron’s boyhood home in Wisconsin, and we looked out of the kitchen window and saw a Cardinal. Those are my favorite. I’ve seen a bunch though. Blue Jays are pretty dope too. The birds down in Texas are a bit more mean-looking. They’re like raptors. I also love bald eagles and loons.
7) Currier & Ives
These two are to art what Smith & Wesson are to guns. Currier & Ives were a 19th century printmaking firm based in New York City, and I’ve got a bunch of their work at home. I’m all about it mate. I adore their paintings and lithographs of rural American life. I love the white picket fences, the water mills, and the painted colonial houses with their sylvan backdrops. Once you finish this list you need to check them out.
8) The Cicadas
This is more relevant to my time spent in Texas, where I have lived on a semi-permanent basis for the past year or so. I first noticed them when I came to Kansas City, Missouri. They were so loud. Every bush and tree was an orchestra. Matthew McConaughey calls them “chi-kah-da’s”.
9) The Bacon
The bacon here is seriously amazing. It’s golden-brown, crispy, and it just snaps right in half. I can’t eat British bacon now. Sorry, but it’s not bacon- it’s more like ham…
10) The Sunsets
During all five of my visits to this country, I have always been struck by the awesome beauty of its sunsets. This is particularly true for my time in Wisconsin. The skies there are dramatic and epic. I wish I had taken more pictures of them. The sky here is the best sky anywhere. As the day closes a layer of sky above the horizon shines a deep, plunging yellow. It makes me think of magma. It’s one of the most electrifying things I have ever seen.