Disclaimer: This is the translation of my travel series on the US. I am not a native so I guess there are a lot of mistakes. If you find some, please note them here: piratenpad.de/p/translations Have fun! Thanks to my wonderful hosts! <3
The exhibited States of America, Part 1:
It took me quite some time to visit this country, which has influenced me more than any other, whose language I speak, whose culture I grew up with and that I love to this day. A country that I only know from observation, from stories. And somehow I never gave the plan to set foot on this soil a high priority. Instead, I have watched the land, which seems like no other watchable, have watched as it has changed since 9/11, have followed Fox News, Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann. I read everything about what I wanted to see at some point in the future.
And maybe I waited until I had the chance to take my time for this trip. Maybe I simply wanted to be prepared thoroughly for this experience. This year I finally made it. One month, 6 cities, 3 old friends, 15000 miles.
I am starting in Berlin. Stopover in Amsterdam. No coffee shop at the airport. And my first body scanner. A photo of the well-storied machine is not allowed. Political tourism is quickly designed as terrorism. I’m about to call “I am not a terrorist, only on Instagram!” (And that pretty persistent!)
I have the option to bypass the body scanner with a manual body search. I choose to transition into the cell, which looks a bit like a X-ray machine at the dentist, raise my arms to the head and wait three seconds. My curiosity and discomfort to be searched are this time stronger. Looking at the picture, what the body scanner produces, I am satisfied: I look like the mascot of Greendale Community College. The big F next to my head is supposed to indicate my gender and is in fact the only clue. It is entered manually.
Unscathed, I board the Delta machine where I am faced with more diversity than I am used to in homogeneous Germany. From India, Kenya, Israel, they are arriving. With kosher food and Punjabi, on the way to friends or new businesses or a new life. Delta welcomes the world. The wine makes me forget my excitement that I had made the previous day more and more. What to expect, what I would see, how meeting my old friends would be, was of secondary importance, because predictable. But how would I feel? After years of watching the country I will finally walk, smell the people, the cities. Is there a scent called American dream?
Every day, it attracts countless people to countries and cities which they visit only, into which they catch a glimpse of other people’s lives in different circumstances, and finally resume their own lives with preserved memories. They slip behind the scenes of places that might not even exist. Places you want to know. Traveling is an act of a new life, what we often desire. Focus here is also about how we feel – before, during and after the trip. Including images of canned moments.
Modern traveling is characterized by speed and search experience. Sometimes the search for meaning. Any. Maybe that is why I distaste spiritual vacations. We photograph out of the hustle of the tourist spots. We want to collect what people have been identified as worth seeing, making it a part of us and later recall it in a ritual of contemplation to extract the lesson for ourselves. Slideshows as meditation.
The tourist monuments ultimately serve as such as they confront us with eternity. We celebrate the survival of these monuments to celebrate their given eternity while focus on our desire for control. Traveling is thus an encounter with ourselves
My first encounter in and with the U.S. is the passport control. I like the way the inspector asks about my motivation for the trip. His, of course, is the more transparent one. I feel lied to.
Nevertheless, I will answer questions. He was nice. With my Kirsten Stewart Memorial case (a part is broken and the case limping) I’m on my way into the city. The city. At New York Penn Station, I am expected. Yet I try to bel not impresses, there is free wi-fi on the train and I look at the bleak landscapes of New Jersey. Finally arrived. My girlfriend is expecting me. Eight years it took me to visit her at last. But at this moment these years are forgotten. I enter the city. The city. It’s already dark, afternoon, rush hour. I take a deep breath, look around in the deep canyons of Manhattan and instantly in love. It smells, how it makes me happy. And a little after caramel popcorn. Befuddled by the sudden happiness I follow my girlfriend through the dirty streets. We go to Hoboken. The Brooklyn of New Jersey. We start with a walk. Meanwhile, I am awake 24 hours, but I am willed to fight my tight bred lethargy with pleasure. I mean, it’s Valentine’s Day. (Indicated by the color of the Empire State Building)
The next morning at 6 am I driven out of the house. The sun is shining, it smells of inspiration. New York is waiting for me. We start in Greenwich Village, Christopher Street, Stonewall. It’s beautiful. It is an ode to diversity. With wide eyes, I walk through the streets, accompanied by the sun and radiant taxis. Yes, I’m here. It is all happening.
Next: My love for American shows is driving me to the front facade of Friends and Sex and the City, 30 Rock (efeller) and a small sandwich shop where the famous sandwiches are produced, Tina Fey has dedicated an entire episode. I’m cocky. The city sucks me in like a begging dust grain. Somewhere between 5th Avenue and margaritas-to-go in Williamsburg, I think about emigrating and a small closet in the West Village, dreaming of how I my next book is sold in the small bookstore around the corner. New York City is the capital of metamodern world. It gives you everything, it has everything, it takes away everything.
“New York City is the best city in the world. Until reality hits you. “I read I in my Twitter stream.
I met with reality in the face of the horrendous amount of people whose faces are haggard and desperate, many of them work, but can hardly afford the rent. The abysses of the American Dream can be seen in these faces, in a city where rents are highly ridiculous and even those with accommodation often be those who can be summarized under “house poor”: You have a fancy apartment in the West Village, but no further dollars to share the joy of this great city.
Nowhere else will you be smashed with wealth and poverty, intellectual brilliance and province so merciless. Nowhere becomes the diversity and ignorance of the Western world clearer. Nowhere is the absurdity of the capitalist world so brutal. At least this is what I feel right now, right here. I am in a city that is the symbol of a world where few have everything. And I wonder how it must be to consider New York as home. Like Versailles. Suddenly the moments of bliss are over. New York is just an example of an America that isn’t able to redeem his promises anymore.
Next stop is Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I take the train. It is empty and cheap. There is free Wi-Fi. Soulful I am looking at the glistening bright hell of East Coast Suburbia as it passes me. It is as I know it.
After arriving in Philadelphia, I spend some time with my family, go to see the great movie Silver Lining Playbook and looking forward to a meeting with my twitter icon @neinquarterly at the University of Pennsylvania. But before that: a little historyporn at Independence Square. The cradle of democracy. Wasn’tit?
I am slowly approaching the Liberty Bell. Because of her, I am here at all. The mob of cameras almost prevents me from taking a picture without strangers that would bother me in the post-visit contemplation. Because contemplation here is not possible, it’s too cold and too crowded. After all it is a bell not hanging nor clanging. The symbol of a society that is not the United States. Perhaps never were. Greedy we look at the crack of the bell. That is why we are here. Because of the crack.
These ideas evolve in the conversation with @neinquarterly in a nice pub, in which we have gone to after an event at Penn on contemporary German literature. We talk about Benjamin and Adorno. Adorno repeatedly. And about me being crapped on by a bird at the Independence Square. I consider it a symbolic picture. We say goodbye with Adorno. I am pleased with the fine conversation. In the morning I had three hours playing with my three year old nephew to exhaustion. I do have it all
And the next stage shimmers on the horizon: The West Coast. Seattle is the first stop. Until then, there are still a few hours flight. Transition in Houston, Texas. Two hours. Between GI’s and people in shorts I walk through the airport halls in search of meatless food. Not a chance. Instead, a Fox News booth, a shop with wild west nostalgia and a completely ridiculous statue of the 41st U.S. President George H.W. Bush. Instead of a President, I think of a GQ model. (And yes there is wind.)
At the FoxNews store I buy the New York Times. Somehow it feels like a little rebellion. And taking sides. Nobody should think that I was not at least liberal. So far I have saved myself from conversations that are interrupted by my terrible left wing European ideas with the joke that in the political spectrum of the United States I would likely be considered as a “Stalinist”. That way I saved my debate with an old lady on the train, that was reading a history book by Bill O’Reilly and frightened by the fact that Germany “has health care” since the 1870s. My Note that it has at least survived various forms of government, two world wars and the “Cold War,” kind of reassured her. For whatever reason.
My flight to Seattle will take off soon and I walk by the many vending machines that sell everything. Even electricity. Beside one of those machines is a Leather Spa. A spa for leather. Or shoe shine station. Anyway. Sitting in one of the leather spa armchairs, a finely dressed African-Americans gets his shoes polished by a white man. I stop briefly and watch the scene. Somehow I feel a little wind of optimism.
On board then they show Lincoln. An epic movie about the abolition of slavery. It may be due to the circumstances or to my induced travel physical weakness, but after being frightened for two hours that they might not abolish slavery after all and I already dropping some tears, I literally burst into tears, as obtained with the vote to abolish slavery two rows in front of me the fist of an old African-American goes straight up in the air. I never cry during movies like that. I leave Houston behind. I’m ready for the West Coast.
Next part, next week.