Saturday 20 April 2013

Seduced by New York

I never expected to like the U.S. of A. In fact, I’d never expected or desired to visit there. I’d grown up surrounded by a certain disbelief and incredulity at the ridiculous excesses and antics of ‘those Yanks’. Artist friends derisively referred to them as ‘Septics’ – from the English propensity for using rhyming words to replace the actual word: septic tanks-yanks. It was the land of too much fast food, too many fast car chases in mediocre movies and too many loud-mouthed, narrow minded provincialites who thought the world revolved around the U.S. of A. like pre-Galileoists thought the Sun and planets revolved around the Earth. Once, in rural France, I spent an evening with a lovely newlywed couple from Idaho. Over dinner in a small bistro of a delicious variety of French delicacies that they hadn’t yet dared to try on their own, I ordered a bottle of wine and introduced them to the subtleties of wine tasting. As we noted the ‘nose’ and aerated the wine across our palettes, I could see the beginning of enlightenment and enchantment beginning to dawn on the face of the male of the species. Meanwhile a certain look of horror was beginning to catch a hold on the visage of the female of the species.
‘If we told the folks back home we were drinking WINE they’d be horrified!’
‘Really?’ I asked, astonished. ‘Why on earth is that?’
‘All as anyone drinks back home with their dinner is milk! They think we’re strange enough as it is for wanting to honeymoon in Europe!’ She said Europe as if it were the equivalent of taking a holiday on Mars. There was a distinct scent of fear that clung to the air around her that her friends would shun her if she ever revealed the truth of what they had participated in on their travels.
With my suspicions about the unglobal mindset of all Americans confirmed by a statistical polling of two, that left few good things to say about the country. As far as I was concerned it was a miracle they’d managed to produce something as brilliant as the TV series The Addams Family which was equalled only by their ability to send man to the moon. They may have helped save Europe in WWII but they’d sure made an apocalypse of Vietnam and it was only that ‘sending man to the moon’ business that saved their arses in the global opinion polls. I remember very precisely the day Neil Armstrong took the Giant leap for Mankind. It might have been Sunday July 20th 1969 in the States but in Melbourne it was a Monday morning, 10.19am 21st of July to be precise. It wasn’t until my dad came home from work, ordered a stiff scotch from my mother and announced, ‘Those bloody Yanks have finally done it! They walked on the moon today!’ that I knew something special had happened. My dad turned on and tuned in the old black & white TV. as I lay on the Raffia matting that covered our living room floor and my mother took up her seat in her Addams Family chair and speculatively lit a cigarette. There on the six o’clock news that most households religiously watched, was the first crackly and static filled images of Neil Armstrong as he leaped stiffly onto the dusty surface of the moon and spoke those immortal words. At school the next day it was all anyone could talk about. No longer could we say things like ‘I’ll eat my broccoli when men walk on the moon’. I was in grade 1 and what I most remember was that all the other little kids’ eyes were like saucers. Our teacher procured a television set and we watched the replay on the morning news and speculated in hushed and amazed tones about whether we thought we’d be going to live on the moon and that maybe the next year we’d get to meet some Martians because surely it wouldn’t be too long before those astronauts went there too, because clearly those Yanks were capable of anything now!
My mum in her Addams Family chair
It was with the same awe filled wonder that everyone years later heard the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers announced on the radio and rushed to their television sets to view the awful footage, only this time it was with horror rather than elation. Everyone in the western world remembers where they were that day – I was standing in my kitchen putting on a pot of coffee to brew and suddenly the phone lines were running hot as everyone rushed to make sure that not one single person was left out of the loop of knowledge of the events unfolding. These days I stand on my balcony scowling impotently at the hypocrisy of international outrage. Crap happens every day around the world but when it happens in the U.S. of A. we hear about it every five minutes on the news in sensationalised, outraged tones. Where is the outrage for all those other innocent people who are suffering similar fates every day in other countries?
Anyways, when Occy(R) and I decided to travel to the States in 2007 to further his medical education, I was a rather reluctant traveller – I could think of 50 other places I’d rather be exploring, but I supposed if I had to go I’d suffer it. We started in Las Vegas and the people were certainly eccentric but friendly, the Grand Canyon amazing and the shows great. Okay, off to a reasonable start. Next was a pit stop for a week in New York. Apart from a love for the Chrysler building that I’d acquired in first year architecture, I was sure I was going to hate it – I now want to move there! That city in the summer completely seduced me! The ‘Guggi’ (Guggenheim museum from whence my name was extrapolated by Occy – he expanded it to Guggilaba, then re-shortened it to Guggi) now sits alongside the Louisiana Art Gallery by the sea on the outskirts of Copenhagen as some of my most favourite buildings and places of pilgrimage in the world. Sometimes I just long to be back there and when I do return it is always with a sigh of homecoming relief.
Occys shot of the classic Guggi interior
Chicago Stadium
I loved everything about New York, from the mountains of fresh berries in the market squares to the hot dog and pretzel stands, the Statue of Liberty and Broadway shows, MOMA (museum of modern art) and of course the pilgrimage to the 9/11 site that had rocked us all. We moved on to Chicago for a 10 day long conference and fellowship program where we sat through our first real game of baseball, drank Buds, ate dogs, and had the guys next to us enthusiastically explain all the intricacies of the game to us. We loved it so much we took our four kids there a few years later and included a trip to the obligatory Disney and to see Cape Canaveral where the famous man on the moon launch that I’d watched as a kid on the black & white TV. had taken off from all those years earlier.
Written by Guggi

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