by Bill Bonner
It is time the boys saw a little of their native land. Or, at least, their parents’ native land. Or what has become of it since it became the ‘homeland.’ They need to meet their relatives, too. Uncles and aunts are in their 80s; you don’t want to wait too long to visit aging relations.
The 6-week ‘see America’ road-trip starts here…Bill
“It’s unbelievable,” said Elizabeth. She had spent much of the 8 hours of flight time between Paris and Newark catching up on American movies.
“It’s amazing how coarse and vulgar these movies are. I don’t think I’ve heard the f-word so many times in my entire life. I don’t remember people saying the word so casually. And in the movies, it’s not the bad guys who use the word, it’s the good guys. They use it as if to mean that they are serious – they don’t have time to be polite or delicate.
“In that one movie I watched, I don’t remember the name, but it was about some police who were trying to figure out what had happened to a girl who had been kidnapped from Harvard. She was the president’s daughter, or something. And it looked like an evil band of terrorists were behind it. But the police beat people up and killed several bad guys…and said ‘f***’ to one another all the time. It was as if they thought their work was so important, they couldn’t be bothered to be nice.”
“Well, maybe the word has lost its meaning,” her husband suggested. “The language has evolved. It just doesn’t have the same shock value you remember from your childhood. It’s no longer a verb. It’s just punctuation. You know, people say…’So good to see you. F***. Have a nice day. F***.”
“That’s what I thought, but then I saw another movie in which a woman said she had ‘f***ed’ someone last night. I was shocked. This was on a family airplane. But no one seemed to take offense.”
“De Tocqueville, regarded in his day as one of the finest social philosophers in France, traveled to America in 1831,” our Pittsburgh correspondent, Byron King, explained. “He was, at the time, employed as an assistant magistrate of the French government and his mission was to inspect the penal system in the young American republic. While in the U.S., he carefully observed and took extensive notes about the new phenomenon occurring in America, the formation of a free and equal society. When Tocqueville returned to France, he wrote the first study of America and the American phenomenon, “Democracy in America,” published in 1835 (Volume I) and 1840 (Volume II).
“Bill… your upcoming journey across the country is a grand opportunity,” Byron flattered us. “For you and for all of us. Tocqueville looked at America from the grassroots, and decided that despite the day-to-day faults and flaws of the new nation it was fundamentally “good.” Tocqueville opined that “America will always be great as long as it is good.”
America is the world’s greatest military power. It still has the world’s greatest economy, too. But is America still ‘good?’ We don’t know. Nor have we come to find out. We simply want to have a look around.
But in coming back to the New World, we bring with us our newly-acquired ‘esprit critique.’ The French are famous for it. They criticize everything and everybody. It is what makes France so agreeable and the French so annoying. The food is good. Things are usually nice to look at – even the people themselves. The French insist on it.
By contrast, the word ‘comfort’ seems as though it was invented for Americans. They are nice to one another…but their food, architecture, dress, and manners seem a bit too relaxed for European tastes.
Stopping at Nick and Tony’s Italian eatery near Lynn, Massachusetts, the family turned its attention to the menu.
“News flash, Dad,” said Sophia, “this is the U.S. The portions are large.” Everything was bigger than we remembered it. The cars, the roads…and the people themselves.
We had been temporarily confused. “Entrée,” means main course, we remembered, the opposite of its meaning in Europe.
“The food isn’t bad,” said the most critical person in our party, Maria. Then again, Maria doesn’t eat anything. The poor girl got into the habit of not eating when she worked as a model in Paris. It has been a hard habit to break.
The seafood platter was not bad. But the wine that came with it was terrible.
“Well, what do you expect, Dad,” Sophia offered an explanation. “This is kind of a working class area. You can’t expect them to have, like, fine Bordeaux.”
“This doesn’t look like a bad area to me,” Jules, took up the conversation. “I was staying down in Maryland. We were in real white trash city.”
“Oh c’mon Jules, don’t exaggerate,” his mother replied. “That’s a very pretty area down there.”
“Well, it’s not the countryside. I’m not talking about that. And Aunt Mary and her family are very nice; I had a good time with them. They also have a lot of Amish farms down there. They’re kinda cool with their horse-drawn buggies and those straw hats. But if you drive around, you find some of the people are real trashy like you’d see in the movies.
“We went with Peter [his cousin] to pick up someone in the band and this guy came out of the house in a tee-shirt and a huge beer belly and shouted at us. ‘Git out of mah driveway,’ he said. I’m not making this up…he talked just like that… ‘Git out of mah driveway or I’ll come out wi’ my shotgun.’
“Peter said don’t worry about it…he was just joking…but he didn’t seem to be joking to me. He was a real cracker.”
“I don’t know if they have crackers in Maryland,” said his mother. “I think crackers are just in Florida or Georgia.
“Well, I was down at Uncle Jimmy’s and I loved it,” said Maria. “He has such a beautiful place down there…I went for a swim every morning. You know, we don’t even have a television in Paris. And he’s got a big-screen TV…and its so comfortable. It’s a lot nicer than in France. Well, at least it’s more comfortable. But the trouble down there is that you have to get in your car and drive if you want to do anything or go anywhere. And I’m not sure if there is anywhere to go or anything to do.”
“Oh yes, there’s a lot going on in Charlottesville; it’s a beautiful little city,” Elizabeth replied. “Besides, that’s just life in the country. You give up the choices you have in the city, but you get peace and quiet…and beautiful scenery…in exchange.”
“And parking places,” added the head of the house.
“I don’t know, but when we’re in the country in France I can get on my bicycle and ride into town,” Maria continued. “It’s fun. I can go into town and get fresh bread. At least, it’s fun.
“But down there, in Virginia, people get in their cars and drive to the CVS pharmacy, which has a drive through service… and then to McDonald’s drive through…and the drive through bank…you can do everything without ever getting out of your car.”
“I like Paris better,” said Henry.
“Better than what,” asked his father.
“Better than Baltimore…”
“But you don’t know Baltimore…we haven’t gotten there yet. And we’re not even headed in that direction.”
We were sitting in the cafeteria aboard the ferry on our way to Nova Scotia.
More to come… F***.