Oscar Wilde wrote about the relationship between America and Britain in 1882 in the Canterville Ghost, saying “We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except of course, language.”
This is still very true. Many American words are creeping into the British vocabulary; we even have Principals now at Academies.
I still hesitate before saying certain words, depending on where I am – gas or petrol, sidewalk or pavement, cilantro or coriander, and of course, tomato. When I first went there the problem I had was ordering a raspberry danish at McDonalds. It was my accent. My daughter Courtney, although born in LA and who is American, is having that problem now. She used the term gas station for the first time last night on Skype and then went out in the middle of the night to the local Waffle House. It’s got to be done!
I can’t explain the attraction America has always had on me. My father perhaps? As a young kid I used to dream my bed could fly, and it nearly always went to the land of The Archies or Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Detectives. There was always a basketball hoop over the garage door!
My Dad was stationed at one of the three airbases in San Antonio with the US Air Force during the 1940’s, training to be a pilot, (which he became, flying Lancasters for the RAF during the last years of the war).
There was much he wouldn’t talk about, missions over Germany but a couple of stories he did tell me have stayed with me.
In training over Texas there was a fault with his plane and he had to eject. He landed in a field, and had slightly hurt his leg. An African American family came and helped him and took him back to their home – this was unheard of then. He remembered their kindness and also the fact that I think the family of six were all living in a one bedroom house, which for wallpaper had the comics from Sunday newspapers.
They fed him and then the father helped him walk back into the nearest town, but would only walk so far with my Dad, saying he wasn’t allowed to walk past that point. My father thanked him and walked away, around the corner, …… to see a young African American man, a boy, hanging from a tree – his crime? being seen with a white woman.
I’ve travelled right across America. I once drove from Miami to LA, five days, and have driven from Toronto right down to Florida and then back up again along the East Coast, through to New York and then onwards to Toronto. I loved the drive from New York to Nashville too, not so much back again!
I travelled extensively around California and Nevada so there is not much of the country I haven’t seen. I think Wales is possibly the most beautiful country in the world, but America does come a close second; it has it all, and I truly love the lifestyle and the people.
One of my favourite authors is John Steinbeck, famous of course for East of Eden, Tortilla Flat and perhaps the two most successful; Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. One of my favourite of his though is Travels with Charley, in which he recounts his own journey around 1960 America with his large poodle, Charley. He converted a pickup truck into a camper van and drove from Maine to California and back. The book is observational, which you would expect, funny at times, poignant at others.
I discovered Steinbeck early in my life, along with Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and others. Today my favourite author is James Lee Burke. I share this apparently with President Clinton. Burke’s writing is poetic, incredibly descriptive, moving, thought-provoking and to me is the best author writing today. Check one of his books out, In the Electric Mist with the Confederate Dead for example. A film has made of this, and a couple other of his books too but I’ve yet to see one that does justice to the book.
James Lee Burke
Another draw to America for me was Wile E Coyote. I was surprised to see for sale on eBay yesterday coyote fur coats, a lot of them. Kill the demand, not the animals.
CJ once had an encounter with a coyote. When we lived on Laurel Canyon she went to go out one day to find a coyote sitting terrified on the front step by the door. She had to call animal rescue who came and tranquillised it and took it back into the hills.
I loved the hills, right from Hollywood through to the many Malibu canyons. This is where they filmed MASH. I used to have all the MASH books, most of them not too good but the original remains a must read. The opening sequence from the TV show stills gets to me, but here’s the opening credits to the classic film that inspired the hugely successful series.
MASH was one of the first shows that was imported from the States on a regular basis. I remember Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, with a very young and pretty Goldie Hawn. Another show I remember on my first visit was The Gong Show, a talent show with a charismatic Chuck Barris as host and special guest stars each week as judges who would ‘gong’ the acts that were awful – and most were but you loved them. Simon Cowell has probably seen the show and probably borrowed a few ideas for the Got Talent shows he now has around the world. Here’s the original.
Gong Show: http://youtu.be/5NgAP7FOqQQ
Finally, sad news over night about Whitney Houston, a huge talent, a huge voice, who sadly so obviously got lost somewhere along the way. She as only forty eight.
Whitney Houston, Saving All My Love For You: http://youtu.be/ewxmv2tyeRs