Travelling to Xanadu! A Year in the USA..PART 2

North America
June 28th 2003
Published: June 28th 2003
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Poulsen and Merrill and Jessica Smead to Saint Anthony’s Falls, Como Park and to a Jazz Performance. After that to dinner in the Mexican quarter of St Paul. The weekend after this, there were again several things on, and we had to pick! We visited the Cinco De Maya (5 of May) Festival in South Saint Paul. This was amazing. It is the big Mexican national celebration second only to their Independence Day in September. Parades; Maruichi bands, fun and frivolity. After this we went on to the Festival of the Nations.

The following Thursday we scored two very expensive free tickets to the Minnesota State Orchestra in Minneapolis from a colleague at work. I gave her a bottle of Australian wine (readily available here) by way of thank you. The performance: “Puccini and Beyond” was wonderful. Daggi and I then went to “Brit’s Pub” (an English style pub nearby) for a drink. What a magnificent time.

On Friday we had other neighbours who we had not yet met, Carol, Kent, and their delightful kids Jacob and Jenny Mueller. Kent is a Saint Paul Policeman. I drank (uncharacteristically) rather too much Scotch that night.

Then the weekend again, and what a weekend. The highlight was talking to Mum and Muzz in Australia on the telephone on Saturday (US time) which was Sunday and Mothers’ Day in Australia. It was wonderful, as we hadn’t actually spoken to one another for over three months since December. They sounded wonderful. On the Sunday we saw the local Baseball heroes, the Minnesota “Twins’ trounce the Nebraska “Royals” at the Metrodome. We went with Paul Ahern, Jack, Diane and a friend. Afterwards we were invited to Paul’s parent’s place on Lake Minnetonka for the evening meal. A magnificent house in an idyllic location where we met and were made welcome by the rest of the family. What a great night.

And next weekend there’s more! We meet with the other exchangees for a full weekend of fun and frivolity. More on that then.

The Funny Ways of the Yanks.
Nothing on language this time, but rather the joke is on me. I had to speak as a favour to the District School Superintendent to a very nice group of people in what was known as the Optimist’s Club at Prior lake/Savage. These were mainly local business people. And was I sucked in! At the end, one “wag” asked me: “And in what part of Australia is New Zealand?” I thought to myself, another ignorant American who knows nothing of the world, but proceeded to gently begin explaining the answer, trying hard to not be in any way condescending. It was all a cleverly laid “wind-up”, wasn’t it, and the Americans laughed their heads off! This was priceless; clever and taught yours truly a bit of a lesson.
We are having the time of our lives!! It is a pity we have to work occasionally.

(Friday 15 June 2001)
We are finally on the road and it is the summer break (at last). And summer it really is with temperatures in the nineties. Oh the places we’ve been and the things we’ve seen!
As I sit at the table in the RV typing this correspondence, we continue to head south. The RV is behaving beautifully (touch wood).

We left Minnesota on Sunday 10 June passing into Iowa (quite boring, with the “rich and fruity” smell of pig farms and miles of flat corn fields.) We stayed at a pleasant and well-appointed regional park near Iowa City named F.W.Kent Park. This was the first of many regional or state parks. They are all really good, and relatively cheaper than private or commercial RV parks. The state parks cost around twelve to eighteen dollars a night.

Our second night out, we stayed at the Missouri Sate Park of Cuivre River.

We have tried to stick close to the “mighty Mississippi”, and seen some interesting little settlements and beautiful scenery. Small town highlights include Hannibal (of Mark Twain fame), Louisiana, and Ste Genevieve (an eighteenth century French settlement) all in Missouri (MO). A really close encounter driving along the “all mighty” was, when we took a detour to Illinois visiting the very pretty historical town of Elizah.

(By the way, as we drive, we’ve just entered Mississippi and seen our first orange-clad chain gang on the side of the road! Talk about enlightened!! What’s got four eyes and can’t see!!? Maybe it can now!)

Anyway, St Louis was a highlight of the mighty MO. It is a pleasant city of about 300,000. It actually is a little reminiscent of Melbourne with its streets running in alternate directions. They have the nearly 200 metre high archway that is the monument to the Western Expansion of the USA. (They didn’t ask the Indians!) Anyway, it is a marvel, with Imax; a wonderful museum and a trolley to the view at the top.

The state park outside St Louis appropriately called “Babler”, though very beautiful, unfortunately had its camp site closed for up-grading, so we actually stayed at a very comfortable, if a little noisy, truck stop that night on the way to Memphis, Tennessee.

Memphis was great, and at last the “real” South. It is a very interesting city, being full of history but also quite “go-ahead” being a good example of the “New South”. Memphis is 70% Black (“African-American”) but seems a very safe and harmonious city for the most part.

Memphis has interesting streetscapes and a cheap “trolley” (tram) system that we made use of. They are actually old cable trams that have been electrified. We saw the Memphis pyramid (!) which is their exhibition hall; walked colourful Beale Street (famous for the Blues). The history of the old South is still commemorated where we walked, Confederate Park and Jefferson Davis Park. Jefferson Davis of course was the only president of the Confederacy and as such being considered a traitor; here he is still held to be a great patriot. The people are really friendly. The “new” south was well represented by the National Civil Rights Museum in the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. A very impressive exhibition indeed.

Our day in Memphis would not have been complete without sitting in the palatial lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and looking at the mallard ducks in their fountain in the lobby. Yes, they are real ducks. Generations of these ducks since the 1920s have waddled in at 11-00 am to the fountain and then toddled off again at 5-00pm. They were originally live decoys belonging to the hotel manager, who placed them in the fountain after rather too much “Jimmy”, but have been so popular with patrons that they have been cultivated with food and kindness ever since. When the ducks are getting to big, they are swapped with young ones from a local duck farmer.

The State Park just outside Memphis, O.T.Fuller Park, wonderful. We of course passed Gracelands but did not go in. This is rather a tourist trap and quite the “gilded cage”, surrounded by poor and commercial areas. In a way it is amazing that he stayed in this poor area after reaching stardom.

The Funny Ways of the Yanks.
Outside the Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel sat an attractive and obviously well educated
Black lady. She petitioned to boycott visiting the museum because of the misuse of the 5 million dollars collected through entry fees and to rather spent the money lobbying & implementing tighter gun laws. With doing so preventing some of the very violence exemplified by the death of Civil Rights workers in the sixties. Daggi & Raymond showed solidarity with not visiting the museum. When she found out that we were from Australia, she actually asked Daggi whether it was close to London, half an hour or so away. Many Americans, whilst being so friendly, especially in the South, remain desperately ignorant of the World. This must be an indictment of both the media and the education systems here.

(Monday 18 June 2001)

Here we sit with the air-conditioner running, watching the news on our little 12 volt TV, sipping a cold beer from out RV ‘fridge, in the middle of the Louisiana Bayous! We are at Lake Fausse Pointe State Park, complete with alligators! Louisiana is special and so far our favourite state, although all the others we have visited have had their great attributes too. Today we went to the Lafayette public library and got free Internet access to send our e-mails and pictures (I hope that the pics didn’t constipate your systems! I only sent a relative FEW of those photos I have taken!).

We have travelled about one thousand miles in the last week since we left Minneapolis!

After leaving Memphis Mississippi, we headed south to Vicksburg. Vicksburg was one of the decisive two battles in 1863 (the other, Gettysburg) where the Confederacy lost. At Vicksburg the South lost control of the Mississippi. The town is picturesque and the battlefield where the Union laid siege to the town for 57 days is beautifully kept with turn of the century monuments that really must have employed all the stone masons in America. For me, driving through these grandiose monuments to the nameless dead of the various states (Iowa, Georgia, Wisconsin, Minnesota etc etc) was very reminiscent of the monuments to whole nations in the Great War two generations later.

What an eye-opener! Talk about “ancient enmities” of Europe, they have been just as strong here and this nation really has been washed with blood. It illustrated what I have come strongly to believe, that the US is far more like Europe than they care to admit. USA is far more “Old World” than a country like Australia.

We stayed that night at Grand Gulf State Military Park, the site of yet another battle.

From Vickburg and Grand Gulf, we followed many of the minor roads through Mississippi to the south. Farming is mainly corn and cotton. Miles of sweetcorn on flat “delta” or more correctly, flood plain land. Some of the small, mainly Negro towns seem desperately poor with run down buildings and listless inhabitants. When we have had to ask directions however, the people couldn’t do enough for us.

We followed the famous Natchez Trace a little way. This is the most picturesque and ancient trail (track) from Natchez to Nashville. On the way we saw such highlights as the ruined plantation of Windsor, and the still working plantation of Springfield. It had hundreds of slaves before the 1860s. Mount Locust was another highlight, being now on the National Register. Here we met a direct descendant of the plantation owner, who now was custodian for the state of Mississippi. He showed us, amongst other things, where the slave cemetery was. Of course, he claimed that there was never any deliberate cruelty! We also saw the 14th Century Indian Emerald Mound and finally made it to Natchez with its many beautiful ante-bellum homes. That night we stayed in another beautiful state park, the Natchez State Park.

Then Louisiana!
Just over the state line after leaving Mississippi, we visited the Louisiana State Prison at Angola. This place is extraordinary and says much about the US. The nice lady in the museum/giftshop (yes, you could buy T-shirts, cups & stubby/can holders) was at pains to tell us how enlightened the prison now was. Yet this place is rather infamous for its brutality. It was used to breed (“farm”) slaves before the Civil War. The photos I took from the front, after very friendly conversations with some of the guards show the front of Death Row, where eightyfour men wait. The warden, named appropriately Warden Cain, holds hands with prisoners when they receive their lethal injection (the electric chair is no longer used). Under his reign five so far, the last one in 2000. Of the 5,000 odd inmates, 80% are black. Being a Sunday outside the buses and cars lined up with relatives waiting to visit. Returning from the visiting room with lovley crafts made inside.
Angola Prison is where “The farm”&“Dead Man Walking” were filmed. We missed Heath Ledger and Billy Bob “Whatshisname” (the “Sling Blade” character) by literally a couple of weeks. They had been filming “Outbreak”, or something or the other, there.

From Angola, we headed to the tidy little town of St Francisville; then the state capital of Baton Rouge (“Red Stick”.. sounds much better in French!). It is a beautiful and modern city. From there along an amazing freeway above the swamps (“bayous”) to the heart of Cajun Louisiana, Lafayette. The Cajuns (or Arcadians) were French whom the British expelled from Nova Scotia after their victory at the end of the Seven Years War (1745). They still speak a uniquely French accented English and the old people speak their old variety of French. The street signs are bilingual. Cajun cuisine is delicious. We tried some “gumbo” and various ways with catfish at Abbeville last night.

Tomorrow we leave the Cajun part of Louisiana and move on to New Orleans. We are really looking forward to visit the French Quarter & of course the famous “Café du Monde”. Culinary delights await us there too. However their’s is a different cuisine known as Creole, with French, Spanish, native American and African influences.

My next installment will be all about New Orleans.

The Down Side…
J and R say my letters are too rosy, so hear are some “character building” contra stuff…
1. The exchange rate still sucks and is killing us.
2. The mozzies are diabolical, just like back home.
3. We are getting 9 miles to the (US) gallon in the RV and the petrol price is jumping all over the place. We are paying anything between US$1.299 to 1.659 per gallon.
4. It’s hot & humid
5. We miss yez all!
6. And there has been a couple arguments, but nothing serious providing we remember who is in the wrong!
Really, these things pale next to the great experience that we are all having.

The Funny Ways of the Yanks.
And would you believe that public libraries in the USA such as Lafayette public library require armed security guards. This is particularly sad I think. I can’t help wondering what books a highly literate criminal might steal, or might he be after the money made through library fines. Maybe the guard is a deterrent to people bringing back books late!

(Friday 22 June 2001)

What an absolute highlight!
We have had an amazing couple of days in this city. It is truly one of the world’s most interesting places and is quite unlike any other American city we have seen.

We traveled from Cajun Country (Abbeville etc) along the by-ways through the bayou (swamp). Because of the recent hurricane, it was sad to see all the road-kill on the highway. Creatures driven to seek higher ground (alligators, raccoons, armadillos etc.). We finally arrived at a State Park close to New Orleans. Not a great park although we got our washing done.….And the bugs! Australia has nothing on the aggressive Louisiana insects, which well and truly put you at the bottom of the food chain. Even their bush-flies and little ants bite. The locals call them “can’t see me-s”, as you only know they are there after the painful event!

Then to New Orleans!
It is such an interesting and cosmopolitan city; with a large population of Creoles (French, Spanish, Negro etc in the wonderful “melting pot” of miscegenation). The Creole cuisine is as interesting as that of the Cajuns. New Orleans has large populations of Blacks; bohemians people with substance problems, “gays” and conventional suburban Whites who seem to run a lot of the tourism. Unconventional is the best term however for New Orleans and this is most refreshing after the “anal retention” and homogeneity in much of the rest of the United States. It reminds me somewhat of Rio de Janeiro, with its ethnic mix. Part atmosphere and Voodoo undercurrent. It is certainly more like Rio than any other US city that we have seen so far.

We all had a great time. The panic merchants in the tourist guides etc. warned us about the high crime rate here, however we didn’t see much evidence of it and at all times, felt safe. We parked the RV near the stadium on Loyola Street the first day. We had been warned that vehicles sometimes get totally stripped, so we picked a fairly public, although not fully secure, parking spot. It turned out however that it was totally okay and our home-on-wheels was safe.

So we did all the tourist things and more. The French Quarter is amazing. It is perhaps something like the Left Bank of Paris on “speed”. All the hustlers; the activity; the sights sounds and smells. We started off at Cemetery No. 1 where the famous/infamous voodoo priestess Marie Labeau is buried. The crypts are above ground as you see in Catholic countries in South America. We then had coffee and beignets at Café Del Monde and explored the French Market, Jackson Square and Decatur Street which took most of the day. We ate at an open-air restaurant with live jazz, and dined on “all you can eat” shrimp (prawns) cooked in Creole sauce. Smaller than out prawns, but delicious. We had eight large plates of prawns between the four of us and the band leader played “Waltzing Matilda” and “shouted” drinks!

The following day we left our vehicle at the RV park and took the bus to the French Quarter. The owners of the park talked about the wisdom of taking the return trip by taxi because of worries about being mugged, but I doubt they themselves ever used the busses anyway. We ignored their advise based on what turned out to be a sensible risk assessment and returned happily by bus, changing in the rather run down and very euphemistically named “Elysian Fields”. No probs!

During the day we explored the wonderful galleries on Royal Avenue, and again were entertained by an old gallery owner, a 72 year old Czechoslovakian who had been in the country for 40 years. He fell in love with Daggi, and of course everyone seems to love Australians, so he stood us drinks. I have my theory, however I don’t really know why, but I’ve heard said by Americans: “I never met an Australian I didn’t like” at least half a dozen time since being here. My response usually is, “you haven’t met some of the ones that I have!”

Anyway, then Bourbon Street (the main drag) which defies description. Whilst full of touts, sleaze and most obviously a tourist trap, it has to rate as amongst the most interesting such places I have seen. The photos will give you some idea of the place.

We had the most wonderful Creole food etc at the Café Verti, which was cheap and frequented by the locals. As it was take-away only, we ate in a park and fought off the mosquitoes.

This morning everybody is making a slow start. I am typing this on the laptop to get ready to send when next we get to a public library. Everybody is looking forward to reading your return e-mails. So now we have to start heading north again and we are hopefully going to make Alabama and “To Kill a Mockingbird” country (Monroeville) despite our late start!

(Saturday 23 June 2001)

Still having a magic time.. Wish you were here and all that!
We are so busy driving and investigating, it’s been quite difficult to find a library and send the various installments with regularity. So I am just storing them up on disks which we carry awaiting any opportunity to send them! It took so long to send all the photos last time that I shall only send a few of the best (some of you will be happy about that) and will just have to leave the rest until our return.

We reluctantly left New Orleans, which was fabulous and certainly all it was “cracked up to be” and headed out along the amazing causeways and followed the Mississippi Gulf of Mexico coast towards Alabama. The coast is beautiful and quite highly developed, with all manner of kitsch casinos and other developments, interspersed with beautiful and classic ante-bellum homes.

We stayed in a State Park next to partying rednecks from Louisiana that night. These people gave me another understanding of why the Civil War happened here, and I know which side of the barricade that I would be on!

Today we went into the little town of Monroeville, which was one of my “must does” before I left Australia. I think Daggi and Jessie also found it quite interesting, as it was where Harper Lee lived and what she based “To Kill a Mockingbird” on. Both Jessie and Daggi saw the play in Minneapolis. Having read the book scores of times and having taught it for umpteen years, it was great to actually see the place and trace some of the steps in the book. I took plenty of photos for teaching purposes. Aficionados will understand that we actually saw the site of the Capote, Lee and Ewell houses; travelled to “Old Sarum” and I photographed the Court House and surrounds. The Court House is now a museum, where we chatted long to two dear old biddies who run it and couldn’t do enough for us, coming all the way from Australia as we did. I spoke with Harper Lee’s cousin who runs the drug store, and he gave me an autographed book. He reminded me of the other Australian who recently become a local hero with a photographic exhibition, “In Search of Atticus Finch”. I found the whole visit wonderful indeed.

Tonight we are in the very beautiful and well appointed Blue Springs State Park on the Alabama-Georgia border. Tomorrow we shall try to make Savannah, which will be a long day of over 300 miles.

All are happy and well including our dear old RV.

(Sunday 24 June)
We have crossed to the east coast and arrived in Georgia, the last of the Thirteen original states. Savannah at last and we are staying at McAllister Fort Historical Park. This was a famous Confederate fort, now restored, that withheld Union bombardment and finally fell to General Sherman in 1864 exposing Savannah to defeat. We shall explore tomorrow.

(27 June 2001)
A Reply To Dave…

In the letter to which you refer, I was talking about criminal penalties, education and the media in Mississippi only. I was not “hypergeneralising”, but commenting on the place visited. Please read my correspondence a little more carefully Dave. Mississippi is making great improvement in recent times from commentary on public radio and talking to the locals as we usually do on our travels, but many in the South do remain in somewhat of a time-wharp. A Southerner gave me one definition of a red-neck, which is someone who had three cars that don’t move and one home that does. He could laugh at himself.

Anyway, I have asked in the past, and would really welcome considered observations on Australia by you as an intelligent and interested outsider rather than you seeing some unjustified need to defend the US against imagined wrongs committed by yours truly. I would find such comments of greater interest and take them, I hope, open-mindedly. We shall certainly learn much more from this. As “Rabbie” Burns, the Scots poet said better than I ever could:, “O that the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us.”

(29 June 2001)
Thanks for all the correspondence!
We are now in Virginia!
We are still having a magic time.

Having left Monroeville Alabama, we travelled by backroads into Georgia. We try to avoid the mayor interstate highways because they by-pass the interesting little towns, and acres of wonderful sweetcorn, cotton, peanuts and even sugar further South. We stayed just south of Savannah at Fort McAllister S.P. These are amazing civil war earthworks were built in vain, to defend Savannah from Sherman’s Yankees in 1864. It’s interesting, the feeling here held by the locals, that the Confederacy is still alive and well in people’s imagination and the “South Will Rise Again!” The Fort McAllister State Park was so beautiful with its picturesque, Spanish moss draped trees and its cute little alligators (pussies compared with Aussie salties!).

What a magic place. I am reading “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, a wonderful and highly recommended novel about this jewel of a city (Raymond is getting into some rather harrowing Ambrose Bierce Civil War stories & Daggi is reading Anne Butler’s “Weep For The Living”). Instead of collecting “kitsch” souvenirs, we seem to be purchasing books from the areas we are travelling through.

Savannah was spared General Sherman’s “scorched earth” vandalism, so preserves much of its ancient (by New World standards) beauty. It is very English in a tropical way, with a wonderful waterfront, and magnificent historic squares everywhere set in beautiful streets. Gems like a square devoted to John Wesley and his American parish here, or Oglethorpe, the founder, or even the Royal American Regiment who protected the settlement before the Revolution.

Then on to Charleston South Carolina. This is an even older settlement although not quite as memorable as Savannah, also very interesting. It is still 75% Black and most of the slaves entered America through this old port. We photographed Fort Sumter (where the Civil War began) and wandered the streets and the market.

At this stage we had to make up our minds what was going to give. It was either heading inland to the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Appalachians, or to follow the coast to Jamestown, Norfolk etc in Virginia.

We decided on the latter, primarily because we will see other mountains (the Rockies) and because of the need for some car repair (our brake master cylinder went). Murphy’s Law.. it had to happen sometime! We ended up in the Cliffs of Neuse State Park in North Carolina (sounds like something out of Monty Python but a really nice park).

This was our second real American bush camp after Carolina Beach, Cape Fear the previous night (yes, the real Cape Fear from the book and movies (Roberts Mitchum and Di Nero)). These sorts of campsites don’t provide electricity for our air-conditioning in the RV (we’ve got a bit soft) but we are more than compensated in other ways, with wild deer, raccoons, scores of squirrels etc. Quite often we get a long and interesting visit from one of the rangers who usually sits and chats with us for a while about all and sundry.

The only give away that we were not in pristine wilderness were the occasional overhead flights of USAF jet aeroplanes due to the many bases nearby. In some ways the whole coast northward from here is a little like an armed camp, with so many bases from all the Defence Services.

Then on to Virginia, again by the backroads. Tobacco gradually took over as one of the main crops, along with corn. We ended up at a most amazing coastal area, a little like the Gold Coast on speed, called Virginia Beach. Miles and miles of interesting kitsch. Of course we couldn’t get accommodation as it was the beginning of the weekend, so we had to continue to travel across Chesapeake Sound, passing the famous Norfolk naval base with several gigantic aircraft carriers in dock, Fort Langley and the twenty mile Narrows bridge across Chesapeake Bay. We finally found a place to stay near Williamsburg in a private RV park with a pool and inflated charges. I think this might bode a few more difficulties in getting a place to stay for a reasonable price as we move further north. Oh well, we remain optimistic. Tomorrow, the Colonial Parkway to Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown etc. More to follow soon!

The Funny Ways of the Yanks.
Bugs! As I mentioned before, American bugs are much worse than our creepy crawlies. In the South they are called “No See ‘ems”. These are often the little ants that we get at home, but do they bite. And you only know that they are there AFTER you have been bitten. I didn’t mention the mozzies though. Down here, they show up on airforce radar screens!

Having walked into a little store in the backblocks, the lady of the store, an African American, asked me, “Where y’all from?”. I answered, “the South.. way south and south of here.” Initially looking a little puzzled, she twigged and said, “You’s from Down Under”. I answered yes and thanked her. She then burst into uncontrolled laughter, which worried me, as I wondered whether my fly was undone or something. I asked what the matter was and she said, “oh nothing, it’s just that you sound like the ‘Crocodile Man’ ”.

The Funny Ways of Daggi!.
And what about Daggi, asking the lady in McDonalds (yes, they have them here too) the other day why she couldn’t upgrade a 99 cent double cheese burger to fries (she said “chips” to confuse even more), and a coke for the advertised 79 cent upgrade. Talk about cheap, but she is great making the money go as far as it possibly can.

After we left Maccas, Daggi noticed that there were two perfect loaves of bread on the edge of the highway within about half a mile, that had obviously fallen from a truck. Typical, Daggi wanted to stop to pick them up. How desperate can you be?. I finally promised that we would stop if we saw a third one. Luckily we didn’t or I would have had to keep my word!

APOLOGIES TO OUR FRIENDS IN Minnesota!! NO WAY are we going to be able to make it back by July 4, as some of you have said, there is just too much to see! We shall try to be home in Bloomington ASAP after July 4.

(01 July 2001)

Sorry that you haven’t heard for a little while as we have been moocho busy and have not been able to get to a public library to send our e-mails.

Virginia is just packed with interest. “Colonial Williamsburg” was wonderful. It is a recreation on site with original buildings of the second capital of Virginia circa. 1750, restored by JD Rockerfellar from the 1920s. Authenic in every detail, it is so extensive, it would take days to fully do justice to. We even met Lord Corwallis’s troops who had time-warped there to a day in 1780 when they occupied the town, (in the form of military re-enactors from Warwickshire in England.) Daggi spoke German with some “Hessian” troops (actually German-speaking Americans playing dress-ups too and fighting for the British!). My thought for them was, this time they might actually win which could be very good for America, prevent a bloody Civil War 70 years later, and the debauchal of the last presidential election! (just joking, my American friends)

From there we took the picturesque by-way called the Colonial Parkway to Yorktown and Jamestown. Both areas very interesting and well-managed. Thence to Richmond via the James River Plantations. That night we stayed in the beautiful Pocohontas State Park near Richmond. It celebrates the Algonquin Indians who fought for the British against the French in the Seven Years War (remember the novel “An Indian in the Cupboard”)

Then we followed General Lee’s retreat from Petersburg to Appomattox Courthouse where the South finally surrendered in April 1865. So we have seen Fort Sumter in Charleston (The beginning in 1861) and now where the war ended. The places of interest on the road are cleverly explained. You read the plaques but also tune into your car radio, where automatically a low powered radio signal is broadcast from a transmitter on the spot explaining the feature. The whole thing is powered by a solar cell. (In Australia such technology would not last ten minutes without being vandalised or stolen!) A very interesting journey indeed although “the girls” glazed-over a bit! The US has too many battlefields for their taste. Like Europe, this place is washed with blood from the past.

Tonight we again stay in a very nice State Park near Appomattox, and tomorrow we head to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Shenandoah Valley (with more battlefields!). We hope to be in Washington DC for July 4, as something, I believe might happen there then for some reason!

Again apologies for not making it back to Minnesota in time. I shall finally try to e-mail this tomorrow.

(7 July 2001)

A belated HAPPY JULY 4 to our American friends, and thanks for all your replies to our E-mails from all over the world!
We have now been on the road for four weeks and have probably done three thousand and odds miles! We figure that all going well; it should be another eight days or so before we arrive back in Minnesota! (hopefully!). I have just finished cataloguing all our photos of which I shall send a small selection only! Again it is hard to keep up regular correspondence and to find time to get to a public library to send the results.

Currently we are sitting in a private camp ground near the town of Intercourse (yes, really!), Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. This is the main Amish area here and is a little touristed, but nonetheless, very interesting. The Amish employ clever local circumspection when it comes to modern conveniences. They drive sulkies, not cars, but can use generators for electricity if it is for business purposes, and telephones likewise if they are not kept in the house. They seem to make a “killing” from the tourists.

Oh, the adventures we’ve had to get here!
We left Appomattox and climbed over the famous Blue Ridge to the beautiful little town of Lexington Virginia, where we saw among other things, the picturesque Lee Chapel at Washington Lee University (the final resting place of Robert E Lee). We then followed the Blue Ridge Parkway (built under FDR’s “New Deal”) into the Shenandoah National Park. Very interesting, with stories of Stonewall Jackson’s campaigns and sightings of deer. US State Parks are very well organised but quite crowded, especially on the weekends, with scores of locals in RVs and Wall-Mart or K-Mart tents complete with pets. There are few overseas visitors, we figure because of the poor exchange rate. They suffer somewhat from the big-city syndrome, and will rarely speak to you unless you initiate the conversation.

From here we hot-footed near Washington DC and stayed in an idyllic county park, Burke Lake Park, still in Virginia, to the south west of DC. To get there we passed through the Manassas/Bull Run battlefield.

To go into Washington on July 4, we did as the locals and parked at the Franconia-Springfield Metro, and took the train past the Pentagon, Arlington Cemetery etc to the Federal Triangle. Washington DC is great! The city only has 400,000 people and in many ways reminded me of Canberra with its good planning and neatness. It is beautifully designed with stately public buildings and a beautiful aspect. Their museums are wonderful, but were very busy due to the holiday. We saw the various Smithsonian museums (Fight and Space, American History and Natural History) and walked miles. The Mall had special displays and events of interest. In our three days we saw all the usual sites, Pennsylvania Avenue, the Capitol, White House, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial and the Washington Monument etc etc. All rather grandiose and impressive.

Most impressive was the fireworks display on July 4 between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. It was literally nearly rained-out during the evening when we were deluged. An estimated 500,000 people (and us) were drenched. Yet there was a break at about 9-10 PM just long enough for it to go ahead. With no exaggeration it was the best fire-works display that we have ever seen including the Millennium displays. The Americans don’t do things by half measures. It was truly magic!
Then we left and what “fun” we had. Leaving the railway station at about eleven to drive back to the State Park, Daggi (driving) noticed the temperature on the RV rise suddenly and immediately stopped in the emergency lane on the freeway. Not only did we have had a broken fan belt, but also a flat. So I contacted the AAA, who were no help and we waited on the freeway for five hours for a private (and expensive) tow to a garage only two miles away where we slept in the car park until the following morning. Waiting on the highway, friendly Virginia State Police Highway Patrol provided flares to warn off traffic and kept a protecting eye on us. It took us most of the next day to recover!

On July 6 we spent most of the day in Washington, then set off in peak hour to leave DC. Although this was our shortest day so far in terms of distance travelled, we saw three states (Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania) and of course the District of Columbia. Maryland and Pennsylvania are beautiful indeed, reminding one a little of the South Downs of England, and finally we had crossed the Mason-Dixon Line and left the South behind. That night (last night) we ended up in another State Park in Pennsylvania. We met our very first Australians on our sojourn who come from Geelong. They were heading south to Washington from Canada etc, so we chatted for quite some time and swapped tips and observations. It was good to speak Australian again!

US highways and freeways are fantastic. The county roads and interstates are brilliant and most impressively and quite unlike Australia, almost free of litter. Civic mindedness is encouraged by the clever scheme of getting individuals and companies to adopt a mile of highway. Their name appears on a sign, and they keep the road clean of litter. There are also hefty fines of up to $1,000 for doing the wrong thing (unlike our pussy $100-odd back home)

Today to Lancaster County via Gettysburg… Tomorrow, on to New York!

Washington DC, Gettysburg, the American Ideal and Myth-making

My visit to Gettysburg crystallised some of my thoughts on the United States and possibly explains some of the more negative foreign perceptions of America. It brought into focus for me, many of our experiences in the United States over the last few months. The following observations might also be said to a degree about Australia and some other countries and my understanding of similar workings in my own country I think, have finally helped me focus on the issues here.

Before I start I should say something about identity and myth making in Australia. Like all “new” countries, Australia has had trouble defining itself. A national ideal or ideology is necessary for all nation-states to create unity and so our past is revised and re-invented to become national myth. National myth is sometimes elevated to what amounts to almost a secular religion or certainly an ideology. The measure of the effectiveness of this, and the true unity of the people in the nation-state is the ability of this national ideology to stand up to critical scrutiny.

In Australia initially, it was White Australia and the British Empire, which was inadequate for this century. It has been replaced by the Anzac Legend or the Pioneer Legend. Gallipoli and all that were our defining moment, and the sacrifice of the original Anzacs were eulogised and compared with the supposed current values of courage in adversity, mateship, fair-play, democracy etc etc of current Australians. The problem with this is it takes the kernel of truth and expands it into a national myth for political purposes. Our myth downplays for example the militarist, misogynist, racist aspects of the Anzac experience, and conveniently ignores the urban softness of our current generation. So other myths have to be created to serve the needs of our nation-state such as modifying the Pioneer Legend to emphasise for example, the shared values of generations of immigrants who have built our nation, and so on. I’m being necessarily brief here, but I think you get my drift.

In the USA, eulogising the past and creating myths is an art form and potentially far more dangerous than the myth making of a little country like Australia. I think for the US, it is their Civil War that really explains this and illustrates the grave responsibility educators have here to moderate and provide balance based on objective history.

My understanding of this came from some historical knowledge, and observing and speaking to various Americans. Mississippians in Washington observing July 4 with pride, whilst to this day in their own state at Vicksburg, it is not celebrated as that was the day the Confederates surrendered there in 1863. The little boy in the baseball cap going misty-eyed at the dioramas at the Gettysburg visitors’ centre. The US marine, martial breast beating, visiting the battlefield at Gettysburg. All the US flags EVERYWHERE, and not just for July 4 (as if people need constant reminding where they are). The odd individual in the South entertaining that forlorn hope that “The South Will Rise Again”. The funny little guy at Williamsburg who spoke about finally “kicking the British Ass” in the War of 1812 because the guide pointed out that the Brits actually burnt Washington. Americans lining up to see the original “Old Glory” at the Smithsonian as if it were a holy relic of some religion, and so on. These are only a few impressions. But what to make of it all?

The answer I think is in looking at how the US mythologises its own past. Today Year Zero seems to be 1776 and nothing of substance mattered before that, but I think this is a post Civil War creation. Current Americans forget or overlook the fact that the American colonists separated from Britain in 1776 because their rights as free Englishmen were infringed. They weren’t American, but were Virginians, Bostonians or whatever, and they were Englishmen whose freedoms derived from England. That separation from the Mother Country and the lack of national identity created a problem. It established the precedent of succession but a very limited basis for unity without the creation of a new national myth.

The culmination of this was of course 1861 and the Civil War which really defined America, if tenuously. It illustrated the lack of unity of the American ideal. 700,000 men from the same immigrant stock just a generation or so before thought loyalty to their state more important than some US ideal. The Civil War really was a rather shabby affair, rather than the glorious and chivalrous encounter frequently portrayed today. The two opposing Armies tended to be amateurs led by incompetents, no better than British or French generals at the time. Both armies ran away at Manassas/Bull Run, and no general pressed the advantage. Gettysburg was the first major victory that the Union had in two years, and that was a near thing. The disaster of Pickett’s charge spelt the end of international recognition of the South by Britain and so victory for them. Yet the war dragged on for another two years.

What was the result of this and how did the Americans make sense of it all. Divisions remained strong with carpetbaggers and military occupation of the South. The bodies buried at Gettysburg are Union soldiers and it took another five years for Southern dead to get dignified burials.

Recently this history is being re-written to emphasise the magnanimity of the North, in pardonning Davis’ government and so on. This revision does not square with the facts but suits the national myth.

The biggest myth creation was the creation of all the monuments after the Civil War, the greatest being monumental Washington DC itself. The only monument that we saw in Washington with anything like a human scale about it was the impressive FDR Memorial, which was a very recent addition. The earlier monuments elevate altogether human politicians and quite second-rate generals to the proportions of demi-gods in stone colossi to become objects of adoration and pilgrimage. These are impressive to see and meant to be so, but remember that it is the twentieth century where America really enters the world stage, and these men (all) whilst achievers of note, were also human, flawed and provincial. They were not the demi-gods they appear to be represented as. Washington was a vain British-American colonel and mediocre general who won at Yorktown only through French intervention. He did win however. Thomas Jefferson wrote, like Lincoln, one of the finest documents on freedom in English or any language, yet sexually exploited his slaves. Grant was a drunk and a second-rater who won no substantial victory from 1861 to 1863 and more than once apologised for his errors to his troops. He did eventually win however. Lee ordered Pickett’s Charge and was also gentlemanly enough to apologise to the survivors for it. They buried Lee and Grant when they died like medieval knights. Other Civil War generals such as McClellan and Mead were similarly lacklustre, but from 1865, had statues built and streets named in their honours. Lincoln was an excellent politician who turned his back on his native Tennessee and used the Emancipation Proclamation for political ends, only applying it selectively to enemies of the Union late in the Civil War, when they themselves were already getting rid of slavery. Yet he became a martyr to the American ideal. John Wilkes Booth became the fanatic.

And so for the Twenty-First Century, all these shortcomings tend to be ignored and the myth is elevated to something akin to a national religion. Small children gaze at the Lincoln Monument and ask their parents in hushed tones, “is that Mr Lincoln”. Their parents tell them of how he freed the slaves and unified the nation with his Gettysburg Address, and the works of Thomas Jefferson and others is why America is The Land of the Free. Many Americans proudly show the flag and quite literally talk about Gettysburg as the most hallowed ground on earth. I suppose people need something to believe in even if it may be a little distorted.

In the meantime foreigners sometimes appear slightly bemused and perhaps a little fearful that some American sense of their own apparently unique mythology will lead them to fail to see the common humanity in all peoples.

Here I think is where the role of educators is so important to develop a more critical facility in free citizens of any country. Teachers should be at least slightly subversive of national mythologies otherwise they become indoctrinators. The development of a critical appreciation of history is a great antidote to nationalist hubris.

PS 11 July
We are now in New York State tomorrow a drive to Massachusetts via the Mohawk Trail to Boston and Salem. From there to Canada and home to Minnesota.

It’s been ages since we have had a powered site to charge computer and camera batteries, and we have not been able to get to a public library for a while, so unfortunately my correspondence has been a little slack. Briefly, because I am running out of battery, we left Gettysburg PA and travelled to Lancaster County where the Amish are based (I think I mentioned this above). From there we went up the Delaware Water Gap, a magnificent natural area between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Then into New York where we stayed in Harriman State Park near West Point and took the train into the city. What an amazing experience. I shall try to send a detailed account of this with some photos next time when I have more battery. It really is all it’s cracked up to be and is a fascinating place.

Today we drove via the beautiful Catskill Mountains to Woodstock, still very “Nimbinesque” (Hippie and counter-culture) and then Cooperstown: “The Prettiest Town in America”. This is very nearly true as the layout is quaint and pleasant indeed. Now we are not too far from Albany. New York State is verdant and beautiful, with lovely little hamlets, so far, few crowds and fantastic mountains, hills and dales.

(13 July 2001)
We are now in a State Park near Boston. From here we intend to head north through New Hampshire to Quebec etc.

We had one minor drama on the way here where we dropped our “grey water” tank as the supports had rusted through. We shall fix it ourselves with bog and trusty number eight fencing wire! That’ll fix anything. It worked loose on a back-road following the Delaware River on the border of Pennsylvania and New York State. More on New York, as promised shortly.

From New York we avoided the toll roads, and went through the beautiful Catskill Mountains (Woodstock and all that), Cooperstown (Baseball Hall of Fame, whatever that is) and the interesting Shaker villages, such as Mount Lebanon near Pittsfield Massachusetts.

The Shaker buildings date from before the Revolution. And are beautiful wooden structure reflecting their communitarian lifestyle. The Shakers, you may know, were an eighteenth century break-off from the Quakers, who, amongst other things, practised celibacy. No wonder they died out! They apparently used to “speak in tongues” and go into convulsions during religious services. Hence their name. (Maybe paroxysms of religious zeal were accounted for by a lack of sex!).

Now the Shaker villages have been taken over by entrepreneurial Sufi Mystics of all people. They are a heretic branch of Islam who borrow common mystical ideas from all the religions and probably with the help of various substances! I’m not sure how the buzzing of Visa card machines exactly squares with their mystical search. Perhaps it may pay for their drugs?!

Daggi is currently reading an interesting history of the Shakers.

New York State is the most verdant green, with wide-open spaces, breathtaking mountains and plenty of wild life. Raymond saw a black bear and we all saw beavers. Then we followed the magnificent Mohawk Trail across northern Massachusetts to here. The scenery was again quite breathtaking with mountains, rivers, forests and gorgeous little hamlets and farmlands. And yes, there are both genuine and ersatz Mohawk trade stores catering for tourists en route, a shadow of their former selves.

New York! New York! (a magic place to visit “but I wouldn’t want to live there”)

New York is all things to all people. First impressions are that it is a little like London on steroids, but it is a whole lot more than that. I think any epithet or superlative that you could apply to any place on earth could be accurately applied to New York. It is as beautiful as it is ugly. Maybe it is a vision of the human condition everywhere in some overpopulated future where everyone must struggle to survive.

I think that some New Yorkers probably exhibit the same symptoms of mental illness as Skinner’s rats in his overcrowding experiments. New Yorkers tend to avert their eyes when they speak to you and not give you the time of day. The several very nice people we spoke to, such as the flautist from the NY Orchestra who helped us on the subway, were without exception, not originally New Yorkers, but just living here for some time. With seven million plus on Manhattan and nearly the population of Australia in Greater New York, this is hardly surprising. And it is a real wonder that the place functions so well, and function it does, with a vibrant laissez-faire life and an infrastructure that actually works after their fashion.

New York is like nowhere else I’ve been with the possible exception of some of the technologically advanced, yet poor and over-crowded cities in India. There are no cows in the street in New York however! New York very much both a First World and Third World city at the very same time, much as Bombay, Calcutta or New Delhi. New York, like Calcutta, really is the alpha and the omega of wealth. Wall Street, Fifth and Park Avenues being the epicentre of wealth, probably in the world. Such plenty is juxtaposed against the grinding poverty of most people (not just those in the Lower East Side or Harlem). This desperate financial struggle includes the middle class (such as it is), as New York is just so expensive to survive in. Necessities and rents are astronomical even by US standards.

Our introduction to New York was far from ideal and most unfriendly, but I think reflect some of the points that I have made above. Aiming for the Harriman State Park north of New York city and south of West Point to “Park and Ride” on the train, for the first time we really got quite lost. NY State seems to have a most unwelcoming regard for visitors. They have non-existent or cryptic road signage; extortionate toll roads everywhere; maniac drivers who treat traffic control measures (red lights and speed limits) as guidelines only and no state run Visitors Centres with helpful guidance and maps when you cross into the state (as in all other states that we have visited).

So we quite literally stumbled by accident onto the wrong end of Harriman State Park. And what a magnificent vision it was. In the late afternoon, it was quite the most beautiful park that we had thus far seen. The park is as extensive as it is pristine. It reminded me of some of the enchanting formal Kyoto gardens you see in Japan, with mirror lakes, breathtaking conifer forests and the artful and balanced placement of rocks and boulders. And not a speck of litter or graffiti was evident. Yet this was not a man-made garden, but nature at its most wonderful.

Then we began to discover why! In the twighlight I came across a police car with “Park Police” painted on the side. I asked the gentleman in the car for directions to the camping area, and in a broad New York accident was told to put my map away and follow his instructions to get there. I was then warned, that if the campsite was full and we did not immediately leave the park and camped in an undesignated area, we would be booked. No smile; no small talk and no eye contact from this fellow. I smiled and thanked him for his help, and we arrived at the camp.

Here we received the same sort of reception from the park staff. I was told that there were two bears in the park, and asked what their names were, perhaps Yogi and Booboo? They made no response to my weak attempt at humour (which is probably understandable!).

We finally found our way to a campsite like no other we had seen. It was packed; noisy and filthy. The locals were vacationing and the poor fellows who cleaned the ablutions must have got “danger money” or had given up. I won’t go into elaborate detail, suffice to say that Mr Hankey* had escaped the bowl in one toilet!

So here was the secret. New York Parks were run a little like a concentration camp to isolate the damage. This was an interesting introduction to New York indeed.

The following day we attempted to “Park and Ride” an hour away in a suburb called Tarrytown, west of the Hudson. Having been fleeced of a toll of A$ 18-00 just to cross the very impressive bridge over the river, we found that parking at the train station was for locals only. Even asking the Police who offered no help (short of threatening us with another ticket if we “strayed”) we finally found our own park near McDonalds. And so off to the train.

Even before we got the train to New York, a fellow on the station inquired as to whether I had a quarter. I thought it nice that he was interested in my pecuniary status, so I answered, “Yes thanks, nice of you to ask” and walked on. The following day a lady in Wall Street, munching on expensive roasted peanuts (A$ 4 for a 2 oz package), spat half the contents of her chew at me, as she ask for money since she was starving, had no food or lodgings (“I’m hungry and I’m homeless”, as this very overweight lady hid her peanuts behind her!). Appreciating the irony of her solicitation, I wished her good luck with her quest. At least one fellow had a sense of humour when he asked for money “to put a down-payment on a condominium”. Being basically mean and cynical by nature, I didn’t give him any, but gave him my good wishes instead (which was probably worth more than the money I had on me anyway)

The trip by train was great. The Hudson Valley really is something to see, with its broad river, steep cliffs and beautiful old homes. Then we passed across the East River through Harlem. Derelict tenements, but at the same time some signs of urban renewal; through Yonkers and Yankee Stadium to Grand Central. Grand Central Station is indeed impressive in scale and structure; clean; beautiful and functional.

Then we wandered, and wander we did. Spurning the subway the first day, we probably walked ten miles in midtown Manhattan (the very best way to see this amazing place!)

Off we trotted, up 42nd Street to the impressive NY Library to give up on e-mail when told of an hour and a half wait. Then to Broadway; Times Square (complete with a near-naked busker known as “The Naked Cowboy” whom no one considered arresting) to wonderful Central park.

Central Park is three miles long and one wide and we saw the lot: buskers; kids on roller blades; joggers; sunbathers; derros and nannies pushing prams. The place was beautiful and a hive of activity. A chauffeur-driven limo actually pulled up and an old lady in a wheelchair, with carer, dressed as for a tea-party, alighted to a park bench to feed the pigeons with popcorn and ignoring the “No Feeding” sign. We walked up to the Dakota Apartments; Strawberry Fields (a beautiful area set aside in honour of John Lennon); the Rockefeller Castle, the Pond (a Skating Rink in winter); the Metropolitan Museum of Art etc etc

From there we toddled down Park Avenue, Fifth Avenue etc. with their ritzy apartments Carnegie Hall; Macy’s Department Store and so on. Finally we wound up at the Empire State Building. All very impressive and a full day indeed, full of sound and light and wonder.

Day two we used the subway to begin our exploration of lower Manhattan. That in itself is an experience. Like Tokyo and London, it is very easy to use, but unlike both of these cities, the platforms are quite grotty and hot, lacking air-conditioning. Although contrary to expectations, they have been cleaned up appreciably, feel safe in daylight and are very efficient. At one stage we tried to use a public convenience on a station, again finding escaped Mr Hankeys and someone living there in the process of shooting-up.

We alighted at the end of the line in Manhattan at the aptly-named Bowling Green Station, Battery Park and spent a pleasant time there amongst happy tourists and locals trying to get them to part with their money. The ferry to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty was expensive, and there was a long queue, so we hopped the free Staaten Island commuter ferry and still got a wonderful view of the “old girl”, and magnificent she is! The hope of millions of migrants to these shores.

From there we walked to the Brooklyn Bridge via wonderful Wall Street and the fish market. The bridge is an amazing structure, one hundred and twenty years old, built rivet by rivet, with only hand tools and steam-powered compressors. To think that the workers who built it did so sans electricity, the internal combustion motor, modern materials, let alone computer aided design!

Then we shuffled off to the Lower East Side. Not too many of the old tenements left, replaced as they are with high-rise, and further down to Chinatown, whose hundred plus thousand new arrivals are taking over the Lower East Side, the Bowrey and even Little Italy as time has gentrified and assimilated the earlier immigrants. The Asians are merely the latest in the saga of migration to America. Chinatown has to be seen to be believed. It IS Chinese in every way and not of the prissy Singapore variety, but of markets, businesses and hustle and bustle that would give our health department a fit! We of course ate there, but not the live crabs in the plastic buckets outside the little shops. A wonderful, colourful experience was had by all of us.

From Chinatown we got lazy with our marathon walk, taking the subway to Greenwich Village and had a wander throughout. It is a leafy and very interesting part of the city replete with trendy bars and restaurants. I walked into one shop and this very dark fellow, when he discovered I was an Australian, insisted on calling me “brother”, as he was from Pakistan. I asked him how the cricket was going, and he answered that Pakistan was “in the shit” (or words to that effect). I found it hard to extricate myself from his effusive clutches.

From there, subway to Grand Central and off to our very “New York” State Park.

What a wonderful time in a magical place!!

They’re great! They’re everywhere and open 24 hours. You can buy anything there and the kids love them. Raymond goes to the auto section and Jessie to the food! They are a department store chain that is a little like a combination of all our supermarkets in Australia in one spot. Many even have a McDonalds in them (yes, they have McDonalds here too). And if you are really stuck, they will let you park an RV in their carpark overnight. We haven’t had to do that yet!

(*mooky stick etc)

(16 July 2001)
We’re sitting in the RV in the wilds of New Hampshire next to the Beaver Brook Falls (beautiful!). The closest little hamlet is Colebrook (where we used the Laundromat), and tomorrow Quebec! Today we drove through the superlative White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, having stayed in a very nice wayside area last night.

Today we saw plenty of moose (or is it mooses, meeses or meese?) much to the particular delight of Jessie.

The poor old RV did it again and we were up for a new fuel pump this morning, as it was losing petrol through the diaphragm of the pump. Fair wear and tear, and all that, and we shouldn’t really complain, as it has only been the second major thing that has gone wrong with the beast. The good thing is that parts are unsophisticated and readily available. I’ve christened her “HaRV” (Harvey): the happy RV. Raymond thinks this is both sad, sick and lame!

Boston was great. A small, picturesque and safe city, juxtaposing beautiful modern buildings with historical gems. The aspect of the city from the Charles River, as Murray said, is very reminiscent of dear old Melbourne.

We walked the five mile round trip of the “Freedom Trail”, the red brick road to take you to all the “historical shrines”. Yes, I’m afraid people here really use that terminology for those few years from 1775. Other religious terms are also bandied about such as “icon” of the revolution, and we get little signs saying “Washington passed here on the way to lead the Continental Army at Concord” outside the today’s Walmart; or “Paul Revere lit his warning lamp here” or some such. It’s all a bit like the Stations of the Cross at times. Also we have again, wonderful depictions of Revere etc adorning public squares, all produces eighty years at least after the event and supposed likenesses.

Anyway, we stayed in a well-run state park outside Boston where I encountered my first skunk and a smell you can never forget and never describe. Subsequently it is instantaneously recogniseable.

We “Parked and Rode” the wonderful Boston metro and alighted at the famous and lively Boston Common. There was plenty going on with Civil War re-enactors; speakers on soapboxes; roller-bladers; street vendors etc.

Bostonians tend to be very helpful when they see someone with their face buried in a map. We checked out the imposing State House (the Massachusetts capitol/legislature) then followed the well laid out “red brick road” to such sights as the Old State House dating from the Seventeenth Century, complete with a golden lion and unicorn (destroyed in 1776 and restored in the 1880s).

Boston has some nice, similarly old markets and other civic buildings, lovingly restored and maintained within the modern city. Always, seemingly a connection with the Revolution is highlighted on the plaque affixed, to the exclusion of most other history.

The churches, and especially St Stephens (connected with the Kennedys) are also very impressive. We also saw other “icons” such as Revere’s house; USS Constitution (“old Ironsides”), the oldest still Commissioned US ship from 1812, and Bunker Hill (something like the Eureka Stockade writ large). Nineteenth century US monumentalism at its best, with rosettes put on the monuments. even today as commemorations by “The Daughters of the American Revolution” (I understand, something like the CWA!).

As with everywhere else, we went to all the free things only, as tickets here are prohibitively expensive (especially for four) and there are never “family tickets”.

All this however was very interesting indeed, and fascinating to see. Raymond remarked that I was in “historical heaven”.

Boston has also the most colourful restaurants which are on the north side of the city, reflecting a surprising ethnic diversity although predominantly Italian, and obvious prosperity. Just everybody seems to eat out!

From Boston we drove to the suburb of Cambridge and saw MIT and the very impressive Harvard University campus. The original “red brick” university, buzzing with activity. From there we drove to Salem. Salem really is a suburb of Boston now as well, but once through the throng, is well preserved, and retains much of its character..

At Salem (of the Witch Craze, Arthur Millar’s “The Crucible” and Nathaniel Hawthorne fame), we spent most of the day enthralled. Cynical Raymond (who knows where he gets it from?) remarked that it was amazing that people could be still making money out of nineteen people hanged after three hundred and fifty years ago. Unconventional semi-religions (professed witches etc) have opened up shops to flog to the tourists.

There is a fascinating burial ground where the Hawthornes etc are buried back to the 1600s.

Again, there are plenty of beautiful old Seventeenth and Eighteenth buildings that are lovingly preserved, and it was refreshing not to have too much 1776 drum beating in this city after Boston and Washington, as much of the history is too old for that.

What I most liked was the strong c

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