Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Phoenix Sunsets

A few of those sunsets I was talking about. Taken by me last week. I could almost forgive the heat for such beauty.

Into the wild

Further Observations from the US of "god-damn it's hot" A.

What follows are some mostly random observations made over the course of the past week:

An entertaining table at my local (chain) bookshop piled high with “Dummies” books. Titles include:

Overcoming Anxiety for Dummies
U.S. History for Dummies

Menopause for Dummies

IBS for Dummies

Bipolar Disorder for Dummies (I’m not joking)

Foreclosure Self-Defense for Dummies

Depression for Dummies

Stress Management for Dummies

I think you can tell a lot about the state of a nation from its Dummies books…

It’s 40 degrees Centigrade (about 110 Fahrenheit) and the fast-food restaurants a) have patios OUTSIDE and b) have MISTERS on the patios OUTSIDE. There is something quintessentially American about having misters outside on the patio of a fast-food joint to cool off the people who aren’t sitting there, but who might, you know, feel like it. How no one seems to notice that all the water is evaporating before it reaches the tables is beyond me.

Petrol costs an average of $4.10 per gallon. Milk is going for about $3.50 per gallon. No one seems to mind that milk is so expensive, but they don’t seem to be able to have a conversation about anything other than how expensive it is to “fill up.” Discussing the outrageous cost of petrol has become the new national pastime. At least it isn’t whinging…

Despite the fact that petrol now costs a small fortune, four-wheel drive, gas guzzling vehicles still seem to be as popular as ever.

You can’t actually buy food in the supermarket any more. You can buy Cheez-its, Apple Jacks, frozen TV dinners, Coca-cola, Starbucks coffee, Twizzlers, Ramen Noodles, and oh yes, expensive milk. Fresh produce is by far the smallest section in most grocery stores. And the self-styled “European” grocery stores (don’t ask) sell produce bundled up, which is incredibly annoying. If you only want one courgette, it’s impossible to purchase – you have to buy a pre-wrapped package of at least ten of them.

In the interest of balance, let me mention the good things, because despite the above, saving graces abound:
  • Phoenix sunsets are pretty unbelievable
  • As are the monsoon storms
  • National Public Radio – BBC Radio 4 ain’t got nothing on my beloved NPR
  • Eliana's Authentic Salvadorian Cuisine, an El Salvadorian restaurant which provokes an aesthetically unappealing bout of Pavlovian slobbering
  • Air conditioning
  • Bookman’s Bookshop
I fear visit is bringing out the worst in me. Daily, I veer wildly between misanthrope and humanist. Perhaps this is why I work with dead people…

On a completely different note, I read Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
last night. Absolutely cracking stuff: Beckett marries Shakespeare and then convinces Descartes to join in for a threesome. I’ve never seen a production of it, so if anyone comes across a staging, let me know. I was crushed to discover (thanks Max) that this is standard school reading, which means most likely everyone else has already read it, but hey, it feels like a new discovery to me, and thus it shall remain. Exciting stuff.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

I have a dream...

Disclaimer: The following was written under a state of extreme annoyance using some rather large-scale generalisations. I like to generalise. It’s my blog. I’ll write what I want. Nice one me.

Having been back in my home country for all of three days, it still surprises me that no one has yet juxtaposed the famously held view of Greece, by Byron, Massimo, and others (lovely place, shame about the people) onto the United States. Get out of most of the cities and much of the country is astonishingly beautiful; some of the national parks are stunning bits of the planet, but in the cities, the endless idiocy of the people subsumes any potential aesthetic merit. For me, the primary annoyance of American people stems from their general lack of awareness that they share their cities with other individuals. On the West Coast anyway, I think people pretend that the abundance of physical, geographical space means that there’s no accountability to others who live in the same city. Why would we need to consider other people, there’s plenty of room for everyone, seems to be the mentality. Arizona, and correspondingly, Phoenix are very large places, with plenty of room for people to spread. In London there’s no room anywhere; people live on top of you, you get crushed on the tube in the morning, navigating a Saturday walk on Oxford Street requires SatNav just to avoid the throngs. Consequently, an “awareness” of other people takes place, consciously or not, all of the time. But here people pretend that no one else exists on planet Earth. No man is an island simply does not apply. It’s why everyone lives in a huge house (flat-sharing is pretty much unheard of), drives a giant 4 x 4, petrol prices be damned, eats too much, talks too loudly, and generally does what ever the hell they please. As Prince of Planet Me, why act otherwise?

My European friends never fail to offer the counter argument that Americans are “lovely people, so friendly and helpful.” Let me clarify: Americans love strangers (qualifier – white, European strangers. Top marks scored by the Anglo-Irish in particular) and hate their neighbours. Don’t be fooled for a second by the Obama “change” fervour. Americans don’t want change – there is no love of the social welfare here. They just want their cheap petrol back and no negative equity on their mortgages. The NHS is suspiciously viewed by Americans (those who know what it is anyway) as a borderline socialist farce, hence the perpetuation of the sometimes efficient, yet financially inane US healthcare system. Friends pay $80-200 per month for health insurance policies - and this is only their cost, the remainder is met by your employer - they may use once every two years, if that, yet which in no way subsidises the cost of health care for the poor. In essence this means not paying a health insurance premium means no health care, full stop.

Public transportation is impossible in cities designed to subsidise the American motor industry. There is no social responsibility, least of all where environmental issues are concerned. No one carries a bag for shopping. A supermarket charging for plastic bags would probably start a riot. Yesterday at the supermarket I bought some houmous (which was disgusting), some radishes, a bunch of celery, and a bottle of water. Not only did this cost me $7.63 (sales tax results in annoyingly odd prices), but the cashier put my FOUR items in TWO bags. When I took them out altogether to carry, he looked at me like I ought to be committed to an insane asylum. If I would have faked a public school girl accent and said something like “Oh no really dahling, I have no need for a carrier bag,” he would have smiled brightly and said “Oh my god! Are you Irish? Do you guys, like, have supermarkets in Ireland? My great-great-great-great-grandfather’s from Galway? Do you know it/them/my relatives/etc.” Nutters. A dear friend has suggested I look at this involuntary exile as a learning opportunity for personal growth or some other such nonsense, but what I really want is just to go home. Now that I finally know where that is…

More observations from the “big island” coming soon. Less generalisations next time. I promise…