Saturday, March 01, 2008

Mississippi God Damn

The Mississippi, from the Crowne Plaza St Paul Riverfront, February 29, 2008.
Minnesota feels like it typifies the US in so many ways: a land of giants and giant spaces, where everyone dresses down and looks down. Jeans to the office? Sure! Dirty snow in huge drifts. Huge cars, huge roads.The worst hot chocolate I've ever tasted from the vending machine in the office kitchen. Kids in the hotel hallways, here for some wrestling competition, with nothing better to do than stand by the lifts staring. At every restaurant we're served huge, somewhat tasteless portions, larded with butter. So much food... US flags everywhere and bumper stickers saying "Support [or Pray for] our troops". Everyone is friendly, up to a point. Public as well as private spaces are massive and bland. Only the sunshine relieves the atmosphere. The TV adverts are all for drugs. The CNN newsreader says "Communist China".

St Paul is not a city you could walk around. Without a car you'd be nothing. Everyone drives to work. They drive between buildings on the office "campus". We drove to lunch and back. It's second nature to be driving a car: how will Americans ever give that up? The entire infrastructure is predicated upon driving.

My taxi driver has a black beret and John Lennon blue specs and is playing freeform jazz on the car stereo. He barks at me "I'm going to Lexington because it's quicker". I say "OK". He asks me if the reason I have a crease in the middle of my brow - just there, and he points in the mirror - "is because it's frustrating dealing with the Chinese". Straight faced, he says the people in Hong Kong eat rats.

The Mall of America is near the airport, but I can't quite bring myself to go there. 40 million people visited in 2006 and it's the most visited shopping mall in the world. All very good reasons for me to avoid it completely.

But sitting at the desk in my hotel room, watching the sun go down over the Mississippi, with clouds of smoke puffing in the cold, I have to admit it's beautiful.


Anonymous said...

Are you saying that the Mississippi is beautiful, or the mall? It's not clear!

Scary (but not surprising) what you say about Americans' addiction to their cars. Do you think China is going that way too?

And as for the butter, and the huge, bland portions. Ugh.


LottieP said...

The Mississippi, but Blogger wasn't letting me put in a hard return. I am giving the Mall a wide berth.

In China it's not a matter of convenience, it's a sign of wealth. It is truly frightening to think about the consequences of that growing desire coupled with buying power: even now the traffic in Beijing and Shanghai is pretty bad.

Grande Poobah said...

rurgh. my favourite fantasy about the US of A is that its collected weight (of people and stuff) means that in time its entire landmass sinks and we're rid of the place. This sounds ghastly. Yuk. I'm off to grow vegetables on the moon

Mummy said...

When I was about 11 we had an exchange student from Minnesota stay with us (my sister never went there so I am not quite sure how it worked). By this point, Mum had perfected the tourist guide effort for London after many foreign students who used to lodge with us when they were in the UK.

The girl from Minnesota was not impressed by any of it, and all she wanted to do was shop. When my Mum, exasperated, finally admitted that nothing of culture or history would interest this girl and took her to Oxford Street, her complaint was "it's all so small".