When our thoughts go rather too far, people say we ramble. That's the case with me now, so I must return to earth. For the lack of a circle, I am sitting in the narrow armchair of the airplane. I would like at least to speak with my right hand neighbor, but he is sleeping. Despite my sore rear end, I stay in my seat. Making notes sounds like a good idea for filling in the time. I am not a novelist and do not want making literature at any price. My intention is only to note my sincere impressions during this trip that has just begun with a flight from Bucharest to New York.
To my great disappointment, the Alps Mountains were hidden in clouds. It seems the gods prefer water surfaces, as it can hardly be coincidence that almost always when I fly above sees or oceans the sky is cloudless. England - neither water nor continent, but an island - displays a flock of small clouds, looking like sheep, as though they want to remind us of the famous wool of Shetland. We could not see the Shetland Islands from here, but they are not far away. Times were changing... Former English people used to graze sheep; today they shepherd clouds. Toward the west, these small sheep turn themselves into dinosaurs and finally a milky mass makes the scenery uninteresting. (I would prefer to write “landscape”, but probably “water-scape” or “cloud-scape” would be more appropriate. My own brand of English frequently offers me more unusual possibilities than the common vocabulary would allow.)
Meanwhile we have passed beyond England. Above Ireland the clouds are so high that they nearly touch the wings of the plain which is flying at 33,000 feet, according to the altitude just announced on the display.
The Ireland also is behind us. Surprise! The Gulf Stream and the sun love each other. Odd thing! It would be expected that a warm water current, which penetrates into a colder area, would form fog above it. But on this occasion that's not what happened. It is as clear as it possibly could be - not a single cloud! That surely proves the gods love water more than earth.
We are crossing the ocean. Nice but boring! The same scenery under the same plane wing... And the seat feels narrow and narrow... A good sleep would be the best but I cannot fall asleep. I am too tired because my travel began earlier in the night from Brasov, and I am overexcited. Even my neighbour in the next seat has fallen asleep, probably because of my chattering.
Late in the day Greenland appears on the display, to the right of our route. Green-Land what an irony! Perhaps it seemed green to those who, coming from the glaciers, baptised it so, even though 80% of the land is covered in ice. This may have been their point of view.
The express "Caesar crossed the Rubicon" has the power of a symbol because it forced the association of two far-fetched entities of very different sizes: Caesar's greatness and the smallness of the Rubicon. If the two entities had been of the same size, small or great, the statement would have been banal. But as it is, we must think at its metaphoric sense. If I am to use the same line of thought, I should associate my own modest name with a very large stream, but I am afraid that any river is rather small and there are too many people who have already crossed oceans. It would be no more impressive. What remain to me is to use the well-known expression just for its symbolic value for a hard decision - not for mankind - but for myself. Yes, for me and for my financial limitations, crossing the Atlantic is an important decision. There is one more difference. Crossing the Rubicon suggests violating a peace treaty and beginning a war. I cannot declare war on anyone, but only onto myself and my savings. Therefore, I have broken the peace treaty with myself. It is much wiser, as I have often been at war with other people, particularly with my chiefs. Evidently, there was little chance to win such wars. For all that I had the satisfaction of not allowing them to win either, as I was like a boulder across the path, which they could not pass. Now, I have no chiefs, any longer. The war with myself is the single way. It seems to be a great challenge. Still, there are some advantages. Fist of all, an armistice is easier to conclude at any time. On the other hand, if I lose, I have the satisfaction of knowing that he who vanquished me is a dear person, maybe a clever one.
It is eight o’clock in the Romania now. On the television, a “tele-novela” has just finished and another one is going to start. They suit the Romanians' mentality and our landscapes too. Hill, valley, hill, valley, and so on toward the infinite. Nothing new! Why does one go to great pains, any longer? The philosopher Lucian Blaga has noticed this characteristic of Romanian people. Let us see what “tele-novela” I shall do in the New World.
Now and again, particularly when I am tired, I have a tendency to philosophise. Some more malicious fellows say I would be in this mood all the time. It would be good for me, but I do not think them. On the other hand, Jose Ortega y Gasset assures us that " …philosophy keeps its virginity in spite of its repeated violations", so that philosophy is in no danger. As for my inclinations toward such preoccupations, they exist only in the etymological sense of the word: love (philo) for wisdom (sophia). A philosopher involves a professional, namely someone who earns his living doing philosophy or at least appearing to do it. As long as I have another profession, I could not be a philosopher at the same time, but I would love to be more sagacious or, at least to know more than I know. I do not think that, for such a little thing, one would agree to recognise me as a philosopher. The professionals certainly don't, but I have to assume that I am not suffering for it.
The adjectival sense of the word philosophy is still acceptable not only for me, but also for all people because, to a certain extent, all of us are philosophers, that is to say lovers of wisdom. That does not mean that all of us are necessarily wise persons (which would be the most boring thing on earth), but we cannot deny we would like to be wise. But what is wisdom really? They say Napoleon said that stupid people deal with the past, wise men with the present day and madmen with the future. If he had been a little mad, his fate would have been better. One thing is certain: he used to have very unclear ideas about wisdom. So please allow me to consider myself if not a philosopher, at least a fan of it.
Why have I said I should not want to be a professional philosopher? Because since Socrates' day up until today, philosophy has been through the mill, from sublime toward ridiculous. First at all, from the large field of knowledge, smaller but more precise fields have spun off, one after another. They have built their means of investigation, and have definite themselves as more or less exact sciences. The reminded field for philosophy has become smaller and smaller, and more gravely, fewer and fewer people are willing to make philosophy their career, as long as scientific ones were much more pertinent and profitable. The remaining philosophers, following the example of the exact sciences, tried to create their own language but, unfortunately, not to make the expression clearer but, on the contrary, more esoteric and exclusive.
Socrates used to philosophise with all people, for all people, using language adequate to his interlocutors, but always approaching essential problems. Nowadays philosophy is only a parade of language, sometimes just to hide a lack of ideas and content. "Quand un philosophe nous répond, on ne comprend plus du tout ce qu’on lui avait demandé." (André Gide) The consequence is recorded by one of the last of common-sense Romanian philosopher: “the authors of philosophic texts ... are greater in number today in the world than their readers” (Gabriel Liiceanu).
As a reader, I prefer the essays of scientists, who, willing or not, become more philosophical, as the years go by. They, at least, passed some serious examinations and proved some superior brains. The first philosophers were the scientists of their time as well. "He, who is not a geometrist, does not enter here" was written on the fronton of Plato's Academy. Plato is not known as a geometrician, but as a philosopher, just a humanist one. Therefore, geometry used to be an elementary discipline for any serious person. Not knowing geometry was being equivalent with illiterate person. Even later on, most of the serious philosophers used to have hard studies. Probably such thoughts entered Schopenhauer's mind when he wrote "he who wants to make serious philosophy must study thoroughly at least one exact science". Therefore, the idea is not a new one, but it is not convenient. Why?
The ocean, seen from above, with some small clouds on it, seems to look exactly as the sky does from the earth. The same shapes, the same colours! Here is a case where two different objects seem to be similar. It is not the alone. I could find more examples. Particularly among us, many people seem to be what they are not.
My thoughts are interrupted. We have arrived. "Chacun a son défault où toujours il revient", La Fontaine said. I have my flaws too. After three years, I am again on American soil, or to be more exact, on the concrete of JFK airport, where a Chinese woman’s voice is announcing something that is hardly understandable if you do not know beforehand what she is saying. But more urgently is the need to shave myself and change my thick clothes for a T-shirt, because there are 87 here, as opposed to the 40, as it was on the night I left Brasov.
Another plane, much smaller, will carry me to Miami. While I wait, I have respite for looking at the people walking up and down. In Romania, some shoes with very thick soles are in woman's fashion, but almost nobody wears they here. The Americans are a more practical people. An easy sandal surely is more comfortable than a shoe like a caterpillar. To me, the fashion otherwise seems the same here, but I am far from a specialist.
Now and again, the Chinese voice from the loudspeaker seems to sing. I had better go to my gate. The song is not that of a mermaid and I am not Ulysses, but it could be just as dangerous to me, due to my tiredness. There are more than 24 hours since I have been awake.
This time I avoided New York. I saw it two years ago and consider that was enough. From my previous trip, the memory of the first night comes to mind when, due to jetlag, I was not being able to sleep. It was whilst looking at the ceiling of my room in Gramercy Park Hotel - where I had arrived thanks to the recommendation of the person sitting next to me in the plane - the idea to note down my travel impressions came. As always happens, any marvel lasts three days. While getting used to local time, making travel notes was always seemed to be a job for later. This time, I proposed to be a more hardworking tourist.
I remember as well the first dinner in a small Indian restaurant, with the spiciest food that I ever ate. And of course the town, not only for its buildings, but, especially for its breathing. Yes, I think that breathing is the appropriate word, even if it says nothing if one does not know it. New York has a peculiar breathing. The town is not as polluted as it's supposed to be, thanks to the ocean, which sends a permanent breeze of fresh air, and has a smile, and a particular buzzing. It is surely impressive, here and there pretty nice, but almost nobody wants to live there. No one envies its fame. Common Americans are peaceful people who do not want to exchange the leisure of the quite towns, where most of them live, for the hustle of large cities.
New York is interesting only once. It is a town with a strong personality, very original, but not at all characteristic for the United States generally. Besides, thinking New York, we usually have in mind Manhattan, which is a tiny island in comparison with the large metropolis. Here, in Manhattan, live but a few people. Most of them, as soon as the workday is over, together with the visitors, leave the city. The poor ones stay in the neighbourhoods, the rich ones get far away. The town becomes a huge garbage can (human garbage too), but early in the morning, in a miraculous way, it awakes fresh and full of life. Nothing like this happens in the rest of the United States, where people can be very different. It is those people whom I want to know, the people from this large country.
There is one more reason I am not eager to see New York now: the rule of the five targets. According to this rule, a tourist should not exceed five objectives. Five towns in a country, five monuments in any town, five paintings in a museum, etc.! Otherwise, the multitude of details will turn everything into a jumble without head or tail, and the time will be insufficient even for a single large objective.
So I do not linger in New York. The flight to Miami was without remembrances, except for a nice view to Miami itself, viewed from the plane at night. A sea of glow-worms of different colours! It is wonderful. I arrived at half past ten in the evening.
Of course, it is warm in Florida, although we are now at the beginning of September. Warm and Humid! Threatening clouds often come in from the ocean, but they usually stop before the coast. Nobody takes account of them because, when they do succeed in coming in from the coast, the rains are short and warm. After several minutes, any trace of rain has disappeared. Anyway, the clouds move as fast that little can be done in our defense, so that it is simpler to ignore them. The sky, even when blue, is more light-gray blue than real azure.
What annoyed me throughout USA, but particularly here, was the excessive cold air indoors, due to the air-conditioning, which is set at rather low temperature. It is so cold inside that, when you go out in the heat, your glasses steam up, rather as happens in the north on cold winter's days, when we suddenly enter a warm room, coming from the frost of outdoors. Shop assistants wear warm clothes and shoes with thick soles. In cars, the same air-conditioning, which fortunately I was being able to adjust for comfort, in spite of the owner's disapproval! The moral is, when going south, take some warm clothes to wear inside buildings. And do not forget a cap or something like that. I remember what a headache I had one day, during my last trip, because of the propeller of a great fan being used to direct a strong stream of cold air at us.
It is fashionable, particularly among young American people, to wear peaked caps. Bareheaded men were not to be seen before the World War II. After the war, at least in Europe, as people had begun to use cars on a large scale, hats were no longer practical, so uncovered heads came into fashion. People probably wanted to show that they did not need hats because they owned cars. But, when you are on foot and the temperature is very low, it is rather unwise to insist on being á la mode. Unfortunately, this was the latest word in fashion during my youth, so that I fully caught up in it. Not one of us owned a car, but fashion takes no account of reason. I have become wiser later, and can say now that sometimes later could be too later. Every old people cover his head in cold days - the question is how late did he make his mind up to do so.
In contrast to the Romanians, who are permanently frowning and morose, the Americans are all smiles and kindness. The Romanians become more kind-hearted as you get to know them, but they do not show it at the first sight. I try to take up their cause, you see, especially as I too do not smile much, unfortunately. You have guessed by now that I am from Romania. (I have even greater flows. Still, they could not be very great. One says "il nappartient quaux grands hommes davoir de grands défauts". Consequently, I could have only small flows.) A possible cause of the Romanians' morose lies in our origin. Let's not forget that Romania is situated in the vicinity of the old Hellas, and was strong influenced by the ancient Greek culture, which is famous for its tragedies, not for comedies. Anyway, I find the cheery American custom more meaningful and civilized.
The old greeting "How do you do" is replaced by "How are you" and the answer is as formal as the interest for one's health. Still, I appreciate their efforts to seem in high spirits, because it is a sign of politeness and civility and, smiling every time, people end up thinking they really are in that way. Even if they do not succeed in cheering others up, the atmosphere is merry.
Another nice custom is that used by unknown people saluting each other when meeting in uncrowded areas. This custom is almost lost in Europe, where only in very isolated placed, such as mountain paths or in the countryside, people remember they are speaking beings.
Are you a man, and see that a lady, or better still a nice young lady, smiled to you? Don't cherish illusions! You probably stared at her too long, and she understood your regard was an appreciation. Feeling flattered, she thanked you with a smile. Maybe she even uttered a "Hi!" It was not more than a greeting. Instead of the risk of not welcoming a possible known person she does not remember in that very moment, it is more comfortable and elegant to say "Hi!" together with an amiable smile. It does no cost her anything and creates a pleasant atmosphere. I cannot imagine what might happen to an American women if she were to smile whilst walking through an Arabic country, where a smile is considered an acceptance of the desire to become an Arab man's lover. Surely, they are warned before leaving, but if they forget for the moment?
This merry atmosphere is striking here, on the shore, thanks to the tourists who are on vacation and the natives too, even though they are not just native here. Let us not forget that Florida's population increased most after WW II and also after the Vietnam War, when many veterans came here, attracted by the climate and lower taxes. On the beach, I talked to an friendly stranger sunbathing there on the sand. Seeing me off, he said "Good Bye, my friend". Two days later, I met him in the same place and we really enjoyed chatting again. Unfortunately, such meetings were almost as few as my bathing in the ocean. I stayed there only a week.
I visited only the shoreline area, where everything is clean and nice. I was told that the atmosphere becomes less aestival, the farther one moves away from the ocean coast and could be even dangerous in the areas with many Latin-American immigrants. I did not go there. From all that, one of my most pleasant recollection from Florida was a CD with Latino-American music. The world is filled with paradoxes.
The gossip en vogue is the Clinton versus Monica Lewinsky scandal. No matter when or where, if a television set catches your eye, a passionate discusses on this topic is to be seen. All programmes are plenty of debates about Clinton’s wrongdoing. I do not have a special preoccupation with Clinton and I do not defend him, but I accuse the Republicans of using it as a campaign, which is more pernicious for American democracy than for Clinton as person, or for their true target: the Democratic Party. It is a political mistake. I said that it was the beginning of the end of American democracy. Certainly, I was exaggerating. American democracy will not end because of Clinton or his adversaries. Then, what is the matter? I must explain a few points!
1. Democracy is not so much a political system, as a state of affairs. A state of equilibrium, a balance of power, in which people express their opinions, and politicians take these opinions into account. There is some trust between them. Early in the life of every democracy, people are enthusiastic and the trust reaches the maximum levels. Peoples' actions are convergent with the general interest, and the economy is prosperous. In time, trust grows weaker and democracy grows old owing to just such events as Clinton’s case. The Italians or Greeks are good examples of old nations. Nobody would succeed in persuading the common Italian that his efforts could bring back the lost glory of the Roman Empire. That’s why he acts on an individual way, in his own interest, or at the most in his family's interests.
2. USA is a young nation with a still young democracy. The common American still relies on his leaders, and the American flag - a symbol of the pride in being American - is to be found everywhere, even on the harlots' pants. (So I heard!)
3. This public debate on Clinton’s case is not a gain for democracy. On the contrary, it is a step toward its ageing, because people loss their trust in leaders. Clinton is not the first and surely will not be the last president who made a false step. After a few years, people will forget him and his actions, good or bad. What will remain in subconscious of the people is the idea that American politicians are not necessarily perfect. That is why Clinton’s guilt is not what is really important. Much guiltier are the Republicans who, in their fury, inflamed this shameful scandal, evidently for momentary politic interests, with too little care for long-term consequences.
4. The Republicans do not win more, because people have the opportunity to see that they do care more for removing their political adversaries than for the nation's matters. The senators' vote, according to party allegiance rather than for the case, is illustrative for their real preoccupation. They do not destroy as much the trust in Clinton, as the trust in politicians generally, and Republicans especially.
5. Democracy disappears together with trust, and as democracy is the key to economical prosperity, this suffers too, because there is not democracy without a good economy. Democracy and poverty are incompatible each other.
The preoccupation with a practical and comfortable life is so strong that it sometimes overlooks other criterions. One day, for example, someone showed me a dwelling looking like a warehouse or a factory. They surprised my by expressing: "Look, what a nice house!" It was very large and probably very comfortable inside, but there was nothing nice or remarkable from the architectural point of view.
Everybody knows that Americans are pragmatic people. Many of their achievements were possible thanks to that. I admire them for it but with some reservations. I cannot concede that an intellectual, even if he is retired now, owns less than ten books and keeps them for decorating his room. A true intellectual is not a temporary or a topical one; he is one, or he never was one. He, who has a real passion for reading books, will never change.
Mythology is something that people forgot long ago, and many have never heard of Prometheus. Of course, they do not suffer for such a small thing, rather it was me wondering which was more important to know: how to make dollars, or to seek answers to questions with Prometheus. Making money is a necessity for living, but I think it is very important to ask questions. The truths could be as simple as far away, and we will know them, or won't. It is not the answer that is important so much as the way toward it. Not even Buddha, not to mention Jesus Christ, did not give solutions to life, but only ways to salvation. Ways, namely roads to cross through. Beyond to any faith, to be human means to ask questions. "Solely he, who never thought enough, has clear ideas", said a poetess. Living without dilemmas seems to me the most useless possible thing. And some of the first dilemmas begin with Prometheus.
One says you must know where you come from, in order to know where you head for. No matter what our faith is, our ancestors' faith, including mythology, is part of out history, of our cultural background. We are the result of our own history and cannot deny our genesis, because it would mean denying ourselves. We are the consequence of our forefathers' deeds, good or bad.
I am going to Georgia.
It was a short flight to Atlanta. My only memory is of a young girl who kept the air vent open at maximum above her head all the way. Her hair was floating, as if she walked through a strong storm. I remarked on her resistance but not her ignorance.
The airport at Atlanta seems immense. As a passenger, you can realise its size from the number of planes flying in the sky. Inside the terminal, the distance from entrance gate to exit it was more convenient for us to use the underground train.
Georgia is a delightful place twice over; it is a pleasant county by in itself, but particularly because it is there where I met Bill and his wife Alma, two wonderful people. They were both waiting for me at the airport, and they were with me all during my stay, especially Bill, wondering what more they could do for me. Alma, a silent women (unthinkable but true) from time to time used to bring me things, or do something, showing that she was being attentive and found a way to be useful and make my stay more pleasurable. Both of them are ample people, even rotund, but surprisingly agile. They are equally active and amiable.
Today they have gone to the dentist, so I am alone. It is raining, the reason why I have moved to the porch. It looks out on what could be either woods or parkland, it is hard to say which. Whatever it is, it is very nice. Old trees stand next to young ones, each of them with a different essence giving an effect similar to a painting composed with much art. Hares wander around like domestic animals. There are also squirrels, which Alma gives food to. The porch is great, especially for me. It is large enough for four lounge chairs, two swings, and above all my easel. I forget to say that I am a painter now (my second profession). On the wood walls I can hang my canvasses, which is very useful for small corrections. The warm, clean air makes the rain to seem like a momentary accident, almost amusing. A little hare has sheltered himself from the rain under an old tree, no more than thirty feet away. He looks at me, and oddly enough does not seem to be afraid at all. Now and again, he nibbles a few blades of grass and then ruminates a long time. Meanwhile, the rain has stopped. I am almost sorry. Even the hare has left. Instead, dozens of little birds sing as if they want to make up the lost time. It is interesting that I heard even the cuckoo's sing, which belongs to the spring season. In Romania, birds do not sing past the end of July. Now here it is the end of September and the bird's song is to be heard everywhere.
Georgia is a nice and rich area. We may suppose these two qualities amplify each other. The beauty of the nature attracts those who have the freedom of choice, namely those who are wealthy. They have built nice houses and take care of nature, making the area still nicer and more attractive for other people, and so on. There are lots and lots of very nice houses, particularly near by Atlanta, houses with large domains and many trees around. Tennis courts or golf courses testify to their owners’ wealth. Bill has kindly taken me for a drive me among such properties.
The top of the hill from which we now admire the landscape seems to be surrounded by a forest. Beyond several stylish houses, there is nothing to be seen but trees, which appear secular. Going downhill, more houses appear and the expected forest recedes. Actually, the houses are surrounded with so much vegetation than gradually the mystery turns itself into admiration for an area really residential. I had the chance to see it thanks to Bill, who likes to look on the area with pride himself. Over the course of the two weeks I stayed here, we drove hundreds of miles in such areas, each nicer than the one before.
Maybe I am biased but - as any European - I appreciate houses made of bricks. But I appreciate also the Americans’ predisposition to the practical and useful, hence their pleasant wooden houses. But I can’t help remarking that the most of valuable houses in the USA are made of bricks too.
I never knew if Atlanta is the feminine of Atlant, Atlantic or something else. Anyway, it is a nice town that does not aim to impressing with the usual American gigantisms. The downtown area is not very large. Even its buildings are not very tall. Good taste has replaced the race towards “the most” with any price. Maybe the comparison is a little exaggerate, but I dare to say that Atlanta succeeded in architecture what the European Renaissance did: to replace the "gothic' of the first skyscrapers with a genuine modern style, searching for new technology in order to make buildings more comfortable but beautiful as well. The word 'gothic' only recently has got positive connotations. In the language of Renaissance architects, gothic used to mean barbarian. The Italians invented it, with a pejorative meaning, intended to mock the old style of the Middle Age. The Goths, Ostrogoths, Vizigoths, etc, were barbarians. Europe belongs to old Greed culture, where "man is the measure of all things" (Protagoras). The sense of measure, of proportion, is characteristics of Greek culture. The dominant feature of Gothic style is tallness, in order to impress the tinny believers with the grandeur of the church. It belongs to the barbarity of Middle Age, when Europe's impetuosity seemed to be without limits. It was the Renaissance that brought things to their normal matrix and Europe has become really civilised. Today, Atlanta tries to attain the same clarify of aesthetic criterions after the first explosion of skyscrapers.
Huge posters of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh leave no chance to forget them. They risk becoming trivial by being seen on so many advertisements, but instead prove their value as a symbol.
People from Atlanta take pride in everything. The truth is they have enough reasons to do so, but even their dialect is a subject of pride for them, although it is hardly understandable even to the Americans. Bill himself is proud with his accent and cultivates it, not without interest. He used to reassure me, saying that if I can understand him, then I can understand anyone. Recently, he has taken up politics and uses his accent as a subtle argument for persuading his fellow citizens that he is an authentic son of Georgia. For the same purpose, he has adopted the nickname "redneck" and wrote it on the front plate of his car, even if he has never actually worked hard under a relentless sun. But the end justifies the means, particularly in politics. He thinks also that, speaking with a strong dialect, obliges people to pay a greater effort to understand him, and in this way he holds their attention. One small stratagem among many others, which he tries to learn and put into practice, sometime successfully.
Both Romanians and Americans are tempted to make comparisons between the prices of different products or services. It is a useless exercise, as to start from here leads one to general conclusions, which cannot be but aberrant. I am not talking about trade prices, which are for interest only to merchants, but about retail prices, those that we see in common shops. The error lies just in directly comparing the prices of single products, because any product is only one element of our way of live. What can be compared are just our ways of life as a whole, and not the separated elements. As different the ways of life are as wishy-washy the comparison of some items is. Here is an example. The price of gasoline is lower in the United States than in Romania. Advantage point USA! But their cars consume four or five times more gasoline per 100 miles than Europeans cars. Advantage point Europe! Of course, one may suggest that the Americans could make and use smaller cars, but at this point a psychological problem appears, just because the two ways of life are very different. In Europe, due to agglomeration, commercial life is concentrated in downtown, while in the US it spreads along the highways. In Brasov, the town where I live, people drive only to the perimeter of downtown and then walk in the city centre, because cars access is forbidden. Within a small distance one can find everything one needs to buy. To reach downtown cars are not a necessity; we can just as well use buses or trolley busses. From one town to another, it is easy to travel, as there is a dense network of good trains. In United States, there are tens of miles between shops. Trains are almost non-existent. The whole of their life is conceived in cars, en route. Cars are more than a means of transport, they are integral to daily living. They are part of peoples' life. The Americans love cars. For this reason, they are willing to pay a great part from their income for gasoline, but you cannot share your opinion about it, without risking hurting their amour proper.
As the Americans are practical people, in most restaurants you can eat fast, clean and cheap. But they may become pretentious when protocol intervenes. At the entrance, a lady welcomes you as if she has known you for years and missed you since your last visit. But not all the questions are without sense. Some concerning your wife, children, friends, etc. are useful to ascertain how much table spaces is needed, and whether you seek smoking, non-smoking or perhaps a space more intimate, and so on. In more fastidious restaurants a reservation is necessary. A young girl with miniskirt leads you toward your table. For the menu a waitress comes together with a wine waiter. Some piccolos serve the dishes. For the dessert there is another waiter, of course a lady, as ladies are more artful at sweetmeats. Toward the end, the boss itself comes to ask how you feel, and if there is anything more you would like, etc. When nothing more is to do, the first waiter comes with a wallet for the bills. It is customary to leave a tip. It's interesting that tips are allowed in restaurants, but forbidden everywhere else. (Giving tips is not a good tip, as they are forbidden. I have right of author for this maxim.) On your way to the exit, the entire personnel wish you to have a good day and, by all means, to come again. After leaving such a restaurant, I felt I needed some rest and fortunately found a very pleasant little park just behind the restaurant, at the banks of a river. Two benches and several trees seemed to be paradise descended on earth.
By the way, speaking about the tips, taxes, and generally about the financial system, keeping in actuality the statement that Al Capone was condemned for tax evasion and not for his innumerable iniquities much more grave, is not at all accidentally. In this way, the government catches people's eye that paying taxes is a serious question.
Today, Bill and Alma took me along with them to a party-dance at 11 AM. At first I wondered what it could be, as they told me that I do not have to dance. I soon understood. The party used to take place in a home for old women, and one of its purposes was to offer them several pleasant hours. It happens every two weeks. I must confess that I was much impressed by this gesture. I uttered in my mind a strong “bravo!” to a society who does not forget its old persons. It is a charitable gesture, fun and useful as well. Charitable because the target is the residents of the home. Fun for everyone! Participants are people of the third age too, or nearly all, who come to dance. It is useful because most dances are actually dancing lessons. Dance classes for the elderly - here is an idea that deserves deeper reflections. One of the participants is the provider of music and dance teacher. Instead of lyrics, many songs have instructions for dance: two steps forward, three to the right, etc. Most of them are ensemble dances. The participants come in two by two, but partners are changed very frequently during the dance, according to its rules. During the changes, every time when two dancers meet each other, they salute with joy, as if they have just met one another accidentally. As soon as one change is finished, another one begins. Collective exultation is an obvious target. The aim of the lessons is to inure the 'students' with a style cheerful, quiet and peaceful enough for persons who are not longer young. Everything in a very pleasant atmosphere! Only the most active residents took part in the dance. Others, some of them in wheelchairs, were only looking. I was curious to learn what may hide in the soul of those who are looking at people able to dance, while they are spiked into wheelchairs. I watched their faces very attentively, but noticed not a single sign of envy. On the contrary, they were smiling, probably remembering their own moments of happiness. I am not so naïve as to think that envy is absent in this part of the world. The explanation is that those of them who were predisposed toward such feelings preferred not to come at all.
It was for me not only a lesson of dance, but of civic virtues as well. I was impressed on only by the idea, but also by the multitude of social valences involved in this undertaking. I had and still have many question marks on the American way of life, but I will ever remember this lesson. A society with such preoccupations still has its future assured for a long time to come.
I have learnt an expression: men perspire, women shine. In this case, any woman rushes to the ladies room before sweat pierces her makeup and tries to repair it.
Rosewell is the name of a small township, not far away from Atlanta. I went there to see an art exhibition. They organise it once a year, in tents or just in the open air, on a square in the middle of the town. There are all kind of artists displaying their works. Professional or dilettantes, good or bad, painters, sculptors, artisans, florists, portrait makers and whatnot; everything could be found. Most of them are not so good, and flowers overflow the whole square, but I saw also two painters who were very good. In other square there are some busts, among which Rosewell's statue is dominant. I have learnt that Rosewell was a distinguished citizen of the town who lived 100 years and his posterity still keeps awake their appreciation for his good deeds for the town. My esteem for today's inhabitants who know to honour their forerunners!
Everywhere I wandered, my main purpose was fine art, particularly painting. Not only the exhibitions were my targets, but also art distributors, because I wanted to make connections in order to export art works from Romania. In this respect I was somewhat disillusioned. Firstly, there are no paintings in most American's houses. They are either not there at all, or are of bad quality. As a consequence, distributors are interested only in large orders made by offices to decorating large rooms. They want impressive frames and non-valuable paintings. Sometimes, instead of a painting, there is a poster. Many paintings are either copies from the great masters - especially Monet - or other subjects, all of them being commercially, serially manufactured, particularly by Chinese, Korean, or Vietnamese people. They can be purchased for about 20 dollars. Real art galleries are extremely few. There are many towns, some large enough, without any gallery at all. This is natural; what would be the use of a gallery without buyers.
Only the most pretentious rich persons buy real paintings. But they, because of a lack of the confidence in their own appreciative criteria, appeal to art-critics. Art critics? These are people unable to speak more than the content of Desdemona's handkerchief. (Sorry, this remark is not my own, but I could not help repeating it.) What are their interests? I better not waist time on them. Not particularly on the American ones! They are the same everywhere. In short, they are recruited from failed artists, from those who had wanted to become artists but, due to the scarcity of their gift, did not succeed. Instead, in their bitterness, they hate anything around, real painters especially. Honestly, they are not worth the smallest attention. It is not a surprise when an art critic recommends a bad painter and his works. Common taste usually brings better results.
Often, art critics are the spokesmen of a group of local fine artists, and then they represent those artists' interests.
All in all, my stay in Georgia was too nice for ending without flaw. This time, I left Atlanta by bus. Greyhound will be from now on my travelling companion. But before leaving, after I had bought my ticket and checked the luggage in, while waiting for the buss, I lost the ticket. When I realised the damage, I rushed to the ticket counter - perhaps somebody had found and brought it there. Nobody had. I rummaged through all the nearby wastebaskets, but no tickets were not to be found. I came to the conclusion that whoever found it would use it, not to travel, but to misappropriate the luggage. I had two very large suitcases and their loss could compromise my whole trip. Although I like to think of myself as a man with self-control, this time I was panic-stricken. I had to buy another ticket, but the risk of losing my luggage was still a real one.
Bad luck never comes alone; the bus went out late, so that in Memphis, where I was to change, there was the risk of not catching the next bus towards Harrison, the final point of this journey, where Shela, my next hostess, would be waiting for me. To miss meeting with her would be a catastrophe, as I did not know her address and anybody else in the whole state of Arkansas. Harrison is a very small locality among the mountains and probably there is not even a hotel there. As for my baggage, it would have to travel for a long time, as no one would take it out from the luggage compartment of the bus without me. A nightmare was beginning for me when, at last, the bus started from the pleasant Atlanta.
Memphis, seen in full speed from the bus, does not seem to be interesting at all. The buildings that I can see from here are quite modest. An old-fashioned tramcar with a single coach amuses me. But still, it is not only Elvis Presley's town but also a great and important town, at least from the economical point of view. Surely, it deserves much more attention, but right now I am not in the mood for such considerations. Maybe I will have the opportunity to do it later. It is the entrance gate in Mississippi delta and this is enough to think about its importance. Its suburbs draw the attention to the fact that it is an agricultural center as well. After a ring of depots and enterprises, an area of elegant dwellings appears, with much orderly land around. The high life lives here. Yes, Memphis is a large town.
I am traveling on towards Harrison. That means that, immediately after Memphis, comes Arkansas, name with ample resonance in my ears, I do not know why. Probable from the movies! For the beginning, we are crossing a plate area, dull, in which one could hardly note something of interest without becoming boring. With due consideration to people who live on plains, it is boring not to have something on which you can prop your view up. Now it is autumn and the harvest are already gathered, so the field is a perfectly uniform grey plane. In Romania, there could to be found some weeds, unharvested crops, or some irregularities anyway. Here nothing! The Americans' work is perfect. Very occasionally, small groups of houses appear, some poorer, other wealthy, but both alike without nothing more around than is necessary for work, namely cars and farming machinery. Extremely seldom, there are two or three trees, almost without shadow. Four trees together are already a luxury. Beside some of the poor houses one can see oil burner cars and old, rusting machinery. The beauty and elegance of Georgia remained away.
I am a man of the mountains. This explains my lack of understanding for the plain. It is my problem, not that of the lowlands people. Octavian Paler, a Romanian writer, wrote a very nice essay about the role of the mountains in the development of characters. That does not mean that people of land do not have character; they do, and interestingly it is molded by working the dust of the field. I appreciate it but notice they are different. In the mountain, people raise every day but they take care to return home at night. In the plain instead, they need patience to sow in spring and wait till the autumn for harvest, if the weather has been good. A mountain man is a fighter, not only with wild animals, but also with many difficulties, generally. A farmer is a hard worker too, but he is a more of a fatalist because his harvest depends on the weather. Somebody said that with the mountains the earth raises to the sky and, by means of the people, sky (God or gods) descends onto the earth. I quote this from memory, perhaps it is not an exact quote, but that's the general idea.
Jonesboro is the single locality more important. Gradually, we get near the mountains. That's an other life! The road is narrow and the vegetation abundant. The bus is almost empty. The area become increasingly picturesque, and shows to good account from the tourist point of view. There are numerous lakes with dozens of boats and villas for leisure. One can hire a boat, but it seems that it is almost cheaper to buy one. I understand now why I saw many boats beside houses in areas without lakes, even sometimes in full desert. People bought their boats while on vacation and brought them home, hoping to have another opportunity to use them later. Mostly, it remained just a wish, while the boats corroded.
As we advance into the mountains, the resorts become more rare. Instead, small mountain localities appear, smaller and smaller, and progressively poorer. Some of them are so poorly that I am wondering how such a thing is possible in the midst of the United States. Beside the road there are some shop-boards with second hand items, maybe even third hand. At first I thought the sellers were Indians, but they were white people and do not sell handicrafts, but worn out things. As a matter of fact, handicrafts could not be sold, because the tourist area remained far behind. We are now on a secondary road, without tourist traffic. The buyers could not be tourists, but other natives, still poorer than the vendors.
At last, I got to Harrison. The bus station is only a room in a wasteland, where the bus stops for a few minutes. Despite being in the mountains, it is warm and pleasant. The last of my uncertainty is over. Shela is waiting for me in the station. I am saved!
She does not live in Harrison itself, but 25 miles deeper into the mountains, where all fellow citizens know her and she greets them. She has no teeth and this seems to be one of her greatest regrets. From this reason she did not allow me to take her photograph, although it would have made a good portrait. Fortunately, her diction is pretty good, more understandable than that of many other people with all their teeth, but speaking in jargon. Her face has some Asiatic traits, even if she does not mention such ancestors in her genealogical tree. But in USA nothing is impossible; maybe she herself does not know.
Her most recent hobby is the Internet, which is how we became acquainted each other. She knows a lot of things and wants to know more and more. When learns something new, she enjoys herself as much as if someone had given her a new car as gift.
In the courtyard, a lot of poultry and some animals wait her to feed them in exchange for some conversation. This also provides her a small income, as the pension - if there is one - seems to be rather little for living.
When she invited me, I did not realise she was so senile and lonely. When I learnt, it was too late. I was there, with no possibility of leaving before the next day. She had written to me that she has two daughters and mentioned her mother, as she still does, even though the later does not exist any longer. As for her daughters, they had both left home to work in other places.
She regrets the death of her mother many years ago, but whom she still loves. There are moments when she thinks her mom is still alive upstairs. During our talks within a day, she mentioned her twice, each time with tears in her eyes. She finds consolation with a nice Bengalis cat, which sleeps ceaseless, but to whom she talks almost continually. When you caress the cat, it opens one, showing that is alive, but just for a second. Otherwise, only a small red tongue comes out from a mass of grey-beige fur. As almost any old and lonely woman, she is afraid of a lot of things and forgets many things. When the fear and oblivion work together, you could expect surprises. I had a great one.
We talked about many things. She admired my paintings and I showed her how to use the Internet more efficiently. Things went along in perfect harmony until late in the night, although I was very tired after my long journey. It was a pleasant evening. Her desire to know more is still alive for many fields of knowledge, but the Internet is her hottest passion thanks to its novelty. Besides, it gives her a feeling that she is not alone. We went our separate ways to bed eager to resume the conversation next day. After such an exhausting day, I slept like a log. Me, not she!
In the morning, the SURPRISE! I woke up with a policeman looking at me. Detached, she proclaimed that my presence worried her and thought to call a policeman to verify me. The night had been a bad advisor for her. Probably she had telephoned one of her daughters, who scared her more: "Who is that man? Why did you bring him in our house? Get him out immediately!" "Call a policeman!" This one checked my luggage, for form's shake, but right to the bottom, as if I was some Bolshevik spy. He seemed to be an understandable man, however, and did so for her satisfaction. At one time he said to her "You must be a detective, madam." Of course, I repacked my belongings. After the policeman's departure, she started to apologise and, until noon, when the bus was to pass by there, she showed me some of the nicest spots in the region, treated me with some local delicacies, and we talked a lot together. As a matter of fact she invited me to see and paint the landscapes around. Saying good-bye, we hugged each other and she kissed me on the neck. Her eyes held traces of tears. In fact, I find her to be a good-hearted woman. The age makes her fearful and inconsequential but she is good, very cleaver and uncommonly nimble. I will keep a good memory of her, in spite of the trouble that she provoked me.
I.Swalwood is the name of the first driver who put his emblem in the special dwelling where it is written: "Your operator … safe, reliable, courteous". In my previous trip, three years ago, all the bus drivers abided by this rule. I do not know if it is a decline, or just the area which we travel through. Back then I traveled in the north, now we are in the south. Certainly, the north is more "English" than the south in all respects, particularly concerning the observance of rules. In the south, to arrive late at a rendezvous is almost the norm, whilst in the north it would be an unforgettable impoliteness. Besides being safe, reliable and courteous, I should add the driver's passion for baseball, as he asks some boys with headphones to keep him up in the progress of one game. Instead, he does not bother himself too much with observing the traffic rules. Being late, he runs fast on the mountain road, narrow and sinuous. But he drives very well, I enjoy it, but it is so unusual for the American style.
However, from the list of his qualities, I should subtract one for which he is paid: courteous. During a short stop, I asked him to repeat a phrase, which I had not understood. He did so, but even faster. I did not ask him to word again the phrase. It is the privilege of intellectuals to express the same idea with different words. Common people usually repeat the first express, even if it contains unknown words for me. That's why it is much easier to talk with educated people. This time, it was not the cultural level guilty, but unwillingness.
The farther we advance toward the west, the road descends, we leave the mountains behind and finally Arkansas. The localities are closer to one another. Cattle's breeding seems to be the main business here, and there are very many buffaloes to be seen. The farms become better organized, more ordered and tidy. Some ranches for breeding horses of noble race appear. It seems we have again entered the United States, after a raid in other world. Even the driver became more likeable. Now, he uses the microphone as a tourist guide and gives information about the places we are going through. He is the first driver who has done this.
Tulsa (Oklahoma) is the name of the first important town, in my way to Albuquerque, New Mexico. There is still a very long distance till there, terrible long! Tulsa is a nice town with a small downtown area with four tall buildings and several others of moderate size. It seems agreeable just because it has tried to proportion modernism with tradition.
Although I swept through the state of Arkansas, as I did it through its northern part, it is only now, in Oklahoma, that I cross the Arkansas River. It is an important river, coming over a long and sometimes furious route from the mountains. I have in my hands a brochure advertising some trips in pneumatic boats through the whirling waters by waterfalls, cliffs, canyons and all kinds of rocks. It is true, before flowing through the plain, the river passed over rock beds and through deep canyons such as the Royal Gorge. What catches my attention is the multitude of the meanings of the collocations "white water". I met some indicators with this expression for swimming pools in Georgia. The water is not whiter there. It tries to suggest that the place is sure, clean, secure, non-dangerous. There are many meanings of the world white in Romanian language as well and probably in lots of other ones. The American language is even more dynamic. For example "cool" instead of "hot" for exciting (not inciting) deeds. Coming back to white water, in the brochure on the Arkansas river, one can imagine white foam washing over rocks. "But the trip will be secure if you do it with xxx, which is the best firm in this field. A hazardous adventure becomes a joyful but secure escapade thanks to our experience. With only $200 you can spend two unforgettable days, blah, blah, blah…" It might be "cool", but not for me right here and now. So far everything is all right, but there is a nuance: if the white is so good, in contrast black becomes the opposite idea of clean, secure, etc. I am afraid we will never know how accidental is this nuance.
Life can be intricate but man has the capacity to pass over its hardness by more ways than one. One of them is the forgetfulness. He forgets unpleasant episodes and goes on. The predilection of men for soldier's jokes has just this explanation. Only small amusing events remain in the memory, as if military service had been nothing else but a continuous entertainment. Big mistake! All the same, I have to commit the same error as well, because the episode with Shela must be forgot, at least for psychological reasons. I think that from this point of view I have already surpassed the critical moment. It remains to see how I will succeed in getting over the palpable effect on the trip schedule. I had been planning to stay there among the mountains, where I could paint and put my notes in order. Painting was necessary, because I had left six of my best large paintings in a gallery in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Those that remained are too few for an exhibition, even for showing to art dealers. From now on, it will be more and more difficult to paint, as friends accommodate me a short time (The traveler fits with the travel, doesn't it?) and the hotels are too expensive for me. I shall see! Tomorrow is another day. Do you remember Scarlet O'Hara? Atlanta is far away now. For the moment I am best to forget what could be ballast, namely worthless and pernicious.
Speaking of forgetfulness, I have always found interesting the proximity of meanings between the verbs to forget and to look back. It does not work in English but it obviously did in Romanian and, probably, in old Greek. I do not know for sure, but Orpheus' legend makes me think so. Let me explain. In Romanian language, to forget and to look back are homonyms: "a uita". As far as the legend goes, it is nice. Thanks to his special qualities, Orpheus had got the privilege to bring back to life Eurydice, his wife, who had just died. Persephone, Hades' wife, who granted him this unexpected favor, asked him not to look behind on his homeward journey until they reached the upperworld. Everything goes well but, when he was about to get out, as Euridice was walking behind him, he looked back. In that very moment, Euridice varnished back in the darkness of the underworld. In a moment of wandering, Orpheus forgot (a uitat) his engagement, and looked back (s-a uitat inapoi). Afterward, a fierce band of women killed him and thew his head in the Hebrus River. The head continued to sing for Eurydice and was carried as far as Lesbos, where the muses buried it. His mother, Calliope was a muse too. In Greek philosophy everything takes part in a cycle, and come back to where it departed from. Also, singing means to obey the remembrance.
Perpetual return is the fundamental principle in most old faiths, which even the Greeks could not elude. The Jews broke the cycle and the Christians perfected it. They created history, namely something that has a beginning and will have an end. Wow! The Greeks, at the height of their advanced conception, had the notion of infinite only for the time, not for the materiel. According to their conception, atoms were in a finite number. It results from it that, however great the number of possible combinations would be, from time to time, the atoms will build up identical combinations. Consequently, every shape of life will return to itself after a while. From here, the idea of the cycle, reaffirmed in nature in an infinite number of forms, confirming the idea of the perpetual return.
But I philosophize too much for a tired traveler, and in the meantime night has fallen. Oklahoma City, Amarillo, sounds fine but for now they are only bus stations in the night. I am used to sleeping in the bus by now. In Amarillo I make brief contact with Texas. Brief because the bus route crosses Texas only on a short sector of its northern part. Short, but powerful! At least in the bus station there are plenty of specific products and publicity materials. Texas is a well-known name and everyone loves to see it. Maybe I will have the opportunity to see the real Texas later. At the time being, my travel continues toward New Mexico.