Stephen Fry in America
I always feel like a fool when in the company of people who work for a living. It brings out my startling lack of common sense.
After 2 months of wandering around Westeros, I tried to get a shot of reality – so I went on a trip to America through Stephen Fry’s eyes. Truthfully, it’s a bit of travelling vicariously here – it’s long been (one of) my dream(s) to drive through the US cross-country and see…as much as I can. I probably have some sort of a romanticized road trip stuck in my head, but at this point I doubt I’ll ever get to know the truth of it. So anyways – I take the next best thing – reading about it.
I guess I should say I had no idea what I’d be getting when I bought this book. I didn’t know it was a companion to a TV show, nor was I expecting it to be so brief and generic. In fact, where I was looking to find dry, mocking wit with a teeny tiny sprinkle of mean spiritedness, I actually met a perfectly good-natured, enthusiastic man, ready to enjoy all the US has to offer with only the slightest of ironies (most of which were, as a matter of fact, of the self deprecating kind). And while I maintain that the first option might have been funnier, the latter makes for a much better traveler (and probably all-around human being).
The times when he passes any sort of judgment are rare, but I’m glad one of those was spent commenting on the rankling, grating, ostentatious American patriotism, penchant for the displaying of flags and frequent use of the word “freedom”. We are of a mind on this matter, Mr. Fry & I. Another of those times was to express his rather strong opinions on the complete bullshit that is any kind of fake spirituality born at the crossroads of half-understood Eastern philosophy and Western science – like the Maharishi University of Management in Iowa (born out of a 70s love affair with transcendental meditation) or the new agey approach to wizardry of some modern-day witches in Salem. Being an atheist, he actually scoffs on all religious concepts, but for this kind of stuff he doesn’t even bother pretending to have any respect. Oh, and there’s a 3rd thing: Americans wouldn’t know real cheese if it shot right out of the cow and hit them between the eyes (I am, of course, paraphrasing, but he was rather insistent on this point). The only exceptions to this last bit seem to be some of the residents of Wisconsin – a state generally known for its cheese (at this point, I of course thought of all the cheese jokes between Josh & Donna in West Wing).
I was going to say the book touches very briefly on each of the 50 states, but then I saw a bit of the TV show – which is even briefer. There’s great scenery to be seen, but most of the narration is expanded upon in the book – and I have to say I prefer it this way.
He visits all the states driving in a London cab and in each checks out some local curiosity: famous monuments/institutions/cities (Harvard, Atlantic City – which I’m happy to report he found kitschy and rather squalid – a post-Katrina New Orleans, an Indian reservation in South Dakota, the amazing Monument Valley in Utah); representative past times (lobster fishing in Maine, Mitt Romney’s 2007 primary campaign in New Hampshire, hunting in New York State, coal mining in West Virginia, dog sledding in Wyoming) or some plain oddities (like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory in Vermont, the Oscar factory in Illinois, the rodeo for kids under 18 in Oklahoma, the body farm in Tennessee, the parole board hearing in Alabama or the hookers of Nevada). It’s occasionally interesting, occasionally irrelevant, but all-around charming and it’s a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon. It makes for some pretty good day dreaming, too. 😉
This is Hawaii, Steve. Being a Honolulu bum is worth more than fifteen million in the bank.
And, to close, a little video to go with the theme: