American Journal – Page 17

At just over a page this time it seems my American Journal has finally dried up and come to an end. However, I have written a short Afterword for the incidents that, ‘fell through the cracks,’ so to speak in my American Journal.                              

                                                  

                                                            

                                                         Page 17

Not least of great delight in the wildlife of Duchess County, as brought back to back so speak with that of England, is the increased case of marvellous morning choresters. I noticed this as soon as the first night was spent, as the icy infant frost of the day became levened with the vivid sound of the purest pitched octave offered from some faltering throat, melting over me from high boughs in the heavens, as if a molasses, a contrast to man’s organised music. I did not catch the bird’s name but caught its sound, which is the important thing. { It seems this bird was the humming bird. )

Indeed there do seem to be many more birds here of such variety of coats and unique vocal range, that one supposes the ornathologist could happily fold up his notepad and go to sleep in transports of delight just listening to their lyrical calls from the trees across their conductors, the branches, as he stokes up his brow aimlessly and dallies in bliss beneath some Bergonia. Some of the birds however are unpleasant to the eye. I noticed one bird in particular which had all the likeness to the common or garden English crow, except that its coat was highlighted with flecks of red. By and large the birdlife I obsereved was much more pleasant than otherwise, and the secret deep-velved voices of Duchess County { It seems here I meant the Humming birds } especially so.

I concluded that the wildlife of Duchess County was like a prolific mirror image of the many shy creatures of the English habitat so rarely glimpsed by its human inhabitants, like the fox, with the addition of an unusual array of animals that would seem misplaced in England. Examples of these include the beaver, the polecat, the wild hog, the lynx, the snapping turtle and the chipmunk. And it was only the absence of animals like these that made the onlooker think he was not somewhere in the heart of the Cotswolds. But no, it was not England’s green chase, but the ambling lanes of its near-double, Duchess County.

From what little I saw of New England, passing through it briefly, I would say that it approached no nearer to the perfect image of pastoral England than adjacent Duchess County did, indeed the two almost vied for accuracy of immitation. In fact much of the terrain of New York State is like England.

The atmosphere of the village of Millbrook and its surrounds was however a far cry from the English village. There was no trundling postman on his basket-bumpered bike, no pacing bobby on the beat, no crocodiles of little children wending their way to school down the mainstreet in Millbrook to the schoolhouse. The atmsophere of the village was noticeably empty and charmless compared to the English village. I could not imagine carriage wheels pounding their progress down the highways of the present, as one sometimes gets the feeling in the more hisitorically-preserved highways of Old England’s ancient towns and villages. Indeed I couldn’t imagine Millbrook as having had a history further back than the present, since the bonnets of cars seemed to predominate as they coasted along tar-mac, and the churches and civic buildings seemed too benevolent, too wrongly-bestowed, for a village so berift of villagers and children.

I could imagine Millbrook being a tourist trap in that one day visitors might arrive and be engulfed by the ground but in no other sense. It was this apparent void in community contact as compared to the close-knit, locuacious nature of the nattering English villages, that made me think that Millbrook could not possibly be a cottage oasis in upstate New York, if that was what it was intended to be.

The nearest one could arrive to the friendliness of the English village was in the village general store, where apart from the smiles and salutory enquiries after personal health { strange that! }, the clear pictorial comparison of the place was of a whaling station in winter time.

As the elongated bonnets of a bright variety of cars cruised their way down the dirt track Danube of the abundant estuaries to the village centre, it struck me that the village was more the confluence of a current for nature lovers… an occasional home… somewhere to go for essential supplies… nowhere to put too much of yourself into… not worth it since you were a ‘commuter colonial’ from the big city, passing through. These people are still more dependent on the pleasures of modern living, with all its conveniences, than those of the traditional country village. They are too cast in the mould of the city and its fast living lifestyle to be bothered with slowly ploughing the lines and furrows of the fields, not having an ox themselves, and definitely not brother to it. 

                 

                                                                 

                                                                        Afterword

Re-reading my American Journal again after all these years what strikes me most are two things:- Firstsly, how prosaic my writing was back then and secondly the things I left out. As to the first, I was heavily under the spell of the romantic poets like Keats, Sheley and Byron back then, so that wasn’t so surprising, although as I had a life which was singularly unromantic at the time it is a little ironic. But perhaps it is this which lends my writing a certain innocence, and which appealed to me instantly on reading it again after a long interval of time. ‘What was I thinking’ I asked myself, as I re-read it. Did I want a place on Mount Rushmore? ( Impossible in my case since, as any American will tell you, you have to be born in America to become an American president. ) No, in the end it is nothing more than just America as seen through a young Englishman’s eyes at the time. And now the second thing that struck me on re-reading my journal,  how much I could remember from my five-week American tour that got left out, didn’t appear in it. Of course it’s far too late to add itto the journal now  ( and given the way I wrote back then, I think probably impossible ) but I don’t see it would do any harm to add them as an after word.

‘You’re English!’ screamed the girl –  Stood before me was a six-foot Amazon of American womanhood, not beautiful, at least not in the traditional way, but attractive for sure.

‘Yes, I’m from near Liverpool,’ I said.

‘Oh, My God! Oh, My God! ….You’re English! … You’re English!’ she screamed. People were by now staring, and lets face it, Grand Central Station, where the incident took place, has a lot of people passing through it. Soon we had probably collected enough people for the viewing of  a new painting at the National Gallery’s Summer Exhibition.

‘Oh, My God! Oh, My God!’ continued the girl, early to mid twenties like me, ‘… I must tell me brother. In fact … hey, look… can you wait ? Oh, please just wait?’

‘Of course I will,’ I said.   

‘He should be coming off work real soon… he works on Wall Street you see… oh look, he’s here now.’ By this time I was feeling like Michaelangelo’s statue of David, ready for inspection.

The immaculately-turned out figure of the hysterical girl’s brother sailed up non-chanlantly and eyed me up and down dubiously, as though I were an escapee from Alcatraz.

‘Hi’ – he just about squoze out of his broad-shouldered, tight-fitting suit. He gave an ungenerous smile and turned to his sister with an expression that seemed to say WTF.

‘He’s from America Tony! And he’s travelling around… writing about our country…’ ( I’ve concluded that I must definitely have mentioned that. ) 

‘Really?… well, pleased to meet you,’ he said. ( I don’t think he offered a hand. )

Before I knew it, this slick character was elbow-elevating his hysterical sister away from me and on to one of the trains.

However you look at it, it was disappointing. Besides, I think she’d even asked me round for dinner.

There was also my nerve-shattering return journey to New York after visiting Washington, but as that is included here in this blog under ‘Journey’s End – The story of a panama hat’ I will merely mention it in passing.

Also on that journey back from Washington, on the Amtrak, I sat next to an American Vietnam war veteran. He was called Mike and seemed to be about mid-thrities. We spoke a bit about the war, which I remembered seeing on TV and had read about. He re-lived some recollections of his war, like parachuting into the green jungles of Vietnam with ‘a pot on your head.’ ( Soldiers jargon for a helmet I suppose. ) He seemed really well-adjusted after his war experiences, although it is well known there were many who did not re-adjust well to civilian life following America’s first military defeat in its two-hundred year old history.

Sat in a lonely hotel at Niagra Falls, Canadian side, I wrote a letter to my brother and his wife. I remember I wrote about a ‘river god,’ a sort of force of nature sweeping along America’s rivers, all- powerful. To my mind it might have been my own answer to Coleridge’s Kubla khan, and I regret having lost it in the act of sending it. ( i’m pretty sure he hasn’t still got it. ) It just shows, sometimes the best things we write can disappear, like a river’s cargo, and, well…. who’s to say that’s so wrong.

Stood on Bunker Hill with my uncle Derek, the sight of the famous battle, we were accosted by an immaculately-dressed short young man of about my age who was the guide to that historic site. ‘Can I help you?’ he said. ‘….Anything you’d like to know?’ he continued insistently. ‘….You can ask me anything you know?’ I’ve never known anybody so desperate to have a question put since Lady Faversham.

In the end we took pity on him and asked him a question. It must have been to do with the battle since he told us that where we were stood ( next to a bunker ) was not the site of the actual battle which was some way away. This begs the wonderfully mischievous question of what the heck he was doing there then! ( Just as well I didn’t ask that one. )

In Boston harbour we went on an old United States ship. I think it was The USS Chesapeake but I’m not sure. Once again, questions were encouraged from visitors and when I asked the youthful, spotty white-uniformed sailor something about the war of 1812 I got a surprise response. ‘Yeah, we fought the British and we licked ’em … yeah, we licked ’em,’ he said with disturbing relish. Had he picked up that I was British? – surely. Patriotism, always lurking just below the surface like a shark.

About a week before I was due to fly back to the UK my uncle read out the shocking news of an Air India jet having gone down just off Ireland with the loss of all on board. ‘You’re not scared are you?’ he asked. I wasn’t. We agreed that if your card is marked you’ve had it.

In the end it was a very pleasant flight back and I even remember seeing Rainford’s parish church, the village where I went to school, out of the window as I flew by. It was a small world.

I came to the conclusion after writing American Journal something that I still hold about America after all these years, namely that it is an endlessly fascinating place, a perfect place for young people to settle in, young but not only perhaps.

                                                                THE END

American Journal – Page 16

In 1985 the cellist Julian Lloyd-Webber released a number of recordings of his virtuoso cello playing entitled ‘Travels With My Cello.’ Inspired by this catchy phrase, I vowed that when my ‘American Journal’ was published, as it surely would be, and soon, I would entitle it, ‘Travels With My Pen.’ Ah the unbounded optimism of Youth …! Ah, its irrepressible certainty!    

…. Continuing then with my look at Millbrook, Duchess County.                                                         

                                                          Page 16

Farming is obviously as implicit to the Duchess County economy as the weekend commuters are implicit to it. It is the mainstay of the economy just as the commuters from New York City are only a consumer part of it.

There are many fine buildings in the county, where wheat silos stand against a cloudy background like chromium toadstools growing naturally out of the ground. Often they dazzle like highly buffed silver, sybolith’s of Ceres’ fertility, on a very hot day the effect is not dissimilar to that created by a camera flash when one is not expecting it. These elliptically-topped towers remind me that the space age is here, in the land that led its coming.

Equally as fascinating, is a lost England that seems to have lyrically coated itself in the vegetationary clothing a new, alien, environment. In this almost-colonised environment is a great coterie of wildlife that lives within its lungs and allows the whole ecological carapace to breath.

One notices immediately the marked difference in the wildlife of this region compared with England. One has all the entanglements of organic growth – glistening mail, armour, chests of great robustness { trees }  from which come springing above a great profusion of chomping squirrels, mostly grey; like a troupe of acrobats, bathing a nut in their hands perhaps, as if it were a prize piece of oval porcelain, or an ounce or two of tough clay with which to caress it into a fine pot.

These athletic tree entertainers remind me of Lilliputian hares or rabbits, since it occurred to me that  if you cut off their quilted tail they would resemble very much the animals just referred to. However they were much more courageous, flinching here and there, quite often they would approach close by and freeze, eyes popping out and their little hearts palpitating like a living purse, before scurrying off back to their brothers or sisters in the safety of an oak or some such other secluded spot.

This is not the only difference – those shaking, rustling and occasionally vaulting inhabitants of Duchess County wildlife – between here and England to be studied ‘at the doorstep’ so to speak. Where for example in England could you expect to see three separate sightings of deer in the space of a few minutes, as I saw them in Duchess County? The New Forest perhaps? Yes, but would they be found roaming free, close to roads and buildings like lame Pegasuses, and in such numbers as I saw them? You cannot forget that the deer are around you, they try to be invisible but  are close by, even if you can’t actually see them. Their distinctive cough ( a bit like two blocks of wood clapped together ) seems to be the echo of the wilds here as it wraps around you.

Indeed the profusion of seeing what one could expect to see in wildlife at home, leads one to believe at first that Americans simply have a healthier endowment of it. Yet if you consider the esteem with which these creatures are held by their local human co-inhabitants, the whole man-beast relationship begins to stamp its unique identity here; where deer are seen as little more than vermin and are hunted and shot, whereas in England we worship them as walking gondolas of grace.

Conversely, whereas in England foxes are chased by canines gnashing their teeth, closely followed by finely-frocked files of charioteers, renting the skies with blasts of the bugle, in America the amicable, if cunning, fox is treated with supreme indifference, though woe betide it if it slinks into a farmer’s chicken hutch!

American Journal – Page 15

Here I get to do a ‘sociological survey’ of the people of a small North-East American settlement – Millbrook, New York State. Apologies if my assessment is just plain wrong or if I am too harsh or sweeping in it. It was a long time ago and I just wrote down the first impressions that came into my head.

I think I viewed the world as objects passing before my eyes, as on a conveyor belt. There didn’t seem much time for scrutiny, though as often happens I feel with youth, there was in reality all the time in the world.

 

                                                                          Page 15

In Millbrook one can see all the habits of English country living acted out in an American style. It’s a bit like having Shakespeare serialised in weekly television episodes.

One had the Catholic church of Millbrook built in the latter half of the nineteenth century, which I noticed was well-attended. There was also a Congregational and Baptist church. In fact plenty of places of worship for the faithful, so one could have no excuse for not attending church, unless of course one was an atheist.

In addition to the churches, Millbrook had its own private school, which drew the young rich from all over the North-East of America, and was within walking distance of the village. Like England, this part of America was not far removed from the critical glare of the squirarchy. A much-revered family in the village { …. pity I didn’t get the name } had contributed a sizeable sliver of their wealth in the construction of the Congregational Hall, which was perhaps the largest, certainly the grandest, building of the village.

The people in the village were on the whole taciturn and apt to disappear behind rows of bushes, or vanish all of a sudden from busy shops. As I say, village life in Millbrook was much like that of England, only there was a feeling at certain times of the day, when few people were around, that the empty streets would make a wonderful location for a horror movie.  This was the impression I received of the average pedestrian villager. However, in the village store on a Saturday morning tongues were active, and all the anonymity of the streets outside seemed to evaporate in pleasant smiles over the counter.

While still in Millbrook I paid a visit to an antiques fair that seemed to have all the endowments necessary to furnish the empty rooms of a house that somebody had just moved into. In fact there seemed to be more English antiques there than in English antique shops. There were as many English artefacts on these stalls as there were American TV serialisations on English TV. Perhaps the people of the area hated their own heirlooms on artistic grounds, or perhaps English ones paid a better price.   

Certainly antiques seemed to be popular investments with people, so one could not help but hazard a guess that there were many rooms soon to be enriched by a mahogany table that uncle Edward had brought over from England with him, after he’d eloped with Emily Bronte, etc. The Americans, whether they acknowledge it or not, have a longing to attach English history to their acquisitions and ancestry. I suppose this is a reaction to their own shallow-rooted family history, whereby each American tries to track down evidence of being of more deeply-rooted American stock ( usually of English stock ) and of course the sticks and rags of antiques, tapestries and embroideries, are material indications of this.

Having said that, I feel that America has no aristocracy as in England, only a meritocracy, whereby people clamber up the social ladder according to their latest bank account statement. Consequently I think America’s nearest equivalent to an aristocrat is an antiques dealer, at least he is surrounded by the vestiges of past glory.

American Journal – Page 14

                                                                     

The way I wrote this journal is coming back to me now. On arrival in New York I went straight to my uncle’s house in upstate New York. There I stayed, I think about a week, before venturing forth to Toronto, then to Washington and then back to Millbrook, New York.

I remember right at the end of my holiday I made two trips with my uncle, spending a day in Boston, where I roamed in fascination around the city, called in at the wonderful Cambridge campus there, and visited Bunker Hill. ( Which as I remember isn’t much of a hill. )

On the other trip we went to the Plymouth plantation, Massachucetts, where you could see a reconstructed Puritans settlement and ask some questions if you had any. ( Needless to say, I did. )

Strangely none of these events found a space in my journal, I can’t explain why, perhaps I wasn’t interested enough in what I saw, or perhaps it was just forgetfulness on my part.

At Plymouth we were close to Barbara and John, two of my uncle’s friends, and so we visited them and stayed for dinner at their idyllic lakeside house where – if I remember rightly – geese ( or perhaps it was some other exotic bird, like a heron ) frequented the lake. I think we stayed the night.

The holiday was over all too soon. I could happily have stayed on in America, settled down and got married, but it seems my destiny lay elsewhere.

There are not many pages left to my journal, maybe four or five. ( I seem to have overestimated, anyway the pages are all over the place – literally. ) Anyway, in these pages I recount my initial impressions of America…  well the part where I was. I must have done quite a bit of writing in that first week.

Once the journal is finshed – or perhaps if one day I publish it as a book – I really must get it to read in chronological order, as all the best journals are.

                                                                         

                                                                       Page 14

Commuter Colonials – Duchess County, New York State

I arrived at J.F.K. airport like a parachutist folded in upon himself, with all kinds of zips and pockets locking in my valuables for my journey. I had zips everywhere, I had zips where no man thought zips could go, straps straining downwards to baggaging ballast that nearly levelled with my ankles, and all manner of cases and boxes. This must have made me look like a walking spendthrift from Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop, and in this uninhibited fashion I hobbled, hopelessly at first, towards the wide glass doors of the Arrivals foyer at J.F.K. International Airport. { I have no idea whether this is just literary license on my part or if I really arrived in that way, let’s just say it could be true and leave it at that.)

My first inclination was to unclutter myself of all my afflicting barnacles of transit { ….yes, it probably was } and take a taxi drive to take me directly into New York City, from where I would make my journey to Millbrook, Duchess County, my first port of call. However I hesitated, since it occurred to me that the mode of conveyance itself would be a selecting factor in how one viewed America. If I travelled like a rich man, I would disassociate myself from the ramblings ( both in thought and on foot! ) of the many wandering unwealthy, and I wanted to try to view America as both the rich man and the poor man would view it. I considered that I had better begin by opting for the more economic mode of travel so unburdened my barnacles of travel upon a bus.

Hence I made my entry into New York City sitting surrounded by a carnage of clothes, swelling out a stretched suitcase, a concertina of bulging bags bursting at the seams, a clinically clean shirt exposed here, and straps and fasteners everywhere. Whereas before I looked like someone leaving The Old Curiosity Shop, now I resembled more the picture of ‘Miss Management,’ pitched in the centre of a mound of mounting clutter and junk.

I will not describe in detail here the characteristics of New York City, since I hope to do that later, but in passing, I would point out its importance as a weekend retreat in connection to Duchess County, New York. Some stoic characters may even daily commute from New York to Duchess County, but this is unlikely since the part of Duchess County where I stayed, Millbrook, is a good two and a half hours from the city.

New York City is like the boss, or centre, of a spinning gambler’s bowl in which people fly about energetically and assiduously during the week days eventually coming to fall into a small trough for a brief spell outside the boss on the perimeter of the bowl – this is the commuter belt, where people have their daily- or perhaps weekend – retreats from the boss of the city. Once this break has ended, they are jettisoned back into the air to ‘earn some dollars’ as the Americans say, about the shining boss of the city centre again.

American Journal – Page 13

Above, a quick sketch at one of the many railway stations I stopped at on my American tour                                                                     

                                                                       Page 13

Continuing my visit to Mount Vernon

The guided tour about the artistic intestines of Mount Vernon were also an experience to revel in.

To begin with one was welcomed into what I suppose was the dining room of Mount Vernon, but which as the guide quipped it as, was,  ‘… the social room… where all the entertaining went on.’ This was not an incredibly embarrassing verbal fumble by the house guide – she seemed far too experienced for that – but a deliberate reluctance to give the room any title, since the functions which occurred within it were adaptable.

The reader will understand the ambivalent status of this room when I describe it in the way that it was described to me –  of how when old George Washington wished to arrange a meal in this room he would requisition ( actually buy, I’m sure ) some cheap table from nearby and have it hauled in. Once the function was over he would instruct some of his oastlers to have the cumbersome item flung out. This is the way the grandfather of American politics preferred his house functions to be conducted apparently.

His liking for the easy-to-eject, inexpensive table, we were told, was due to his disliking for the formal occupancy of a large luxurious table within the boundaries of what was – even by the standards of normal middle-class homes – not an especially spacious room. Hence with George Washington ruling the roost their was, quite literally, ‘little room’ for too-static a way of living, which was when one thinks about it only becoming for such a forward-looking figure as he who was the personified inhalation of the new nation’s first breath of free air, and with which they went on to open out the frontiers of their land and fulfil the ‘manifest destiny,’ as outlined by Monroe in years to come, and indeed beyond that continue to grow. So perhaps Washington’s foibles were a reflection of his principles of freedom.

Passing out of this room one then goes momentarily out into the open again where can be seen the wide pan of such a beautiful vision that one feels that, in a certain way, by beholding art within nature, one can be sapped by the mere sight of it.

The panorama included the curling current of the Potomac river, wending its pleasurable course as it shaped its way through folds of green, in a glitter of grace below us. All about was the beautiful wild shimmer of Virginia’s gorgeous countryside.

However this preliminary glimpse of the grand view that Washington had was just that, since after a moments pause, to frame the view in our minds, we were moved back into the house again to see further treasures that were within.

It is not my intention to tax the reader with a full description of the contents of the house – though goodness it would make for an inventory of exceedingly fair items! – instead I would prefer to concentrate within the trammels of this book which is, to remind the reader, not to write upon the impressions of America and her many attributes, down to the material and otherwise, but merely to accrue a conscience-jolting suggestion of some of her wonders within the mesh of my narrative text.

Mount Vernon had been as a meed of sweetness to my mind. It had infused me with a ‘living’ feeling of American history, and helped to establish my attitude that the preservation of valuable national homes or places is critical to our perceptions of humanity, in whichever country, and wherever they may exist, since they hold out, like an antiquated telescope, a means through which we may look down the corridors of time and trace the tinctures of culture, morality, reason, religion, social classification and a whole series of other changing abstracts.   

American Journal – page 12

   

If you are keen on landscape gardening or practical D.I.Y. you might enjoy this excerpt on Mount Vernon, otherwise, perhaps not.

One thing I’m noticing about my American journal is that I don’t do a lot of dialogue, or reported speech narrative. Still, it is what it is, and if I didn’t seek to write that type of a journal ( i.e, one dealing more with the character of the America people than the environment in which they lived in ) then, for better or for worse, that is the focus I had at the time.

All the same, I slightly regret not including more direct quotes from people I met on my journey, since I feel they liven up what might otherwise be a slightly lumpen narrative. Still once again, I feel that way now, but did I then? And that is the whole point of publishing this journal.

                                                           Page 12

6th June:    To Mount Vernon

I realise now, that had I not visited Mount Vernon in my journey to Washington D.C, there would have been, without me realising it, a considerable gap in my experience of the area.

Without doubt Mount Vernon is one of the unsung seven wonders of the world, of which there are many I might add. Just the approach itself, with the equivalent of what in England we would call ‘the lodge’ to the manor, ‘the Mount Vernon Inn’, is a delightful little preface to the pleasures to be found in the nearby Mount Vernon itself. Admittedly the Mount Vernon Inn is completely at the convenience of the tourists wishing to see the actual house of George Washington, but as such it does a very good job of playing down its real role,  and architecturally speaking, blends in very well with the real Mount Vernon about a quarter of a mile away.

In order to do the excellent setting of Mount Vernon justice, I will have to describe in depth the bends of delight and satisfied awe on arrival that one encounters when coming to this gladed paradise.

Firstly then, on acquiring a ticket at the entrance gate, one has a quiet country walk to lick a distance of, I should say, a quarter of a mile.

This walk is as pleasant as the view of the house itself as one approaches, since one gets the feeling of being brought to a place through a sunlit tunnel of over-arching trees of many varieties, including oak and pine, to name just two. There are also many stop-coaxing shrubs which make a changing topiary to the multitude of abundant branches and leaves of all description that deck and bank the walk up to Mount Vernon.

I noticed almost immediately the intense smell of the mingling aromas of varied vegetation in the full glory of growth as I lazily made my progress to the house. I might have been favoured to have seen Mount Vernon at its prettiest for the time of year, early June, but even if I was not, I could not imagine the sheer effusion of flowers and trees as being at any other state of attractiveness.

As it turned out the scenically terrific trek up to Mount Vernon was but an appetiser of the beauty that lay ahead.

One turns in one’s progress left to have the house nearly full ahead, and the skill of the landscape artistry takes a hold of one. It was for me a caption that Capability Brown could have been proud of, had he been pre-eminent in the United States and not England. There lay ahead an enormous flower bed, brimming with horticulture, green leaves illuminated by various colours, veined like intricate thread-work. This flower bed was square with the entrance to Mount Vernon at some yards distance.    

Indeed the excellence of the layout of the garden appendages to Mount Vernon were so meticulously mapped that it brought to mind the excruciating trait for detail exhibited by European landscape aesthetes, such as the French who made an impeccable push for perfection at the old aristocratic gardens of Fontainebleau. The main difference being, as I could see, that in the latter case there was a noticeable craze for statues and fountains, which Mount Vernon, to its credit, has little of, and by having little of, did not lose its utter, lush civilisation-lost-in-the-country appeal.

Stepping up to the front door of the old mansion, I heard the guide describe how the outer claddings of the house were made. They were, it seems, not of a brick substance, as they appeared to me to be, but of pine. The process of forming them was outlined as such: first blocks of pine were cut out in a rectangular shape and then bevelled at the edges. Then they were coated with some primitive solution of preservative ( … probably what we would call ‘primed’ today ) and then finished off with several coats of white paint. The binding substance between them { the bricks } was a particular type of resin ideal for joining. Finally, before a last coat of paint, they would be smattered with a little sand ( an early form of sand-blasting? ) to add that little touch of toughness against the vagaries of inclement weather. That was the process by which these pine ‘bricks’ were brought into being. Yet even hearing the history of how they were made I could scarcely believe I was staring at wood, so much like white-washed stone or brick did they look.

  

American Journal – Page 11

In this excerpt I take a look at the origins of New York City and that little jewel of a place, Greenwich Village. It is a location famed for its celebration of the Arts and also a haven for Bohemians. Really I don’t think I do it justice and my impressions are pretty much surface thin, yet it’s what I came up with about this place during my five-week journey which was jam-packed with impressions and destinations. Here it is then.

Note:  As I write this, I am obviously on my way back from Washington, and referring to my impressions of New York City from the first day or two I spent there before going on to Canada.

                                                                

                                                              Page 11

I think this is a terrible pity about great houses open to the public, { cordoning off } whether in America or Britain. While recognising the need to steward people around in their appreciation of the past, I think it a shame that this cannot be done without poisoning the tastes of the past in the purifications of the present.

However the Whitehouse had some rather elegant exhibits, and an entire impression of it would not have been possible without at least a quick glide within its enclosures.

Not surprisingly perhaps I find it more manageable to envisage the values, character and colours of bygone Washington than I do that of New York. This is probably a personal thing in that I always try to see the past in the present, to try to spy in on the ways of bygone ages by imagining them as existing alongside the present.

The reason for the glut of people in New York, I have read, is that when originally the settlers crowded in from all over the world, instead of fanning out they established their roots upon the adamantine subterranean rock of Manhattan Island and the surrounding vicinity. { *1.  A note here reads: ‘explanation of the two titles of Manhattan and New York City needed,’ which I didn’t give. However, I can tell you now that Manhattan is one of five boroughs     ( incidentally ‘borough’ is a very English term, meaning basically ‘community’ and boroughs still exist in the UK today ) that form part of modern day New York City. These five boroughs are – Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx. Staten Island and Manhattan.  }

Evidently Manhattan Island has one of the best grounds in the United States for the construction of high-rise buildings, though this would not have suggested the dizzying heights that were eventually to be achieved on the island. Now had the settlers dispersed sensibly, there would not be the compactness that characterises modern Manhattan. It is vain to perfect the imperfections of lost opportunities however, so I shall not sit upon the subject. The fact is that today New York City is a satellite of modern ways, more so I feel than Washington D.C. is. While we can catch a snippet of what old-time Manhattan must have looked like before George Washington achieved the naming of a city after himself, that is exactly all it is, a snippet, for the only evidence of real antiquity in ‘N.Y.C.’ appears to be the quaintly-named Greenwich village. Here it is just about possible to feel the flagons of ale echoing firmly upon the top of some uncorked beer barrel or oaken counter. You can call up a scene if you like, where you can see the glow of the King’s guineas, bright in the fist of some corpulent colonial gentleman.

All these imaginary scenes it is possible to capture in Greenwich village, but nowhere else in New York City I feel. True, some of the flavour of later years is tangible if we cite the case of Ellis Island, with its circular fort for the flinging in inside of expectant immigrants before they were granted admittance, but it has not the community culture that we can imagine having existed in the village of Greenwich, which incidentally, still exists today in a much more interesting, though somewhat raucous form. Today Greenwich Village is the the focal point for what effectively fronts as a continuous ongoing pantomime. There is always something to celebrate in Greenwich Village, the very footsteps of the people is out of step with the usual quickened pace of the rest of the city. Here, in Greenwich Village, with all the splendid buildings around, you can find a brief reprieve from the havoc of modern New York – provided of course one does not mind the pervasive carnival atmosphere.

American Journal – Page 10

Still in Washington, this page finds me visiting the Whitehouse and getting the chance to take in the impressive interior.

Note:  My posts will probably now be clustered around the weekends as this fits in better with my work schedule.

                                                                Page 10

I cannot think the Americans forgave us any too graciously this awful affront to their burgeoning national pride, { the burning of the Whitehouse } but if they did I suspect they were more than egotistically recompensed when they defeated the riotous army of George III at the Battle of Niagara Falls later in the year. ( Another stop on my tour. )

The tale about the burning of the Whitehouse goes that it was the war that was inadvertently the occasion to change its frontage, since before then the colour of the house of Mr and Mrs President was not white at all but brown or some other colour. Thus the decision to ‘white’ Washington’s premier building must have seemed the obvious solution to covering up the ugly scorch marks made upon it by the torches of vengeful Britons, who were probably still smarting after losing the colonies some thirty years previously. Indeed some of the assailants of the Whitehouse could have been veterans of that earlier humiliating war for Britain – whereby America had seized independence finally in 1783 at Yorktown – and might have remembered the final ‘arms-down’ with General Cornwallis.

Touring inside the Whitehouse I felt aware of my nation’s ignoble contribution to the history of this fine building. I should not have been surprised had the turnstyle attendant told me I had a cheek to ‘check out’ the place ( putting it in immaculate Americanese ) my great-great great granddaddy may well have tried to destroy so willfully that warm summer of 1814.

However that happened in 1814 and it was now 1985. Please let bygones be bygones. Of course in my defence I could have mentioned the firing on the British ship Leopard by the USS Chesapeake, an American ship, in 1814 in Chesapeake Bay and which was the beginning of the whole unnecessary business of the War of 1812.

As it happened she did give me a deep look, but I think it was the strangeness of my voice rather than any animosity stemming from the actions of my forebears. After all, one hundred and seventy yeasr previous is a long time ago.

The inside of the Whitehouse had a warm welcoming feeling about it, despite the dummy-like presence of the smartly-clad security guards who seemed to do little else but cast an eye over your camera equipment and carrier bags. It was amazing when one realised that not ten or twenty minutes past these smarty-attired men and women probably saw the President, or at least the First Lady.

However like all publicly-opened houses, as soon as those doors are opened the furniture and fixtures are defiled by sweaty fingers or elderly hands that erodingly admire articles of the past. The possibility of conjouring up an image of Andrew Jackson playing chequers while slumbering in a chair in the Red Room becoming increasingly remote. This is not a problem that applies to the Whitehouse alone.

And yet how often, when visiting National Trust buildings in my own country, have I been bereft of any sense of past people because of either scrupulous cordening-off or extra-careful herding about, as though we might trample through a hall of valuables like so much uncontrollable cattle? Many. One regretable part of my visit to view the interior of the Whitehouse was the way in which you were herded through the passageways, tightly kept in by a rope. I thought it must have been a bit like this for the new immigrants awaiting entry at Ellis Island. 

         

American Journal – Page 9

Continuing with my journal following a short break, I am still in Washington, spending an inordinate ( and from my point today it seems ) an unnecessary amount of time talking about things such as traffic congestion and social or class boundaries. But once again, it’s all about how I viewed the world then, not now.

Note 1: To my surprise I seem to have adopted a very individualism stance in my writing.

Note 2:  Where { ….something… } appears I have added it now, where brackets (… ) or [… ] appear, it is from the time.

                                              

                                                             

                                                                    Page 9

This is not a conscious attitude on our part, { to be wary of drop-outs in parks } it is one that has evolved with our understanding of the world as we have been versed in it since childhood, in school and in adolescence. It is considered the best thing to keep a good distance, not primarily because these people are wild animals to be recoiled from, beings whose temperaments are unpredictable ( though this is a large part of our reasoning ), but because any attempt to ween them away from the universe of their existence – the pull of the magnet – would only lead to failure, and possibly even to the danger of we, ourselves, being brought into the dragnet of abandon. It is better to accept that such islands of unadaptable humanity exists rather than to change them. Anything that the individual can do would not alter their addictive nature to the prison of living rough outside the pale of normal social activity.

It is a sad corollary to this that the tenet of, ‘all men are created equal,’ which is written in the Constitution, that this practically means, ‘all men are equally equal to sink into oblivion as much as to aspire to being a citizen of an Athenian America.’

One can almost imagine the recklessly charioteering horse-drawn carriages, whipping their steads into stealth, as they banked and curved around the cobblestones of Pennsylvania Avenue Washington to extol the news that Gettysburg, a small town not far from Washington D.C, was turning into a Trojanic match between North and South; one which looked certain to set the course for the outcome of the war. If you imagine further, you can nearly see Lincoln’s lean and sallow face forced against the Whitehouse’s windows, creased with anxiety over the offences to humanity of war, and simply whiling his time until he would have, like Churchill, ‘his finest hour,’ and to eulogise with oratorial genius the lessons of the war’s fiercest battle which, amongst other things, ensured that …. [ paraphrased ]  – ‘those who died in the conflict should not have died for nothing, and their sacrifices must be a solid foundation for peace.’ 

‘The Gettysburg Address’ was to prove one of the most epoch-making moments in American history, and is only paralleled by pinnacles in British history such as Churchill’s speech upon the perils of German invasion when he inspired the people of Britain by telling them that we would, ‘fight them ( the Germans ) on the beaches…’ – the rest is history to the follower of famous sayings. Although the aspirations and ideals referred to in the two speeches are different, they are nevertheless gathered together in similarity by the sheer moral strength of their message.

Leaving Lincoln at his window for a moment, we can continue speculating about the turns in history that Washington has seen happen and fade over the centuries. For was it not here, in 1814, that the Whitehouse was contemptuously burned downed like a barn by what must have seemed to Americans as Anaemic-looking Englishmen ( or for those inhabitants of the British Isles who use the phrase ‘English when they really mean ‘British’ ) and Britons? Lads laden down with powder horns and muskets, creating mayhem in the heart of the newly-sprung ‘The United States.’