The Essence Of America

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The Essence Of America More than two centuries ago, the United States were born amid some of the noblest concepts mankind has produced; all in all, the nation has been true to its words.

The Essence Of America

'This land is your land;/This land is my land/From California to the New York island,/From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters,/This land was made for you and me.' So begins folk singer Woody Guthrie's interpretation of the American Dream, a vision that has beguiled millions since first it was given wings by the Declaration of Independence, drafted in a room over a stable in PHILADELPHIA in the baking summer of 1776. It is a vision not without criticism during the intervening couple of hundred years or so, but its essence is indestructible, and remains one of mankind's noblest concepts.

But what is the essence of America? Many Americans, the most communicative people on earth, can only tell you what it is not.

It is not NEW YORK with its Aladdin's Cave shops, stone and glass canyons that alternately broil and freeze, and its ghettos. Nor is it LOS ANGELES - 'several dozen suburbs in search of a city' - or the ravishing coast of CALIFORNIA, SAN FRANCISCO is too quirky; NEW ORLEANS, though it gave its music - jazz - to the world, is too colonial; while NEVADA, where LAS VEGAS and RENO blaze neon signs to the desert stars, is too brash. No one quite knows what to make of FLORIDA, with its emerald and sapphire seas, its dripping swamps, space shuttles, Disney World, cheap resorts, rich mansions and hotels, and sky-high crime rate.

Neither is it CHICAGO, nicknamed 'The Windy City', with its Hollywood movie image of gangsters, underworld violence and political chicanery - an image of the past now, for today's city offers enough art, music and theatre to make it America's cultural runner-up to New York. Nor is it mighty TEXAS, land of oil and cattle barons - or so it might be imagined from the TV soap-opera image of the citizens of Dallas. Texas, annexed by congress in 1845 after nine years as an independent republic, has a distinctive character that serves as a reminder that the South once wanted to be its own country. A quarter bigger than France, and beset with a love of all things gigantic, Texas prompted novelist John Steinbeck to call it 'a state of mind', recalling when most of the region minded being states.

The Old South is only now carving a new identity out of what was left by the Civil War of the last century. Not even NEW ENGLAND, where the United States began, can be considered as typically American. The creeper-clad universities (hence Ivy League), the small ports, the 17th-century brick or white weather-boarded churches and villages seem instead a little wistful for the Old World - though at the same time declaring the traditional Yankee virtues of hard work and thrift.

Nevertheless, Americans will often confess to two positive if contradictory images. The first is of a small town that so many city dwellers feel is waiting for them somewhere, complete with main street, courthouse, church, war memorial, barber shop, drug store, pretty houses surrounded by lawns, maybe a Civil War cannon, general store and, for convenience's sake, a supermarket and a fast-food restaurant facing a vast car park. It is likely to be somewhere in the MIDWEST and is an America that is devoutly desired.

Another vision that grips Americans is the sheer magnitude of their country, its great distances that impart a sense of freedom to take the breath away. For anyone who doubts it, there is Interstate 80, a double ribbon of highway that runs for nearly 4700 km (about 2900 miles) from NEW JERSEY to San Francisco on the Pacific coast with never a traffic light on the way. Or the older US1 that stretches from the Canadian border to Florida; or the cornlands of the Midwest like an inverted golden sky; or the huge sweep of the high western plains; or the mighty Mississippi river that drains half a continent on its 3779 km (2348 miles) journey from MINNESOTA to the Gulf of MEXICO.

Next: USA: A Varied Land

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