I Pledge Allegiance
by gringoluke

America is the centre of the world.

The above sentence will immediately tell you two things about me. First of all, despite my current residence in that so called Land of the Free, I'm still stubborn enough to keep spelling like an Englishman, and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I'm enchanted enough by America for this to one day change.

It's difficult to find a person who doesn't have a romantic, enigmatic and bemused image of the most powerful nation on Earth. Ask anyone to draw a picture of what they think the average American looks like and they are probably going to hand you a sketch of an overweight redneck in a Hummer, automatic rifle in one hand and sun-glinting crucifix in the other. I guess that's fair. I take a huge amount of pleasure in asking people from other countries to describe the archetypal English person through the eyes of their own culture, and I'm always surprised with the wide variety of answers I get back.

(My German godparents tell me that English people are generally understood to be polite, calm and-- bizarrely—often red-headed. I guess they've never been to Magaluf.)

Everyone has their own general idea of what people from other nationalities will be like, but Americans appear to be in a league of their own. Granted, there are deviations within the country itself—we all know, of course, that California is full of iPad-toting yuppies and everyone in the South is a Republican—but for the most part, there is this general blanket of mystique that coats the entire country. Whether you think America is the land of opportunity or the land of broken dreams, you definitely think that it's something.

I grew up in America. A few months after my sixth birthday we moved from Southern England to a small town in Connecticut that was basically the backdrop for The Stepford Wives. In fact, it was the backdrop for The Stepford Wives as well as Revolutionary Road, which, if you've seen either of those two films that were filmed on location in my American hometown, will probably tell you a lot about the place where I grew up. My family, being English and therefore a little too round-pegged for square-hole suburbia, always teetered on the wispy edge of waspishness, never quite succumbing to the country clubs and Cape Cod summers that my classmates indulged in, but nevertheless planting ourselves into a comfortable New England lifestyle. Connecticut buried something in my DNA, a little nucleic egg that began to hatch many years after I left the states, at a time when I was looking at universities and my future. I knew that the latter lay in the US, but I was too intimidated by everything it stood for to even consider applying to an American college.

My parents have the same magnetism for America that I have. My father burst free from the dark winters and reluctant war of 1970s Britain and dragged my mother along to Detroit, Michigan, where the winters were even darker and war even more reluctant. The American spark took hold of them then and they've been coming back ever since. When my father finally retired last year, they arrived, shipwrecked and comatose by nearly forty years of travel, on the shores of Southern California. Filial piety and suntanned American girls meant I came too.

We've all been swept up in this tidal wave of American romanticism and, rationalise it as much as you like, that endless queue of curious emigrants, tourists and hopeful wannabes is not getting any shorter. Whether your mental image of this vast nation involves a white picket fence or a white hooded mask, you certainly have your own ideas about America. No matter where the currents of life drag you in the years to come, one thing is for certain: this country will cross your mind and probably your path at least once.

In the meantime, I'm going to keep spelling 'colourful' with that extra 'u' and calling London my capital. I don't think I'm ready for people to be drawing me as a fat evangelical redneck quite yet.


Morocco: A Photo Essay
by gringomeg

I feel for the Moroccans, having to put up with the downside of a booming tourism industry. But even more so, I feel for Moroccan camels that have to carry overweight German tourists across what must seem like an endless fragment of the Sahara. Don’t get me wrong; I am not one of those pretentious travelers who insists that the term ‘tourist’ and all activities associated with it is beneath them. No, no. I let a poor camel carry me over Saharan sand dunes, and I enjoyed every second of it. The eternal expanse of orange sand-waves was as breathtaking as good sex. But as I watched my overweight father wriggling around on his camel in front of me, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt for the poor creature that was probably suffering from extreme exhaustion.

That was Morocco for me. Moments of beauty and awe, interspersed with bouts of guilt and frustration. In awe of the extraordinary mosaics adorning the walls of the majestic riads at which we stayed. Overwhelmed by the intricately woven streets of Fez’s medina that transformed my world into Agrabah, the fictional city of Aladdin. And frustrated that I was, indeed, a tourist. Like all the others, I had been convinced to buy more carpets than anyone could ever want or need.