Saturday, May 12, 2012

Reporting From America

Carlos Martín Gaebler

While flying across the Atlantic to visit the United States again after 25 years, I started pondering and realized I was actually travelling to ground zero of the current financial crisis. Don’t miss Inside Job, a must-see documentary where Mat Damon articulately narrates how it all happened, unmasks the greedy predators that caused it leaving millions of people impowerished throughout the world, and explains how we have all ended up in such economic despair. Also, watch out for Ryan Gosling’s upcoming, much-talked-about documentary #ReGENERATION, about political apathy among American youngsters.

Curiosity, nostalgia and gratitude took me back to Chapel Hill, NC, to revisit UNC, my American alma mater, a quarter of a century later. My years at UNC helped shape the man and the teacher I am today. Seeing present-day pictures of Chapel Hill on the Internet had definitely put back Carolina on my mind, as we Tar Heels say, and rekindled the urge to tread the territory of the best three years of my youth. I was received with open arms by my American host family at Raleigh-Durham airport, and a few minutes later, when I arrived in Chapel Hill, time suddenly compressed and the magic started again.

I found myself recuperating those olfactory memories of my American youth: the smell of cedar wood, of wisteria, of Dove soap, etc., all stirring up a kind of sensual link with the past. If only I could bottle them up or insert a link to them! It was like this: The place holds the memories while my brain also stores those memories. When my brain and body went back to the place, the memories replayed themselves. I was on a high from minute one!

I have felt welcomed as a sort of prodigal son (like my friend Thomas predicted) coming back to his second home. Everything surpassed my expectations, as I indulged in letting myself be pampered with attentions by my American family and friends. If you believe in heaven, then Chapel Hill must surely be the Southern part of it, because it feels like a 24-hour happy hour!

Friendliness was in the air, as I kept running into young students on campus who would  greet you with a How ya doin? and a big smile, two distinctive features of Southern culture in America. I remember finding that carefree spirit of youth, that rather non-standoffish attitude  endearing and captivating when I was a 22-year-old student at Carolina. However, I am also aware that this is not a real cross-section of US youth or even North Carolina youth, as these are students who, for example, had to have been in the top 10% of their graduating class at highschool before they could even apply to study at UNC . Be that as it may, I enjoyed their good manners and taking their photos.

Probably one of the highlights of my trip was President’s Obama passionate speech on education at UNC’s Carmichael Auditorium to a cheering 8,000-student crowd, and which I was privileged to follow on TV just a mere 100 metres away at Davis Library: “Higher Education is the single most important investment in your future… I am only here today because of scholarships and student loans… An average [American] student graduates with a $25,000 student loan debt!”

I must agree with Antonio Muñoz Molina, former Director of the Cervantes Institute in New York City, when he points out that when Spaniards and Americans get together they have the ability to get on well with each other, as they share a common sense of down-to-earth friendliness and lack of formality, which makes it easier for us to approach each other. I recommend his column Desde este lado, desde el otro lado.

Moving on to other matters, if you stay away from fast food, network television and extreme air-conditioning, you are just fine in America. It seems to me that, while many around the world are trying to downsize and simplify things in order to reach a more sustainable lifestyle, America is upsizing, so to speak, reluctant to give up their insaciable consumption of energy resources (the unsustainable abuse of air-conditioning being but one example).

My last thought takes me back to more social considerations. After having spent 10 days in Cuba recently and another 10 days in the United States, I am struck by how some manage to survive with so little and maintain their dignity while others live in such blatant opulence and accumulate such dispensable wealth. The gods are so fucking unfair!

This has probably been the most emotional, uplifting trip in my life. Short and sweet. I promise to be back soon for more.  

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