5 Months ago I was sitting on a plane to Boston for my first extended stay out of the UK. Today I’m sitting on a plane going back home.
Its been a facinating summer. The United States has such a variety of attitudes, cultures and environments that its strange that its only 1 country. I’ve been to 5 US cities this summer – Boston, New York, Chicago, New Orleans and San Francisco. Boston has (as everyone told me before I came) a very european feel, yet there is an unmistakable north-eastern ‘no BS’ attitude about the place. It also has a commuter-city feel about it and there seems to be a conflict in attitude between this largely republican middle class cross-section of american life, and the massive liberal student populous that also inhabits the city for most of the year.
New York City could be London’s younger brother that has outperformed its sibling. It must be the most concentrated, cosmopolitan city on the planet. It is full of life, opinion and opportunity. 9/11 was obviously a tragedy, but I can understand why an enemy of the west would want to strike at New York since it is an arrogant city in some ways and also highly visible to the world, yet there is enough strength and hope there for it to have picked itself up and carried on unperturbed. There is no way I would ever want to grow old there, or bring up a family there, but I definitely hope to live in NYC for some period of my life.
Chicago has the feeling of someone who has been there, done that and is confident in their own abilities. It is an open, friendly and relaxed place that offers much to all walks of life. Chicago is one of those few world-class cities that I *could* imagine bringing up a family in (the only one I’ve been to apart from Chicago would be Auckland, New Zealand). Chicago will be on my ‘must-live-in’ list just as soon as I can come to the terms of living through a long, freezing winter. 🙂 (Oh, and how to cope with traffic problems even LA would be proud of…)
My visit to New Orleans was brief but surprising. After being in the 3 ultra-modern cities described above it was strange to visit NOLO and see how it had not rushed along with the rest of the country. New Orleans really shows up the embarrassment of riches that the US has with regards to culture. Its one of the smaller cities, yet it still has unique music, architecture and lifestyle that are worth experiencing. NYC has become a safer city for newcomers and tourists in recent times – I hope New Orleans manages find the resources to follow suit as it is a gem of a place.
San Francisco, and its bay area, is miles away from the east cost more than geographically. The arrogance and brashness that the world sees stereotypically in the US just doesn’t seem to fit out west. I don’t know whether its the fantastic amounts of sunshine Californians get but they definitely have a more relaxed view on life. The Bay Area’s geography is stunning and beats anything the UK has to offer.
But Boston’s where I’ve spent most of my time and I actually feel a little sad about leaving. Its a hard place to be by yourself, since its not a big city by ‘world’ standards, and for the most part I’ve felt quite alone being here. In the last few weeks though I’ve started appreciating it more (finding some good friends helped!) I think yesterday summed it up – there was a jazz festival in the ‘south end’ of the city that if it had been in London would have been packed out. But this was Boston so we could sit on some grass with plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the music, the sun and some good barbeque’d ribs. There was a large mix of people – from students to families, black and white. We walked back to one of my friend’s apartments (Boston’s small enough to do that) and then went to a couple of (very different) bars in the evening. It was an enjoyable, chilled day.
So the US is a place of extremes. There’s things I don’t like about it, including the overridingly right-wing and money-oriented politics of the country. But it has so much to offer in exchange including a richness of culture, and sense of opportunity, unrivalled in the world. I hope the US manages to reconcile its leadership in the world with some more humanity-based politics and then it really will deserve its place in history.
I hope to come back and live here again. 🙂