Friday, August 29, 2008

U.S.A.

We’ve just had a rousing Democratic Convention, with speeches exalting our citizens and the “American Dream” from extraordinary individuals Michelle Obama, Hilary and Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, and of course Barack Obama, all of them bringing Convention crowds to a fever pitch of enthusiasm. This election was already a landmark, given that the Democratic candidate is the first to have African ancestry (at least, the first acknowledged as that, but who really knows?). And now Senator McCain has chosen Sarah Palin as his running mate, the first time a Republican candidate has chosen a woman—though of course Geraldine Ferraro was the first Democratic Veep candidate nearly three decades ago.

As I prepare to go to live in London, I’ve decided to do some America boosting myself, listing a few places on the American scene that have made a deep impression on me during the last few decades—places of special beauty or historical importance or cultural resonance. I’ve visited all 50 states and almost all large or notable cities in the U.S.A. Some of this is touched on in a long poem titled “1992,” which appeared in the book Autobiographies. That’s out of print but still available at online booksellers. Here goes:

The Taos Pueblo, in New Mexico, nearly a thousand years old, a Cubist urban wonder of the New World. Also, the Mesa Verde settlement, tucked into a cliff wall, at an early point in history and later abandoned.

The Walt Whitman House Museum in Camden, NJ.

The view from Coit Tower, Telegraph Hill in San Francisco; Golden Gate Park in the same city; and Chinatown.

The Potomac River, VA.

New York City from Fort Tryon Park all the way down to Battery Park, and the view from the Staten Island Ferry. Also, Brooklyn Heights.

The modernist architecture of Chicago and the view of Lake Michigan along Lakeshore Drive.

The Barrier Islands of Georgia, St. Simons, Jekyll, and Sea Island.

The Grand Canyon, a jaw-dropping fusion of geology and awe.

The Poe tomb in Baltimore, MD.

Views along the stretch of I-91 above Putney, Vermont all the way to St. Johnsbury, the Green Mountains and the Connecticut River.

Route 100 from L.A. to San Francisco. Carmel and Monterrey, CA.

Basin Street in Memphis.

Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia, where the Civil War ended.

Old houses and liveoak trees near the Battery, and Catfish Row, in Charleston, SC..

Skyline Drive and Monticello in Virginia.

Louis Kahn’s Kimball Museum in Fort Worth, TX.

The vast, flat, treeless plains of North Dakota.

Glacier, Yellowstone, Zion, and Yosemite National Parks.

The Emily Dickinson House in Amherst, MA.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.

Fort Ticonderoga, NY.

The Frost House, near Breadloaf, VT

The conjunction of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers at Hermann, just north of St. Louis, MO.

Skagway, Glacier Bay, and Sitka, AK

Harper’s Ferry, WV.

Lake Tahoe and Carson City, NV

The Ryman Theater in Nashville, TN, cradle of the country music empire.

Langston Hughes’s birthplace in Joplin, MO.

Santa Monica, Silver Lake, and the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles.

Independence Hall and surrounding historic buildings in Philadelphia.

Mt. Rainier, WA

Seneca Falls, NY, birthplace of the Women's Suffrage movement.

St. Augustine, FL.

Vineyard country along the New York State shore of Lake Erie.

Provincetown, MA

The Black Hills of South Dakota

Talequah, OK, capital of the Cherokee Nation.

The Rockies from Montana down to Colorado.

Wilmington, DE

The Roebling Bridge in Cincinnati, OH.

The Florida Everglades.

Wichita, KS.

Lake Bemidji, MN.

Eureka in the Arkansas Ozarks.

The Columbia Gorge, OR

Vicksburg, MS.

Omaha, NB

The Lincoln Memorial, Smithsonian, and Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

Branford College, the British Art Center, the Beinecke Library, and the Elizabethan Club, Yale, New Haven.

Tulsa, OK.

The Hudson Valley north from Poughkeepsie to Albany, NY. The view from Frederick E. Church’s Olanna in Hudson.

The causeway running from Miami down to Key West, FL.

The Great Salt Lake, UT.

Cannon Beach and Manzanita, OR

The East End of Long Island (Whitman's "Paumanok"), NY

The Penobscot Bay area, Castine, and Mt. Desert National Park, ME.

The Snake River in Idaho.

Niagara Falls, NY.

Black Mountain and the Nantahala Range, NC.

Haleakala Crater and Ohe’o Park on Maui, HI

The Cliff Walk, Newport, RI.

The Governor’s Palace in Santa Fe, NM.

Cranbrook School, Detroit, MI.

The Shaker village at Pleasant Hill, KY.

Boston’s Old North Church and State House; the St. Gaudens monument to Colonel Shaw, Boston Common; 91 Revere St., birthplace of Robert Lowell; and Richardson’s Sever Hall, Harvard, Cambridge.

Iowa City, IA

New Harmony, IN.

Louis Kahn’s Salk Pavilion in La Jolla, CA.

Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard, MA

Boulder, CO.

Monument Valley, AZ and UT.

Nantucket, MA.

The Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle to Biloxi, MS.

Benefit Street, Providence, RI

Savannah, GA

Tucson, AZ

The Abbey of Gethsemani, KY

Estes Park, CO

Mount Vernon, VA.

The Paterson Falls and the Palisades, NJ.

The French Quarter and the Garden District in New Orleans.

Ephraim on the upper peninsula of Wisconsin.

Brasstown Bald in the North Georgia Appalachians.

Wallace Stevens’s house in Hartford, CT.

The White Mountains, NH.


Emerson once remarked that the magisterial landscape of New Hampshire was mocked by the pettiness of the people inhabiting it. But I’m going to put aside negative feelings about our saber-rattlers, philistines, dolts, and fundamentalists and recall instead my friends here and those like them, people abundant in warmth, intelligence, fair-mindedness, artistry, and generosity. Auden once said, “Americans are like omelets. There’s no such thing as a pretty good one.”

2 comments:

George Joseph said...

I am impressed by your list, and especially about the number of southern (southeastern) sites in it. While I share the same geographic background and age with you, I have only a fraction of your travel perspective, and an even smaller fraction of your erudition. Yet so many of your views and opinions resonate. So I wonder how much we are formed by those early impressions and how much they inform the rest of what we see through the years. If this is so then could the beginning be gaining importance the older I become? I think about it much more than in many years.

AlexG said...

how lovely to see Roebling's Cincinnati bridge on yr list.