Let me begin my tale on my recent trip to America with Diana, my wife, by going back to the moment we woke up in our hotel in Las Vegas the day we were going to come back after a short trip to the capital of Nevada.
First news in the waking up hours TV program was that prices of housing were going down in Nevada. This in Europe would be rather good news. Because the limiting factor in Europe is land. Land is scarce and density is the limiting factor. Having a plot of land in Europe means being someone. Yet in Kansas is the other way around. There I asked once about the price of land (since I was preparing my Doctoral Dissertation on that subject), and the answer to my question was “it depends”. It depends on what? On the amount you want. If you buy more the price goes down – the unit price. If you buy more they make you a deal.
In fact that was one of the causes of the discovery of America. Not as much of the discovery of South America by Spaniards but more so of the later colonization of North America by British and Irish people. Those islanders couldn’t possibly have room in their overpopulated islands after the discovery of some vaccines that extended life expectancy at the end of the 19th century. The subsequent filling up of the less productive hills and calves in their land made emigrants of many of them. Around 25 % of the Irish population fled to the US and Canada after a potato famine.
Actually the North of America was poorer than South America. But it was Americo Vespuccio who gave the name to the continent, not Cristoforo Colombo, another Italian, who was working for the Spanish Monarchs. Thus America became the generic and Colombia the specific of the New World. The Spanish called Indians the tribes they encountered because they thought they had arrived in India in 1492. In fact they were trying to get to the species producing territories of the East Indies and China, when they hit a land that Europe didn’t know. The only thing Colombo did know, or presume, was that the earth was a globe and not a platitude. It’s only a few centuries ago that we know it.
You know? Italians have always been quicker than Spaniards in pulling revolvers out. They also got to merchandise recycled Spanish oil in fancy Italian bottles and serve it in sophisticated Italian restaurants in Mid Town NY. They even re-invented and marketed the habit of my childhood: “sucar pa en l’oli”, i.e. dipping bread in oil cups, something which is not done any more in our country.
America is therefore a re invention of Europe that ended up saving Europe from internal self-destruction. The first and second World Wars were fought mainly in Europe and won by Americans. The American allies were as important as the internal resistance, and more decisive.
All of this was coming to my mind last week in Las Vegas. My American experience has always been embedded in this sort of grand scenario. And puzzles me again and again because of its mixture of grandeur and, excuse me, bad taste – in the European sense of the word: “ostentation”, “color”, “noise”, “wealth”, “bad taste” and the like, are terms usually employed in Europe to label a nation and a way of life to which we owe so much and that still surprises us because of its extremes of generosity and greed.
These days I met people of tremendous stature in their apparent casualness. People working in architecture, in health, in wine growing … All of them have in common a way of addressing the issues that is unmistakably American. Going to the point. Meaning business. A bit naïf if you want (it is telling that the word has to be a French word) but finally an attitude disarming all prevention.
It is possible that my Alzheimer Foundation will be helped by Americans. Of course no American lacks a European or Eastern past. Ruvo and Katchaturian are names that speak for themselves – they speak Italian and Armenian. It is fortunate that a bunch of international Catalan / Spanish professionals trained in America have began to attack the memory troubles, the illness of the future, in alliance with such distinguished hosts.
We shall overcome. Some day. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGU-VFLXVms)