Of Thee I Sing!

My love-affair with America has lasted over sixty years and counting … I sailed through the Panama Canal in 1957 when the Zone, on both sides, was American controlled and then set off for Hawaii where, apart from hula-hula dancers, I saw colour TV for the first time. My appetite for things American had already been whetted when my parents returned from a 1949 business visit to New York with a tin of butterscotch sauce to heat up and pour over our Sunday lunch-time ice cream. I was not disappointed. In Honolulu I gobbled down mahi-mahi steak and, of course, ate hot dogs and hamburgers.

Over the years from 1959, I visited mainland America regularly and, during the late seventies and eighties, was able to travel to many different parts of the vast country, meeting Americans in Omaha, Nebraska, who asked me to describe the sea they had never seen except in movies. I was waylaid in upstate New York by a veteran who wanted me to stay on in America and not go back home (to Scotland). Asking him why, he said he had been to Europe during the war and knew what life was like over there. Where had he been? “Sicily!”

In one sense every town, city, metropolis is the same: Howard Johnson, Macdonald’s, H & R Block, Krispy Kreme Donuts. But looking beyond the frontages there is wide regional diversity. New York is completely different from New Mexico, Washington State from Washington DC, the Blue Ridge Mountains from Death Valley.

I was in New York in 1963 when the country, the world came to a shuddering stop as the news broke from Dallas. Going home that night, Grand Central Station was as silent as the cathedral it so resembles with everyone staring at the stark headlines.

Inevitably, on my travels, I found my way into many bookshops and can remember the literary delight I experienced in Taos NM where there is a bookshop with the best possible name above the door: Moby Dickens. I wish I’d thought of that. Chapter 1 of my new novel, Rembrandt Sings, takes the narrator to Carmel CA, a delightful place to visit.

American writers I greatly admire include Faulkner, Cheever, Roth, Updike, Auster, Bradbury and Philip K Dick and now I am embarking on Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe trilogy.

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