Saturday, October 16, 2010

Born again in the USA

It’s been ten years since I made a trip to the US. The last time, in 2000, I was happily bewildered when they gave me a ten-year multiple entry visa despite the fact that I hadn’t grovelled, foamed at the mouth, nor indeed even asked. Yay, I thought, now I can go over whenever I like, for ten years! No more providing years of income tax returns and months of bank statements! No more feeling, in front of the visa officer, like a waste of space with a shady past despite having a spotless record with no instances of being jailed! I blew a year’s worth of my pitiful salary on that holiday—and of course never went again, on account of never having any money.

By the time you read this, I will be a week into my three-week trip there—this time in the south of the country. The only other time I’ve been in the south was during junior year in college, when three friends and I fled a nightmarish winter in Pennsylvania to spend spring break in the crown jewel of Louisiana: New Orleans. The heart of the action was on Bourbon Street, which at night lights up like a nuclear explosion and leaves visitors looking much as anyone caught in a nuclear explosion might.

Speaking of bourbon, that’s what the first week of my trip is about: a visit to parts of the American Whiskey Trail, which is a tourism initiative of the Distilled Spirits Council of the US. It involves lurching from distillery to distillery in Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky. Going on wine- or whiskey-tasting trips is always a bit of a balancing act—one tries to keep it professional, but one is not all that big-built, and one’s blood volume is easily overwhelmed, and so one cannot guarantee that one will not wind up staggering around like Tallulah Bankhead, who allegedly could go through a bottle of bourbon in half an hour. According to a snippet in The Guardian, her last words were apparently “Codeine, bourbon” before she succumbed to the pneumonia she got from walking around starkers.

The point, though, is that what with the epic civic mess leading up to the Commonwealth Games, and the dengue and swine flu and malaria, and Kashmir, and the fact that income tax officers expect a bribe to hand you your refund, America is suddenly looking like a shinier, happier prospect than it has in the last ten years.

It is, after all, the land of milk and oxytetracycline-free honey. (They do have salmonella problems with eggs, and penicillin in pigs, but nobody’s perfect.) Does it feel much different than pre-9/11? I can’t tell you yet, since I’m writing this before I get on the plane on account of copy deadlines that don’t go well with whiskey tasting. All I know is that it’s a place where people go to seek refuge from whatever hideous combination of civic meltdown, disease and conflict they call home. I can imagine the relief and elation they must feel, those tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free, as they sight the Statue of Liberty gifted to America by the cheese-eating surrender monkeys.

I feel a bit the same way myself. I’m seriously considering getting a false moustache and melting into the vast crowd of illegal aliens from south Asia who traditionally drive taxis in New York. I could change the name of the column and start over. Yes indeed; the bright promise of being all that I can be might prove to tough to resist, especially when blotto. Watch this space.

[Note to immigration officials everywhere: I’m kidding.]

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