Thursday, 17 July 2014

Let Us Be Lovers

At ten years of age, I took no greater delight than telling my mother I would be running off to America one day. Other children pulled out the "I didn't ask to be born" trope, but mine was much more sincere and less calculating, being more devastating for it.

All the small-town boy stereotypes rang true with me. I felt intensely disconnected in a place that was geographically cut off from the rest of the world, but also, in a perverse sense, connected through media.

I could sit in the car and listen to Whitney Houston's album (albeit six months after everyone else) but Whitney would never grace Gibraltar with her presence. Yet more torture, the big stars would possibly play in Marbella and Malaga, a couple of hours up the coast via an international border, it might as well have been another planet.

I watched movie after movie, and every movie that shone through my eyes would sing in the backdrop of New York. I devoured biographies of Motown stars my grandmother would let me borrow, and developed an altogether unhealthy obsession with Diana Ross and Detroit, Michigan. The romance of the city was too much, and nothing like the reality. But still, the birthplace of modern pop music, of Madonna and Aretha Franklin, it sounded like heaven.

The rise of twenty-four hour news channels brought us closer to our obsession with reality. OJ Simpson and Louise Woodward faced trials that were heavily painted in glamour and danger and the sprawling mansions of Beverly Hills. Growing up in a town where NOTHING HAPPENED, murder was almost an intense antithesis to borderline antipathy.

I saved up all my pocket money when I was eight years old and bought Mariah Carey's Music Box album on cassette tape. I drove my parents to the brink of despair with my bedroom renditions. Yet it wasn't my bedroom at all, it was Madison Square Garden.

Little did my parents know that my passion would stretch further and deeper when I discovered an animated television show about a rag-tag band of misunderstood mutants and their pledge to protect a world that hated and feared them. It was almost too perfect. I fell hard and fast for the X-Men and longed to go to Xavier's, a school where I would be loved and respected instead of disliked and ignored.

I'd been given a copy of a Batman comic one Christmas at school, and I read it until it very literally fell apart in my hands. On a summer holiday to Portugal, I found a copy of X-Men on a spinner rack, and after much pleading, it was finally mine. I read that until it fell apart too, and eventually my sister's friend would lend me his copies in Spanish, and a whole new level of excitement every time we shopped for food in Spain was born.

American comics, however, were the holy grail. Not just because spanish comics ran a year behind, but because American comics came with letters from readers as far away as Philadelphia. They were also replete with adverts for candy and movies I would never have a hope of tasting or seeing. One day I would live there, in this land of opportunity, of plenty, and nothing would be denied.

Interestingly, my obsession with the greater world, and in particular with America, shaped and sharpened my mind. Reading translated comics improved my spanish, and all the facts and figures stowed into those comic books, as well as the penchant for larger words, probably educated me better than the school system ever hoped to.

The epitome of my cultural learning came when God appeared on the television, or rather, Oprah WInfrey started being shown on satellite television every afternoon. My evenings after school were punctuated by X-Men (which I had already watched that morning before school, but I watched again) then Oprah, followed by The Simpsons and Disney Channel sitcoms until bedtime.

Oprah took me by the hand towards Alice Walker, Maya Angelou and above all others, Toni Morrison. I became best friends with the local librarians, in a library that spewed tumbleweeds for all the natives read.

I would wake up around 6am and eat my cereal (wishing it was Lucky Charms) while watching some bizarre Spanish variety channel that programmed hip-hop videos all through the night until 7am. I fell hard for TLC, Toni Braxton, Missy Elliott and L'il Kim. Fulfilling my request one Christmas for CrazySexyCool, and awkwardly listening to the grinding sex groans in the car with the entire family, my dad informed that had he known about the album's filth, he wouldn't have bought it. It was too late though, I knew the entire rap from Waterfalls.

Now I am here. In the reality of America as opposed to the intense consumption of its artistic vision thrown at the rest of the world. The world backlashed and I cared little for the dislike. I still don't understand this expression of "oh how American" filled with disdain, when there is space enough for yourself and what is essentially a modern Rome.

I don't know why it has taken me twenty-nine years to get here, but I am more appreciative to be seeing a truer America and not the Disneyland package trip tourism of mass appetite that so many Europeans adore. Traveller, not tourist. It is possibly my most overwhelming unashamed snobbery, and I am unapologetic.

So we are on a trip through Atlanta, to Virginia and Tennessee, then Washington DC and ending in New York City.

I am hurtling through Jupiter in a Mustang convertible.

- Jonathan Pizarro.

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