I just flew in from England and boy, are my arms tired.
No, seriously, they are but dragging suitcases through miles of busy streets and airport terminals will do that to you.
Growing up in a rather small town in New England, cities were always seen as lawless, dirty dystopias, filled with pickpockets, murderers and other assorted gypsies, tramps and thieves. When I first came to Boston on a fifth grade field trip, however, I remember finding the city to be - for lack of a better word - nice. It wasn't too big, nor too small, it seemed like parks were everywhere, and I really liked the tiny, crowded brick houses.
Several years wiser, and after being in shiny, polite London for a week, though, coming back to Boston was a bit of a culture shock for me. When I got to the Airport T stop on the Blue Line, it was the first time I really noticed how the paint managed to be peeling off of everything, including the outdated and graffiti-ed MBTA maps.
Maybe it was the jetlag or the several glasses of wine I had on the flight, but noticing the extreme disparity between London's space age subway system and Boston's gilded age version made me understand something that had been bugging me for a while - why Europeans tend to look down their noses so much at Americans. The answer, I believe, lies in the fact that we just don't take enough pride in our cultural and historical achievements.
Near Hyde Park in London is a statue devoted to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's hubby and patron of the arts. This statue is ridiculously classy - a gold plated and highly polished Prince Albert sits on a throne, enclosed by a canopy of ornate spires and other statues representing the various scientific and cultural fields he patronized. To top it all off, a series of spotlights surrounds and illuminates the statue at night, making the man appear all the more triumphant. What do we have? A puzzling statue of Leif Ericsson surrounded by speeding cars and a polluted river.
While walking around London, one gets the feeling that the city truly cares about its history - you can't walk 50 feet without seeing another well-groomed statue of a famous or quasi-famous historical figure. Of course, London's got almost two thousand years of history to draw from, but as one of America's oldest and most historically important cities, Boston's got a lot to play with, too, dammit. I want to see a brass Ben Franklin picking up prostitutes on Park Street, a silver Sam Adams drinking a pint of ale and flipping off a Redcoat in the North End, or some kind of animatronic display of platinum Puritans hanging dissenters on the Common. I don't think I'm asking for too much, here.
Of course, in this time of economic distress, spending money on elaborate monuments for the vague purpose of "enriching our culture" probably doesn't sound like a plausible idea to many lawmakers. To them, I offer a second route that would not only give us some more culture, but would also help out our economy - imperialism.
People tend to balk when imperialism is mentioned as a new state policy, but it's not like this is something new, here. Puerto Rico, California and Hawaii were all forcibly annexed to our territory through imperialism, offering us three more great vacation spots. And that was like a hundred years ago! Think of what great locales we could grab today and all the cool cultural junk we could steal from those places!
While I was walking through the British Museum's Egyptian section, I passed a plaque that casually mentioned the mummy I was looking at was Cleopatra. Cleo-freaking-patra! Our museums have some nice things, but do we have dead sovereigns of ancient empires? I don't think so. Imperialism needs to happen, and it needs to happen now - if not for us, then for our children, so that their museum field trips might be more enjoyable than ours once were.
Boston Common is pretty nice now, but put a giant Moai statue where that rusty old George Washington is, and we've got us a classy new tourist attraction. France already gave us the Statue of Liberty - I'm sure they wouldn't mind if we took the Eiffel Tower, too and lets give ol' North Dakota some Great Pyramids so they'll stop whining about Mount Rushmore being in South Dakota.
We could just start caring more about our own history, arts and culture, but stealing things from other people would probably take less effort on our part. Plus, it would mean we wouldn't have to miss Fox's latest editions of "Celebrity Boxing." Could there be anything more genuinely American than that?