An Interview With Pico Iyer
America the notion is still very different from America the nation. What’s touching and almost regenerative is that, whatever is happening in the real America — where the murder rate is worse than Lebanon’s, and there is homelessness and poverty — America is still a shorthand throughout the world for everything that is young and modern and free. One interesting thing is that Mick Jagger, the Beatles, Reebok, pizza, enchiladas — everything that is hip and desirable — are all regarded as American no matter what their true origins.
A man in a stained shirt and dirty brown pants stumbles out of a mud-brick building, fiddling with his zipper. Giggling, but sober, he shuts his fly and fishes a cigarette from his breast pocket. Approaching a woman grilling brochettes over a fire, he places a hand on her thigh and swipes a skewer of meat from the grill. The woman doesn’t move or speak, just clucks her tongue disapprovingly.
“I have learned how to grow healthy crops,” wrote Sir Albert Howard in his 1940 book An Agricultural Testament, “without the slightest help from mycologists, entomologists, bacteriologists, agricultural chemists, statisticians, spraying machines, insecticides, germicides, and all the other expensive paraphernalia of the modern experiment station.”
I get a postcard from a place called Paradise, and on the back is a note from an old friend that says, “Free lunch under the coconut trees.” It is the season of disco and dope smoking, of long, ramshackle cars built by cocaine addicts in Michigan, of oil embargoes and promiscuity and awful haircuts, and I look around at the girls and boys in their platform shoes and bell bottoms and everybody divorced or pregnant or stoned or listening to disco and scratching their VD sores, and I know the world is coming to an end, so I call United Airlines and order a one-way ticket to Paradise.
Beth kneels on the edge of the bed, re-counting her American money and finding again only five hundred-dollar bills where there had been seven. She leans over, nearly toppling off the sloping mattress, to ferret underneath the mahogany night stand, but comes up only with handfuls of dense brown dust.
It had all been very proper. There had been letters between Luz’s home in Guadalajara, and Los Angeles, where Diego’s family had lived for some years. Diego’s parents wanted him to marry a decent mexicana, not a wild American girl with no morals, and Luz was the daughter of old family friends. Diego traveled to Guadalajara to marry her, and she came to live with him in Los Angeles.