For want of fireworks to stare at, I spend the 4th of July reminicing of my American years. There were nearly seven such years, split about half and half between two major cities of the East: Boston and DC.
In between I managed to slip nearly six months in a more exotic location: Salt Lake city, Utah. My ex-wife was a Salt-Laker and indeed a Mormon when I met her (she later left the church, a difficult and intense process). Her family all lived on the Wasatch front and we visited it often. I spent one entire winter there, one entire summer, plus many a Christmas and, well, 4ths of July.
Each 4th, a traditional picnic was held on Lin's grandparents' deck. We had burgers and green Jello pie (a local delicacy) on paper plates decorated with the star spangled banner. more stars and stripes were hanging from the trees. The house itself was full of pictures of WWII fighter planes, a hobby of Granpa's. On the floor was a furry rug about a meter deep. These were the most foreign surroundings in which a non-American can find himself. Blues dens in Mississippi slums are tuned into tourist haunts, a suburban SLC backyard never is.
The great majority of people on the deck were Republican and Mormon. Republicans were extra confident and talkative during the Bush years. Mormons, on the other hand, are secretive. Their religion cannot be discussed openly or in depth with an outsider since it features ineffable teachings, secret temple ceremonies et al.
This combination of the outspoken and unspoken complicated our visits to Lin's family. There were so many words I couldn't say: "Shit", "John Kerry", "The Celestial Room", "Abu Ghraib"... even "Oh my God!" is considered taboo in Utah-LDS culture. There was no alcohol in any of the starred and striped cups to help me face the challenge, nor even coffee.
I must admit, I loved it.
I loved Utah, I still adore it. It's the best place I lived in the States. Those mountains that grow directly out of the city, the broad streets, the drama of the west, and that of a split society: 50% devout, 50% irreverent. I loved the family too, it was warm and generous and made up of the most spectacular individuals. They accepted me so beautifully despite my being a gentile (this is the exact word Mormons use). A heathen married their offspring, depriving her of the right to the celstial kingdom, and yet they loved me and lavished green Jello on me.
Sometimes a place that seems the most wrong for us, is just right. The places in America I miss the most are not necessarily the progressive streets of Cambridge, MA. They are often places that challenged me as a liberal, a foreigner, an Urbanite. If I could make it across the room through that thick rug, I could make it across the nation and truly know its many realities.