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Cultural Icons

Wednesday, 9 Oct 2002
written by Teresa

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD I visited Mount Rushmore the first time four years ago because it was one of the places to go when travelling in the States. I went with a cynical mind expecting to be unimpressed by the hackneyed image of the cliff.

I was stunned and then moved by it. I've visited twice since and remain in awe. Its size alone is breathtaking but it is the sophistication and subtlety of the sculpture that demand attention and respect. Washington looks off into the future, determination for independence etched on his face. The wistful dreamer, Jefferson, gazes towards the ideals he held so dear. Roosevelt is ready for the next battle and Lincoln is weighed by his sense of righteousness and duty. I do not know these presidents, they do not have a cultural or historical relevance for me and yet they speak to me out of the rock. They are not caricatures. They convey some true sense of character and maybe together the four somehow represent what America would like to be as a nation.

The rest of the monument is the usual over the top patriotism and kitsch mixed together in equal measure but at least most of it is done in reasonably good taste. The gift shop is another matter. There are images of the four plastered on every conceivable surface known to sell to icon seeking tourists. While you might expect this to ring a discordant note, the face of American consumerism sits quite naturally within this monument dedicated to all that is cherished and held sacred.

Talking of cultural icons . I usually view myself as reasonably adaptable but this self-perception has been called into question over the issue of tea. One of the few possessions I regret having left behind is my teapot. My sister, Solanna, brought it from England when she visited earlier this year. It is beautifully rotund, bright canary yellow and just the right size for two 'nice' cups of tea. A number of Americans have asked me, in a pseudo English accent, if I'd like a "spot" of tea. I'm not sure where this phrase originates but it is a widely held belief here that the English offer each other their national beverage in this mystical unit. Now that I think about it, I'm beginning to recall something from the dark annals of my memory along with reciting times tables, units of length, volume and weight. Anyway, I digress. I was concerned that my teapot would get damaged during our jaunt and so decided to look for a metal one. My quest had been unsuccessful and while I had ample supplies of Typhoo, PG Tips, Darjeeling, Assam and Ceylon I had no receptacle in which to infuse my national brew and was in danger for a short while of losing my cultural identity. That is until in desperation I noticed that our metal coffee pot might just serve the purpose. I realise that this is heresy and ordinarily such an action would result in being hung, drawn and quartered at dawn. However, this is America and nobody much minds about such things. The tea is untainted by the taste of the bean and all is well. I feel it a reflection of my becoming truly Trans-Atlantic that I can use the same pot for both beverages and besides which it saves room in our little shoebox. Crazy Horse Mountain, SD

The burgeoning Crazy Horse Monument is a bold and proud statement. The vision driving it is not only of a gargantuan carving wrought from the mountain but of a cultural and learning centre for Native Americans. The progress is painfully slow. Fifty years in, the face of the warrior has emerged from the millions of tons of rock removed already. The whole visitor complex is housed in beautifully constructed wooden buildings and the tone of the entire venture is one of a quiet dignity. This is not a place of blame or recrimination but it is intrinsically a monument to a man who fought to retain his people's land and way of life in light of a treaty broken by the discovery of gold in the Black Hills.

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