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[26.05.06] America-2005: Conclusions
[26.05.06] America-2005: New Jersey, Amish and museums
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[ 26th May 2006 ] America-2005: New Jersey, Amish and museums | leave a comment |

Finally, I got some time to finish my next piece about the trip to the States. Here it goes about the Amish people, country-side and the exhibition of the Russian art in New York.


New Jersey

Just behind the river from Manhattan begins the state of New Jersey. To get there, it's enough to drive for 20 minutes on the highway, along city districts and industrial grounds. Then you can see the other America: quiet, accurate and built up with one- and two-floor houses.

The office of the company where my New-York friend Oleg works is located in a two-floor building near forest. Atmosphere in the office is quite like the local country-side. Everyone is hospitable and curios to talk about how the life in Europe is, and about politics as well. No one is in a hurry, and everyone tends to tell about his family, while eating another slice of pizza. Only three out of six people from the department were born in the US. The rest are immigrants. That's why I could also hear some stories about, for example, hunting monkeys in rainforests of Columbia. Not for fun, but to get some meat for the dinner.


On our way back we stopped in the small town of Verona, to see a park there. It seemed like the park was the central leisure location for the locals. Squirrels were jumping and climbing the trees all around; elderly people were walking and breathing fresh air, while youngsters were jogging. Everything was just nice and clean. But not only by the big waving US flag next to the lake can one realize the park is American. The amount of prohibition signs I saw there was the biggest in my whole life. We saw at least six of such signs during the walk. And it took just about 20 minutes to walk around the lake, along all the walkways of the park.


Trip to Pennsylvania. Amish country

There is a famous parody singer in America called Weird Al Yankovic. A couple of years ago, when my friends introduced me to his works, the first thing they showed me was a parody video for the old rap song "Gangsters' Paradise". Yankovic's remake of the song was called "Amish Paradise". In the video men with beards, wearing hay hats and black suits were telling about their lives, that all they did was hard work and sacrifice. Back then, I didn't really know who the Amish people were. Out of curiosity, I asked an American friend who lives in Texas about it. He told me that the Amish are a very religious community. They are people who completely renounced on the benefits the modern civilization brings, such as phone and electricity. They live in a simple way in the country-side. The Amish exist only on the American continent. In Europe there are only people of very similar beliefs and they are called Mennonites.

Lancaster County in Pennsylvania is the closest to the NYC place where one can still find the Amish. We found the way by the web-site of Aaron & Jessica's Buggy Rides, a small enterprise involved into entertaining the tourists who come to their land, by giving them a ride with a traditional Amish buggy. The Old order Amish don't use cars, thus the only kind of transport they accept is such buggies.

There are many types of the Amish faith. Roughly speaking, they differ by the measure they accept using technology. Let's say some of them use electric power generators, but don't drive cars. Others travel with buses, but their women don't go give birth at the hospital. However, the majority of them deny higher studies, thinking several years at school are enough.

Our destination was the town called Intercourse. You probably know what it means in English. However, in this very case it might also be the point where they used to change horses. But who knows, the name is funny anyways.


Since a year I've been working in a very interesting area. Our company in Berlin is a vendor of navigation systems. Because of the specifics of my job, I pay attention to the market of such solutions in every country I recently visit. For example, in Germany, almost every car has a navigation device. It might be embedded, like the one from Mercedes or BMW, which comes on board. It can also be installed on a PocketPC, like TomTom. Sometimes, people use notebooks with some navigation software for Windows. The same I saw in Holland. People use navigation systems very actively in their everyday life. And it's really useful, especially with a GPS device. You just have to specify a route and then simply listen to the voice commands on the system, which says "turn right" and "turn left" whenever needed.

Knowing navigation systems are so popular in Europe, I was surprised to find out the majority of drivers in the US still rely on their own way-finding skills. There was no navigation system in our car either, so we just looked up the route to Intercourse on the mapquest web site.

Estimated way duration was 3 hours. Obviously a sheet of paper with the route description was not enough to successfully find the way, so we got a little lost. Having driven somewhere near Philadelphia, we started thinking on how to arrive to Intercourse without getting lost too often. We stopped by at a gas station to get some more fuel and to have a coffee, we still were sleepy. We asked the shop-lady for directions. She was very kind and explained us the route. She also wrote everything she said on the paper. There was a line of several customers behind us, and I think they were a bit pissed, since the explanations were really detailed. As detailed as mapquest at least. But people are usually calm in the country, neither they are in a hurry, so they waited till the end of our manual navigation session. At another small shop by the road, where we stopped to double-check our direction, they were very precise and helpful too. This fact could probably explain why navigation solutions are not so popular in the US.


The Buggy Rides place we were looking for appeared to be a very advanced tourist business. There was a parking, a store, a restaurant and a place from where the buggies with horses depart. There were overall about two or three buggies. An old Amish guy met us there. He had a beard, with his mustache shaved off, dressed black and in a hay hat. He said we should wait for 15 minutes and sent us see the souvenirs meanwhile. I didn't really get excited by anything I saw in the store. A standard set of cups made in China, t-shirts and mugs with names. If there were objects from the Amish everyday life, like wooden dishes, I would have bought something for sure.

For the ride we were given a buggy, a horse and an old fellow, who didn't even look like an Amish. He was dressed in a brown jacket and a cap with ear-flaps. First he asked where we are from and then started telling about the Amish. Usually I don't have any problem understanding Americans speak. Neither do my friends who have been living in America for a while. But this guy's pronunciation was really hard to comprehend. We only managed to understand about 50% of what he told us. Instead of "mule" I heard "mill" and so on. I actually suppose he has some nickname for that. His not-very-Amish outfit he explained with the fact that he was born in an Amish family but when he grew up, he decided not to follow their customs. According to him, it's ok in the Amish environment to renounce on their ways. However, he also said, that as he was getting old, he started to understand the main Amish motto: "heavens through the hard work".

In the places we went through with the buggy, there were Amish houses next to houses of regular people. He guy said, no matter, if a certain Amish family accepts electricity or driving cars, one can still distinguish their dwelling by the black shades they have on windows. Sounds like Gothic culture to me :)

It felt like the Amish were intentionally hiding from us that day. The weather was not good, so everyone probably stayed at home. They say in the end of summer there is a plenty of them gathering in the harvest. Under the pretext that we wanted to buy something, we went take a closer look at the Amish houses. By the banners along the road, first we came to a family and bought some goat's milk and then bought some apples from others. Unfortunately, none of them allowed us to take pictures of their selves. That's why all the pictures I took there look like the proofs of the ET existence, showing only some unclear figures on the horizon.


Driving along the road, we came across the store called "Mount Hope Wine Gallery, Intercourse, PA". Basically, all names here are such inspiring, with the exception of Intercourse itself. For instance, the neighboring village was called Bird-in-hand. At the entrance to the wine gallery there was a banner saying: "Wine Selling and Tasting". Inside, there was quite a big selection of wines. One could taste any of them for free. The shop-girl poured some wine into a glass, rinsing it every time. One the counter there were small buckets, where one could pour out the rests. We decided not to waste wine tough, and drank the testers to the bottom. President Bush said "conserve", not "consume" after all. Finally, I bought a bottle of "Harvest Red". The label on it also said "Intercourse Wines" (LOL) and "Concord". The both sorts are red, sweet, with a mild fruit flavor.


Then it was time to eat something. Before going on the trip, we read that the Amish had restaurants with their traditional ecologically clean food. So we had to try it. Again, by the signs along the road, we found a restaurant called Stolzfus, after the last name of its owners. They had "all you can eat" for $15. There was no menu to choose the dishes from. All the dishes are served one after another. If you're still hungry, tell the waitress and she brings more.

Either we were too hungry, or before the meal was indeed very tasty, we found the Amish food truly outstanding. There was nothing special one the table. As far as I remember, there was some stewed corn, pickled cucumbers and home-made sausages, but it was incredible. Hard to describe with words, the taste was somewhat "colorful". What we ate at expensive restaurants in New York was nothing compared to that. However, it's just a subjective opinion. For a clean experiment, we should have had some other food to compare it with right at the spot.

The restaurant's brief history was in the toilet over the urinal for some reason. That's how I found out that the owners were born Amish, but converted to "normality". It could quite explain the usage of electricity and cash register. Probably one can hardly maintain such a place, respecting all the religious traditions at the same time.


As we left the restaurant, I bought a brochure with a FAQ about the Amish and Mennonites. From it, I learned a lot of interesting facts. For instance, the Christian self-sacrifice cult got really extreme in their interpretation. One of the most well-known Amish, the Dutchman called Dirk Willems saved the sheriff, who was following him, from the bog. In a couple of days, the sheriff executed his savior on the fire. Also, the Amish never go to war. Especially for Americans, the brochure says they helped a lot with their work in home front and always paid taxes. Good point, so that some good citizens don't get upset enough to kick an Amish ass :)


Guggenheim-museum

But let's go back now, to the New York City, in Manhattan.

There was an exposition of Russian painting in Guggenheim-museum, located very close to the Central Park. The ad banners said "Russia!" and had the "Unknown woman" portrait by Kramskoy on them. The description said this exposition was the biggest ever after the end of the Cold war. The paintings were brought from the Tretyakovskaya gallery, from the Russian museum and some other big Russian collections. We decided not to miss this occasion and went to get some culture and inspiration.

The Guggenheim-museum building reminds me the new dome of the Reichstag somehow. Wide spiral stairs leads up to the top. As one climbs up, there are paintings on the walls. We saw "Decuman wave" by Aivazovsky, Malevich's "Black square", "Kidnapping of Europe" by Serov. It was exactly the same work I saw back in my childhood when we visited Tretyakovskaya gallery in Moscow. Now I could see it in a completely different part of the globe.

It was funny to hear comments from American visitors. In the room with Serov's paintings I heard: "The Russians especially don't smile on portraits, to express their melancholy". It was like the people from other nations used to smile or grin on the classical portraits. These ladies seemed to have mixed up portrait painting and private travel photos of the "me and the palm-tree" genre.

On the upper floor of the building, in the contemporary art section, there was a big painting by two artists. It was called "Troika", dated back to 1995 and showed winter forest and a carriage dragged by three horses. In the carriage there was a naked woman, who shot wolves and flying imps with her Kalashnikov. Obviously the lady is a symbolical image of Russia in the radical changes period of the 90s. While I was thinking about it, I heard a comment behind: "Is it some kind of a Siberian legend?"


Back to the Old World

There was another security check at the JFK before boarding to the plain to Europe. Passengers were waiting for their turn and the screen above the metal detectors showed a cartoon with the security check rules. Besides the request to take off shoes, there was something with jokes about bombs and terrorists. It appeared that such jokes are not left unpunished anymore. The one, who jokes this way, gets a trouble and a fine. I can imagine how many of such jokers there have been.

Besides that, one could quite often hear announcements saying that unwatched luggage is removed by the security service immediately. If needed, there were special guys from the luggage escort who could take care of the belongings for short time. Despite all of that, some really old man forgot his case in the middle of the line and went to the metal detector without it. The security people obviously got nervous, but then allowed for his age, checked the case and returned it to the guy, saying he shouldn't forget his case anymore.


Right before the flight in New York City a very heavy thunderstorm began. Because of it, some flights got delayed. The pilot had nothing else to do, apart from trying to calm the passengers down. He said everything was ok and in 15 minutes we'd be in the air. "Don't fear the lightings, the storm is far from the airport", - he said. However, it still felt rather weird with all of those flashes from the lightings all over the cabin.

The time difference between Europe and the East coast, where New York is, is not very big. I'd say, it's nothing compared to the West Coast, where we were before. It took us a couple of days to get used to the day and night shift in California. The change my organism underwent while flying from NYC to Frankfurt and then to Berlin, was not that hard. It was already evening when we left New York, and morning when we landed in Europe. That is, at least day and night did not completely exchange places. So the next day I went fresh to the office, trying to understand what I actually learned about the life in Europe, being away on another continent for about a month. I will try to describe that in my next note about the US. Stay tuned.



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