Saturday, 30 July 2016

Baseball, Brats and British Ex-pats

It wasn't until Neil asked where the Away fans end was, that I remembered just how different American sports and their supporters are to the British way of thinking. If its true that you can tell a lot about a nation and a culture through the sports they choose to pursue and how they pursue said sports, then Britain and America's special relationship is not as close as some might think.

Neil and I were sat, along with my wife, Kelly, high above first base at Miller Park, the home stadium of the Milwaukee Brewers, Wisconsin's only Major League Baseball team and Neil was trying to find his bearings. Come to think of it, looking back, he wasn't the only one.

Sometimes, when my working week runs smoothly, the weather stays just below unbearable on my own personal humidity scale and I manage to grasp the intricacies of some overly simple part of living here in America (such as operating the tumble dryer) I try to tell myself that I'm finally getting my bearings, learning my way around this deeply complex country and generally doing pretty well. Around about the time I get to thinking like this, circumstance tends to clip me around the ear and tell me I've still got a long way to go in learning to understand this foreign country.

Truth is, I am, on the whole, doing pretty well on the whole adjustment thing. I've learned, in most occasions, what is a correct amount to tip in restaurants, I'm getting better at understanding how jobs work over here and I have some inkling of how tax returns work.

However despite this, I still have a long, long, way to go.

It is fairly accurate to say that when we British think of the Americans, it has always been with a sense of familial relationship as if America is a younger sibling with a rebellious attitude and loud taste in clothes and music but family all the same. We don't think of ourselves as foreigners, not deep down, as saturated as we often feel with American movies, music and culture. But we are, even though we don't feel it and so, more often than not I find that my bearings are still a little eschew.

Despite following the NFL(National Football League), since before I was a teenager and gamely making an effort to do the same with the NHL (that's the National Hockey League) this past season, MLB, or Major League Baseball, is still mostly an undiscovered country to me.

On the verge of moving here, it occurred to me that I should probably choose a professional team to follow from each of the major sports in the United States. I figured that it would give me something to talk about at work with the guys, if nothing else.

So I set about choosing five teams using criteria which, quite often, verged on arbitrary and in at least one occasion, just plain ridiculous. I have followed the “Green Bay Packers” since well before the onset of puberty, so that was a given. Wisconsin doesn't have an NHL team so I looked across the Mississippi to my wife's people in Minnesota and the “Minnesota Wild”. The “Minnesota Timberwolves” stole my basketball allegiance with their logo, which, unlike the “Milwaukee Bucks” logo, looks absolutely nothing like a dead deer's head stuffed and mounted on someone's wall. Living in Madison, my college sports team had to be the “Wisconsin Badgers” and then I had to address the baseball situation.

Baseball was definitely at the bottom of my list of U.S. Sporting pastimes to get into. At times in Britain, we can see baseball as merely an overrated game of rounders, a schoolyard sport elevated to a ridiculous level of seriousness, but over here it is seen as “America's Game”. So I eventually realised that I had to at least find a way of taking it all in and learn to like it.

Baseball is the oldest of America's professional sports, as it was definitely the earliest to be organised into anything approaching the structure of a modern sporting organisation. The National League, which is one of the two leagues which make up Major League Baseball, (the other is the American League) was founded on February 2nd 1876. This makes it the oldest of the professional sports leagues in the United States, by far. The NHL wasn't founded till 1917 and until the 1960s only had six teams in operation most of the time, the NFL likewise wasn't founded until 1919 and didn't reach a national following until the advent of television in the 1950s and 60s. The National Basketball Association is strictly a postwar organisation, not being founded until 1946.

To put it simply, before the advent of television, cable sports broadcasts, multi-media extravaganzas, pay per view internet podcasts; before the birth of our increasingly connected hyper-active information super-highway influenced world; before all of that, Baseball reigned supreme over the American nation and its collective psyche.

Even now it has the oldest teams. There are still teams present in MLB that were found on that very first National League rosta, albeit with different names or locations. And it is this longevity that separates baseball from other sports here in the U.S. Baseball, I am learning, truly represents something deeper than just sport to many Americans. It is more than a sport, it is memory, nostalgia, a symbol of a more innocent time that many worry that this nation has forgot.

Baseball is the sport that comforted them through the great depression. It came of age as America itself did, soldiers in the Civil War playing it on hastily constructed diamonds in camp. Then it grew to professionalism at the the same time as the United States started to look beyond its borders to the rest of the world. In the 1960s, Paul Simon, caught up in the social upheaval and artistic milieu of counter-culture, desperately searches around to find an image to denote innocence, nostalgia and integrity for his generation. He ends up looking to a baseball player, Joe Di Maggio, asking where he has gone, as if baseball could, even then, save America from its own culture wars. Di Maggio, “Joltin' Joe” proved that maybe Simon was right in that assumption, when they eventually met Di Maggio asked Simon whether he was calling Di Maggio to account for something he'd done wrong. Simon merely said that Di Maggio was a hero and they were in short supply.

Baseball is innocence to Americans, its also dreams and nostalgia and echoes of the past. Kevin Costner builds a baseball field in a cornfield to find absolution in the arms of a father he couldn't talk to because of the difference in generations. So having realised this, it seemed that I should promote baseball further up my list of U.S. sports to start following.

Which is why Neil and I were sitting alongside Kelly, in the seats of Miller Park, watching my final choice of baseball team, the “Milwaukee Brewers” take on the “St Louis Cardinals” one of the oldest teams in baseball.

Milwaukee is Wisconsin's most populous city and, according to my sources, the fifth largest urban area in the mid-west. Located in south east of Wisconsin, it lies on Lake Michigan, making it the northern end of a band of built up urban areas that wrap around the western and southern sides of the lake. The other end lies at Chicago, Illinois, of course. And in between them lies cities like Kenosha and Racine.

According to the all knowing Wikipedia, Milwaukee revels in a plethora of nicknames, such as : “cream city”, “brew city”, “beer city”, “brewtown”, “beer town”, “miltown”, “the mil”, “mke”, “the city of festivals” and “Deutsch-Athens” (German Athens)

Like many other cities within Wisconsin, Milwaukee was founded by French settlers coming down from Canada, but as time went on it became defined more by German and Polish influences along with lesser amounts of immigrants from other central and eastern European nations. If Minnesota, as I mentioned before, is known for its Scandinavian heritage then Milwaukee and much of Wisconsin, is known for its central European roots. Why else would the official “state dance” be “the Polka”?

Milwaukee celebrates its German heritage, glorifying in the German sausages known as “Bratwurst”, here known more often as “brats” and often boiled in a mixture of beer and onions and then thrown on a grill. They are pretty amazing and end up tasting like the best hot dogs the world could ever have created. They also love their beer, for many years Milwaukee was the largest single producer of beer, in the world. Despite losing three out of the four major breweries that used to make their home there, its still has the last one, “Miller” brewery, which is still one of America's most popular beers.

Milwaukee is also known for its festivals, with one happening virtually every week. This is a city of celebration. It even has its own Oktoberfest something not seen that much outside Germany, apart from in the rest of Wisconsin, that is. It boasts “Summerfest”, a massive music festival that boasts many more acts, three times as many days and definitely better weather than wading around in a muddy field in the English countryside and convincing everyone that Glastonbury Music Festival is not actually a colossal waste of money.

Milwaukee is also the closest Wisconsin comes to an old-fashioned, working class, blue collar, industrial powerhouse of a town, like Detroit, back in the day, or Pittsburgh. During the 1920s, 30s and 40s, it was the only city that the Socialist Party of America made a serious impact in politics and city government.

So what better place to go watch baseball in Wisconsin, or for that matter, any where in the Mid-West. A quintessential American industrial city, a melting pot of races, cultures, festivals and “America's Game”, the only game that travelled to this continent at least partially formed. The pomp, ceremony and the history.

The Milwaukee Brewers are the city's second major league franchise, since the Milwaukee Braves (originally the Boston Braves, who moved to the city in 1953.) left in 1965 for Atlanta. The Brewers first played in Milwaukee in 1970 and from then until the year 2000, they played at “County Stadium”. Then they built “Miller Park”

There is always a discussion when building American sports stadiums about whether to build an enclosed, indoor stadium or a traditional, outdoor, bowl-shaped ground.

Many areas, in the U.S., have extreme climates, of course. Arizona, for instance, with its desert heat or New Orleans, with its marshy, river delta humidity. In these cities, an indoor, temperature, controlled environment makes sense, it is even desirable for sporting contests. However, conversely, there are other sports teams, such as the veteran leviathans of the NFL's National Football Conference North, the “Green Bay Packers” and the “Chicago Bears”, who use the adverse weather conditions of their open air grounds to intimidate opponents. (If you interested in just how “adverse” this can be, search for the “Icebowl” game of the 1960s on the Internet.)

Miller Park is actually something in between, a stadium boasting a fan-shaped retractable roof which opens and closes to match weather conditions. When we went it was a Tuesday night game and there was the threat of rain. So the roof was closed.

So back, eventually, to where I started, in answer to Neil's question, there is no home end or away end in American sports in general. Home and Away supporters sit together and enjoy games together. While quite willing to “trash talk” opposing teams fans in the run up to the game, there is very little “hooliganism” associated with any American sport.

When watching such a game, it rapidly becomes obvious why many people in the UK don't like watching U.S. sports. In many nations, particularly the UK, sports are contests of strength, wit, skill and dedication. They are all about the game itself, the spectators are almost incidental. American sport, on the other hand, is different. My father always complains to me that the NFL, for instance, is not actually a sport, its theatre, a spectacle for the masses and he's only partially wrong.

American sports acknowledge the need to entertain, to put on a show to reward the spectator for coming. It is an attractive package, even though to say so seems like a betrayal to the no-nonsense northern town I grew up in. I have to say I'd rather watch a spectacle of some over-the-top American sport, designed for the fans as much as anyone else, than spend just under two hours on a wind swept, rain drenched, Saturday afternoon in February with nothing to take my mind away from the home team's dismal performance than a round of “Crossbar Challenge” at half-time and “Scunny Bunny” running round the sidelines like he's on some illicit substance.

Maybe that's one of the reasons we British, struggle to get our bearings over here. We're traditionalists, in it for the sport itself and while I admit to enjoying the trappings of U.S. sporting contests, it is with a fair amount of guilt. That this is too much ceremony for a game. “You're coming to watch the game, why do you need anything else?” We like to think we're on the right side of this argument, but maybe we're not.

America seems to accept fundamental concepts of modern sports that we British choose to ignore, even in their oldest game. They acknowledge that sport is a business. That teams are a brand. That if you want to appeal to families, you need a greater incentive that promising them they won't be sat next to a fan, screaming obscenities, questioning the parentage of the referee and chanting about if he was a bird, he would fly away and defecate on the away team's home ground.

So, here, the prices are generally better, the food in the stadiums is better. I had cheese curds and a brat and although I had a soda, Neil and Kelly both had a beer. This isn't the sort of place to give you a luke-warm pukka pie which you have to devour in 15 minutes while wondering how full the toilets are going to be.

When a home run is scored in Miller Park, there are fireworks under the roof, at the New England Patriots, a group of minutemen fire off a musket volley to greet touchdowns and Tampa Bay's Buccaneers employ a cannon shot from the pirate ship built into their home stadium to signal the same result.

This is still alien to me, as much as I enjoy it. We British, are purists, closing our eyes often, to the business-like footing of modern sports and shaking our collective fists at so-called progress.

We still believe that the point is to compete, even if we have no hope of winning, why else do we send so many athletes to the Winter Olympics when it barely snows at home anymore.

Maybe, we're not purists, just fearful pessimists. Maybe that's why I struggle to get my bearings. The Americans are the ultimate optimists. We look warily across the Atlantic, not wanting the Yanks to come and mess up our games with their brash lights and commercialised competitions. They see as part and parcel of making sports fun and inclusive to all. Even in baseball, where during the game we watched, there were at least two sing-a-longs, a mascot race involving different sausages, the “Famous Racing Sausages” and numerous chances to get yourself on the scoreboard with your outrageous dancing to the music played at the end of each inning.

So, maybe this blog is deeper thinking than some of the others, but I do wonder whether this is what it feels like to be an immigrant, ever torn between two ways of thinking, even when people share a language like we do. Maybe its about what you decide to keep from home and what you decide to discard. And maybe sports and entertainment and other forms of popular culture are where you're going to feel it the most. I am not sorry to be British and to have grown up in the North of England but I'm also now aware that no country is totally right and sometimes even the things we hold on to tightly are the things that should be traded in.

So I told Neil about the fans and we had a good time. The Brewers lost but they really aren't that good of a team at the moment. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Independence Day : Bluegills and Freedom

In the not too distant past, as in within the last month, a man who never really expected to achieve his goal in the first time of asking stood and like a proud Olympic gold medalist made a bold triumphant statement, his name was Nigel Farage, the leader of the Eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)and his nation, the United Kingdom, had just voted to leave the European Union. As he basked in the glow of the slightly unexpected referendum result, he declared with typical grandiose verve and overly dramatic flair that that day should from now be known as the U.K.s Independence Day.

Now I'm not passing judgment on any of the various arguments that have been made or will be made before, during and after that monumental referendum campaign nor am I passing judgment on Mr Farage himself. Far too many words have been written in anger, sarcasm and arrogant superiority, by both sides of said debate and upon every single medium of information dispersal available to the world. I would only point out, however, that no part of the United Kingdom has been conquered by an external force for nigh on a thousand years and so his statement while it will be loved by his supporters and hated by his detractors will probably be considered in the light of history as excitable ideological hyperbole.

The reason being, the UK is one of the oldest states in the world, has one of the oldest Parliaments and was formerly a major colonial power. The whole reasoning behind the “Leave” campaign's stance is that the United Kingdom has never bowed to anyone, least of all, in their mind, to a group of faceless bureaucrats in some European city somewhere eating foreign food and trying to get rid of pounds and ounces and other British ways of doing things. “Britons never, never, never, shall be slaves” displays the attitude of a people who have never needed an Independence Day.

The truth is, Independence Days are the reserve of colonies. They are a commemoration of the moment a new country cuts the constitutional apron strings that ties them to a mother country and step out onto the international stage, like a newborn, blinking in the light. It is for new countries to lay claim to, not former imperial powers. Independence Days remember violent births not the slightly bad tempered “conscious uncoupling” of recent European debate.

I say all of this by way of introduction to this addition of my impossibly popular blog ( I say impossibly popular, I do know that it gets read. I think...) and to acknowledge that due to the interruption of everyday life into the complex act of electronic epistle composition, I find that I now don't just have to recount the events of my friend Neil's visit over Memorial Day but also now I find that the United States Independence Day has come and gone and I should say something about that as well. Neatly both occasions took place in the same location. I spent Memorial Day in one place and then we were back there for Independence Day. Which gives the events a certain symmetry and also makes it easier to write. I don't have to describe the same place twice and being a slightly lazy writer, that does have an appeal to my desire for an easy life.

And what was that location, I hear you query. It was a cabin and a lake under open skies, the shallows all sun dappled under the trees. It was a dock and a boat, with fishing rods and lazy moments where time seems to stand still and all is well in the world. Which is admittedly about par for the course around here.

Despite the fact that I have waxed poetic about my wife's home state of Minnesota and when I last wrote, I left Neil and I stuck in the largest Mall in the United States which is situated in Minnesota. Despite all of this, the lake was in Wisconsin. Admittedly it was situated in the North West of Wisconsin and was far closer to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St Paul than to our humble apartment here in Madison but it still lay in Wisconsin.

The cabin belongs to my wife's aunt and uncle who own an agricultural supply company “up North” as people in Wisconsin say. They are a wonderful couple who have always been wonderfully supportive of my wife and I throughout the length of our courtship and actually were able to travel to the UK for our wedding which was a blessing. They are also accomplished in all the things that people in the north of Wisconsin should be.

Wisconsin is a beautiful state and each day I live here I find that I fall in love with it more. It is a state of great forests, lakes, rolling hills, lazy rivers, exciting and thriving cities. It has the Mid-West's continental climate of warm humid summers and freezing cold winters, its no exaggeration that Lambeau Field, the home stadium of the state's NFL team, my beloved Green Bay Packers, is known far and wide as “The Frozen Tundra”.

The state was originally settled by the French and discovered by them as early as 1634, barely twenty years after the first British settlement in the New World. They came for the furs, trapping animals such as beavers and trading their pelts back to the old world. Then came miners, many originally from Cornwall in the United Kingdom, who when the harsh winters came used their mines as shelters burrowing in like badgers, giving the state it's nickname, “The Badger State”.

Milwaukee grew and developed a famous brewing industry. Kenosha became known as a stereotypical 50s Mid-Western town twenty years after the fact when “Happy Days” was set there. The Republican party was founded in the state in a small white schoolhouse in the equally small settlement of Ripon, Wisconsin. Madison's radical university politics of the 1960s led to it being named “The Berkeley of the Mid-West”

It is an agricultural state, famous for its dairy farming, cheese and bizarrely enough, its cranberries. Wisconsin produces more cranberries than any other state in the Union. And you thought it was only New England states that got in on that kind of action. It also produces a good proportion of the United States' cheese, which is why Packer fans wear foam hats in the form of cheese to games (Go Cheeseheads)

Everyone, it seems in Wisconsin, fishes, hunts and camps or knows somebody who fishes, hunts and camps. This is especially true the further north you go in the state. Wisconsin has a population of roughly 5 and half million people but a total land area of over 54 thousand square miles. And when you consider that Milwaukee and the surrounding area account for somewhere in the region of 2 million people out of that total and that Madison and its metropolitan area account for approaching 600 thousand people, that means there's a lot of empty space out there to hunt and fish in. Another point to take into account is that all the state's large cities lie in the bottom half of the state which means the North is full of excellent opportunities for fishing, hunting, camping and all those other things that John Candy failed so badly at doing in “The Great Outdoors” (and yes, there are bears), When Wisconsin feels like some outdoors recreation, they head North.

Which brings me back, via a wide tangent I know, to the point that Mrs Geekrant's aunt and uncle are real Northern Wisconsin people, he hunts upon occasion, they both fish, they both ice fish which is a pursuit which I would approach with some trepidation. They once woke up one morning to find a bear on their porch and as I previously mentioned they supply some great agricultural machinery.

So being born in the United Kingdom, in the untamed semi urbanised wilds of the North of England and having very little training in outdoorsy things, (other than how to make a fire and pitch a tent.) when they bought a cabin on a lake, I was obviously ecstatic to spend some time up there.

On Memorial Day, we drove up from my In-Laws place in Minnesota in Melissa's convertible with the top down, (a new experience for me as let's face it, an open topped car in Britain is a recipe to get rained on and after my mother finally dragged my father's hands of the keys of his beloved, yet apparently slightly dilapidated, MG long before I was born. She was never allowing him to buy a new one... well its not really practical with four kids.) We crossed the Mississippi at Red Wing and wound our way through quiet small towns and past red painted barns and eventually reached the cabin.

The name of the cabin is “Bluegill Bay” and it lies next to the road as it curves to turn around the edge of the lake. It lies shaded by trees with a little dock from which to fish from and a pontoon boat anchored there. Mrs Geekrant's Uncle Jim greeted us as usual wearing dungarees or bib overalls as they're known here. He's an authority on many of the things you didn't think you needed to know about living here, but later find out that you really, really did.

Not long after we got their, my brothers in law turned up, one with his children, all sun bleached blonde hair and blue eyes. It turned out that Mrs Geekrant's other aunt and uncle were already out in their own boat they'd bought with them fishing. So Neil's first American holiday was spent with my wife's extended family, messing about on the lake. Which, I'm learning, is exactly how its supposed to be.

We fished, hanging rods of the end of the dock, wrapping worms around hooks and angling for the bluegill, sunfish and crappie that make up a lot what are known as panfish here. The fish could be seen, the sun cutting through the water reflecting off their scales as they took the bait.

The lake is surrounded by trees, shading the banks and creating privacy for the other cabins one could see poking out in places from gaps in the foliage. The sun was brilliant overhead, we ate brats and salad and chips and all the other foods that make American picnic food some of the best in the world and time stops and slows down and you know what peace is, and solitude is, away from cellphones and business meetings and the next season of “Whatever Country you happen to be in right now's Got Talent” And then we took the boat out.

We went out twice, the pontoon speeding its way round the relatively small lake and floating slowly past lily pads and mini marshes. We marvelled at the size of the cabins on the shore, less cabins than mini mansions with outdoor kitchens and guest quarters bigger than the house I grew up in.

Then my wife grew nervous, as here Uncle Jim asked me if I wanted to drive the boat. Now I can't even drive a car and mechanical things have never exactly been my forte but I've been getting quite comfortable on my father in law's ATVs after I nearly flipped his brand new one last autumn so I took the plunge and hoped that I didn't make everyone else take the plunge as well.

The controls aren't that difficult, just a steering wheel and a hand operated throttle. I drove us around one of the lakes of the chain we were in for a while, grateful that my niece and nephew were wearing life jackets and then with my wife mentioning slightly stridently in my ear that we didn't want to crash the boat and ruin our relationship with her relations, I steeled myself. In one place, a roadway crossed a narrow channel that separated one lake from another and that was the way Uncle Jim wanted me to go. So I decided he must know what he was doing trusting me, so I went for it.

I succeeded, with Uncle Jim and my brother in law standing in the stern to push the boat of the wall if I ran into them. The irony amused me, I have successfully steered a boat for a good ten minutes before I've driven a car successfully for ten seconds. I was stupidly impressed with myself.

Neil fished most of that day, sat with a fishing rod hung over the edge of the dock, I think he enjoyed the solitude, even in the midst of the crowd of family. Maybe that it something we've lot in the United Kingdom over the years. The ability to be alone. To be separated from the rest of civilisation and find ourselves in a place where nature has more hold on the land than we do. I wonder if that is something that my friend found there, for he certainly enjoyed his time at the cabin that day.

When we returned for Independence Day, we found more of the same solitude. This time only myself and Kelly (Mrs Geekrant), joined her Uncle Jim and Aunt Sue at Bluegill Bay.

We also stayed there for two nights, sleeping in a small extra cabin behind the main cabin that Sue called the “shiner shack”. Being uninformed and arrogantly certain of my own deductive skills, I assumed this referred to moonshine, but I was put right on that score, a shiner is apparently a small fish used a bait, traditionally prepared before being used to fish with.

It was a beautiful cabin to stay in, simple and peaceful, the reflected sunlight from the lake breaking through the shades and dancing on the wooden ceiling. It bought to mind boathouses in the years before the Second World War, where the aristocracy had whiled away their time.

I slept peacefully there that night, as far from the lights of towns and the endless noise of never ceasing traffic as I have ever been. Outside, the stars were as bright and as numerous as I have ever seen them. Somewhere in these woods, bears make their home and raccoons scurry along tree branches. Herons flew down to the lake shore merely feet away from us and geese, ironically, played chicken on the road.

We fished off the boat on the Sunday and I caught a large Bluegill, which was an achievement for me, as I was worried that it would prove to be similar to a lot of my practical endeavours, fruitless. But it proved to be otherwise. We fished off the boat for most of the weekend, ending up terribly sun-burnt (at least in Kelly's case) and bitten up by mosquitoes (in my case, I must get used to the fact that if I wear shorts at sunset, I am presenting an all you can eat buffet to the little blighters.) but happy and relaxed at the end of it all.

We lay in giant inflatable tyre toys for two or three hours, floating on the lake, completely relaxed. However when I came to extricate myself from said device I found that my short legs and tubby tummy left me in the same state as a tortoise. There was much flapping around until I was able to get out. Kelly thought it was funny... it very well may have been, I could not possibly comment.

There was a boat parade the next day, the 4th, the inhabitants of the cabins choosing to celebrate Independence by a flotilla of craft bedecked, for the most part, in the Stars and Stripes. Their identity wrapped up in all that that flag represents.

For it is to that flag they pledge their allegiance. They are not tied to a Queen like we British, or to similarity of tribe like the Germans or France or even to a hardcore hard-line ideology like the Chinese or the Cubans. They pledge their allegiance to Independence and to Freedom, acknowledging that those two principles mean something different to everyone else but that their nation was founded and still exists to discover whether a people can reconcile those differences and establish “a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people...” and that such a government “shall not perish from the earth.”

This blog started talking about one man declaring the United Kingdom's independence, I have already made the point that this might be a little over the top but once upon a time, men truly did break away from a larger power in a way that cost them their lives through war, not their sanity through pathetic mean spirited vitriol on social media and established “on this continent a new nation”.

I am a subject of her majesty and her United Kingdom lately moved to this great nation and all its contradictions. All its potential for good and for ill. I love it as only a immigrant can, looking in from the outside. I first went to the cabin on Memorial Day and returned on Independence Day. In this article I have quoted Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, given at the dedication of the Civil War cemetery in November of 1863. I am realising all the more, the people still hold their flag in the same honour as they did on the fields of Gettysburg, 153 years ago.
Our flag represents the union of three kingdoms, a physical reality, theirs represents the ideal of a their nation far more than just a reality. This is their symbol of their nation, all its successes and failures and as it fluttered behind our boat on a sun drenched 4th of July, I caught a glimpse, maybe, of just what that means to an American.

P.S. For those who wonder how Neil and I got out of the Mall of America, think about it. Neil knows his way around Abercrombie and Fitch, he is an accomplished shopper. The only difficulty was getting him to make a decision on a sweater.