The Grand Canyons

excerptAnybody who spends some time in the United States and tries to go beyond the immediate impressions concerning tourism, notices ever clearer as time goes by, how powerful are the contrasts in the relief of this country. The Rocky Mountains, with their slopes made of broken cliffs, tumbling one upon the other in a landscape that makes the English language, as Theodore Roosevelt put it, fail when trying to describe it. And, at only a few hours' drive, the Great Plains, covered by a horizon that spins steadily, specked with the greenish yellow of the cereals.The winter nights in California, when on the plateaus of the San Bernardino Mountains the skiers glide through the fresh snow dust, while a few tens of miles away, on Malibu Beach, people swim, and the boats swing in the water reddened sometimes by the algae thrust by the storms stirred near the far away archipelagoes of the Pacific and driven after a few months up here.The olive and orange groves from Arizona, ending abruptly on the edge of the great deserts, where not even roads can be built because they would be soon covered by hot sands. And the canyons cleaved along the rivers from Utah and Wyoming and Idaho. The cliffs pierced by the wind, coming up from the fields.Even if it became, for most Europeans who traveled through America, a topic too often approached in the travelogues, in poems and in more or less lyrical commentaries, the Grand Canyon of Colorado is, I believe, one of the symbols of this continent. A continent that still hides some unknown spots. Such as, in a wall of cliffs in the Colorado valley, the caves where a decade ago they found a tribe with a Stone Age civilization who knew nothing of Columbus and his followers, masters of lands whose width they didn't even suspect, peaceful people scared by the rush of cameras, tape recorders and other similar devices.The Grand Canyon. Petrified storm of some layers of bluish, and yellowish, and reddish, and purple stone. Whirl of falls of vegetation on the stones and on the sands of this gully, one kilometer deep, in the depths of which the river sparkles. Memento of the first day of creation, when the mountain was separated from the water. Trees with branches twisted by drought, immense cacti, with thorns like spear ends, and bushes with leaves from which some kind of dew, unbelievably clear, trickles incessantly. This precipice, terrifyingly deep, where the earth was cleaved by the power of the river, is – so it seems – a symbol of America.The canyons, hundreds of meters deep, cut in New York and in Chicago and in Detroit in the concrete of the streets, the depths of which not even the sun can reach.The steel and glass constructions in New York, on Park Avenue, a few steps away from the little houses ready to crumble, with broken windows and peeled off walls. The apartments with gardens on the terraces of the 40th-50th floors, elegant, isolated from the noise of the street; the round buildings on the banks of Lake Michigan, in Chicago, conceived in such a way that the sun lightens them all day long; and, in their shadow, supported by beams, the houses with paper stuck at the windows, instead of window panes. The blind and paralytic beggars from the entrance to the Central Station in New York, three-four minutes away from the luxury stores on Fifth Avenue.A country built by energetic, hard-working people, who are sometimes incredibly naïve, pure and sentimental. Some can get past you without noticing you (because this is what politeness, and maybe caution, requires), or they smile at you; but they can be also friends who surround you with warmth and make you feel good. Many of them showed us friendliness; and the memory of the years spent in America will always be accompanied by the memory of some gestures of theirs, of a moving delicacy. People who watch for hours on end the barbarian fight between some unfortunate men who cover themselves in blood, mutilating each other; but they wait, patiently, in line to see a play by Aeschylus. Cities in which violence dashes on the streets, menacing; but where the parks fill each week with young people who sing nostalgic country songs. Eminescu, 1977

by Dan Grigorescu (1931-2008)