On to Geneva

After spending a day in Basel, I had seen everything there was to see in the small town.  So I decided to head to Geneva this afternoon.  Most of my group of backpackers had left already.  Before he left, Zane gave me his Swiss SIM card, which he didn’t need anymore.  It still had 12 Swiss Francs of credit left, and I could finally start using my phone.

I tried to book a hostel in Geneva online before I left Basel, but I could find nothing available.  Moreover, I wasn’t sure how long I wanted to stay in Geneva and where I should go next — Marseille, France or Barcelona, Spain?  If I went to Barcelona, I could take a night train all the way.  If I went to Marseille, I would have to spend at least a day or two there, which would cost me that many nights of hostel fees.  Finally, I decided to just go to Geneva.  I would figure things out once I got there.  So what if I didn’t get a room at a hostel?  It was about time I slept at a train station anyway.

I arrived in Geneva late in the afternoon.  I stored my backpack in a locker at the train station while I set out to hunt for a hostel.  I found a tourist information booth and asked the agent to point me to the nearest youth hostel.  Interestingly, while the Swiss in Basel speak a dialect of German, the ones in Geneva speak French.  In southern Switzerland, the people speak Italian.  There is no “native Swiss” language.  Trying to talk to the information booth agent, I felt like I was back in France.  The man was quite helpful though, and as soon as he figured out I was looking for a youth hostel, he told me where to go.

Walking down the avenue to where the agent had directed me, I saw a variety of people, many in their native, cultural attire.  In a bout of nerdiness, I felt like I had arrived in some futuristic Star Wars-like world, and this was the capital where the representatives of all the worlds gathered.  I found the International Youth Hostel on Rothschild Street.  I spoke to the receptionist and a few minutes and 34 Swiss Francs later, I had a room for the night.  I decided I would see how I liked the place before I booked any additional nights.

This hostel is much bigger and has a lot more people staying here.  I’ve seen many Americans, most of whom appear to be high school kids.  This hostel doesn’t have the cozy feel that the hostel in Basel did.  The room, however, is quite nice.  There are six of us in the room.  I retrieved my backpack from the train station and then took off to see the city.

Roaming around the city, I ended up at the Jardin Anglais (English Garden) where the Geneva Music Festival is kicking off in a week.  To warm up for the actual festival, there are free concerts every night.  I walked around for a bit, checking out the scenery.  The place is quite beautiful.  You can see the Jet d’eau (literally, water fountain) from the gardens as it shoots up 140 meters into the air and splashes down into Lake Geneva.  It’s really just a bigger version of the fountain Pepsi has at its headquarters in New York, but heck, this one’s in Switzerland.

I noticed that the park had hired people to sort through the garbage bins and separate recyclable items – glass, PET (plastic), biodegradables, and papers.  Large canisters stood around the park, each marked with the type of material it was meant for, and the workers went around making sure the right type was deposited in each.  What an impressive commitment to recycling!

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Next Stop: Basel

I awoke this morning to pouring rain.  It had been so clear and sunny until today, and then suddenly, the rain came pounding down.  I caught the 3:00pm train to Basel, Switzerland from Paris’ Gare l’Est.  It was my first time using the Eurail Pass.  The pass, which I bought before I left New York, gives me 15 days of travel over 2 months.

The train to Basel was very clean and the ride was surprisingly smooth.  I spent some time working on my journal in between eyeing the picture-perfect French countryside.  A young, French soldier sat across the aisle from me.  He had a large backpack, too, and I wondered if he was going backpacking as well.  So when he gestured at his watch, presumably asking for the time, I took the opportunity to ask him where he was headed.  He knew not a single word of English though, and despite my hand gestures, he could not understand my question.  He grew frustrated and asked the man sitting in the seat behind me whether he spoke English.  The man shook his head no.  Then to my embarrassment, the soldier made a loud announcement to the whole carriage.  I gathered he was asking for an interpreter.  I had simply been making small talk, and it didn’t seem necessary to make such a big fuss.  The soldier was determined though.  A young man who looked North African stood up from a seat further back and offered to translate.
– No, the soldier was not going backpacking.
– No, he was not going to Basel and would be getting off at the next stop.
– If I needed any help whatsoever, he would be happy to oblige.
I thanked him for his kind offer but declined.  We shook hands, and he deboarded at the next stop.

My interpreter introduced himself.  His name was Faisal, and he was on his way to Belfort, where he would be attending a Master’s program in September.  He planned to stay a week in Belfort, and then he would return home to Marrakesh in Morocco for the month of August.  A tall, lanky fellow, he had just returned from a six-month internship in Florida.  His eyes sparkled when he spoke about America, and it was evident that he had an amazing time there.  When I told him that I would be in southern Spain in August, he insisted that I come to Marrakesh and stay with his family.  He seemed genuinely excited about the prospect of my visit and even offered to help me find airplane tickets.  I assured him that I would make every effort to come, especially now that I had someone to show me the city.

I arrived in Basel around 9:00pm to a downpour.  Though I had an umbrella, I was soaked by the time I plodded into the YMCA Youth Hostel.  I was pleasantly surprised to see how well-kept the place was.  Very clean and furnished with modern decor and appliances, the hostel is quite cozy.  I got a bed in an 8-person room for about $25 per night.

I soon met several other young backpackers, and we quickly became friends.  There are two Danish girls, Heidi and Nendt.  They are friends who travelled through Europe for about a month and are now on their way home to Denmark.  Tom is an Australian attending a design program at Basel University.  Zane, a South African, bicycled around Europe for a month and is now headed home.  Daniel is a Mexican who has been travelling for about two weeks on a turbo-tour of western Europe.  He is headed to eastern Europe eventually.  There is Rueben, another Mexican, who was completely inebriated by the time we met.  His unintentionally funny antics kept us entertained all night.  Alex, a Spaniard who looked Indian, joined us a bit later.  Turned out that his mother is German and his father Indian, and he was born and raised in Malaga, Spain.  Finally, there is Cat, another Aussie, who just arrived from Morocco.  She is on her way to Dubai to teach primary school kids.  We hung out playing cards until late at night and made plans to see Basel tomorrow.  Alex, who lived in Basel for some time, offered to show us around.

Gangsta’s Paradise

I left the apartment late yet again.  Maybe it’s all the walking, but I feel exhausted at the end of the day and can’t seem to wake myself before noon.  It’s tragic, perhaps, to spend so much time asleep in Paris, but then again, I’m on break.  I need the rest.

Although I’ve only had cheese baguette once, I’m already feeling resistant to it.  I couldn’t bring myself to have it for breakfast this morning, so I had an omelette instead.  It came to about €8, which isn’t so bad.  As I continue on my trip and start paying for housing, I will need to be more thrifty.

I headed next to the Rodin Museum.  It hadn’t been part of my initial plan.  In fact, I confess I didn’t even know who Auguste Rodin was.  However, a friend from Pepsi had made me promise that I would visit the museum.  So I went.  At first I didn’t see anything of particular interest, but then I learned that Rodin sculpted the famous piece known as The Kiss.  Soon afterwards I got a bigger shock: Rodin also designed the sculpture known as The Thinker!  That very same sculpture that all we Columbians take pride in!  Shame on me indeed.  The original sculpture sits in the Rodin Museum gardens.

I roamed around Paris tonight.  The Parisians and tourists were out, streaming on and off the trains, going out to party with friends.  I had already eaten dinner with Greg.  He had made a pasta with broccoli and sun-dried tomatoes.  The walk helped digest the food.  I criss-crossed over the myriad bridges that connect the two banks of the Sienne River.  Clusters of young men and women sat on the bridges, playing music and singing along.  The noise of their chatter and laughter followed me as I walked along the east bank.  The City of Lights sparkled, glittering in a rainbow of colors on the river.  I marveled at its beauty and decided I would return some day with my fiancé or wife.  Paris truly is a romantic place.

I had crossed another bridge, and I was now back on the west bank.  It looked familiar.  I had been there earlier when I visited the Notre Dame Cathedral.  Clusters of young people sat scattered across the promenade on the edge of the river.  Their voices – laughing, talking, singing – drifted up to me.  I walked down the stairs and sauntered between the groups until I found a place to sit.  A group of young, Caucasian-French men and women sat on my left.  On my right, a group of African-French boys danced to hip-hop and rap music playing on their boombox.  The lyrics were in French, but I found myself tapping along to the rhythm.  They noticed me and laughed appreciatively.  One of them waved his arm towards his group and yelled something in French.  I figured he wanted me to join them.  I jumped down from my perch and walked over to the group of six guys: Yanik 1, Yanik 2, Jimmy, Allen, Kevin, and Alexander, who was the token Caucasian.  Yanik 1 spoke English very well, and he quickly became my interpreter.  Jimmy, who had called me over, appeared to be the group leader.  Allen was celebrating his birthday and was ridiculously drunk.  Kevin seemed like a very nice guy and made every effort to make me feel welcome.  He soon produced his camera phone and started snapping photos.  They were all between 18 and 21 years old.

They asked me what kind of music I listened to.  I like a variety of music, but I especially like hip-hop and rap because I grew up with it.  They appreciated that and asked me if I liked what they were playing.   It had a nice beat, but I couldn’t understand the French words, of course.  They translated for me for a bit but changed the song soon after because it was apparently too violent.  I asked them if they liked American hip-hop and rap, and they responded enthusiastically.  Dre, Snoop Dogg, Tupac – they listed several rappers.  I wasn’t surprised.  Greg had mentioned earlier that France is the second biggest market in the world (after the US) for hip-hop.  I had been surprised then.  These guys didn’t look much different from many of the urban youth I know in America.  The only difference was that these guys were conversing in French.  They lived in the 94th arrondissement or district of the Paris suburbs, which is where Parisian housing projects are located.  The riots that occurred in Paris not so long ago had been catalysed by disaffected youth of these same suburbs.  I asked Yanik 1 if the suburbs really were as bad as the media portrays them.  Yes, he confirmed.  Drugs and armed robbery are rampant.  Yet, these guys didn’t seem angry or disaffected.  They laughed, joked, and had a genuinely good time celebrating their friend’s birthday.

As Jimmy flipped through the songs on the boombox, I heard a snippet of Coolio’s classic, Gangsta’s Paradise.  I asked Yanik 1 if they knew Coolio.  Sure, he said, Gangsta’s Paradise, of course, and it occurred to him that they had that song.  Hey Jimmy, he called, put on Gangsta’s Paradise.  Jimmy tweaked the dial, and the beginning notes of the song punched out of the boombox.  The boys gave a roar of approval and gave me the floor to rap along with Coolio:

As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I take a look at my life
And realize there’s nothing left
‘Cause I’ve been brassing and laughing so long
That even my momma thinks that my mind has gone

They all joined me for the refrain:

Been spending most our lives
Living in a Gangsta’s Paradise

A cool breeze blew.  Paris sparkled in the background.  And the seven of us rapped on the banks of the Sienne River with not a care in the world.

Around Paris

Today I had cheese baguette for breakfast.  Even with coffee the cost only came out to €5.  The cheese smelled funny though, and I’m not sure if I will be able to bring myself to eat it again.

I visited the Louvre Museum today.  Shame on me, but I had forgotten that the Mona Lisa is located at the Louvre.  It didn’t take long for me to figure it out though because there were signs pointing to it’s location all around the grand museum.  The painting is housed in the Denin section, and as I made my way there, a foul stench filled the air.  It smelled like someone had exploded a stink bomb in the stairwell. I tried to fan it away, but to no avail.  I think the smell was a combination of body odor and the odors emanating from the nearby restrooms.  I finally made it to the Mona Lisa, the popularity of which was immediately evident.  A huge crowd was gathered around Da Vinci’s masterpiece.  Despite numerous signs prohibiting photography, everyone’s cameras were out and clicking away.  She, Mona Lisa, must feel like such a celebrity, I thought, and she plays the part well with her smug smile and coy glance.  I remember reading somewhere that people tend to identify one piece or symbol of an entire field as the epitome of the whole.  As in, the Colosseum in Rome may represent all of Roman architecture, Hamlet represents all of literature, etc.  The Mona Lisa, I read, stands as the epitome of art for many people, especially for those who are not very knowledgeable of art.  What a presumptuous honor, I mused.  The crowd jostled to get closer to the painting.  The cameras clicked away.  Mona Lisa smiled smugly from behind her glass panel.

I learned that the Venus de Milo is also located at the Louvre.  I tracked it down to find a crowd gathered around it as well.  For a piece that’s not even whole – it’s missing both arms – it’s quite popular.  There is a certain tension in the body as it twists upward that I did find charming.  Another sculpture that really stood out for me was of a lion attacking a man who is trapped with one hand caught in a crack of a massive, broken tree.  I forget the man’s name, but the story goes that in his old age he tried to prove his strength by breaking the tree apart.  He used to be a renowned athlete, and he could not accept that old age had weakened him.  His hand got stuck, and wild animals devoured him.  The sculpture is very impressive.  The ferocity of the lion with its taught body and unforgiving jaws and the man’s anguish as he twists his body to ward off the hungry beast with one hand are beautifully sculpted.  The piece also conveys a poignant message about the inevitability of old age.  We must all face it eventually.

I checked out the Islamic art exhibit as well, and I found it quite sparse.  The museum had some finely crafted swords and knives with beautiful hilts and blades on display, but not much else of interest.

I made my way through the Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden).  It’s a long stretch of grass, shrubs, and trees adjacent to the Louvre.  I followed the dirt path through the park.  I came across a large fountain in the center of the park where several boys were floating miniature sailboats.  A man stood with a cart of sailboats nearby, renting them out to the kids.  The boys circled the fountain carrying long poles, which they used to prod the boats away from the sides.  Walking further I arrived at the Place de la Concorde where the Egyptian obelisk stands.  I remember learning about this obelisk when I visited Luxor, Egypt in 2006.  Mohammad Ali, the ruler of Egypt at the time, gave it to France in exchange for a clock tower.  The clock never worked, but here it was, that very same missing obelisk.

I took a bus to Champs Elysees earlier tonight.  It is a brighly-lit avenue that is known for its shopping.  It starts at the massive Arc de Triomphe Etoile, which was built by Napolean to commemorate his victories.  Walking down the avenue I came across a throng of people waiting in line outside a Virgin Megastore.  I asked a security guard what was going on, but he didn’t speak English.  He still wanted to help and said hesitatingly, “Arapotre?”  I didn’t understand him, so I asked a girl who was waiting in line.  Turned out they were all waiting for the launch of the next and last book in the Harry Potter series.  Of course.

Blog Launched!

Dear Friends and Family,
I hope this email finds you well and in the best of spirits. I’m currently in Paris, which really is as beautiful as I’ve heard. I was in England from July 13 through the 18th, which is when I came here. As promised, I’ve been working on setting up a blog, but given all that I’ve had going on, I’ve fallen really far behind. I finally just got it started. Please feel free to check it out. The rest of the site is under construction, so don’t expect to find much there. The blog though is good to go. Feel free to follow me on my journey and do leave comments so I know I’m not talking into a void 🙂

A Beautiful City

Paris is as beautiful as I’ve heard. The city is clean, its monuments are well-maintained, and there’s a pervasive sense of authenticity. It doesn’t feel artificial, like a tourist town does. It feels “lived in.”

My attempt to obtain a SIM card failed yet again. I’ve been trying since I arrived in London to get prepaid service for my phone, but for some reason or another, it has fallen through each time. This time, my parlay vous anglais (Do you speak English?) even preceded by a friendly bonjour, monseuir! elicted a cold “No.” I nonetheless pushed on and managed to convey what I wanted through some basic English words and lots of hand gestures. The clerk wasn’t very helpful though, and I gave up. These Parisians really knock the tourist right out of you.

Once again, I found myself ripped off at breakfast. I ordered a banana & chocolate crepe, water, and coffee. The damage? €16! I was dumbfounded. The woman sitting next to me must have noticed my shock, and she advised me to stick to cheese baget, which is simply cheese in a particular type of bread. Point taken.

Ah, the Eiffel Tower. It felt surreal, to stand before the famous monument in person. As monuments go, it’s really nothing extraordinary. There are far more interesting places in Paris. However, the Eiffel Tower has assumed an identity that supersedes its structural or historical importance, and I enjoyed the experience.

As I meandered around the Eiffel Tower neighborhood, I passed a building with a board outside that read: La Banque Postale. I wanted to drop off some mail, and I thought maybe this place would have a mailbox. After all, given the word “Postale” in its name, the building must have something to do with a post office? I walked in, and based on how quickly the security officer leapt out of his chair to intercept me, I figured I must have guessed wrong. As I turned to go, however, the receptionist asked if I spoke English. Happy to find someone else who did, I jumped at the opportunity to have a real conversation. Her name was Julie, aka JuJu. She spoke English very well, and I told her as much. She loved the compliment and, in turn, complimented me on my pronunciation of the few French words that I know. I asked her about places where I could hang out, and she gave me the name and number of a place. Just to make sure I had no trouble, she gave me her own number as well. Such nice people, these French.

I wanted to take a rental bike back to Greg’s apartment, and I went looking for one of the ubiquitous bike rental stands that have popped up in Paris recently. It’s a great system. You can buy a membership card or even just a one-day or weeklong pass to take out a bike at any time from any one of the stands. It’s fully automated. The bikes are heavy-duty bikes that lock electronically to the stands. You unlock a bike by inserting your pass into the nearby machine, and off you go. It only costs €1 to rent a bike for the first 30 minutes. After that, you’re charged a progressively higher amount for every 30 minutes you go over. You can return the bike at any stand in the city as long as there is a spot available to park it. The stands are widely distributed, and I noticed many people riding these rental bikes. Alas, I was disappointed to learn that our American credit cards don’t work at these self-rental machines. The French credit card system utilizes a chip, which is inset into the card. The bike rental machines require one of these cards. I trudged back to the apartment on foot, envious of all the people whizzing past me on their bikes. Yet, I couldn’t help but admire the subtle beauty of the Frenchwomen riding the bikes in their flowery spring dresses. There’s something so refined and charming about it. Paris really is beautiful.

Bonjour, Paris!

I arrived in Paris late in the afternoon.  As I stepped into the station at Gare du Nord, my first reaction was awe.  There was something about the place, a certain je ne sais quoi*, that made me pause.  The hustle and bustle of the people, the sunlight streaming in from the high arched windows, a faint, familiar smell… Even the people didn’t appear frenzied like New Yorkers.  There was a calm about them even as they hurried to get to their destinations.  I took my time exiting the train platform.  I liked Paris already.

My next reaction was frustration.  Nobody seems to speak English!  I had a terrible time trying to find a restroom.  When I finally found one, I discovered that I had to pay to use it.  I had no Euros on me, and it took another several minutes before I found an ATM and got some cash. When I went to get change, however, I learned that the change machine was out of service. The bathroom attendant tried to explain something to me — in French, of course — but when I failed to understand, she just gestured to a store nearby. I concluded she meant I should get change elsewhere. I waddled next door (Fact: Lugging around a 40lb backpack while needing to urinate can cause you to waddle) and asked for change — sort of. I flashed a €10 and said “combia” or “combie” or something. The man seemed to get it and waved his arms — he couldn’t give me change. At that point I decided I would just purchase my Metro ticket and hope for a Euro in change. I ended up buying a Paris Visite pass, which gave me unlimited travel for three days on the Metro and on city buses, and it also got me my desired €1 coin. Triumphant at last, I marched into the restroom and paid my dues.

I met up with Greg Viscusi at the Bloomberg News office in the heart of Paris. Greg is the son of my mentor from Columbia, and he graciously offered to let me crash with him during my time in Paris. I dropped off my bag at the office and headed off to find a cafe to get some food. I found a quaint place near the Paris Opera and ordered a crepe chocolat (pancake with chocolate) and a Coke. Now, the Coke was not of my choosing. Notwithstanding the loyalty I still feel for Pepsi, I simply did not feel like having a soda. While I struggled with how to say “water,” however, the waiter asserted matter-of-factly, “Coca Cola.” At a loss for what to say, I just nodded. Soda with pancakes? Not so strange for the Parisians, it seems. There were Coke bottles on almost every table, and since then I’ve noticed that it doesn’t seem to matter what time of day or night it is — Parisians really like their soda. My unwanted glass of Coke cost me, at €7.50, a Euro more than the main course. I didn’t even drink it and got a coffee instead. It was a painful hit on my meager budget, but I chalked it up to experience.

Later in the evening, Greg took me for dinner to a restaurant in the Latin Quarters. Contrary to what I had assumed, the Latin Quarters, unlike New York, does not get its name due to a concentration of Latinos or Hispanics. Apparently, it’s known as the Latin Quarters because Latin used to be the language of academia in Paris, and most of the universities were based in this area. So I didn’t hear any salsa or meringue. Greg and I had dinner at a French restaurant. I tried escargot (snail) and foie gras (duck liver) for the first time. The snail tasted quite good, very flavorful. The duck liver, which looked like a chunk of butter and was spread on toast in much the same manner, tasted slightly sweet. I’d recommend both.

*Thanks for the spell check, Sattar.

News Tube

Londoners have a habit of leaving their newspapers behind when they deboard a carriage on the Tube.  Copies of the Financial Times, the London Daily, People, and many other papers flutter on the seats, their pages spread out, marking, perhaps, the spot where the readers left off.  Then the next batch of commuters streams in and the discarded papers are snatched up, automatically, as if they were expected to be there, left waiting by a diligent paperboy.  The latest market shifts, fresh gossip about Beckham and Posh or Paris Hilton’s shenanigans, the last football (soccer) game’s statistics — all are gleaned from the pages of the assorted papers.

I learned from my copy of the Financial Times that Brits and Americans are not apt to save for a rainy day.  It appears that despite the wide array of financial services available to us, we tend to save less than our Chinese and Canadian counterparts.  Indeed, it appears that the more highly developed the retail financial services of a country, the less that country saves (Canada being an exception).  This paradox is in part explained by the fact that the more diverse our investments, the less we focus on actual savings.  In fact, active financial systems are associated with higher consumption.  Dire analysis, yet not really news.  We Americans are a consumer society.  We make no apologies for buying the latest gadgets the day they become available (iPhone, anyone?) and for spending more than we earn (thank God for credit cards!).

Happily, I contributed to the American national savings rate by not paying for my copy of the Financial Times.  The Tube arrived at my stop, and as a responsible traveler, I left the paper right where I had found it.

A Pence Saved

A pence saved is two pennies earned.  One thing that is painfully obvious is that London is expensive.  The current exchange rate is above $2 for every £1. It is unbearable to retrieve £50 from an ATM only to have $100+ debited from my account!  I’ve tried to be ultra-thrifty, but with the high cost of travel, entertainment, and food, I find my cash reserves repidly depleted.  I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t had to pay for accommodations and that Walid, a college friend, picked up the tab when we hung out (thanks, buddy!).  Still, I’m looking forward to converting to Euros when I leave England.

Around London

Like New York, London is a cosmopolitan city, and like New York, it’s hard to find any locals.  There are many South Asians in London as well as Eastern Europeans.  The Chinese, of course, are everywhere.  Where have the natives gone?  Where are they who built the empire on which the sun never set?

The weather here, as I had been warned, is quite predictable: Expect rain.  Of the five days that I’ve spent here, it has rained at least three.  Luckily, it hasn’t been a constant rain, but it comes and goes at will, often catching us off guard.  It also gets fairly cold here.  I left 90 degree weather in New York to find temperatures as low as in the 40s here.  Fortunately, I brought a jacket.

Yesterday, I visited Big Ben and the House of Parliament.  I felt a peculiar sense of fulfillment.  I remember working on a model of the Big Ben in middle school.  As a child I had ascribed some fantastic qualities to the old monument.  It was a legendary edifice, located in a far away place, which I could only hope to visit some day.  These memories lurched forward as I stood before the clock, and I found myself smiling.

Later Kamran and I attended a play at the Shakespeare Globe Theater.  I had wanted to get the £5 standing tickets, but the show, The Merchant of Venice, was sold out by the time we got there.  We ended up buying £15 tickets from a scalper instead.  I had read the play in college, so I looked forward to seeing it performed at the original location.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Though the accent was a bit difficult to understand at times, the play was well done.  The setting itself is quite extraordinary.  It is an open-air, circular theater, built as a replica of the original theater (which burned down).  I also enjoyed the interactive aspect of the performance.  The players walked amongst the people standing in front of the stage and drew them into the action.  The play itself is a comedy, and everyone seemed to have a good time.

I also visited the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms.  It was a fascinating display of the British war machine during World War II.  It intrigued me to see how the war made a hero out of Winston Churchill.  Generally, he appears to have been a mean-spirited, war-mongering, racist old man, but he’s considered a hero for leading the British through the war effort. I was pleasantly surprised to observe that the US was given pride of place in the exhibit.  It was clear that the British were grateful for America’s involvement in the war and for her friendship.