1935 American Road Trip

American Road Trip

You always get a new perspective when you shift positions and look back at where you were. In that spirit, I found a book last weekend that is a look back both at the past and at America from a Russian perspective. “Ilf and Petrov’s American Road Trip” (2007 from Cabinet/Princeton Architectural Press) was initially published in the Russian equivalent of Life magazine back in 1936, a chronicle of the two satirical writers’ experience during a two month visit to the U.S. They drove back and forth across the country, taking photographs, picking up hitchhikers, and recording their observations.

Here are a few choice observations, first on western towns:

Here is a typical American city out West.  It has none of those basic features that give a city character.  There is neither distinctive architecture nor a crowd of people on the street.  The sidewalks are empty.  Instead, the road is full of automobiles.

On Americans (describing a young hitchhiker):

The youngster warmed up a little in the closed car and was glad to answer our questions.  He was a typical young American man: talkative, self-assured, and incurious.  Like all other young people we took from state to state on our trip, this one also didn’t ask who we were and didn’t bother to find out what language we would sometimes speak amongst ourselves, but was quite happy to talk about himself.

On advertising:

Advertising has so permeated American life that if one fine day Americans woke up and found that all advertising had disappeared, the majority of them would be in a desperate position.  It would be impossible to figure out things like:  Which cigarettes to smoke?  Which store to buy clothes at?

Plenty of interesting photos and descriptions of America still in the midst of the Depression.

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