I can’t wait to get back to normal. How long before I’m bored?

Ann Wroe in More Intelligent Life:

Many years ago, on a road trip in America, I found myself in Arcadia. It was not as expected. The Arcadia I imagined was all rolling green hills and verdant woods in which shepherds played their pipes and cross-dressing lovers lounged about on the grass. Arcadia, Kansas, was nothing like that: it was a tiny dot in a great sea of prairie flatness, under a hard blue sky.

This Arcadia had two red-brick storefronts, long abandoned, which were covered with ivy and leaning into the street; a few living stores, including a café with tired net curtains; and a shopfront with the words “City Hall” painted above the windows. Outside it, two middle-aged women were struggling to get the Stars and Stripes to half-mast on a tricky new flagpole, advised or obstructed by two plump young men in a pick-up truck that was parked in the middle of the street. Maybe I was the only other car that passed through Arcadia that day.

America’s pioneers, heading relentlessly west in their lumbering wagons, were easily excited. I also visited Eureka, Kansas, and apparently went through Climax too, though I never noticed. Any place that was halfway comfortable or sheltered, with grazing and water, was immediately hailed as the promised land. This was it: somewhere they could at last stop, settle and get on with the rest of their lives. Just like that place called Normal, for which we now all supposedly sigh. You can go direct to Normal, if you like. You will find that most of the five Normals in America are tiny unincorporated places given their name not for their deep ordinariness, but because they once had a teacher-training college, or “normal school”.

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