Travel Journal USA:
America's Image Overseas
Connie Sheldon reviews
MOTEL USA by Jürgen Ploog

This book isn't merely a journal, but also a look at what it means to observe. We can appreciate all the more the descriptions of American s ights and customs because we are continually made aware of the importance of the author's subjectivity: it is not incidental but critical to the analysis as a a whole. Ploog invites his public to look through his eyes at an America it may never have seen.
Las Vegas is anti-dream, all the American pies in a heap, flooded with millions of lights. America's soul is 'Bizness', big, small, in every size. Even the nights are not dark. Dusty trucks on endless country roads, the Heartbreak Hotel filled with floodlights. The Mystery Train's back lights on the screen of the prairie.
A talkative land, where the hero says, 'You talk too much'. Streets straight as an arrow into a city, streets I remember nothing of. Wind blows over the movie screen. (p.43)

Ploog draws a vivid picture of America now, but he also describes it as he first saw it, when, as he says, he was seventeen and his eyes were bigger. His experiences here had a powerful effect on him. "For the first time in my life", he says in the first paragraph, "I was aware of people. I was aware of them and felt that they were aware of me" (p.7). That awareness has not abandoned him. Even now, recollections of a more recent love affair in Germany with a woman named Nana are "spliced with snapshots" of a scene that took place when he first came to the States in 1952. He's holding hands with a girl named Charlotte in the back of her car on the way to Pittsburgh.

Darkness. Breath. A black woman sings the St. Louis blues. The lights of the car whisk along the country road. I keep going, the car wheels spin over the dry ground. Nana lights a cigarette. I stop briefly to take her picture in the empty night on Main Street. (p.16)

The description is intimate without being fussy; it speaks accurately of the dreamlike quality that pertains to to mingled recollections... It works.
Ploog thinks openly and writes simply. The result is a journal that is meditative but not too detailed - a journal whose humour and wisdom will be appreciated by both Germans and Americans.
Maybe a sense of humour is the key to an objective description. It is the single element most obviously lacking in Pelieu, whose poetry as a result remains shallow, muddy, and, in spite of its raucous tone, quite still. Ploog on the other hand makes me chuckle over us Americans:

There's a scene in a Spencer Tracy movie that's about the atmosphere in a small western town. It's noontime; he's sitting in the only saloon in the center of town, outside the sun beats down on the street dust, and he asks what's to eat. 'Pea soup with bacon', says the man behind the bar.
'What else?'
'Pea soup without bacon.' (p.34)

There's the value of Motel. Ploog lets us know it's bearable to be a part of the wasteland if we also have affection for the Beast. The American paradox is and should be laughable.