(My first experiment at blogging from the road, so no doubt this'll be short.) I'm in what's the closest I have to a home town, deep in a Mid-South Red state. Hometown is next door to a military base, itself the home of one of the "crack" "battle-hardened" units that have figured in every American of the past half-century. The last time I was down, when our current Middle East adventure was still in the "invasion and pacification" mode, the town was swarming with soldiers on leave and waiting to be deployed -- hundreds of fresh-faced young men and women in desert fatigues with those skinhead haircuts (the men at least) and mostly grim expressions. I had the (somewhat unfair) impression that I had fallen into a scene from Return of the King -- Frodo and Sam in Mordor among the orc armies.
Now that we've settled into an "occupation in order to help them democratize themselves" phase, I sense a different vibe. Everybody's tired, for one thing - certainly tired of the war, though for some reason not tired of those who led us into it. But there's also an incremental sense of respect for the Iraqis and the Middle East in general, one that I didn't get during the Gulf War, when nobody I spoke to or overheard seemed to get past the standard racist notions of Arabs. Whoever's in charge of educating these folks about the people they're fighting and the people whom they're "liberating" seems to be doing a good job.
Noted: When I was growing up here, you had to drive 45 minutes to get felafel (not decent felafel, but any felafel). Since my last visit, at least four or five Middle Eastern food stands and restaurants have sprung up.
It's true, it's very hard to get good Southern cooking in South Florida - and very easy to get it here. My arteries thank God I'm only staying thru Friday!