Anyone who comes to Spokane and says “Oh, what a lovely town!” can expect to be breath-tested. It’s not straightforward, either. Disorienting to walk round, bracing even in June (windswept, 10 °C) and difficult to pronounce for an Italian. Spokane was the name of a Native American tribe. It means “children of the sun,” something we have still not seen.
Yet the city of Spokane in Washington, near the Idaho state line, is intriguing. American, yet unencumbered by its own reputation, unlike New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles. Friendly and happy to be the center of attention – the editor of The Spokesman-Review (founded 1894) gives us the run of his newsroom and can’t do enough to help. Down-to-earth and on the move, emblematic of an ever-evolving nation, Spokane may not always look as if it knows where it’s going, but it goes there anyhow, which is to its credit. America is a mobile society, driven by transformations and removal vans. America invented the rocking chair, so people could think they were moving even when sitting still.
We pulled into Spokane from Montana at three in the morning. Rail stations at night have their own charm, hard though it may be to appreciate after eight hours on an Amtrak train with no sleeper car and two hours late, for a change. We make a beeline for our beds at the Hotel Lusso on West Sprague Avenue. Don’t be fooled by the name. Any “luxury” is at the hotel opposite, the majestic Davenport. In 1914, the Davenport was America’s first hotel with air-conditioning. Coins for change were polished so they looked new-minted, a disarmingly innocent form of money-laundering.
A hundred years ago, Spokane was awash with money from mining, lumber and railroads. The good times lasted only a few years but they left a big mark. Regular visitors included Bing Crosby, who grew up in Spokane, Charles Lindbergh, Bob Hope and Dashiell Hammet. Today, lovingly restored relics of the glory days line the hotel’s walls. The Davenport has the air of melancholy you can sense in hotels that have seen better days, like the Adelphi in Liverpool, the Metropol in Moscow or the Plaza in Rome.
But I doubt that Americans notice. As we were saying, they’re too busy racing ahead. Europe, in contrast, keeps its eyes on the rearview mirror. A useful device. It tells us who is about to overtake, and that’s a consolation of sorts.
English translation by Giles Watson