I recently took a short trip to Atlanta, Georgia and—since I enjoy travel—I have decided to provide you with the three attractions I found most interesting in the United States’ ninth-largest metropolitan area. The order is in the order that I visited in; it is not an order of preference. Interestingly, most of the development in Atlanta started as a result of the 1996 Olympic games, one rare instance where hosting a major international sporting event actually had a positive effect on the city (what with the current traffic problems, however, I am not sure many locals would agree).

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  1. The Beginning: The World of Coca-Cola

Admission: 16 US Dollars (Plus Tax)

Time Spent: 30-60 minutes

 Opened in 2007 in its location near the Centennial Olympic Park (a continuation of the original museum, which opened in 1990), the World of Coca-Cola is admittedly an odd attraction. The first question I am asked, upon entering, is “what will you have to drink?” I resist the urge to ask for a Pepsi and go for a Coca-Cola Classic, served in an aluminum bottle. I am immediately struck by the almost cultish-aspect of the tour guides. They seem a little bit too upbeat. Indeed, when our group doesn’t give an enthusiastic enough cheer to one of our guide’s questions he notes that “we need to drink more Coca-Cola”. I am barely even able to stomach one bottle and shudder at the thought. After being lectured about Coca-Cola for fifteen minutes in a room filled wall to wall with Coca-Cola memorabilia (“the loft”), we are then ushered into a movie theater. Here are told not to take any video recordings and instead let Coca-Cola work its advertising magic on us before we are released to explore the rest of the museum alone.

The film’s effect is, I will learn later, similar to drinking too much Coca-Cola. That is to say, nauseating. It opens with a quote from the Italian writer and poet Cesare Pavese: “We do not remember days, we remember moments”. We are then subjected—as a group—to a six minute and something second advertisement for Coca-Cola set to Imagine Dragons’ On Top of the World. The group’s video—a spoof of the moon landing hoax—would have been more amusing than the images Coca-Cola provided for us; those of people “enjoying life”, for lack of a better term enjoying activities such as sky diving, surfing, and hanging out.

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For me the connection of emotion and memory to consumption is, honestly, disgusting. One would think that in order to relax and enjoy life all we need to do is…drink a Coke! The sentiments the video aims to elicit are as fake as the drink being advertised, but—somehow and some way—it works. Once released from the theater I see just how successful this connection truly is; the connection of the consumption of a soft drink to an individual’s emotional state (and even to the individual’s relationship with the nation-state, surprisingly).

The exhibits detailing the history of Coca-Cola tell the story not only of a soft drink, but of a country as well. We learn that every single U.S. state had a Coca-Cola bottling plant; effectively the country was united through the production—and consumption—of a soft drink. Later, in a second exhibit, we see the international reach of Coca-Cola; signs written in dozens of languages are intelligible only due to their color and font. The soft power of the United States (to borrow Joseph Nye’s term) was solidified through American cultural hegemony; within that framework Coca-Cola was but one tool—but a highly successful one at that. One exhibit even shows the subliminal effect of Coca-Cola advertisements on urban spaces: Post-cards of various 1950s cityscapes are shown and it is clear that, in every picture, the Coca-Cola sign is displayed prominently. My mind goes back to late 1980s Turkey when, as a child, we would spend one night at my late grandmother’s apartment in Izmir, Turkey, at the beginning of each summer. The giant Coca-Cola mural, painted on the façade of an apartment block nearby, was one of my first coherent memories of Turkey as a child. I decide to head to the part of the museum where the international is the focus: the tasting section.

I first heard of the tasting section in college. I expected Coca-Cola Classics from different countries to be on offer (since the drink tastes different depending on the country). Unfortunately, this was not the case. Instead, they offered a number of drinks produced by the Coca-Cola company internationally (such as Dasani water, Fanta, and Sprite). They claimed the number is more than 100 but I did not count as many. I then embarked on a whirlwind tour of the world (as shown by Coca-Cola), sampling sugared soft drinks dispensed from five taps representing Coke products sold on each continent. I filled my sampling cup while trying to dodge the children on sugar highs—I suppose the World of Coca-Cola is similar to Las Vegas for nine year olds: All the rules of “no soft drinks” and “no sodas” don’t apply for a few (literally) sweet hours. The result was—predictably—a headache and a stomach ache. But before the sugar kicked in and made me light in the head, I was able to make a few useful observations: Djibouti’s mint rendition of Coca-Cola is delicious (at least to me, the face of another guest after sampling this particular soda was contorted into an obvious show of revulsion). Uganda’s fruit punch-esque Fanta was decent—but not for those sensitive to sugar. Georgia (of Stalin, not peace, fame) had a decent Iced Tea, while I contemplated filling my aluminum bottle with Sweden’s Lingonberry soda to take home. The biggest loser was, undoubtedly, Italy’s Beverly. Its bitter taste—although pleasing to a fellow guest visiting from Connecticut, with whom I debated the soda’s medicinal taste—is almost like an inside joke. In fact the soda, originally to be a non-alcoholic aperitif, was discontinued by Coca-Cola in 2009 but is still holding its place at the World of Coca-Cola. Perhaps because so many people bash it.

Not For the Faint of Heart: Consuming Coca-Cola with Kids on Sugar Highs

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In the end I walked out of the World of Coca-Cola with a souvenir eight ounce bottle of Coca-Cola Classic, a light head, and a stomach ache. And—most likely—the resolve to never drink another Coca-Cola in my next thirty years. After all, it is never too late to make life resolutions.

  1. Interlude: Georgia Aquarium

Admission: 39.95 US Dollars (Plus Tax)

Time Spent: 30-60 minutes

The Atlanta Aquarium is apparently one of the the largest aquariums in the world. Since I arrive in the late afternoon, near closing time, upon entry I am told that I will not be able to see all of the exhibits and that I should focus on the “best exhibits”. Indeed, the “Ocean Voyager” is amazing and worth a visit, but I note that—honestly—you don’t need that much time to take in the Atlanta Aquarium’s exhibits. In fact, arriving late is a bonus at this attraction; I will gladly take less time for the chance to experience the exhibits free of crowds. Since I visited near closing time I had the exhibits virtually to myself: the school children were being herded out, while the families were readying themselves for dinner. It seemed that the only visitors left were those knowledgeable and older.

The peaceful setting of the aquarium is miles from the chaos of the World of Coca-Cola; the privilege of standing alone in a room facing a wall of glass looking into the water leaves me breathless. Fish—big and small, multicolored and monochromatic—live in perfect harmony, bringing order to the seeming chaos of the undersea world. For a moment it makes me reflect on humanity—we would eat one another alive, living in captivity (as we if we don’t already while living freely, but that is for a different discussion).

The first two exhibits, focusing on fish of all shapes and sizes, are the best. The more specific exhibits—containing, among other things, plankton, sea horses, star fish, and reptiles—are interesting but cannot approach the stunning experience of, literally, walking underneath the ocean. You don’t need a full day to see the Atlanta Aquarium, and I would recommend coming later in the day so as to get the exhibits more or less to yourself. Personally, I do not think I could have appreciated the majesty of the aquarium if I had been in a crowd. As is the case with many tourist sights in the world, it is sometimes best to arrive late in the day.

  1. The End: Georgia Guidestones

Admission: 0 US Dollars–Free

Time Spent: 10-20 Minutes

This is, perhaps, one of the more interesting road-side landmarks in the United States that I have visited, even after having visited the abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike. The Guidestones are located in one of the few places left in the modern world that can be classified as “the middle of nowhere”. A little less than an hour from Athens and two hours from Atlanta, down the kind of two lane highway that reminds me of carefree summer days, the Guidestones are located on the side of Georgia Highway 77 in a rural area of Elberton County.

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Many outlets, including the BBC and Wired, have done a piece on the monument and each interprets them differently. The BBC’s piece offers a neutral overview:

“It was this gargantuan granite deposit [in the area] that attracted a well-dressed man under the pseudonym of RC Christian to Elberton in June 1979. He approached the Elberton Granite Finishing Corporation’s President Joe H Fendley Sr about the potential cost of building a monument of substantial size, explaining that he represented a small group of anonymous Americans foreign to Georgia who had been working on a 20-year-long project as a message for future generations. Fendley promptly put him in touch with his banker, Wyatt C Martin, who was soon chosen as the intermediary for the project. Both men were sworn to secrecy.

On 22 March 1980, the Georgia Guidestones – four giant rough-edged stones encircling a centre slab with a capstone balancing on top – weighing 119 tons, were revealed to a crowd of about 100 people. One crowd member, a local pastor, immediately professed his belief that the stones were built for cult and devil worship because of its similar appearance to Stonehenge. On each side of the capstone, engraved in four ancient languages, were the words: “Let these be guidestones to an Age of Reason.” And written in eight languages – English, Russian, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Classical Hebrew, Swahili, Hindi and Spanish – were cryptic instructions for rebuilding society post Doomsday.”

A PDF of a book written by the Elberton Granite Finishing Corporation offers the creators’ point of view, while Wired’s piece offers very useful insight into the days while the monument was being created, calling it an “American Stonehenge”. Having been to the “real” Stonehenge I can’t see much of a similarity—the video surveillance itself is off-putting—and the message written on the stones is, indeed, eerie.

On each of the four slabs—reaching almost twenty feet in height—is a message consisting of ten short statements written in the aforementioned eight world languages (Wired’s diagram is below, courtesy of http://www.wired.com/2009/04/ff-guidestones/) :

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  1. Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
  2. Guide reproduction wisely – improving fitness and diversity.
  3. Unite humanity with a living new language.
  4. Rule passion – faith – tradition – and all things with tempered reason.
  5. Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.
  6. Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.
  7. Avoid petty laws and useless officials.
  8. Balance personal rights with social duties.
  9. Prize truth – beauty – love – seeking harmony with the infinite.
  10. Be not a cancer on the Earth – Leave room for nature – Leave room for nature.

 

Some view this as a message for rebuilding human society in a post-apocalyptic world; others view this as something much more sinister—the ten commandments of the antichrist. There is undeniably something sinister to the site due to its perfectly researched placement; it is a clock, calendar, and compass as well as a “guide” (see above). Others, such as this piece, see the guide stones as a message calling for a New World Order engineered by a secret society.

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Honestly, I have no opinion as to what these stones mean. The idea of a technocratic world order—uniting the world with “one world language” and “ruling passion and faith…with tempered reason”—sound eerily similar to the global capitalism we all witness where individualism is suppressed. After all, expressing opinions can be harmful to the “brand” in business—blandness is rewarded. Yet the idea of prizing “truth”, “beauty”, and “love” while “leaving room for nature” sound like classic humanist ideas that have been espoused in many cultures for years. The message is a strange amalgamation of fascism with liberalism; some of it useful and some of it dangerous; the Malthusian undertones in the first “commandment” are typically picked up on as the most frightening since the rising world population means diminishing wealth—and health—for everyone. Regardless of one’s views on the stones, they are certainly worth a visit. After seeing how the multi-national corporation Coca-Cola appropriates human emotion to sell an unhealthy drink—and after seeing how fish, both large and small, can live in perfect harmony while human beings clearly cannot—a visit to the Georgia Guidestones can certainly lead to a philosophical afternoon.

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