If I were given unlimited choices and unlimited time and unlimited funds and was asked to choose any place in the world where I would like to live I would honestly not have an answer.
The Manhattan of my youth is long since gone, and I didn’t leave Manhattan for other locales – Manhattan left me.
Gone are the days of Greenwich Village cafés and clubs, the 8th Street Bookshop where the owner always had a pot of coffee ready and waiting and encouraged writers and patrons to “hang around,” mingle and discuss art and literature – a minor remnant of the days of Sylvia Beach and Shakespeare and Company. Gone is the Upper West Side intelligentsia. Gone is the Times Square with its billboards that breathed cigarette smoke and the marquees of theatres proclaiming the shows of the golden age of Broadway.
Gone is the feeling that Manhattan was the center of the universe and one could get anything one wanted, eat everything, do everything and see everything.
Now, the Disneyfication of Manhattan has transformed this capital of all things from fashion to the arts to commerce into a pseudo Disney World of tourism, a shelter for the dysfunctional and the politically correct, aiding and abetting those who come to Manhattan, and the entire five boroughs of New York City, not to assimilate, but to tell everyone else how to live, what to eat and what language to speak and demanding that they be accommodated in every way. Of course, this is not unique to New York, but is symptomatic to society throughout the world.
I have many criteria for the “ideal” place and I certainly know what they are, but wherever that ideal is obtained, there are the concurrent negatives.
To use San Francisco as an example: San Francisco is a beautiful city, well, it was in 1972, but in 2005, I wouldn’t say the same thing. I was there in both of those years and, obviously, there were many years in between.
The city changed dramatically in those years. Not just politically and/or economically or ideologically, but physically. Once again, the topography remained the same, but the various areas changed dramatically. In 1972, Fisherman’s Warf was an open expanse with an elegant restaurant out at its farthest end and a large open Warf to walk – dare I say promenade? – and enjoy the sights of the Bay.
Today, it’s, along with all of the adjacent streets, lined with “tee-shirt shops.” I use that particular venue both literally and figuratively. But the whole area is now so overcrowded that walking becomes almost hazardous to one’s health.
The beauty of the surrounding area remains, assuming its view isn’t blocked by the aforesaid tee-shirt shops, and the temperature is certainly in what I consider an acceptable range, but the potential earthquakes obviate San Francisco as a choice, even if the tee-shirt shops, politics and other social and politically correct phenomena were somehow by some magical process brought into line with my other criteria. This, I absolutely believe, would be socially, financially and politically impossible.
If nothing else, San Franciscans and I do not and never will believe in the same things. And, as a city, it has always been a bastion for what I consider, a fringe society. So strike San Francisco off the list.
In other writings I have outlined many of my criteria for climate, erudition, wardrobe, culture, politics, the height of buildings and available transportation so I don’t think it’s necessary to be redundant and reiterate all of them here.
But, Dear Reader, I fear, that I also have a romanticized vision in my mind’s eye of locale and cities in particular. Let’s take Paris. Do I want to live in Paris or anywhere in France, today with its political stance that has allowed no-go areas and the constant fear of terrorism? Of course not.
My “ideal” Paris is the expatriate Paris of the 1920s. But, once again, do I have an imaginary, romanticized vision of what it looked like and what living there on a day to day basis was truly like? The Hemingway accounts and the period photographs don’t always coincide with the vision in my head. Sure, there were the cafés and Shakespeare and Company and the avenues as described, and I’m sure that the stories of the gatherings of writers, painters, et al where whole artistic movements were debated and created are true. But those days are gone and remain a romantic fantasy for me to daydream about.
And what of Provence? Does the allure remain? Does Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence exist? Maybe it did for him, but how about for me?
And I could say all of the above about Victorian London. Certainly, once again, my romanticized vision of Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels disappeared in 1901 when Queen Victoria died. Yes, there were some minor remnants during Bertie’s reign. There are some people who say that civilization ended in 1912 with the sinking of the Titanic and others in 1914 with the beginning of World War One. Either way, and I’m not certain which date I subscribe to, it seems that the civilization so many of us held dear has ended.
Or, how about, Tuscany? Certainly Florence remains intact. Michelangelo’s sculptures remain and the churches and the paintings and everything that was Renaissance Italy, but would I really want to live as Michelangelo and Leonardo lived?
Do I really want to live in Provence or Tuscany today? Is there A Year in Provence or Under The Tuscan Sun?
How about Alaska? I keep saying, as I decry my current living conditions – “I’m thinking Alaska.” But I know almost nothing about Alaska other than it gets cold. How cold is too cold? I always dreamed of getting a job at Alaska Rep, but I never did and, since it’s no longer in existence, I never will. So much for that idea. But what else is there for me in Alaska?
I’ve made the mistake of moving, as the saying goes, lock, stock and barrel a couple of times, and I don’t want to make that mistake again.
Yes, I know my ideals, but I also know my list of negatives and, it seems, that for every ideal in column A there is a list of negatives in column B. For the ideal temperature, for example, there are earthquakes, floods, hurricanes/typhoons, volcanos, tornadoes, and etcetera, in column B. For every center of learning, erudition and culture there are the politically correct do-gooders who believe that no one who believes differently has any right to exist. For every quant seaport village there are the tempests of the deep and the sociological and psychological manifestations of either days gone by or forgotten days gone by.
For every bastion of society, once again I’ve romanticized the Gilded Age lifestyle and thoughts of society, there are the realities of not fitting in. And today’s locales exhibit little or no relation to the society of the past any more than Paris does to the expatriate days. Physically they’re there, at least sort of, since most of the large estates have been demolished and the land broken up into mini-mansions of nearly tract-house homes and strip malls. But even if any of it still exists, it wouldn’t matter because I wouldn’t have been accepted then any more than I would now – I don’t have the pedigree, no matter how I think of myself. Yes, I think of myself as a Gold Coast WASP, but I’m not. And I don’t have two-hundred year-old family money. And I don’t play the “right” sports and have the “right” friends and the “right”…
Yes, I could cull together all of my dream criteria and invent a perfect place for myself, but I would be, obviously, the only inhabitant.
So here I remain: miserable, complaining and dreaming of a Mecca which probably doesn’t exist anywhere other than in my mind’s eye and heart and is probably unattainable. Am I to be like Philip Nolan in The Man Without A Country? – not a country, perhaps, but without a home.