At this time of year, I go to town hoping that the tourists have swept out in a giant wave leaving the island to me and the 10,000 others that call it home. More like 6,000 really, because a good third of the houses are second or third homes for the ever-busy rich who come each year to piggyback on our country vibe and stare into the void from their ocean-side cottages and glass and steel modernist homes.
Each year, the waning tide leaves behind a few new residents, blinking and staring with shock that they have left city life and moved to Hicksville. House prices are so high in neighboring cities now that if you bought one at the right time, you can sell it at the age of 50 and never have to work again.
I always wonder what they will find to do, these new people, especially the women with their idiosyncratic clothing, newly messy hair, their nods to Bohemia in their crafty handbags, to status with their $50,000 cars. There they are locked up in their glass, wood and stone mini-palaces, all the finishes gleaming and new, the gardens planted and irrigated with 30 years ahead of them and enough money to do anything they want.
Travel of course. At first, they travel and visit, pretty much ceaselessly. They develop a travel routine. In the winter, we go here, in the spring, here, and we never miss….etc. The eternal chatter of the upper middle class. We did this special thing. Then we did that special thing. And Tuscany offseason is so charming. Well you know, he plays golf incessantly so Palm Desert, sigh. I make do with tennis and swimming and of course, the art galleries.
My mother’s generation and her mother’s generation did some of that, but what occupied them chiefly was charity as it used to be called before it was professionalized. I think of my great-aunts, who never worked, but who never sat down either. BB, my great-aunt ran every charity reserved for women in Vancouver, one after the other after the other. She died at 86, after a meeting no doubt, six months after her husband, who also, never sat down because he too worked for others dawn to way after dusk.
They were engaged, deeply in the lives of the people they lived among. They knew every corner of their cities and towns, every struggling family, every aching need. From their organized minds flowed endless projects, community centers, fleets of cars for nurses, hospices and institutes for the deaf and the blind and so on and so forth. When they and their generational cohort died, the city became, in a few short decades, raucous and anonymous and brutal.
There is a theory out there that people are returning to the lives their grandparents lived. It even has a name, ‘The Great Return’. Joel Kotkin writes about it, as does Aaron Renn, and Wendell Cox, their work gathered on a site called New Geography. The Return is a rejection of densification in the cities, a rejection of the casual acceptance of crime, of enduring gang murders in the neighborhoods that you avoid, knifings and acid attacks on the subway, the percolation of fear just under the surface. It is a hope for sanity, intimacy, safety, home. It will never die.
So I carry a torch for these newly-freed women, excessive only in their competence. Women used to create culture in their homes and neighborhoods before they got themselves liberated to work even harder. After holding down a good job in a demanding profession and raising three kids, retiring at 55 seems bloody necessary. But then…time in all its resounding emptiness faces you. Time you must fill.
This sociological wrinkle in time might yet save us and our oh-so-ordinary-and-good middle-class culture which remains the hope of the entire world.