22 April 2008

Lage Nom Ai

Title of a Jimmy Buffett song. I have no idea what it means. I think it is Tahitian. Or Island Patios. Lyrics can be found here.

I'm not a patriot. Far from it. Nationalism, in almost any form, from anyone, bugs me. And yet, I continue to search for the answers to the following questions about America. What IS American? Who are Americans? What makes us different? (From one another, not from the rest of the world, I already know a laundry list of things that make us different from citizens of other countries. Some complimentary, many not.) What makes us the same? Does any one thing, outside of our citizenship, bind us together?

If I didn't know better, I might think that Southwest Florida was on another planet, forget being still part of the United States.

Naples, Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico, could not really be much more different than my Ohio home. The climate being the primary difference, of course, but there are many more. Warm when we're freezing, lush, green, and tropical when everything here is dead. Beaches, with sugary sand, while our beaches of Lake Erie tend more to small stones.

My grandparents moved there in the early 80s, when my grandfather retired. So I've been there quite a bit, annually or semi-annually since I was 8 years old. Much has changed there in the intervening 20+ years.

Naples is a playground for the insanely wealthy. Perhaps less fashionable than Miami's South Beach, or any of Maui's shores, but maybe inviting simply for that fact. I'd wager that many professional athletes or other celebrities have homes there, and other folks who are just rich, but maybe a little more.....discrete, shall we say? (Paris, dah-ling, I'm talking to YOU!) I've never seen any paparazzi there. Exclusive shops and restaurants abound. BMWs are at the less costly end of the spectrum as far as cars are concerned. There's an Aston-Martin dealership and a Bentley dealership that do a booming business.

And the McMansions!! Houses of unbelievable square footage {(10,000 sq ft is not uncommon) (that'd be about 930 sq meters, for you more sensible metric system folks)} are everywhere. Gated communities are more common than un-gated communities. In fact, there are gated communities WITHIN gated communities, which require you to pass through two secured gates to get home. Like airlocks for neighborhoods. When they first started appearing years ago, I thought that they'd become populated with lots of folks who think the government is shooting x-rays into everyone's head, the tin-hat crowd. I also thought that they'd be a passing fad. Don't ever look to me for predicting the future, y'all. Because they're EVERYWHERE down there.

I feel obligated to point out that while approximately half of my father's side of the family lives in Florida, Southwest Florida, to be exact, they live in cities and towns that are AROUND the outer rim of Naples, not IN Naples itself. The distinction is important, lest you come to the conclusion that I'm a trust-fund brat. Um, no. They all live in what my father laughingly calls "the cheap seats."

A hobby of the parents is looking at houses, checking property values, wherever they travel. Now that they live in Florida, I would have thought that they'd tire of looking at architecture, reading the real estate listings in the paper, checking out the occasional open house. I was wrong about that, too.

They showed DH and I house after house with asking prices of millions of dollars. Yes, MILLIONS. Anywhere from 1.2 to 10 million. Property values there are amazing. Development after development, bursting at the seams with homes that cost 3 million or more. They're nice, don't get me wrong. But pick up that 3 million dollar house and set it down in Ohio, you'd not get half that price for the same structure.

DH hadn't been in that part of Florida before, and each time we encountered another multi-million dollar house, my dad wondered aloud, "What DO these people do for a living?" Excellent question, especially considering that "high season" ends at the end of April, and already many of these houses have the hurricane shutters up, which is an indicator that they won't be back to the property until next year's season begins in January. So these 3 million dollar houses aren't even someone's primary residence. It is a VACATION COTTAGE. Or even a 3rd or 4th home. It is hard for me to fathom having so much money. Add 3 Porsche SUVs and a yacht (yes, YACHT, not a boat) to that 3 mil property, and with those things alone, you've got to have a net worth of at least 7 million, and probably much more than that.

What is even harder to wrap your mind around is that we're not talking about just one "rich section" of town. We're talking about pretty much the whole town. We're talking about a tax base that has so much money that the roads are in great shape, the streets are clean, heck, the main drags are landscaped within an inch of their lives with palm trees and exotic flowers. Imagine a city with the population of a city the size of Detroit, spread out over the same square miles as LA, populated with Ladies Who Lunch, and you're beginning to get a handle on the type of wealth I'm talking about.

All of this sounds like I'm full of disdain for the place. I'm not. I love it there. What's not to like? Two of my favorite cousins live there, with their adorable kids, an Aunt, my Grannie, and now my parents, the weather's great (it rains mostly only in June, gloomy grey skies are a rarity) the economy is booming due to the tourism, and I doubt that you'd be able to make your way through all of the fun boutique-y stores in one lifetime. If you were to tire of the beach (and I almost never do) you could find enough things to occupy your time.

And hey, bonus, it is close enough to Key West to make a day-trip out of the southernmost point of the United States, where it is but 90 miles to Cuba.

DH has been a Buffet fan forever, and Key West? Is the Mecca of all Parrotheads. Key West is another world entirely. I'm sure that somewhere along A1A, you enter a rift in the time-space continuum, and you're really on another planet there. I'm completely convinced.

Because I'm also fairly convinced that reading about someone else's vacation exploits are akin to watching paint dry, I shan't bore you with the day-to-day minutiae of What We Did On Our Winter Vacation.

But I *will* gloat for a second; DH got sunburned, and I, fashionable hat-wearer that I am, returned to Oh-hia-ia with the same color skin that I left it. Just to prove how incredibly fashionable I am, witness the hat-wearing spectacle.


But when my sun-worshiping sisters are having melanomas removed when we're all in our 40s & 50s, I will be skin-cancer free. So yes, hat. I don't care if it looks silly. If I lived there, I'd never be without one.

Hm. The difference between residents of Florida and residents of Ohio? Hats.

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