Reading Jared Diamond’s ‘Collapse’ this summer prompted me to visualize places as isolated ecosystems. In a way, even though Duwan and I have spent the summer on the dirt, we have been island hopping.
Right now we stay in my parents’ house in Florida. This gated community is definitely a cultural island. If your needs consist of swimming, tennis, golf, or bocce ball you can stay safely in the island. You will not be disturbed by rowdy neighbors. Your house here will withstand hurricanes. If you need provisions, though, you must drive out to US-1. Actually we are in one islet of a huge archipelago of gated communities connected by US-1.
Before coming to Florida we visited my brother in Natchez, Mississippi. In its day this beautiful, historic town was an ideal spot to transfer freight to and from steamboats. We visited spots high on the bluff where the rich enjoyed what little breeze passed through on summer days. And we went below the bluff where the non-rich just worked hard to survive. Natchez is surrounded as far as you can see by woods and farmlands. If you want to warm your butt on a cosmopolitan barstool in northern Mississippi, you need to come to the ‘island’ of Natchez.
How can you deny that Narlins, LA has a special character all its own? We loved traveling the wide streets lined with live oaks, playing music in the park, and being stopped in our tracks if we failed to greet someone with a friendly morning ‘hello’. Now this place is really special. I’ve only heard of one other ‘island’ below sea level, and that’s Atlantis. Anybody been there?
Palm Beach has long stood as an isolated bastion of opulence. In these curious times we spent an afternoon there with the widow of a renowned artist. We met her at an office supply store and helped as she cut, pasted, and copied invitations for an art show she had put together. She had arranged for wine, refreshments, the venue, and extravagant door prizes by advertising for the donors. After cobbling the invitations together we went thrift store shopping with her. Can Palm Beach remain an island of the wealthy, or will it continue to be frequented by common folk like us?
Our favorite place is not an island now, but it resembled one through the 1900s up to the 1970s. The Fulton Bag Mill owned all the houses and provided generations of Appalachian workers with all their physical needs. There was no reason for the residents of Cabbagetown to venture south into the wealthier Grant Park or any other direction into predominantly black neighborhoods. The demographics have changed dramatically in recent decades. Now one of C-Town’s distinguishing characteristics is the number of residents with PHDs.
Why else is C-Town a favorite? Differences are tolerated. Residents think globally and act locally. There are spontaneous outbursts of music and art. C-town celebrates its island heritage, but is not bound by it. A place can appreciate its roots, but with connections to the outer world can still survive and thrive.