For the first time in eight years my mom and I live not only in the same country, but on its same coast. Last week she came down from The Big Apple to Retirementville for a brief visit to see me and my husband, as well as meet his family for the first time in the six years we’ve been married.
“Wow!” She exclaimed, at the wide open spaces and flatness of Boca Raton’s landscape, a pointed contrast to the high-rise and condensed spaces in her current home of East Harlem. “It’s like another world!”
As she came to see, a world devoid of all the benefits of not just a city — public transportation, activism, the convenience of cornershops, and the ability to walk around — but also of any culture but beach-going and consumerism.
My mom described all the various activist events she’d been attending in NYC, from the Occupy protests to anti-fracking and anti-nuclear demonstrations. She told us about her barrio, with its diverse inhabitants of all races, creeds, and colors. A block party on her street had her among so many people speaking different languages and such a variety of cuisine from around the world, she could hardly believe she was actually in America. Each day in NYC one of its dozens of museums is free to the public. Central Park has a constant battery of shows, free or otherwise.
Boca Raton, with its suburban sprawl, strip malls, and gated communities a far cry from the vibrant urban atmosphere of Spanish Harlem and New York at large. It’s one thing for me to describe the wasteland here, cultural and otherwise. It was a whole other thing for my mother to experience it herself.
We did the requisite things available in the Boca area: the small art museum, the Gumbo Limbo nature preserve, Deerfield’s beach, the Morikami Japanese gardens, drinks at O’Brian’s, and a typical Boca-style American meal at Jay Alexander’s. The rest of the time was spent outside by the pool, chatting, swimming, reading our books, playing with the dogs, and chatting. Lovely and relaxing for a holiday. Horribly claustrophobic as a lifestyle.
Though the natives and residents of this part of Florida like to claim there’s so much culture here, to me the above list does not equate. “Oh but we also have all kinds of festivals! Last month there was an Arab festival! And there’s a Greek festival next week! Oh and don’t forget the Turkish festival coming up!”
Sorry, but culture a festival does not make. I’ve lived in Turkey, how can a festival compare? And what exactly is meant by an “Arab” festival?
Another Bocaism: “He/she/they are Latin.” Again, apologies, but there’s no such thing as Latin people. It is a language spoken by only the most esoteric of linguists. The correct terminology is Latinos or Latin Americans. This is a typical way I’ve seen the Americans around here condense the richer cultures and heritages of non-white immigrants into a misleading label to compartmentalize the people whom these white immigrants consider to be visitors to their fair land.
I bite my tongue so often here I’m getting used to the taste of blood in my mouth.
My mom loves to be with me and the hubs, she’s one of my best friends and we always have a wonderful time together, but after eight days she was ready to get back to the real world. “I can see why certain people want to live here: cheaper, lower taxes, nice weather, but it’s not for me.” Her purpose returning to the USA after 37 years abroad is to be involved in all the activism in which she couldn’t participate as a UN employee. And she wants us to join her sooner rather than later at least for a visit to her corner of reality.
I’ve only been here six months and — oh irony! — already the thought of a bustling city always on the go fills me with anxiety. The thought of getting on an airplane makes my stomach lurch. My digestive system has become more and more finicky the longer I’m here, making it harder and harder to get through a day without an IBS bout.
Oh how the cultured have fallen!
Are these Boca barrens turning me into one of the cloistered provincials I rail against? What do you do when a bohemian lifestyle turns suburban?
©Sezin Koehler, images via Google