Monday, December 5, 2011

San Diego is beautiful. San Diego is boring. Discuss.

We moved here to Omaha-by-the-Sea almost twelve years ago, and have had a love-hate relationship with it ever since. You can’t entirely fault San Diego. We moved here because I got a job here, and we wanted to escape the weather of Boston. We had never been here, except for a brief weekend when I interviewed for my job, but knew that it was reputed to offer the best of southern California, without LA’s excesses. So far, so good, but we should have guessed that something was amiss in a city that feels the need to paint “America’s Finest City” on the door of every police car. We thought we would simply move here, and recreate our life in Boston, but with palm trees. That’s not how it works.

California is, famously, two states, if not more. Our brethren up north refer to SoCal as “the shallow end of the pool,” and they’re on to something. I have a theory that northern California was settled by people from the northeast, and the architecture and cityscape of San Francisco show that. Berkeley is about as close to Cambridge as one can get without leaving the US. Southern California, on the other hand, was settled by midwesterners. These are gross generalizations of course, but if you extend northeastern vs. midwestern sensibilities, you’ll see them in the two ends of this state. The Bay Area is more intellectual, liberal, denser. SoCal is friendlier, but colder, with suburbs as far as the eye can see, and people who drive into their garage, shut the door behind them, and never interact. You can see my biases here, but I came of age in Boston.

When we arrived here, people told us that it takes two years for San Diego to get under your skin. When they heard we were from Boston, they said – “Oh, five years, then.” And they were right. We hated it here, hated the housing, hated the people, hated the brown hills – we even hated the weather. Our first “Christmas on the Prado” in Balboa Park, we laughed at the people shivering in the 58 degree cold, bundled up. What kind of a city was this? Was this a city? Or just a place with beaches and houses and cars?

Slowly, we made friends, and slowly, they moved away. People don’t stay in San Diego, mostly, at least not the ones we like. Our friends tend to be from other places, and they tend to move to other other places. It’s expensive here, and the job market isn’t great. There’s not a lot of culture, at least not when compared to a city like San Francisco or Boston, and it’s so painful to get to LA that we rarely make the trip to partake of its offerings.

Yet, people were right. After several years, the city did start to get under my skin. Largely, it’s the beauty of it. You just have to let go of green – or rather, come to think of green as the color of winter, and brown the color of summer. You come to know that if it rains more than average in December, you’ll be driving to the desert in March for the wildflowers. You come to be more sensitive than you were to humidity, and to temperature. When the weather is always beautiful, there are grades of beautiful. You complain if it rains three days in a row. You shiver when it’s sixty, and you swelter when it’s eighty. House plants grow in people’s yards here – poinsettias, huge philodendrons, jade plants grow to form hedges. Flowers bloom year round. I miss rhododendrons and lilacs, but we have clivia, orchids, birds of paradise, kangaroo paws, natal plum, fortnight lilies, jacaranda, bougainvillea, star jasmine, lemon trees – riches I would miss if we moved. The sky here is extraordinarily clear, a beautiful blue, and we can often see the islands offshore, fifty miles away in Mexico. Sunsets are spectacular, the pinks and golds lingering for hours. We see more stars then you can in other cities. The beaches are beautiful, and they go on for miles.

I would desperately miss San Diego, if I were to leave. But I often fantasize about leaving.

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