On a recent visit to the Clipper City to have lunch and a couple of beers with friends at a popular local establishment, one of my friends asked me, almost incredulously, "Do you really like spending this summer in Gloucester more than you did summers here in Newburyport?"
When I answered, "Yes", I thought my friend was going to lose part of his lunch.
He could not believe I could possibly prefer living in, as he put it, "...a dirty old city like Gloucester to a beautiful town like Newburyport."
Now, don't get me wrong, I love Newburyport. I have long standing ties to the community, although I have to say I think the Clipper City had a lot more genuine charm and character when it was not quite the perfectly manicured, almost Stepford-esque movie set that it is today. Newburyport was far more authentic when it had a little more Gloucester and a lot less Nantucket ambience to it.
And knowing many genuine long time locals, and many others, including artists, writers, and musicians, who moved to Newburyport thirty five and forty years ago as "not quite urban pioneers" because, if the truth be told, it was a place they could afford to live, I know I am not alone in that sentiment.
But it is about much more than just aesthetics and nouveau, upscale trendiness. Gloucester has one big quality in great quantity that people love to claim they celebrate in Newburyport, even though, in reality, they have virtually none of it..
The quality I am referring to is diversity.
Gloucester is chock full of it, ethnically, racially, linguistically, and socio-economically.
Newburyport, despite its proclamations celebrating tolerance and diversity and being a "No Place for Hate" community, is, overall, one of the most most racially non-diverse and lily white communities I have ever lived in.
I mean, it's pretty easy to celebrate tolerance and embrace diversity when most everyone in a community looks pretty much alike, speaks the same language, has frosted blonde "bob" cuts, and wears madras shorts and Topsiders .
It's far more difficult to do so when a community is genuinely diverse and struggling with all that that means, both in positive and negative ways, as Gloucester is today.
In the twelve years since I sold my house in the Lanesville section of Gloucester, for example,the number of Latino immigrants in the city has grown significantly.
I see that as something that will, long term, enrich the city, culturally and economically, much the same way the arrival of Italian and Portuguese immigrants did in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
My sublet for the summer is located in the heart of downtown - just steps from the harbor front, Pavilion Beach, and a quick ten minute bike ride to Good Harbor. Not a bad location, and it is made even better because on a walk through the neighborhood with my dog, I know I will encounter a truly diverse community.
When I shop at the downtown Shaw's near my house, I am as likely to hear Italian, Portuguese, or Spanish spoken as I am English.
A stroll down Main Street into the East End guarantees I'll hear Luciano Pavarotti belting out some Puccini in Italian on the outside speakers at Virgilio's bakery. Can you imagine what would happen in Newburyport if, say, Agave, the Port Tavern, or Oeganos pumped Mexican, Irish, or Italian music out onto the street in an attempt to bring some cultural diversity to town?
Perish the thought!
A block from my apartment is an incredible Brazilian grocery store, and my new neighbors in the apartment on the first floor of the house I live in are a young Guatemalan couple who are celebrating the birth of their first baby - a boy.
The husband and young father, Diego, is a sous chef at the restaurant I work in. This young man has a work ethic few native born Americans could ever match and his commitment to his family is more than admirable, it is inspiring.
So, yeah, to answer my friend's question, "I am enjoying living again in Gloucester. It's not that it's 'better' than Newburyport. It's just 'different' and, frankly, it is a more honest and real community that is far more representative of the new America emerging in the early 21st century than Newburyport could ever claim to be, at least at this point in time."
Puerto Viejo de Limon, Costa Rica
formerly of Newburyport
Welch poet on fire at Actors Studio.
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