Monday, July 12, 2010

Your weekly dose: Yeah, I do like living in Gloucester

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."

Michael Cook
Gloucester &
Puerto Viejo de Limon, Costa Rica

formerly of Newburyport


Anonymous said...

I have to say that I completely understand where you are coming from Michael. While I don't mind a little upscale in a community--the lack of diversity in Newburyport--culturally, racially, ethnically, etc--is one of the things that stood out when I spent a couple days there a few years ago. It is a lovely city by the sea--but it screams a uniformity/homogeneity --at least on the surface. Since I haven't spent very much time in New England towns in general (I'm a NYer through and through), I wasn't sure if Newburyport was typical of a lot of communities in the area. Never been to Gloucester--but it's nice to hear that there are more diverse places in that neck of the woods. Your posts are always interesting and provocative.

Anonymous said...

oregano's does pump music out into the street

SJS said...

There is some diversity in Gloucester (more than in Newburyport, yes). But having moved to Gloucester from Malden, the former seems at times blindly lily-white. Did you see the editorial about the Horribles parade in the GDT last week?

Anonymous said...

I am going to disagree (slightly) with Michael.

For a community diversity should never be a goal unto itself but needs to develop naturally. It can't be forced.

There will always be some who reject it, and there will always be non-diverse communities (and that flows BOTH ways; I don't see a lot of upper middle-class white folks moving to Lawrence in order to partake in the diversity of that particular city).

- The Carrot

macsurf said...


I am aware of the ugly and unfortunate incident of the mixed race couple experiencing some idiot yell "white Power" as they passed through the crowd to go home after watching the Horribles parade.

Dollars to donuts says the idiot was schnockered. Not a single person in the rest of the crowd, as the woman who experienced the insult said in her letter, joined in.

I recall one year, back in the 1990's when Nbpt held a World AIDS Day candle ligt vigil in Market Square, a half a dozen cars circling the square several times, blowing their horns, and the people in the cars screaming all kinds of ugly things about AIDS and gay people.

I don't know where you live in Gloucester, geographically it's a pretty big city and some parts of it are, especially Lanesville, Annisquam, the back Shore, and Magnolia, lily white, but downtown, Portagee Hill,and Fort Square are anything but "lily white".

They are neighborhoods rich in all kinds of genuine diversity, from the ethnic and linguistic, to the socio-economic.

Don't get me wrong, I do love Newburyport. But I chuckle when I see "no place for hate" signs as I enter town and, having been involved in gay rights and AIDS issues for years in the region, that it celebrates tolerance and diversity.

I mean, who's to "hate" when everybody's basically the same in a town?

In terms of tolerance and diversity, I only half joke when I say Nbpt is like Ptown, it celebrates tolerance and diversity so long as it is affluent, gay, and overwhelmingly white.

I don't mean to be flip here.

There is somethng comical about Nbpt "celebrating" diversity and being "tolerant" when it is one of the most homogenous communities I have ever lived in my 53 years on this planet.

Sure, it makes for great politically correct, feel good symbolism, but it is laughingly devoid of any genuine steel or substance.

SJS said...

Interesting, MacSurf: I was a buddy for 7 years, late 80s into the 90s, plus I worked for the Boston AIDS Consortium, mid-90s. Wondering if I ever ran into you!

On another note, I live in the downtown area, pretty close to you if you're close to little Shaw's. But hailing originally (long before Malden) from Flint, MI, I have a very different sense of "diversity"!

macsurf said...

Don't know about Flint, this neighborhood in Fishtown, right near Shaws, is pretty darn diverse in my eyes.

I ran the AIDS programs for HES on the North Shore through almost all the 90's.

Helped form the now defunct Greater Nbpt AIDS Initiative, the als defunct Cape Ann AIDS task Force, and the Ryan White funded consortium known as OASIS - ORganized AIDS Services Integrating Support.

Saw PLENTY of bigotry, especially antigay bigotry, even in a "no place for hate" community like Nbpt, even with a lesbian, albeit deeply closeted, mayor at that point in time.

I love both Nbpt and Gloucester, but they are as different as night and day and Gliucester is FAR MORE genuinely diverse than Nbpt. I don't think that point can be disputed.