September 27, 2008 | Ronda Jambe

Looking for the last California

Many years ago I wrote an article for the ACT Labor newsletter about Australia as ‘the last California’. Those forms of local participation no longer exist, but the phrase still seems useful. Perhaps more so, as globalisation has made the movement of people almost as fluid as cash. People are always looking for somewhere the sun is shining, both literally and metaphorically.
Three weeks into an intensive Spanish course and I am taking a break to tour a bit with my spouse. I’ve moved from the room with no window to a more salubrious townhouse with my old friend, who has headed back to Denver to visit for a while. Her story is more interesting than I can reveal. As she observes, all the foreigners here are characters, because they all had a good reason to relocate. Here she is in front of the rented townhouse where I am now staying, lots of space, air and light:
gloria in CR 055-1.jpg
Studying another language is always about much more. It is a key to open doors to culture, politics, nature, art, all the rest. A young guide in a snake zoo enthused about her love of learning languages. She said that after she gets a better grip on English she’ll be starting on Portuguese, as there are lots of jobs here for Portuguese speakers, due to the influence of Brazilian companies. She had a bit of off hand pride in her voice when she threw out the line ‘I can study almost for free…’. The implication was ‘Why not?’ and in this mostly middle class society, the value of education is evident to all. She graciously deferred to my desire to speak Spanish. There is a nice to and fro about language here, as even the bus drivers are trying to learn English.
Costa Ricans generally seem friendly, positive, willing to learn, and more sophisticated about their world than many Americans I encounter. How nice to see and speak and learn first hand rather than just reading about it in the Economist.
Costa Rica does get mentioned from time to time in the Economist. I particularly notice this as I work my way through 5 back issues brought over from Australia. (They’ll go back again, too, as we give them, somewhat the worse for wear, to the library in Moruya.)
What you can’t get from the Economist, or tour books, is glimpses of life on the ground, or pictures of silly little dogs in dresses, which I include for pure cuteness:
gloria in CR 047-1.jpg
One recent mention of Costa Rica in the Economist was medical tourism, where cosmetic and other procedures are done here because the health system is good. Another mention was in an artcle about poverty factors. It pointed out that Costa Rica, with an average income well below half of Australia’s dole, has a running start on standard of living than, due to the availability of good, cheap health care and education.
Back in the 60s, an aunt and uncle moved with their 5 children to California, hoping to give them the advantage of the very affordable higher education system there. But their kids, like mine, didn’t see the importance, or were too distracted. Maybe that is a predictable trajectory for middle class societies.
This is my homestay family, very normal middle class Costa Ricans. They both work, he does a lot of the house work and cooking, and I never heard an unkind word or a raised voice. Macho Latino culture is an outdated concept, at least in this household and this little town. They don’t have to move to give their children a good education, their daughter is studying to be a nurse.
gloria in CR 016.jpg
In the late 70s my (now deceased, and not from AIDS) brother moved to San Francisco to be in a culture that was more accepting of gays. Maybe he had flowers in his hair. Tolerance is another big reason why people uproot. Then there’s climate, familiar to Queenslanders escaping the southern chills. Canberra’s crisp climate also formed a partially effective barrier against internal migration, at least until the Stanhopeless government decided to invite everyone to our little haven. A quiet yet well-nourished lifestyle, culturally and intellectually, is another reason people move to new places.
In Europe many of the Polish migrants to London are returning, as economic circumstances change. Americans and even French are moving to Central America for cheap beautiful tropical settings. Maybe there’s always another California, a happy balance of pleasure and stability, security and comfort. Pura vida!
gloria in CR 005.jpg

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 10:14 am | Comments Off on Looking for the last California |
Filed under: Housing

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