The developers from the City are good guys, thank God, not at all like those soulless predators who would have entire blocks of historical properties bulldozed for condos. Worshipful of the town's character, they only want to update, to improve. They landscape with native plant life (they've researched this; it looks natural and wild yet subtly colour-coordinated). Gingerly and respectfully they extract Jesus and Mary statues from front yards. They remove asbestos, replace yellowed wallpaper, tear down drop ceilings to expose natural beams, liberate hardwood floors. They gut those claustrophobic interiors with their myriads of tiny rooms to create an open concept layout. They install granite kitchen counters, stainless steel appliances, add extra bathrooms (really, a 6-bedroom house with 1 bath?...).
The updated properties are resold at prices that reflect the quality of labour, the professionalism of the interior design and the local sourcing of materials. They are bought by urban escapees. Eager to live in the quaint town for a fraction of the cost of their cramped city apartment, they long to improve their quality of life with fresh air and natural beauty and a sense of community. But the economy is terrible, and their ideas of local employment opportunities prove over-optimistic. Two years later they return to the City, keeping the property as a summer house and income-generating vacation rental.
A tiny commercial street runs through a narrow peninsula. It is home to 6 ice cream shops and 5 seafood restaurants, every single one of them with water views. The seafood is freshly caught, the ice cream home made. "There's a line, but it's worth it." A woman wearing a white beach dress and straw hat asks the high school girl behind the counter if the scallops are good. Unthinkingly the girl answers that she hates seafood, then laughs apologetically and promises they are excellent. The woman asks the girl where she is from. She replies that she lives down the road, pointing in the direction. The woman is ecstatic as she carries her food away to the outdoor seating area. She tells her husband about the exchange. "You know they're locals if they hate seafood!"
Around the corner is a string of cozy little shops selling locally made jewelry, fair trade clothing from South America, organic hand lotions, antique furniture, used books. The local Art Association operates a Co-Op. Paintings, ceramics, woodblock prints. A hand-holding couple discusses purchasing an abstract seascape. "I want the lighthouse to be recognisable without the whole thing being cheesy, you know?" They study several pieces that meet these criteria, tilting their heads.
There is a yoga studio, a book club, a historical society, a concert hall, a market stall selling fresh produce thrice a week on the Green. Artist residencies are held on a bi-monthly basis. There is a mannerism and style of dress that distinguishes the seasonals from the more casual vacationers and day trippers, establishing a hierarchy of sorts.
And then there are the locals, that elusive species. They work the counters, staff the hotels, rent out the boats. But mostly, those who remain are like ghosts. Sometimes you hear the accents at the beach, or a voice calling a child in "for suppah" from an open window.
New England Coastal Town X. I've lived in one and I've visited many, and now here I am again. Memories blend with images glimpsed from afar as I ride my bike past the rocky beaches, charming shops and impeccably renovated properties.