February 5, 2007
A local citizens' political club recently received a request from a certain member of the City Council. Seems he wanted to attend their next meeting and ask their definition of the word ambiance.
A longtime friend of mine, who is, like me, an emissary from another time in another place -- the Fairhope that once was -- called me to ask what I thought this certain member of the City Council was up to. My old friend is active in the organization, basically a club of mostly newcomers concerned with keeping the government in line. My friend wondered why a man who has been on the City Council for seven years would just now be inquiring as to ambiance.
In recent years the city government has turned the place from one of fair hope to one of fair game -- for themselves, developers, and the many newcomers who swarm here to install all the amenities they enjoyed in previous locales. That they are just now investigating the ambiance of Fairhope is either a joke or an insult. If they wanted to know what Fairhope once was, there are plenty of books about it, including one I myself wrote called Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree. In those days, Fairhope was a casual, funky beach town of charming if dilapidated cottages, boasting an intellectual if not downright bohemian cachet. Since then it has become an upscale, trendy boutique town, with dozens of surrounding subdivisions, new construction replacing the cottages, and a citizenry of nice enough well-meaning people but no particular character. The ambiance has changed from authentic to ersatz in a matter of a decade.
Once a haven for reformers and rebels, Fairhope is now bursting with conformists and conventionals. The look of the town has gone from a village with remnants of 1920's Americana to a suburb of expensive, huge, new and bland houses. Attempts to duplicate what was genuinely quaint have taken the heart out of it and replaced the original with something that seems to have everything the original has, except everything. The external is similar, but blown up to ten times the size, the effect is lost.
The ambiance of Fairhope today, that of a gussied-up and phonified version of itself, would be amusing if it were not so very sad.