I haven't spent a lot of time in the South, and much of the time I've spent there has been in areas that aren't the "classic" South (like Oak Ridge Tennessee--the city with the highest per capita concentration of PhDs in the nation--or Miami, which is more Cuban than Southern, or Houston and Dallas and Austin and San Antonio, which are, well, how do I put this?--Texan. Which is a whole different animal or two .)
In the last month, though, we've had call to be in Central Florida (Orlando, Tampa, St Petersburg, and a whole passel of dinky places in between), and South Carolina. Now, that's the real South, and, what's more, the swampy part. Which is okay with me. As a SoCal desert boy, any place with large volumes of fresh water (although "fresh" might not be the right adjective for swamp water) is exotic.
I live in Huntington Beach, not far from Disneyland--yes, the real Disneyland, the original Disneyland, which was conceived about the same time that I was, though my gestation was about 12 months shorter. That's in Orange County, California. By some strange Doppelganger logic, the latecomer Disney World is in Orlando, which is in...wait for it...Orange County, Florida.
Now, we had no desire to visit Disney World. We were in Florida to attend a wedding, which was on the other side of that (very skinny, and apparently flaccid) state. But it's easier and cheaper to fly into Orlando than just about anywhere else, so that's where we arrived, and where we booked our very cheap lodgings.
In case you haven't heard, Florida is an economic disaster area. We've had an economic slump in California, but Florida has slid several rungs down the evolutionary ladder, and now survives by eating a diet typical of Fiddler Crabs: theatre popcorn, detritus, and, when they can get it, plankton. Here is a sign posted in Orlando, and it was only one of many similar do-it-yourself cries for help.
In case you can't read it, this is advertising a one-bedroom, one-bath condo unti for $19 K--that is, $19,000. At today's exchange rates, that's about 12,500 British pounds, or 14,150 Euros. In other words, you can buy a modest apartment for the price of a decent used car. (If you want the place, the phone number is right at the bottom. If it's already sold, there's plenty more available.)
I have no urge to leave Orange County, California, for Orange County, Florida, but the economics are compelling. Anything here--and I mean anything--would cost literally ten times as much. But if I were going to leave California for the South, it wouldn't be for Florida. I'd rather go whole hog and relocate to, say, Faulkner country.
Still, the swamps are tempting. I'm one of those people who's drawn as much by ecosystems as by culture. And swamps are fascinating. I'm not going to wax poetic about fecundity and the waters of life, but a subtropical swamp is something to behold. Here's a picture I took of an alligator, out in the wild, in Florida--a medium-sized lady about six feet long, protecting her young. "Alligator" is a mangling of the Spanish "El Legarto," the lizard, and I must say that these beasts are The Lizard indeed; even the Lizard King, displacing Jim Morrison of The Doors.
Anywhere on the planet you can encounter something like this outside a zoo has some redeeming features, even if the local cuisine consists mostly of breaded deep-fried balls of lard. And, hey, if you have $19,000, you could live almost next to El Legarto. (Or is that La Legarta?)
Next stop, Charleston, South Carolina, where I promise to say something more writerly, since it's a literary city. I'm afraid Orlando and its environs aren't really that literary.
Though if prices stay down, I can imagine it might become a destination for expatriate European artists and writers who need a cheap place to play bohemian. Picture it. Orlando: the Left Bank of the 21st Century.