Maybe Matinicus needs a Sister City.
We’ve used this expression once in a while in a sort of meaningless way to mean other island towns, but maybe we ought to get ourselves a real, bona-fide sister city. There’s an organization called Sister Cities International that can help formalize this sort of thing. We ought to find out what’s involved. Maybe we could trade them some crabmeat for some elk steaks or pad thai or whatever.
And I don’t mean a city like Little Diomede, up there on the dateline in what is technically Alaska but where you can see into some Chukchi Siberian grandmother’s windows on a clear day. Even though it does share considerable numerical trivia with Matinicus: they are about twenty-five miles from the mainland, the island is a strong two square miles in size, the population is maybe around 140, and they are part of an Unorganized Borough. We’re a lot more organized than them who are Unorganized. Oh, sure. We should be able to offer each other lots of support, being as we all sort of cling to the windblown ledges. We could mail them stuff. They’d understand about deliveries taking a long time because there’s no mail if it’s raining. Maybe we could exchange information about how to get 1950’s-era road grader parts.
At one point I figured our Sister City ought to be Cleveland. I was not trying to be funny. The impetus to connect with Cleveland came about when Dennis Kucinich was running for President. We on Matinicus discovered that Kucinich had fought hard while Mayor of Cleveland for the Cleveland Municipal Power District or whatever it was called. Anybody, and any city, that knows how to fight for a power company is our kind of folks.
Last fall there was an article in the Coastal Journal about how Bath, Maine, has a sister city relationship with the Japanese village of Shariki, part of the city of Tsugaru. I don’t know what the connection is, but apparently a lot of people from Bath got to take an enjoyable exchange trip to Japan. I’m not sure that too many people from Matinicus are prepared to muster up a bake sale to raise money for an exchange trip to Cleveland. Maybe they would. My husband couldn’t go unless Cleveland would promise to send somebody over from the power company.
Perhaps a sister city need not be a similar place at all, but instead, could be a sort of diametrical opposite. If such were the case, we should make some arrangements with Singapore. In addition to being fairly close to the opposite side of the globe from Matinicus, Singapore is an exceedingly neat, safe, orderly place with a lot of social engineering, attention to rules, and societal controls which really, really come down hard on things like spitting on the sidewalk. There are criminal penalties for being obnoxious in public. Maybe they and we could sort of get together and split the difference.
After some exhaustive research, however (such as reading National Geographic in the bathroom,) it has become clear to me that our sister city is already out there, and it is actually Venice, Italy. Venice, according to both National Geographic and that other famous publication of record, the Maine Sunday Telegram, has a couple of problems beyond just wet feet. They’ve got tourists aplenty, but fewer and fewer actual residents. Most of the young people leave. The population is shrinking, the tourists are still coming, and it is not at all clear who is going to stick around and man the gondolas. We can sympathize. They’ve also got problems with ridiculous over-romanticization, Same Damned Stupid Question syndrome, and the burden of unexploded myths. We know about those.
The Telegram ran an Associated Press story last November about residents of Venice staging a mock funeral for the city. “As native Venetians flee in droves to the mainland,” the article explains, residents worry about the city’s viability as a real city and not just “a living museum.”
Yeah. Like when one Matinicus fisherman scolded a particularly annoying summertime shutterbug with “Hey, we’re not Colonial Williamsburg!”
According to the National Geographic piece, “Vanishing Venice,” by Cathy Newman (August 2009) tourists arrive with “guidebook in hand, fantasies packed along with toothbrush and sturdy shoes.”
Newman describes the reality of life in Venice: “…time is measured by the breath of tides, and space bracketed by water. The mathematics of distance, an accounting of footsteps and boat timetables, is instinctive to every Venetian.”
I’m sure they would have no trouble understanding our realities, things like “going to the airstrip to get your groceries” or “I have to cancel the dentist because it’s not flyable today.” Or, for the tourist, “You can come visit if you want but you might get stuck here.”
Venetian Mayor Massimo Cacciari comments on tourism this way: “Venice is not a sentimental place of honeymoon. It’s a strong, contradictory, overpowering place. It is not a city for tourists. It cannot be reduced to a postcard.”
I like this guy already. “A strong, contradictory, overpowering place.” Yes, yes, yes.
When Newman, of the Geographic, asks Mayor Cacciari if he would close the place to tourism if he had it his way, Cacciari responded with “perhaps…a little entrance examination.”
Bingo. We’ve found our Sister City. We probably won’t try to plan an exchange trip, though, because they don’t need any more tourists and it’s too damned much trouble to get off Matinicus right now anyway (even if somebody did come from Cleveland to substitute at the power company).
Eva Murray of Matinicus Island has never been any of these places. Her daughter has been to Cleveland.