Pride in modesty: the spirit of our place

Posted on October 31, 2013 by Sonoma Valley Sun

The Hotel Limitation Measure, Measure B, is not all about what’s wrong with large hotels but about what’s right with small.

The roots of Sonoma are in agriculture and the kind of culture that happens in agricultural regions. When agriculture flourishes over time in a place, its fortunate inhabitants quietly enjoy what everyone else wishes they had. Tuscany, Provence, Surrey, and many other prosperous agricultural environments are among the world’s most desirable places to live.

Like many of these regions, Sonoma was an insular backwater, protected as much by its humbleness as its distance from urban areas. We have been spared pervasive American real estate ventures simply by not being an off-ramp of a freeway.

More people travel now, and it turns out that all this simple farming, food, and wine stuff has a certain cache within our cultural models. Classical landscapes of agriculture are a most comfortable agreement of man and nature. Our simple pleasures and skills are fashionable precisely because they are authentic in a world that is otherwise devoted to entertainment and the sale of objects with status-defining attributes.

The so-called “world class” attraction of Sonoma is not found in any chamber of our commerce. What we enjoy are some remnants of genuine authenticity. The “luxury” and “exclusivity” people find here is this: Sonoma is not at all like where they live; It is like the place they wished they lived.

You can’t commoditize that. Investor-grade hotels cannot create that. You can’t find designers, tastemakers or a catalogue to buy it from. Great places, like great gardens, require gardeners, and great human places require nurturing over time. That’s why they are tear-gushingly beautiful and oh so very rare. Nobody advertises this fact because nobody can sell it. They can only place their product or their average mid-size hotel within it to create desire-by-association with an authenticity they utterly lack.

There is quick money to be made turning our town into a commercialized version of itself, but trendy becomes unfashionable and squalid almost overnight. As an alternative, we could enhance what we have, refine our authentic identity and make the whole even more valuable. Jack London would not be caught dead in the White Fang Bar. Would we even want to hang with those who would? Places that have merely named their soulless ventures to remind us of their significance allow an essence to slip away. Those places are an empty souvenir.

In this election we have a chance to preserve and build on our authenticity. To reinforce the spirit of this place, and to discourage that which is not. Sure, there are fabulous large hotels. Let other places, without our specific and unique blessings build that starter-luxury experience. They have little else to offer.

Let us build on the modest virtues of our agricultural roots. Let us invite those who appreciate this life to our modest locally-owned and staffed commercial ventures which will be even more rare and valuable next year and the year after that.

Let us all vote “Yes” on Measure B.

Ned Forrest

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