At least two or three of the people I came down here with are talking seriously about buying apartments in Miami Beach, and I can't tell how much of it is the usual syndrome of northerners coming from their wintry homes to a subtropical location where it understandably occurs to them to wonder, "What the hell am I doing freezing my ass off when I could be living here?" and how much of it the natural reaction of New Yorkers upon learning they can have a beachfront condo for less than a permanent parking spot would cost them in most parts of Manhattan.
When I was living in Sydney I used to see the same thing: every week a new batch of Brits and Americans would turn up raving about how Australia was heaven on earth (it is, kind of) and that they were going back home to sell everything they owned and emigrate to the antipodean promised land. Some of them actually followed through with it (I very nearly did myself, and still occasionally not having done so when I had the chance), but for the great majority it's just a fantasy, more or less the real estate equivalent of a holiday romance, but nevertheless a fantasy that makes the trip all the more memorable and sweet.
I don't know how serious my friends are about buying places down here; they swear they're totally on it, and last night had dinner with a realtor who told them he expected apartment prices in South Beach to plummet by as much as 50% in the coming year because of overbuilding. At that point you'd be looking at apartments for as little as $100,000 as opposed to around $1,000,000 for anything decent in Manhattan.
But, I keep pointing out, so what if you can get an apartment for one tenth of the price if, when you walk out the front door, you're in Miami, not New York? I mean the beach is great, and who wouldn't want to be warm all year round, but beyond that, what else is there to make life here worthwhile? Lots, they tell me, but they've been out and about a lot while I've been mostly holed up at the hotel hoping the rain would stop. With any luck (i.e., some cooperation from the weather), I'll be able to do some exploring tomorrow, and maybe I'll change my tune, but as of now I'm going to have to say that despite its attractions, Miami is no Sydney.
Of course in Sydney you don't have salsa playing on the muzak channel in all-night drug stores, and you don't have a completely bilingual and bicultural city that serves as the North American capital of South America, so I guess that's another point for Miami, but at the same time, Miami is a totally flat, thoroughly paved over cul de sac at the wrong end of Hurricane Alley while Sydney is ringed by undulating hills, petite mountains and the most spectacular harbor in the world. Sydney culture may be slightly more monochromatic, but it's a city of four million people that offers nearly everything you'd expect in a metropolis of that size while leaving you far less likely to get shot.
Well, I guess when it comes down to it, I like both places; all things being equal I'd choose Sydney to live in myself, but that option's off the table, both because the immigration program under which I could have got in has expired, and also because the declining American dollar has taken what would have been a bargain for me and made it completely unaffordable. Anyway, I still happen to like New York a bit better than both places combined, so freezing winds and blowing snow, sleet and rain notwithstanding, it looks like there I'll stay.