A few years ago readers joined me for a fascinating exercise.
We searched for the soul of Naples.
The journey was prompted by dark headlines from New Orleans. An Associated Press story reported that certain museum artifacts had to be moved to safety amid Hurricane Katrina, for fear of losing “the soul of New Orleans.”
That got me to thinking about our own community, and what its soul might be.
Also, with our area growing so rapidly beyond the actual boundaries of Naples, how far should the concept of “Naples” extend?
Attempts to identify the soul at the time ranged from our environment to our volunteers and from the Naples Pier to our architecture.
And our churches.
One fellow just the other day told me the arts are the soul of Naples.
Still, ultimately, a few years ago we reached a consensus that there was no consensus.
Could it be that the soul — the essence, the very heartbeat — that brought us to Naples in the first place was gone? Sold away to developers? (Or today, sold away to an imbalanced economy that now is crushing us?)
I had an epiphany the other weekend that might move this project along.
I might have found it.
The soul of Naples just might be the food court at Coastland Center mall at lunchtime on a Saturday.
The meeting place.
Is there any other place that gets so many different people together at one time?
Think about it.
There are all ages. And all ethnic origins. Big, little. Short, tall.
Grimy little baseball players and Botoxed grandmothers.
Shoppers with big bags.
Teens with T-shirts of Venezuela and Mexico and Abercrombie & Fitch.
It’s really something.
A human laboratory.
Now it has a kiosk that lets you make a karaoke CD, starting at $10. (That place is going to make a mint.)
It’s a break from the recession. Light years from Gulf Shore Boulevard. A different planet from the Naples of 30 or even 20 years ago.
An interesting reflection of the variety of ethnic food places that form its border.
When Coastland was born, the mall food court was a tiny room off to the side with, as I recall, three or four places to eat including one that featured crepes and other yuppie things with sprouts, and you sat on bar stools and talked to the lone employee — the cook.
The soul of Naples? We may have found it. Maybe while we were looking for something profound it was right under our noses.
* * *
You used to never hear the word diversity.
Now you hear it everywhere in Naples.
An instructor at Edison State College the other day remarked how surprisingly diverse his class is.
The graduating class from Lorenzo Walker Institute of Technology was deemed remarkable for its diversity.
Last but not least, a landscape architect remarked on the diversity of opinion among his colleagues on the local median motif.
* * *
Next time there is “heat lightning’’ at night, stop and soak up the spectacle of tall clouds being electrified to life — safely in the distance.
* * *
You have to admit it’s kind of funny that at North Naples’ Carillon Plaza shopping center, Total Wine and the Family Christian Store are next-door neighbors.
Jeff Lytle is editorial page editor of the Daily News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Call him at 263-4773. Check his blog at naplesnews.com/blogs/jefflytle