A Florida Virgin No More

On the last morning of our cruise we awoke to this lovely sight, my first view of Florida.  I’d always imagined that I’d remain a Florida virgin forever, since nothing I’d ever heard about it appealed to me, but here I was, and it looked a lot like…..Mexico.  However, that proved to be but a temporary illusion, and once off the ship and out on the highway my Florida antipathy returned full force.

We drove back and forth across the state, visiting Shel’s old friends in St. Petersburg, then Rockledge, a tiny spot near Cocoa, and delightful as it was to see those dear people, Florida itself didn’t speak to me at all.  It’s flatter than the Canadian prairie and twice as hot, with low, scrubby vegetation for endless miles. When we did arrive in towns everything was new, plastic- looking, with boring low-profile houses spread out all over the flat landscape, and nothing much appealed to me.  We did have a wonderful Cuban lunch at a little place in St. Petersburg called La Teresita, which I recommend to anyone who loves home-style Cuban food at incredibly low prices.  All in all, though, I was looking forward to ending our Florida sojourn, until the moment we arrived in St. Augustine.

St. Augustine is beautiful. St. Augustine is old.  I had no idea. Previously unbeknownst to me, it’s considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in America, and still shows the traces of Spanish colonial architecture.

This is the garden of the Oldest Remaining House, the Gonzalex-Alvarez house, built around 1727, which, for America, is downright ancient.

The old part of town is full of shady courtyards, old stones, inviting porches, and I was ready to move there, until I remembered that I was dripping with sweat while walking around well before noon on an October morning.  I don’t even like to imagine the place in mid-summer.

The most amazing thing we saw in all of Florida was the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. This isn’t it. The museum is currently housed in a nondescript box of a building, but will be moving to a beautifully surrealist space at the beginning of 2011. I’d almost go back to St. Pete just to see the expanded exhibit in its new home.  We were both blown away by the beauty of what we saw there, having known very little about Dali or his work, apart from the famous melting clock.  I’m here to say that I’m a total convert, he painted some incredibly beautiful stuff, and if you’re ever in St. Petersburg, don’t miss the museum.  It should be a national treasure.

We only spent one day in each of these Florida towns, so I may well have missed the best bits.  But what I didn’t miss, couldn’t miss, saw everywhere, were horrifying billboards, many for anti-abortion groups, and the worst of them all, one that said “vote out all the liberals and progressives this November.”  Now, all of Shel’s Florida-dwelling old friends are themselves liberals and progressives, so I invariably asked them how they survived in such a desperately conservative environment. It turns out that one is moving to Mexico, two are hoping to move to Germany, and one says he just ignores it.

That’s the kind of thing that I just can’t ignore, Dali or no, Cuban food or no. And so I very much doubt that I’ll be returning to Florida, but I’m glad to have seen part of it, for what it is and what it isn’t. And now, on to a place I’ve always wanted to see, the famously beautiful city of Savannah.

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9 Comments on “A Florida Virgin No More”

  1. Debra Lane Says:

    Abra, I agree with you on your assessment of Florida, but we did love the beaches and Dusty is a big fan of the space shuttles and all that.

    I love living in Seattle because it is a progressive city and we are tolerant of everyone, even the righteous ultra conservatives. Even though I wish they would go back to where they came from sometimes! Happy travels!

  2. silvia carry Says:

    I agree: St Augustine is beautiful, if it wasn’t for the heat, you wouldn’t think its part of Florida at all. My mother in law’s sister lived there years and years.

  3. Brother Mark Says:

    I think you got most of the highlights. In other words, you didn’t miss much. Some of my favorite people live in Tampa/St. Pete, and Judy lives in Jacksonville now, but as much as I’d love a warmer climate, Florida has never called my name other than out of necessity or desire to visit loved ones.

    As much of a culture shock as it is for an Easterner like me, I can imagine how strange it must seem for someone who is used to a west coast or European energy. I’m glad you found La Teresita. I eat at the one in Tampa almost every time I’m there. You are right, great food at unbelievably low prices, and easily worth twice as much. Glad you’ve enjoyed your trip, and I know you will enjoy being back to your west-coast home. Safe travels!

  4. Rebecca Says:

    Reading your posts about this trip has had me so often thinking that it is amazing how differently we each see the world around us.
    Take this post-I wouldn’t have recognized Florida from your descriptions, and I lived there for most of my life! This is one more reason why I find the internet so wonderful, we can “meet” all kinds of people who we may never have the opportunity to otherwise, and see the world through other eyes. Of course, as a commie-pinko-liberal Floridian(why do you think we all adore flamingos, anyway?), I WOULD see things differently, wouldn’t I? 🙂

  5. Lori Says:

    Sounds like you two are having a wonderful trip. In addition to St Augustine, the other non-stereotypical Florida place we love – Key West. Haven’t been to Savannah in a while but it is a beautiful city. Enjoy!

  6. Nan Says:

    My husband and I live in Sarasota and enjoyed reading your perception of Florida, which is for the most part, right on. And no, believe me, you don’t want to be here in the summer, it’s brutal.

    Btw, the Dali Museum is in St Pete. So glad you got to visit it.

  7. Abra Bennett Says:

    Thanks, Nan, that was a total jet-lag induced brain fart!

  8. Nan Says:

    Yes, I figured that was the case and hey, they’re both St. something or other. Just wanted to set the record straight. Have a good trip home.

  9. Sandra G Says:

    I’m surprised frankly that no post indicated that they had been to the Dali museum in Figueres, Spain. I can’t imagine anything in the U.S. comparing to his “home” museum. It really brings home that Dali was not just a “melting clock”.

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