Key WEST Many Years Later

What is it that attracts us to a place?  Does it remain the same through life?

Last year, after a long hiatus, my husband and I decided to vacation in Key West.  We used to come here for a yearly getaway while living in college and then when newly married. In the 1950’s it seemed more remote than it does today, traffic and development have increased with few benefits that I can see.  It could be easy to fall into the “you should have seen it 50 years ago syndrome,” but my memory is not keen enough to have a clear image of what it all used to look like.  All that I really recalled clearly was the lure of the oceans surrounding the keys.  Depending on where you live and your life experiences, Key West probably means different things to you than it does to me.

If from the West Coast, probably nothing.

If from the East or Mid-West:

T shirt shoppes, bad art galleries and thousands of cruise passengers looking for Paradise on Duval Street?

If of a certain age:

Lily Pulitzer? Sloppy Joes?

yummy Lily fabric designs

Ernest Hemingway/Tennessee Williams/literary history (It’s almost an obsession here.  Stay away from his house if you’re allergic to cats.)

If still in college:

Drunken revelers?

To everyone:

Gorgeous sunsets? water, water? blue, aquamarine, turquoise.  JImmy Buffett

 

Key lime pie? Stone crabs?

Kermits key lime pie, do partake!

cigars?sponges? wreckers?

overseas railroad?

roosters?  Roosters and chickens can appear anywhere at any time.  It adds to the Bahamian feel of the place.  Sometimes they frighten me if they all of a sudden crow loudly when I don’t see them in nearby bushes. I imagine them snickering at me from their hiding spots when they see me jump in fear.

I had a few hazy memories of Key West in the early ’60’s, nothing that matches  the current reality. No matter.  Many of the things I’m drawn to are intact.  This trip, I was blown away by the numbers of historic buildings here.  Stuff rarely got torn town so that most everything that survived the fire of the late 1880’s is still remaining. Thanks to the lgbt community, the once dilapidated remains have largely been restored and probably never looked better. Key West now has the largest number of wooden historic houses of any town or city in the USA.

Continue reading “Key WEST Many Years Later”

oh! oy? christmas

I never feel ready for it. I am often baffled by it. I am uncomfortable with certain aspects of it. I am also fascinated by it. It? Christmas.

In Key West this year, Christmas manifests itself with over the top displays of lights, displayed on the unquestioned assumption that more is better, particularly if it’s a zany hodgepodge of Christmas clichés. Happy tourists walk the shopping streets wearing exaggerated Santa hats and necklaces of glowing Christmas lights Our neighbor’s holiday lights give our small street an aura of nostalgia and warmth. I briefly get caught up in the spirit and consider doing a few strings of white lights across our front porch, but then catch myself and decide it’s not at all necessary. The admonitions of childhood are hard to escape.

It’s a relief to see nary a crèche in sight on public land fought about and argued over. I no longer feel it necessary to explain to well-meaning strangers who wish me Merry Christmas that I don’t celebrate it, at least in their whole -hearted traditional way. Their shocked and saddened faces put an end to that little experiment years ago. It’s much easier and nicer to wish them Merry Christmas too, even if it sticks a bit in my throat on its way to being expresed.

The only piece of Christmas I missed the year was hearing my favorite carol sung by Johnny Mathis, Oh, Holy Night!. Of course, I can play it anytime I want with today’s technology, but that feels like cheating and doesn’t bring the thrill of hearing it suddenly come on the radio or of catching it on the sound system in a store.

And, whatever happened to shimmery tinsel and the magic of spray on artificial snow? I used to love that stuff, although it was always easier to find something to spray the snow on rather than drape in tinsel.

These days, I can go along for the Christmas ride more easily. I’m not sitting inside the car with the deliriously happy passengers, more like riding/clinging on the hood, observing and often enjoying it, but forever on the outside looking in.

Welcome to Paradise.

 

above the Florida keys

 

“Welcome to paradise,” announced the flight attendant, without a hint of irony, as we landed in Key West, Florida after a brief but glorious flight from Miami.    OK, I thought, let’s see what you’ve got.

We’re here for several days, in this promised land.

It’s quite beautiful here, despite the intense heat which causes anyone who’s been outside for 2 minutes to look as if they’ve just run a marathon. Continue reading “Welcome to Paradise.”

Bali Hai Redux

Do you know the song Bali -Hai from the musical South Pacific?  I loved every musical I saw growing up and knew the lyrics to all of them.  When I first saw the Florida Keys in 1958, I immediately began to sing Bali-Hai.  Not a perfect fit for the occasion, but close enough to satisfy my attraction at that young age to exotica and my innate knowledge that there’s a song for almost every occasion.

I lived in Florida from 1958-1968.  Whenever possible, I tried to talk anyone I knew with wheels to drive to the Keys with me.  In those years, it was a relatively isolated piece of heaven, made more unworldly by its two-lane road, known as the Overseas Highway, of over 100 miles, improbably linking a string of small islands together until finally arriving at the southernmost end; the eccentric and slightly bad-assed city of Key West.  The shimmering Atlantic Ocean spread out on one side of the highway, the Gulf of Mexico on the other. The colors of the waters surrounding the Keys are an alluring piece of eye candy; ranging from shades of aquamarine to turquoise.  Key West itself is more of an outpost of the Bahamas than a conventional city in the USA.

If you timed your trip just right and the weather cooperated, you could watch the remarkable sunset unfold as the water reflected the giant shifting clouds.

sunset

We left Florida behind us decades ago, ultimately moving to the West Coast.  Thoughts of the Keys dimmed with the years.

This past week we had a chance to revisit the Keys.  I’d heard that the ambience had changed dramatically because of over- development and an excess of tourism.   I approached my reacquaintance, not unlike the way one feels when catching up with an old boy or girlfriend.  Will the thrill be gone?  Will there be any attraction?  Will we have anything still in common other than our ancient history?

At first, my response was lukewarm.  Nice-to-see-you-again kind of thing.   Now that I live in close proximity to the Pacific Ocean, the watery surroundings didn’t seem as thrilling to me as they had 55 years ago. It seemed too flat a landscape, I missed the mountains. The glorious highway over the ocean now carried much more traffic.  It used to be a road we had almost to ourselves, now it was interrupted with ugly billboards advertising sandals for sale,  too many places selling seashells from distant dying ocean reefs, dive bars, and RV parks.  I began to think the love affair was over.  I didn’t feel any sense of a pilot light ignition.

But after a few days, I found my internal rhythm slowing down. I let go of my expectations.  I began to take in the natural beauty of the region again, noting that once off the main highway, life was about as casual, pleasant and relaxed as it could possibly be.  This time around there are mojitos to enjoy.  Getting up with the sunrise seemed suddenly(somewhat) effortless.  Key lime pie is readily available as is fresh fish in abundance. Who knew that Joe’s stone crabs came mostly from the Keys? Continue reading “Bali Hai Redux”