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… the first book I read about Florida. I remember it in the bookshelf of the room I shared with my older sister in the second house we rented in Garrett Park. I also remember being charmed and excited by the pinkness of the motel’s buildings and by descriptions of life under Spanish moss and under a hot sun. From the outset, Florida was for UD a whole other world.

Every December, my parents loaded their four kids into our VW camper bus and drove down to explore a part of Florida. On the way, we always stayed at South of the Border. I recall the Everglades; orange groves; Jonathan Dickinson State Park (which my mother loved); Daytona Beach; a Seminole reservation. We watched a guy wrestle an alligator. We stayed at campsites.

Years later, I lived for awhile in Key West and loved it – loved everything about it (see the category Snapshots from Key West). The tropical exoticism I’d come to associate with Florida was intensely there at the southernmost point. But so was a loose oddball way of life, a way people had of rolling out the path they wanted to take and then taking it. I’ve never seen houses so expressive of philosophies of happiness as I’ve seen on Key West.

I always knew about the catastrophic overdevelopment of Florida; I always knew the state’s tacky side, and its ostentatious side. But my sentiment in favor of its beautiful strangeness hasn’t diminished since I sat in my parents’ VW staring at an armadillo crossing in front of our van.

Even here, on this well-heeled island, where I’m living the softest life imaginable in a floating world of perfect weather, warm water, and sheltering palms, I’m alive to the odd and alluring undercurrent of this state.

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