It’s twilight here in Art Deco-land. The older motel structures are mostly now painted white and aqua. Neon lights are coming on and the setting sun gives everything a pinkish glow.
Here in southern Florida the Art Deco is mostly Nautical Deco (as opposed to more theatrical Deco found elsewhere) featuring elements from ships such as plain railings, straight, spare, mostly horizontal lines, occasional circles representing ship portholes, and rounded ends resembling the bows of ships.
The grillwork above would be an example of the more theatrical style of Art Deco.
Examples of Nautical Deco or a contemporary interpretation of it below:
Although many of the old motels have been preserved and turned into “boutique” lodging, there is more huge, contemporary construction, often architecturally impressive and using elements that reinterpret and continue the Deco style. There are a few that seem to emulate sails or waves.
The sidewalks by the ocean are sometimes brick laid in a wave pattern that can be a little dizzying to walk on, and the low stucco barrier walls are sometimes undulating rather than straight, as waves. The concrete gateways indicating the frequent entrances to the beach are also upward-spiraling, curling shapes (reminding of the Guggenheim in New York). As such, some of the angularity of the typical architecture seems to be offset by the more undulating, curvy shapes at the beach.
I ran almost 5 miles yesterday morning among an impressive herd of runners and cyclists on Beach Boulevard. No shortage of fitness inspiration here, and sometimes they even smile back. There is one nationality after another encountered from all across the world and it’s a pleasure to see it all working well, at least as it appears superficially in as undemanding and transient a setting as a popular beach area. On the other end of the day I went out for a walk and stumbled upon a Primanti Brothers with a Kennywood sign inside (but nobody working there whose first language was English, much less Pittsburghese).
But let’s go back to the start of the nonvolunteering part of this trip:
Bolongo Bay on St Thomas was a great place to relax, the only downside being that it’s not possible to walk anywhere – even to the next property on either side of its beach. But everything needed is at hand and it’s mercifully unfussy, the food is great, and the staff are helpful and understand hospitality. I did not expect anything but a room by the beach, but they looked after me, treated me like a welcomed friend, and I enjoyed being with them.
The prehistoric creature in the picture below – verified as a large iguana and one that was, with tail, an easy 3.25′ long – crawled out from underneath my pool chaise and would have gone unnoticed had it not been for the faint scritch-scratch sound of its toenails on the concrete 6 inches beneath me. The staff said that although they don’t bite, they’ll whack you with their tails and that I was lucky not to find that out the hard way.
A guy who had been sitting by the swim-up bar at the pool for most of the day and had intermittently been looking my way evidently became inebriated enough to leave his bar buddies, wade through the pool over to my chair, and ask if I knew if they sold sunscreen in the gift shop (the gift shop that was not 15′ from his drinking chair). He wanted me to tell him because he’d left his sunscreen up in his room and “didn’t feel like walking back up to get it”. I suspect he wanted me to provide him with sunscreen, or maybe just wasn’t smooth at introductions, but I hadn’t brought mine down either. As hotels go, this place is tiny and has only two floors. I tried not to laugh openly because not wanting to exert oneself to walk up to one’s nearby room just sounds absurd to a woman who’s been hauling lumber, sledgehammering concrete, hauling huge buckets of water and living in a tent among rats and cockroaches for weeks.
I had clothes on. Honest…..
The hotel had a taxi waiting for me to go to Charlotte Amalie, and within the few hours I had there, I ran across several more interesting, friendly and engaging people, including a very sweet girl who was working in a restaurant (Jen’s Cafe by the gazebo and Post Office…..they have Roti and ginger iced tea with ginger grown in the owner’s garden). This girl had come to the island as a volunteer with the same organization as myself…… and never left.
A Passport Control official asked what my business on the islands had been, and when I told her, she took both my hands in hers and genuinely thanked us all for helping. I was again very moved as have been every time these islanders express gratitude and show themselves to be the incredibly kind and open people that they are. They’ve had a really bad time of it. I am sad to be leaving those islands in a way, but have found the local people here where I am in Florida friendly and willing to be warm and engaged as well. I’ve signed up with 3 more disaster response organizations and hope to be back out helping in St. Croix, Puerto Rico or Florida soon.
The Spirit flight from St Thomas to Fort Lauderdale was easy and there were more interesting, friendly people. I’m in a good “boutique” hotel where staff is around if you need them, but you’re free to do as you wish, including swimming in one of two little heated pools in the middle of the night if you like and hanging clothes to dry on railings Clampett-style. I can’t understand why people choose fancy hi-rises where they have to wait for elevators, are nowhere near the outdoors and are surrounded by people anytime they’re out of their rooms.
How to get yourself mowed down in Fort Lauderdale:
The gray silhouettes of the ships here remind me of a dream I had at age 25. I’d finished putting myself through my first degree by working full time and was living, unhappily and drinking too much, in Baltimore. The dream was of the gray silhouette of a huge ship on the horizon understood to be moving away, having left the silent seaport where I stood with my father watching from a pier that was also in grayness. As we watched the ship moving past, as is typical of dreams (that their meaning is in the concrete words describing their images) I understood that I had “missed the boat”. My father seemed to be there to help me understand. I started the process of getting into nursing school shortly after, which focused me and brought my world into compliance with adult expectations rather quickly because working full time and getting through a program as intensive as Nursing required just that.
I’d planned to watch the calorie intake yesterday, but didn’t make it past a Turkish place by the beach at 10:30 a.m. A smiling, friendly, heavily pierced girl brought me falafels and baba ghanoush and told me the difference between Indian kadhi kofta and Turkish kofte. Afterward in one of the 10 or so kitchy beach souvenir shops I visited, I heard a very low, masculine voice with a distinctly French accent. But the person, a shop worker, had the appearance of a small, slender, vigilant, un-made-up and worn older woman. I spoke to her in French and she explained that she had lived in Paris for 20 years and had been a “showgirl” at the Folies Bergere, presumably in Cabaret and in drag. I enjoyed her flamboyant, interesting, personal conversation and she reminded me of a drag queen I knew long ago in Louisville. Something about the eyes. I found her fascinating.
Here’s a typically tacky-but-funny beach souvenir item.
Here’s one of the curly-tailed lizards that scurry all over the walkways:
I walked and wandered most of the day after gym, yoga, and laundry yesterday. At night I got dressed up in a beach dress and roamed the busy Beach Boulevard looking for a place to watch salsa dancing, as a shopkeeper on Hollywood Beach last year had recommended going up to Fort Lauderdale to watch some. Eventually I stopped at a place called Ibiza because Ibiza is part of Spain and there was live music and a woman dancing something flamenco-like with an initially-Spanish-guitarist. But the dancer stopped dancing after one song and after a few standards like Bessame Mucho, the guitar player headed permanently into non-Spanish territory…..and by that I mean Stairway to Heaven and the like.
From this morning’s run south to the causeway: George Jetson’s House meets the Statue of Liberty –
Drop-in Yoga was mostly just irritating. Time and time again at drop in classes teachers seem to assume that since you’ve not been to THEIR class before, you must be new to yoga. And they insist that certain well-known poses be done a specific way that aren’t done that way other places. I didn’t get much of a workout either Saturday or Sunday, and the instructor held the classes out in front of the studio on a very lumpy, sloped (both downward and sideways) area of cushioned fake plastic grass. People passing by took pictures of us.
One night I wandered into a shop and almost exited quickly when saw the prices on their bathing suits. But I was directed to a sale rack and found a really nice bathing suit for a surprisingly reasonable price. The older woman running the shop called me “mamacita” repeatedly and was very excited that the bathing suit fit well …….and kept running her hands all over the suit….with me in the suit. We had a warm conversation about exercise, grandchildren, and whether it was necessary at our ages to have spouses and/or boyfriends. I’ll spare you the details:0)).
Yesterday afternoon there were hoards of drunk, obnoxious people spilling out of the open-air bars by 2:30 in the afternoon. I put on my new Supersale Ralph Lauren swimsuit and went to the beach, which I expected not to like all that much, as I remember the water last year around this time at Hollywood Beach to the South being murky and cold. But there was more to like about this area – the water was just cooler than lukewarm, clear, and the waves were soft.
I’d considered getting a massage at the spa associated with the North Beach Village hotels, but it was very expensive, required advance scheduling (however they don’t actually answer their phone), and since most often spa services just leave me wishing I’d not bothered, I decided to skip it. On my way to do laundry at one of the hotels affiliated with the one where I’m staying, I passed a motel with an ad out front for a spa and thought to have a look. On approaching the front door of this motel I was behind a man in a Speedo thinking he was probably European (because they do like their Speedos). The ad out front for the spa showed a man having a facial which vaguely struck me as odd, but I quickly dismissed the little hint as sexist on my part because why wouldn’t spas have advertisements including men? When the Speedo guy reached the front door and started looking for his key, I asked him if there was a spa brochure available inside. He said that yes, there was a brochure inside, but that the spa and motel were for men only. It was an odd moment that I thought was pretty funny but the guy in the Speedo seemed not to.
All nationalities and ethnicities are represented here, and at least presently, none seem to dominate. Everyone seems to have a part to play and a place in the sun. It’s one of my favorite parts of travel to be among a wide variety of others who belong to a wider world, but I’m also glad to go back home to the familiar as well. At least I’m glad for a few weeks, anyway.
This later and more free time in life is my time to pursue new and interesting experiences that weren’t possible as a young person. I’m rarely disappointed as a novelty-seeker, even though some of this flinging oneself out into the wide world alone brings challenges that aren’t pretty. But I wouldn’t trade the things I’ve seen and done for anything, and travel and new pursuits have helped me grow in ways that would have been otherwise impossible.
Until next time, thanks to family and friends for the text and email connection. I love you all!