Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Fruitville Chronicles, Day 9

Six months ago I didn't think I'd be sitting in shorts and t-shirt on Thanksgiving morning having had grits for breakfast. Que sera, sera.

Today is the first day of our trip when we aren't off exploring in the specially rigged Chevy Astro van. A lawn chair has been bungeed in the back so one of us can ride tail-gunner fashion, as there are more passengers than there are seats. As with all families, we take a distinct pride in adapting existing resources when visiting rather than shelling out for a rental. "Shoot- there's three cars between the fifteen of us: y'all can fit!" is our merry refrain (y'alls supplied by the southern contingent). We have been riding in the specially rigged Astro through some of Sarastoa's more expensive neighborhoods, alternating between ogling the ostentation and figuring how many of those floor-to-ceiling windows will blow out in the next hurricane. At first glance we must look like a van load of undocumented Guatemalan landscaping laborers: the surprised looks we get when we pile out brandishing cameras instead of weed whackers are superb.

We haven't just been emulating Robin Leach, however. We are half way through checking out all the attractions Sarasota has to offer, and so I thought I'd offer up a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to the must-sees we have taken in so far:

Things to do in the Greater Sarasota area (a guide by W. Weasel)
Siesta Key Beach
: famous for its sand with the consistency of sugar which doesn't get hot under foot no matter how fierce the sun, Siesta Key's public beach is the perfect spot for that classic Thanksgiving time tradition, turkey hunting. We aren't talking about the noble birds of course, but rather the human phenomenon of barrel-bellied middle aged men sun-cooked to the color of an Etruscan pot and slathered with some sort of vile oil. These men look like they have either been basted or shellacked, and for an alabaster freak like myself it is quite disconcerting. I can't figure out why the look is so popular- maybe its how they attract their Thai mail order brides, turning up in their home village looking like something that could feed the whole extended family should things go badly and thus winning the matriarch's approval. I do believe some of these chaps have Coastguard banning orders forbidding them to swim, lest their crispy skin and oily outer layer cause an environmental holocaust.

St Armand's Key Circle: This is a popular shopping district, anchored by the Columbia Cuban restaurant ("since 1905"). As you might expect for an area popular with tourists and senior citizens, the shops generally cater to the "retired color-blind Baptist minister and his secretly rum-nipping wife" set, with a sea of choices for the lover of pastel citrus palette prince of wales check sports coats and burn-victim pattern golf sweaters. Country Mouse and I were able to find some gems among the -ahem- brighter clothing choices. However having packed every garment Scout owns to bring with us and thus not having any space in the suitcases we had to content ourselves with window shopping.

Venice Beach (FL): Unlike Venice Beach (CA), there are no nutcases bench pressing roller-blading Baywatch extras. Instead there is just a stunning beach, a grand fishing pier, Sharky's Restaurant, and a sobering display of jaws from tiger- and black-tipped sharks caught off the pier that put me right off going for a swim.

The Mote Aquarium: Out on Lido Key, past the Salty Dog, sits the Mote Aquarium. Its really cool, does incredible research, and has a pair of resident dolphins. Scout loved this place more than anywhere we have been so far- apparently, 6 month-olds can be rendered insensible with glee by the sight of clown fish swimming in an enormous tank. Good to know, for future reference. The next time she's fussy I'm taking her to loiter in the lobby of Rockland's only Thai restaurant so we can stare at the fish tank.

The dolphins live at the aquarium due to chronic health conditions that preclude their release into the wild: the Mote also tends to sick turtles, manatees, small whales, and other dolphins before returning them to their natural habitats. This leads to a memorable docent speech, in which he lists the various ailments these sea creatures present to the vets: "We had a pilot whale with sunburn. A spinner dolphin with chronic fatigue syndrome. A myopic minke. A leatherback turtle with crabs. A manatee with the shits. A bi-polar moray eel..."

The Ringling Museum of Art, Circus Museum, and Mansion: John Ringling, circus master and entrepreneurial investor, put Sarasota on the map. He made a colossal fortune (not from 25c circus tickets alas, but from oil leases on land he owned in Oklahoma) and with his wife Mable spent much of their lives trying to acquire the trappings of American aristocracy, even going as far as buying whole rooms from the Astor mansion in New York and reassembling them in Florida. They were never accepted by high society, and predeceased by Mable John died broke, having been all-but wiped out by the 1929 Wall Street crash. How do the house and grounds look? Exactly as one would expect the house of a carnie who came into money would look. I think that says it all.

The art museum is great for lovers of European art from the 1500s to the 1700s. Unfortunately, I am not one of them. The Defenestration of St John the Baptist by plump topless ladies egged on by satyrs- eh, seen one like that, you've seen them all. The best part of the museum was far and away the tall wall that allowed me to crouch down and pose Scout like Mussolini giving a speech from a reviewing stand- photos to follow upon our return.

The circus museum is something else. I hate clowns, but even I was impressed, especially by the miniature circus that one man spent 20 hours a week for 50 years building before donating it to the museum. Such lunacy rarely gets recognized in this day and age, and I am glad that the Ringling went so far as to build a pavilion to house the output of this peculiar genius. Also impressive was the enclosure for the two clowns with chronic medical conditions that preclude their release into the wild. They also treat other clowns there for a variety of ailments and you can check out the hospital cages. Even behind bars and heavily sedated you can still sense the terrible power and palpable evil of these smiling killers: it is a salutatory reminder to treat these grease painted carnivores with a healthy respect at all times.

My time with you today draws to a close: no doubt I shall have more to report soon. A Happy Thanksgiving to my American visitors, and to the rest of you- back to work, stop wasting your employer's Internet connection reading this drivel.


Margaret Evans Porter said...

Scout and the clown fish tank--sounds adorable.

I hear of far more people in this world who hate clowns (my chap and I are among them). Love them? Most children are terrified of them, and I'd venture to say they creep out the majority of adults.

In all my life I've only met one human who "loves clowns." That's only one of many things wrong with her.

Lovely travelogue.

Joe said...

If the relatives suggest a trip to the Sarasota Jungle Gardens, feign a deadly allergy to flamingos. Whatever it takes to go someplace else.

Trust me.

mainelife said...

Happy Turkey Day to you and yours. We kept your home environs on the straight and narrow in your absence--my my was it cold. The upside was that we didn't see any of those barrel-bellied men you write of so eloquently :)

weasel said...

Thanks chums. Joe, we were able to dodge that particular bullet this very morning.

One day left, then back to el Norte. I may be strange, but I'm actually looking forward to hat and gloves weather again.

Listmaker said...

that circus museum sounds great. gotta get there one day.

Clockwatcher said...

I once lived in the Sarasota area for 6 long months. L-O-N-G months. However, the Barnum & Bailey museum was great, as was the Dali museum.