Monday, November 26, 2007
The Fruitville Chronicles, lost count of the days
Today is the penultimate day of our vacation and I am sitting at the table, staring up at the ceiling fan like Captain Willard. Something tells me that I'm not going to drink a bottle of cheap hooch, hallucinate that the neighborhood is going up in napalm flames, and smash my hand through a mirror, although I may get up from my seat in a minute and walk over to get an oreo. Take that for a dramatic embodiment of the perpetual conflict between conscience and ego, Francis Ford Coppola.
When we last huddled together for a chat I believe I had to cut things short to go for Thanksgiving dinner. Much like in the north, family gathered, football was watched, the food staples were served (albeit in a slightly different form) and gratefully consumed. It certainly was a nice change to be able to gird up for the giant meal by walking along the beach in shorts and bare feet rather than pushing through grit and sleet whipped around by the Alberta Clipper; it was odd to feel the cold pulse of the air conditioner rather than the warming rumble of the furnace while sitting at the table. I think I shall file this year under the subjective title of "Bizzaro Thanksgiving", when everything was opposite it's normal state.
We haven't slackened in our pace and have continued to explore Sarasota and its environs. I must admit that I'm rather taken with downtown Sarasota as it still carries the air of the sleepy yet quietly prosperous town this place once was before A/C, final value pensions, cheap credit, and the ideas of Victor Gruen transformed life in the south. The main street bears the stretch marks of a revitalization in progress, with the usual crop of gourmet stores, clothing boutiques, and restaurants. It may be getting gentrified, by gentrified beats atrophied in my book. Besides the presence of the old hardware store, a less-than-elegant liquor store, and the Gator Club bar serve as anchors of authenticity for the purists. Country Mouse and I are taking advantage of the in-built babysitting to go eat at one of downtown's many restaurants tonight, and maybe a pint at the Gator.
On the subject of dining, I'm sad to report that the majority of places we have eaten at down here serve the same variation on the theme of fried/blackened white fish (substitute tilapa, mahi mahi, haddock, etc based on specific geographic location), burgers, french fries, and caesar salads that signify casual family dining from Key West to Lubec. Your vegetable for tonight will be coleslaw, once more; and would you like something fried and cheese covered on top of your romaine lettuce? I believe that there is a central distribution point, in Nebraska maybe, that handles all the food service orders for these joints on the east and west coasts (and which is also responsible for clam bellies on Iowa menus).
I know there are different options down here and that our dining out menu these past two weeks has been a function of pleasing as many palates as possible while offending none. It does sadden me somewhat however to see that while there are miles of coastline in America and much of it is inhabited, fresh fish markets are few and far between and sourcing good, fresh local produce that can stand on its own without immersion into a fryolator is still a fringe activity among restaurateurs. Nothing I have eaten has been bad and much of it has been pretty darn tasty. I just know it could be better.
In addition to exploring downtown and hitting the casual dining joints, Country Mouse, Scout, and I commandeered the Astro van this past weekend and spread our wings south and east. On Saturday we had a delightfully low key reunion with my old pal Max, who now lives in Nokomis. He and his partner Melissa have carved out an eclectically beautiful spot for themselves, as is their wont wherever they pause to lay out their bedrolls, and he proved to be a most wonderful barometer of local opinion on a whole range of topics. We stuck around neighboring Venice for that evening's holiday parade (multiple Santas [santii?] at 70 degrees F is most surreal) and were rewarded with an amazing display of rhythm and pyrotechnics from Max and his pals in the Nokomis drum circle. The evening ended with a phosphate and sundae binge at a restored 1950s soda fountain: quite excellent.
On Sunday we again took the van and this time we headed east, to Mayakka River State Park. I had never seen an alligator in the wild before yesterday: I certainly never expected to see close to fifty of them out the window of a slow moving airboat. The various wading birds and vultures were fantastic, and I was struck with the particularly pooterish thought of how much the wide and shallow (4 feet at the deepest point) tea colored lake resembled the Norfolk Broads. Mondale- if global warming continues you and I could make our names as the men who introduced alligators to Hickling Broad. Just a thought.
Once again social demands require that I finish up. People are stirring for the early evening activities and I should go lend a hand before taking Country Mouse on a date. We fly out of this lovely yet peculiar place on Wednesday: back to cold, dark, and the USB cord for uploading photos....