Zoom!

Imagine playing recreational golf with one driver, an iron, and a putter. Accessing the game would be so much easier without the expense of all those clubs. And when playing the course, think how much time could be saved between strokes by not having to decide which club to select for each shot.

While it’s not the perfect metaphor, I’ve approached photography with the same minimalist philosophy. I’ve been photographing with a Panasonic Lumix digital bridge camera (fixed zoom lens) for the past few years instead of lugging around equipment that I might use, but most likely never would.

How do I know this? Despite decades of shooting a variety of photography disciplines (landscape, nature, portrait, street scene, architecture, etc.) that required a variety of prime and telephoto lenses neatly arranged in my equipment bag, I’ve noticed that I’m rarely disappointed by the versatility of the LEICA DC VARIO-ELMARIT 24X optical zoom permanently mounted to my Lumix DMC-FZ300, while also freeing myself of a senseless burden that would invariably sink deeper into my shoulder with every step and slow me down.

It’s truly a remarkable lens for nearly all occasions! The range and reach of the camera’s 25 – 600mm zoom has seldom left me needing more lens, or regretting my camera choice in favor of a full-fledged DSLR…until now…since there are times I’m wishing I could gain greater detail by getting closer to my subject.

For instance, walking across a boardwalk over marshland strictly limits my ability to get closer to wildlife. The following photograph is a hand-held shot of a heron that caught my attention at a scenic overlook while hiking along the Guana Loop of Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM). 

heron on a limb

At 24X zoom, the image is acceptable, but if I choose to isolate the heron by cropping the bird to full frame, the resolution suffers greatly. Ideally, a tripod could have provided better image clarity, but the digital noise would still remain the same.

heron on a limb (4)

However, I discovered another available option that allows me to get a bit closer without relying on the camera’s built-in digital zoom–which I’m inclined to deactivate since I prefer to shoot RAW. Years ago, Lumix created a 1.7X tele conversion lens with adapter, extending the optical zoom to 40.8X, or the equivalent zoom range of 1020mm. But alas, this accessory has been discontinued.

Fortunately there’s a secondary market for almost everything photographic, so after a brief visit to the internet, I found a seller on eBay that offered the requisite 1.7X tele converter, a close-up lens, mount adapter, and tripod mount ring, all for a fraction of the original price of the tele lens.

And I bought it!

extender setHaving traveled to the GTM with my new/used acquisition, and having survived the burden of carrying extra gear, I assembled the lens and carefully threaded it onto the existing camera lens. I planted my feet, braced myself and shot the heron again!

heron on a branch (2)

A side by side comparison tells the story…

The image on the right is noticeably cleaner, even though the focus appears to be a bit soft, informing me that capturing a crisp, hand-held shot at 40.8X is not my specialty, and probably ill-advised.

Ugh! So now I’m forced to carry a tripod or monopod to make better use of the lens extender. Oh, well. There goes the economy of my photography.

marshland (2)

Then again, I could simply stick to the limits of the original lens…

GTM Estruaine (2)

but then again, with an impending trip to photograph big game animals in Africa at the beginning of May, I’m much better off adjusting to three golf clubs instead of one.

Ancient Light

The day in St. Augustine started out dreary, with passing drizzle and smoky cloud cover, but with the polar vortex finally loosening its grip on the Midwest, and the California coastline bracing for epic rain and mud, the local weather seemed well within the bounds of “I can’t complain” conditions for a Florida weekend.

Nevertheless, taking a chance on an outdoor activity seemed risky. So Leah and I hedged our bets and we traveled to St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, where $12.95 will buy a St. Johns County resident general admission for one year. We figured that we could always duck the rain…

Parabolic view

by browsing the Keeper’s house,

containers

and following the marble tiles to the landing anchorage.

approach

Then it’s 219 steps to the top.

signs 2 (2)

Congress authorized new construction in 1870 to replace the fading “Old Spanish Watchtower” by the shoreline, that’s evolved since the late 1500’s.

$100,000 funded three years of construction.

signs 1 (2)

Tourists have been climbing the corkscrew stairs since 1910. The Philadelphia iron works…

stair risers

hug the walls of the 165 foot Alabama brick structure,

signs 3 (2)

occasionally interrupted by keyhole glimpses of life…

looking out.jpg

until the stairs reach an opening…

looking up

to a 360-degree lookout… 

lighthouse view2 (3)

that’s capped by 370 hand-cut glass prisms arranged in a beehive shape towering twelve feet tall and six feet in diameter.

difracted fresnel

The original lens was restored in 1992 because of vandals, 

The Fresnel Lens (2)

and re-lit by a 1000-watt bulb the following year.

difraction close-up (2)

Today, the tower represents the oldest brick structure in St. Augustine, and shines a bright light on a community that preserves its heritage, protects through its presence, and invests in its future.

lighthouse overview

 

 

Palatka Pride

On the surface, Palatka, FL appears to be an antiquated town that time has left behind. As the county seat of Putnam County, there is legal commerce aplenty,

Putnam County Courthouse1 (2)

but Main Street bears the battle scars of a once-vibrant retail scene.

Offices for Rent

Far too many vacant store and empty sidewalks along St. Johns Avenue suggest that downtown Palatka’s panache has been replaced by big-box retailers like Wal-Mart (only three miles away)–jokingly confirmed by a hand-painted directional crossroads sign…

Walmart sign

beside an empty storefront.

In fact, it would seem that much of Palatka is FOR RENT…

Kiddie Kampus

or simply un-rentable…

Texaco Service Station

Palatka sits on the west bank of St. Johns River offering strategic access into Central Florida, which is what made Palatka a once-thriving pre-Civil War trading post after land-hungry American settlers eliminated the Seminoles, driving them west of the Mississippi.

Bird's-eye_View_of_Palatka,_FL (2)

Equally important to Palatka’s economy at the time was its mild sub-tropical winters–extending farmers’ growing season and making the area a popular tourist destination for the hoi polloi, whose wealthier counterparts enjoyed a luxury haven in nearby, coastal St. Augustine (read The Poshest Campus in America, and Otto’s Collections).

Unfortunately, a historic fire in 1884 and deep-freeze in 1894 sealed Palatka’s fate as a favored destination, as most tourists migrated South. The city rebuilt, and eventually re-emerged as a manufacturing hub, with Georgia Pacific currently holding title to the largest private sector employer.

But what of downtown today for its nearly 11,000 residents, and how can they possibly compete with St. Augustine to the North, Orlando to the West, and Daytona Beach to the South?

The city, when considering its redevelopment needed a gimmick–something to breath new life into it.

Dragon on a roof

It needed a serious makeover, or maybe some divine intervention.

St. Mary's Church

Driving traffic back to the beat of the city was important. The Bingo Palace added some well-deserved blue-collar cache and shabby chic to the area,

Bingo Palace1

and preserving Angels Diner for future fans of Guy Fieri has also become a go-to venue.

One look around the interior of Angel Diner, and it defies the gravity of its standing as Florida’s oldest diner.

Angels Diner exterior

By any law of nature, it shouldn’t be standing, but this tin-skin dive is a testament to the wire and glue that seemingly holds its walls from caving. Stepping through its Hobbit-like entrance is like being transported back to a time when shiny greasy spoons offered up Happy Day burgers and shakes, while we listened to the jukebox soundtrack of our Growing Pains.

Angels Diner interior

Leah and I shared a hefty order of Fish and Chips. The check came to eight bucks, and it was tasty! 

fish and chips.jpg

A walk around downtown after our meal left the impression that Palatka is much like a collection of rusty charm pieces; although it boasts a historic district with a melange of classic architectural styles, it’s still fighting to remain relevant.

While there is ample nostalgia here, and a story to tell of old Florida, perhaps all that’s really needed is a broom and a fresh coat of paint.

Enter the Conlee-Snyder Mural Committee in 1998, which has opted to:

…accurately depict the historical, cultural, and natural riches of Palatka and Putnam County in larger-than-life murals.  In sharing these pictorial renderings with visitors and citizens, appreciation of the heritage of the community will be enhanced and developed.

The city’s plan of commissioning a plethora of tribute murals over the past twenty years has given rise to a tourism rebirth, notwithstanding the city’s longstanding and dedicated art scene and attention to local culture.

Arts Center

Self-described as the City of Murals,

City of Murals legend (2)

Palatka now boasts a swath of bright colors depicting lively time capsule markers, and always helping to defib drab building back to life.

What follows is a photo essay of just a few of them in no particular order:

William Bartram
William Bartram, c. 1774

on South Third Street at St. Johns Avenue

Wildlife
Putnam Treasures 

on South Seventh Street at St. Johns Avenue

Tightrope Walker
High Time in Palatka, c. 1872 

on South Seventh Street at St. Johns Avenue

Those Who Have Served
War Veterans Memorial

on North Eighth Street at St. Johns Avenue

Palatka Station
Old J T & K Railway Station, c. 1886

on City Hall, Reid Street at North Second Street

Native Flowers
Putnam County Wildflowers

on South Third Street at St. Johns Avenue

Mary Lawson Hospital
Mary Lawson Hospital

on Ninth and St. Johns Avenue

Hiawatha
Night Passage, c. 1884

on North Fourth Street at St. Johns Avenue

Harlem Nights
Harlem Nights in Palatka

on North Seventh Street at St. Johns Avenue

French Balcony
Bygone Days, c. 1880

on South Fifth Street at St. Johns Avenue

Cowboys on the River
Cattle Drive to Paynes Prairie, c. 1930

on North Tenth Street at St. Johns Avenue

Columbine
Battle at Horse Landing, May 23, 1864

on South Third Street at St. Johns Avenue

Billy Graham
To God Be the Glory, 1937-38

on South Fourth Street at St. Johns Avenue

Bill Pearce Highway
Senator B.C. Pearce

on St. Johns Avenue between North Tenth and Eleventh Streets

Annie Oakley
Annie Oakley

on South Eleventh Street at St. Johns Avenue

All Hotels Depots
The Putnam House, c. 1891

on North Second Street at St. Johns Avenue

Other merchants have joined in, beautifying the exteriors of their retail establishments…

Peace mosaic

with mixed messages.

Pizza Boyz

After canvassing the town with my camera for the afternoon, I dropped my work façade,

3-D Saloon.jpg

knowing it was definitely time for a drink!

 

Otto’s Collections

The former Alcazar Hotel in St. Augustine, FL was originally built by Henry Flagler in 1888…

The Alcazar from the Ponce (2)

as an adjunct to the Hotel Ponce de Leon (see The Poshest Campus in America) to accommodate overflow patronage and provide recreational facilities to his guests. Built in the style of Spanish Renaissance Revival with Moorish overtones, the Alcazar was patterned after its famed royal palace namesake in Seville, Spain.

tower

The Alcazar enjoyed a storied history, hosting society’s gentry throughout the winter months, and at one time housing the world’s largest indoor swimming pool…

bathing-pool-casino_0 (3)

until the Great Depression forced the hotel to shutter its doors in 1930. The Alcazar remained uninhabited for the next seventeen years, and sunk into ruin.

Enter Otto C. Lightner, a Chicago editor and publisher who purchased the property in 1947 for $150,000…

portrait

and began an extensive restoration campaign in anticipation of moving his massive Victorian era arts collection from Chicago into a proper facility worthy of its size and stature.

formal portrait

Today, this National Register Historic Landmark features an elaborate courtyard with a stone arch bridge…

gardens

over a koi pond.

koi

koi frontal

The first floor of the museum simulates a Victorian street emporium showcasing shop front window displays of assorted paraphernalia,

eggs

pocket watches

porcelin-heads.jpg

shave-mugs-3.jpg

spectacles

spoons

toys

beer steins1

Industrial Arts inventions,

toasters

mechanized music machines,

Victrola speaker

and curiosities, like an Egyptian mummy and an aboriginal shrunken head.

shrunken head (2)

The second floor features the remnants of Alcazar’s Turkish and Russian baths…

bath plumbing

offering vaulted views across the courtyard.

circle window

Access doors to the baths stand at opposing sides the gallery vesibule.

2nd floor

Continuing on, the gallery boasts a prodigious collection of Victorian cut glass beneath a Tiffany chandelier,

glassware

The third floor exhibits fine furniture,

chairs and horn table (2)

relevant fine art oil paintings from the Renaissance,

Cimon and Pero.jpg

and additional collections, from match boxes…

matchboxes

to cigar bands.

cigar bands1

The Lightner Museum represents Otto C. Lightner’s legacy of collecting.

He endowed his collection to the city of St. Augustine upon his death in 1950, and continues to keep a close eye on his Chicago treasures from the courtyard, where his remains are buried.

When It Rains, It Pours

Leah and I were about to step out to take care of an outdoor errand, when a graying sky turned into a routine Florida downpour, putting a damper on our schedule until the storm abated. We were watching the rain from my office window, just as the city sanitation truck arrived, chugging towards our cul de sac for the weekly trash pickup. But this time around, something went terribly wrong.

The driver of the truck entered the cul de sac by driving down the center of the road instead of staying right and following the full curve of the road. Perhaps, the driver thought the truck’s turning radius could negotiate a tight 180° turn out of our dead end from his middle-of-the-road position without jumping the opposite curb…but he was wrong. The vehicle rolled over the curb–its right wheel catching a water supply cover that split under the weight of the cab–which crushed the water valve and sheared the 3-inch supply line underneath.

Suddenly, we were looking at an impropmtu geiser eruption in our front yard, rising 60 feet or more.

gusher1.jpg

It was enough for me to grab my camera and photograph the ensuing drama, as if I was part of a crime scene investigation.

police arrival

The police were called–filing a report and issuing a summons to the driver–but stuck around for a while to gawk at the local man-made attraction.

Thirty minutes passed before a Water Department maintenance crew eventually arrived on the scene to figure out their next step.

service truck and geiser

With water being such a precious commodity (see Well Done!), Leah and I wondered how much had been wasted.

“They better not be charging us for that,” she asserted.

“How could they,” I reassured, “It’s not like it was our mistake.”

First order of business…

checking the break

…inspect the damage…

water pressure

…then locate the water shut-off…

turning off the water

…and stop the flow…

water recovery.jpg

to enable repairs.

geiser containment

digging out

tools of the trade

pumping water

excavating the pipe head

After an hour of tinkering, the damaged fitting was finally replaced…

cracked pipe

…with something shiny and new.

new cap installed

I asked the crew chief how much water he thought had been lost.

crew chief

“Y’know, I have to fill out an EPA report that accounts for missing water,” he explained, “So, if I was to go with a 1000 GPM flow-rate over 45 minutes, I’d be looking at approximately 45000 gallons (or 170,000 liters) lost.”

According to city water rates, that’s equivalent to a $500 water bill, making this accident one very expensive car wash.

 

 

 

The Poshest Campus in America

In 1888, Henry Flagler of Standard Oil fame opened the Hotel Ponce de Leon (a.k.a the Ponce) in downtown St. Augustine to the delight of many fortunate Northerners, who eagerly took up tropical residency in one of 450 rooms during the winter season.

Ponce de Leon Hotel panorama

The elaborate Spanish Renaissance design was designed by the renown firm of Carrère and Hastings, with terra-cotta flourishes provided by Emmanuel Louis Masqueray.

exterior detail

Construction consisted of poured concrete over a coquina base–a new-fangled technique that laid the groundwork for future prominent buildings throughout the country.

Hotel explanation

Louis Comfort Tiffany and Company was responsible for the interior design, using the ballroom ceiling as an inspired palette for his signature “Tiffany blue”,

Mantle (2)

and an anchor for a complement of Austrian crystal chandeliers.

Parlor Chandelier

For three and one-half months and the princely sum of $4,000 ($100K by today’s count), Flagler’s pampered guests enjoyed uncommon luxury for their time, which included private bathrooms, building-wide electricity supplied by Edison’s on-site DC dynamos (another first for a hotel), gourmet meals, and nightly entertainment.

Upon entry through the Beaux-Arts gateway,

entry and statue

guests would cross the courtyard gardens past the playful sundial fountain

sundial fountain.jpg

adorned by twelve spitting terra-cotta frogs.

spitting frog fountain (3)

Guests would continue through the hotel doors…

entrance (2)

to gaze at the legendary rotunda:

The grand entranceway of the historic Ponce de Leon has been called the most elegant room in St. Augustine. The ornate Rotunda has captivated guests and visitors since the debut of the hotel on January 10, 1888. Richly decorated, the three-and-half story dome displays spectacular murals by George Willoughby Maynard and brilliant gilding that warms dimly lit spaces.

The Rotunda is the pivotal point of the Hotel Ponce de Leon’s floor plan, the crossing of the main north-south and east-west axes. In this central location hotel guests arrived, departed, socialized, waited for their carriages, or strolled to other areas of the hotel complex. The Rotunda linked the private guest room wings…to the public spaces of the hotel.

Rotunda

At the first floor level, eight caryatids (robed figures of women) carved in oak support the 80-foot dome and shape the octagonal plan of the Rotunda. Around the ornate wooden pillars, mosaic tile floors, marble and dark oak baseboards, large fireplaces, and gilded walls create the exotic atmosphere of this room. Hidden from view is a structural dome piercing the rooftop that shields a solarium. Originally balconies accessed from the solarium hosted tropical roof gardens and a breathtaking view of St. Augustine. In 1893, lion heads with electric lights were added at the mezzanine level.

carved column

On the plaster walls of the dome at the second floor level, noted muralist George Maynard painted eight elaborate female figures representing the four elements – Fire, Earth, Air and Water – and the four stages of Spanish exploration – Adventure, Discovery, Conquest and Civilization. Around these principal figures are many layers of symbolism, rendered by Maynard in meticulous detail. In 1897, ten years after their completion, Maynard reproduced these murals in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.

Rotunda explanation

Presently, the ballroom at the west end serves as an orientation facility for guided historic tours and a ceremonial setting for faculty,

parlor left

but also houses a selection of relics from a bygone era in an adjoining parlor,

Parlor right

with an emphasis on fine art,

mural

and family life.

Flagler family

At the north wing of the hotel, the cavernous dining hall commands attention for its opulence and splendor.

Dining room panorama

Ten barreled bay windows are panelled in Tiffany stained-glass,

Dining Hall explanation

and believed to be part of the world’s largest private collection–making it worthy of safeguarding by forming a sandwich of bullet-proof glass on the outside,

Tiffany window

and unbreakable acrylic on the inside.

[Diners sat beneath a quad of]…graceful angels that represent the four seasons, and a majestic Spanish galleon under full sail–an artistic rendition of the ship that brought Ponce de Leon to Florida in search of the Fountain of Youth.

Dining room ceiling

[Again], the majestic ceilings were the work of George Willoughby Maynard, the nation’s foremost muralist of the time. Full-length female figures were the focal point of this room. The ceilings hold Spanish crests and coats of arms intermingled with colorful proverbs.

DR ceiling detail

The hotel was commandeered by the federal government during World War II, and used as a Coast Guard training facility. When the building was decommissioned by the Coast Guard after the war, hotel operations resumed, but sales and travelers were never as robust as before.

The Ponce made history again on March 31, 1964, when the dining room was chosen by black students from Richard J. Murry Middle School as the site for a mass sit-in, which ended in police violence and arrests, ultimately resulting in Senate passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Ponce closed its doors in 1967, only to reopen the following year as the centerpiece of the newly endowed Flagler College, where the newly restored Ponce continued its service to historic St. Augustine as a residence hall and campus cafeteria for freshman girls.  

Flagler College (2)

Presently, tuition, room and board totals $30,000, which in the scheme of things, seems like an unlikely bargain at today’s prices for yesterday’s glamor. 

(The building was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1975, and was awarded National Historic Landmark status on February 21, 2006.)

 

Old School

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It’s my understanding that there’s an outstanding stand-alone wooden schoolhouse still standing in the middle of St. Augustine’s historic district, that by today’s standards, stands to be the oldest wooden schoolhouse in America, notwithstanding the claims of contenders with similar standing, which stands to reason.

panoramic exterior

For instance, the Voorlezer House is an ancient clapboard-framed structure located in Staten Island’s historic Richmond Town. It was built in 1695 by Dutch settlers as a church, school and residence for the voorlezer (one whose semi-official duties included local law, education and religion). By virtue of its vintage, it gets high marks as the nation’s “oldest school house”.

Voorlezer's House (2).jpg
Voorlezer’s House, December 1938 (credit: Museum of the City of New York)

However, naysayers may say its multi-purposefulness disqualifies its “oldest school house” credential, while other “arcaneologists” would point to percentages of original materials retained as the gold standard for proper certification.
Nevertheless, St. Augustine, by virtue of its “first city” status, arguably possesses a legitimate rite for rating rotting relics, and maintains that the honor of “oldest wooden school house” resides at 14 St. George Street.

Certificate

At the very least, this much I know to be mostly true with questionable certainty:

Welcome

Upon close inspection, the main building has been wrapped in a rusted iron chain since 1937 to keep it from blowing away in case of a hurricane. An anchor was added in 1939 for added insurance.

The one-room classroom was originally accessed from street level,

classroom

where stairs led to the School Master’s private residence one floor above.

parabolic upstairs

Primitive behavior modification techniques took place under the stairs, in what became know as the school Dungeon,

i am inocint

where recalcitrant children found themselves quarantined for an assortment of offenses.

no smoking

Yet despite the occasional unruly student, the clapboard walls around the room offered strong evidence of learning…

lesson plans (2)

math lesson

achievement…

Class of 1864a (2)

discipline…

Rules for Teachers (2)

and dedication.

Teacher's Prayer

Located around the back,

school garden

the detached kitchen offered healthy school lunches…

kitchen

…cultivated by kids…

kids rock

…from garden to table.

monumental tykes

Also in the schoolyard stands the rebuilt potty house–perfect for serious homework.

potty

And when the last bell tolls and class is finally dismissed,

school bell

it’s reassuring to know that when kids learn their ABCs, regardless of schoolhouse pedigree, it can ultimately result in a lifetime love of learning.

reading bench

Tied Pools

Henry Flagler’s Hotel Alcazar opened its doors in 1888 to fête the upper crust who rode his rails to St. Augustine to escape the harsh northeastern winters.

Designed in the Spanish Renaissance Revival style, the hotel was an elegant getaway that boasted every convenience and amenity for its guests, including the world’s largest swimming pool at 120 feet long by 50 feet wide, and depths ranging from 3 feet to 12 feet.

pool history

The pool was constructed as the centerpiece of the hotel casino annex that also featured a workout room, therapeutic baths, a steamroom, and bowling lanes. An artesian well fed a constant flow of fresh sulphur water to the pool to sustain moderate temperatures and assure clarity. The roof featured louvered glass panes that opened for ventilation.

bathing-pool-casino_0 (3)

The hotel was shuttered in 1932, and laid dormant until Otto C. Lightner purchased the building in 1947 to showcase his extensive Victorian Era arts collection.

Today, the Lightner Museum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the pool is home to Café Alcazar, a subterranean eatery serving lunch off the deep end.

deep poolside (2).jpg

The moment I entered the room, I felt I was in the middle of a Downton Abbey episode. It was easy to imagine a tony troop of aristocrats parading in their top hats and arm length evening gloves.

After surveying the room, I had a notion to create an Escheresque puzzle that could tease the viewer into questioning whether the following composition is a mirror image of itself, or a pool reflection, or both.

Or is it just a deception?

There are subtle clues in plain sight that may aid in deciphering the composition. The proof is in the putting.

fool pool1a (2)

Happy hunting!

Tourist Attractions

When showing family the sights of St. Augustine the first time around,

there are so many tried and true options that abound.

Naturally, driving onto Vilano Beach becomes the main outdoor attraction,

where short legs wade long lengths across silky, sandy satisfaction.

wading out

The Alligator Farm is another familiar and likely choice,

where eager grandchildren are apt to rejoice…

Alligator lagoon.jpg

at a place where rescued reptiles and denizens…

Maximo (2).jpg

Galapagos tortoise1.jpg

albino alligator.jpg

savor a seasonal delicacy,

so good!

yum!.jpg

and feathered friends…

heron

are likely to take up full-time residency.

pretty bird

stork

The Castillo de San Marcos gunnery platoon…

soldier and kids.jpg

castillo model

provides a cannon blast from the past very close to high noon.

cannon blast

And Anastasia Beach State Park’s estuarine channel

egret on the shore1.jpg

offers a vigorous workout with a kayak paddle.

Carrie, Devin, Dan and bird

The Aikens, Grammy, and Kayak

Or how ’bout a free ferry crossing Matanzas Bay…

ferry crossing.jpg

to inspect Fort Matanzas,

inside out

and its cannon array.

Fort Matanzas gun station.jpg

Then again, not withstanding the two-hour drive to Kennedy Space Center,

Kennedy wall.jpg

there’s a universe of exhibits to explore,

a walk on the moon

ISS.jpg

and The World’s Largest Space Shop to enter.

spaceman and kids

But when summer’s heat and humidity just…won’t…allow…another…step,

and when it’s subsequently rainy–as most afternoons are likely to get–

the chosen activity must absolutely meet

the standards of two curious kids, and satisfy their sweet teeth.

hairnet family

Happily, such a happening exists for the young and the grown,

and can be found at the artisan chocolatier, Whetstone.

Whetstone greeting.jpg

The tour informs you of its elaborate process and technique…

chocolate process

But realistically, we came for the chocolate samples we could eat.

Yet unlike the follies of Lucy and Ethel…

our guide served five tastings,

and each one was special.

 

For seven days our family wandered throughout St. Augustine town,

with plenty leftover to experience for the next time around.

Moon over Madeira

The tree frogs are out in full force at nightfall.

 

A cacophonous chorus of tens of thousands of croaking creatures bask in the sticky humidity after a brief, familiar rainfall.

They sing a familiar refrain a capella with a delicate vibrato…

To celebrate the moon’s debut over a thick glade of pines, live oaks, and palmetto.

Moon over Madeira

Rock of Aged

“Let’s get this shuttle moving!” shouts a middle-aged surfer dude in an orange muscle shirt at the volunteer driver of the tram parked curbside at the farthest reaches of Anastasia State Park’s parking lot by the beach.

“First of all, I’ve got plenty of empty seats to fill, with plenty of people still on their way. And secondly, you should have thought about getting here earlier pal, ’cause I been here since 5:30 transporting people to the concert. So stop complaining that I’m the one who’s making you late!” the driver retorts.

“Well asshole, I have no intention of missing the opening number because of you,” he bellows.

“You’re welcome to get off my ride anytime and call an Uber if you want, but otherwise, I suggest you shut the fuck up, and sit the fuck down, and wait patiently like the rest of these folks,” the driver threatens.

According to Joe and Jenny, who had come from Gainesville in celebration of their 10th wedding anniversary, the passengers on the tram were stunned into silence after this fiery exchange. The moment Leah and I took our seats on the tram, the mood seemed unusually somber for a group of mostly baby boomers who were on their way to attend a sold-out performance of Steve Miller Band with Peter Frampton at St. Augustine Amphitheater.

This was to be our maiden concert at the amphitheater–having purchased tickets over three months ago–knowing that we were taking a chance with the rainy summer weather, but choosing to risk it all for just a few hours of iconic rock and roll nostalgia.

At last the day had come, and despite the iffy forecast through late afternoon, the overcast sky had held firm, and it wasn’t long before we were on our way, barreling along the service roads…

shuttle (2).jpg

to the back door entrance of the amphitheater.

It was 7:05pm and the opening power chords of Something’s Happening were already resonating through the thick air. We bypassed the crowded concessions…

beer beer bar bar

and settled into our seats…

tent and stage.jpg

under the big top…

tent2

tent canopy

to lose ourselves in Frampton’s guitar licks.

amphiteater panorama.jpg

From the start of the evening, Frampton established a smooth repartee with his exuberant audience–thankful for the fans who’ve stuck with him through thick and thin.

At 72, Frampton has seen his share of sunsets in your eyes and lines on [his] face, affably referencing his musical longevity during the interludes between songs, and reflecting on the passage of time through his career–from his chart dominance to his subsequent free fall to his eventual resurrection.

The devotees in attendance who may have missed the ’70s, seized this downtime as the perfect opportunity for a bathroom break, but not without escaping playful ridicule from Peter..

“I wish I could pee. I really do,” quipped Frampton. Now I can only pee on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday… with the help of Flomax.

He’s willingly traded his teen-idol, cascading hair locks and bare-chested pop star status for a musician’s bald/bold appreciation of his instrument, and aptly demonstrated his guitar prowess throughout his set list:

  • Something’s Happening
  • Lying
  • Lines on My Face
  • Show Me the Way
  • Black Hole Sun
  • (I’ll Give You) Money
  • Baby, I Love Your Way
  • I Want You To Love Me
  • Do You Feel Like We Do

But the literal centerpiece was Black Hole Sun–“the best song [he’s] never written”–performed as an instrumental from the 2007 release of his Fingerprints album that garnered Grammy acclaim.

As if channeling Chris Cornell on the anniversary of his birth, July 20,

Black Hole Sun

Frampton commanded the stage with a mindful intent of demonstrating his guitar virtuosity,

Frampton makes a face.jpg

and he deftly acquitted himself in the eyes and ears of his audience.

And when the last shred had been wrung from his beloved Gibson, the crowd let him know how much they were with him and how much they cared.

 

After a half-hour intermission to reset the stage, the evening continued with Steve Miller and his band.

Steve Miller Band1

With a few exceptions, Steve Miller’s set list mimicked his multi-platinum Greatest Hits album, spanning the mid to late 70’s, and nobody in the crowd was disappointed, because they had come to sing along and Dance, Dance, Dance.

Set list

  • The Stake
  • True Fine Love
  • Abracadabra
  • Living in the U.S.A.
  • Space Cowboy
  • Take the Money and Run
  • Jackson-Kent Blues
  • Stranger Blues
  • I Want to Make the World Turn Around
  • Wild Mountain Honey
  • Dance, Dance, Dance
  • Serenade
  • Space Intro
  • Fly Like an Eagle
  • Swingtown
  • Rock’n Me

bass drum.jpg

From his early overture into blues-infused rock, to experiments in psychedelia, to a catchy collection of counter-culture anthems with mainstream melodies, Miller captured the songbook for a new generation of America in flux.

Steve Miller vocals.jpg

Midway through his set, Miller evoked a memory from 1965 that took him from San Francisco to New York for a performance of The Mother Song on NBC’s Hullabaloo with The Four Tops and The Supremes.

 

As Miller recounts, the $250 he earned from the gig gave him the confidence to shop for a new guitar at Manny’s Music, a cherished, legendary music instrument store located in mid-town Manhattan. Unfortunately, he discovered there was nothing he could afford. Rejected and dejected, he headed for the door, whereupon he discovered a cluttered barrel of buried guitars standing neck up with a posted sign: “Your Pick–$125.”

One guitar called to him–a 19-string sitar-guitar that he had to have. Along the way, Miller explained some of its unusual features: spool-like knobs, 3 pick-ups, and a mirror on the backside.

sitar guitar mirror.jpg

Of course, after 53 years it’s still in his possession, despite an offer of $125,000 from a bigwig music producer. This tale has been repeated at similar events for years and years–with fluctuating asking prices–but the audience was hooked on every word and ate it up.

sitar guitar

“Whadaya think? Should I consider selling it?” he petitioned the crowd.

Naturally, the crowd answered back with a resounding, “HELL NO!”

Miller put the instrument to good use in a soulful rendition of Wild Mountain Honey.

Thereafter, with each new tune, the audience responded with greater enthusiasm and a deeper appreciation of his classic hits.

The band returned with a raucous 4-song encore (if you consider Threshold to be a song rather than an intro)…

I'm a Joker

  • The Joker
  • Jungle Love
  • Threshold
  • Jet Airliner

And in an instant, the show was over. We were transported back to the here and now–no longer celebrating the soundtrack of our salad days from high school or college, but always reminded that “time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.”

Ironically, I spotted the belligerent surfer dude from before, who had embarrassed himself aboard our tram. Folks were filing past him to the exits, yet he seemed frozen in place–as if locked in a trance–holding onto a past that he was so impatient to embrace.

Doot-doot-doo-doo, tick-tock-tick…

Doot-doot-doo-doo, tick-tock-tick.

Catch of the Day

Leah and I travelled with fishing rods strapped to the Airstream’s interior for one-year, cross-country. The constant sight of them was a nagging reminder of the possibility of learning a new sport together, and the unrequited taste of something “fresh” to grill, for we never found an opportunity to cast a line. However, now that we’ve become middle-aged Floridians, we felt the timing was right to immerse ourselves–hook, line and sinker.

After closing on our St. Augustine house in February, our realtor presented us with a gift certificate for a half-day charter with Captain Robert, his son, but our date on the water would have to wait four additional months to fulfill until we returned as full-time residents, and eventually settled in.

Leah had two immediate concerns with being out on the water: what to do for her new-founded sea sickness, and what kind of potty provisions would be provided. I, on the other hand just wanted reassurance that there would be space for my son Nate, who was temporarily residing with us in Florida after his apartment lease and job contract in suburban Albany, New York expired at the end of May.

A phone call to Captain Robert two weeks ago reserved our place, and addressed Leah’s anxieties: taking one tablet of Dramamine the night before and the day of the boat ride should allay her nausea; and a toilet seat placed atop a five-gallon Western Marine bucket should provide maximum comfort and embarrassment. And yes, bringing Nate along would be fine.

On the day of our trip, a newish Pathfinder 2500, a true fishing machine was waiting for us dockside…

our ride1 (2)

at the Conch House Marina…

Conch House Marina

at daybreak.

daubreak

We headed out on a picture-perfect morning…

Yamaha 300

with sea swells gently lullaby-rocking us in our search for bait a couple of miles from shore. Robert pulled up near a flock of diving birds in search of breakfast, and cast a net.

casting for bait

Moments later, he emptied a bulging swarm of pogies…

bait for the day

a delicious snack for lurking king mackerel.

bait on deck

We cruised about nine miles out from shore to an area already brimming with half a dozen fishing boats.

neighbors

I wondered about the wisdom of competing with the other boats, but Robert had a hunch. He set up three lines–two shallow, one deep, and we waited…

setting the lines

but not very long. In an hour’s time, we each took turns reeling in our target. First, Leah and me,

our catch

and then Nate,

Nate reels in a king

bringing his trophy home.

Nate with his fish

We pushed out another three miles in hopes of landing a sailfish, or wrangling a redfish, but after a couple of fights, we came up short–minus the bait and hook. Robert postulated that it was probably a shark or a barracuda making a meal of what was already on the line, but we’ll never know.

We trolled around for another hour looking for activity, but the sonar was quiet,

sonar

and Leah was pensive…

Leah on the Atlantic

perhaps wondering how awkward it might be if she needed to use the bucket.

“Do you need to go?” I wondered.

“I can hold it in,” she asserted.

It was decided that we should start back, but stop mid-way and resume our search. Again, the kings were biting, one for me,

reeling in (2)

and one for Leah,

Leah and her 2nd king

but we had already agreed that we had enough meat for the day, so both were released. Nate was determined to even the score by catching his second fish of the day, but his time had run out, and we headed for shore.

safe harbor (2)

Yet there was no need for disappointment, since Nate had reeled in the biggest catch of the day.

Catch of the Day

Robert was equally adept with a knife, making short time of filleting our king mackerels…

making fillets

which generated about 20 pounds of steaks.

Egrets of all sizes were standing by, ready to take advantage of all scraps that might come their way.

waiting for scraps

On Robert’s advice, we ate grilled mackerel that night.

I prepared a marinade made of: ¼ cup orange juice, ¼ cup soy sauce, 2 tbsp. canola oil, 1 tbsp. lemon juice, 1 tbsp. ketchup, 1 clove of garlic, oregano, parsley, salt and pepper and soaked our fillets for 2 hours, which rendered a rich and smoky taste when cooked.

Kudos to our Skipper, and thanks for a meal fit for a king mackerel.

Fortuitous

The Spanish crown was ambitious in its exploration of the New World, establishing the first permanent European settlement at St. Augustine in 1565, and equally as keen on protecting its investment from marauding pirates, subversive Native American neighbors, and the French and British Empires by establishing a trio of forts along New Florida’s northern Atlantic coastline.

Spanish Defensive Network

Aside Fort Mose to the north and Fort Matanzas to the south, Castillo de San Marcos was the first and largest of the three, standing 33 feet high, with 14 feet thick walls of coquina blocks–

outside the walls (3)

–a bonded composite of crushed seashells quarried from nearby Anastasia Island–and able to withstand a cannon shot from an enemy vessel.

Lions Bridge passage

Completed 323 years ago, Castillo de San Marcos still stands as the oldest masonry and best preserved fortress in the continental United States, and a symbol of the colonial struggles that shaped the history of a nation.

cannon casting (3)

Protecting St. Augustine was an interwoven fabric of fort design,

moat

view from above

soldier readiness,

reenactor

and black powder weaponry.

interior (2)

The Castillo’s advanced architecture showcases the bastion system, named for the diamond-shaped spears jutting from the four corners of the fort walls–

fort exterior

each point armed with an array of cross-firing guns intended to sweep across a wide swath of defensible coverage.

guns and turret

Additionally, the coquina stone offered fortunate benefits to fortress defenses if fired upon, as soldiers quickly realized that the porous properties of its shell walls could absorb the impact of cannon balls, rather than the walls shattering into shards if built with brick or granite.

A soldier’s life of active duty at the fortress usually consisted of drills, repair, and sentry watch,

sentry turret

with little time ever devoted to battles. Otherwise, their time was spent protecting the larder…

provisions locker

practicing their faith, which guided all aspects of colonial life…

First mass

and working second jobs as carpenters, cobblers, and coopers to support their families when away from the barracks.

soldier bunk

Officer barricks

But when confronted by the enemy, cannon crews were so effective at discharging projectiles from a variety of guns when repelling an attack or seige,

Artillery and Amusettes

cannon defenses

cannon crest

Shot Locker loaded

that Castillo de San Marcos was never breached in its history.

ramparts (3)

The fort has been the centerpiece of a historic city that has changed flags six times, but always by treaty–never surrender or defeat.

Spanish flag.jpg

Legions of soldiers through the ages have passed through its chambers leaving behind their marks…

ship grafitti (2)

grafitti1

graffiti (2)

But the treachery of Renaissance politics that sparked an amazing race of New World discovery, launched a new nation forged in conflict, and a new world order that defies all labels.

 

 

 

Finally!

We bought a house! It wasn’t supposed to happen this fast, but it did, and it’s still a pinch-me moment.

Always a part of our plan while circling the country, it was our mission to scope out a place to settle at the end of our epic trip. We figured that there was a definitive advantage to traveling through all parts of America for an up close and personal look at what could be next for us, making it easier to sort out all the fodder, and focus on the merits of communities that caught our attention. But we never counted on finding a new residence this quickly. And we never counted on settling in Florida!

We knew starting out, that our days in New Jersey were numbered. After growing up and growing old in the Northeast–with sixty-four winters of low temperatures and high taxes–it didn’t take much figuring to realize that retirement was anywhere but New Jersey and the surrounding snowbelt. Yes, it meant saying goodbye to friends and family, but the notion of trading the comfort and familiarity of an old sweater for a tank top and flip flops was too profound to ignore.

As we streamed thru America, we carried a quiet list of must-haves and desires that we would superimpose from time to time over different destinations in order to analyze the community credentials, although it seemed that our list was so exhaustive and exclusive that we wondered if there was a place for us at all.

We wanted a beach and the mountains; we wanted a quaint yet vital town or city–not too big, but not too small–that would still have a cultural identity reflected by its diversity of good restaurants, music venues, art galleries and local merchants, all within reasonable proximity; we wanted affordable tax-friendly living to stretch our dollars into our late nineties; we wanted space around us to protect our sacred privacy, just in case we wanted to run around naked; we wanted newer construction to ease ourselves of homeowner headaches; we wanted a climate that would allow us generous outdoor time, and while the passage of seasons wasn’t a high priority, it would certainly break the monotony of spring, summer, spring, summer, etc.

Immediately, we ruled out the Northwest because of the rain, the cold and fires. We rejected the Southwest for it’s dryness and heat (although Sedona was in the running). California was too expensive, and Texas was too Republican (except for Austin, ahh, thank goodness for Austin). After disqualifying the Midwest for its lack of mountains or beaches, we knew we were running out of possibilities.

We concentrated on our search in earnest after returning from our New Jersey Thanksgiving with family, and reboarded the Airstream temporarily stored in Charlotte. We resumed our country tour in Charleston, which seemed to me like a perfect location. It had everything that we were looking for, except plantation living proved too costly. The closer we got to the historic city, the further removed we got from affordable real estate. And the closer we got to affordable housing, the city inevitably slipped further away from sight and touch. Unfortunately, Savannah was no different. Sadly, we crossed South Carolina and Georgia off our personal prospectus.

I had mentioned to Leah from the beginning that I never considered myself Florida material, yet here we were in Jacksonville, considering the likelihood of St. Augustine. Interestingly, America’s most historic city (founded September 1565) ticked all of our boxes (other than mountains, eight hours away). All that remained was finding a house that we could make our home.

Local friends recommended an agent friend of theirs who picked us up from a nearby Walmart parking lot (where we drycamped the night before), and patiently chauffeured us from one development to another. But everything Bob had shown us was underwhelming until we walked through a custom-built house on a cul-de-sac bordering a preserve on two sides–originally built for a client who’d lost her financing and had to walk away from the sale–and offered at a price that Leah and I could afford, with a floorplan that suited our needs: open-concept, single floor living with 12-foot ceilings, a gourmet kitchen with natural gas, a screened-in lanai, and a 3-car garage.

Concord Floor Plan-2258-Madeira

We didn’t commit right away. Leah had her doubts about community amenities, but a 10-minute bicycle ride to historic downtown, and 6 miles from Vilano Beach proved to be a winning combination, even though the association pool was unheated. We deliberated for a week before coming to the conclusion that we might regret passing on an amazing opportunity.

We called Bob and the builder’s agent to find out if the house was still available. It was.

After negotiating the details, the extras, and the price, the house now belongs to us and the bank, contingent upon closing.

We still have three months of traveling ahead of us, but we are finally free to explore the balance of our road trip without the pressure or burden of where we’ll relocate.

All that remains is the when and the how.