Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Old Florida

"Old Florida" is a phrase sometimes used in the state to describe what it was like before it became heavily developed as it is today. Old Florida to me is what it was like in 1957 the first time I went to Miami. It was just a week's vacation but I will never forget it. My mother took my sister and myself there in July because my father couldn't get away for a summer vacation with us and not wanting to spend a lot of money, she chose to go South when it was out of season. It was a good choice. The hotel we stayed in was called the Sans Souci, (literally, carefree) and it was located on Collins Avenue in Hotel Row in Miami Beach. Miami Beach in the season, in Winter, was a fashionable place, and drew major entertainment acts.. At that time, it was not called "South Beach," and it consisted of a string of beautiful hotels set in lush tropical gardens with the beach behind them. I understand that the Sans Souci building still exists under another name but of course it has been changed. I recall the grass cloth wallpaper in our room that seemed so "Florida" to me and the swimming pool that was lit at night to entice guests to stay around for the midnight barbecue under the swaying palm trees. The hotel had a night club and also a lounge where you could get a pre-dinner or post dinner drink and listen to the piano player in his white tuxedo jacket play "Moon over Miami." Lo and behold, through the windows a huge yellow moon appeared and hung in the blue-violet tropical night as though the song had called it up. The hotel served meals on the American plan if desired (meaning included) and we sat through several courses at dinner and also went downstairs to the coffee shop the next day for breakfast with fresh squeezed Florida (of course) orange juice. We rented a convertible and drove around to see the sights. I remember going across a causeway and seeing Coral Gables, a housing development in the Spanish Style with red tile roofs. We also visited Vizcaya, once a private house and now a National Landmark and museum. A trip to the Parrot Jungle where we were photographed with live parrots on our shoulders as though we had become pirates. Their claws were a little sharp but the parrots were good natured. The only flaw was when we walked by the Indian River and for some reason I bent down to peer under the overhanging bank. I leaped back at seeing the enormous insects living there. The humid and sweet scented tropical air was shared by other species that thrived on it. A reminder that this was another world and different from the northern one. Of course I realize that Miami Beach in its heyday is not what is meant by Old Florida. That really refers to the more rural kind of lifestyle of fishing villages and houses built to withstand the heat without benefit of air conditioning with high ceilings, porches and fans. Of farms and tourist stands, the mansions of the rich northerners who wintered there. A lot of it still exists, at least in part. If you look for it.

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