Dave and I are in Florida, although we’ve brought New England’s weather with us. It has ranged from sunny with wind and cool temperatures, to overcast and drizzly, to foggy. Ah well.
For beach reading, on the days we have braved the beach, I’ve selected Carl Hiassen’s Tourist Season. The man cracks me up with his vicious wit, quirky characters, and circuitous plots. As a Florida native and journalist for the Miami Herald, Hiassen writes about rapacious politicians and developers who bulldoze cypress swamps to create condos and golf courses, habitat alluring to cash-bearing tourists. In his books, the bad guys invariably meet a gruesome, but satisfying end.
While ensconced in a rented chair, faded baseball cap low on my brow, skin shiny with successive layers of sunscreen, legs swathed in the Holiday Inn’s threadbare yellow beach towel, I have chuckled in reading the efforts of Hiassen’s villain to scare off the tourists over-running his beloved state. A conservation zealot, the desperado kidnaps Shriners, tosses cranky retirees to a crocodile named Pavlov, and plots against the Orange Bowl queen. My chuckles are sheepish, however, as I am well aware that I am potential croc fodder given my vacation Visa.
I’ve tried to think of reasons to exclude myself from the pool of unwanted visitors upon whom Hiassen’s band of revolutionaries open season, but alas, I fit their Most Wanted to perfection. Pale of skin. Seeking sunshine. Temporary resident at the Holiday Inn. Toenails red with Revlon Cherry Crush. Coppertone scented. Yes, I have purchased a pukka shell necklace. Yes, I have snapped an excess of pictures of pelicans. Yes, I have partaken of numerous rum drinks at palm-roofed Tiki bars. Thankfully, Dave and I have not golfed at any of the countless courses that have scoured the coast of anything vaguely natural to that landscape. Hiassen is, in my view, rightfully prickly about that.
In 2001, when Dave and I chose Florida as our spring vacation destination, I was in full conservation mode in my town. As a member of the Conservation Commission and Citizens for Easton, I was on the alert for white perc pipes or stakes with pink ribbons, and heartsick at hearing of plots to clear trees and level ledges for high density housing. I was not impervious to those stakes and pipes in Florida, but permitted myself blinders, thinking, “I am on vacation. This is not my fight.” Hiassen would have been disgusted.
Anyway, this March, on the afternoon of our arrival, while savoring crepes at C’est La Vie, and sipping sauvignon blanc, the glasses perfectly chilled and translucent with condensation, we learned of Saturday’s farmers’ market and craft show. Tourist heaven.
I love craft shows, although Dave is not as enthusiastic. Still, when Saturday dawned overcast, browsing booths along Sarasota’s Main Street seemed a happy diversion. Dave discovered a music-loving soulmate in Kerry, a former drummer for the Hoo Doos and husband of a vendor selling silver beaded jewelry. The men compared favorite bands and beloved guitars while I tried on countless bracelets, finally narrowing them down to purchase ten. Yes, ten.
Dave is always drawn in by photography displays, and while I enjoy a quick look, my husband likes to settle in and chat with the artists, so often we separate. “Check out the seven-ways dress,” he called as we passed each other at one point. I was scrutinizing some shell-encrusted pottery and he’d glimpsed a booth of vibrant, splashy paintings.
Before I left for Florida, I’d been re-reading my daughter’s blog about her four months in South-East Asia. Her triumphant bickering at the night markets was fresh in my mind, so the sight of flowing silk-screened dresses - seven-way dresses, as it turned out - lured me in.
They were no bargain, but the vendor was friendly, cool, and comfortable, swathed in billowy turquoise. Her skin was bronze, hair black, teeth white in a broad welcoming smile. I slipped a black dress with coffee brown spirals over my head. Despite the lovely material, I looked…lumpish. “Ohhhhhhh,” she said. “Allow me!” So I wasn’t just being hard on myself; clearly she thought I looked lumpish too. A lumpish tourist. I could almost feel the steely eyes of Pavlov the crocodile, appraising me for succulence.
The vendor knotted folds here, asked me to slip my arms there. Curled a section over each of my arms. Had me turn…more knots. I tried to angle the tiny hand-held mirror so I could see more than a square foot of myself at a time, but it was a brilliant marketing strategy, that tiny mirror, for I had no idea of the overall effect. Dave had shown up by then and grinned appreciatively. “I like it!” he said. “Let me buy it for you.”
Maybe it was the vendor he liked, for my sense, as I looked past the perky knot tied above my boobs, was still… lumpish. Dave and the vendor discussed the 5% donation she made to the Harry Chapin Foundation with the purchase of every dress. “Money to the food bank of my choice. A wonderful cause,” stated the saleswoman as she folded the dress and tucked it into a bag.
Indeed, a wonderful cause, but my self-help books have been clear about buying only clothes I love. Why harbor a closet full of rejects that don’t make me feel my very best? Damn that tiny mirror!
Now, it is late afternoon. The sun emerged around mid-day, and as it sets, we are basking on our balcony. Dave has made me a tasty, lethal combination of mango and cranberry juices, Captain Morgan’s spiced rum, lime, and a sprig of mint. Gorgeous. The drink is. I am not…for I look like a Russian refugee in my seven-ways dress, knotted and tied and lumpish. Carl Hiassen would be laughing…or feeding me to a crocodile.