Monday, August 3, 2009

Travel Memoirs: Florida the wondrous

It would not be an overstatement to claim that some of the most stupefying things in my galivanting around the globe were witnessed while in Florida, US. There was perhaps none of the weirdly exotic folklore of other cultures such as that rampant on the Indian peninsula or the Far East, yet some of them have vividly stood out in my mind nuanced with the colours, the sounds and smells of that particular corner of the world.
In my subconscious, aided by the romantic mythology of beatniks and the silver screen, as well as a perpetual On the Road modus vivendi (despite Jack Kerouac never having accomplished the long-route journey of his hero in reality), America was the land of constant shifting; wide, pastel Cadillacs rolling lazily and tall palms delineating the horizon in Technicolor. In many ways these images took shape and form in Florida. No matter pink flamingoes can be found as close as in Cyprus, the sight of them taking flight en masse can only be fittingly placed in pastel-tinted Florida.

Miami in particular seemed like a creature sprawled over on the sea waiting for the ripples to awaken it, its entwined avenues creating a Deadalic complex where mere pedestrians are persona non grata. The shock of exiting the airport doors, from an atmosphere dry as a bone to humid like an Ottoman hammam, wasn't greater than that greeting us in Singapore. There, as in the whole South-East Asia, the ambience is additionally saturated with the yeasty smell of the air and the exotic spices of the Thai cuisine. Florida is without that peculiar sourbread-like note, but its humid kiss promises to stain your starched straw-hued linens very soon! Packing hydrosols and lighter colognes was a smart choice, from the cleaner Tendre Poison to the ever appropriate masculine Rochas Moustache, but I recall how the original Carolina Herrera for Women, its jasmine-tuberose embrace engulfing, was the choice which stood out most for me; its tropical whispering was seductive in the evening breeze which blew over pastel-shaded art deco buildings right out of a 50s film, while passerbys were consuming café cubano at the seaside cafés. The Cuban expatriates are shaking their bon-bon at the beach and on the sidewalk with gusto, upping the beauty quota of the pensioners' population residing in the quitetude of this long-acred shore, and infusing the humid air with their fragrances of coconut-laced suntan oil and white musk body sprays. The air carries the promise of an hedonic evening.

Our field trip took us from watching a cyclone forming in the distance, swiftly approaching our car to our panic contrasted to the relative sang froid of our driver (they're quite used to them, he intimated), to discerning a space-shuttle launch visible all the way from Cape Canaveral in the distance, through the one of the most cataclysmic rains I have ever witnessed in my life and chasing sharks in every seaquarium within driving distance! Nevertheless, rolling on the highway to Orlando, funfair and theme-park capital of the universe most probably, one can't but notice a more commercial aspect: the staggering multitude of outlets for clothes, gadgets and...perfumes. Not merely one, but three major discount perfumeries dot the International Dr (at #1, H and 3A) and several others I bet were hiding behind the gigantic eateries with "Coke size small" served bucket-size. (America the Plenty, we thought and marvelled). It was here that the sales lady assisted our tourist queries with her recommendation to me of Hermès Calèche: "very classy, very old-world" were her words, as she was exclaiming how she always got Italian tourists at her store. If only she knew just how old our weary steps all the way from the Grecian dusty soil had been in this shinning new, almost teflon environment and how much the vast variety and deeply discounted prices had bedazzled us...We left with several gifts, one for every single family member we had seen since our baptismal at the very least.
Visiting the Universal Studios is a natural pilgrimage for anyone who has ever mimicked the Bride of Frankestein's hairdo with shampoo-foam in the shower or noted down Marxist references (or male thighs, I'll give you that) in Spartacus. And amidst the languid atmosphere and the scent of excitement that jeopardising-your safety-at-the-games-but-not-really (like in the Earthquake or Jaws shows) ignites in the human soul, I couldn't help but think how much Hollywood and the big studios have contributed to the lore of perfume wearing: Don't we still marvel at The Women and the racks of perfume flacons lined in the back of the store? Don't we tick off fragrance references in Pacino's recital in Scent of a Woman? (ie. Floris cologne, the fictional Ogilvy Siters soap, Misuki, Bay Rum and Fleurs de Rocaille). Don't we secretly envision ourselves as another Myrna Loy sitting in front of a heaving with expensive crystalware vanity?

But none of the fictional scentathlon can rival the rich, mossy, pungent and all around compelling atmosphere of the swamps; the greatest natural park of them all, the Everglades! Risk-seeking thrill must have been running through our veins at the time: We had not only rented a mini motor-boat cruising through the immense dirty-green and full of scattered leaves & water-lillies bodies of water that hide alligators and venomous turtles, but actually held the former in our hands when visiting the nearby breeding farm. I will never forget the feel of reptilian in my palm; surprisingly soft, oscillating from buttery soft to thick-skinned along the body, yet creepily cool to my mammal touch, like dead tissue. An alien feeling exacerbated by the nearby smell of hatched crocodilian eggs and fresh prey for the mothers.
The ambience of The Everglades is majestic and awe-inspiring, like entering an enchanted forest where everything takes on a twisted and dangerous nuance, only it's all played out in the eternal South, cast under the bright sunlight, as opposed to the more dimly-lighted spells of Ormonde Woman. Godzilla-sized mosquitos fester the area, which accordingly necessitates industrial-strength insect-repellant: Luckily, the little handy store outside the official entrace sells that by the trackload and despite its hair-nose singeing eucalyptus and terpene notes which had me reluctant to put it on myself, it seemed to work like a charm and keep the evil pests at bay for the whole day.

Thankfully, the long route that diverts from the national park to the Southern-most tip of the Florida Peninsula, the Florida Keys, took our mind off the "Off "and into fun escapades à la True Lies. If only we had the endless lean thighs of Jamie Lee Curtis to show, we would have fancied similar acrobatics with the open-top car, but we kept our modesty intact and the air-conditionning on full speed. Key West is a truly tropical paradise with the heat to match it, even in the early throes of autumn, and I can see why Ernest Hemingway chose to live some of his adventurous and short life here writing about mako sharks.
Us, etternally drawn like Ulysses to their kin, magnetically recalibrated found the best Greek-owned restaurant where we died from gustatory hedonic rapture which included the most amazing and iodine-scented seafood, ending our meal with one of the most fragrant of all Americal dishes: the Key West Key Lime Pie. Thanks to the tangier and more aromatic fruit of the Florida limes as opposed to Persian limes, the dish presents itself like a true fragrance, with citrusy and aromatic top notes titillating the palate, progressing into the buttery, egg-yolk smooth sarisfying heart and the condensed milk creaminess of its basenotes. The perfect closing of an unforgettable adventure.

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Travel Memoirs, Stars & Stripes: 10 Quintessentially American Fragrances

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  1. When were you in Florida?

  2. The real question is did you eat gator meat?

  3. Thanks for a most enjoyable read! The Florida panhandle with it's miles of Emerald Coast (clear, jade green water as warm as your skin and sand like white sugar) is my favorite part of the state, but then I've not visited the Everglades (yet). Key Lime pie is a slice of heaven. :)

  4. Nina Z.16:16

    Lovely writing and great photos! I have not been to this part of my own country, and you made me want to see it. Also, it was a very interesting twist to read of experiences that evoke fragrances rather than fragrances that evoke experiences.

  5. Old Florida is so amazing. I grew up journeying between Atlanta and Bradenton, and remember with great nostalgia alligator-wrestling "ranches," snake-milking shows in which the snake handler would squeeze the venom from rattlesnakes' jaws, seashell superstores and huge artesian springs, one which featured local high school girls doing aqua-aerobics while wearing mermaid tails! Mostly gone now, alas. But the humidity and mosquitoes (and Key lime pie) are still there.

    It's always so interesting to "see" the US through the eyes of non-natives!

  6. Mike Perez20:37

    Nice to hear you enjoyed yourself in my backyard. (wink)

  7. Rappleyea23:31

    Another fabulous entry for the "Places" section! Having grown up going on family vacations to Florida, it was a lot of fun to read a non-native's impressions.

    Isn't Key Lime pie to die for? I've got a great recipe if you need one - they're super easy to make.


  8. Beautiful post!
    Reading I was too transported in your memory lanes; the Key Lime Pie provoque saliva from the sides of my mouth - acidity and sweetness fighting their ways to pleasure :)
    bright colors and glamour, heat and wind, the sea breaking to the shores. Yet I have to discover Ormonde Jayne and the Green :)
    Truly, Violaine

  9. An outstanding blog. Very nice. I live in Sarasota and have been going to the Florida Keys since 92.
    I am a blogger also. Mostly travel with movies on dvd reviews. Thanks for the venue and all the best.

  10. Haha, thanks for this very timely post, E, as I am (as you know) in the midst of a week of vacation in Florida. I'm just now watching the sun come up over the ocean outside our window -- my favourite time of day, as it is relatively cool and there is practically no one on the beach. In just a few hours, it will be full of people turning brown and nearly black in the sun. For some reason, that makes me think of Chaldée.

    Now, off to look for those discount perfume stores you mentioned...

  11. My grandparents lived near Miami when I was a young child. My parents spent a number of winters in different parts of Florida in more recent years. And various other family members live there either full or part time. So, I have spent plenty of time in that state. But nothing beats Miami for a weird and wonderful Florida experience! Thanks for a fun post.

  12. K,

    oh, it's been a few years. It was like I said most memorable and I had been meaning to write about it for a long time.

  13. Jen,

    after handling the poor creatures how could I possibly (although I am adventurous when it comes to food)? They're very cute when small!

  14. Rosa,

    the beaches are indeed a tropical paradise although I was wary of sharks to be honest (no matter what I said at the time, LOL). Seeing those huge jaws hung up from a chain on Key West was enough to make me venture as deep as my neck in the water.
    I highly rec the Everglades, although do I hear correctly they have been compromised lately? Could be wrong.

  15. Nina,

    thanks for saying so! When I came up with the idea of fragrant travelling all that while ago I had this in my mind: original experiences evoking scents and smells that interconnect. Glad you like it!

    Florida is an exciting state, although there are many wild areas with little population too.

  16. P,

    thanks for supplying even more info on the old Florida sights.
    Hope I didn't embarass myself with recounting things which most of you take for granted, eh?

    The orange groves are also something lovely to see, although they didn't make such an impression because I have satiated myself with those here and in Spain, I guess.

    Artesian wells with high-school girls in mermaid tails reminds me of all the lovely little America tales writers and filmmakers are so fond of!

  17. M,

    it's one memorable journey and your own backyard is full of things to explore! I like exploring I guess, could never just sit at the beach and lounge... :-)

  18. D,

    glad you liked it and it brought some happy nostalgia in you. A kid should have plenty of fun in Florida I bet, especially when vacationing.

    Do please mail me with your recipe, I have been looking for something like this:: authentic, but tried & tested by a regular cook, not a chef on TV!

  19. V,

    thanks for your kind words, much appreciated! The pie is scrumptious and I can salivate thinking about it too, so good.
    Hope you get to experience the OJ too! ;-)

  20. Hi Charles and thanks for your kind words. And for introducing me to your many blogs too!
    Wow, I have had chowder and a Coke at that place you have photographed at the Seaport (and had an embarassingly red-faced photo of myself taken there, the sun was so intense!) Do they still hang those fake sharks and swordfishes from a chain on the Seaport? Ah...memories.

  21. J,

    but of course I had you in mind when I sat to write this up; it had been begging me for a year and a half or so or was it even before I started my Travel Memoirs? Anyway, hope you have a lovely time, catch some of those activities and do check out the perfume outlets. Riding with a car along the highway there are signs for various outlets everywhere. (amazing and unbelievable to this European)

  22. Oh and I forgot to say the beloved Chaldee will be featured in an upcoming related post soon ;-)

  23. M darling,

    thanks for stopping by, you're most welcome on the post and thank you recounting your own personal experiences. Miami rocks, the Will Smith song isn't far off: And so many people on the streets too despite not having pedestrian zones! (this is definitely not New York)

  24. Thank you so much for posting this - it brings back memories of my Southern Florida childhood with all the strange, the sea and the scents I remember. I grew up partly on Key Largo and Sanibel Island, back in the day before they were quite so touristy as they are now. I can still close my eyes and feel - the bite of that treacherously silky sun, whiling away an afternoon under a banyan tree, the taste of key lime pie (try finding key limes in Northern Europe - not happening!), the scent of mangoes and the blooming orange and lemon trees in our backyard, and always, close by, the lure of the ocean.

    Your post brought it all back, even the sheer, utter craziness of it all. Sometimes, it's good to be reminded - thank you!

  25. Anonymous16:52

    Dear E,

    What a perfect coincidence! I will be on business in Miami later this week and will try my very best to experience some of the life, both the beachy and nightly kind. It will be my first time there so your post was a perfect prelude.

    As for the scents I will pack and wear, I am guided by my own experience here in my hometown. The humidity here, as in Florida, is oppressive in the summer but we do not have the benefit of palm trees and soft sand beaches (more like rocks and pines). I have found that anything traditionally summery, like flowers, fruits and coconut oil are too much for me in the heat. They become strong and dizzying in the heavy, unmoving haze of summer. My summer favourites inevitably contain lots of the dry spices of the East. My fragrant companion in Miami will defintely be AT's L'Air du desert marocain. Anything with incense also helps one breathe more easily in the tropical air.

    Thank you for a beautiful post.


  26. Aparatchick22:53

    Thank you for this post on my adopted state. Yes, I know those I-drive perfume stores well. ;-) But Florida itself has some of the loveliest and most interesting scents. The scents of orange blossom on the trees in the groves, the smell of earth and grass and spanish moss after a thunderstorm, the fragrant whiff of Cuban coffee and camarones al ajillo coming out the front door of a restaurant.

    Did you know that Kerouac lived in Orlando? True fact.

  27. T,

    you're most welcome. What an enchanted childhood that must have been and the lull of the ocean is something that never leaves our dreams, is it? Love those smells you recount.

  28. N,

    thanks for commenting in such an interesting way yourself (love the cool spices for the heat, have you tried Declaration? It's amazing in the summer) and hope you get to enjoy the full spectrum of Miami. It's an amazing city even in its non-pedestrian-friendly glory (as opposed to the cities I am used to, at least, where everything is done on my own two feet)

    Have fun!!

  29. Aparat,

    I learn something new every day!! (I wouldn't have pegged JK as an Orlando type, but really how was Orlando before the theme parks anyway??)

    Florida has the benefit of a wonderful dense, humid atmosphere in which everything grows wildly and abundantly. I love this wild growth. (I recall those "sausage trees" which had really made an impression on me visually, how are they called anyway?)

  30. Aparatchick02:20

    The sausage tree's botanical name is Kigelia pinnata. It's native to Africa, where the trunks of the tree are sometimes used to make canoes.

    Yes, everything here definitely goes wildly and abundantly!

  31. Aparat,

    thanks for the name info: so...kigelia pinnata=sausage tree. Sounds most impressive! :-)

  32. Great blog. Ladies are really sexy when they smell good. And a big chest helps too. All the best.

  33. C,

    an honest statement I suppose and granted. Thanks for the kind words!


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