I'll be the first to tell you that Florida isn't magical.
If that comes as a shock to you, I'm terribly sorry. We do have theme parks, most of which I admittedly love and will likely blog about. Beyond that, though, Florida is a very new state. I say new in broad terms: we don't have much "old" going on here.
In craft class, we were joking about ghost tours. Thinking about the possible tours that could spring up in New Tampa, the best we could think of was one that boasted haunted outdoor shopping malls. "And over here," Claire said, wiggling her fingers for good measure, "is the haunted Steinmart! It's three years old... creepy, right?"
In order to find the "old," one must travel to certain parts of Florida for the fix. St. Augustine is, without a doubt, one such place.
As I said in my previous post, the lot of us mosied over to St. Augustine for the awesome Other Words conference at Flagler College. The air was sharp with cold and we huddled together as we wandered up and down the tiny streets and hidden treasures. I was so happy to have finally put my sweaters to good use: winter is a rare breed of season around these parts. With a red nose and aching finger joints, I grinned and sighed happily at each gust of wind attempting to tear off my face. It was so delightful. I friggin' love the cold.
Most the conference was spent in the Ringhaver Student Center. We took turns manning the USF booth, advertising our MFA program, literary journals, and books for sale by our talented professors ;) The panels took place in comfy classrooms and some us even took a gander at the library (to print our pieces for Open Mic... if you were me and forgot them). I even walked away with a Bible-sized biography of Lord Byron from the free rack just inside the door. What luck!
The night readings were held in Ponce Hall, Flagler Room. Beautiful room. On either side of the podium, rooms were filled with old furniture and the most lovely paintings I've seen in a long time. There were even four paintings in the middle area, each a female character from a Shakespeare play. Super. The room was all gold, and wood, and filigree designs above our heads - I wish I studied more architecture so I could describe it better. Pictures, unless taken sneakily, weren't allowed. Over the two nights there, I listened to such poets and writers as Wil Haygood, Diane Wakoski, and Lola Haskins.
My discovery poet was Sarah Maclay. I perused the book fair and found her book, The White Bride, at the table. The mythic cover art drew me in and the imagery kept it in my hands. I presented at the comic book panel at the same time as her reading, but I did get to meet her later on that night. She was wonderful.
St. George Street is THE street to start for a plethora of unique shops and restaurants. The first night we were there, I somehow ate every little rice fleck left from a giant burrito. The interior of the Taco joint was the most interesting we came across: the walls were covered with drawings and messages written with Sharpie. Other foods included: my favorite staple tuna sandwich, pizza, pastichio, and a plate of scrambled eggs. All of the food was delicious. You can't go wrong in St. Augustine. Next time, in warmer weather, I want to try something sweet from the gourmet Popsicle shop. Yes, that's right.
Gloria and I fell in love with a shop called "Dragonflies" and at another Spencer's-like store, we all found something strange and wonderful to bring home with us. I couldn't resist taking home an inflatable desk version of Evard Munch's painting The Scream. It's always been a favorite of mine since I was little and seeing one in a favorite undergrad professor's office make me want one for my own. The little screaming guy now sits in my cubicle, reminding me of the horrors of grad school life :)
Among the other shops, I found a bead shop that I remembered when I went to St. Augustine in middle school. I remember not being able to find it on the way back and thinking that - oh my god - it simply disappeared! Well, it is still in business even after all these years, and I must have had a hard time finding it because the store was, really, a hole in the wall. A little square with a door. I squeezed into the shop and stared at all the beads. I even found the glass beads with little mushrooms inside them (I had purchased a cat version with a mushroom in it's stomach back then). What I didn't remember, with my rose-colored glasses, is that everything in the bead hole was expensive. I left empty-handed from the store, frowning at my friends and saying, "She wanted ten bucks for a ring!" Watch out, dear reader, for the fine print that says "$2 for every gram of metal."
St. George's Row was another place I remembered; it's an indoor hall that curves and it is lined with shops and other interesting things. The first picture in this post is from the magic shop. I went with my family again to St. Augustine not long after the middle school trip. My mom was experimenting with our hair at the time so she and I had matching banana-yellow hair with dark roots. The magicians running the store put on a few tricks that wowed my brother into begging for a card trick kit. We were all actually impressed until one of the magicians smirked and made a stinging comment about our hair (my fear of being blond again must stem from this).
The hallways had at least three different fortune-teller puppets (ranging from zombie swami to one-eyed pirate). Another machine tested the amount of love one has? I didn't quite get it, but there were levels of love like hot stuff, burning, mild, clammy, and my favorite: poor fish, try again. Featured to the right is the Merlin machine. After being fed 25 cents, the starving wizard will measure your personality with the shake of his hand. The light on his chest says that I'm "royal," but I'm going to be honest here and say that I didn't give him a quarter. Now that I'm looking at this picture, it seems like Merlin is staring at my chest. Hmm. Perhaps my reaction to that is the real test of my personality.
Now I'm back to the old schedule and the piles of work look especially mean. I guess they missed me. But it's invigorating to get a taste of something different, an extra flavor that adds a spring to your step and a light to your weary eyes (corny? Nah...). Breathing in the dust of another world makes me appreciate what we have now... and inspires me in my writing and life.
To work, to work!