November 17, 2011

The decongestant did nothing, so I arrived with a humming plugged-up ear to add to my low expectations. Things got better the first morning, though. Our host—may his tribe increase!—plucked huge ripe grapefruit from a tree in his yard and squeezed juice for us. Then, keen for us to know something of the locale, he drove us to the Morse Museum to see their Tiffany collection. I had only the sketchiest knowledge of Louis Comfort Tiffany and his work, which I associated very vaguely with pre-WWI decadence—Klimt, Stravinsky, the Georgian poets. My eyes were opened: Decadent or not, there is some beautiful stuff there, and by no means only lamps.

The next day we were driven across the state to the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg. Here I was on more familiar ground; I’d passed through an adolescent infatuation with Dalí. St. Petersburg doesn’t have his most famous pictures, but it was fun to renew the acquaintance and to be reassured that my teenage impression of him as a greatly skilled craftsman was not misplaced. Mrs. Derbyshire suggested that the drooping timepieces and melting violins signified impotence. That may be so, but the old showman certainly adored his wife—she seemed to be in almost every picture. Funny stuff, human nature.

Thence to the Chihuly collection at the Morean Arts Center down the road. Like Tiffany, Dale Chihuly works in glass, but this is the bumptious early 21st century, not the tired early 20th. Stars of the show were huge ten-foot hanging creations made of hundreds of glass snakes or spikes wired to a central support. They are listed as “chandeliers,” but this is false advertising, as you could no way get inside one of those things to replace a light bulb. They are artfully lit from outside. If that’s a chandelier, the moon is a star. The Chihuly collection has a kind of kitschy vigor I like, or at any rate don’t mind, but Tiffany it ain’t.

Saturday morning our friend drove us down past Florida’s Empty Quarter to Fort Lauderdale and the cruise ship. We parted from him in real warmth, expressing our gratitude as best we could, having tasted fresh-squeezed juice from fresh-plucked grapefruit, learned things about American art we didn’t know before, and raised our opinion of Florida a couple of hundred points.

And now we are at sea. I’m no fan of the Caribbean, which seems a bit of a slum behind the thin tourist frontages. (A New York acquaintance calls it “Bed-Stuy with donkeys.”) I do like cruising, though: the continuous eating and drinking, being fussed over by stewards, and sitting on the cabin veranda watching the sea go by. The National Review readers are good company: an older red-state demographic mostly, with the correspondingly exquisite manners, wry humor, and easily ignited indignation at the pit of cowardice and corruption our national government has become.

Things aren’t perfect, mind. I still have ear trouble, and the ship’s doctor is as helpless as ours back home—though she did, for her hundred-dollar fee, suggest a different brand of over-the-counter decongestant. The shipboard Internet service sucks, and half the sites on my Google Reader roll bring up the message THIS WEBSENSE CATEGORY IS FILTERED: RACISM AND HATE. (Am I really that politically incorrect? And why only half? Why AmRen but not Stuff Black People Don’t Like? What is Websense, and why doesn’t it have any damn sense?)

Still, an e-friend has become a friend, Florida has become a place worth visiting, November in the Caribbean is balmy, and who knows? Perhaps on one of the lesser islands, out of US jurisdiction, I can find a doctor who’ll give me an atropine shot. Life is good: in all probability, better than the other thing.



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