Monday, October 25, 2010

Tarpon Springs here I come!

Yes, I got it! It took some negotiating but this old Florida Bungalow is now mine. I am seven feet above sea level and a block away from the "Grand Canal." Tarpon Springs used to be known as the "Venice of the South." There are historic pictures of rich tourists staying in the grand bayou hotels and floating on Gondolas throughout the bayou and canal system. I haven't seen any recently but maybe I can bring back an old tradition.

I signed the papers a week ago and spent my first night in the house that same day. I was very excited as the weather was glorious, the light was bright and luminous and I could not ask for a more beautiful spot to call home. Limo and I walked around the Spring Bayou (pictured above) that evening after my cousins went home after a brief celebration. It was magical evening with stars and palm trees swaying to the tropical breeze. I can see why James Michener fell in love with the tropics and wrote so many books about its beauty.

Live Oak ( Quercus virginiana ) covered in moss at Spring Bayou Park

Although I was born in Cuba, I have only spent less than a month there in the last 50 years. I have travelled far and wide from Tahiti to Brazil to Mexico in search of the sultry magic that is evoked so readily by the word tropical and all that is associated with it. I am a tropical creature at heart although I am not sure how I will survive those blistering summers, but for now and the next seven months it will be a bit of paradise that I will cling to as much as I can.

I will share the bayous with all manner of creatures and fish. The Manatees make the bayous their winter home as it stays warmer than other places plus they forage in grasses that carpet the bottom.

Upon arrival in the area I took Limo for a walk in a wonderful park near where I was staying with my cousins in Tampa. I was so focused on so many things that I failed to check out the water. Every now and then there would be objects that resembled floating sticks but I noticed that they would disappear! To my surprise, they were not sticks at all, but Alligators. Baby alligators, measuring not more than a foot and some a little bigger. The parents use the drainage basins as nurseries in which to raise their young. These drainage basins are everywhere! I started getting a little paranoid as to the idea that there would be gators coming out of every body of water around. My cousin assured me that they are very much scared of us and rarely is there an occurrence between the species and that if ever an aggressive one is found they are relocated. Yappy little dogs do seem to disappear in Florida more than in other places. As for Limo, he will be on a short leash on all nature walks!

My new house is all lawn and palm trees. The biggest palm is a Date Palm (Phoenix canariensis) that is in front of the house and was once matched by a second to create a matching pair. Unfortunately, something happened to that one, which I saw in historic pictures of the house and which I may try and find a replacement at some point. Aside from the Date there are numerous Sable or Cabbage Palms (Sabal) of varying sizes and which are procreating babies all over the place. The other large plant is a Live Oak that is in the back side yard and of considerable size.
Not having a lawnmower or being in Florida all the time, I hired a landscape contractor to take care of the property until such a time as I reduce the lawn footprint or am there to take care of it myself. I own a lot and a half and it is all lawn. It was nice to see the crew of workers come and quickly take this gem of a property that was a little let go and spruce it up. By the end my neighbor, Maria a renowned chef and owner of several restaurants in town was telling me in Greek how nice it all looked in her broken English. I will have to start learning Greek to make deep in-roads into the community.

Some of the other plantings include a hibiscus hedge along the front porch and range of bromeliads growing in the northern shadow of the house to exotic flowering vines and flowers and a few citrus plants. I have a Tangerine and a Ponderosa lemon that produces fruits the size of grapefruits. I brought a bag of them for my friends to share the bounty of Florida. I don't think anyone around Collingswood, New Jersey has ever seen lemons this size.
But the crowning glory for me is a large Mango tree! Yes, I said a Mango, although it is recovering from the cold burn that it got last winter which was a particularly cold winter and that managed to prune about 2 feet of the canopy of my tree this tree will be the focus on my Florida garden. I love Mangos! To me there is no more refreshing and tasteful fruit. I can't imagine what it will be to have a 20 foot ball tree filled with Mangos. Mangos bloom in January and the fruit is ready by July and August.
Mangos and my front porch swing will all have to wait. I now have to deal with New Jersey and the sale of my house there. Given the economic climate, who knows how or when it will all happen. I may also have a job with the Federal Government that I interviewed for before heading South. If that comes through then that will complicate my Florida future until such a time as I can transfer or? For now I am Tarpon Springs dreaming... Happy Gardening.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Happy Fall, as a matter of fact Happy 10-10-2010. I have received various emails from friends being hopeful about the Feng Shui implications of a month with so many similar numbers and containing 5 Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. They claim it happens once in 823 years. I don't know how many times anyone has tracked it before, but for as far as I am concerned, I will take all the luck and good fortune that can come my way.

The garden is closing down for the year and I am not ready. I have kept quiet for a while as I have negotiated the property in Tarpon Springs and all it has involved to get to this point. I am leaving to go down to Florida for final inspections and if all goes according to plans, to sign the ownership papers.

At the same time, fate or luck has a funny sense of humor. I am interviewing for a federal government job which of course will complicate matters as far as Florida is concerned, but I don't have a house or a job yet and we shall see what happens with either one. I don't know if I am becoming a Buddhist in attitude, but very little fazes me anymore. I am not sure what switch has gone off in me to have made such a change in attitude as I have been very A-type in the past. So be it, I suppose knowledge or attitude has to come to you in a lifetime and I am glad if it has finally arrived.

It is funny how there seems to be some balancing act in the Cosmos. I have felt abused by taxes in New Jersey and found this wonderful property in Florida with negligible taxes that seemed perfect. What nobody told me and I never considered was the property insurance angle in Florida. Well, guess what? That's is were they are screwing you in Florida! I guess with Katrina and all the other hurricanes that forced insurance companies to pay out in the greater gulf region, the insurance companies have taken retribution to refill their coffers by insuring properties at 5 to six times (totaling more than my NJ Taxes) their non Hurricane inclined states. I guess that only seems fair if you are an insurance company although I am not sure if you are the insured. The only salvation, if you can say that, is that you can't avoid paying your taxes or they will sell your house from under you, you can, however, not insure your house if you own it outright.

I was watching a movie the other day that showed people arriving at an airport elegantly dressed for their travel adventure. The airport lounge was beautiful. The staff greeted you politely and put away your carry-ons. Then, they offered you a menu from which to choose from various sumptuous sounding dishes. Eventually, the food arrived on china with silverware (this was coach) and everyone had fun. My first trip to Europe was on TWA and I received similar sounding service. I flew from LA to London for $395.00 round trip. Today that trip probably costs twice or three times that, they cram you into a seat you can barely fit, they charge for everything from reservations to carry-ons to some who want to charge for bathroom use. De-Regulation! Banks, Insurance, Airlines, be careful what politicians propose next. Both parties seem keen on proposing extremes to get people to vote for them...

On a different note, my boy Limo will be 5 months on Tuesday. He is a joy of excitement and curiosity. He is growing by leaps and bounds. He now weighs 37 pounds. I am not sure where he is headed as I never met his Father, but his Mother was on the petite side of things. He is totally house broken and has his routines down more than less. He is a font of energy that sometimes drives me crazy, but what can you expect with a five-month pup? He travels well and I am sure he looks forward to his return trip to Florida. Wish me luck. Happy Gardening!