Joy rented our Key West apartment well before Irma paid her devastating visit. For weeks, when asked what our next stop would be, we answered, “Key West, if it’s still there.” Our Florida landlords assured us the apartment was fine, that the island escaped the traumas of Caribbean islands and other sites in the Southeast, and that the damage was vegetative rather than structural. So we kept on course, still a bit apprehensive about what we might find. But first came our rendezvous with the Taylors.
After leaving Norwegian’s Getaway in Miami four hours late–the captain had to sneak by another Atlantic storm—we had a few hours to kill before meeting Mark and Evelyn’s plane. We joined a tour group from the ship for an air boat ride in the Everglades, another of Joy’s bucket list items.
The wildlife wasn’t much in evidence, though we did spot a couple of alligators, a heron or two, and some other birds. We were then treated to a short show featuring three other alligators.
The trainer looked right at home in the cage as he demonstrated how to handle the ferocious-looking reptiles. We were content to remain on the other side of the barrier.
When the Taylors flew in they picked up their commodious SUV rental, crammed in all our luggage, and pointed southward. We wondered what to expect. I was pretty sure we’d have to make our way slowly, dodging potholes, creeping over damaged bridges, detouring frequently, obeying flashing police car lights. Instead, we drove straight through to Key West: no pot holes, no damaged bridges, no detours, no police on patrol. It was dark, so we couldn’t see much beyond the road but we did make out piles of debris on the shoulder. That was it.
Later we learned there had been quite a bit of damage, but the clean-up, fix-up crews responded quickly, toiled for long hours, and substantially returned the island to normal. We marvel at Key West’s rapid return to business as usual. Tourism is down—one estimate we heard was about 30%–but that’s being compensated somewhat by rerouted cruise ships stopping here in place of St. Maarten and St. Thomas and other islands destroyed by Maria. What a hurricane season this has been—and it’s not over until the end of November.
We’ve been here over a week now. From the blue skies and friendly temperatures, you’d never guess Irma had ever passed this way. What impresses the tourist is the high level of civic pride here. This is a tight-knit community. The residents we’ve met love to boast about the first responders and then the follow-up labors of police, firemen, volunteers, civic leaders and followers alike. They know them personally. These natives are not about to let a little storm dampen their joie de vivre.
The Taylors will be with us for two of our four weeks here, so we’ve tried to follow their lead in planning our touristy outings. There were a few imperatives, of course: at sunset standing along the waterfront at Mallory Square, a rite observed by tourists and natives alike; a visit to Ernest Hemingway’s house and its 40 cats-in-residence; a tour of President Truman’s Little White House, a nostalgic walk down memory lane for this writer, who remembers his unpopularity (his approval rating at the end being even lower than President Trump’s), his upset victory over Thomas Dewey in the 1948 election, his firing of General MacArthur, his fierce defense of his daughter Margaret’s singing—which needed defending, and so much more.
Mostly we do our own cooking in our various Airbnb homes, but in Key West you simply have to eat out. The place abounds with excellent restaurants. We haven’t had a bad meal yet—including, I hasten to add, the ones we’ve eaten at home.
Joy and I would be enjoying Key West on our own. We like the climate (November and April are the prime months), the people we’ve met, the laid-back atmosphere, and, as I just said, the cuisine. But we’ve enjoyed it even more because Mark and Evelyn are with us. We’ve been friends a long time, starting somewhere in the 1970s. I wrote a monthly column (“From My Bookshelf”) for Christian Standard for nine years; Mark was my editor as well as my friend. He retired from his position and I from my column at the same time. We have not retired from our friendship, though. He and Evelyn are ideal vacation companions. This is our third one together.
We’ve seen two movies. Judi Dench’s Victoria and Abdul, about the ancient queen’s unusual-scandalous- relationship with an Indian subject who became chief counselor to “The Empress of India,” much to the disgust of her government and household. I didn’t know the story; I went because I like Judi Dench. An excellent evening at the cinema.
We also saw a unique film, Loving Vincent, advertised as “the world’s first fully oil painted feature film.” We have never seen anything like it. Vincent Van Gogh completed 800 paintings (and sold just one of them) in his lifetime. The film consists of many of these art works re-painted and animated like a highly cultured feature-length cartoon. Unique. It was particularly intriguing since we were in Arles, France, last year, the site of Van Gogh’s final home. On an earlier trip to Amsterdam I’d taken in the Van Gogh museum. In other words, we’re fans. Many of his masterpieces, which his brother Theo couldn’t sell or even give away, now fetch millions of dollars in art auctions. I’m encouraging Joy’s painting.
One last outing to tell you about this week: a romantic sunset cruise in the waters off the Key West coastline. You’d think we’d be tired of so much sailing after the transatlantic crossing, but we’re originally from Oregon. We never tire of being at or in or on the water.
And this time we sailed, the wind in the sails silently propelling us along. A setting sun, a constantly morphing reflection, unfurled sails carrying us toward panoramic views of land and sea, and good companions. All this with just a touch of sea-sickness to remind us of the real world. Who could ask for anything more?
JOY’S PICK OF THE PICS