Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The other Florida

There was a commercial I once saw for an airline that was offering special fares to Florida, only $59 for a one-way ticket, in fact. It was January and I was in the depths of a minor snowstorm in Washington, D.C. I still remember how enticing Florida seemed at that moment, like a luscious fruit just out of reach.
But there is another Florida that lives away from the sun-and-alcohol soaked, tanned, glamorous, touristy beach havens that immediately spring to mind. This Florida is in the backwoods and orange groves, in the Everglades, in the neat, spruce downtown of the capital, Tallahassee, in the horse farms in the midst of rolling, misty green woods. It has a quieter soul than the Florida that you see further down south in glossy, body worshipping South Beach and its uber-chic denizens.
Tallahassee is the poster-child for this other identity. There are several buses here painted in lilting fonts of red, white and blue, saying: “Tallahassee- The All America City.” True indeed. There aren’t that many palm trees here, either; the nearest beach is 35 miles away. Little houses with picket fences and quiet roads in the midst of dense woods, old brick churches, and restaurants with “soul food” menus are common. In fact, the trees give Tallahassee a lot of its character and the famous Spanish moss is ubiquitous, especially if you drive down one of its famed ‘canopy’ roads. In March, azaleas bloom everywhere and color the town in their deep and pale pinks.
Drive out of town, and you hit rural Florida. You can find roadside stalls selling jumbo boiled peanuts, peel and eat shrimp, and, of course, oranges: the good old fashioned ones and then some exotic hybrids with names like Tangelo and Ortanique. While we’re still on things to eat, let me say two words: gator meat. I had my taste of it in a quaint wooden fish and shrimp kind of place where I ordered a grouper sandwich. The waitress plunked down a basket of what looked like chicken nuggets, and only later informed me that I’d just had their famous “special” gator, with the chef’s compliments. Oh well.
Then there is Wakulla Springs, the deepest freshwater springs in North America. At twilight here, the mist rises up from the water, and the birds fall silent. The marshes, the still, glassy waters, the resting gators and turtles, and the deep, misty silence make the place look and feel like a postcard from thousands of years ago.
Florida is as much about places like these as the tourist-fuelled beach paradise locales in the south. I was lucky enough to experience both, and I don’t know which I like better.


Anamika said...


Wish I was there! The traveling bug bit real hard right after I read it :-)

Anonymous said...

Well done. Reminds me of Tally completely. Though at the time, don't think I was as fond of it as you seem to be now.


The Desi Nole said...

I have never thought of it this way. Hmmm... intresting... very intresting...

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