Harry Potter at Universal Studios

Well, I finally did it– at the behest of my thirteen-year-old “godson.” (I would officially be his godfather if he were looking forward to his Confirmation and I was having heart attacks in tomato patches.) I have to say that it’s amazing. The ride is incredible! Literally gripping, especially when you find yourself being battered about within a sky-high game of Quidditch… !

Hogwarts and Diagon Alley are rendered beautifully and you’d swear you were in Merrie Olde England if it weren’t for the hordes of tourists speaking a thousand tongues.

 

Lots and lots of owls !

Butterbeer, a frothy, foamy, really delicious butterscoth-based non-alcoholic drink. They should come up with a hot version of this!

 

It’s amazing… I was totally unprepared for the ride, which I look forward to experiencing again. It’s so incredibly exhilarating!

We went to Disaster, the original “Earthquake” ride that I remember taking my grandmother on years ago. Now it’s been turned into an audience-participation experience, with a number of us chosen to be filmed scenes of anxiety and terror, which then appear in a short promo film for… Disaster! I was “the tall adult,” chosen against my protests to play a man being swept along by a deluge through a city street. I had to be filmed opening my mouth in horror and flailing my arms while immersed in a crate filled with green rubber falls which, of course, didn’t read on film. (That’s what we say in Hollywood for objects that don’t appear onscreen.) I was recognized some time later by an audience member while we were waiting to get into Men In Black: “Hey! You’re Drowning Guy!”

I love the city set: it reminds me so much of Old Brooklyn, parts of which still survive as New Brooklyn, except that the rents are a hundred times higher.

 

Here's Jeffrey posing as a waif-like, lost, disaffected youth for a role in an upcoming Lifetime-For-Kids Special: Johnny-- The Story of A Teenage Mathematician

 

Kirk’s first cousin once removed, Matthew, is a very effective Captain on the Jaws ride. As dramatic as he was, we still all laughed and laughed at the shark.
Ya gotta love Lucy! (Though my friend Carol doesn’t)

I survived seven hours… not bad! I was able to keep up with Jeffrey, and thankfully we’re not thrilled about riding coasters or things that shoot you UP into the ionosphere. And we had French fries and vanilla shakes for lunch… life is good !

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Artist Doug Rhodehamel in Eustis

I hadn’t been to Eustis in years. The last time I visited was sometime in the early 1980’s; I shot a roll of black and white because the town and the country around it were old and “wooden” and deserving of that type of film. It was a bright, sunny day and the shadows were great. I still have those pictures somewhere, which I will try and find and then post on here.

I went up there today, twice, once to wander around the old streets of town, and then to pay a call on artist Doug Rhodehamel, who has an installation at the Lake Eustis Museum of Art. His fascination with sea life and all things scaly and crustacean often finds these denizens of the deep (why are things living underwater always called denizens?) figuring heavily in his work. (Go pay a long visit to Doug to see what I mean. He’s also the mushroom guy.)

This current installation, running through November, features a true sea of blue and green fishes which you can walk through. They are plenty charming in daytime, but at night, when Kirk and I returned for the debut, they were magical.

 

Here they are being installed.

Like all of Doug’s efforts, you are compelled to get directly involved with his work: with fish floating above you, below you, and on all sides, you can’t help but get close to them. You find yourself making underwater swimming motions as you float around the room, or you stare at one face-to-face, blowing on it until it spins merrily. It’s all such innocent fun, yet there’s a note of seriousness: each fish is made from repurposed cardboard  and recycled container lids. Doug is truly a green original.

Eustis is another little town that seems to be doing pretty well downtown. There are lots of little local shops and independent business, and careful architectural restoration. I had no idea; I would definitely love to spend a long, loazy Sunday at Olivia’s Coffeehouse on Bay Street. When I went in, they offered me a free coffee– they and a bank were doing a cross-pollination– but, pleased as I was, I opted to buy a larger serving. Free coffee! It was like being in the Twilight Zone. What a neat little place!

 

Here’s the sign for Dunnston’s Shoe Hospital. Remember in more innocent days when things were named that way? When personal items were respected and not replaced every fifteen minutes, there were places to bring them to for reconditioning or repair: shoe stores, television stores… even doll stores. Where I lived in Bay Ridge was a Doll Hospital, its windows filled with dusty babies and shrunken adults whose limbs and faces had been repaired… it was a creepy kind of place and I never felt the urge to go in. Even If I did  have a doll in need of surgery, I probably would have let it expire quietly rather than go inside the sinister looking Doll Hospital…

I love this wall! Think of everything it’s witnessed over many decades. It also looks very fragile, though I am sure it’s not. It’s the sort of wall that might have starred in a 1952 newsreel:

WALL  FALLS…  BROWNIES PINNED

… though they would have all been saved thanks to the industriousness of the entire citizenry, who would have all pitched in and carried off a brick or two until the little girls were freed.

Here’s a house typical of the old neighborhood just south of downtown. The streets are named Lemon and Citrus and Grove and Key, and you’d swear you were in Pleasantville.

A dreamy sidewalk setting where Grove meets Key.

I love this little place. No Radleys here !

Lake Gracie, downtown.

Perfect. But does it look like the house in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?

The stolid old Presbyterian Church.

And here’s Sea of Green at night, and you can see the shadows and the reflections. It really was like being inaide a tropical fish tank! It had everything but some grubby catfish feeding on aquarium waste.

Where to next… Palatka, I think !

Wandering Small Town Florida– Webster, Center Hill, Lacoochee, Linden, St. Leo, San Antonio, St. Joseph, Dade City

For a new art project, I decided to drive out to the Webster Flea Market complex on Monday to look for some mirrors. This is one of the most interesting parts of Florida–it’s rural, inland, and very “old.” It’s also very conservative, judging by the plethora of political signs. (One billboard condemned President Obama’s incorrectly perceived  “socialism,” the “c” in “socialism” replaced with a hammer and sickle.)

I took a lot of photos while seeing just how much of it is abandoned. Like the desolate, empty towns along Highway 98 in northwest Florida’s Big Bend area, west central Florida has its share of ruin. It’s picturesque and intriguing on one hand– an amateur historian’s dreamscape– but also sort of melancholy.

The Citrus Tower in Clermont tells you that you’ve driven WAY too far west in Central Florida, and that you will soon need to refill your gas tank. Years ago, while driving through an orange grove to reach Skytop Ranch, my car got mired in sand. I could see the Tower nearby, and imagined people riding up and down the elevator, wondering just what the hell that guy was doing far below in his beige Plymouth Volare.

Here’s The Speckled Butterbean eatery at the Webster Flew Market. I didn’t ask any of these folks for releases; I’m sure they were all too high from eating funnel cakes to even notice me. Besides, I can make myself invisible now that I’m almost 55. Right near here is an ATM machine built into the side of a van. You can’t find it without first having to go into the information center to ask the bored woman behind the counter just WHERE the giant ATM sign was pointing to.

Close to Webster is Center Hill; this picture is of downtown Center Hill, and not one business remains open. Kirk filmed a movie right here years ago called Jacarando Joe, directed by George Romero ; he was in a few crowd scenes.

The opposite side of downtown Center Hill. Don’t be depressed! I am sure there’s a Wal-Mart within a few miles, where you can stock up on all sorts of stuff you may even need.

Dade City is a cool little town. Here’s the courthouse on the square. There are also streets filled with local businesses, and I stopped into the hardware store. In it I found vintage cartons of Corelle dinnerware from the 1970’s ! I didn’t buy any though, and you know why. The store smelled just like the hardware store I labored in as a kid, from 1970 through most of 1978. We sold bags of asbestos, stored along the wooden staircase leading to the cellar,  and they puffed out little clouds of poison every time we went up and down.

Check it out! It smells like Contac brand paper, wood, and turpentine.

Just off the main drag in Dade City. I see houses like this and I picture myself living in them, no doubt slowly turning into the local version of Boo Radley.

The African Methodist Episcopal Church in Dade City

This is located in a tucked away rural area between Dade City and Highway 50. It’s in a place called Lacoochee. I wonder what it once was? Look at the large window holes: maybe it was a furniture store? Or a farm machinery parts store? Who knows? There’s nothing open in Lacoochee that I could see except for a rundown convenience store. West of here is Trilby, and the area between Trilby and Lacoochee they’ve christened Trilacoochee. It’s right near the Withlacoochee State Trail. UPDATE: a reader wrote in that Pasco County has yet to demolish this, and cars keep running into it.

More of shuttered Lacoochee.

West of Dade City is an area that was colonized by Irish Catholics and Benedictine monks. This is in an area near Saint Joseph– a Georgian Colonial in an orange grove.

Also near Saint Joseph; I think it’s blurry because I was standing on a soft shoulder next to my car. Can’t you just picture Big Daddy waiting on the front porch for Emmy Lou to come back home from the dance… with a shotgun across his lap?

The Abbey church at St.Leo Abbey and University.

The Mary Chapel inside the Abbey church. The altar stone she stood on now supports the tabernacle, which seems oddly inscribed AVE GRATIA PLENA– Hail, full of grace– which traditionally refers to Mary.

Facing the main altar from the choir (where the monks assemble). It is SO beautiful and quiet in here. It’s worth the drive to be able to experience the absolute calm I find inside this building.

San Antonio, to the west of Saint Leo, is a thriving little village. The San Ann Market makes great sandwiches. The woman who runs it is from Manchester, England. Along the nearby streets are lots of wood frame vernacular houses, quietly sleeping in the sun.

The church at San Antonio.

The Catholic school next door.

Back on Highway 50 heading home there is this Cracker relic sitting along the road. Beautiful lines and porches… imagine how this could be preserved!

Here’s the tiny Linden Methodist Church, across the road from the house above. I parked on the soft shoulder and walked across the grass to get to this; it’s all so quiet, and some streets lead further south into the village. There’s a cemetery near here, too, which I’ll have to explore one of these days.

And then I am pointed towards home. Highway 50 rolls and pitches as it approaches Orlando, and at a few points you can see the towers of downtown Orlando in the distance, clustered like the Emerald City.

Where to next? Maybe McIntosh and Micanopy and Evinston, way up there south of Gainesville. I think the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings house is near there, too; I wonder if she’s home?