Winter Park’s Rollins College Greenhouse

Today after breakfast at the new branch of First Watch on Aloma Avenue, we went with our buddies Alan and Mark to visit the greenhouse at Rollins College; it was a nice antidote to all the yelling I’ve been doing this week thanks to the imminent destruction of the pioneer Capen House.

Alan is the greenhouse manager, and this morning he gave us a tour.  According to the Rollins website, The Susan O. and Frederick A. Hauck Botanical Research Center, or what is commonly referred to as “The Greenhouse,” is conveniently located next to the Alfond Boathouse on the shores of beautiful Lake Virginia. The Greenhouse opened on October 20, 1983, to facilitate student and faculty research, provide plant material for study and to permanently house a diverse collection of plant species, some of which are indigenous to Florida. During the Summer of 1998, a student designed and installed a butterfly garden. A book which describes each plant in the butterfly garden in detail is available to the public as a reference during normal hours.

It was very warm inside, what with all this weather we’ve been having, but I managed to photograph some of the inmates before the camera’s lens fogged over.


This is a chenille plant, though I first knew it as “Love Lies Bleeding” when I planted seeds years ago. “Love Lies Bleeding” sounds like the name of one of those bodice-ripper romance novels featuring Fabio on the cover. 


I’d ask to live in here if it was air-conditioned, but then I would survive and most of the plants wouldn’t. Besides, there might be bugs. I can imagine waking up at night and, in a panic, breaking through the glass panes because I discovered that I was covered with ants. It’s very nice inside, steamy and tropical and there are hundreds and hundreds of unusual plants growing and blooming. 


A geranium and a blood lily.


Pitcher plants. These things are big, over six inches long in some cases, and have been known to entice and digest things like mice. 


Beautiful orchids, here and below…



Ropy donkey tail, a sedum.


A nut from a cacao tree. Inside there is Swiss chocolate!

I also took some video of Alan demonstrating how the Venus Fly Traps work, but they are .avi files and won’t upload on WordPress unless I buy an upgrade. 

And there’s so much to see on the college grounds. Pinehurst Cottage, erected in 1886, is a showplace. It was one of the school’s original two buildings.


And the chapel…


It’s a beautiful spot for a school, nestled along Lake Virginia. It deserves a trip back, by bicycle.

Historic Winter Park- A Driving Tour

Here’s a complete scan of the Junior League‘s 1980 project. This is an invaluable booklet documenting the historic architectural legacy of Winter Park, which– in more than a few cases– has been allowed to vanish. (A link to my article of a few days ago regarding the imminent demolition of the Capen house, which is featured on the tour.)

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Bulldozing Winter Park

CAPENThe Capen House, Winter Park, Florida. Photo by George Skene of The Orlando Sentinel.

The world is a volatile place: turn on NPR on the way to work and you might find yourself in a righteous rage by the time you set foot in the office. The human species, in reaction, tries to create places of refuge which will enable us to isolate ourselves from the outside fray, even if for just a few hours.

Winter Park is one of those places. Planned as a leafy retreat from cold, northern winters in the 19th. century, it’s always held a special cachet in the hearts of people who dream about living as ideally as possible. Though we all know that bad things lurk behind the front doors of our homes, and perfection is impossible, we still strive for utopia and we build with that in mind. On so many levels, our homes reflect the people we wish to be.

Winter Park was lucky in that its original settlers and earliest families built homes that truly reflected their idea of living beautifully. They decorated the landscape with representations of architecture from various periods, some practical, some fanciful, but so many of them memorable.

And so many: gone.

RussellAnnie Russell house in Winter Park. Gone.

I realize that, with no historic district in place, a house can still be marked notable… and still liable to being razed.

I realize that people can do what they want with their property, and can build what they want, and can tear down what they don’t like. This is America and, when a house is not on a protected list, it goes extinct.

I understand all that.

What I don’t understand is why people would move to a town because of its historic charm, and then proceed to obliterate one of the things that drew them to that town in the first place. It’s almost sacrilegious.

Sometimes, good things happen. Remember Casa Feliz, the beautiful home in Winter Park that was purchased and then threatened with demolition by its new owner? He was going to build a new house on the lot; apparently, the last I heard, he never did. The community got angry, however, and pitched in to have Casa Feliz moved slightly west, on the golf course… and it’s now a valuable, cherished part of Winter Park. It’s a piece of the past functioning as a vital part of the present-  ergo, the future.


Oneonta Lodge, Winter Park. Gone.

I work in historic preservation out in west Orange County. My office is in a railroad shed that was built in about 1915, and what we do is collect family history, documents, photographs, and the like. We are well past halfway in our capital campaign to have a NEW preservation facility built; however, the old building will remain part of an expanded Central Florida Railroad Museum.

EdgewaterThe Edgewater Hotel. Three restaurants, shops… and history.

That’s the way they do things in Winter Garden. When the brick buildings that you see were built between 1912 and 1930, they were built mainly to replace rows of wooden businesses that had disappeared during the fires of 1909 and 1912. Winter Garden built their new edifices to last, and they still stand proudly– and are all occupied and put to good use. They stand next to the 1927 Edgewater Hotel, the 1934 Garden Theatre, and so much more.

Winter Garden couldn’t afford to tear everything down and build spanking new modern edifices in the 70s and 80s like so many other towns. The pollution of Lake Apopka, the decimation of the orange industry due to freezes, the shutting down of the railroads, and the construction of highways around the little city all conspired to keep the area overwhelmingly unable to dynamite the old and build the new. Granted, some unforgettable, iconic structures bit the dust, but early efforts by concerned townspeople led to the creation of organizations dedicated to the preservation of a world from the past; a world that continues to spin. People riding through Winter Garden, Oakland and Tildenville on the West Orange Trail are amazed at what the area looks like today.

The past is palp[able in Winter Garden– it’s appreciated, nurtured, catered to, and loved. Since I work out there but live in Winter Park, I get to see the latter city often, and I’m always dismayed at what I see happening in the name of progress where I live. It makes no sense, this bulldozing of what attracted people here. Why kill the reason why you came here?

But, it’s happening. And it will continue to happen. So many people want to live in Winter Park, but they want it to look like Palm Beach. (Notice the tall hedges now obscuring many previously-visible houses?)

Winter Park, with all its resources, should be ashamed of itself. And I wonder if there’s a corner in their history museum that keeps track of what continues to disappear? I’m almost afraid to find out.

Many of the iconic old homes still stand, documented in a booklet I have called “Historic Winter Park– A Driving Tour,” published by the Junior League in 1980. I just hope this little treasure doesn’t end up becoming nothing more than a book of memories.

PhotoBike Tour 16– Knowles Avenue in Winter Park (and Offsides)

I have all these negatives of photos I took back in the late 70s and early 80s of a Winter Park that’s largely vanished. I’m still trying to identify some of the sites, but occasionally something “clicks” and I remember exactly where the photo had been taken.

SIDEBAR: I do regret NOT taking photos of the Alabama Hotel before it went condo; my friend Donald and I walked there from my apartment at the Plantation in Maitland, and wandered the halls, the lobbies, the public rooms, the library… it was for sale and everything was open to inspection. It was magical, like being in a time warp: Kleenex boxes in each bedroom, with one leaf of tissue popping from each and every box, just waiting for a sneeze. It was like we were walking through a dream. The Alabama is a condo now. and doesn’t seem to hold the same ambience. What can I say?

The venerable Alabama. It used to be a resort hotel– one of FOUR giant hotels that used to be located on the Winter Park chain of lakes.

After looking through negatives this past week, and tooling around on Google Earth and then looking up Winter Park history, I realized I’d never really explored Knowles Avenue from top to bottom. It just sort of slipped away under my radar while I was bicycling in the past, or else– while in the car– it’s byzantine system on one-way signs precluded any 4-wheel exploration. This morning, before I knew the humidity was going to soar, I set out to see what I’d missed.

I approach Winter Park from the east. I have to cross 436, go north to the light, and then thread my way through the Winter Woods subdivision; we call it “the Wilhelm’s” because of the grammatically-incorrect sign that fronted one of the houses. I always wanted to ring the bell and tell them “it should say ‘the Wilhelms,’ but I never did. I’m surprised.

Then I wend my way south along Lake Howell Road, checking to see if there’s a way to get across the watery culvert over to Arbor Park Drive (there still isn’t), and so I usually go west on Pine Avenue. Incidentally, the name Arbor park Drive is relatively new– we still know it as the southern extension of Lakemont Avenue, south of the cemetery. I’m just saying.

Palmer Avenue is just a few blocks away, the site of my second-favorite house in Winter Park:

It used to have a sign out front– Lulworth– and was built by a Mrs. Mizener ion the 1930s. She insisted that there be no shutters on the windows because she didn’t want to have to bother painting them. (A woman after my own heart.) The house was designed by James Gamble Rogers II, and believe me– he didn’t have those Greek columns up front; his were slimmer and fit the facade better. The new owners didn’t consult with me when they redid the place… can you imagine?

Before heading into downtown Winter Park I remembered that I wanted to photograph a neighborhood marker– specifically, one that noted the historic African-American west side of Winter Park known as Hannibal Square. It’s been yuppified and gentrified into something very NOT Hannibal Square, but I did find the marker on Denning Drive– inexplicably knocked over; I think I’ll let the city know that this needs to be righted.

Knowles Avenue branches from Chapman, which is a little street that branches off Fairbanks; you don’t see Chapman much because you are driving past Rollins College while, at the same trying, trying not to hit students (and professors) who decide to cross the road while checking their eMail. You go through a parking garage– wave hello to the ticket lady– and then you are on Knowles Avenue, which stretches all the way north from Lyman Avenue to Casa Feliz on Whipple Avenue. And it’s rife with architectural gems.

The first gem you encounter is the facade of the former Lincoln Apartments, now preserved and nicely incorporated into the First United Methodist Family Life Center. That was thoughtful! I always wanted to go into the Lincoln and knock on doors. Who would I encounter– former Ziegfeld girls? Forgotten chanteuses who headlined in smoky Omaha boites? Jimmy Hoffa? I’ll never know.

Okay. You have to go a block east, to Interlachen Avenue, to see Osceola Lodge, a beautiful home built by the Knowles family in 1888. But behind it– on Knowles– is a cottage that was used by visitors to the larger Knowles house. I don’t recall ever seeing this cottage, though I have tons of photos of Osceola Lodge.

Here’s the Lodge:

And here’s the cottage just to the west of it, on the same large lot, but facing Knowles Avenue:

Then I went down the path to the left of that cottage and took this shot of the Lodge’s rear; I can easily picture myself living upstairs right. You?

Across the street on Knowles is yet another cottage built by Knowles, now the home of Architects Design Group– this is truly OLD Winter Park, ladies and gentlemen…

A third Knowles “cottage” has been transformed into a firm as well, but it’s unrecognizable as a cottage:

Near the north end of Knowles, just where it meets the golf course, the city has placed some old cement posts noting the names of streets. I don’t know ho wold these are, and they’re faded, but I did have some old negatives in my collection. These denote Something Road, Fitzwalter Drive, and Harmon Avenue; the last two denote streets at extreme opposite ends of one another.

Just off Knowles, actually at Interlachen Avenue, is a series of ancient-looking apartments which evoke Key West. This is my favorite…

Who lives here? An artist, a writer, a milkmaid? A woman with cats? A candlemaker, a surgeon, a bell-ringer?

At the very north end of Knowles, hugging the golf course, is Casa Feliz. It used to be on Interlachen Avenue, but was moved when the newest property owner decided he might tear it down. people rallied and had it moved to its present spot– a rarity in Winter Park, but enough people cared deeply to have this 1932 James Gamble Rogers II gem saved.

The front.

The rear.

Here are the Barbour Apartments on very north Knowles, built in 1933 and designed by our man james Gamble Rogers II. Everyone who moved to Winter Park used to want to live here. Of course, that was back in the 70s and 80s; now they want to live… where? I have no idea.

Leaving Knowles Avenue and returning home via Interlachen Avenue, I noticed this sign planted in the road.

The Red Pepper Garden Club… can you even?! It’s probably not as rollicking as the name would have you believe. I picture officious club women with pointy eyeglasses, prow-busted and powdered,  their sensible Enna Jetticks heavily decorated with rhinestones. They meet once a month at the Woman’s Club (sic) down on Interlachen Avenue, where cucumber-based refreshments bedeck a series of card tables situated at the front of the room. After an hour’s worth of apologies, explanations and general catching up, the ladies are called to order by Madame la President, who fixes them all with a gimlet eye, and intones:

“So… who is responsible for the dying aspidistra in front of the library?”

I began this trek at 10:30 in the morning and by 12:30 was blistered by heat. It was time to return, though I have a feeling I’ll be back: there are streets called Greentree, Bonita, Temple Grove and Elizabeth which deserve some prowling… join me!

PhotoBike Tour 13: Leu Gardens and Winter Park

(Foliage photos by Kirk… click on them to make them BIGGER.)

 See those beautiful plants? It’s a raft of bromeliads that were for sale at the Leu Gardens Annual Spring Plant sale today. Kirk rounded up a bunch of people to go “in the morning, early, so we can find parking,” and I do recall a voice at 8:30 saying that he was on his way, that he would let me sleep, and here’s your coffee. See ya later!

[Codicil: I’ve been up very late this week watching episodes of Downton Abbey on Netflix. AND I’ve had a lot of organizing work to do as well… so this morning maybe, maybeeeee I was a little tired.]

I knew there would be questions– where’s Jimmy? Sleeping in?– and I still have enough foolish pride left in me to care when people get the wrong idea, so I got on my bicycle and biked from our house to Leu Gardens. Not bad! The weather was perfect today, and the traffic was fine until I hit Corinne Drive coming out of Baldwin Park– then I had to contend with yupsters in their giant SUVs as they spedpastmeTHISclose while at the same time talking on their phones and tending to Madison and Yasmine in the back seat. I’m just saying.

Leu Gardens has bike racks set up to the right of the entry building, allowing the cyclist a short walk back to the main gate, or you can access the Gardens by going into the building and then taking the first left. Immediately, you’re in the Gardens’ famous acreage, and today was a most perfect day for a plant sale. The two young guys who were handling the area of the parking lot where the bike rack was located could not have been more accommodating, even laughing at my lame joke regarding valet parking, and that I’d be back to claim it at 2 PM… here’s the key. ha! And one was quick to say he’d start a tab for me after I asked “and now where’s the bar?” When one can bring smoky cocktail banter to a botanical site, then one is very fortunate indeed.

There was some phone drama regarding the coordinating of five people and their whereabouts, but that was easily addressed. I myself had to traipse through crowds looking for my posse, going on nothing but directional markers like “we’re at that house… near the ferns… past the roses.” WHICH house, WHICH ferns, WHICH roses? I did find everyone after all, and there’s nothing like catching up with friends while your ankles are being grazed by double-wide strollers: “So how’s work DAMMIT, OUCH.” The stroller brigade was out in force, which always leads me to wonder: how does one pair of parents with a double-wide stroller manage to link up with all seventy-five OTHER pairs of parents with double-wide strollers? All seventy-six couples and the 152 kids plant themselves in the middle of busy sidewalks, comparing ice cream likes and dislikes, discussing cupcake recipes, and relating how well little Chutney is doing in Advanced Ballet. And the mothers are just as chatty.

But I digress; it was too beautiful a day for anxiety, so I soldiered on. I knew Kirk would be using up megabytes on photographing the offerings, and so I must credit him with the shots of flowers in this blog entry. Scavullo couldn’t have done better.

The specimen below is a young Royal Palm. They really don’t thrive in our area, and reputable growers will impart you that important information. It’s just too cold here for them, and you’ll often see dead Royals gracing what was obviously a very recent landscaping job. They belong in South Florida, or in warmer climate pockets (you’ll find them on Merritt Island).

And here’s another grand palm, the name of which escapes Kirk at the moment, regardless of the fact that one is practically TRIPPING over identification signs while wandering through the Gardens. I’m just saying.

And here are some more flowers and things, one of the things being a koi fish (upper left). They’re basically large goldfish, which you’ll sometimes see in Asian restaurants swimming in picturesque pools. I always like to get the hostess’s attention, point to a koi, and say “that one, please.”

Some roses, below. One of the vendors showcased a selection of old-fashioned specimens, some of them considered rare. I spotted our friend Mark there, and started over to say hello, but ran into someone else I knew and said hello to him first. Hug hug, kiss kiss, and then back to finding Mark, who had suddenly disappeared. Then one of the vendor assistants asked me, in a Mrs. Kravitz voice, “is there a particular rare rose you’re looking for?” and I said “yeah, one called Mark,” and she said “I don’t think we have one by that name,” and I said “I’m kidding, Mark is actually a person.” Can you imagine the rollicking time you would have had with me today? Your sides would have been splitting.

Below: Kaffir Lilies, and a beautiful red Amaryllis.

After a Diet Coke AND a bottle of water, it was time to thread my way back home before it grew too hot. Rather than just go home the usual way– Corinne, Baldwin Park, Lakemont, Aloma– I decided to take a back way, just to see what I could see, like this old beauty on the corner of Azalea Lane past Mead Gardens (the pictures are by me from here on):

And, my favorite house in all of Winter Park, this time in color. (I blogged Winter Park’s beauties in black and white here recently.) It was built in about 1897 and it’s amazing that it’s survived for this long on the busy road it’s located on. Today I actually walked all around the house taking pictures, but the front displays this grand lady’s finest aspect.

 Instead of dealing with 436, I went north on Lakemont because there were a few streets to the east that I wanted to explore. I wanted to photograph Lacy Shadows, which used to be an old folks’ home decorated with beautiful wrought iron lace work on its two stories. (A woman I know who worked there used always to refer to it as “Shaky Laces.”) Lacy Shadows is gone, however; that was a disappointment. And of course the lot is for sale…

Now, I knew there was a vast nothingness situated between Lakemont and 436, but I wasn’t prepared for this. It’s part of Crane Strand Swamp, a wetlands area that’s hard to find if you don’t know where to look. I knew it was here, but hadn’t even seen it from this vantage point just a block or so east of Lakemont Avenue. Interlachen Country Club is built on this, and much of the Tanglewood subdivision (Lake Howell Road south of Howell Branch Road), along with a lot of development you see on 436 between Howell Branch Road and Aloma Avenue.

And just past here, on Little Lane, you’ll find the entrance to a development that apparently is in limbo or won’t be happening any time soon. Beyond the locked gates is Crane’s Strand, and an asphalt road leading to two cul de sacs surrounded by swamp. It was to be called Winter Park Preserve. A billboard right here says “Build Your Dream Estate– Last Large Parcel of land in Winter Park.”

Then, almost home after a short ride through Tanglewood. A rather exuberant house features this Bel Air parked outside, which is just about the color of my 2003 Ford Focus. I think this car is from 1961, which would make it over fifty years old. Can you imagine? I’m over fifty years old, and I’ll bet I’ve had more oil changes than this Bel Air.

Next… I’m planning on exploring the inner creases of Polk County. There’s lots going on down there in the way of obscure sites and villages: ghost towns, phosphate plants, spooks, and the like. I can’t wait!

Florida Stuff From My Bulging Files

FLORIDA! In 1978, it was a dream come true for me to move down here, on a lot of levels. I can’t believe that was 33 years ago, and now I’m almost as old as the people I saw driving at a snail’s pace on the highways when I arrived- I first experienced Florida in 1970, as a raw fourteen-year-old, and those memories seem to have seared themselves onto my brain pan.

Enamored with my newly-adopted home, I began collecting things (no surprise to anyone who knows me). Here, for your entertainment, are some odd items from my FLORIDA folder…

NOTE: Click on each picture for a larger, more detailed version.

The Florida Department of Citrus handed out postcards of their product for a few years, and friends of mine handed me a batch of them. I mailed them  to antagonize my family in the frozen tundra of Brooklyn.

Winter Park was where I settled, though I’ve never actually lived within the city limits. My first address was Maitland 32751, in Orange County; my second was Winter park 32792, in Seminole County; and my current is Winter Park 32792, also in Seminole County, though I am actually located within the city limits of Casselberry.

Yes… your social standing all depends on the post office which delivers your mail, which is why I don’t own a dinner jacket.

The fabled Langford Hotel was THE place to be seen in Winter Park at one time– the real Winter Park of 32789 fame. Here, women with beehives and barrel curls would sit at the bar talking with men wearing blue polyester suits. It’s true! Just look at the brochure below. Afterwards, everyone would jump in the pool and sober up, hoping that that string of electric lanterns wouldn’t fall in and suddenly render everyone redundant.

I have  a Winter Park Chamber of Commerce booklet from the 1960s– the telephone exchanges in the ads are all MIdway. Here are a couple of pages describing home life. “There is no snobbishness here, and you are judged not by what you have, but by what you are.”  “Houses are constructed here to conform to the casual, informal mode of living, and range in price from $13,500 to $100,000.”

I was introduced in 1978 to a Mrs. Anna Jillson, an assistant VP at the Barnett Bank on Park Avenue. A very nice lady, she sometimes manned a teller station. One day I brought my visiting grandmother in so that she could cash her social security check. The young teller asked, very condescendingly, ‘ohhh? Does SHE have an account here?’ What?! Excuse me?! In response, I name-dropped: ‘Maybe I should go upstairs and ask Mrs. Jillson to come down and see if SHE can handle this professionally?’  Instead, the teller said nicely to my grandmother, ‘how would you like that, in fifties and twenties?’

I eventually traveled further afield, sometimes taking the bus to visit relatives in Sarasota. (I still have the ticket stubs.) This spread in SEE Sarasota, a magazine I treasured from when I first visited the state in 1970, gives the impression that Sarasota was home to women in beehives and barrel curls, barmaids from California, and underground films. I wanted to see underground films, desperately, but what I mostly did with my relatives was play miniature golf and eat pizza.

We went fishing one time in Sarasota (1970), casting off from a place called Uncle Bob’s Fishing Place, “where fishermen meet.” I helped push the boat into the water, and even baited my own hooks– with nicely comatose shrimp one day, and maniacally wriggling shrimp the next day. And I’ll never forget a little black girl asking for some ice at the marina. When she walked away, the middle-aged white man who gave her the ice referred to her with a racial slur that I thought you only heard in movies about the Klan. Boy was I shocked! If I knew then what I know now, I would have asked him: ‘What exactly do you mean by “where fisherman meet.” ‘

Have you ever heard of Xanadu? It was a futuristic house built on a plot of land on Highway 192 going through Kissimmee. It promised all sorts of delights– ‘experience 2001 technology today!’– but it failed to deliver. The place was hot and stuffy; the Robutler stood dusty and broken in a corner, and the bathroom ‘with its waterfall and spa and solar sauna’ wasn’t anything to write home about; in fact, I never did. ‘Every room reveals a futuristic surprise,’ the brochure promised– yes, it was very surprising that each room looked like 1955’s idea of the future. That sculptural tree was supposed to keep the interior climate-controlled, but when you got to the top floor you broke out in a sweat and stopped breathing. And the clerk in the gift shop could NOT have been more bored!

When I got my car, I drove up to Deland and happened to take this photo just before the sky yawned and poured all over me and my camera… and now that I think of it, I know an Igou family.

Citrus crate labels are colorful and beautiful; you can get a lot of nice ones at the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation museums. And the Battaglia family owned a big house on Palmer Avenue in Winter Park.

Time flew… soon it was time for Disney to expand…

I still enjoy going to Epcot. It’s Xanadu in a way, but they do update it every once in a while. I wish they’d get more countries, though.

And here is a map of Orlando from before Interstate 4 was built through the city, which permanently ruined it when it bisected it into eastern and western halves.

And, finally, a page from The Orlando Sentinel, 1965…

I hope you’ve enjoyed your little foray into my filing cabinet. Now I’ve got to put all this stuff back…

PhotoBike Tour 10: Cheese and Cows and A Bucolic Seminole County Bike Ride

Those of you who know me well can probably appreciate my fondness for doing things alone. While I do enjoy and love the company of my friends and family, there’s nothing quite like having a few hours to myself in which to indulge the caprices which worm their way into my psyche. It usually happens like this: I do what I have to in the morning, and then spend some time with Blueie the lovebird. He likes to nestle in my right hand (not the left) and look out into the backyard with me. He notices butterflies and lizards and other birds (wild and unruly) from behind the safety of the sliding glass door, and then I realize that I’m spending WAY too much time communing with this bird, and that it’s perhaps time to get out on the bicycle. (If you click on the pictures you’ll be able to see them in their original entirety.)

It’s one of my favorite things to do, and now that it’s slightly cooler, I’ve been ramping up the hours I spend cycling. “Slightly cooler” is relative, of course; the temperatures are just as high as they were in July-August, but there’s something comfortable in the air which makes biking a lot more pleasurable than it was two months ago. Still, my ball cap ends up a sopping mess, but who’s watching?

Today I went back to the Winter Park Dairy to buy some cheese. It’s up on Howell Branch Road, its property backing up to Lake Florence. There’s a sign now, and you bike (or drive) down a dirt road past horses and cows, and at the end you’ll find another sign that directs you to the farm store. You can buy cheeses there, as well as local honey (Dansk Farms) and other dairy products like milk and eggs. What’s amazing is that these wholesome wares are located just a short drive east of the manic intersection of 436 and Howell Branch Road. Some years ago– not very many– I was taking pictures of an old barn located just off that corner, and a kindly old woman came out of the farmhouse next to it and asked if I’d like to see the inside of her home. (I must have one of those faces that doesn’t automatically brand me as an axe murderer.) She had a wood-burning stove in the kitchen with a pipe that led through the wall, and I had to remind myself that it was 1995, not 1935… it was all very surreal, and now there are apartments there, and clipped hedges, and I suppose a pool. I couldn’t tell you because there’s an electric gate that keeps nosy people like me away.

David and Dawn Green are the owners and operators of the Winter Park Dairy, and they are pleased to present their products to customers who appreciate the vital importance of patronizing and sustaining local businesses. It’s not a trendy, yuppified concept that the Greens are offering: this is a working farm with all the smells and sights you’d expect, utilitarian, honest, and simple. You won’t find cinnamon brooms for sale, or cat dolls stuffed with potpourri, but you will find healthy local products. I tell you– the cheeses are phenomenal, made from milk from cows that you actually see on the site. Last week I bought a chunk of parmesan, intending to grate it into a pasta dish, but it didn’t last that long. Today I bought a hunk each of their Black and Bleu and Cheddar. They’re in the refrigerator and, believe me, it’s all I can do to NOT land on them with a sharp knife and a glass of wine; the pleasure of eating these wonderful cheeses will have to be disciplined and moderated. Go– GO AT ONCE– to this farm store and avail yourselves of this wonderful local product. You might even find some locally baked goods for sale, but you should go early.

Dansk beehives.

The farm store... and my bicycle.


It was so beautiful that, after filling my white basket with cheese, I continued further east just to see what was going on in the neighborhood. I like to check up on certain favorite places, probably just to see if things are staying the same. I did see a large sign posted on a property that’s for sale, but I won’t even go into the how and why of all that; I just want to say that I think we have enough anonymous subdivisions in Seminole County already. And just to the right of that sign is this spreading oak tree on a property located at Eden Point, which isn’t even on most maps. Cars speed past this spot, but a casual cyclist like myself can tool along and see what’s what at leisure. Sometimes cows will gather under this tree to escape the heat of the noonday sun.

The mighty oak.

Grand Road is a mysterious byway (at least to me) wedged between Dike and Dodd Roads. The property here is partly taken up by a belt of electrical pylons, but there are still wild, kudzu-swathed areas just off the road. There aren’t many cars on Grand, and those that I did see were (mostly) attentive to the lone cyclist moseying along. I try to ride with my left elbow pointing out, to force cars around me, but sometimes they like to play chicken. Excuse me?

Heading back towards the house, I stopped at the San Pedro property, a meditative retreat center maintained by the Orlando diocese. You can get to Lake Howell along paths that have been blazed through the forest, or you can just sit quietly in the chapel or on a bench near pasture land which is rented to farmers. The cows were in the pasture further west today, and a gentlemen I spoke with said that it would be pretty easy to traipse through the meadow and find them, though he himself wouldn’t– “swamp monsters.” Sometimes at night he can hear the cows bellowing loudly to one another. “I don’t know what they are upset about,” he said. “Something is spooking them.” Swamp monsters?

I like stopping in the cool, quiet San Pedro chapel at the height of the day. I can turn off my ears and shut out all the noises in my head, listening instead to that still, quiet voice. I’ve figured out quite a few things in this silent place. And I can refill my water bottle at the cooler. Sometimes it feels like I’m the only person around for miles. Here, the chapel looks out onto the forest that ends at Lake Howell.

On the way home, I pass through an area called Slovak Village. It was founded in 1949 to accommodate Slovak families and farmers who had settled in the area. There is a cemetery there– the Slovak National Cemetery– in the little lanes located between Eastbrook subdivision and 436. Its name hints at something vast and filled with rows of Slovak graves, but it’s actually very small, though scenic.

And then home, which is maybe ten minutes away from all this by bicycle. Mind you, I’m not complaining about living in a suburb-cum-rural-exurb as I do, because I know I can easily get away from the noise and the traffic in just a few minutes… and find some artisanal cheese on the journey.

Cousin Nico in Paradise– Key West 2010

Can you hear that sound of stampeding feet? Welcome Lufthansa Flight 464 from Frankfurt am Main to Orlando International Airport!

As scheduled, and after looking forward to it for many months, Nicola– my 19-year-old Italian second cousin once removed– arrived for two weeks of relaxation before starting his sophomore year at the University of Pisa. Though he did bring his geography text to study for a September 20th. exam, I only saw it brought out on a couple of occasions. Good for him! He’s going to ace it anyway– he’s riding a 100% average after his first year. [He did.]

“Where do you want to go in Florida?” I asked him prior to his visit. The theme parks didn’t figure into his equation; he wanted nature, and giant bridges spanning endless expanses of ocean, and alligators; but no sharks and– of course– a visit to Miami. But not necessarily Miami Beach. And he wanted to see some American Protestant churches– not that he’s shopping for a new religion but, after living in Catholic-saturated Italy, he wanted to see how the other half worshiped. And if we could have gotten into the Mormon temple in Orlando, I’m sure it would have been on his list as well.

Once we had a travel agenda in place, I was able to start worrying about what to feed him. I knew what Italians generally ate after spending time there in the past, but I naturally worried about what he might find unappetizing. We did well, however; corn stayed untouched on his plate, either cobbed or loose, but most vegetables and poultry and meat were duly appreciated. Corn, it seems, is fed to livestock. Polenta? Don’t get me started; that’s what peasants ate if there was any corn left over after throwing it to the pigs. And one night I hand-made pappardelle noodles and a wonderful pesto, which was actually a bonus because the women in his family don’t make pasta by hand anymore. (“The ones that do are all dead.”) And he enjoyed the Mexican fare we had in South Florida, as well as a Chinese meal here at Jum Bo in Winter Park. But Italian fare in Key West was not entirely authentic, he decided. Sorry! And they mispronounced bruschetta.  It’s broo-SKET-ta, not broo-SHET-ta. (Note to self: load car with prosciutto e melone prior to any long drives involving Italian relatives. And keep a ready baked ziti warming on the manifold, just in case. A translating dictionary, too.)

Nico got to meet my mother and sisters and brother-in-law for the first time, immersing himself in a saturation dose of my family. When together, we’re loud… and he loved it. Here we are– yours truly, Nico, and Kirk, posing dutifully by Lois and Mike’s pool in Port St. Lucie, a small fishing village wedged between the Atlantic and the Everglades.

Nico was VERY taken by how wide and far everything is here in America. We drove down through the center of the state along US-27 when we headed to Key West; I love that route because it’s wide and empty and scenic. By the time we got to the Everglades entrance in Homestead, which is about 209 miles from my house here in Winter Park, we could have driven from his house in Lucca all the way to Rome– a whole other region and a whole other dialect. And we STILL had hours to go until we reached Key West.

I’d never been to the Everglades, and we were both impressed. An alligator showed up, as anticipated, and we posed my cousin next to a sign fraught with warnings:


A primeval killer.

We drove further into the park after spending some time at this hammock, but the road grew grungier and the sky blacker, convincing us to head back to town and some Mexican food. There’s such a sense of vastness in the Everglades. The sky and the flatness stretch out before you, and when you’re the only ones on the road like we were it feels like Earth has been evacuated. Where are the souvenir stands, your mind cries out!  There’s nothing but swamp! “It’s all very green,” Nico said. “From Orlando to here has been nothing but green.” “We are one of the nation’s vegetable baskets,” I replied, sounding like my third grade nun. “See all those plants that look like corn? That’s sugar cane! This is where we get the sugar for all those Snickers bars we ate on the way down here.”


The next morning we headed for Key West along U.S. Highway 1, which is the only road into the Keys. There are some stretches where you just don’t drive faster than ten miles above the posted speed limit, yet there is always one bozo behind you who wants to go even faster. “Bozo,” I explained to Nicola, “was a television clown here in America.”  “I hate clowns… I am afraid of them!”  “Me too.”

He was very taken with the palette of blues and greens which color the water on the way down through the island chain. And even though it was six thousand degrees outside the car, he gamely posed in the sun while wearing his mosquito suit. (Jeans and long sleeves.)

“I think I’ll sleep,” he said at one point while I drove us through the endless miles of azure and teal. “Please do,” I replied, which he interpreted ironically, a Tuscan trait which, incidentally, had the both of us raising amused eyebrows for the two weeks he was in Florida. As when I attempted to tell him, in Italian, something about bringing along a duffel bag:  “Don’t even try,” he replied. Had there been a dueling oak in Winter Park, I’m sure we would have met beneath it one fine morning– linguistically, of course.  Neapolitans or Sicilians would simply throw knives at one another and be done with it but, being Tuscans, we duel with eyebrows. (Admittedly, I am half Neapolitan, and Nico and I are both descended from a Sicilian woman. But that’s a state secret) And I had the pleasure of explaining to him the subtle differences among underneathunder, and below.  Being a scholar of languages, his fluency in Latin and Ancient Greek allows him to grasp the subtleties of our barbaric language in a trice; it was like driving with Homer.

We stopped at this church on Key Largo just to prowl around inside and visit the Sacrament. Nico was impressed by how modern and suburban most Florida churches are.

After a few hours, we arrived in Key West. To me, it always feels like I’ve come home. To Nico, it was his first slice of urban paradise, and he loved it immediately. We drove in via the southern entrance, past the forts along the Atlantic, and he could not get over the fact that here was this vast, spreading ocean nestled against this charming little city. And the air is always so fresh… it was a pleasure to see the look on his face: another convert!

Here’s Nico on Elizabeth Street, which we decided was named for Jack’s male secretary on Will & Grace. Remember?  “Elizabeth!!!”  He loves that show, and we watched a lot of episodes in Italian on my computer. They are just as crazy, Karen even more so.

One of my favorite spots in Key West is atop La Concha Hotel, where you have views of the entire town. Here’s my cousin backed by St. Paul’s Episcopal, which he was very impressed with. I am too– the figural stained glass alone is worth the trip. And it’s one of those Episcopal sanctuaries that is just a hair’s breadth away from being entirely Roman Catholic; sometimes they’ll tell you “we have everything but the Pope,” which doesn’t seem like such a bad idea these days.

And, of course, here’s Bonnie Albury’s house, which I’ve written about recently. I am ready to move in here. Where’s the contract?

We stayed at Oasis, one of those guest houses for men, which was a first for him. I felt like the old geezer trailing his young companion along with him: “This is my Italian cousin,” I felt compelled to tell the desk clerk and any guests we spoke with. And then I would get the gay male version of the raised eyebrows look. So what! Believe what you want.

We swam in the pool and were able to splash around at will, because the joint was deserted. “It’s the slow time of year,” everyone kept telling us, which was fine with me. We did notice a lot of lesbian couples strolling through town, holding hands, and then we realized it was Women’s Week, or close to it. Nico was amazed at the freedom, and stunned at the look of a housewife– there could be no other word– who shot THE filthiest look at a female couple as she passed by them on the sidewalk. Why even bother dragging your husband and kids to Key West if you’re going to come with THAT attitude? Honestly.

We stopped in at the 801 one night so Nico could get his first look at a gay club. Filled with carousing locals, it was a pleasant introduction. I had a beer, he had a soda, and we found ourselves seated next to a couple who happened to be staying at our guest house. When my cousin got up to find the facilities, I got the eyebrows from one of them, but then I entered into a conversation with the bartender and told him about Nico visiting from Italy. “He’s my cousin,” I said in their direction. “My second cousin once removed.” It turns out the bartender’s  people are from Italy as well, and so he and Nico had a chat about the old country when my cousin found his way back to his bar stool.

The gay community center on Truman Avenue was enlightening for him– there’s just nothing like it in rural Italy. Here was an entire structure devoted to tolerance, with a great display about Tennessee Williams. (Hi Susan!)

We stayed two days and then drove back to downtown Miami, where my second cousin Steven on my father’s side owns an Italian restaurant named Perricone’s. What a meal! We arrived halfway between lunch and dinner, and so had everyone’s attention. The place is amazing, and Steven was on the premises and able to hang out for a while. And Nico loved the food.

He had a great time here, and I truly miss his company. Now he’s back in Italy, totally immersed in his sophomore year at the University, and dying to come back to America. I’m dying to go back to Italy, so it’s been decided that Kirk and I will be visiting there next year, because Nico’s entire family wants to meet us as a couple. And that’s a whole other story. There were plenty of issues when my cousin came out to his people, and lots of eMails back and forth between him and Cousin Jimmy, beseeching advice and help during what turned out to be a rather emotional and trying time, but eventually everybody saw reason. I feel like I’ve accomplished something good and lasting in my life regarding HIS life, but I’m mostly thankful for his family’s understanding and support. It was a stretch for a gang of rural Italians to come to grips with such a concept as a gay son / grandson / nephew.

Now summer’s over, and we can all start looking forward to the next.




PhotoBike Tour 6: Winter Park in Black and White

Today was SO hot that I knew I should have started biking way earlier than I did. But I left the house at 11:45 and it was like walking into a wall of soup– and not gazpacho. More like boiling pea soup. So you go slow– two-wheeled ambling rather than racing, which is impossible to do in this town anyway what with the traffic and the thousands of parked landscaping and delivery trucks crowding the streets during the day. “How nice and quiet it must be when you bike ride,” people say to me. Wrong. I am serenaded by an orchestra composed of lawnmowers and those damned exhaust-belching, shrieking leaf blowers.

Today wasn’t so bad. I went west into Winter Park, mostly along the Aloma-Osceloa-Brewer-Fairbanks route, and then the little streets over in Hannibal Square. Here are some shots which I decided to post in black and white, just to see what some of my the sites look like when the hot sun bleaches all the color out of them. And then, some things still with us from the past are made to be seen in black and white…

This very old house is on Aloma Avenue, built in 1901. I hope I don’t jinx it by showing it because it seems like the sort of house that the town likes to tear down to replace with a little cement palazzo. (There are no historic districts in Winter Park.)


 I’ve always loved this house on the Aloma-Brewer curve. Built in 1926, it’s being gutted by the current owners; only a few exterior walls are standing.


 Here’s another ancient beauty. It’s at the south end of Bonita Drive. Originally called Eastbank, it was built in 1883– one of the oldest homes in town.

The central areas of Winter Park are laced with canals connecting the big lakes. The boat tour takes you along some of them.

A tiny gem from 1935 on Osceola Court.

All Saints Episcopal (1925).

A church in Hannibal Square, the traditionallyAfrican-American west side of Winter Park.

A house in Hannibal Square, from 1902.

Looking out across Lake Virginia from Dinky Dock at the south end of Ollie Avenue.

On Osceola Avenue, just near the end of the bike ramp that plunges off Brewer hill. From 1935.

Much more respectable these days, this beauty from 1899 was owned by a tax evader / drug smuggler sometime in the 1970s. To get this photo, one has to bike down a short stretch now marked “Private Drive.” One of these days I am going to be set upon by the hounds!

A view toward the chapel at Rollins College, from Lake Virginia.

When I returned home and started looking up the facts on some of these houses, I found a lot of brochures I’d been saving. A little booklet that the Junior League produced in 1980 features a lot of historical buildings that are no longer around. While I realize that the bulldozers of progress roll inexorably on, I also lament the permanent, irretrievable loss of those beautiful structures.

Planting Cotton in the Yard, Part 2

After much needed rain– seedlings! It’s amazing how the new blue seeds poked their heads above our poor, sandy soil– yet they look vigorous and hungry. Today: tiny plants.  Soon: sweaters for everyone! (Nota bene: the original gray seeds have not germinated, and probably won’t. They’re old, and they deserve a rest from procreation…don’t we all?)