April 24, 2008

Sarasota some more

I arrived in Sarasota Monday afternoon. Aunt Helen's service was Tuesday morning some 90 miles north of there. After brunch with my cousins and assorted kinfolk that morning, I returned to spend the rest of the day and another night at The Cypress, nothing on my agenda. Here's a slide show with some shots of the Inn, and a few random glimpses around town.

Nina, Vicki, and Robert were friends in New Jersey who packed it in a decade ago and headed south, determined to start a bed and breakfast under tropical skies. They had a vision. The Cypress was what they envisioned. They eventually found, and bought the old house. In due course their investment of toil, sweat, and greenbacks produced the timeless kind of old Florida retreat you've always imagined. At every turn there's some lovely, welcoming detail. A view of Sarasota Bay, dotted with sailboats, shimmers from the front porch. Breakfast, the day I left, was fresh fruit, morning-made blueberry-peach muffins, and the kind of omelet you've always imagined an old Florida inn would serve.

Our extended family, my mother's three siblings, and some nine cousins, lived within a bike ride of one another in Michigan. I would often steal into my aunt Helen's house and tinker on the piano in the basement long after her own children had lost interest in the old upright. She not only tolerated these often unmusical musings, she let me come and go as I pleased. When we did cross paths, a hug and a kiss would send me on my way. Or else something from the oven, cookies, a piece of pie, a morning-made muffin, would slow me down. We'd sit at the kitchen table talking and laughing and chumming it up the way only an aunt and her nephew ever can.

There was an old baby grand in the parlor at the Cypress. I sat down, folded back the cover, and played a few notes. It sounded a lot like aunt Helen's old upright. With nobody around, I played my Chopin waltz. The one I thought she'd like.

April 22, 2008

Sarasota tonight

I'm in Sarasota tonight, at Vicki, Robert, and Nina's wonderful B&B. I drove up to attend my aunt Helen's memorial service; she died a few days ago at 87. She was a dear old thing, and passed on surrounded by her family and their love.

I'm fond of Sarasota too, and will be joining Birdie up here next Sunday for the big Sunday drum thing at Siesta Key. Birdie can describe it better than I can. I return to the Cape tomorrow. I'll catch up with everybody in a couple days...

April 16, 2008


One of my favorite of all tropical trees is this, often called a sago palm, but wrongly: it isn't a palm at all. It's something more ancient... a cycad.

Cycads date back at least 200 million years, one of the oldest of seed-bearing plants, probably originating in the early mesozoic era. It has left fossils on every continent of the planet.

The stem along the interior of its frond is laced with huge needle-sharp spines, thought to deter ravening dinosaurs.

A beautiful one, just two stories high, though more than thirty years old, grew just outside the lanai off my bedroom some years ago. Its gorgeous head, fifteen feet across, spanned the entire breadth of the lanai, plunging the west end of my home into tropical splendor. It was killed in a thunderstorm a few years ago... I suspect by one of the small tornadoes that often accompany, like lethal courtiers, tropical storms in this part of the world. I awoke that morning to a flood of oddly unfamiliar light pouring into my bedroom. Nearly a minute passed before my brain could absorb the heartbreaking sight before me... the majestic old tree was snapped in half. It has since been replaced by a fan palm, an amiable companion, though lacking its predecessor's grandeur.

I was trimming the cycad in the front yard one day, years ago, when the tip of one of its spines poked into, and broke off in, my index finger. There it sat, stubbornly lodged, and harassing the knuckle, for almost a year. I finally managed to coax it out; it emerged every bit as sharp, pointy, and unassailed by any solution that my mere mammalian metabolism could muster, as the day it went in.

I think now that I should have saved it. It deserves a place of honorable mention, at least, alongside my kidney stone, its painfully (although, admittedly on a whole different scale) extruded cousin.

April 13, 2008

April 8, 2008



The pianist walked to center stage and sat down at the spotlighted grand. The applause receded like dry leaves gathered away in a gust. In the breathless silence the pianist began playing a nocturne. At intermission he saw him, leaning against the shadowed wall, steeped in the program... His name was David. “This isn’t like me,” he said. David smiled. “Who is it like?”


He sprawled on the couch, sated, serenaded, adrift. David sat, bespectacled, in a t-shirt, at the piano, playing Chopin. This, then, was the moon. A summation of things loved, and him, breathing, a summer night. “This one is called ‘the cat,” David said. “Hear it? The little cat feet?” I should have been a pair of velvet paws, he thought, scuttling across pliant keys.


He sat parked in the driveway between the bundled palm fronds, brown and crisp, piled at the curb, and a grackle on a fence. Just ahead was David’s car. And beyond that, somewhere in the house, David. He imagined him shouldering a phone, sipping wine, taking notes, multitasking, absorbed. He backed out and drove home along the beach road, the CD playing a prelude.

April 4, 2008

Reading plan

I bookmark my bathroom reading with my reading glasses. 
The bridge points to the exact paragraph where I left off...