Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cat Statue

Back in 1991, I visited Key West for the first time, and one highlight of the trip was the Hemingway House. The tour guide casually pointed out a ceramic statue sitting on top of a cabinet, a gift from from Pablo Picasso to Ernest Hemingway. Years later I heard that the statue had been stolen, which honestly wasn't surprising considering it was a cool Picasso statue just sitting on a cabinet in a house.

Years later, while going through boxes of old photos (oh, the pre-digital days), we came across this picture from that 1991 trip. According to the Hemingway House museum's website, the cat was found in a box in the 1970s, and Hemingway's wife said that it was a gift from Picasso to Hemingway. The two men had become friends when living in Paris in the 1920s. The statue was stolen during or shortly after a house tour in November 2000, and recovered a month later when the thief tried to use it as a deposit for a small boat. Unfortunately, the statue was badly damaged. The statue now on display in the house museum is a replica.

(Sources included the Hemingway House website, the Dec. 11, 2000 Miami Herald, and the Jan. 26, 2001 Palm Beach Post)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Florida Fresh Market

Primed by promises of fresh, local produce, I visited a local fresh market this week for the first time in a long while. I surmised that since a lot of vegetables are grown in Florida, that a fresh market in Florida would have little room for foreign fruit. So I was disappointed to see Chilean grapes and California avocados.

I acknowledge my hypocrisy in expecting local produce in Florida, a state whose vast agricultural economy is based on selling to people who live elsewhere. For centuries, Florida farmers have made their livings by selling oranges and green beans and strawberries to people far, far away. Pioneering farmers loaded citrus onto steamboats and trains so that hotels in New York City might serve sectioned fruit to their guests. Thousands of men were lured to Florida by the promise of a better life as a gentleman farmer, with ten acres in the country and a house in town.

Indeed, there were several local products available at the Oldsmar Fresh Market that I do not see at my local Publix or Wal-Mart Supercenter. There were fresh breads from a local bakery, fresh Gulf seafood, and honey from local bees. Of course there were Florida strawberries, and Ruskin tomatoes. There was a table of Florida citrus, and not the shiny perfect fruit that gets mailed away in gift baskets, but the duller, lumpier fruit Floridians keep for themselves because it tastes so good. Here were the Florida grapefruit, the Temple orange, and the Honey Murcott. The Temple and the Honey Murcott oranges are both tangors, crosses between tangerines and sweet oranges. The Temple orange gave its name to the city of Temple Terrace, where larges groves of the fruit once grew. The Honey Murcott orange is named after Charles Murcott Smith who first planted groves of this variety nearby in Pinellas County.

"Home cooking: Surviving for a week on locally grown food" (St. Petersburg Times, October 24, 2008)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Kate DiCamillo

Today is author Kate DiCamillo's birthday (Happy Birthday!). Although her more recent books - The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The Tale of Despereaux, the Mercy Watson series, and the forthcoming The Magician's Elephant - don't offer much proof of it, she is a Florida writer.

Born in the north, Kate experienced poor health as a child. Her doctor recommended the time-honored cure of moving to Florida, and she came to Clermont with her mother and brother. Her first novel, Because of Winn-Dixie, is set in North Florida, although I've pondered whether the setting is integral to the plot. I think the story could be set elsewhere in the South just as easily. On her website, however, DiCamillo writes that the story arose at least in part from her homesickness for Florida during a cold Minnesota winter. Nor is her second book, The Tiger Rising, particularly dependent on its Florida setting for meaning. It does, however, incorporate the timeless Florida theme of new beginnings and second chances.