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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Stop #5: Venice Public Library

I don't want to attract bad Karma by talking trash about DeeDee, my GPS, but she screwed up big time. The Miata and I pulled into Venice, and I'm thinking, where's the canal? The gondolas? The city on the water? But I found the public library so I went with it. 

Roland introduced me to a good looking group of readers who stuck around to hear what I had to say. A woman introduced herself to me and said she sat next to my husband last October at an event I produce in Richmond. (Can you say small world?) Then, after some questions and answers, we all agreed to meet again in one year's time in the REAL Venice.

Then I drove 300 miles across the widest part of southern Florida on a 2-lane highway and loved every second of it. I'd never seen this part of Florida before (or if I have, I don't remember it). I'd never seen the miles of Florida cattle ranches (chronicled in a dozens of "cracker westerns" by Janet Post, Jon Wilson, Rick Tonyan, and Lee Gramling), or the orange trees of my youth in their impossibly straight rows, heavy laden and tumescent. At a rare intersection, an 18-wheeler drove past, hauling a crate cage loaded with fruit. I can't remember the last time I saw that. And it's January, remember!

In the early '80s, the Florida orange industry suffered a one-two punch when several hard freezes and a  blight devastated the trees. When the groves were sold to developers who built big box stores and reshaped bushes to resemble Mickey Mouse ears, I became interested in a culture and way of life disappearing right before my eyes. Here, along the Indian River, the groves survived, due to a geographic quirk that prevented prolonged temperatures below freezing. I know this because I read John McPhee's "Oranges," a wonderful little book which tells you everything you ever wanted to know about...well, oranges. It's surprisingly fascinating. Conceived as a short magazine piece, it grew into a slim, fact-filled book about orange farmers struggling with frost and new breeds of citrus. Oranges come to seem a microcosm of man's relationship with nature. And it's funny, occasionally hilarious. In fact, I'm going to read it again just as soon as I find a public library.

At the end of the line was Vero Bach, and my college friend, Johh, who opened his beautiful home to me and gave me alcohol. The Miata is safely garaged, my belly is full, and DeeDee is unplugged. All I need is a glass of orange juice and good "cracker western," and it's off to lala land.

Cheers.

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