Living in Florida is Living with the Apocalypse

Photo by Suparerg Suksai on

There is this idea that Florida is a beautiful place. There are palm trees, golf courses, lawns, gardens, boulevards, and parks. The weather is nice too. That’s why all the people from up north buy property here. So that they can experience the nice weather instead of the cold winter and play a couple of holes on the golf course before they drive down the boulevard to go have lunch in a park. 

But all of these things are artificial. The palm trees are planted and mostly non-native species. The golf courses, lawns, gardens, boulevards, and parks need to be maintained by a cadre of people employed specifically to prune and trim. The nice weather only lasts a few months every year. 

If we look away from the artificial Florida and instead go searching for the real Florida, where do we end up? 

First of all, let’s talk about the weather. You don’t know what it’s like to live in Florida until you have spent the summer here. The humidity, the thunder showers, the hurricanes. 

Then there are the wetlands with the hammocks and the sawgrass. There are pine ridges, barrier islands, alligators, and mosquitoes. Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, who was crucial in the fight to save the Everglades from complete exploitation and destruction, never visited there. Why? Because, she explained, the Everglades is not meant for people.  

Right now, the Everglades is a specific thing, namely the Everglades National Park, which is located mainly in between the cities of Miami and Naples. But the Everglades—the river of grass—reaches all the way up the interior of the Florida peninsula. And if we stop maintaining artificial Florida—if we stop mowing the lawns, trimming the golf courses, and what have you—this is the Florida that will take over. And it will take over quickly. 

In 2019, the movie Annihilation starring Nathalie Portman and Oscar Isaac opened in the theaters. Annihilation is based on the first part of the science fiction-horror trilogy The Southern Reach Trilogy written by Florida author Jeff Vandermeer.

Annihilation takes place in an ecological anomaly called Area X. Area X is inspired by the St Mark’s Wildlife Reserve, which is located near where Vandermeer lives in the Florida panhandle. Area X, this anomaly where all kinds of strange and horrific things happen, is a metaphor for Florida.  

I agree with Vandermeer’s view of Florida. To me, Florida is a living thing that we have pushed to the brink by confining it to specific parts of the peninsula we now inhabit.  

We are toying with Area X at our own peril. We build houses where they shouldn’t be built. We drain waterways that shouldn’t be drained. We build roads where roads shouldn’t go. And once in a while, Florida strikes back, and the result is catastrophic.  

Much of the disaster caused by Hurricane Ian could have been avoided if we had developed Florida’s coasts in a sustainable way. The counties where Ian struck are now like Area X. Some of the damaged areas will be reclaimed and redeveloped, while other areas will be left to be absorbed by Florida. 

Hurricane Nicole caused further damage this week. Piers were shattered by waves and winds. Houses collapsed into the ocean when the beach they were built upon washed out to sea. Neighborhoods were flooded.

They say that the worst part of a hurricane is the aftermath. Preparing for a hurricane takes a couple of days at the most. If you have your hurricane plan in place, all you need to do is wait for impact. When the hurricane makes landfall, you hunker down and wait for it to pass. It is afterwards, when people resurface from where they have been sheltering, that the difficulties begin.

The destruction a hurricane wreaks depends on its strength, size, and where and when it makes landfall. But regardless of the how and the when, the aftermath of a hurricane is a disaster. For a brief moment, there is only people. And Florida.

The rest of America views Florida as a weird place with weird people. To a certain extent, they are not wrong. Florida is weird. Living in Florida makes you weird.

Living in Florida is like living in a world where The Restaurant at the End of the Universe meets Leonard Cohen’s “Closing Time.” Maybe that is so because six months out of every year, we live with the possibility of facing our last moment. Maybe it’s because living in Florida is living with the apocalypse.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.


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Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the Writer and Activist Who Changed the World

The day before the March for Our Lives, which took place in Washington D.C. and around the world on March 24, 2018, I published this post on Book Riot.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the Writer and Activist Who Changed the World.

Marjory_S_Douglas_Friends of the Everglades_Wikipedia

Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890–1998). Photo: Friends of the Everglades (Wikipedia).

On February 14, 2018, a mass shooting was carried out at a high school in Florida, killing fourteen students and three members of the staff. The shooting catapulted two names into the national and international consciousness–Parkland, which is where the shooting took place, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas, after whom the high school is named.

In addition to the horrific death toll, this incident attracted further attention when the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School took to the physical and virtual streets. The students turned into activists, giving voice to their frustration and anger over the current state of politics in Florida, as well as in the United States as a whole. And in doing so, they carried on the legacy of the woman whose name their high school bears–Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

If you wish to read the post in its entirety, please click here.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

The Bamboo Room, Lake Worth, Florida

My favorite place to hear live music is for sale. After running the club since 1998, the current management has decided to move on and no acts have been booked after the end of May.

I am talking about The Bamboo Room in Lake Worth, Florida.

You enter The Bamboo Room through the doors on street level. There, you give your ticket and proceed upstairs to the actual club. The room you enter is near original from when the building was constructed in the 1920s. Wooden floor, bamboo rods serving as paneling, exposed roof beams, wooden ceiling fans, and dim lighting. It’s all seating; you only stand if you arrive too late to get a seat. Tables and wicker chairs close to the stage, high tables at the back, bar stools by the bar. A waitress takes your order. The cocktail recipes date back to the Prohibition Era.

According to the stories, the club room that is The Bamboo Room has Speak Easy roots. And it’s easy to imagine such a history when you venture up that winding, badly lit flight of stairs. Whenever I enter The Bamboo Room, I almost expect to be asked for a password I don’t have.

At The Bamboo Room I have seen some amazing live acts.

I’ve seen Shemekia Copeland. Copeland’s voice is out of this world. She stepped down from the stage and walked around the room, singing without a microphone, and could be heard perfectly from every corner.

I’ve seen Janiva Magness. A late-comer to the blues, but what a power house she is!

I’ve seen JJ Grey. Performing without his back-up band Mofro, JJ Grey treated us to an intimate acoustic performance, fueled by cocktails on the house.

I’ve seen Eddie Shaw. Blues legend who played with Ike and Tina and who was one of the pallbearers at Howlin’ Wolf’s funeral.

I’ve seen Tim Reynolds of Dave Matthews Band fame.

I’ve seen Big Bill Morganfield, son of legendary blues man Muddy Waters, who is striking out on his own.

The Bamboo Room is an intimate club serving up some of the best drinks and some of the best music on offer. When you’re there, you feel the wings of history brush against your cheek.

One day, I will write a story that takes place at The Bamboo Room. It will feature ghosts of Lake Worth’s past.

Visit The Bamboo Room’s website here.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

Ernest Hemingway Ate Dolphin

Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) is considered by many as one of the greatest American writers. His novels on World War I, the Spanish Civil War, bullfighting and big game hunting has helped to solidify a view of Hemingway as a man’s man who killed what he ate. A hamburger recipe, supposedly of Hemingway’s favorite, has circulated the internet and foodies and literary scholars alike have vowed to try it out in honor of this great writer. However, Hemingway not only ate cows with great delight, he also ate dolphin. Would you eat dolphin in his honor?

Ernest Hemingway (1950). Source: Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) was born in Oak Park, Illinois, but spent most of his life living elsewhere. From 1927 until the mid-1950s, Hemingway lived in Key West, Florida, and on Cuba. Here he wrote the novels A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls, respectively. As a child he had learned how to hunt and fish and while he lived in Florida and Cuba, fishing was one of Hemingway’s pastimes. During World War II Hemingway outfitted his fishing boat with guns and explosives and patrolled the waters off the Cuban coast looking for enemy submarines.

Hemingway’s life in Florida and Cuba lays the foundation for his Pulitzer Prize winning story, The Old Man and the Sea. The Old Man and the Sea is a story of the aging Cuban fisherman Santiago and his struggle to land a marlin.

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Ernest Hemingway (right) with a so-called “apple-cored” marlin, Bimini, 1935. This is probably what Santiago’s marlin looked like after the sharks go to it.
Source: Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

The struggle with the fish takes Santiago far off the coast and he is forced to spend several nights in his boat with insufficient food and water. To survive Santiago fishes for dolphin. Hemingway describes the catching of a dolphin as follows:

Just before it was dark […] his small line was taken by a dolphin. [—] When the fish was at the stern, plunging and cutting from side to side in desperation, the old man leaned over the stern and lifted the burnished gold fish with its purple spots over the stern. […] it pounded the bottom of the skiff with its long flat body, its tail and its head until he clubbed it across the shining golden head until it shivered and was still. (p. 855)

The first time I read this, I did not think that much about the actual description of the animal Santiago had caught. I was more focused on the struggle. However, Hemingway clearly describes the dolphin as a golden fish. Confusing marine mammals, such as dolphins and whales, with fish is not uncommon in literature. Throughout Moby Dick, Herman Melville refers to all whales, including the White Whale himself, as fish. The Biblical story of Noah and the Whale, in fact, is a story about a man named Noah who is swallowed by a fish. Would Hemingway make such a mistake?

No, he wouldn’t. And he didn’t. Which becomes evident in the description of Santiago cleaning the dolphin he just caught:

The stars were bright now and he saw the dolphin clearly and he pushed the back of his knife into his head and drew him out from under the stern. He put one of his feet on the fish and slit him quickly from the vent up to the tip of his lower jaw. Then he put his knife down and gutted him with his right hand, scooping him clean and pulling the gills clear. (p. 858)

The give-away is the last four words: “pulling the gills clear”. Hemingway is obviously not talking about a marine mammal since they do not have gills.

What Hemingway is talking about is a fish called mahi-mahi. The local name for this fish in South Florida is “dolphin”.

Mahi-mahi caught off the coast of Costa Rica

Mahi-mahi is found in temperate, sub-tropical and tropical waters all over the world, which can explain why the fish caught by Santiago in the Mexican Gulf has a Hawaiian name. Mahi-mahi in Hawaiian means “very strong”. The mahi-mahi are attracted to the seaweed Sargassum, which can be found in plenty around the Florida Keys. Incidentally, Hemingway in The Old Man and the Sea repeatedly makes references to the Sargassum seen by Santiago from his fishing boat. The mahi-mahi is distinguished by its odd shaped head and dazzling colors. Or as Santiago puts it,

The dolphin looks green of course because he is really golden (p. 855)

Santiago, forced to eat the fish raw, also states that the dolphin tastes the best when cooked. So here is a recipe on blackened mahi-mahi, which is the way I prefer to prepare my dolphin.

Blackened Mahi-Mahi (or Dolphin)
Equal measures of
paprika powder
chili powder
ground coriander
ground garlic
Mixed with
one freshly squeezed lemon
olive oil

Smear it all over the mahi-mahi fillets and sear on both sides in a skillet.

Bon appetit!

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

Ernest Hemingway Four Novels (Barnes & Noble, New York, 2007)

The images of Ernest Hemingway and the mahi-mahi have been downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.