Sunday, January 29, 2006

Home To St. Augustine



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(scroll down for way too many photos)

Friday afternoon, after all the larval humans had boarded the yellow buses and left, I headed for St. Augustine. In case you haven't been paying attention, it's my home town. I have deep pre-USA roots there.

Serendipity and a good omen occured as I passed through Gainesville and approached the little town of Hawthorne. Paul, my very good buddy since 7th grade Spanish class, called me on the cell and we chatted all the way to Palatka. That made the ride slide by and it was good to catch up.

At Mom and Dad's, I ate Toll House cookies and chatted until I nodded off. Next morning, we ate breakfast at Theos, a wonderful small restaurant run by incredibly hard working Greek immigrants. My parents are such regulars that the waitresses put in their order the minute they walk in the door. They offered me a menu.

After breakfast, I split off, alone, for some reconnecting with the old home town. Returning to St. Augustine is always bittersweet due to the development changes that have occured along the beaches and out in the countryside. The one saving grace is that the core of the old city is tightly regulated to retain it's colonial charm, and even though buildings change ownership, downtown is still beautiful and familiar.

The first place I went was Riberia Street. It runs along the San Sebastion River where the shrimpboats once docked en masse. Now there are more yachts than shrimpboats, but it is still a street of shipyards and boat docks. South Riberia used to be a pretty rough part of town...I know, I worked at a packing house there during my teen years and I got quite an education. These days, it's more gentrified.

From Riberia street, I drove past my first apartment and down some of the tiny, narrow old streets until I got to the bayfront. They are replacing the old Bridge Of Lions with a new more efficient bridge. I was able to photograph the new bridge construction while stuck in traffic as the old drawbridge lifted up for some yacht.

The old draw eventually settled down with a bridge-wide shudder and I continued across to "The Island". Growing up on the poor side of the tracks, we always used to say that"God lives on The Island". I'm not sure God could afford to live there now. I was heading out A1A towards the beach, but with no real destination in mind when I spotted the Farmers Market sign at the old coquina quarry park. I whipped the Jeep around and pulled in.

Set under oaks and palms, on the site of the old Spanish quarries, a long row of farmers and artists were selling their wares. I hadn't walked very far when I came to a display of beautiful St. Augustine photographs. I looked at the name of the artist. Ken Barrett,Jr.
No way...

I looked up. He was staring directly at me. Recognition. Ken is an old friend from my Park Service days, and a fishing buddy. Neither of us had seen the other for ...oh...about 10 years or so. We had a good visit...catching up on lives that have produced new chapters. These days, Ken is an instructor at Flagler College and a most excellent photographer. Running in to him was another little dose of serendipity on this trip.

From the farmer's market, I headed downtown again, back over the bridge of lions to the Castillo de San Marcos. A stocky blonde ranger stood at the moat checking admission tickets.He let me in for free when I mentioned "I used to work here..."

I listened to the tourist chatting as I walked up the stairs to the gundeck. It was the same chatter I used to hear in the 1980's when I was a ranger here. Full of misconceptions about the "cruel" Spanish colonists. "Where's the dungeon and the torture racks? Ya, know Ethel, they walled a guy in one of these rooms..."

The truth behind the building is simple. It was a fortified warehouse and a safe place for the men, women, and children against constant English pirate (terrorists of their day) and official English military assaults.

The gundeck of the Castillo offers a beautiful view of the bay and ocean beyond. The bay was beautiful on this crisp winter day. The tide was out exposing the same sandbars where the sperm whales had come ashore so long ago. Today the bars were covered with birds, not whales.

When I came down, I headed across the street to the restored area. This is St. George Street, once the business heart of the city, but now completely historic or tourist oriented. The state has done a good job of restoring the Spanish colonial buildings and there is good history to be found here among the ubiquitous fudge and t-shirt shops. I walked along with the happy tourists until I came to the City Gates and an old cemetary filled with victims of yellow fever and malaria.

I was whistling past the old Hugenot cemetary when I noticed the time. It was almost clam chowder and fried shrimp o'clock. At Schooners, there were people who loved me and wanted to feed me seafood.

You really can go home again.

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20 comments:

Rexroth's Daughter said...

FC-- What a great walk and drive through your old stomping grounds. I love how you see and describe the place and the changes. I think you are right about being able to go home, especially when you are returning to one of those places of the heart.

swamp4me said...

Sounds like you had a great trip. I'm glad you had a chance to go home for a visit.

The MacBean Gene said...

It's sure not the same St. Augustine I first encountered in '46. I drank from the Fountain of Youth then and I think it worked. I've been 10 years younger ever since. Sounds like you may have had a glass or two yourself.
Nothing like visiting the home town.

Floridacracker said...

RD,
You can go home, just don't expect everything to be as you remember...

Swampy,
It was a nice visit with no obligations.

Mac,
I have drank from it too. Still waiting for it to kick in...

vicki said...

What a great travelogue in words and pictures. I love St. Augustine but I haven't been there for almost ten eyars. Are you telling me the Bridge of Lions is coming down? Where are those lions going- to the new bridge?
I like that you reconnected with your friend.
And this post reminded me of something else: the lovely Panama hat that I wear to protect from BCC is from that shop in St. Augustine!

Rurality said...

I think the old cemetaries were my favorite part of old St Augustine... I'm kind of funny that way though. :)

OldHorsetailSnake said...

You have powerful descriptive talents, F.C. Very nicely done.

Floridacracker said...

Vicki,
I walked right past the Panama Hat Shoppe. Just a word of advice, no one should stay away from St. Augustine for that long :)


Rurality,
I've got something for you! Stay tuned...

Hoss,
Thanks...I am still laughing at the old lovers joke at your site :)

Floridacracker said...

Vicki,
Sorry, forgot to deal with your bridge question. I think it is coming down but the lions will go to the new bridge. It was a big controversy, and I am fuzzy about the outcome. I'll check in to it!

roger said...

thanks for the pix and the fine description. a nice looking bunch of pickers.

kevin said...

St. Augustine... I've been there.

Deb said...

I don't remember a whole lot about the town, but I remember that drawbridge!

Thunder Dave said...

Great story and excellent photos! It brought back memories for me too!

Floridacracker said...

DPR,
They were good and worth a stop.


Deb,
It really is a pretty bridge even if the old cranky draw breaks down from time to time.

Dave,
You should come back and visit the microbrewery "A1A Alehouse"

Laura said...

ohhh, loved these photos! I haven't been there in so long. In fact, it just dawned on me that Samantha was 2 the last time we were there, so it's definitely time to visit again.

Thunder Dave said...

A1A Alehouse huh, maybe I'll get the chance to one of these days!

Floridacracker said...

Laura,
Now is the time with the beautiful blue winter skies! Bring your money!

Thunder,
I ate and quaffed there once, it was pretty good.

rick said...

We are blessed to have grown up here.This picture under the Vilano Bridge reminds me my boat hasn't seen water in months.

Floridacracker said...

Rick,
mine neither...

Anonymous said...

Guys - St Augustine is a fantastic place...I'm lucky enough to live there! FYI the Bridge of Lions is not being pulled down. A temporary drawbridge has been built while they fix up the old one and the lions are in storage and will be replaced when the work is done!