Settling back in, nouns of address, Cuban rum and cigars

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by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.
Within hours of our return home yesterday we had unpacked, put away the suitcases, beach bags and computers, restocked the bathroom implements, creams and kit and washed and dried the dirty clothes.  It was as though we had never left. Tellingly we were however too exhausted from the day’s travel from Daytona Beach Shores to Hilton Head Island (with a luncheon stop in Atlantic Beach) even to consider dinner.  And we certainly hadn’t the time or inclination to shop for groceries. That we deferred until today.

The performance this morning at Harris Teeter was seemingly well rehearsed.  We might well have been on roller skates, pushing our carts up and down the aisles with remarkable fluidity.  It helped that we found precisely what we wanted including Southern Style Biscuits.  Uncommon regularity following our breakfasts and dinners in Florida has convinced me that bread is not only a staple but indeed healthful for my digestive track.  The erstwhile diet regime has been modified accordingly.

Before leaving the grocery store mall we put the car through the on-site mechanical wash. We then glided happily home through the cavern of sea pines and dazzling yellow sunshine. I was unperturbed by the officious new security-gate guard who curiously sported a gun or taser in his hip holster.

After a restoring lunch of barbecued chicken I went bicycling for the first time in the past four days.  I confess my energy was diminished, hindered in part by the gale force winds from the south.  Riding on the beach was truly an effort.  I felt as though I had a parachute open behind me, so powerful was the resistance. In the end I walked the bike the final distance to Tower Beach. I stubbornly plowed the front wheel through the powdered white sand. But I complemented myself on the expenditure of energy (and hopefully, calories). Those few days in Florida did more damage than I care to admit.  Key Lime pie can do that!

Upon regaining the fold, His Lordship was gassing on the telephone with my sister in Canada.  Afterwards I was enthusiastically briefed.  Apparently, my niece and her partner ran into serious complications in Mexico involving Charlotte’s British passport and absence of Canadian VISA, all of which entailed a 24-hour overland drive to Mexico City from Cancun to the Canadian Consulate.  The matter was still not resolved without having to involve my brother-in-law who struck out when confronting the children’s Property Manager who took offence at having been unintentionally maligned in an email from Mexico. As I used to tell my staff, never refer to clients’ matters as the “Jones” file but rather as “Mr. and Mrs. Jones”.  One never knows when in-house communications will be observed.  Apparently Mr. Trump is not the only person wary of being monitored.

Gingerly handling people can be a full-time occupation. The occasion to do so arises constantly and I was reminded of that last evening. The only thing I can say in support of such circumspection (which I admit normally offends my instinctive reactionary mode) is the glittering bonus of payback often years later when the chain of events comes full circle as it inevitably does. In addition, I reap the appearance of having been intellectual about it all in the first place (though more often than not it is merely stifled anxiety). In my better moments I practice tiresome analysis about the motivations of others but seldom does it do anything to improve my initial assessment.  All of it is wearing to an Olympic degree.

I relieved myself of the weight of these constants by recollecting the indulgence of Key West where we’re due to travel in about a month’s time, the last of our planned detours this winter.  To my complete surprise, I discovered that La Te Da on Duval Street is still in existence.

Before La Te Da, 1125 Duval Street was simply a house constructed in 1892 by Key West’s premier cigar manufacturer Teodoro Perez. In addition to the main house the property included a large factory facing Simonton Street and cottages for the cigar workers on Catherine Street.

Teodoro Perez was best known for his political support for Cuba Libre (Free Cuba). In 1884 he created the Cuban Convention. While publicly known as El Club Luz y Yara, it privately had connections with revolutionists in Cuba, supplying them with money, arms and ammunition to support Jose Marti’s revolution for a Cuba Libre. Teodoro Perez also assisted Cuban émigré families arriving in Key West. In May, 1892 Perez accommodated “the Patriot” Jose Marti at the residence at 1125 Duval Street. During Marti’s stay he gave speeches from the second floor balcony overlooking Duval Street. A large banner ran across the entire veranda railing reading “CUBA” in the middle and Marti on the ends.

 

“La Terraza de Marti” or “The Balcony of Marti” is located at the southern end of Duval Street. When I was there forty years ago it was owned by Lawrence Formica (reputedly of the famed Formica family fortune, fabricators of laminate countertops – though I think that is pure rubbish and of no connection whatsoever).  Mr. Formica was a prominent figure about La Te Da in 1977 and he frequently practised the “hands on” hospitality method.  We dined and drank there regularly, not just because it was the most popular spot but because the authentic Chinese food was exceptional, equivalent to haute cuisine.  There were also patrons at the bar who suffered tell-tale sniffing problems.

April 22, 1992
Formica, who ran a trendy Key West guest house that helped establish the island resort as a mecca for jet-setting gays, died in Key West Monday of complications caused by the AIDS virus. He was 54. Formica founded La Terraza de Marti – better known as La Te Da – in 1977. He made his mark with ”an unmistakable grand style that mixed elegance with the air of the tropics,” said his companion, Mikki Loranger. Formica loved to set the tone for how life should be lived in Key West, friends said.

I cannot think of Key West without recalling the tropical images, booze and cigars, all of which bear the unmistakable influence of nearby Cuba (about 90 miles south). It was in Key West that I met Mara Palmer and her Adonis assistant Tom Nelson. The powerful flavour of the place so insinuated my mind and spirit that years later it prompted my keen interest in Tennessee Williams (and his friend Donald Windham) and the Bohemian characters of Earnest Hemingway and Jimmy Buffett.

Nibblin’ on sponge cake,
Watchin’ the sun bake;
All of those tourists covered with oil.
Strummin’ my six string on my front porch swing.
Smell those shrimp-
They’re beginnin’ to boil.

Wasted away again in Margaritaville,
Searchin’ for my lost shaker of salt.
Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame,
But I know it’s nobody’s fault.

 

Those were wonderful days, carefree and easygoing. I remember wearing white painter pants rolled up at the bottoms, Izod polo shirts, Tag Heuer watch and endlessly smoking Winston cigarettes. The cocktail hour started promptly at 6:00 pm. We never dined before nine o’clock at night and usually among a crowd of like-minded acquaintances who of course promised relentless hilarity.  It was not unusual to land in a bar until three o’clock in the morning then ride home on a bicycle (often stopping along the way to buy a huge sandwich and carton of milk to quell the effects of the booze).

 

The following day nonetheless always started promptly – though perhaps somewhat shakily – around 7:30 am, breakfast at the guest house on the raised patio overlooking the pool surrounded by towering palm trees.  My first stop after breakfast was invariably the so-called beach which was nothing more than a scrap of white sand adjacent a windswept pier and bandstand though affording a spectacular view of the endless turquoise sea.  Reportedly the coral reef which encircles Key West extends as far as ten miles into the Ocean and one can see the bottom even at that distance.  The sun was always hot, hot, hot!