Fort Lauderdale, Part Two

After the first day of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, we went to downtown Hollywood to eat dinner at Runa’s Peruvian restaurant, which I highly recommend. The area seems to be mostly folks from Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela, and has many wonderful places to eat.

There is a lot of neat street art in downtown Hollywood – here are a couple shots.

The bar menu at Runa’s has a lot of Pisco cocktails. Pisco is a type of brandy that is produced in the wine-making regions of Peru and Chile, invented by Spanish settlers in the 16th century to replace orujo from Spain. It is fantastic.

I ordered a dish of beef tenderloin strips with risotto and a béchamel Huancaina paste, simply amazing. The mixed ceviche was out of this world too (with a wide variety of seafood, including octopus). Even before the food came out, Elise was thrilled that they brought out a dish of fried corn kernels to munch on.

A view of the Atlantic from Ft Lauderdale. The water was beautiful, but I have never seen so many jellyfish in my entire life. Needless to say, we did not spend much time swimming. (Though we live on the beach, so it’s not like it ruined our trip.)

This is pretty much the view anywhere along the ICW in Ft Lauderdale. Boats, boats, boats everywhere.

One of the yachts at the boat show. I was impressed by the balcony off of the stateroom.

So many screens.

On our way out of town, we grabbed some pastries and whatnot for breakfast. Elise was less interested in a croissant than orange mousse. Breakfast of champions.

I ordered what seems to be a Latin American version of baklava.

You know you are in South Florida when there are iguanas everywhere. Some are quite enormous and will run out in traffic.

And that’s the end of our long weekend in Ft Lauderdale.

Fort Lauderdale, Part One

So we are here, and we very much enjoyed our first day of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

We booked a garden suite at a hotel in Hollywood (just south of Fort Lauderdale), which is a neat place. When they said garden suite, they were not kidding. (You would totally love this place, Daryl.) There are some incredible tropical gardens right outside our door, and the ocean is right there too. The hotel itself is not fancy (compared to the resorts nearby), but it is charming in an old-school surfer sort of way. The gardens even have an aviary with tropical birds.

Being an infrastructure geek, I loved seeing all of the massive container ships in Port Everglades. Passing through the port, I was telling Elise, “Take a look, this is what makes America a superpower. We are this good at trade.” The horizon was full of ships bringing goods into the country.

Elise is in love with being a place where iguanas run around like squirrels.

We went to a great restaurant on the Intracoastal Waterway here with a serious selection of crab. Elise loved tossing fish into the water where enormous (5 to 6 feet long) tarpon were swimming around.

It has been really funny watching people from around the world visiting Florida here. You walk onto the yachts at the boat show, and they have salesmen that speak virtually any language. Many folks were obviously not prepared for the fact that South Florida is still in the 90s in November.

Absinthe, early auto racing, and John D. Rockefeller’s house

Our family loves serendipity, and today was quite full of it.

We had to drive down to Ormond Beach this morning to check out a posh place for boarding dogs. We are planning to drive down to Fort Lauderdale for the International Boat Show later this month (a weekend full of yachts!) and we can’t take our Jack Russell terrier, Sherlock, with us. In a fit of guilt, we found a puppy amusement park to put him up in.

It’s a little amazing to see what pet hotels have become. This place has private indoor-outdoor suites for dogs, with a swimming pool in the shape of a giant bone and several puppy playgrounds that look like agility courses. Some of the rooms are equipped with webcams so concerned parents can check in on their furbabies anytime they like. The suites also have air conditioning, televisions (so your dog can watch Animal Planet), grooming appointments, daily bowls of ice cream and other treats. Frankly, Sherlock might not want to come home.

The Rose Villa Restaurant in Ormond Beach

We rarely end up in Ormond Beach during the day, so we decided to check out a restaurant I have been wanting to eat at for weeks. The Rose Villa restaurant is in a Victorian house off of Granada Boulevard that was built in the 1800s. It became a bed and breakfast in 1901 and was an adjunct facility for famed industrialist Henry Flagler’s luxury hotel. Celebrity guests who wanted more privacy than Flagler’s hotel could provide stayed there.

The Rose Villa now.
The Rose Villa a century ago.

The walls of the restaurant are decorated with portraits of all of the famous Gilded Age personalities who frequented Ormond Beach, including Flagler, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, Willie Vanderbilt, Glenn Curtiss, Will Rogers, Alexander Winton, Barney Oldfield, Sir Malcolm Campbell, Harrison Olds, and Fred Marriott.

You can always tell an interior from one of Flagler’s establishments. This place has some of the same Charles Lewis Tiffany flourishes that you see at Flagler College or the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine.

One of the dining rooms of the Rose Villa.
A portrait of the great Henry Flagler.
John D. Rockefeller, Flagler’s business partner.

A Digression on the Great Industrialists of the Gilded Age and Florida History

Because the Gilded Age is my favorite period of history, I love Florida history. And I have a minor obsession with Henry Flagler.

Henry Flagler was sort of the Donald Trump of his era, with a similar affection for Florida real estate. Flagler was born into poverty and started his life off as a commodities trader (before commodities trading was cool). Along with Rockefeller, Flagler ultimately founded the Standard Oil Company, America’s first true corporation and the largest monopoly the world had ever seen. Flagler and Rockefeller were not immediately successful, as there was not yet an immense market for oil and petroleum products in the mid-19th century. Then the automobile was invented, and the two men became far and away the richest men on the planet. Rockefeller had so much money later in life that he passed out money to strangers and children he met on the street (and, of course, became a legendary philanthropist). This made him very popular with the kids in Ormond Beach. If you ran into Rockefeller or were his caddy on the golf course, you inevitably got a dime.

Nowadays, corporations have platoons of pathetically overpaid lawyers producing documents the size of phone books to manage legal concerns. Standard Oil’s articles of incorporation fit on a single sheet of paper. From this simple piece of paper, a multinational financial empire was constructed.

Standard Oil Company articles of incorporation.

Flagler literally built the State of Florida after the Civil War, linking a series of luxury hotels from St. Augustine down to the Keys with his railroad and “bridge over the sea.” Then he brought down every filthy rich friend he had from the north, and their friends, and their friends’ friends, and their staff, and their interior designers, and their architects. Without his vision, Florida would still be a tangle of jungle with some burnt-out sugar plantations. Flagler was seemingly a swell boss to have, too. He paid relatively high wages to the men willing to work on exceptionally rough construction sites – with sometimes brutal tropical weather and mosquitoes – many of them the descendants of freed slaves, and provided them with housing and food.

Every major city you see on the eastern coast of Florida exists because Flagler was able to recruit both the labor and consumers necessary to have a sustainable economy. He is truly a giant in American history.

Like Trump, Flagler was a lightning rod for controversy and jealousy, and he was a near-constant topic for the hyenas in the media (who were just as bad then as they are now) during his lifetime. Flagler threw over-the-top parties designed to make his self-righteous critics clutch their pearls. He’d make the world’s greatest industrialists dress in drag, for example. Flagler was hauled before Congress a billion times and he did not give two shits about it. The hyenas were going to hyena, but they’d go home to crappy New York apartments and he’d take his personal train to paradise. That was his attitude.

It’s actually something of a useful lesson for current events: History remembers Henry Flagler. It doesn’t remember the people who wrote about him. I’m sure Trump wakes up and reminds himself of this every day.

(Rockefeller, of course, was the diametrical opposite of Flagler, which is probably why they made great business partners. He kept notebook after notebook full of every penny he spent, how much money he gave away, every tiny little thing he did each day and how he could improve. Rockefeller was consumed with self-improvement and extremely religious. It was like he planned to audit St. Peter’s books when he reached the pearly gates. Well, my notes say…)

A Digression on Primitive Auto Racing (That Was Still Freaking Terrifying)

Unsurprisingly, the oil barons’ best friends were automobile industry tycoons. It was this fraternity who brought the sport of automobile racing to the Daytona area. They built the first generations of supercars for giggles, racing them on the packed white sands of Ormond Beach and Daytona. And the people in the town loved it.

There is a replica of Flagler’s supercar garage in the middle of a park on Ormond Beach with the first race cars in them. They pretty much look like someone attached rockets to a Barcalounger. And, boy, did they go FAST:

J.F. Hathaway, a wealthy manufacturer from Massachusetts and a frequent guest at the Ormond Hotel, came up with the idea of racing cars on the beach.

According to two Volusia County history books, A History of Volusia County and Ormond-on-the-Halifax, Hathaway attended bicycle races held on Ormond Beach between 1900 and 1902 while vacationing at the Ormond Hotel.

Hathaway, who drove a Stanley Steamer, noticed that bicycle tires did not sink into the hard sand along the beach. He suggested to John Anderson and Joseph Price, managers of the hotel, that the beach would be a good place to race cars.

From 1902 to 1935, auto industry giants such as Henry Ford, Louis Chevrolet, F.E. Stanley and Ransom E. Olds brought their cars to race down the beach.

In April 1902, two early auto pioneers met for the first race. Olds, founder of Oldsmobile, and Alexander Winton, creator of the Winton automobile, both bolted down the beach at 57 mph – well short of the existing 77 mph world speed record, set the year before by a Frenchman.

No matter. Word got out in Europe and America that Ormond Beach was an ideal speedway. In 1903, the races were sponsored by the American Automobile Association.

Several land speed records were set in those years. Because long distances were needed to set speed records, the course often was extended south to Daytona Beach.

Ormond and Daytona beaches remained a top draw for speed demons until the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah became popular in the late 1940s.

On Jan. 23, 1904, William K. Vanderbilt set the first world record on the beach when he drove his four-cylinder Mercedes at just over 92 mph. The next year, Arthur McDonald drove a 90-horsepower Napier to 104 mph.

In 1906 a Stanley Steamer driven by Fred Marriott was clocked at 127.6 mph. Marriott later was crowned “Fastest Man on Earth” by the Florida East Coast Automobile Association.

Cigar-chomping Barney Oldfield, perhaps the most famous race-car driver in the world at the time, set a new world speed record on the Ormond-Daytona course in 1907. Driving a German-made Benz called the Blitzen, Oldfield flew down the beach at 131 mph.

From 1908 until the end of World War I, racing faded somewhat in Ormond and Daytona. The beach wasn’t in good shape and the war drew attention and resources away from racing. In the 1920s, the racing world turned its attention to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

But in 1927 beach racing came back in a big way when Major H.O.D. Segrave ran his Sunbeam Mystery S race car from the Daytona Beach Pier 13 miles south to Ponce Inlet. Segrave, for whom a street in Daytona is named, reached 203 mph as a crowd of 15,000 watched.

The last speed record set on the beach came on March 7, 1935, when Sir Malcolm Campbell drove his car, the Bluebird V, to a speed of 276.82 mph. The car is displayed at Daytona USA, a motorsports museum and entertainment complex under construction at the Daytona International Speedway.

In 1936 the American Automobile Association sponsored the first national stock-car race on Daytona Beach. One of the entrants was named Bill France; he later founded the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, or NASCAR. Several other races were held from 1936 until the start of America’s involvement in World War II in 1941.

The first stock-car race after the war was held in the spring of 1946. France was one of the drivers, and during the race his car overturned. Spectators flipped the car back on its wheels, and France finished the race. The next year, France was again involved in the race, not as a driver but as the sponsor. Then he began planning the construction of Daytona International Speedway 5 miles east of the beach; the track opened in 1958.

The first Daytona 500 was run in 1959 and was won by Lee Petty, father of Richard Petty.

Also in the 1950s, the racetrack in Sebring in south Florida became one of the world’s most famous auto racing venues for sports cars.

Most of the world’s most famous sports car manufacturers – Triumph, Austin-Healey, MG , Jaguar, Porsche, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Maserati, Ferrari and others – competed at Sebring.

One of the first race cars in history. Like I said, someone attached rockets to a recliner.
(We’ll just call this guy the original Florida Man. He needs a bottle of bourbon and an alligator in his seat with him though.)
America’s richest men racing primitive supercars on the sand of Ormond Beach.
I’m not sure what this is, but it looks like fun.

This is Ralph DePalma, who restarted the competition for land speed records after the upper crust took a break to deal with World War I. He was also responsible for the founding of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1911. DePalma broke the land speed record that year in his Packard V-12 at almost 150 mph.

Rodney did not believe me that they were building cars that could go over 270 mph before WWII. I had to show him that article on my phone in the restaurant. (Don’t underestimate the history nerd!)

The downstairs bar at Rose Villa.

Okay, So Back to the Rose Villa

I cannot recommend this restaurant highly enough. The restaurant serves haute Southern food. You can get fried green tomatoes with lobster, a croque madam, and so forth. This is combined with a menu of proper cocktails.

Since it was still brunch, we started off with deviled eggs, served with pork bellies and chow chow. Elise ordered avocado toast. I ordered a “biscuit benedict” served with freshly made lump crab cakes. Rodney had jambalaya. All magnificent.

The Green Fairy

We started off with a round of Sazeracs. Then we moved on to a round of candied bacon old fashioneds. Also all magnificent.

Then… We learned about the upstairs absinthe bar. The only thing that could improve such an awesome restaurant was a speakeasy.

The upstairs bar.

We’ve had the green fairy before at home, but without the ceremony. Rose Villa really gets into the ceremony. They pour the absinthe, dip a sugar cube in it, set it on an absinthe spoon, light the sugar on fire, and then use an absinthe fountain to drip water over the sugar until the absinthe turns a cloudy white. It is wicked fun to watch.

It cracked me up that the bartender felt the need to warn us that absinthe is a sipping drink and not a shooting drink. We explained to her that we understood that shooting 140-proof liquor is probably a bad idea. You’d be surprised, she said. She had a businessman do it once, and it made him violently ill. He barely made it to the bathroom. (This story is even more hilarious when you eventually learn that the restaurant has a traditional water closet for a bathroom, complete with a rope you have to pull to flush. It’s in a Victorian house, after all.)

For the uninitiated, absinthe is a licorice-flavored liquor that is derived from anise and various botanicals (including wormwood). The drink developed a bad reputation in the early 20th century among social conservatives and prohibitionists, who claimed that the drink was addictive and had dangerous psychoactive properties. They mostly hated the drink as it became a symbol of bohemian culture, being loved by such troublemakers as Vincent van Gogh and Ernest Hemingway. Absinthe was banned in the United States and Europe in the 1920s. Since then, the claims about its dangers have been discredited, and it became popular once more starting in the 1990s. It’s a very, very strong liquor (well, the good stuff is, anyway), but it’s pleasant when prepared properly and will leave your mouth tasting like licorice for hours.

The gardens outside Rose Villa.
I thought this was neat. This is the wall of an alley next to the restaurant. They put a series of mirrors on the wall, and let the vines take over the rest. It gives the alley a creepy fairytale vibe.

The Casements

As we were in the neighborhood, we decided to pop over to see John D. Rockefeller’s house on the Intracoastal Waterway. His house – named The Casements, a reference to its heavy, hurricane-proof storm windows – is a museum now.

The Casements
Rockefeller handing a child a dime. He loved giving his wealth away so much that he gave coins away to random people and strangers he met out in public.

After that, we decided to pop over to the beach and stick our toes in the surf. The waves have been incredible lately, but there were many locals wading in despite the red flags flying from the lifeguard stands. And many crazy surfers.

Florida child.
Nope.

All of this grew out of a trip to a dog hotel. I love living in Florida so much.

Scallops, archery, romance, koinobori, and a chameleon

My favorite opening scene in a movie is from Less Than Zero. Clay, returning home from college for Christmas break, drives through the palm tree-lined streets of Los Angeles to the Bangles’ cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s Hazy Shade of Winter. It’s a story about luxury, and the greatest luxury in the world is not to have to endure a cold winter.

We’ve manged to pull that off in relocating to the Florida coastline. It still feels bizarre, however, to talk to friends and family elsewhere in the world or to watch football on television as the seasons change. Folks are breaking out the wool and celebrating whatever new frankenfood now comes in pumpkin spice while Floridians are watching for hurricanes. In Florida, the only real difference between summer and winter is how “cold” it gets at night. If it gets down into the 60s, people here start breaking out parkas. I’m not kidding. I once saw a guy riding on a skateboard along the A1A who was wearing a fur-lined winter coat but still barefoot.

We’ve had weeks of whitecaps here in Flagler thanks to the sequence of storms off the coast. It’s not good for swimming, but it sure is beautiful. I have enjoyed sitting on the front porch listening to the roar of the ocean. And it’s absolutely bonkers with the cooler air at night, which seems to pull everything closer.

We had dinner the other night at the Turtle Shack along the A1A (nominally in Flagler Beach, but it’s far north of most of the city establishments). I had Scallops St Jacques – several enormous, buttery sea scallops in a sherry mushroom sauce with Parmesan and green onions – which is out of this world. They also serve a pineapple poppyseed coleslaw that I am going to start making at home. I had never really considered pairing pineapple and cabbage before, but the taste and texture really works.

Thursdays have become our family sporting days. Elise has horseback riding lessons in the mornings, then we take her to the range to practice archery, which she has recently picked up.

They have archery ranges tucked into the jungle, which is a lot of fun. I am somewhat terrified of seeing a snake out there though. Fortunately for Elise, she’s coming straight from riding and is still wearing her paddock boots (and often half chaps).

Elise and I went on a mommy-daughter date to the restaurant in our neighborhood. It’s a fun place where the dining area is lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Elise originally picked out a romance novel to read (not knowing what it was) because it had a rather adorable dog on the cover. I explained to her that it was too, um, mature for her to read (though perhaps not above her reading level, haha). She did not understand why I would not let her read a romance novel. Eventually, I figured out that she thought I was saying Romans instead of romance. She couldn’t comprehend why I, of all people, would deprive her of reading Latin literature. Children absolutely redeem the world for you. (You can see she found a genuine children’s book after all.)

Incidentally, it occurred to me that she’s not far off in assuming a romance novel would be related to Latin literature:

The story of the word romance begins as the fifth century is coming to a close, and the Roman Empire with it. The story’s key players are the inhabitants of Gaul, a region comprising modern-day France and parts of Belgium, western Germany, and northern Italy—a region one British isle short of the western reaches of the Roman Empire. The Gauls speak a Latin-derived language that we now call Gallo-Romance, but that the Gauls themselves refer to as Romanus, from the Latin word meaning “Rome” or “Roman.”

By century’s close, the Gauls have been overwhelmed by the Franks and other Germanic peoples, and the Roman Empire has fallen to usher in the Middle Ages. The influence of the Latin language, however, remains very much alive. A Latin adverb Romanice, a derivative of Romanus, emerges with the meaning “in the vernacular,” alluding to the languages that had developed out of Gallo-Romance, namely Old French and Old Occitan. What is spoken Romanice, or “in the vernacular,” is decidedly not Latin, which is what was spoken in the church and in most formal writing.

In Old French, the Latin Romanice is adapted as romans or romanz. The new word is a noun, and it refers not only to Old French itself but also to works composed in it. It’s the Middle Ages now, and the romans/romanz composed are often narratives written in verse and chronicling—what else?— the affections and adventures of gallant and honorable knights. Romans/romanz takes on a meaning referring specifically to metrical treatments of the love and times of the chivalrous, and the fate of the Modern English word romance is sealed: its close association with tales of love join it forever to love stories, both true and merely dreamt of.

(And, obviously, that’s where we get the “Romance languages.”)

Speaking of Latin, it is still very much her favorite subject. We have finished the first level of Latin already, and we are only halfway through her “school year.” (Being homeschoolers, we can have whatever academic calendar we want.) Yesterday, I caught her on the phone with my mother and Elise was trying to teach her Latin.

We have accumulated a lot of projects from our geography and history studies. This year, we are working our way through the second volume of Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World, which covers the Middle Ages. Japan looms large in the book, along with discussions of the samurai and how similar their rituals and social status were to the knights of England.

As it turns out, one of our Atlas Crates (a geography / culture subscription service from Kiwi Co.) was on Japan. We made a koinobori (flying carp windsock). Carp are a symbol of strength and success in Japan, as they have the power and determination to swim up waterfalls.

We also played Daruma Otoshi (derived from the Daruma dolls and “otoshi,” meaning “dropped”). The object of the game is knock out the bottom pieces while leaving the structure of the doll intact, sort of like Jenga. It’s harder than it looks.

The drama du jour in our household is over this little fellow (see below), a chameleon in the local pet store. Elise is obsessed with getting a chameleon and wants to visit him every time we go to the grocery store (unfortunately next door to the pet shop). She has already named him Marco Polo (which stems from my recent interest in the Silk Road). Rodney will not budge on getting another pet following our Jack Russell terrier puppy, Sherlock Holmes. It’s not hard to board a dog when you travel, he argues, but who are you going to pay to chameleon-sit? And then there’s the issue that their favorite food is crickets. How lovely it would be to try to sleep in a house where dozens of crickets are chirping away, waiting to be eaten?

Elise is not persuaded by these practical arguments, however. She has been regaling us with chameleon facts for weeks. They are basically walking mood rings. Their eyes can move independently of each other. Their eggs take 1-2 years to hatch. (You can imagine how talking about pets reproducing has gone over.) Their tongue is 1.5 times the length of their body. They can hang from a branch by their tail. And then there’s her concern that the dog and the cat are probably bored when we leave and the chameleon could keep them entertained. It’s Aristotle’s Third Man Argument, but with pets.

Unfortunately for Rodney, he’s raising a kid naturalist. At least she’s not asking for a $65,000 dinosaur bone. (Yet.) Never a dull day around here.

Home sweet Florida

We have finally returned to Florida. It feels wonderful to be cruising down the A1A again.

It was an interesting trip from North Georgia back down the coast. We thought the storm would have moved through the area before we made it to Savannah, but we were wrong. The eye of the hurricane was just off the Georgia coast when we passed through. There wasn’t any rain, but it was gusty outside. It was odd to see the storm we had spent a week hiding from not far in the distance.

We made excellent time driving home because there were very few cars headed east or south on the freeways. They had just opened I-16 to eastbound traffic. And most of the traffic on I-95 was hurricane response teams chasing the storm north.

It is difficult not to have an emotional response seeing the thousands of utility vehicles, first responders, and search and rescue teams who had traveled to Florida to help with what could have been an absolutely catastrophic storm. We seriously saw about 150 police vehicles driving from Lake Hartwell to Palm Coast. We saw hundreds of cherry pickers from utility companies up and down the east coast and tree experts. We saw dozens of semi trucks pulling trailers for search and rescue operations. There were fire and paramedics trucks from all over.

On the southbound side, we saw semis from Operation Blessing, Pat Robertson’s charity (now run by his son), hauling food to vulnerable populations affected by the storm. They have folks on the ground bringing water and food to residents of the Bahamas too.

Living in a developed nation, we don’t often consider the vast planning and resources that go into ensuring that we maintain a comfortable lifestyle and that minimize loss of life in even the most extreme events. But it’s impossible to ignore it when it takes over one of the busiest interstates in the country. And this is happening while our nation is sending our bravest men and women to help in rescue efforts in other countries. We are truly a blessed population.

After seeing that our house was mostly as we had left it – a lot of branches down, primarily from palm trees, and many of my plants in my gardens still had flowers on them! – we decided to grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants on Flagler Beach. We’ve been eating out a lot lately, but we figured they’d appreciate our business since the hurricane drove the tourists away. Have to support the local economy.

I ordered a dish at the Golden Lion that I had never had before (though we’ve eaten there a million times). They have ahi sliders that are seriously brioche stuffed with the contents of a poke bowl. So delicious it is unreal.

There were plenty of lunatic surfers braving the swells at Flagler Beach. No visible beach erosion, and the plants they had just put into the dunes after constructing the new sea wall were still there and thriving.

We have not found any snakes hiding in strange places since we’ve returned. But we did find this guy.

I am convinced that love bugs come out in force after crazy storms. We are getting swarmed with them post-hurricane. I am not looking forward to picking up all the debris tomorrow with them landing on me constantly. But this is a week for counting blessings, so I’ll quit complaining now.

All is right with the world. I’m looking forward to getting back to our normal routine (whatever that is). Along the way, we discovered that we only live a few hours down I-95 from Charleston, so we will be going there soon. It’s a toss up between heading there or the Florida Keys after work calms down a bit. There is no place in the world like the South. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

An afternoon in gorgeous Greenville, South Carolina

We are likely going to return to Florida tomorrow, so we spent today walking around beautiful Greenville, South Carolina. I love this town so much.

(It would also seem like a lot of other people do too. Signs of a construction boom are everywhere in downtown Greenville. I spotted at least six cranes building luxury lofts above the Falls. If I were still a hip young person, I’d think this would be a pretty cool place to live.)

To me, Greenville is a quintessential Southern city. When I think of all of the gems of the Deep South, I think of expansive, manicured public spaces. Where garden clubs are out on a regular basis maintaining public parks. Where there’s a slow pace, people are kind to one another, and folks love meeting around tables and benches.

In the heart of Greenville is Falls Park, which is bisected by the Reedy River and a series of massive waterfalls. Yes, there are enormous waterfalls right in the middle of the city. There is a pedestrian suspension bridge built across the river to view the largest of the waterfalls, and three levels of paths along the water lined with beautiful flowers and trees. (Mental note: Go back when the azaleas are in bloom.) They have top-notch shops and restaurants lining the park, as well as outdoor venues for live music and rows of artists’ studios. It is an absolutely delightful city to visit.

We stopped in at Passerelle Bistro, a French restaurant where the patio has a spectacular view of the Falls. I’d highly recommend getting your name on the list here before wandering through the park if you go at lunchtime. But if you don’t, the restaurant is definitely worth the wait.

Here is my walnut-crusted trout with a warm kale and roasted sweet potato salad, maple vinaigrette, brousse, and cherry gastrique. I passed up a French 75 for a chardonnay, but they do have a lovely list of classic cocktails to enjoy.

I thought this was a neat architectural feature along the riverwalk. Instead of demolishing an old warehouse, they hollowed it out and incorporated it into the park. What a neat way to preserve the area’s history.

Playing in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains

So Hurricane Dorian moved through where we live in Florida at a snail’s pace last night and this morning. Based on pictures from our neighbor who did not evacuate (he works at an area hospital and was required to stay), our house is quite fine. I think my gardens are going to need *a lot* of tender loving care when we return, but that’s about it. We received five inches of rain during the storm, but there wasn’t any flooding. We watched the storm surge at Flagler Beach on the weather channel, however, and it was quite impressive. It will be interesting to see how bad our beach erosion is when we return. Our neighbor said a few year ago, the ocean brought us a bunch of sand of a completely different color after a hurricane.

I feel blessed that our house is okay, but honestly, I’m just so thankful the whole miserable ordeal is over. “Evacuation fatigue” is a real thing, y’all. Last night, I was thinking, “Do whatever you want, Mother Nature. Just please, for heaven’s sake, do it already.”

My heart breaks for the folks in the Bahamas though. We would love to donate all of the supplies we purchased for hurricane season to them. If anyone knows of a good charity or community effort where we can drop them off somewhere, please let me know. Or any reliable nonprofit that handles hurricane recovery efforts there.

***

Yesterday, we decided to get away from the lake house and go explore the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Oconee County in South Carolina is now one of my new favorite places to visit:

Oconee County takes its name from the Cherokee word “Ae-quo-nee” meaning “land beside the water.” Oconee was a local Cherokee town that was situated on the main British/Cherokee trading path between Charleston and the Mississippi River in the early 18th century. Its geographic position later placed it at the intersection of the trading path and the Cherokee treaty boundary of 1777. In 1792, a frontier outpost was built by the SC State Militia near the town site and was named Oconee Station. When Oconee County was created out of the Pickens District in 1868 it was named for Oconee Town.

We started off going to Chattooga Belle Farm to pick figs. Folks who know me know that figs are my all-time favorite treat. I can’t wait until late summer for figs to be in season. Chattooga Belle Farm had more fig trees than I have ever seen in one place. I was so happy. I also picked up some canned goods from the orchard, including moonshine jam, which is indeed made with corn whiskey. I have no idea what I am going to do with it, but I also couldn’t not buy it. When in Rome.

The orchard is also home to Belle’s Bistro, which is a good place to stop for a quick lunch if you are exploring Oconee County. They have a burger topped with fig preserves, goat cheese, and applewood smoked bacon that is out of this world.

From there, we drove a few minutes to the Chattooga River, which is the main tributary of the Tugaloo River. It bisects the Ellicott Rock Wilderness, which includes three states (Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina) and three National Forests (the ChattahoocheeNantahala and Sumter National Forests).

But you most likely know it as the river from the movie Deliverance.

The Chattooga River is a wild river with serious rapids that make it popular with the whitewater crowd. We found a spot to play that was relatively safe, but we could still see rafters negotiating class 4 rapids above and below us. It was an incredibly beautiful place, and Elise loved chasing the minnows around in the shallows.

After playing in the river, we decided to start visiting the myriad waterfalls in the area. There are dozens to visit, if you have the time. (Here is the Oconee County link for All Trails.)

Be forewarned – some of the roads to the waterfalls are quite treacherous (and should probably be hiked). We found ourselves driving down a one-lane gravel path snaking through a steep valley, with cliffs on both sides of the car, and precious few places where you could turn around if you started questioning your life decisions. I was trying to imagine what I would say to Rodney when we had to call him to come get us. “Where are you?” “I’m not sure exactly, but apparently Deliverance was filmed here.”

I thought this was pretty cool. At one of the parks we stopped at, they had created a kiosk where parents could borrow a life jacket to put on their kids while they played in the river.

You know you are in a daring part of the country when the special rescue units are using your trail to practice rappelling down the cliffs and getting a target out of the water.

After our adventures, we returned back to the lake house, where Elise’s Papa took her out inner-tubing behind the bass boat. With the Labor Day crowds gone from Lake Hartwell, we had the water mostly to ourselves. It was the perfect opportunity to teach Elise how to do this without worrying about her getting run over by a jet ski. Our fearless child had no problem, and was standing up and bouncing behind the boat on her first try. I think she’s probably ready to learn how to water ski.

Finally, we had dinner at the Galley restaurant on the South Carolina side of Lake Hartwell and watched a cotton candy sunset over the sailboats in the marina. I don’t think we could have packed more fun into a single day if we tried. Needless to say, Elise did not fight her bedtime.

Soon we will be returning home to Florida.