14 January 2017

Sunshine, Waves And Coquina Stone

I've waited on some long lines.  And I've seen people take some extreme measures to keep their place in line.  

As I've mentioned in other posts, it's much easier to acquire a gun in the Sunshine State than it is in the Empire State, or almost any other north of the Potomac River.  And, five years ago, this state gained fame or infamy, depending on one's views, for its "stand your ground" law--or, more precisely, the way it was used.

I could have told that guy that the place would be open for another five hours, which would be plenty of time to make the $10 admission price worthwhile.  But I didn't, not because I was afraid of his weapon, but because I knew he wasn't going to use it.  If he did, as the saying goes, he'll never work in this town again.

What town is that?  St. Augustine, Florida.  I rode there today, on the beach cruiser, from my parents' house a couple of counties away.  According to my calculations, I pedaled 65 miles,  a little more than a metric century.  And I did it the "ideal" way:  I pedaled into the wind to get there and allowed it to blow me back.  I don't know exactly how strong the wind was, but it took me a little more than half an hour less to get back than it did for me to ride into St. Augustine.

It was one of those days everyone hopes to have, weather-wise, when coming to Florida at this time of year:  The temperature rose to 75F (24C) and, after a brief but intense rain this morning, the sun shone brightly.  I haven't used as much sunscreen--and still gotten as much sunburn--in the past three months as I did today.

Sunshine and warmth and the ocean:  Those are the reasons (besides visiting family members) one comes to Florida, right?  And, in my case, to do some bike-riding.  But there are, believe it or not, other things to see and do here.

One thing about being rich:  You can have whatever you want wherever you want it.  Of course, if you're really rich, you can go to wherever your favorite buildings, foods or whatever any time the mood strikes you.  To be fair, however, it wasn't so easy to do such things a century ago when, no matter how rich you were, it took days or weeks to cross oceans or continents.

Franklin Smith could have been just another Boston millionaire (Hmm...I never thought I'd write a phrase like that!) who took a trip to Europe had it not been for this:

He was so impressed by the Alhambra Palace in Grenada, Spain, that he--an amateur architect--decided to model his new home after it.  More precisely, he built a 1/10 scale replica of a wing of the palace.  He used a then-new construction technique: poured concrete reinforced with crushed coquina stone, which abundant in Florida.  Some of the finishing materials, on the other hand, were imported from Spain.

Coquina stone has been used for centuries, particularly here in Florida, because of its unusual qualities.  It's actually soft when it first comes out of the ground, which makes it easy to quarry.  Even so, it is very strong when it is built, and can withstand the elements of the Florida climate.  Most important--at least in the view of the early Spanish settlers who built Fort San Marcos from it--walls built from it can absorb cannon balls fired into it in much the same way that jabbing a knife or other tool into styrofoam will make a hole in, but not break, it.

Across the street from Smith's house, known as Villa Zorayda or Zorayda Castle, is the main building of Flagler College.  Its namesake built it, but not as a college buildings.  Rather, it was one of the first luxury resorts on the Florida coast:  the Hotel Ponce de Leon.

Henry Flagler, for whom the county in which my parents live is named, was a Gilded Age entrepreneur who also built the Florida East Coast Railway and partnered with John D. Rockefeller to start Standard Oil. 

The Hotel Ponce de Leon has windows designed by Louis Tiffany and was one of the nation's first electrified buildings.  It was designed by two architects who had just graduated college:  John Carrere and Thomas Hastings.  If their names are familiar to you, it's because you've read about this nation's architectural history--or read a lot of plaques on buildings.  Their later works included the New York Public Library (the one guarded by Patience and Fortitude) and the House and Senate office bulidings adjacent to the Capitol in Washington, DC.

I had a great ride today--and, if you'll indulge me in a cliche, a bit of a journey.  And Mom's cooking.

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