A postcard from Florida 7 October 2019

Dear friends and family,

This lovely painting of the St John’s River by MartIn Heade hangs in the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Florida. We landed in this city from Memphis about a week ago and took up residence in a hotel room walking distance from this river’s shore.

From our window, we saw a stop for this Skyway. Built about thirty years ago, it’s a bit reminiscent of the old Sydney monorail. This one’s customer base shrank and demolition was considered but it remains and those who use it do so for free. We took the driverless vehicle across the river to the visitors centre where we watched a silent movie filmed in Jacksonville. There was a film industry in Jacksonville before Hollywood.

This stage on our journey was a special pilgrimage for Geoff. In the 1880s his favourite composer, Frederick Delius, lived in a small wooden house on an orange grove by the mighty river south of Jacksonville. He failed as an orange grower but was inspired by Florida to write beautiful music.

A bus took us through the rich and poor suburbs of the city to the campus of Jacksonville University. This is where Delius’s house now stands, with a cat on the verandah its only resident. As the door lock wouldn’t work we had to be content peering through its windows. Later we went to the university’s library where librarian Alison gave us a private tour of their Delius collection. These are the gloves that Geoff wore to peruse the holy grail, the original manuscript of Delius’s opera, ‘Koanga’.

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As well as music, art was a highlight of our short stay. At the Cummer Museum we were taken by these two paintings by Damien Hirst. The first is made entirely of butterfly wings and the second of, wait for it, flies!

We ate each day at The Southern Grill, amazed by the ten or so television screens around its walls, all on different channels and none watched by any of the diners. Sharing one meal between us with its variety of ‘sides’, we ate well. Geoff was delighted that ‘sides’ included macaroni cheese and I enjoyed the baked sweet potato with cinnamon butter.

The pilgrimage successful, we caught a train further south in Florida past tropical jungle, orange groves and grazing country. We ‘detrained’ at West Palm Beach and made our way out of its busyness to relax in a small cabin. For four whole days we read on our front porch, went for nature walks, swam, slept and ate.

Our birding was reduced to those that happened to pass by.

These Black Vultures perched in the tree above our cabin. Geoff said they were waiting for him to die so they could eat his carcass

Tomorrow we take flight, by train.

An Anhinga, a relative of the Australasian Darter, dries its wings in the company of turtles we have yet to identify

Love from us both,

Chris and Geoff

PS: Thank you to all those who identified the plant, pictured last time, as the American Beauty Berry. The nickname of the twin buildings was the corn cobs and the flat one was the local Apple Store pretending to be a MacBook.