March, 2012

 March, 2012

Northwest Florida

Natural Bridge Battlefield Historical State Park 


When most people think of epic civil war battles, Shiloh or Gettysburg come to mind. But the second largest Civil War battle in Florida was at Natural Bridge. This is also where the St. Marks River drops into a sinkhole and flows underground for one-quarter of a mile before reemerging and forming a natural land crossing. During the final weeks of the Civil War, a Union flotilla landed at Apalachee Bay planning to capture Fort Ward (San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park) and march north to the state capital. With a timely warning, volunteers from the Tallahassee area - Confederate soldiers, old men and young boys - met the Union forces at Natural Bridge and successfully repelled three major attacks. The Union troops were forced to retreat to the coast and Tallahassee was the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi not captured by the Union.

This Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and cited as one of the top ten endangered Civil War sites in the United States by the Civil War Preservation Trust. A monument at this site honors the Confederate soldiers who defended Natural Bridge. Now at this tranquil park surrounded by woodlands, you can discover your favorite fishing spot in the St. Marks River on the north side of Natural Bridge Road; you can enjoy lunch at one of the picnic areas, or just reflect back on Florida’s history.

The 35th annual reenactment of the Battle of Natural Bridge occurs on March 3 and 4, and commemorates the 147th anniversary of the Civil War Battle. Military and civilian encampments will be open to the public. There will be military, infantry and artillery demonstrations. There will even be a skirmish -- followed by typical battleground medical treatment of the 1860s.  For the more refined, there’s a Civil War dance (period costume requested, but not required). Period church services will also be held. Civilian activities both days include period children's games, sewing, knitting, needlework, and other Soldier Aid Society activities. Stop by the sutler area for period goods and merchandise and the children’s’ tea and other activities.

A donation of $3 for adults and $1 for children is requested for the reenactment.  For more information on it, visit the Natural Bridge Historical Society’s website at www.nbhsco.com.

The Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park is located six miles east of Woodville, off State Road 363 on Natural Bridge Road. Call 850-922-6007 or go to www.dep.state.fl.us.

       Air Force Armament Museum - Eglin Air Force Base

If you’re a person who‘s interested in the military history and defense of our country, then schedule a patriotic trip to the Eglin Air Force Base. The Air Force Armament Museum is the only museum in the world dedicated to the collection, preservation and exhibition of artifacts and memorabilia associated with Air Force Armament and its platforms of delivery.

Driving onto the grounds of the Air Force Armament Museum, visitors first notice the array of numerous aircraft on display. The fastest plane ever built, the SR-71 Blackbird is the centerpiece flanked by numerous planes from the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf War eras.

Inside the museum are four aircraft as well as a wide variety of bombs, missiles and rockets. Including the AMRAAM and GBU-28 bunker buster developed for use during Operation Desert Storm.

There are over 29 different aircraft that have found a home at the Air Force Armament Museum including an AC-130, B-17, B-25, B-52, P-51, A-10, F-15, F-16, F-100, F-101, and many other aircraft from the WWII era to the present. There are also several hundred pieces of armament that include a gun collection, bombs, bomblets and missiles, including the Sparrow, Sidewinder, cluster bombs, Bunker Buster and the MOAB. A 32-minute film on the history of Eglin Air Force Base and its role in the development of armament is shown continuously throughout the day.

The numerous interactive displays throughout the museum will entertain and educate young and old alike. Although no advance notice is necessary for groups, it is best to call ahead at 850-882-4062 to insure there are no other functions occurring at the same time. Groups with children under 10 years of age must have one adult for every five to seven children.

The Air Force Armament Museum is located on Highway 85 South, 7 miles north of Fort Walton Beach. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Central Time.) It is closed on federal holidays. Tours are self-guided. Photography is permitted and encouraged. Admittance to the 28,000 square foot Museum is free of charge and the Museum is closed on Sundays and federal holidays. Call 850-651-1808 or go to www.afarmamentmuseum.com.

Northeast Florida

Maritime Heritage Center - Jacksonville

As Florida cities go, Jacksonville seems to be overshadowed by the pop culture of metropolises like Miami and Orlando. Many of us tend to dismiss it as that place up in the northeast corner where the outline of our state looks like a big bite out of Georgia—but Jacksonville is extremely important to Florida. It is the state’s largest in terms of population, and by area it is the largest city in the entire country.

Centered on the banks of the St. Johns River and bordering the Atlantic, Jacksonville encompasses two U.S. Navy bases and the Port of Jacksonville—a major military and civilian deep-water port—the second largest on the east coast, and the distribution hub of the Sunshine State.

There is no question that location is key to this city’s success. It seems fitting then, that Jacksonville would honor its legacy with a museum that expresses its achievements. The Maritime Heritage Center is located at Jacksonville Landing on the banks of the St. Johns. It is a 9000-square-foot facility holding nautical artifacts that go back centuries. There are 3000 books, 450 professionally-built models, art, equipment, documents, videos, and activities indigenous to the city’s maritime past. There are even artifacts like ships’ wheels and building tools representing the earliest French explorers to present-day.

If you love ships and are interested in maritime history and artifacts, visit the Jacksonville Maritime Heritage Center where you can let your imagination sail away. This is not a ship-in-a-bottle, craft-type display. The exhibition of these model ships is extraordinary—all of historical significance—and unequaled in number, size and authenticity.

Models on display include seven U. S. Navy destroyers, one ocean-going tug, the M/V Comanche, and a German WWII submarine - all part of the Ray Arthur Collection of Ships.

Representing steamships are The Queen of St. John, The City of Jacksonville, and The Frederick K. DeBary, and the Three Friends tugboat. There are also light ships, tankers, and Liberty ships. A model of the Amoco Milford Haven—the largest ship to navigate the St. Johns River--is also on display.

There are wooden sailing ships like the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides—the oldest commissioned U.S. Naval warship). There’s a 15-foot model of the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV-60), dioramas of the ill-fated Civil War transport Maple Leaf, and the infamous ocean liner RMS Titanic, plus several interactive exhibits including a kids' play area. In addition, an audiovisual room/meeting area with 75 cushioned seats accommodates all types of visiting groups. In addition to field trips, space is available for rent for reenlistment ceremonies, offsite meetings, and reunions. Their gift shop offers a wide variety of nautical items.

The Jacksonville Maritime Heritage Center is located on the north bank of the St. Johns River at the Jacksonville Landing Mall. Hours are Tue-Fri from 11 am to 5 pm and Sat and Sun from 1-5 pm. Admission: Adults-$5, children (age 7-13)-$1. For more information, call 904-355-1101 or go to www.JacksonvilleMaritimeHeritageCenter.org.

Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum - Jacksonville

If you love history and rare documents, a trip to the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum is a must visit. It opened in 1993 in the former First Church of Christ the Scientist building (constructed in 1921) in Jacksonville's Springfield Historic District neighborhood. Located off Laura Street near downtown, this Classical Revival structure is listed on the Jacksonville Historic Landmarks.

The Karpeles is billed as the world's largest private holding of historical documents on literature, medicine, science, music and anthropology. The Library has eleven different locations throughout the country, so it frequently rotates its historical exhibits before returning them to the archive. You can visit again and again without seeing the same documents twice.

David Karpeles, a former math professor and research analyst, made millions investing in real estate and then took up manuscript collecting. In 1983 he began opening museums across the country to house his collection, now the world’s largest. The museum features three exhibits from Karpeles' collection a year, as well as exhibits from other collectors and about six art exhibits featuring local and regional talent.

Among the treasures are the original draft of The Bill of Rights of the United States, the original manuscript of The Wedding March, Einstein’s description of his Theory of Relativity, the Thanksgiving Proclamation signed by George Washington, Roget’s Thesaurus, Webster’s Dictionary and over one million more.

The Beginning of the Civil War is a manuscript exhibit running through April 30. One highlight is The Constitution of the Confederate States of America. Other first-time presentations are: the manuscript of the song Dixie. Additionally on display is The Civil War Proclamation of the United States Congressional Resolution on the Fourth of July, 1861 Declaring the Determination of Congress to Maintain the Supremacy of the Government and the Integrity of the Union. Another document’s first-time appearance is The Confederate States of America Master Plan (January 31, 1862) signed  by   Gen. Beauregard, Gen. Johnston  and Gen. Smith  summarizing the summit between the Generals and the President, Jefferson Davis at Fairfax Courthouse in Virginia in October 1861.

The Karpeles Manuscript Library/Museum is located at 101 West 1st Street in Jacksonville. Free admission. Hours are Tue-Fri 10am-3pm and Saturdays 10am-4pm; Closed holidays. Call 904-356-2992 or go to www.Karpeles.org.

(West) Central Florida

The Florida Holocaust Museum - St. Petersburg

In our travels around the state, Saint Petersburg is one of the favorite destinations, due to the beautiful waterfront, a vibrant downtown, trendy restaurants, and most importantly because there is no cultural lag here for those seeking enlightenment. And, the Florida Holocaust Museum, you will find, is among the most edifying of those attractions.   

The St. Petersburg institution is one of the largest Holocaust museums in the country—started in 1992 by Walter P. Loebenberg, a businessman who fled Nazi Germany in 1939 and fought under the U.S. flag in WW II.  Quickly surpassing expectations, the museum outgrew its original space and in 1998 moved to the present downtown location with 27,000 square feet of exhibition freedom.

Upon entering the building, the solemn atmosphere is immediately recognized as commensurate to the subject matter. It’s well displayed and in chronological order. Most of us tend to think of the Holocaust in the context of our time frame in the war, but the museum traces the mind-set back to the era immediately following the First World War, and the formation of the Third Reich in the early Thirties.

Wall-size photos of the era, enlarged from common small-camera negatives are as compelling as they are grainy. The lack of sharpness is in a way mollifying—somewhat camouflaging the horror they depict—emotion that would be difficult to put into script.

You can arm yourself with a portable audio recording that explains each exhibit you encounter or simply let the informative plaques and observation tell the story. As well as the photographic archive, you will see clothing and personal artifacts such as letters and diaries plus official documents consisting of identity cards, work permits, and ration cards.

After viewing prints of Jewish people herded into railroad cars like cattle, it is fascinating to walk around one of the actual railcars on display. On their way to internment camps people were packed so tightly standing in these rolling death traps that those who fainted from fatigue or even died enroute could not fall over.

If, in sorting through the malaise, you find a need to absorb and reflect, it is recommended to watch and listen to the half-hour video of Tampa-area survivors telling their stories—tales that are simultaneously enthralling and mortifying.

On the second floor overlooking the railroad car, are the Janet Kohn and Larry Wasser Galleries—home to traveling art and history exhibits (check their website for updates).

Kane’s Furniture Hall on the third floor features both temporary and permanent exhibitions. The enduring spectacle, Kddish in Wood showcases woodcarvings of French children of the Holocaust created by Dr. Herbert Savel, while the short-term expositions include history and student-created art.

One thing is guaranteed. As you descend the stairs toward the exit you’ll find it impossible to erase from your mind what you’ve seen— much of it heart-rending crimes against humanity, but there is also a large amount of heroism—proof of human tenacity and determination—accounts you will play back in your mind long after leaving the premises.

The Florida Holocaust Museum is located at 55 5th Street South in St. Petersburg. Through April 26, it is open daily from 10 am – 5 pm (last admission is at 3:30 pm). Thursday evenings open til 8pm with last admission at 7 pm. Admission: adults-$14; Discounts for seniors, students, adult and student groups. Parking lot-free. Call 727-820-0100 or go to www.FlHolocaustMuseum.org.

                                        Central Florida
                 The Arcadia All-Florida Championship Rodeo

Put on your boots and grab your cowboy hat for an exciting trip March 9-11. The Arcadia All-Florida Championship Rodeo evolved from a group of American Legion Members who held the first rodeo in 1929. This is the oldest rodeo organization in the state of Florida.

Feel a part of the small cowtown at the Shoot-out performance where Good Guys patrol the street and the Bad Guys show up to loot and pillage. Throw in an itinerant troupe of dance hall girls, and it’s a volatile mixture.

You won’t want to miss any of these rodeo events:
Bareback riding is similar to riding a jackhammer with only one hand. It’s the most physically demanding event in rodeo.

Cloverleaf barrel racing, established in 1957, is the competitive event for cowgirls that determines who’s named All-Around Champion Cowgirl. This event requires a well-trained and seasoned horse. The barrel horse must have speed, stamina and strength. They must be able to run fast, stop short, and roll back in a turn—with their time recorded on an electronic timer measured in hundredths of seconds.

Saddle bronc riding requires the balance of a gymnast, the timing of a springboard diver and the grace of a dancer--all aboard a 1,200 pound pitching, twisting bronc. It evolved from ranch work of breaking and training horses and is probably the most difficult rough stock event to master because of its technical requirements. The bronc rider's feet must touch the horse's shoulders on the first jump out of the chute. This is called a "markout," and a contestant who fails to have his feet in place is said to have "missed his mark" and is disqualified. The rider grips a thick rein attached to the horse's halter as his only means of securing himself. As the horse bucks, the rider bends his knees and finishes his spurring stroke with his spurs near the "cantle," the back of the saddle, and then snaps his feet back to the horse's shoulders as the animal's front feet hit the ground. A saddle bronc rider is judged on his spurring action, his control of the horse, and the degree to which his toes are turned out. The horse's bucking efforts also contribute to the score. And an 8-second ride is required.

Bull Riding is the insane concept of riding a surprisingly agile and powerful 2,000-pound bull.  It requires balance, coordination, quick reflexes, flexibility and a positive mental attitude. The cowboy holds a flat-braided rope during the 8-second ride.  He wraps the rope around his riding hand, sometimes weaving the rope through his fingers to secure his grip. Each bull has a unique style of bucking. Many spin, or continuously circle in one area if the arena. Others add a jump or kick to their spin, making them more difficult to ride. Still others jump and kick in a straight line and move side to side. The cowboy’s control during the ride and the bull’s bucking efforts each account for half of the rider’s score.

Steer wrestling is the quickest event in rodeo. Using only leverage and strength, the “bulldogger” (or steer wrestler) begins his run behind a barrier along with his “hazer” a second cowboy, whose task is to keep the steer from veering away from the steer wrestler. The steer wrestler and hazer chase the steer on their specially trained American quarter horses. The wrestler slides down the right side of his horse until he can reach the steer’s horns, hooks his right arm around the steer’s right horn and grasps the left horn in his left hand, then digs his heels deep in the dirt and uses leverage to bring him down. All this occurs in 3-5 seconds.

Tie Down Roping has roots to the old west when a calf was sick or injured and had to be caught and immobilized quickly for treatment. After the pre-designated head start, the horse and rider give chase. He throws his loop and the horse comes to a stop. The cowboy dismounts, runs to the calf, throws it to the ground by hand (called “flanking”) and ties any three legs together using a “pigging string” that he has carried in his teeth through the run. When the tie is completed, the roper throws his hands in the air as a signal to the timers.

Pack up your whole family for this old west adventure. Take I-75 South to Highway 70 East. In 45 minutes you’ll reach the Arcadia city limits. Turn right at the first traffic light, heading south on US Highway 17. Turn left onto Heard Street, where the rodeo arena is located.

Gates open at 11am; rodeo performances begin at 2pm. Tickets are $25 and $20 for Premium seats and $17 ($15 in advance) for Reserved seats for adults and $10 for children 11 and under. Advance ticket pricing ends on Thursday, March 8  at 5pm.The show will go on rain or shine, and all the seats are covered.

Parking is available on both the North and South side of the Arena. Handicapped Parking is located on the South side. Parking is $5 per vehicle (price may vary with vehicle size). Call 800-749-7633 or 863-494-2014 in DeSoto County. Or go to www.arcadiarodeo.com.

Sun 'n Fun International Fly In - Lakeland

The first time I of heard of Sun ’n Fun my mind took a trip straight to the beach.  But this isn’t volleyball. It’s a huge exposition for aircraft, which don’t do well in water and sand. Besides, the Linder Regional Airport in Lakeland where it’s held is a long way from either coast.

For a brief time Linder is the busiest airport in the world, with enough turbulence from props and jets that week of March 27 thru April 1 to sufficiently alter wind currents in the entire southeast.

Anyway, living up to the legend of the Fly-In for the 38th year, be assured that the sun has never failed, and every enthusiast will witness enough to make him as giddy as Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier. Even attendees averse to getting off the ground will soar—if only in their minds—because this is a spectacle large enough to overflow every imagination.

It’s estimated that more than 300,000 people will attend from the U.S. and more than 80 other countries, making this the largest convention in the state, and the nation’s first major international aviation event of the year. There is something at this gathering for everybody--from “veteran” pilots to “homebuilders,” to “visionaries” who only dream of sailing through the heavens. There will be exhibits, forums, workshops, youth activities, a ladies pavilion, plus the Florida Air Museum.

This expo pulsates with activities beginning at 9 in the morning. And when the sky darkens there are movies, food, and entertainment until 11 at night. You’ll not only observe the aircraft on the ground, but every day for one hour before and after noon there is a fly-by for manufacturers and individuals to swoop their planes in a pattern for several minutes while being described over the PA system.

Also daily are the stunt shows performed by sky divers, wing walkers, and nearly 40 of the world’s most talented aerobatic pilots trailing smoke from loops, rolls and other tricks that a spastic sparrow couldn’t execute.

Headlining, of course, are the Thunderbirds of the United States Air Force. Officially named the U.S. Air Force Demonstration Squadron, they’re back for the third time in five years flying the F-16 Flying Falcon. They perform for more than an hour carrying out approximately 30 breathtaking maneuvers. Just watching the tight formations of loops, rolls, and split second transitions to other configurations is enough to give some of us nosebleeds.  Flying at just under the speed of sound, their timing and coordinated exercises requires skill too great for most to even speculate.

A few years ago there was a well-known journalist who begged a ride in one of these high-performance jets so he could personally report the sensation. Back on the ground he sheepishly admitted that on the very first maneuver his bladder let go—and it wasn’t just the G-force that caused it. The guys who fly these monstrously fast and agile machines are the “Supermen” of the skies. You may have seen them on the screen, but until you’ve seen them firsthand and heard those Pratt & Whitneys howling like Hurricane Andrew, you can’t appreciate how formidable both men and machine really are. The Thunderbirds perform only on Saturday and Sunday, March 31 and April 1, but there is six full days of excitement at Sun ’n Fun—enough to fulfill everyone from the professionals to the merely curious.

The Florida Air Museum (FAM) is located on the Sun ‘n Fun campus at 4175 Medulla Road in Lakeland. Free admission with Fly-In Ticket. For information on the expo, go to www.sun-n-fun.org.  For more information on hours, admission, and membership rates for the Museum, call 863-644-2431 or visit www.FloridaAirMuseum.org.

Southwest Florida

Myakka River State Park - Sarasota

Traveling east on Florida SR72 from I-75, prospective park visitors often contemplate the derivation of the strange-sounding Myakka title.

Myakka is a cryptic ancient Indian utterance for which there seems to be no translation, but there is no mystery about the State Park bearing the name. At the entrance there is a visitor center preparing you for possible sightings and experiences along the miles of winding roads that make this park special.

These park grounds are where river and prairie meet the sky. It’s a great place for a picnic or a meditative stroll. The beauty of nature and wildlife is everywhere your eye rests—a promenade of tranquility and restoration.

The prairie is one of the primary attractions, but must be observed off the picturesque route that bends through the dense, canopied, moss-dripping hammock. It’s a scene alien to most Floridians—understandable since this is one of only two places in the state where a prairie still exists. Influenced by decades of chamber of commerce-type marketing, most think of our state’s commanding natural features as beaches and the Everglades—unaware that 300,000 acres of Florida’s interior was once prairie land—nearly extinct because of conversion to “commercial usefulness.”

The Florida dry prairie is unique. Old time “crackers” said it was so flat and unobstructed you could see a horse galloping across the grassy terrain a mile away. It is claimed that there is no other ecosystem that has the same combination of animals and plants—astounding botanists with discovery of more than 40 vegetation species in a square meter. The park generously affords observation of this endangered environment where you can listen, watch, and reflect.

Signage pointing down a nature trail from the meandering scenic drive directs visitors to a Canopy Walkway. Again, distinctive—the structure was built in 2000—it was the first public accessible treetop trail erected in North America, and currently one of very few existing anywhere. Ecological neophytes are apt to think environments can be delineated on a map, and in fact until recently no one knew much about life in the treetops. However, scientists have determined that the natural world 25-30 feet above the ground is markedly different than directly below.

Anyone, regardless of scientific interest, will find the walkway through this soaring neighborhood fascinating. Built like a suspension bridge 25 feet up, it sways gently as you pick your way through the upper branches of an oak/palm hammock. Traversing 100 feet it ejects hikers a third of the way up a 74-foot tower where the top view is spectacular. The scene is not only of the park’s trees, wetlands, and prairie, but miles beyond. The lofty environs you just walked through can be studied, and it’s one of the few places where you can actually look down on the myriad feathered-species that occupy them.

A genus found particularly interesting—although sometimes repulsive—is the black vulture, sometimes known as nature’s “garbage collector.” The vultures perform that duty in the park, but also have an undesirable appetite for rubber and vinyl, effecting a caution about where to park your car.

The Myakka River takes a 14-mile convoluted course through the park, along the way spilling into depressions forming two shallow lakes. The larger (Upper Myakka Lake) is where the excursion airboats are found. These flat-bottom purpose-built boats that can sail on mere inches of water are some of the largest of the type in existence. Unlike the small, fast, and responsive airboats of the Everglades, those on the Myakka carry more than 50 passengers and skim over the water at a quiet, relaxed pace.

All the while the skipper steers the boat in lazy switchbacks and circles—providing opportunity for photographs—and narrates the natural elements and animal life on the lake. Much of the year wading birds like anhingas, ibis, and blue herons can be observed while migrant fliers seasonally (presently flocks of white pelicans) find the park a great place for a stopover. There are gators galore, and enough eagles riding the air currents to require a flight plan. It’s a particularly pleasant and informative tour. Be sure to arrive early for the tour as it’s first come, first served.

A ride not quite as smooth, but maybe even more revealing is the tram safari that travels off the main roads into the flatwoods, prairies and marshlands where natural vegetation is plentiful along with just about every other indigenous creature that flies, crawls, or walks. Sometimes as well as deer and turkey, the elusive bobcat can be spotted, and almost always the wild hogs make a showing. These destructive rooters are not native to this country and are as prolific as they are fearless. Annually, trappers remove about 700 of the tusked foragers to prevent them overrunning the park.

Rentals for bicycling (even small bikes for children) and kayaking, along with just about every other piece of weekend paraphernalia, are available at the Outpost on the big lake. Above the boat docks there is a large souvenir shop and lunch counter offering the usual fare plus exotic cuisine like gator stew and alligator jerky. With 39 miles of hiking trails there is certainly enough activity to work up an appetite. One of the brochures lists 25 things to do in the park including bird watching—and the park’s bird list boasts over 200 species. For overnighters there are primitive sites, group camping sites, and three large family campgrounds with electricity and water. Five rental cabins built from cabbage palms by the CCC back in the Thirties are also available—modernized somewhat but still quite rustic.

As state parks go, Myakka is one of the best. There is something here for everyone. As most, we found the canopy walkway the highpoint, literally and figuratively, and upon returning to the parking lot, the vultures had not eaten our tires—a very good day.

Myakka River State Park is located at 13208 SR 72 east of Sarasota. It is open every day from 8 a.m. until sunset. Call 941-361-65 11 or go to www.FloridaStateParks.org/MyakkaRiver, or www.MyakkaRiver.org.

Sarasota Opera

I love music, especially opera’s fuss, grandeur and sense of occasion. Opera is emotion, and once hooked, you’ll never get your fill. Fans and supporters are passionate about the Sarasota Opera—expressing it with their love and money.  That’s why the Sarasota Opera is celebrating its 53rd season and just completed a $20 million renovation and restoration, restoring the historic 1926 Mediterranean Revival-style theater to its original glory where headliners Will Rogers, Sally Rand, the Ziegfeld Follies, and even the young Elvis Presley graced this stage.

In addition, they’ve made sure this intimate venue fits the 21st century. The acoustics in the theater are superb and there is not a bad seat in the house. The configuration makes you feel as if you’re sitting in the center of the sound. Decorative details have been restored, seating has been replaced, and the orchestra pit enlarged to allow for an expansion of the repertoire. Backstage systems have been updated and public areas and amenities expanded and enhanced.

At first glance, opera may seem intimidating, but opera is not just for the upper crust or scholarly musicians. It is music everyone can appreciate and enjoy because we all experience these deep emotions. The electronic marquee above the stage giving the English translation makes opera understandable for all. Whether you are new to opera or a seasoned aficionado, the Sarasota Opera is the ideal place to experience world-class performances and this exhilarating masterpiece—Lucia di Lammermoor.

Who knew love, treachery and death could be so much fun? In this tragic 3-act love story—sung in Italian with English subtitles--a Scots nobleman (Enrico) forces his sister (Lucia) to marry a man she does not love (Arturo) for a politically advantageous allegiance. Fooled that her true love (Edgardo) was unfaithful, Lucia goes mad and murders Arturo on their wedding night. After delivering a complicated aria (the famous Mad Scene), she collapses and dies. When Edgardo discovers this, he stabs and kills himself.

The setting is Scotland. The stage is a gray atmosphere--dark and moody, which makes the rich color palette of the period-correct clothing stand out and transforms you to another era. There are not many action sequences, but these striking visuals keep your eyes glued to the stage.

The orchestra is resoundingly loud and lyrically delicate at each appropriate time and creates a haunting effect for the vocal pyrotechnics to occur.  Surprisingly, the manipulative brother Enrico (baritone Lee Poulis) makes his heartless demands seem reasonable. Every gorgeous note of Arturo’s (James Chamberlain) tenor is heard and felt. Raimondo’s (Young-Bok Kim) stunning bass reverberates with his internal turmoil as a witness. Even the chorus’ gestures and movements flow to make them seem in unison as an additional character.

This road to love is strewn with passion and blood-filled potholes. Lucia is transformed from a sweet innocent to a spurned lover…and craziness. International opera star Kathleen Kim performs Lucia’s complicated solo of wrenching madness. This vocal derring-do of so many contrasting emotions is a triumph. She edgily sings of sadness, then manic joy as she teeters dangerously around the stage in her blood-soaked gown, undone by actions and circumstances…falling into eerie insanity.

But wait…one murder and one climax is not enough: Enter the distraught lover. Edgardo (tenor Joshua Kohl) expresses his passion which is commanding in both rage and despair. He creates a devastating effect and leaves you mourning with his eloquent last word.

The brilliance of the Sarasota Opera is not just the world-class performances, but the creative essence and desire of patrons that brings it all together. Long live passion…and the Sarasota Opera. Bravo!

The Sarasota Opera House is located at 61 North Pineapple Avenue. The remainder of this season’s performances are: Lucia di Lammermoor-thru 3/23; Carmen-thru 3/24; Otello-3/3-3/25; and Vanessa-3/10-24. The Fall Season begins 10/26-11/12 with Rigoletto; and on 11/10 & 11 with Little Nemo in Slumberland. Parking garages are nearby. Call 941-328-1300 or go to www.sarasotaopera.org.

Southeast Florida

Jazz in the Gardens Music Festival - Miami Gardens

People love to travel to the Miami area for a variety of attractions, and this event held March 17 and 18 is a prime example. The 7th annual Jazz in the Gardens Music Festival will be held at SunLife Stadium, located at 2269 Dan Marino Boulevard, in the heart of Miami Gardens. Since its 2006 inception, Jazz in the Gardens has consistently delivered a dynamic mix of musical genres including Jazz, R&B, Neo-soul and World Beat sounds.

In the past, legendary entertainers have performed. This year the City has partnered with AEG--one of the world's leading concert promotion and touring companies devoted to all aspects of live entertainment.

Appearing on this year’s lineup--on Saturday, March 17: Ramsey Lewis, Doug E. Fresh, Ledisi, and Jill Scott. On Sunday, March 18, Nicole Henry, Kevin Eubanks, Kenny G, Patti LaBelle and Mary J. Blige will perform.

Last year over 45,000 people attended the festival. The Jazz in the Gardens formula for success is simple: a stellar line-up, great exotic foods, affordable ticket prices and amazing weather. Gates open at 3pm. Show starts at 4pm. Tickets - from $45 per day.

For more information call the general hotline at 1-877-640-JAZZ or  go to www.jazzinthegardens.com.

Audubon House & Tropical Gardens - Key West

The mere thought of a trip to Key West flashes exotic pictures into the minds of most people. There have been books written and numerous movies made with this southern most key as the center of excitement. It’s that island of sun-drenched fun way out there that can be reached by driving over the ocean.

And, the thrill is not entirely derived from fiction. There is more to this landmass than ocean views and tropical weather. For those interested in compiling knowledge of an early America icon, the Audubon House & Tropical Gardens is a standout. For bird lovers especially, it contains some of the most coveted renderings of John James Audubon—world-renowned naturalist, painter, and ornithologist.

Though gaining most of his fame in this country, Audubon was born illegitimately in 1785 on the Caribbean isle now know as Haiti, by a French sea captain and a French maid. Sent to his father’s homeland at the age of four, he first ventured to the fledgling United Sates at the age of eighteen to manage the family’s Pennsylvania estate.

Audubon eventually married but was lured from a comfortable homestead to the frontier, no doubt by the untouched wilderness and wildlife principle to his hobby of drawing birds. He opened a dry-goods store in Henderson, Kentucky that in due course failed, and he was jailed for bankruptcy.

With few options upon release, Audubon floated down the Mississippi—the Tom Sawyer of artists—with only his drawing materials, a gun, and a young assistant. Living an itinerate existence, however, produced a vast portfolio of the south’s winged inhabitants, and in 1826 with money earned by his wife’s tutoring he pushed off for England where he believed printing capabilities exceeded those of the new country.   His big break resulted from his embroidered tales of American wilderness coinciding with Britain’s Romantic era. He found printers Edinburgh, and London, and expanded his reputation by collaborating with Scottish ornithologist William MacGillivray.

It was in 1832 that Audubon visited Key West—by this time having achieved some degree of fame and comfort. It was here that he discovered and drew 22 new birds for his “Birds of America” collection.  It is believed that most of the sightings were made in the Audubon House Garden—proof being the painting of the white-crowned pigeon depicting the Geiger tree in the front yard.

Currently you can stroll through these gardens and make your own observations. The plot is a full acre of tropical foliage interspersed with brick paths that showcase a large variety of orchids, bromeliads and other steamy-climate exotics reminiscent of old Key West nurseries, and is considered the finest garden of its type in the Keys.

Captain John H. Geiger, a harbor pilot and expert scavenger, built the house early in the 19th century—a time when ships wrecked almost daily on the treacherous nearby shoals. In 1958 Geiger’s abode nearly met the same fate that had primarily contributed to its construction. However, to the credit of the Mitchell Wolfson Family Foundation it was liberated from the demolition crews—the first of the island’s restoration projects, and still measured as the flagship of the movement.  

The guided tour of the house is not only for lovers of the feathery brethren, but antique enthusiasts as well. The furnishings, reflecting a prosperous Key West home of the era, were purchased at estate sales, European auctions, and possibly scavenged from shipwrecks—but nonetheless elegant alongside 28 first-edition Audubon works.

Following his visit to Key West, Audubon made several more excursions throughout the country in search of more birds, and a final trip in 1843 to the west for his work on mammals: Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. Before the work could be finished however, Audubon fell into senility, and his sons and Lutheran pastor friend John Bachman largely completed it. He died two years later at age 65 and is buried in Trinity Cemetery in New York City.

Audubon achieved recognition late in what is now considered a short life, but his work was so great that it will surely live long into the future. Original examples of his genius are offered in the museum gift shop along with a selection of books and other museum-quality items.

Next door is the Audubon House Gallery of Natural History. Operating in conjunction with the Audubon House & Tropical Gardens it is said to be one of the most authoritative dealers of Audubon art in the world. For the aficionado they have available original hand-colored lithographs and engravings from the mid-1800’s plus limited editions that include Birds of the Florida Keys.

The Audubon House and Tropical Gardens is located at 205 Whitehead Street in Key West. Tour hours are 9:30 am to 4:30 pm daily. Admission fees: adults-$12, students-$7.50; $5 for children ages 6-12; those under 6 are admitted free. Call 877-294-2470 or 305-294-2116 or go to www.AudubonHouse.org.





















Publisher: Lisa Loucks-Christenson (800) 928-2372 toll free . Email: Lisa@Flatrips.com

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