Papillon, Peacocks, and Paintings (and a Huge Fortress)

Driving around the country, exploring new places, and going on adventures has been great. There’s nothing like falling asleep outside to a symphony of night insects, or waking up in a new place everyday, or seeing a creature you’ve never seen before. But there’s also something to be said for sitting on a couch and enjoying a good book. And if you can have a furry companion and a strong cup of coffee, all the better.

After starting the day with Tiffany’s hospitality and Mojito’s company, we took scenic A1A south to St. Augustine. We started with a picnic lunch on the grounds of the first Catholic mission to the United States and Kate noticed that there was a peacock just hanging out a few feet away. It was pretty surreal, but when in doubt I usually pretend that everything’s normal and keep eating.

I think he wanted to get to the water on the other side of that fence just like we did, but they’ve recently discovered a new foundation on the site and are doing an archeological excavation. After lunch we wished our companion a good day and walked over to the Shrine of the Lady de la Leche.

It’s a beautiful little Marian chapel made of coquina, a sedimentary stone formed of compressed shells the Spanish used all over Saint Augustine. At over a century old, it’s actually the third incarnation of the shrine, as its predecessor succumb to hurricane damage and the original was destroyed by the British in the 1700s. Many faithful make the pilgrimage here, especially those seeking safe and successful pregnancies. Here’s Kate just before we learned that part.

We finally got to flash our National Parks Pass and went inside the Castillo de San Marcos, the tremendous fortress that has guarded St. Augustine for over four centuries. Cannons that could fire up to three miles sat atop the star-shapes fort, commanding the bay and the land. Also built of coquina, when the British laid siege they watched their cannonballs sink into the walls like “a knife through butter,” the walls absorbing the shock and barely showing the impact.

Kate will tell you that her favorite part was learning about the historic surgical instruments and medicinal plants, but that’s because she’s forgetting about Petey the Barks Ranger. My favorite was probably when they fired the cannon, because inside of me there is still a seven year old. But what stayed with me after the ringing in my ears and the giant smoke ring had dissipated was the scope of history here.

I walked in thinking of the Spanish coming to Florida in the age when the New World was still new, and the Fountain of Youth or the golden city of El Dorado could be just on the other side of those palm trees. But we learned that a lot can happen over four centuries, with the British wresting Florida from Spain, then signing it back over in the treaty that ended the Revolutionary War. When Spain ceded Florida to a young United States, the Castillo de San Marcos was renamed Fort Francis after the Swamp Fox Francis Marion, who also lends his name to the National Park in South Carolina that we visited amidst the government shutdown.

The United States used the fort in the Seminole Wars to house captured Native Americans and the African Americans who escaped slavery and made common cause with the indigenous peoples. We saw preserved graffiti depicting tribal ceremonies carved into the walls where the prisoners were kept. The fortress became an important defense for the Confederacy during the civil war, before again flying the American Flag. History can be dizzying and a place is rarely just one thing.

After we walked the shops and alleys of the city for a while, Tiffany came fresh from work and feeding Mo to show us a couple sights and a great place for dinner. On the way back to the cars she said “want to see one more cool thing?” and we walked into a gallery that blew me away. Bronze Dr. Seuss statues and original drawings caught my eye first, but a series of landscapes and then the most incredible ocean paintings that seemed almost three dimensional and alive with light jumped out at me from across the room. I didn’t think to take a single picture, but I doubt the camera could do them justice. The artist’s name was Alfredo Navarro, maybe see if you can find him online. After all that, and trying not to bump into the five figure glass pieces sitting on pedestals, we went into the back room where they had the Dali.

“Isn’t it incredible?” The young woman who worked there said to us as we eyed a tapestry of a surrealist Parisian square. “It’s $300,000,” she said smiling, “and not the most expensive piece in this room.”

Kate and I recently agreed if we came into a lot of money, we wouldn’t change much; only we’d travel more and splurge at restaurants more. We now amended that to include acquiring art. Unfortunately there isn’t much room in our current home, though it does get us to some incredible places.

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