I’ve got a lot to say today because we’re in my favorite city in all the world. I’ve been visiting since I was 10 years old, when my daddy was taking classes for his doctoral degree and then when my brother followed in his footsteps a few years later. This city is spectacularly gorgeous and haunting. It’s the oldest city in America, but it feels like you’ve driven into a breathtaking European city when you get here. The little alleys with storefronts that look straight out of a Dickens book on cobblestone streets have flags of all different nationalities hanging from the balconies.
3 story mediterranean and Victorian homes share the block with the coquina walls of the buildings and stores, built to weather hurricanes and wars. We even had breakfast in a French patisserie that’s been owned by the same family for almost 50 years.
New Orleans’ historic charm pales in comparison to this. You would just have to see it to understand. In this city, every corner you turn holds a new discovery, a little adventure, a rare second-hand bookstore, a vintage jewelry shop, an English restaurant, a city gate that’s been standing rock solid since the early 1700s. There is always a cool breeze from off the Atlantic.
(Yep. THE Real Fountain of Youth. Went there when I was 10, drank the water and now here I am, obviously 24. I should have gone in there and asked for my money back.)
(He’s kind of like a labrador retriever. He just can’t resist cold water.)
In high school, I made up my mind and was determined that I would go to Flagler College and study art. I applied too late and was put on the wait list, so that dream never came to fruition. Today I was painfully aware of how amazing it would have been to be a student there, as a senior from the school gave us a tour of the former hotel. This is where I could have studied and lived:
(Louis Comfort Tiffany created all the windows in the building. It was his first big hotel project as a young man.)
I’ve been having these recurring dreams since I was little, where I am walking around the streets just before it gets dark outside, and I’m lost but I know where I am trying to go. Several times in my dreams, the city is mostly deserted and I’m alone looking for the ‘haunted hospital’ (my dreams are mixing with Laurel’s 1st Avenue for some reason), but it’s actually Flagler College in total ruins when I find it. Inside are restaurants and gypsies, old sea captains with white beards and little houses built right up into the Spanish moss covered live oaks. There are ghosts and I’m not afraid of them, strange games being played on the streets where people pay admission to watch. Coming back again this time, I am finding the pieces of the dream and realizing that I took all the parts of this city that most affected me and they got mixed up in my memory and dreams.
For mama, here are some photos of me on my first visit in 1996 and now in 2010:
(At Flagler College in basically the same outfit. Nice.)
(On St. George Street)
Call me morbid, but I find it fascinating that Henry Flagler’s mausoleum is in the Memorial Presbyterian Cathedral, and that his spirit still feels very much alive when you’re walking the campus of his old hotel. He loved this city so much, he had his talented architects from around the world construct most of the city’s most beautiful structures. I guess my daddy really instilled the history gene as a child because I remember all the details they told us on the historic tours of the city, and I’m absorbing them again this time around so that someday I can tell our children the same stories. If. You know what I mean. The history in St. Augustine is tangible like no place else on earth. You can reach out and touch it and feel it and see it and feel connected to these people who were here centuries ago. In summation: you have to visit here. It’ll change your life. Goodnight readers!
(This fancy pants camera was worth every penny. That’s the moon, not the sun.)