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La Floridiana by Will Moriaty
   Now in our fourth calendar year
    PCR #179  (Vol. 4, No. 35)  This edition is for the week of August 25--31, 2003.

Book Review- "Hot Damn! Alligators In the Casino, Nude Women in the Grass, How Seashells Changed the Course of History and Other Dispatches from Paradise" by James W. Hall
by Will Moriaty
"Freddy vs Jason"
by Mike Smith
"Jeepers Creepers 2 by Mike Smith
Couch Potato Fall TV Previews
 by Vinnie Blesi
"Pillars", Part 2
 by John Lewis
Hey, Andy....Class....I Guess He Hasn't Seen "Nell"....Scary Is As Scary Does....Death On The Mersey
 by Mike Smith
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Book Review        
"Hot Damn! Alligators In the Casino, Nude Women in the Grass, How Seashells Changed the Course of History and Other Dispatches from Paradise"
by James W. Hall
229 pages-June 2002, St. Martin's Press, New York, New York

"I remember taking my first breath of subtropical air. There was something sweet and spicy in the breeze - - that warm macaroon aroma with an intoxicating undertone of cinnamon that seems to waft directly from some secret Caribbean Island."

After spending the past decade freezing my arse off up in the mountains of Tennessee in my annual Fall vacation, last year I finally told my wife, "Next year I want to go to St. Maarten's!"

For the uninitiated, St. Maarten's is a tropical island paradise shared by the Dutch and the French that is surrounded by the warm turquoise waters of the southern Caribbean. Although St. Maarten did not win out entirely for the fall 2003 vacation shortlist, possibly something as good did - - to my surprise Karen suggested that after we visit her kin folk in Tennessee that we visit the Florida Keys!

This started me on a web and book search to determine the neatest places to visit and stay in this southernmost point connected to the contiguous 48 states. While glossing through the Regional interest section to find a map and books about the Keys at my local friendly Borders bookstore on North Dale Mabry in Tampa, a book cover jumped out at me. With a black background and neon-day glow lettering, the book simply said "HOT DAMN!" a favorite phrase of Florida folk hero Sonny Crockett, the detective character from 80's television series Miami Vice. Immediately I was intrigued and added the book to my shopping cart.

A Writer's Writer
I have never read the works of Florida author and latest inductee to the La Floridiana Florida folk hero Hall of Fame, Mr. James W. Hall, until thumbing through this masterpiece over the past week. In addition to having written essays for the Washington Post, the Miami Herald and the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, from which these works initially appeared, Mr. Hall also teaches at the Florida International University in Miami.

This book is a collection of thirty-nine such essays that range in subject matter from his triumphant arrival to Florida in 1965, to his first encounter with a murder mystery novel in his native Kentucky, to his view on the life and death of Florida folk hero Ernest Hemmingway, to his wife's actual failed abduction at gun point by a group of thugs in front of a South Florida bookstore, to a touching post mortem letter to his departed father, and the ravaging physical and psychological effects Hurricane Andrew had on his neighborhood in 1992.

Mr. Hall is a writer's writer. His essays comprise some of the most moving, touching, fluid and graceful prose I have ever read in my lifetime. This is a man who speaks from both the heart and the soul. He captures South Florida as well as life's hopes, fears and nuances in powerful, lyrical incantations that have you craving for more.

"Home at Last"
Hall's description of his arrival to South Florida is one of five of my favorite essays in this book. One passage from it is quoted above, prior to my waxing pathetic about my wishes to shake off the gray cold skies of Tennessee in the fall, for the warm, tropical breezes that are as intrinsic a part of my being as my love of God, Florida, art, nature and my wife.

"Ah, sweet Florida, what a sensuous and libertine land. I did four glorious years in the charming and soporific Saint Petersburg of the sixties. On holidays I explored the west coast, the Keys, camping at starkly primitive Bahia Honda, building bonfires on midnight beaches, discovering out-of-the-way taverns that serves cheap pitchers of beer and spectacular cheeseburgers, bays where fish jumped happily into frying pans, and unair-conditioned piano bars in Key West where writers huddled into corners and talked the secret talk. I never felt so at home."

"Florida Trifecta"
My absolute favorite essay, "Florida Trifecta" concerns Hall's meeting with Florida Noir writer Randy Wayne White (see PCR #109 of April 22-28, 2002 for a review of White's book, "The Mangrove Coast") at his Pine Island home to take a boat trip to the inn at Cabbage Key. "From newspaper articles and word of mouth, I gathered that the island was small and populated with a band of rough-and-tumble eccentrics, modern-day pirates, garrulous fishing guides, and crusty Florida crackers, just my type of characters."

Upon meeting Mr. White, Hall begins to have his doubts. What if the inn does not live up to its legend? "The walls were said to be papered with thousands of dollar bills, and the ancient mahogany of the bar etched with the names of famous writers. A place that resonated with extraordinary fishing yarns and fabulous tales of old Florida."

...He decides to go for it anyway!

Hall on Randy Wayne White
Hall's description of his relationship with author White is hilarious - - "I figured he owed me one. Actually I figured he'd owed me two. Despite Randy's gross misrepresentations of me, the two of us have remained friends - - a credit to my capacity for forgiveness as well as my passionate desire to someday find a way to retaliate for his slanderous article (in Outside magazine)".

A Flawless Day at the Inn on Cabbage Key
As the two pulled away from White's tin-roofed waterfront cracker house, Hall noted that he was still intoxicated by the history, the character of the location, and that day and point in time "...as if I were hearing the haunting echoes of another Florida, a deeper, more mysterious one that forever enchants and eludes us." The inn would not disappoint - - as alleged, the walls did flash a multitude of dollar bills, the beer was cold, and the people warm and eccentric. Hall and White taped their autographed dollars to the thousands already there.

"The perfect end to a perfect Florida trifecta, a day of Indians, millionaires, and crackers - - that three-pronged platform on which we modern Floridians stand."

Other triumphs include "Touchy-Feely", "Disney Virus", "Dry Tortugas", "The Smallest Christmas Tree" , "Letter to My Father", and "Hurricanes", from one of the most talented writers that the Sunshine State is blessed to have - - James W. Hall.

"La Floridiana" is ©2003 by William Moriaty.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2003 by Nolan B. Canova.