After my talk I walked
the show floor and looked at bromeliads, proteads and anthuriums, all
primped and oiled to a high gloss. And then I was ready for the
beach. What I wasn’t ready for was the bewildering local flora around
Impatiens the size of shrubs.
Coleus growing like trees. Houseplants — rubber trees, philodendrons —
stuck in the ground in rows, some of them still in their pots. Royal
palms on the beach leaning dangerously to the left — always to the left
— and, in the fast draining sand, deprived of nitrogen until their
leaves turned yellow. The yellowing is helped along by a bug called the
royal palm bug, a local insect that sucks the life out of the Cuban
species of royal palm — and it just so happens that the Cuban import is
the one that really took hold around here. The chemical solution to
this bug infestation is too dangerous for homeowners to attempt, so
their only option is to pour fertilizer in the sand — 15 pounds a year
is recommended — to green up the plant. That nitrogen no doubt washes
right into the ocean, but never you mind. We’re on vacation here.
I contemplated the natural history of the royal palm, the couple
sitting next to me eyed their almost-empty sangria glasses mournfully.
"This two for one thing," the woman asked one of the close shaven,
square-jawed Germans who staff all the bars along the beach, "How does
"Well —" said the German,
probably wondering what part of "2-for-1" the woman didn’t understand,
"you buy one and you get the other one free."
"But those two drinks," the woman said, peering into the depths of her gargantuan glass. "Are they both in here?"
they were not. The 37 cents’ worth of Hawaiian Punch and 52 cents’
worth of cheap rum that passed for sangria and retailed for $13.95
actually came with the promise of a free refill. You might say that the
second gallon of rum-laced high fructose corn syrup is your reward for
getting through the first one.
That’s how I
rationalized it, anyway. Eventually I sucked down the last of my
maraschino cherries and got up unsteadily to catch the final shuttle
back to my hotel. On the way out of the bar I saw a sign posted on the
beach, next to the wavejammer rental stand. "Turtle Nesting Beach," it
read. "Street lights off/reduced March through October."
On the beach? I realized, with the kind of clarity that only 2-for-1
Giant Sangrias can deliver, that even the reptiles were suffering under
an illusion. Just turn down the lights and maybe the turtles would
overlook the Bubba Gump Fish Shack, the Midwesterners in their "I Pee
in Pools" T-shirts, and the disaffected German waiters staring across
the ocean to their homeland. The turtles were expected to go on,
against the odds, to find a place in the sand to lay their eggs.
Whether they were being swindled or saved, I couldn’t be sure.
was not much of a habitat for turtles, and it was certainly no habitat
for me. I was so grateful to see the hotel shuttle bus driver, a Cuban
who had brought me to the beach a few hours earlier, that I gave him
all the loose bills in my pocket for a tip, as if I was leaving a
foreign country and handing over the last of the money I wouldn’t be
able to use once I got home.