November 23, 2014

Your Perfect Day Here?

Sun worshiping: Almost every perfect day on the Gulf coast includes a spectacular sunset at the beach. (Pat Shapiro)Some lists are easy to make.

Consider the many ways to savor the perfect day in Southwest Florida. You could start with soul-stirring sunshine and end with magical moonlight. Then, you could add sandy shores and a River of Grass. And no one’s even whispered a word yet about cultural pursuits, dining or shopping. 

Actually, there’s so much to revel in that it could leave a person unsure about where to begin. Fear not. Here are six Southwest Floridians who were more than happy to share how they enjoy their ideal day in Southwest Florida.

 

Robert Van Winkle, Meteorologist

Predicting perfection is Robert Van Winkle’s stock and trade.

During the week, the morning meteorologist for television’s NBC2 is on the air at 4:30 a.m., all with the goal of
telling us whether it’s safe for a sundress or if we’ll need to haul out our biggest umbrella as shelter from showers.

So when Van Winkle has a day to savor any way he wishes, he goes where his viewers often do—to the water. Sanibel Island is the destination of choice for this Fort Myers resident, especially Tarpon Bay Beach and Bowman’s Beach. And weather-wise, well, that’s easy: Low humidity and puffy white clouds in a bright blue sky are what makes him smile.

“I just think a lot of Florida days are perfect,” he says.

If that’s true, Van Winkle shouldn’t hunger for chances to do something else he likes best—hopping on a bicycle to soak in the sun. He admits that it’s even been suggested he is a bit too fond of the rays. “When I first moved here, people told me I was too tan,” he recalls with a laugh.

But who could blame him? Certainly not his viewers, many of whom have been known to call him up with weather questions as they plan their own perfect day. Van Winkle tries to be honest, but inquiries about wedding day weather do make him a bit nervous.

After all, the weather in Florida— especially in summertime—can be notoriously fickle. And sometimes people want answers three months in advance, he says. “I just have to kind of smile,”  Van Winkle says. “We really don’t know.”

 

Always al fresco: Downtown Naples offers a great collection of restaurants with comfortable outdoor dining spaces. (Debi Pittman Wilkey)Mollie Kahn, The Ritz-Carlton Spa Operations Manager

For some, a day at a luxury spa is pure perfect indulgence.

For Mollie Kahn, it’s another great day at the office. She’s the spa operations manager at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples—a role that allows her to share some of the finest spa products and practices with the property’s clients.

But on Kahn’s perfect day, it’s the sun that draws her.

“Sunshine is the energy,” she says, “but it’s also very relaxing to me.”

Fitness is an essential part of Kahn’s perfect day, too. A bit of cardio is good, whether it’s a run or a swim in the Gulf of Mexico. After her workout, she’s beach-bound, but don’t expect this former college athlete and coach to sit still.

“I love to walk on the beach,” she says. “I’m not the type that goes to the beach and parks it.”

Afterward, her beach interlude has given her enough pep to go out and enjoy another of Southwest Florida’s appealing destinations: Waterside Shops.
Post-retail excursion, Kahn’s perfect day leads her to downtown Naples for an evening of dinner and drinks. Her preferred dining spots are Truluck’s and Chops City Grill. The former lures her with crab cakes, while she can’t resist the seared tuna at the latter. After, a stroll on Fifth Avenue South is in order, as is a nightcap.

It’s not lavish or fancy, but there’s no need for any of that in her perfect day. Kahn enjoys the simple things, she says, such as clear skies and a walk outside to enjoy them.

 

Frank Corso, Painter

Frank Corso doesn’t dream about his perfect Southwest Florida day. He goes out and lives it. 

A Naples oil painter known for his resplendent Everglades scenes, Corso begins each day with a cup of coffee and a song on his guitar, banjo or ukulele. In addition to painting, Corso is also a musician and leads his own blues band, Frank Corso’s Spoonful. The morning musical interlude could take as much as an hour, but afterward, it’s off to the Everglades.

He kayaks or walks to where he will work for the day, toting his easel and other equipment in the process. Then, he paints, often doing one or two field studies on site, surrounded by an environmental ebb and flow.

A perfect day, he says, is when the natural world curls up around him, seeming to forget he’s there. Sometimes when he paints, it’s as if he’s in a dream. Three or four hours can pass without him even realizing it.

“Those are the days when I look at the painting a year later and I can smell the smells and hear the sounds and remember every nuance of the day,” Corso says.

Often, he stays until darkness begins to fall all around him, an atmospheric change that can give him a profound emotional jolt. He even composed a song, Magic in the Moonlight, in such a situation, jotting it all down on his iPhone in the middle of the Everglades. 

Back in Naples, he may have a gig to play on his perfect day. Painting is a solitary act, and sometimes days will pass where he doesn’t see or talk to anyone. Being in the band provides a great counterbalance to that life, giving him a chance to perform and be a part of a group.

If, as a teenager, someone had asked him to describe the ultimate flawless existence, he would have described the life that he has now. “Florida’s been good to me,” he says. “And it’s been good for me. It’s widened my perspective a little bit.”

 

Going native: The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary boardwalk offers a comfortable way to experience the outdoors. (R.J. Wiley)John Sorey III, Naples Vice Mayor

On his dream day in Southwest Florida, John Sorey III would do it all.

It would be a Sunday, and it would begin with a 6 a.m. walk on the beach. That would grant Naples’ vice mayor a chance to see the world come alive and the color of the sun coming up in the east, he says.

Not bad. But what’s next?

He’d pop over to his neighborhood First Watch restaurant with friends, where he would enjoy a breakfast of blueberry pancakes and bacon. Then, he would attend services at Celebration Community Beach Church at Cambier Park, where Pastor Gene Scott delivers what Sorey calls “a very positive message about real life issues” in a casual, Hawaiian shirt atmosphere.

To get to both these destinations, Sorey and his wife, Delores, would take their “Sorey Surrey,” a two-person, fire-engine-red, four-wheel bicycle that the couple special ordered from Italy. The surrey is covered, and Delores added a bit of fringe to the roof to give it a playful flair.

Post-services, the Soreys would climb into their car and travel to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, another beloved Southwest Florida spot. With Ed Carlson, the sanctuary’s executive director, they would climb aboard a swamp buggy for a tour. Back in Naples for the evening, the couple would head to Bleu Provence for a romantic dinner. Sorey would order mussels for an appetizer and lamb shank for his entrée, while Delores probably would savor one of the restaurant’s seafood specials, he says. They’d split a bottle of their favorite wine, Chateau Rayas. To finish, they’d sip champagne. And Sorey would order something sweet, too.

“Delores would probably be good and just have a bite of my chocolate dessert,” he adds.

If this perfect day seems to encompass everything that’s wonderful about Southwest Florida, it’s because there’s everything wonderful in Southwest Florida to savor, Sorey explains.

“We’ve got the best of all worlds,” he says. “We’ve got the beaches and the weather, we’ve got the cultural arts and we’ve got the dining.”

 

Ansuya, Bellydancer

In life as in dance, bellydancer Ansuya believes in savoring a rhythm. Her perfect Southwest Florida day would reflect that.

After a lengthy slumber of nine or 10 hours, she would wake up and start her day with something healthy, such as fresh juice made from produce bought at a local organic market. A stroll on the beach and a swim in the Gulf of Mexico would follow, and she may pause here and there to collect a few seashells. 

Returning home, she would enjoy a routine of yoga or Pilates, something that could easily fill up the time until she savored a vegetarian meal around 2 p.m. Then, she would take a nap.

After the siesta starts the show.

“Here’s where it gets exotic,” Ansuya says. “We usually take our time getting ready for a performance.”

It’s easy to see why. Bellydancing is in Ansuya’s blood—she learned it from her mother, American bellydancer Jenaeni—and had her first performance at age four. She’s put out some 20 videos on the art form and even worked with more mainstream fitness experts, such as Kathy Smith, to create bellydancing instructional videos.

In her color-drenched home, Ansuya keeps her costumes out where she can see them, lending the rooms a sensual and worldly air. Preparing to perform is almost a kind of ritual, keenly focused on adornment and femininity.

That’s what she encourages her students to experience, too.

“We’re busy being busy,” she says. “Sometimes we forget how feminine we can be.”

For that reason, her perfect Southwest Florida day would absolutely include time teaching at her Naples bellydancing studio. When women learn to bellydance, she says, they begin to shift their rhythm and to reconnect with themselves. They begin to feel a balance re-enter their lives.

“You suddenly realize you can become a goddess,” she says.

Now, what’s more perfect than that?

 

Off the grid: If you need an escape, the solitary beauty of the Everglades can lead you miles away from civilization. (Alan S. Maltz)Elaine Hawkins, Businesswoman

On her perfect day, Elaine Hawkins goes to the islands.

Not the Caribbean islands, though, or even Hawaii.

She stays in Southwest Florida, jumping aboard the boat she and her husband, Fred, berth in back of their Palmetto Point home, and heading out into the Gulf of Mexico.

Five years ago, when the couple started thinking about buying a second residence in North Carolina or some other locale, they kept coming back to what they knew best. Finally, they settled on Upper Captiva. It’s a short jaunt from South Fort Myers, just one hour and 15 minutes, meaning they hardly have to wait to start savoring their dream day.

“We really didn’t want to leave Southwest Florida,” explains Hawkins, who is president of two Fort Myers companies, Private Client Insurance Services and Specialty Risk Management Services.

Upper Captiva is a no-pressure place, a world where high heels are traded for flip-flops, golf carts are the transportation of choice and all the cares of the mainland can be forgotten.

“We’re just looking for a quiet day to get away,” she says of their Upper Captiva retreat. “It’s just someplace that feels really different, but it’s similar. It has the things that you think about in Southwest Florida.”

Those things definitely include the beach, which is where the couple takes their two Maltese dogs, Lucy and Bella, for a sandy stroll. They also are sure to squeeze in a bit of time splashing in their pool.

Family and friends also play an important part in any perfect day Hawkins would create: Her parents, who are in their late 80s, live locally, and they often make the trip to Upper Captiva for the day. So too do the couple’s adult children. Even her book club has braved the waves to hold a meeting on Upper Captiva.

True, Upper Captiva isn’t the most exotic destination. But when it comes to dream days in Southwest Florida, it’s the perfect island paradise.

“We’ve been doing it for five years and we’re still not tired of it,” Hawkins says.