September 16, 2014

Here & Now

Well, here we are smack in the middle of Season again. No, I’m not currently enjoying one of my dark chocolate-induced hallucinations. Yes, I realize it’s July, and that practically the only snowbirds in sight are the ones captured in our Flash! photos (p. 31 and p. 119). I’m talking about fruit season.

It started in February with the world’s juiciest strawberries from Immokalee and the Orlando-area town called Plant City, the strawberry capital of the known universe. May brought blueberries from Winter Haven. In June, from just north of our border came the Georgia peach—the one true fruit for Deep South cobbler. You haven’t tasted a perfect red grapefruit until you experience Florida’s sweet, thin-skinned Ruby Red. Sorry, California, anything else is just a wannabe. Ruby Red season ended in June.

But oh, July! July is blessed by the gods, because this month the mango is at her peak. (Oh, yes, the juicy, downright sensuous mango—symbol of love and fertility—is most definitely a "she.") Tradition says the Buddha meditated in a sacred mango orchard. Mango plays a sweet role in Indian curries, Hindu marriage ceremonies and gourmet restaurants here along the Gulfshore. Mango pulp mixed with brown sugar and fresh grated ginger makes a wicked-good body scrub.

Decades ago, a magical blend of soil and climate lured growers of tropical fruit to Pine Island, a secret haven for fishermen, artists, bootleggers, writers and other fringe types. They grew not just mangoes, but star fruit, lychees, sapodillas, tamarinds and other bounty usually associated with faraway isles. Mango season is short, so when it peaks, my advice is to buy a wagonload of them, or as many as you can fit into your freezer. First, you must do a proper taste test, which isn’t totally satisfactory unless the juice runs down to your elbows and you want to lick your forearms. Later, after your shower, peel, slice, bag up and toss the rest into the freezer, to be retrieved when you get an urge for a tropical smoothie or fresh grilled grouper with mango salsa.

I’m pretty sure I already have the juiciest freezer in Naples, what with the gazillion bags of strawberries and blueberries I stockpiled during their seasons. But I wisely left room for a few dozen bags of freshly peeled, quick-frozen mangoes in anticipation of Pine Island’s July harvest.

Pine Island being what it is (quite odd, frankly), they celebrate this harvest with the annual MangoMania Tropical Fruit Fair. This year it’s July 10 and 11. Besides the fruit market and free mango tastings, this year’s delirium will feature a mango dress-alike contest and mango hat parade, live bands, a mango pie-eating event and the crowning of the Mango King and Queen. There will be bizarre kids’ games like Mr. Mango Head and mango juggling. Off the wall, yes, but so is July.

July ushers in that weird summer phenomenon where a misty rain showers one side of the road while the other side remains sunny and dry. Even when ominous thunderheads gather for one of our serious 90-minute drenchings, the sun often pierces the grayness with shards of glittering light.

With the social season far enough behind—or far enough in the future, depending on one’s outlook—it’s breathing time. This is when creative minds gather over leisurely seaside lunches and rounds of golf (yes! tables and tee times available without waiting!), conjuring up ever more artful and glamorous fundraisers for worthy causes. July is the month when designer fashion labels are marked down to obscenely low prices, and fashionistas can slip down to the beach without their color-coordinated straw hats and Jimmy Choo sandals. Without makeup, even (gasp!), because who will be there to see?

Now is our personal time to enjoy beach jazz concerts and evening art strolls. Now, sudden storms way out in the Gulf toss up those prize specimens, especially on Sanibel and Captiva beaches, that eluded the winter shell-seekers. The rare ghost orchid likes to make its appearance just about now in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

It’s strange to think about going on vacation when we already live in Paradise, but July is the month when we locals get organized for our own little escapes. Some of us will be heading off to the mountains or on some exotic adventure, while others simply dust off the "gone fishin’" signs so we can escape to the deck, the boat or the mall.

Who has time during the rest of the year to dawdle away a whole day in the shops? Now, we do. We can find treasures we never would have noticed in the busy months and maybe even get a jump on our holiday shopping. It’s no longer insane to stride right into a salon without an appointment. There’s plenty of time to have a teensy bit of "work" done and experiment with a new hairstyle before the social season comes around again. We can share our gratitude for this fleeting leisure time by distributing food to the hungry, visiting a lonely senior or tutoring a child.

I have it on good authority that the word "July" is actually tropic-speak meaning "time for a nap." After waking up all refreshed, you might consider a little trip to the freezer. Because if you’ve learned anything here today, just behind the gazillion plump strawberries, perched sweetly atop a mountain of blueberries, will be golden slices of frozen mango. Hmmm ... what do you think about drizzling some of them with a nice dark chocolate shell sauce? I’m just asking.

Oh, go ahead: Drizzle chocolate on your mango. Do something good for somebody. Indulge in a mango/ginger/brown sugar scrub. Take a nap. And savor every sweet, lazy July moment.

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