September 17, 2014

Here & Now: It's How We Roll

Churches as restaurants? Zoo of Authors? Awesome oddities of the Gulfshore.

 

Let’s get this right out in the open: We inhabit a subtropical dreamland, where native species of the human and animal kind are uniquely captured by the brushes of gifted artists with names like Ikki and Muffy (Matsumoto and Clark-Gill, respectively); where perfectly sane people dine in churches and worship in big-box stores; and, for at least a third of the working population, “the office” consists of any space occupied by their iPad and iPhone. In this dreamland, there are two absolutes you can count on: We’re passionate about our arts, our food and our personal spaces. And nobody said we had to indulge these passions in mundane ways. If they did, well, we’re having none of it.

Why, just tonight, I’m lounging on my white shabby chic writing couch at the base of an exotic island pier, surrounded by ibis, gulls and pelicans. Atop my map-strewn, weathered wooden worktable, a giant clamshell holds my notepads and pens. A white orchid flourishes in the sultry air and an ancient Japanese glass fishing buoy seems to have washed up among the pilings.

Colonial Pistol and a Bottle of Rum

Just seconds away, world-renowned Caribbean historian/author Dr. Michael Connors contemplates his next book at a bamboo table fanned by banana trees and giant ferns, surrounded by his essentials: a colonial-era pistol, a bottle of rum, a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and a vintage Panama hat. Conversely, etiquette authority Peggy Post’s refined space is easily identified by a very proper desk—and a very proper pair of white gloves. A tribute, of course, to her great-grandmother-in-law, Emily.

Meanwhile, fashion guru and author Barbara King pens insightful advice in her girly-girly bedroom of satiny, glittery things, accessorized with purple pillows, purple flowers, and—I’m fairly sure—a box of purple tissues. Nearby, Naples’ prolific sci-fi novelist, Dr. Ben Bova, is conjuring up his newest plot beside the requisite wet bar, with a bottle of aged Kentucky bourbon at the ready.

 

A Veritable Zoo of Authors

This veritable zoo of authors, each in our own lair—or “domain,” as its designers prefer to call it—is actually within the Norris Home Furnishings showroom in Naples. And just like a zoo of the animal kind, people flocked in for a glimpse of these quirks and nuances. It seems I’m not the only reader with deep curiosities about her favorite authors: how closely their private lives might mirror those of their characters and subjects. When I was new to these shores, and Randy Wayne White published his first Doc Ford novel, Sanibel Flats, I fantasized about writing in an Old Florida fish house, at a weathered old table, with a sultry breeze wafting through the open windows. I didn’t actually stalk him, but I confess to wondering if the charming adventurer/writer was as cool in real life as his protagonist.

So last year, the folks at Norris partnered with Barnes and Noble to indulge such curiosities, and the first Writer’s Domain was born. This year, with a fresh new book in print, in collaboration with Florida’s renowned photographer Alan S. Maltz, I got invited, along with nine other authors, to have my own domain in the Naples showroom.

Each author got a team of designers, to create their interpretation of our ideal writing domains, with a touch of whimsy. We had to share details of our personal style and our actual writing spaces. Frankly, I didn’t tell everything, like some days I don’t change out of my jammies and fuzzy socks till nearly teatime. Or that I work best with a teeny jolt of my homemade (90-proof) vanilla extract in my tea. Some things, as I’m sure Peggy Post would advise, are best kept to oneself.

Proceeds from the annual Writer’s Domain book sales benefit Literacy Council Gulf Coast and First Book— Collier County. Good causes, for sure, but most importantly, it’s a safe way to stalk your favorite author without getting arrested. As I said, in this subtropical dreamland, none of us is strictly normal.

 

Worshippers of a Different Kind

Take those two churches that have been repurposed to accommodate food worshippers and art worshippers, respectively. That charming whitewashed Baptist church at Seventh Avenue South and Eighth Street South in Old Naples, where Billy Graham once preached, is now The Chapel Grill. It’s among the historic district’s trendiest restaurants, with outdoor dining and a popular late-night happy hour. It’s said that the fare is heavenly and the cocktails downright sinful. Entertaining at the bar is none other than J.T. Carter, singer of that goopy 1950s love song Sixteen Candles.

Then there’s the new 28,000-square-foot Center for the Performing Arts in Bonita Springs, previously the Living Waters Community Church. The former sanctuary is now a 400-seat auditorium. Meanwhile, the church is taking up residence in what I like to call the Big-Box Building Formerly Known as Target.

 

Steam Locomotive to Steamed Shrimp

Down in Everglades City, the trains rolled in three times a week starting in 1928 to the imposing Atlantic Coast Line Depot in Barron Collier’s company town, then called Everglade. While the last whistle blew in 1956, there’s been plenty of music, not to mention about 14 gazillion tons of all-you-can-eat shrimp and fried chicken Sunday buffets, at the old Spanish-style station, now the Seafood Depot restaurant.

 

Vault to Vanities

You can’t make deposits there anymore, but the restrooms at Phil McCabe’s vintage-glam Avenue5 restaurant are situated in the very spot a bank vault sat for decades. “Guests may feel very secure indeed if they visit the restroom here,” McCabe says. Actually, you don’t have to crack the vault to access the restrooms, but you can see the original vault door in one of Avenue5’s dining rooms.

 

See what I mean? We’re weird, maybe. Exotic, definitely. But this is the Gulfshore, and it’s how we roll.

 

Good Info

• The Chapel Grill: thechapelgrill.com

• Center for the Arts of Bonita Springs: artcenterbonita.org

• Living Waters Community Church: livingwaterscc.com

• Norris Home Furnishings: norrishomefurnishings.com

• Everglades Seafood Depot: evergladesseafooddepot.com

• Avenue5: avenue5naples.com

 

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