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Classical Music Agony Aunt
ALICE McVEIGH in Florida

? ' Dear Alice,

Thanks for the postcard, and glad you liked Florida. Find it hard to believe it was your first time there! Did you get to all the places I suggested?


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Alice Dear Anne,

You must be kidding!!!!!!!!! Only you could have imagined that an exhausted Professor, and a travel-hating cellist (not to mention a sea-bunny like our ten-year-old) could cope with your manic itinerary!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The only place we got to that you recommended other than Clearwater itself was Sanibel, which almost killed us, as when in holiday-mode we don't usually get up at 5.30am with a view towards getting someplace in three or four hours. But it was gorgeous, and thanks for the tip. Reminded me of a posher Chincoteague, which we loved (minus the wild horses, of course, which was pretty much what it took to get Rachel and me up at 5.30). Busch Gardens was great; wouldn't recommend Island Adventure (far too crowded, especially with teenagers with revolting tattoos, and unspeakable food); Clearwater Aquarium was fantastic and the Dali Museum has the greatest gift shop. Best thing: surfing with dolphins!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Best place to eat is Rusty's, in the Sheraton Resort on Sand Key, where the fabulously gifted Robert Kraft (with a couple of instruments and a fair amount of genius) plays live in the evenings.

Florida was easy to drive in, though people drive even slower on the whole than farther up the US coast. (I'm pretty sure one or two drivers we encountered were actually dead.) The coast -- to people accustomed to the crowded, messy, characterful Cretan coast -- was almost impossibly perfect, if a bit dull (no islands, no rocks, no cigarette butts). The people were astonishing: I wish that all those people who complain that Americans aren't friendly but are instead pretending to be friendly could go to Clearwater. The people were ridiculously friendly!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You couldn't so much as step into a lift (sorry, elevator) without some other guest asking after your current state of health, your opinion of the climate or how long a stay you were making. I am afflicted with the kind of face that people instinctively make a beeline for (I have been confided more details of more divorces from passers-by than ten normal people) but the Florideans were like that with everybody!!!!!!

The waitress in the shop gave me a character analysis when I popped in to get antiacid for my daughter ('For you? For your kid? You're a caring, sharing kind of mother.') The person in charge of renting tennis rackets volunteered his opinion of Barack Obama (favourable). One heavyweight (there were a lot of heavyweights, mostly in checked shorts, which, take it from me, is not a good look) in the elevator, I swear, got through half of his life, including upbringing, religion and first couple of jobs!!!!!!!! For someone used to the English indifference ('A heart attack? What a pity. Would you mind having it outside?') it was refreshing and tedious by turns!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

As for the food, I cannot attempt to describe how good it was. I am so porky that I will have to diet for the next three months. But it was worth it. And everything was so cheap!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Even the mansions seen on the gulf coast from the various boat trips we went on seemed cheap, compared to London. ('The house on your right, once owned by Al Capone, is now worth 5 million dollars.') Well, OK, it's out of my price range, but there are houses in Chislehurst in that price range, without the yacht and the view of the dolphins curveting just past the front lawn.

I reckon, for our detached house in Orpington, we could swing a good-sized, gulf-coast condominium, including shared pool and jacuzzi.
Shame that driving that slow would probably kill me!!!!!!!!!!!!

Copyright © 25 April 2008 Alice McVeigh, Virginia USA

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