IDYLLIC ST. PETERSBURG
With the incentive of an evening event in St. Petersburg, the Chief Penguin and I decided to drive up early and do a bit of exploration. We had whizzed by the city exits in the past, and once, years ago, we stayed at the famous pink palace hotel on St. Pete Beach, but had never ventured into town. We only explored a small part of the waterfront overlooking Tampa Bay, but we were charmed! It was a perfect day weather-wise, sunny and pleasant. The water beyond inviting Vinoy Park sparkled, and the nearby streets were lined with small shops and restaurants, while tourists in shorts and tees sauntered along or dined at sidewalk tables.
We cased Locale Market, an upscale food emporium with restaurants, founded by celebrity chef Michael Mina (San Francisco) and another chef, for future visits and an herb foccacia to take home. For part of the afternoon, we checked out the Museum of Fine Arts and were impressed by the eclecticism of the permanent collection. In some ways, it was more interesting than the Ringling Museum of Art.
We dined at the Parkshore Grill in one of their event rooms and thought the appetizer grilled shrimp were excellent and the grouper entree with asparagus and mashed potatoes tasty. The chocolate bar dessert (not a candy bar) was sumptuously rich. St. Petersburg also boasts the Dali Museum, a Chilhuly Center and several other museums. We need to make a return visit to see more!
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
I’ve read a number of memoirs recently by individuals who knew they were going to die soon from their cancers. This memoir has a much happier ending and is quite the adventure story. What makes it so readable is that Cahalan is a reporter and brutally honest about what she endured from the onset of her disease through her slow recovery. However, she doesn’t have any substantive memory of her 28 days in the hospital and so had to do lots of research as well as interview her family and friends, her doctors, and others to reconstruct how she acted during that time.
What is amazing is how close she got to dying and how fortunate she was that finally the “right” doctor was able to identify her rare disease and get her the required treatment in time. She is incredibly candid about herself, her feelings of dependence at various points, and her divorced parents’ unfriendly relationship. Her parents rallied enough to share in their care of her and never lost hope that she was still Susannah somewhere inside. This interview with NPR provides a brief look into her experience. (~JWFarrington)
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
This 2016 novel was proclaimed one of the year’s best in the U.K. before being published in the U.S. Perry’s second novel is set in 1893, mostly in the small village of Aldwinter, Essex, and concerns the villagers’ belief in the reappearance of an ancient serpent in the nearby waters. The Essex Serpent is then thought to be responsible for the death of a young man, the disappearance of a young girl and other strange happenings. Set against this, is the arrival of the widow Cora Seaborne and her strange child, Francis. Cora is something of a naturalist and, fascinated, thinks that the serpent may be a new species of some sort.
She makes friends with the local vicar, William Ransome, who puts little stock in the creature, and his fragile and sickly, but dazzling wife, Stella. Cora and William become friends and, against their better selves, are attracted to each other. How their mutual attraction and the suspicions of the townspeople regarding the serpent play out form the locus of the novel.
I found the novel’s premise intriguing (there really was news about such a serpent in the 17th century) and Cora an appealing character, but, for me, it bogged down. I finished it out of curiosity to learn about the serpent’s true identity, but wasn’t bowled over. (~JWFarrington)
Notes: All photos by JW Farrington; header photo is La Lecture (Reading) by Berthe Morisot, 1888.