Cheese and wine, maybe, but do hotels get better with age? Not usually, so was I out of my mind to persuade the CE to make one last stop on our Florida road trip and visit the Breakers with me?
I stayed at The Breakers back in 1976 and remembered it as being almost impossibly grand. Could it live up to my memories of luncheon by the pool with waves crashing in the background (there’s a reason it’s called The Breakers!) and cocktail receptions in the magnificent main lobby inspired by the Palazzo Carrega-Cataldi in Genoa?
Happily, the answer is yes. Oh yes!
As with seemingly everything in Florida, The Breakers began with the vision of Henry M. Flagler, although the first two iterations of the hotel succumbed to fire in 1903 and 1925. The Breakers as we know it today debuted in 1926 and was modeled after the Villa Medici in Rome. It was most recently renovated in 2011.
After scouring reviews in advance of our visit, I decided to throw caution and our bank balance to the wind: if you want the full Breakers experience, you have to book an oceanfront room. Yes, the CE was palpably disturbed when, upon check-in, he was presented with our daily room rate, but as soon as we stepped into Room 5141, it all began to make sense. The sound of those thundering waves was so mesmerizing that my lovely husband almost immediately marched downstairs and extended our stay an extra day.
It was tough to tear ourselves away from the property, where breakfast is served in the palatial Circle dining room and there is the option of dinner at the decidedly not-stuffy HMF (there’s Mr. Flagler, again!) lounge or overlooking the golf course at the Flagler (of course) Steakhouse, but we did make a daily mile-or-so walk into Palm Beach proper just to gawk at the oceanfront estates and walk along the shaded avenues of Seaspray and Seabreeze where the mere millionaires live. Our walking goal was the clock tower at the beach end of Worth Avenue, that almost perfect simulacrum of New York’s Fifth Avenue.
June is embarrassingly off-season in Palm Beach and no socialite worth her salt would be caught dead here as summer heats up, but we happily walked the empty streets and had a quiet dinner one evening in the courtyard at Cafe Via Flora.
Of all the wonderful memories we have of our visit, our very favorite is of the flock of Green-Cheek Amazon Parrots that live in the stand of Australian pines along The Breakers’ Pine Walk. The flock, reportedly descended from pet birds released in the 1940’s, make their presence cacophonously known in the early morning before they disperse for a day of foraging and again at sundown when the flock swoops in to nest for the night. While endangered in its native Mexico, the Palm Beach flock appears to be thriving.
We had so many lovely stays during our Florida road trip. Each stop was memorable: Sarasota, Naples, Islamorada and Key West. But I do think we saved the best for last, and hope we can return soon to The Breakers!
As we made our way north from Key West we stopped for lunch and a fond last look at Islamorada. I don’t think even Odysseus could resist the siren song of Lor-e-lei, where you can snack on conch fritters and commune with the restaurant’s mascot, “Hoppy”, the Great Egret.
The sky darkened a bit as we left the sunny Keys behind and made our way toward Miami. Spitting raindrops reminded us that we were well into “shoulder season”, when summer monsoons drench the Florida coast. Undeterred, we threaded our way through the Miami highway maze and checked in at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach.
Urban and gritty, South Beach pulses with humidity, festivity and barely-repressed debauchery. Low-buttoned shirts, stilettos and a Spanish accent are the de rigueur accessories on Collins Ave., which tells you just about how well we fit in there. Never mind – we loved it!
It didn’t hurt that we hit the upgrade jackpot and were escorted to a swanky penthouse suite where we channeled delusions of Scarface grandeur. Who cared if it rained for the two days we were there? We were in hotel heaven!
The weather was a bit blustery for lounging by the pool, but did not deter us from some long early morning walks along the Promenade through Lummus Park, where equal numbers of joggers and homeless folk share space beneath the tall palms that line the beach. Crossing over to Collins Avenue, snappily-dressed restaurant hostesses brayed at passersby to join them for breakfast. “We’ll rip you off for less”, called out one to a reluctant would-be patron.
Predictably, we did not go hungry in South Beach. The CE was on a quest for Cuban food, and, while we did not make the pilgrimage to famed Little Havana haven Versailles, we did walk over to charming Espanola Way for a convivial al fresco dinner at Havana 1957, where we feasted on Yuca Frita and Fricase de Pollo and watched the parade of passersby.
We went upscale on our second evening for dinner at the lovely Casa Tua courtyard restaurant. The menu is nominally northern Italian, our waiter was from Czechoslovakia and the busboy from Venezuela – all part of the sultry melting pot that is South Beach. After dinner, we sought shelter beneath storefront awnings as a welcome downpour washed away the grime on the sidewalks of Lincoln Road.
Before bidding farewell to South Beach, I enjoyed a complimentary manicure and glass of champagne at the Ritz-Carlton salon (thank you, American Express!) where the Ecuadorean nail technician told me that she had come to Miami after twenty Chicago winters and had no doubt whatsoever that she had finally found “Paradise”. With the exception of January 19, 1977 it has never snowed in Miami; Paradise, indeed!
The CE and I are currently pretending to be New Yorkers, but we’ve still got chickens on the brain. Last night we walked up to Broadway on a perfect NYC summer evening and sat outside at The Smith (I recommend the lamb chops washed down with their Midtown Manhattan!) where, instead of people-watching, we were glued to our phones, viewing the latest pictures of our fast-growing chicks back home.
Dave sent this shot last week while he and Karen were baby-sitting the flock:
Lori is now the acting flock keeper and sent this shot yesterday:
We are somewhat emboldened in exposing our poultry compulsions (speaking of which, another recent great NYC meal we can recommend is the Pollo al mattone at A Voce in the Time-Warner Center, accompanied by a nice Pinot Nero they serve there) because we now know that we aren’t the only chicken lovers in the city. Just in case you missed it, the New York Times donned overalls and farm boots recently to report on (live) poultry proliferation right here in New York neighborhoods. I’m not sure if any nearby roof terraces in Columbus Circle are harboring chicken coops, but according to the NYT article, they flourish in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, where “a clucking hen can wander into a neighbor’s yard for a snack of petunias or a nap on the doormat.”
The only thing missing is a coop sophisticated enough for these New York City chickens, right?
Boom. Its done.
Check in box. (Or, rather, chick in box, as it may be…)
Recent Columbia architecture graduate Della Krantz Leapman has designed a chicken coop for the post-modern flock keeper: sleek and attractive, it is also equipped with a solar-powered door that lets the hens greet the dawn while the urban farmers laze in bed with their morning coffee.
The automatic door is rigged with a sound that alerts the chickens to “last call” before the door automatically closes at dusk, giving them time to scurry inside and roost for the night.
I’m all for a chicken in every pot (ohmygosh that reminds me: son Daniel ordered the Double-Fried Chicken at Standard Grill, served with Cole Slaw and Biscuits and it looked divine!) but with this fast-paced city life, how about a chicken or two on every block? I think Ms. Leapman’s chicken coop would be a cluckingly good addition to any NYC neighborhood!
And if you still have any doubt about the importance of poultry (on or off the plate!) I will leave you with this beauty by William Carlos Williams:
The Red Wheelbarrow
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
Of our two days in Key West, one was ridiculous and the other, thankfully, sublime. Duval Street in all its seaminess was already a distant memory. We awoke our second day with a new plan: Hemingway and Heaven.
Ernest Hemingway lived in Key West from 1931-39. It is said that he appreciated his home’s location on Whitehead Street because it stood across the street from the lighthouse, which was the landmark by which he found his way home after boozing it up in the Duval Street bars.
He wrote To Have and Have Not as well as The Snows of Kilimanjaro and The Green Hills of Africa in Key West during his marriage to his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer.
Hemingway was a complicated man of enormous appetite for life, travel, liquor and women. Oh, and for cats. His Key West home features a cemetery for the most beloved of his famed six-toed felines, including “Marilyn Monroe” and “Kim Novak”. Forty-five descendants of his original pets currently roam the premises. Few of them deign to interact with visitors, preferring to lounge in the deep shade of the garden, but I did spot one napping in a bedroom and another preening on an etagere in the museum bookstore.
Just as I felt a sense of kinship with Thomas Wolfe after visiting his home in Asheville, N.C., I somehow felt that I better understood Hemingway as I strode through the rooms of his gracious Key West home. Most of his books are held hostage in Cuba, but family photos line the walls of the home and you can visit the detached studio where he wrote. And whether you like Hemingway the man or not – Zelda Fitzgerald, incidentally, loathed him – Hemingway, the writer, is as good as it gets. He was truly the voice of the “lost generation” and a national treasure.
From Hemingway’s Key West slice of paradise, we walked a few blocks and went straight to heaven – Blue Heaven, that is – the famed local restaurant and watering hole where you can enjoy a languorous Sunday brunch communing with the chickens that roam in the deep shade of the restaurant’s tropical garden. I’m not sure how they work it out with the health code and the powers that be – maybe the chickens are grandfathered into the Conch Republic constitution.
I would go to the ends of the earth to see chickens; luckily, I only had to go to southernmost point of the continent. Flocks of Cubalaya chickens originally brought over by emigrating Cubans who couldn’t leave their taste for cock-fighting behind now roam the streets of Key West and are known as “gypsy chickens”. They are more attractive and orderly than the birds I saw in Kauai and, for that matter, than most of the people I saw on Duval Street.
We ended up enjoying our stay in Key West so much that we held back a few things to see on a future visit. Next time we hope to check out the Audubon House and Harry Truman’s Key West winter White House. For our two-day visit finale, we boarded a boat for the short jaunt out to Sunset Key, where we dined at Latitudes and watched the sun set on a perfect Key West day. Heavenly!
Single stay-at-home mother, three very young children. No one knows who the father is. No source of income. Dependent on handouts.
Nope, just Pippa and her adorable little flock of chicks.
And they couldn’t be happier. Pippa is a helicopter mom. A Tiger Mom on steroids. She is ferociously overprotective and never, ever takes her eyes off her little ones. When we tried to “borrow” them for portraits she came at us puffed up like a turkey, wings flapping, and pecked at us like she meant it. Hard to believe this is the same docile little d’Uccle who just a few weeks ago sidled up to me each morning in the coop asking to be cuddled and hand-fed some scratch. I guess she has redefined the term “mother hen”.
As soon as I saw how well it was going, I wished that those other little ones – the grandkids – could be here to share in the fun. Next best thing: have them help with the naming!
Thomas and James responded first:
They chose to name the little brown Ameraucana and came up with the PERFECT name: Ginger.
Later that day I heard from Evie and Viv (and Caleigh, who will hopefully get a chance to name a future chick when she’s a bit older). They were busy making a l-o-n-g list:
My pick from Evie and Viv’s list was Summer, which I think suits the little Buff Orpington:
For the Barred Rock, I chose the name Lola. Alexandra and Andy reminded me that it was the name of the parrot they recently befriended during their trip to Peru and the Amazon. I must have catalogued it in my bird brain when I first heard it, because every time I looked at the chicks I kept thinking that one of them needs to be called Lola. So Lola it shall be.
In retrospect, I realized I made a mistake during our chick delivery process. We were so busy stealing away Pippa’s beloved golf balls that I fumbled and just set the chicks next to her instead of tucking them beneath her. I think that is why she pecked at them a bit; next time I serve as a chicken doula I will remember to place the chicks under the hen so that she thinks her eggs have hatched rather than that she has been invaded by aliens.
Luckily for us, Pippa and her chicks rebounded from my clumsy midwifery. We’ve had a lot of transitions in the past few days, since we have to ready the flock for our imminent departure to points East. Dave and Karen and then our friend, Lori, are bravely taking on the poultry project in our absence.
First, we moved them from the nesting counter to the floor – I didn’t want anyone to topple over the edge! Along with that move came the chicks’ introduction to “Auntie Luna” who has been soldiering on all by herself while Pippa has been brooding and mothering. Sweet little Luna has been very respectful of the chicks – I think she would like to help mother them, but Pippa is having none of it – see how she puffs up to protect her brood when Luna comes near?
Personalities are already beginning to emerge. Summer stays very close to mom and, true to her Buff Orpington breeding, seems the calmest and most confident. Ginger skitters here and there, exploring new territory and then careening back to find her flock. Little Lola is the shyest, often seeking shelter under Pippa while the other two have a look around.
Next step is to give the little flock their first “big world” outing. Then we head out on our trip and our intrepid house sitters will take over. By the time we return, the darling little chicks will be entering adolescence and will have that scraggly vulture look that chickens take on during their ugly duckling stage between babyhood and hen-hood.
For now, though, they are preciously adorable – just like all the grandkids who named them!
Three years ago, our beloved Buff Orpington, Hope, taught us the ways of a broody. We successfully “grafted” some hatchery chicks to her, one of which was our Belgian Mille Fleur d’Uccle, Pippa.
Sadly, Hope and many of her compatriots have gone on to that palatial chicken coop in the sky, and for the past six months we’ve been down to a flock of two; little Pippa and our Silkie, Luna.
When Pippa, now age three, had gone broody last summer, it was an annoyance. This year, I was praying for her to go broody so we could try to repeat the broody magic we experienced with Hope. Luckily for us, Pippa dutifully went broody a few weeks ago, growling and fussing and puffing up her feathers and refusing to leave the nest. We were thrilled!
Even though she was decisively broody, we were cautioned against giving her chicks too soon. The gestation period for hatching eggs is twenty-one days and one source we consulted was insistent that if you give baby chicks to a hen before the three week mark, she will kill the little ones. It is not uncommon for even a full-term broody hen to attack or abandon baby chicks; nature can be capricious. But we had to work around chick availability; our feed store was getting a shipment in yesterday, which put Pippa at just over two weeks in her broody cycle.
Leading up to the big day, we indulged Pippa in her broody ways. Since she refused to leave the nest, we “flipped the Pip” a few times a day, moving her from her clutch of golf balls over to her food and water. She would cluck in protestation, but she would eat and drink and take a little walk before returning to sit on her nest.
My research told me that a bantam hen like Pippa can only raise three standard-size chicks. Since both Pippa and Luna are very gentle and docile, I wanted to choose chicks from breeds known to have mild temperaments. Behavior varies greatly from bird to bird, but the three breeds we chose are known to be generally good-natured: Buff Orpington, Barred Rock and Ameraucauna.
We arrived at the feed store yesterday morning before the doors had even opened. I wanted to get first choice of chicks! I brought a shoe box to carry them home and I brought a list of the things we needed: a feeder, a waterer and most importantly, starter feed. Baby chicks cannot eat the grown hen’s diet of layer feed because it contains too much calcium. Pippa and Luna can eat starter feed along with the chicks until they are old enough to switch to a grower feed at about seven weeks of age.
Your best chance of enticing a broody hen to accept chicks is to slip the babies under her at night while she is less alert to the fact that her “eggs” have suddenly hatched into two-day-old chicks. So we set up a temporary cardboard box brooder as a way station for the day with food, water and a heat lamp. First order of business was to dip the babies’ beaks in the water and food and they all figured out the eating and drinking process right away. They ate like champs!
They ate, drank and dozed throughout the day. They also managed to get into trouble. Alarmed when I heard loud peeping, I rushed in and found that the little Ameraucauna had catapulted herself out of her brooder box and was separated from the other two. All three were frantic to be reunited. Lesson learned: make sure the sides of the brooder box are high enough!
I also did the necessary check for “pasty butt”, a common but problematic and potentially deadly occurrence with baby chicks. Stress and heat during the shipping process can cause their vents to become blocked and they must be manually cleared (q-tips and warm water) or the chicks may die. Staring at chicken vents is just part of a flock keeper’s job description; fortunately, these three had no problems.
No names yet, but we are open to suggestions!
At 10 pm last night, watches synchronized, the CE and I crept into the coop with trepidation, a flashlight and the baby chicks. Pippa stirred and ruffled herself up in indignation as we stole away her beloved golf balls, clucking angrily at us and the small intruders we had set beside her. She pecked at them and our hearts sank; was she going to reject them? We held our breath and waited. Disturbed as she was, she did not appear truly homicidal, so we let the scenario play out for a few minutes. The chicks took the lead: even though they had been mail-ordered within hours of hatching, they knew a mama when they saw one and within a few minutes, despite Pippa’s seeming reluctance, they dove beneath her. Soon, all was quiet but for a few muffled peeps beneath her.
I woke with a start at 5 a.m. this morning and rushed to the coop, mentally preparing myself for either outcome: would I find a happy family or infanticide?
All was quiet. I heard not even a peep. Pippa seemed placid enough, but seeing is believing, right? As I reached beneath her I was struck by how hot her body was where she had broodily plucked feathers from her breast in preparation for keeping baby chicks warm. I lifted Pippa up and out scurried the three chicks, happy, healthy and ready to greet the day. They darted over to the feeder and waterer and then returned to the mothership, tumbling over her, pecking inquisitively at her face and finally seeking the warmth again beneath her. Pippa cluck-cluck-clucked at them, watching their every move and accepting their attentions without protest.
There are still a few hurdles ahead – we need to re-locate mama and babies from the countertop so the little ones don’t fall off. And we need to introduce them to Luna, who is completely bewildered by the situation.
But I am claiming a preliminary success. I just peeked in on them and Mama and babies all seem happy. Congratulations, Pippa!
I guess we had envisioned Jimmy Buffett serving Margaritas in crystal glasses from a roadside stand under a “Welcome to Key West” banner, so our entrance to the quintessential Key in the Keys was a bit of a letdown. A1A is a veritable strip mall ring encircling the community on the approach, reminding you that you are in the most populated of the Florida Keys. There is currently a significant amount of construction on the road, so we had to thread our way through heavy traffic past the Kmart and fast food restaurants that dotted the road to find our hotel.
We checked into the Westin, chosen because of its waterfront location on Front Street. We splurged on a suite and, luckily, ours was at the far east corner of the building where our view could not be blocked by the cruise ships that dock along the waterfront.
First order of business once we’d settled in was to find the southernmost point of this southernmost city in the United States. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but it led to our least favorite evening in Key West, of which we only had two. It was only a mile walk but it felt like five as the sweat dripped off us in the late afternoon heat and humidity. No wonder they drink Margaritas in Key West – they must be positively medicinal for replacing all the salt one loses whilst one merely breathes in and out in the heat.
Truth be told, I had set my sights not on a Margarita but a Daiquiri. The CE and I are both unabashed Hemingway fans and we looked forward to treading where he had trod in Key West. Since he reportedly spent most of his time drinking daiquiris in the local bars, that was our next destination after bagging our photo at the Southernmost Point.
A considerable amount of squabbling goes on regarding which of the community’s watering holes were Hemingway’s favorites. Sloppy Joes is probably the best-known, so we walked back up Duval Street in search of the famed saloon. I don’t know how Hemingway would feel about Duval Street and Sloppy Joe’s today, but they just weren’t our cup of rum. Peppered with head shops, t-shirt emporiums and at least one “adult entertainment club” that looks for all the world like a brothel, Duval Street glories in its commercialised seediness. The only class establishments on the street seemed to be the gay bars where, at one, we glimpsed an elegantly clad transvestite beckoning to patrons with a flourish of her retro cigarette holder. She was the lone token of style we beheld, and alas, it went downhill from there once we stepped into Sloppy Joes.
The scene inside Sloppy Joes was more desultory than raucous. I would have preferred our vacant-eyed and mostly absent waitress to be more live and the musical “entertainment” to be less so; tasteless is far too tame a word to describe Pete & Wayne. The duo sang interminably of their scorn for Jimmy Buffett and then lapsed into a ditty that had to do with defiling moose in Maine. We weren’t channeling Hemingway. We didn’t stay long. I think Pete and Wayne were singing their “Scrotum Song” as we left…
Dinner that evening was pre-fab pizza at the Hard Rock Cafe, where we sat on a terrace and looked out upon other tourists streaming along Duval Street. I silently counted the tattoos I saw on passersby (37) while we discussed To Have and Have Not (superb!) and rated the limp slices of pizza in front of us (absolutely terrible!) If I had it to do over again, we would have stopped into The Green Parrot Bar for our drink (billed as “a sunny place for shady people” it still outclasses Sloppy Joes) and had dinner at Louie’s Backyard. Next time!
We actually considered checking out of our hotel and skipping our second day in Key West. Glad we didn’t, because all was redeemed the next day, as you’ll learn in the next post. As it turns out, there is a lot to love in Key West!