Jacksonville/St Augustine travelogue continued

Posted on February 4, 2009


We spent Friday afternoon in St. Augustine. Shortly after arriving there (half an hour’s drive south of where we were staying) my brother Daniel called to invite us to an early dinner at his home with my other siblings and parents (his ex wanted the kids later that evening to visit with her family). That meant we did not have time to take any of the tours of the old houses, so we strolled down the St. George Street pedestrian mall where we bought fudge for the family, looked around Flagler College (formerly an upscale hotel built by Mr. Flagler) and Memorial Presbyterian Church (also built by Flagler and his burial place). The Sabbath eve before my nephew’s bar-mitzvah his dad, my other siblings siblings and parents made no blessings and served shellfish for dinner (they served us salmon since we keep kosher). My nieces and nephews are sweet kids and it was good to hang out with them over the weekend.

At Shabbat morning services I read the assigned Torah paragraphs and was complemented on the melody I improvised. My nephew Ben performed well despite having vomited twice that morning before leaving the house. At the very end of the service when he stood on the podium beside the rabbi who praised his fine qualities Ben had to excuse himself and run to the bathroom. He was sick for several days afterward, and his dad caught the bug too. The synagogue was having a scholar-in-residence weekend, and we heard the guest speaker talk about making newcomers feel welcome at shul; the congregants certainly did so to us. We came away with a more positive impression of the congregation than we formed three years ago at Joshua’s bar-mitzvah. During one of the talks by resident scholar Ron Wolfson we broke up into pairs for close textual study; my study partner Robin is a teacher at the Shul’s day school, and we conversed and discussed the text (the section in Genesis where Abraham greets and extends hospitality to the three strangers) in Hebrew. Robin’s twenty-something daughter was Shoshana’s study partner, but she does not have her mom’s facility with Hebrew so they discussed the text in English.

For people used to the suburban sprawl of parts of Long Island and New Jersey who seek a less expensive housing market and warmer climate Jacksonville is an option; although its white population is predominantly Evangelical Protestant and conservative Catholic it is more diverse than I had assumed, actually voted for Obama, and now has a Whole Foods Market. Jacksonville is geographically this country’s largest city, and driving distances and times from one part of the city to another can be quite long, comparable to an entire metropolitan area of other major cities. The main local streets are a continuous strip mall with all the national franchises, and the topography is flat and monotonous.

On Sunday we went hiking in Timucuan National Preserve which has hiking trails through verdant forests of laurel, palm, and souithern pine beside wetlands (part of the trail was wooden planks over a marsh). Monday was rainy, but since museums in Jacksonville (like elsewhere) are closed on Mondays we returned to St. Augustine where we toured its oldest house, and met up with my brother Samuel, his wife Beth, and their kids Ruth and Robert with whom we toured the old fort and then had dinner at a kid friendly restaurant.

On Tuesday we checked out of our hotel, had lunch at Whole Foods one last time, and drove about an hour north to tour the Kingsley Plantation where the remains of the slave quarters (built of tabby, a form of concrete made of sea shells and lyme) and the plantation house are preserved by the National Park Service. Mr. Kingsley allowed his slaves to keep their African names and married a former slave whom he freed. When it became clear to him that his children’s prospects were limited by racial laws and attitudes the Kingsley family left the USA and moved to Haiti. Archaeologists have found blue stone amulets and iron tools such as hoes, axes. and shovels buried under the doorways of slave houses; iron implements are associated with good luck in many African cultures.

After visiting the Kingsley Plantation we drove to the airport. Our departure was delayed by more than two hours due to weather conditions at Newark where we arrived at 10 PM, and after retrieving our luggage, being driven to the parking lot, and clearing ice and snow from our car we got home around 11:30 PM. Sasson greeted us with demands for play time, and we took turns unpacking and playing with him. I finally got to bed shortly before 3 AM; Shoshana got up to let our cleaning lady in at 7:40, and I slept until 9:20. Now I have lots to catch up with.

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