Lost Cities

Road to Cocoanut Grove 1910’s Stereopticon Image

Along the way of one of our recent garage sale excursions, I had the pleasure of meeting noted Coconut Grove artist Carol Garvin at her wonderful home there. (Her work can be seen at http://www.cgarvin.com/openframe.htm, ) She had decided to let go of a number of treasures, including a number of old books once owned by the Munroe family (one of whom built the still-standing Barnacle homestead on the shores of the Bay), and a wonderful document published as a promotional piece by the Coconut Grove Chamber of Commerce in 1970:

Sitting down with it and turning it’s pages was wonderful, and strange.

Having been there for at least part of that era, it struck me that the vibrant, eccentric, and proud “village” so vividly brought back to life through the mosaic of stories, photos, and advertisements in that large brown magazine is now gone. Almost every bit of it. A sense of quirkiness, pride in community and individuality, and an unabashed need to live and feel and experience “larger than life,” were conveyed with pellucid clarity in what was said, and what was not. The pictures and words spoke of an era that now seems nearly as unreachable and distant as that of the once open streets of cobbled Pompeii, before the molten rivers and mountains of hot ash spewed by Mount Vesuvius swallowed it all up within its shadow.

And yes, it is true that I (as I thumbed through page after page of articles and advertisements for every manner of innovative and unique craftsmanship and creative expression, in (among many others) theater and cuisine and fashion and jewelry and floral arrangement), could not help but be struck by the thought, with no small wonder, “My God. My God.It would be a full 10 years until the sickness came.” These young people, captured in their bold and brave and (generally) good spirit, and the prime of their art, were never going to sicken and die. And neither were their friends one after another, like bowling pins racked up badly out of order.
The horizon was as bright, bold, and inviting as that of the blue bay itself, at its most lyrical. In that sense, and many others, it was such an innocent time.

Yet innocence, I suppose, is a relative term that takes on meaning only in strict relationship to the lessons of its contrapuntal “shadow,” experience. And we, all of us, adult and child alike, are becoming experienced. Like it or not.

(And by itself, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Not at all. But it is most certainly an invitation to the great o’er-looming question now hitting us all right in the face (and often very hard) collectively and alone: what are we to do with it, and where are we to go from here? Oh yeah, and how?

For some reason I cannot know, yet trust absolutely, I have hope.)

Coconut Grove 1970

(Click to view larger; return by back-arrow.)

Downtown, Close-Up

Let me clarify that I did not sit down to write another elegaic piece about AIDS and its long shadow. Been there, done that, am living it, and grateful to be alive.

I write more of a universal human experience confronted by anyone who sticks around long enough, and in South Florida it needn’t be that long, at all: the fading into history of yet another golden era. As so poetically expressed by Robert Frost, Nothing Golden Can Stay. I have to see that the Grove of that era was a “moment,” one so exquisitely vibrant and alive that it did not seem so. And perhaps that is why, for all of its canned “festiveness,” the Cocowalk mega-complex always touches me with a light but definite sense of sadness. Every time I go there, after all of these years.

This is how we often learn that we have really loved: we find ourselves mourning, to greater or lesser degree, and look back. I believe there might be a better way.

Miami River, and Egret

I write of one era, and yet: I’ve heard from the old timers how the real peak of the Grove was in the ’50’s, (Oh, Paul, my God! You should’ve been there! It really was something to see.) when the “beat poets” took up residence and still more artists came, of all kinds, and a vibrant, cultured, and tolerant (real) community came to thrive in a most unlikely slice of tangled subtropical forest along the shores of Biscayne Bay.

And, of course, from even “older timers,” who grew up when the Seminole Indians still came in from the Everglades by cypress canoe to trade, and before all this damned pavement, when the water was unimaginably clear and the Earth still breathed fresh and deep. And, it was not yet too crowded to prevent the sharing of the ample forest with roaming panther, fox, black bear, and any number of other creatures that had arrived here well before any man. Since the dawn of time, after all, none of these species had known of (or been even able to imagine) any other that would have the motivation and means to lay claim to all of it, land and sea and sky above, all for itself.

They, God bless them, were innocent.

Tenochtitlan, seat of the Aztec Empire (current site of Mexico City), November 1519, a thriving city in many respects absolutely unequaled in contemporary Europe. Cortez and his men would arrive on the 22nd day of the following month.

Strange, the way this line of contemplation hits me. There’s no quality of the morbid to it; we are already grieving, yet we might not know exactly why. Every challenge I have yet encountered, no matter its seriousness or magnitude, is easier and most usefully faced in the light. Also, we cannot help but realize that the transience of our experience here is at once the most unimaginable burden we carry, and abiding sweetness that gets us through it.

And if the cities will come and go, perhaps we might set our sights on leaving behind, at the least, the finest and most golden treasure we possibly can. And quite possibly that treasure has nothing at all to do with gold of the cold metal kind.

Carpe diem. If you’ve got love in your heart, it is your greatest gift. Share it, all you can. Just because.

And I will aim to do the same.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.


5 Responses to Lost Cities

  1. Paul says:


    I saw your link on the Old Coconut Grove thread within the “You Know You Grew Up in Old Miami” and decided to visit out of curiousity.

    However, I didn’t anticipate reading such a touching and poignant piece. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Tomas says:

    I as well got here through the “grew up in old miami group”. the memories are the best. I loved miami.

  3. Denise Gibel says:

    This is a truly thought provoking piece. It reminds me of how far we have come from who we are, the character of our towns that were once the reason we chose them – we looked for a fit, now it is all plastic and mass produced – even our neighborhoods.


  4. GioAndPerInTheNetherlands says:

    Even in the ’70s the olde gay community reigned peacefully and with dignity (and chintz) in Old Coconut Grove. Our community had a (Cherry) Grove on Fire Island and a (Coconut) Grove in Florida. And both were key to the arts.

  5. Clay says:

    Oh, that map transports! Sign of the Sandpiper, Dimensions Gallery, etc. The names alone ring the changes of memory – Just seeing the name Dimensions reminds me of Amy Billig and her (still-mysterious) disappearance. But … where's the I Ching store? Lum's (with the red & white stripes and hot dogs 'Steamed in Beer')? Blue Water Marine Supply? I guess this brochure may predate even them.

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