We May Not Have Snow, But This holiday season, Thank God For Key West Flakes.
It's a fact: Key West does not have snow. Blessed with a tropical location on this planet, the southernmost part of the Continental US never freezes over. Never. But, fortunately, no snow does not necessarily mean, Key West is without its flakes. Blessed with more than climate, a tolerance level unknown to most other places on earth opens doors for people from all walks of life. Few demarcation lines are drawn; rich and poor sit side-by-side on Duval Street's barstools. Waiters and concierges with PhDs serve in the hospitality industry. Drag Queens entertain everyone from locals to straight tourists to the world's most famous movie and TV stars. Goof-up politicians are regularly re-elected. Hell, we hear that one of the 9-11 killers did his dry cleaning here then left town with a Conch Republic Passport.
Could any red-blooded American in this neck of the woods expect the holidays in Key West to be anything BUT UN-traditional? I love rooftop decorations with dolphins pulling Santa's sleigh. Bicycles with twinkle lights hung from balconies. Lobster-float ornaments. Lighted boat parades. Melting candy-cane wreaths on open, shuttered doors. Warm breezes kissing my face, and palm fronds glowing with moonshine while I sing carols off-key during Uncle George's annual trolley tour of houses decorated all over this odd ball, city-island.
Plenty of formerly-living pine trees are sold here, but that's such a Yankee-like Christmas tradition, in all of my 13-years here in Key West, I could never bring myself to put one up. My trees have ranged from giant buttonwood branches, cut and discarded in the street, then salvaged and strewn with colored lights, to spray-painted coconut seed pods hung with Grandma's antique ornaments. This year, the Foo-Foo tree complete with white flocked, fake plastic branches was draped in pink flamingo lights, accented with plastic palm trees and green frogs. To me, it represents so perfectly Key West's collective mindset I may keep it up all year, only changing its colored lights to suit holidays like Valentine's Day or St. Pat's.
But more significantly, the world as I knew it was reshaped this year by so many political acts, by so many economic shifts outside my immediate control, I only have this little piece of Paradise to fall back on to soothe the worries of everyday living and smooth over the wearies of global inequities. Can you imagine any other US Navy, Army and Coast Guard protected, port of call with Windex-blue water, in a National Marine Sanctuary? Any other place in the US where, instead of mistletoe, there are orchid gardens in full bloom on Christmas Eve? Where there are sun drenched mornings and fragrant, jasmine-filled Peace On Earth nights? And yes, where occasionally, there are Silent Nights? What a place to call home. What a joy to start 2002 in Key West.
So: May I propose a New Year's toast to all the wise men and women who followed the North Star to the Florida Keys? May each of us be fortunate enough to recognize each new flake that falls into our paths for his or her uniqueness, because, well, I'm pretty sure that if Mary and Joseph had started their journey this far south from the Real World, they would have found their manger, and more than a little good will, on Stock Island.