I am not an artist; the closest I come is through photography. However, I recently found myself in Key Largo and was offered a painting class with Pasta. Hmm. My thoughts ran to my grandkids and those colorful necklaces and bracelets they make with painted pasta shapes.
No noodles here. I entered a fabulous artist’s studio and gallery where I met Roberto Pantaleo, a.k.a. Pasta, my instructor. Pasta is an artist who paints vibrant scenes of the Keys, mostly fish and marine life. I adored his lines and design in the above fish and was drawn to the peacefulness of this mangrove tree with criss-crossed roots.
I was to paint a Leatherback turtle–okay! First, I sketched oval egg shapes on a piece of paper and Pasta showed me how to blend those into the turtle’s head, body and limbs. Next, I drew a similar animal on canvas. So far so good.
Now it was time to pick up the brush- a daunting task. “Just mix blue and green together and drab them onto the canvas like Monet,” said Pasta. Sure, I thought.
“Lovely colors,” he said. “Do the same thing with beige and browns to create the beach.”
Amazingly, my little turtle was coming to life better than I expected and the thing was — I was having a blast. I forgot about time and felt like I was floating in the water with my tortoise. I was literally living in the moment.
When I tried painting my turtle’s shell, my efforts didn’t achieve much depth. But, a few strokes from the master greatly helped the cause. I ended up with a painting I’m rather proud of. Sure, I know it’s a primitive work but I had fun. Wish I could take another class.
Pasta Pantaleo is the ideal teacher; he’s encouraging and helpful, never demeaning and an all-around happy person. Might be the island’s aura, but the Keys seem to bring out art in everyone.
When you drive down US 1 heading toward Key West, you know you have arrived when you come to a city: a downtown with stop lights, shops and homes. That may seem like an obvious statement, but when you motor by the other islands or Keys (there are actually 1,700, thought most are tiny and uninhabited) you feel rather betwixt and between. The landscape is a tad monotonous; a small strip of land surrounded by shimmering blue water, or patches of development with 1950’s style buildings. I was feeling neither here nor there, more in a twilight zone of locations known simply by their numbered mile markers.
It was in just such a spot that my husband Jay and I stopped to photograph a at sunset. So, it happened that we approached Islamorada near dark, when the sunset afterglow had disappeared into the waves.
The original name, Isles Moradas, pronounced- eye-la-mor-rah-da, translates to purple isles. Pick the name derivation as no one knows if it’s from the purple-shelled snail or the colors in the orchid trees and bougainvillea. I found the place enigmatic, full of mystery and intrigue.
Night descended quickly and we drove past our lodging. Realizing our mistake, we made a U-turn, then ventured in and registered. I would never have stayed at La Siesta Resort had I just driven by–not much in the way of street or curb appeal. But I’d been told, “Try it. You will like it, you will be surprised.” I was.
We located our unit, a small single story building, more than accommodating. I could have lived there for a week– or longer, a king-sized bed, full kitchenette, dining table and den with sleeper/sofa and wall-mounted flat screen TV.
But, we were hungry. We dropped out bags and left for dinner, choosing the Islamorada Fish Company, attached to the Bass Pro Shop. Arriving around 8:30pm, I thought we’d get a table, but found the sprawling restaurant full. Our names were added to a list and we were given one of those vibrating light-up disks, so off we went for a drink. We waited; we enjoyed our margaritas; we were the last ones at the bar. Finally the hostess came over, said she had tried to contact us, but our communicator wasn’t communicating. Gee, the margaritas had been refreshing and the view lovely, guess I was getting into “island time,” that kick-backed nature of The Keys. Nonetheless, my stomach was starting to growl, I was ready for food. We soon ended up with lovely yellowtail snapper and grouper for dinner.
Afterward, we fell asleep early; the sea air must have tuckered us out. On the other hand, when the mornings’ ochre rays filtered into the room, I immediately awoke. I crept to the double security sliding glass door, opened the drape and found, well….an amazing site. A hammock rested on the patio and a huge swirl of sand like a labyrinth garden lay beyond.
I wanted to enter and follow the path, but hesitated- my foot steps would desecrate the pattern, like making tracks through freshly fallen snow. But, I couldn’t resist; I paced round to the middle and realized it wasn’t the middle. No, this was the beginning. Of course, whoever created it started in the center. Hmm. I felt the need to sit and meditate or try a yoga pose. However, like being knocked on the head with a coconut (which could have actually happened), I realized I was barefoot, standing in the open hotel complex in my pajamas– with a camera strung around my neck.
I returned to my room to dress and discovered Jay slowly coming to life. He doesn’t do mornings very well, at least not before his coffee. I left him in his post-dawn stupor and went back outside. Some fisherman had arrived on the scene. I watched as they loaded their boat with about twenty fishing lines and then took off. However, they shared a secret– coffee and Danish were being served by the pool. This was indeed good news, especially to Jay.
A little later in the morning, I drove a few miles to the kayak rental shop at Robbie’s Mariana. I was expecting to be expected, as travel writers frequently are, but I wasn’t. Nonetheless, I arranged for a kayak and went in search of a crocodile, one I was told would make a great photo. Alas, he wasn’t there. Now I admit, I don’t have the best sense of direction, and the map handed me looked somewhat like a drawing of my first-grade grandson, but it led me astray. Perhaps my car’s GPS has spoiled me—I needed a voice to tell me, turn here—NOW. I was lost in the lush mangroves.
Then, I ran into three other kayakers who were, shall we say, off-course. Mind you, two of them were college professors, and we all four attempted to get to a point on the map; and we all got lost together. I thought it rather funny and decided it was time to retrace my outing and return my boat.
So, I ate some lunch and returned to La Siesta Resort and took an afternoon nap, a siesta, in the hammock at La Siesta! That evening, Jay and I went to dinner at The Hungry Tarpon. The outside looked like a breakfast diner and it was, but it also had an outdoor patio strung with Christmas lights, which was actually an awesome gourmet restaurant (if you can call an “old Keys-style marina and fish shack”a gourmet restaurant). The chef, Joseph Sassine, came out to talk to us, but couldn’t stay long because he said his assistant needed supervising. The assistant was rather new on the job, he added, just been working at it for five years.
After another restful night, I awoke to find the same curious pattern created in the sand during the night. I rather enjoyed the mystery and never inquired. Somethings are best left alone.
Nonetheless, I convinced Jay to go back to the Hungry Tarpon Restaurant in the morning, even though we weren’t hungry. I wanted to feed the famous jumping fish that I’d learned about the night before. Tarpon usually like deep water but these tarpon were different. The tarpon at Robbie’s Marina like to swim near the surface and be fed by human hand. Wouldn’t you know, on this morning, the hungry tarpon were neither hungry nor jumpy. The prehistoric-looking denizens must have felt the cold air, as a recent spell of artic air had chilled Florida. And so the curious happenings continued.
“Enough,” said Jay, “time to drive home.” One last time I insisted on stopping. “I must photograph Betsy, the lobster,” I begged. Betsy is a huge roadside attraction, the type of thing that was popular back in the 60’s when drivers traveled Route 66. So, for the record, here she is, a real beauty.
What more could one wish for on a trip to the quirky Keys and an interlude on Islamorada?
If You Go:
La Siesta Resort, Mile Marker 80.5, Islamorada, FL offers 1,2 and 3 bedrooms suites, a 3 bedroom vacation house and 5 bedroom executive house. Marina slips are also available. www.lasiestaresort.com
The Hungry Tarpon Restaurant at Mile Marker 77.5, 305 664 0535, www.hungrytarpon.com, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dinner reservations suggested.