Monday, February 19, 2007

Normally I love Florida -- it's great being in the tropics, and we love snorkeling. But this trip to Tampa was cooooold! The wind coming off the ocean had a bite to it, and mostly I was glad to be inside. There wasn't a prayer I was going to stick so much as a toe in that freeeeeeezing water!

So I guess you could say the entire Share conference experience this time out was, ah..... STIMULATING!

Apparently we arrived on the day they were celebrating Gasparilla, which I had never heard of! It sounds like an amazing festival, and we missed all of it. (I wish the Share publicists had warned us about it -- it sounded like a really unique and interesting experience!) It has to do with pirates and balls and coronations and all that thrilling swashbuckle stuff.

(As usual, click anything you want to view in a larger size.)

This Share also happened to coincide with Valentine's Day, so we had to sneak in something special to celebrate (of course!). It started with Robin renting a silver Mustang convertible (to match VJ's raincoat!), and we took an invigorating drive southward to old St. Petersburg where we enjoyed a dinner cruise aboard the Starlite Princess.

What made this cruise different from others we've taken was that the Starlite Princess is a genuine paddlewheeler, not a mock paddlewheeler like some other boats we've been on. Robin really enjoyed the experience of riding on a classic boat, going through drawbridges, and chatting with Captain Frank at the helm.

We also got to dance, drink, and dine on seafood for several hours as we navigated the Intracoastal Waterway.

I'm including a press picture of the boat -- naturally it was DARK when we were aboard her, not light.

Someday, when we have all the time in the world, we'd like to rent a boat and go all the way up (or down) the coast on the Intracoastal Waterway. Wouldn't that be fun?

Here we are in our traditional "toast pose." How do you like the Valentine-pink jacket I just happened to pack?

I confess: after the bracing ride home, we put the top back on the convertible and left it on for the rest of the week while we were at Share. Whatta waste! It almost hurt to keep it closed.

At Share, Robin and I delivered 5-6 sessions together (depending on how you count them), and Robin gave two sessions on MQ by himself. We got some great feedback, and we had a lot of fun (as usual). The socializing was terrific, the food was fantastic, and the company was grand!

When the week ended, we found ourselves with an extra day to waste, so we decided to do some museum hopping.

Naturally we had to take in the Henry Plant museum. Plant was a railroad magnate who did a lot to expand Florida's transportation system and thus trade. Along the way, he got in the habit of building fancy Gilded Age hotels. One of them was supposed to be exotic as Arabian Nights, as the Moorish Revival minarets imply. It was the first hotel to feature electric lighting and telephones, and hosted many prominent guests, including Babe Ruth, Sarah Bernhardt, Clara Barton, and even the Queen of England. Colonel Teddy Roosevelt stationed and trained his Rough Riders on the grounds during the Spanish-American War.

Apparently these minarets are now symbolic of the Tampa skyline. And I have to admit: you do tend to doubletake when you first see them! It's not something you trip over in every city you visit!

The Henry Plant Museum is now part of the University of Tampa campus, and Robin and I were both delighted that the building was being preserved through those means. (We're both heartsick about some of the recent demolitions of historic buildings, such as the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, when it seemed no one could find good uses for them. Just don't get me started!)

We were also fortunate while we were there to take in a special exhibition they had on Gasparilla! The best part for me was a display of sparkly coronation gowns over the years that Gasparilla queens had worn. Here are two of them: see if you can figure out approximately what years they are associated with (click to enlarge):

Now, I was interested in the St. Petersburg museum, which boasted a few Monets and other impressionists in its collection. So once again we headed southward to get some more culture.

I was not disappointed! In fact, I thought this was a marvelous little museum, with a darling collection. It was like a precious little jewelbox, and it didn't have that "wannabe" feeling that small museums sometimes can have.

Apparently this first Monet painting has been loaned out numerous times to major museums for exhibitions on Impressionism. It's one of a series of paintings Monet did of the Houses of Parliament. I've seen a number of the others at other museums around the world, and the dramatic changes in color and lighting with the same scene is quite fantastical. (This particular periwinkle/mauve color greatly appeals to me.)

My memory is notoriously unreliable so I can't be certain, but I think I vaguely remember this second Monet from a traveling exhibition I enjoyed years ago titled "The Impressionists in Winter."

I probably should stop having my picture taken with gorgeous paintings -- I always feel they make me look rather dull by comparison.

We stumbled onto a docent giving a tour, and she fed us a lot of useful information as she led us merrily about the exhibitions.

She shared a wonderful story about Julie Andrews falling in love with this Georgia O'Keefe painting, and how she whispered to her that they were selling t-shirts in the gift shop with an image of the painting on them. She said Andrews made a beeline for the gift shop and snapped up several before jumping into her limousine and racing away. (Apparently this was around the time she was performing "The Sound of Music," so it must have been centuries, er, decades ago.)

I find it interesting that O'Keefe's husband (Alfred Steiglitz) referred to this painting as "that red thing." While we were admiring it, another visitor looked at it and remarked that he liked its "sizzle."

After the St. Petersburg museum, I simply had to let Robin visit the gallery of one of his favorite artists -- after all, it was so nearby that it would have been a crime to deprive him of that opportunity. I wonder whether you can guess from the photograph which artist I'm referring to....? All the clues you need are right there. (Why don't you take a moment to guess before you give up and click on the link to discover the answer?)

Our last day in town found us in Ybor City checking out the historic cigar shops and Cuban influences. As we made our way to a Subway for lunch, the topic of Gasparilla reared its head again, and I came across the most amazing thrift shop window featuring displays of Gasparilla-styled costumes. I couldn't resist snapping a few shots of these amazing garments -- some of them compete well with the coronation gowns from the Henry Plant museum exhibit! See what you think (click on each one for a better view):

Overall, we enjoyed Tampa tremendously -- but we hope to return someday when the weather is nice and try it out for snorkeling.

[get this widget]