The Only Guide to the
Best Places to Eat, Stay,
And Play on Every Beach
In the Sunshine State

Parke Puterbaugh and
Alan Bisbort

(Foghorn Press )
Puterbaugh and Bisbort? Did they make up those names? Are they a fig of a secret author's imagination?

It's immaterial, because he has (or they have) squirreled together in 800 pages everything you could ever possibly want to know about the beaches of Florida, beginning at the northeastern coast, and ending in the panhandle. Twenty-three counties are listed, with prime attractions, places to stay, cuisine, "night moves," and tart observations and ratings for the many sea-side attractions.

Each county's beaches and state parks are listed, with narrative description, some a page or so (Fort George Island), some for fifty pages (The Florida Keys). Charts show monthly rainfall and temperatures, along with fact-filled insets. For instance, Lignumvitae is the highest Key of them all (eighteen feet above sea level) and is named after a small tree (the "tree of life") that has wood so dense that it refuses to float. "Other trees found in Lignumvitae's crazy tangle include gumbo limbo, mastic, strangler fig, poisonwood, and pigeon plum."

The writer's are wonderfully opinionated, making us wonder if they didn't chow down on some poisonwood before starting in writing. This is their description of The Breakers in Palm Beach, which can cost $575 - $900 a night:

    Like all posh resorts that are described with such words as "venerable" and "grand," you sometimes feel like a walled-in captive going broke in high style. Beyond the room you'll be sleeping in, the nightly tariff entitles you to nothing else.

And this on the highway out of Miami:

    At its southern end Miami dribbles on and on like a particularly bad case of urban diarrhea. If you're headed to the Keys and have decided that U. S. 1 is the straightest line between two points, you will be entrapped for what seems like forever inside a veritable colostomy bag of roadside commerce....[It's] a cow pie of capitalism so shoddy you might briefly flirt with the notion that Castro's brand of dictatorial communism in close-by Cuba couldn't possibly be any worse than that.

They suggest you avoid it by taking the Florida Turnpike.

§     §     §

The authors are not totally in a pucker. They favor places that have been somehow preserved from vulgar commerce, such as Sanibel, which was saved, in part, by someone with the unlikely name of "Ding" Darling" (he was a cartoonist for the New York Herald-Tribune; perhaps his 19th century political mentality gave him a passion for freezing time in far-off resorts). The island has also been preserved from the hoi-polloi by the Sanibel Causeway, which costs $3 a shot. Many of the natives think it should be tripled.

Too, Puterbaugh and Bisbort are in love with restaurants that never change --- like Joe's Stone Crab on Miami Beach's barrier island --- and offer articulate frets about places that may one day lose their beauty. Prime example is Bay County's beach, much of which is owned by St. Joe Paper who ---when I was a kid --- ran the stinkiest pulp mill in Jacksonville. Phew! They've joined forces with Arvida developers, and

    With investors and developers hungrily eyeing this last frontier like birds of prey circling road kill, you can just imagine what's in the cards....the Forgotten Coast is about to be remembered all too well.

--- L. W. Milam

Note: That's me above, in 1948, in Atlantic Beach,
with a 1948 style surfboard.
You don't want to know, and I don't want to remember,
how wild and beautiful and fresh the sea, and the beach,
and me, back then, so long ago.

--- LWM

The Ancestors
Chinese Commemorative Portraits
Jan Stewart,
Evelyn S. Rawski, Editors

(Smithsonian/Stanford University Press)
These Chinese Ancestor portraits come from the Ming (1368 - 1644) and Qing (1644 - 1911) Dynasties. A few can be found in the National Palace Museum in Taipei, but most --- a total of eighty-five --- are drawn from the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian in Washington, D. C.

They picture a dour bunch, but if you had to live during these dynasty --- a time of the usual national upheaval, wars, and bad spirits --- you'd be dour too. Shih-shan Henry Tsai in his recent and very lively book on Emperor Yongle (University of Washington Press) tells us what it was like to live in the Beijing area during the Ming dynasty. The book is titled Perpetual Happiness, but it was more like perpetual misery under the heavy ministrations of the emperor Yongle, who waged incessant war with the roving bands to the north.

Young men who wanted to work for the government usually ended up as eunuchs, being the only ones that the emperor would trust as officials. If you were a woman, you could be one of his twenty concubines. If you were one of his ministers, and if you displeased him --- for instance, telling him the truth about the upcoming rice crop in Dongdu, or hoards spilling over from Mongolia; or if you were one of his doctors and he wasn't cured --- he would immediately ship you off to the Chinese equivalent of the Beijing Graybar Hotel.

Worshiping the Ancestors contains almost a hundred portraits, in excellent color, and although they may be dour, the decorative aspects are exquisite. For instance, the Portrait of the Ming Hongzhi Emperor [Fig. 1 above] is alive with snakes and rather appealing dragons: note especially the neurotic, wild-eyed beast floating above his head, and the other one peeping up over his sleeves.

Fig. 3 shows Mother Wuzu, Duchess of the First Rank. She's got quite a few dragons of her own. However, it's not all doursville there in Worshiping the Ancestors. There's an Auspicious Emblem woodblock [Fig. 4, below] which is filled with smiling dogs and birds and flowers.

Worshiping the Ancestors is divided into seven parts, including "The Identity of the Sitters," "Visual Conventions," "Portraiture and Ancestor Rituals," and "Innovation within Tradition." Earliest Chinese portraits hark back to the "Warring States" (475 - 221 BCE). All are considered forms of ancestor worship --- but as the authors suggest, that term is hard to define. "Death does not sever the relationship between the living and the dead," they tell us. The corpse "can be formed into a beneficent force through appropriate rituals."

    Even after burial of the corpse, some elements of the deceased person's spirit linger and must be nurtured by his descendants. Ancestors properly cared for become sources of wealth, good luck, and many suns for their descendants.

Neglect of ancestors can turn spirits into malevolent beings, and, in the form of ghosts, wreaking misfortune "not only on the family but on the community." Family portraits thus served as links to family lineage, as well as good-luck talismans --- although for much of the year, they were hidden behind curtains, only to be unveiled on special occasions.

Many of these portraits are from many centuries back, but the authors show examples of similar paintings that have appeared within the last half-century, including one of four families, dated 1943. The parties are garbed in formal attire from the Qing Dynasty --- brides in red, husbands in blue --- no dogs nor dragons, though.

--- R. A. Friedlander, PhD


James Thackara
(The Overlook Press )

Masturbation and the Bomb
To summarize the familiar story of the Manhattan Project in the author's words: Brig. Gen. Leslie Groves was a "fat uncouth Army fellow," "comically clumsy," "moistly bulky," whose "cold hooded eyes" under his "oily waved widow's peak" revealed a mind that was "not very brilliant." He meets Robert Oppenheimer, "the most graceful, handsome, superbly intelligent man he had ever met."

Along with "fat, graceless, patriotic Groves" and the "bony, rather effete Harvard genius" Robert, the reader is introduced to "woolly-headed" Frank Oppenheimer, his brother, "woolly" physicist Otto Frisch, "woolly white-haired" Albert Einstein, "conceited, weird" Edward McMillen, "brilliant, charmingly ruthless" Enrico Fermi, "warm-hearted, irrepressible" Ed Teller and other similarly caricatured geniuses.

Groves was to oversee the building of "the most awesome weapon of destruction in human history." How would he do it? "Keep Oppenheimer's goodness and the realities of the world secret from each other and the longhairs would give Groves his bomb!"

Oppenheimer, having been named director of the project, chose New Mexico for his secret desert laboratory.

    Feeling the hot desert winds on his face it was as if he had left behind the vileness of cities, war, the poor ruined world. Come here for the sake of all the lost hungry souls Groves so dreaded, into the Great Mystery of all things.

Groves oversaw the building of the Los Alamos Lab, and, according to the author, it looked like

    a space station established on earth by a race alien to our universe, a race who had only stopped by curiously for a short stay. Aliens who cared nothing for the suffering of miserable human life.

Undaunted by aesthetics, the longhairs produced their bomb and detonate it, leaving in the sky "a beautiful tragic shape, like bubbles exhaled by some gigantic diver." 

Oppenheimer is accused of being a security risk and Gen. Groves, his "swollen presence decked with medals," as "his fat trembled vigorously," betrayed Opp --- no, didn't betray Oppenheimer, said, in fact, that "few men I know are as loyal, discreet or patriotic as he is. No other man could have done the job he did." Nevertheless, Oppenheimer's security clearance is revoked.

    It was a death's carnival of the absurd, an empire of fire and destruction. A hell no longer in the darkness of the human soul, but a Himalayas of poison and incineration...

A conversation with Einstein offers a novel antidote to the Himalayas of poison and incineration.

    My dear boy, if I could have imagined it would lead to ziss, I would have happily have remained a clock maker... Come, let me buy you a milk shake... Ziss American invention is so cooling to inflamed tonsils . . ."

"Not long after, Robert's throat developed a growth, the kind of growth for which cool drinks would not be enough." So he died, and his wife, "hard-eyed Kitty," drank too much and bought a boat and

    the handsome sun-blackened woman with graying black hair saw all the seas of the world she would sail again. There would be the tepid and temperamental Indian Ocean of typhoons and


    for Kitty too there came a day as they were crowding sail on the greatest sea, on a course due west, that her life gave out at last.

The book ends, at last, and the embarrassed shades of the principals can stop whirling in their graves. At last.

§     §     §

Of course it's much more fun, and much less trouble, to review bad books than good. But I must object to zombie authors who take over a dead hero's persona to spout their own bloated hyperbole. It's like those Presidents' Day ads that depict Abraham Lincoln hawking large appliances. Only worse, because the author spends 330 pages reducing his hero to banality, charging us $26.95 for it. It actually made this grouchy old liberal sympathetic to Groves, something more factual accounts have never done.

The author doubtless chose the title "America's Children" because he felt it has reader appeal. It is not about America's children. That is why I titled this review "Masturbation and the Bomb," even though the only visible victims of self-abuse are the people who buy this book. The Great Mystery of Things is why it was ever published.

--- Dominique DeTocqueville


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