We made a stop in Tampa, Florida, and saw an old friend, Nikki Ternon. She is the owner of The Chelsea, a gay bar just outside of the Ybor City area of Tampa Bay. Nikki is an active member in the gay community, although she herself is straight. Philip and I, as well as our friends DJ and Yvonne, joined Nikki at her bar for a book signing and Q&A, and I regaled the crowd of mostly gay men with some of my exploits.
Ybor was of particular interest as it is a historic part of Tampa and comprised of primarily gay-owned businesses. It is a very close knit community with a networking group called the Gaybor Coalition which is an association of gay and straight businesses working together to promote one another, as well as to enlighten people in the community about what it means to be gay.
We dined at one of the establishments, Hamburger Mary's. It was delightful to meet numerous fans. If you find yourself in Tampa, Florida, stop in and see Nikki as the Chelsea is Tampa's "Be Who You Are" Bar and everyone is always welcome. She aimed for the somewhat more mature crowd who most likely still remembered me from the seventies. Bars and restaurants, art galleries and trendy funky boutiques, souvenir shops and tattoo bars line Ybor city streets.
D.J. introduced me to the public where many of the guests had actually read my book, some even brought along an old crumpled version of my Happy Hooker. Most bought the newer updated version and almost all wanted to get in the picture with me so they could show that to their parents (who grew up with my books) and tell them that they actually met the real happy hooker.
This was a nice end of our stay together with DJ and Yvonne. The next day Budget rent-a-car delivered our car to the hotel... Philip and I were finally on our own again. We headed up north to visit a good friend of Lisa Lipkin, Nicky Ankerson, who we met in Amsterdam only a few months ago in Savannah Georgia (so many Nikkis these days…sorry.)
As we left Florida and reached Georgia, the roads seemed wider and the scenery got greener and more and more spectacular, with impressive oak trees and lots of wild bushes and swamps. The smell of the moors was quite penetrating, here and there. The weather felt a bit colder than Florida but we were happy to be here to escape the freezing cold of Northern Europe and the many months of rain that we experienced in Spain this winter.
Nicky is a charming hostess, chubby like me, with a jolly and generous disposition. She is in her forties and independently wealthy. Her husband recently died. She is now living alone in a big rustic house with plenty comfortable leather couches where occasionally she and her dogs pass out at night in front of her enormous television.
The slogan mi casa es tu casa suited her best. We could do what we wanted. She even let us use her immense master bedroom and allowed us to rearrange her overloaded fridge. Around midnight, Nicky and I got the munchies. We indulged in all sorts of WRONG food… like sweets, many types of ice cream, various cakes, and not to forget all kinds of pecan nuts that are typical of this area, topped off …of course, with generous helpings of whipped cream.
Philip shook his head in disbelief when he caught us pigging out. He did not participate in our nightly gluttony. Margie would have cringed in horror if she could have witnessed all this. I am sure we both put on quite a bit of weight in record time (which was removed from MY body when we reached Guatemala as I instantly picked up a case of Montezuma’s revenge when I drank water with ice cubes and ate mixed salads… against Philips protests.)
The first day, Philip and I went out on our own to explore the highlights of Savannah City, I suggested we follow one of the old buses that was clearly marked TOURBUS. Therefore we were in for a free guided tour. We enjoyed the beautiful architecture of Savannah, which is one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts and is divided into 20+ picturesque squares. It reminds me of certain parts of London. The riverside of Savannah is beautifully situated and sports lots of antique, candy and teashops. We also visited the Savannah Bee Company an interesting shop that had various products made of honey; not just the honey but also body lotions that came from the bees. We were informed that Savannah is owned by Jews, run by Irish and enjoyed by Negroes.
The second night Nicky organized a fabulous dinner party for twenty of her best friends, mostly women in their late forties and early fifties and one couple. Each of them brought a food item or a few bottles of champagne to the get-together. There were leftovers for days. I also invited a very interesting artist, Mallory Pearce, a 75-year-old art teacher who I contacted via a dear friend of mine in Los Angeles. Mallory lives in Tybee island (a twenty minute ride from Savannnah) with his most charming wife, Julia who is 20 years his junior.
Mallory often refers to himself as the puppeteer as that is his favorite profession. He brought with him three of his most liked handmade puppets and entertained us for half an hour; something he has been doing for the last forty years, mostly for children but also adults all over Georgia. That night, after a scrumptious meal, we all sat down in the enormous living room in Nicky's big house and watched my documentary.
Then followed a book signing session where almost every one present bought at least one, if not two, of my books or my CD with eighteen naughty songs from the seventies.
Several of Nicky’s friends invited us to look them up in town during our stay. Most of these women were career women, well off and almost all husband-less and fairly happy with their status of single gal. There was a lawyer, engineer, management consultant and a yoga teacher. All seemed happy except for one of her best friends, Jennifer Salani, a tall and majestic woman in her mid fifties, with a great personality… whose husband (after thirty-five years of marriage) left her suddenly for her much younger best friend! She had to get used to the idea of being on her own at a certain age.
Jennifer insisted we look her up at her big Bed and Breakfast. For sure, it was the most luxurious B&B I have ever seen- The Ballastone Bed and Breakfast that has fifteen rooms. Each enormous room has its own theme: the Chinese room, English room and of course, the sensual French room with embroidered thick bedspreads, very high beds, beautiful antique furniture, crystal chandeliers and tapestries. The bar/restaurant with deep comfortable sofas and chairs served a daily high tea to her clients, and food and drinks until midnight. The guests were pampered all day for the price of US $200- $350.
When I asked Jennifer if she did not worry that some of her guests might actually fall from the very high beds, she laughed heartily and told us the following anecdote where indeed one of her elderly Irish gentlemen had come in rather under the weather one night. He stumbled into bed with his clothes on. In the early morning, there was a loud thump on the floor as he had rolled out of bed and smashed up his face quite badly. He even made a trip to hospital to get his head stitched. Ever since, she has a stool underneath the highest beds so people can use it as a step up.
Then, during one other visit to town, we went to Nicky’s friend who has a lovely antique jewelry shop in a quaint little square. Though her stuff was gorgeous and original (but too pricy for my budget) just before we walked out, I spotted a basket on the counter with dozens of colorful earrings. Those were just my cup of tea and more so…very affordable. I bought a dozen pair of earrings. Nicky herself owns one of the most luxurious beauty parlors in town, which offers manicures, pedicures, massage and facials, decorated in the most tasteful manner.
Time flew by. Our last night Mallory, the artist, arranged a lovely casual southern style meal at his favorite beach restaurant on Tybee Island where he graciously held court for a dozen friends. One of the guests, old Gloria of eighty-six, was a feisty and very attractive woman with a foul, but funny, mouth that spouted all sorts of double entendres. Two younger men in their fifties accompanied her, who looked after her and shared a big house with this apparently wealthy woman. She was very political inclined and totally against “these damned Republicans that invaded her precious island of late” and what’s more, she bought The Happy Hooker and convinced most of the guests to lay out some bread to buy my books as well. I am sure she was a cheerleader in her younger years. We said farewell to Nicky and all her delicious food. She promised to look us up in a few months and be our guest at our Bed and Breakfast where Philip, no doubt, shall reciprocate by showing her the most beautiful sights of Holland.
On the way back we decided to stop and have a luncheon with a good friend of Shannon, who is now living in New York, but originally is from St. Simons Island, Griffin Burkin. At his typically southern style soul food BBQ kitchen, we were treated to some fine spareribs and then whisked around the island by an attractive local female journalist, Terry McCarty. I was surprised about the many glorious old (mostly wooden) houses and the serene countryside with stunning views of the ocean. Up until 1920, ferryboats were the only way to reach the island; afterward came the first bridge. There is hardly any industry, except tourism, on this island, no high-rise buildings allowed. Everybody seems to know everybody as just about anyone who came our way cheerfully greeted us. Off to Ft. Lauderdale for one night where we prepared ourselves for our flight to Guatemala the following morning.
There our good friend Michael Sherer, presently a travel writer for the travel examiner met us at the airport. He took us in a shuttle taxi to Antiqua where he lives and where life is a lot safer than Guatemala City. Philip found us a fabulous and romantic hotel after one horrid night in a Steinbeckian place without a window. Right across from this place, he discovered The San Sebastian hotel, a dream-like museum where I almost instantly fell in love with the owner Luis (see the beginning of newsletter part I).
During the ten days we were in Antiqua Michael took us to a macadamia nut farm: Valhalla, where the American Crocodile Dundee type owner and his wife, Larry and Emilia Gottschamer, have for thirty-four years, grown several different varieties of nuts. They provide a daily “show and tell” experience for tourists from all over the world. The local community (the beauty salon owners) comes out for the macadamia nut facials. The owner’s wife does not look seventy years old. It is the oil…Lancome and Nivea use the oil in their anti-aging creams. Lorenzo, as he is known, could use some but he’s too busy talking and serving up macadamia pancakes, chocolate covered macadamia nuts and shooing the dogs away from newly planted flowers.
As a prematurely retired firefighter from Redwood City, CA, he came to Guatemala in the seventies, fell into the macadamia industry and never looked back. Ask him about his partner who smuggled the original trees into Guatemala… in suitcases. Be sure to order macadamia pancakes and sip his private estate-grown coffee… its black and thick and don’t expect to be able to have a siesta later. The hand-made machinery is certainly worth examination
Antiqua has suffered drastic changes through time, not only in its architecture, ancestral and social customs but also because it has continuously moved locations through the centuries. In the following web pages you will find a complete compilation of Antigua's founding, “The indigenous seem to understand instinctively what we want from them; those who speak no Spanish communicate with looks and gestures. The most important thing is empathy and mutual trust. This is a formula that has never failed.”
Antigua is a safe, economical city and Guatemala is a beautiful country. At the central market they sell Queso fresco, queso de capas, queso de Jalapa, queso de Petén, queso de Taxisco. It is all there, deep down in the lower levels of the Mercado Central in Zone One of Guatemala City… not to forget the many colorful handmade tablecloths, handbags and clothes.
Philip and I particularly loved the great zocalo (Main Square). The women and their many children dress in authentic hand embroidered colorful outfits. They carry their things in big wicker baskets on their heads or around their waist in folding bags. Sometimes one was not sure if they had a baby in there as well! The people were very friendly and never too pushy.
This city reminds us a lot of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. What a pity that in the USA it seems rare that one finds anything resembling these village structures. There we encountered huge shopping malls, except in Savannah, where there was a very similarly cozy ambiance as well.
We visited the well known and fancy golf court the REUNION situated at the bottom of the vulcano Pacaya, which last erupted in the nineteen eighties.The view from the golf club terrace was breathtaking as well as the entire drive leading up to location.
Michael also took us to a small but efficient family coffee plantation Finca los Nietos where they showed us how the beans are processed and packaged. It is set on an acre of what used to be a municipal dumping ground on a site lusciously overgrown in plants and flowers of every variety. Papaya trees stand next to bougainvilleas, the latest coffee harvest is drying in the sun and the roaster is spinning out superb batches of Arabica. Given the altitude of 4500 feet, the other variety known as Robusto isn’t quite at home here. Raul Freyre, a transplanted Cuban born in Holguin, his wife Christina, their daughter Grace and a small detachment of workers deftly handle the encroaching jungle of an amazing variety of ornamental shrubbery, the coffee trees and the tourists who find this Garden of Eden in the midst of San Lorenzo El Cubo, a small village four miles southwest of Antigua. The green and massive bulk of the volcano known as Agua rises to the south, silhouetted by the fountain on the front lawn. The coffee is superbly handcrafted small batches of different roasts. Raul’s favorite is the Grano Cubano, an espresso that is as close to Cuba’s national pride, Cubita, as one can get.
In the time we were there Michael also set up various book reading and signing events. I scored highest at the cozy yet very spacious Rainbow Cafe which was a mixture of cafe/restaurant/ library and bookshop and filled with ex pats from all over the world, a great space to hang out, have a bite to eat and listen to speeches or music. For this, they made a big space in the middle of the restaurant in the open air.
Philip and I now had the chance to spend a lot of time together, just the two of us, something we were not able to do much of during this trip as we were often sharing houses with our friends. I finally got my seven to eight hours sleep nightly in our divine king- size beds. In the daytime Philip would march all over town on the difficult cobblestone roads to get fruit and vegetables at the markets while I enjoyed the early sun on our outside terrace and worked on my emails that kept pouring in. Our sex life boomed and we have seldom been happier, but now, after five weeks away from Amsterdam we were missing our animals and our own bed.
We both found some handmade souvenirs for some close friends and some colorful clothes for ourselves. Now, near the end of our long vacation we still have to get back to Ft. Lauderdale.
Well, the fun was definitely not over yet; Margie, our darling friend who had already put us up for a week, had even arranged for us to move into a fabulous spacious villa in one of Ft. Lauderdale’s most posh areas. A friend of hers, Jean Farrell, was kind enough to let us have the place all to ourselves.Soon after our plane landed, we drove to the Cinema Paradiso that is a most unusual place. It has to be “seen to be believed.” Many say that the old building is haunted and Hal Axler, who is managing the place, does a great job keeping its ambiance a bit spooky yet fascinating. He not only programs films there but all sorts of events, often in combination with some sort of movie or food events with live music shows. Rocky Horror costumes were hanging in the kitchen next to pots and pans and posters of all kinds of almost long forgotten movie stars.
While Philip and I were invited for a quick bite to eat in the kitchen so I could rest up and change into a nice outfit, inside the theater a rather large crowd of about 140 people were watching not only the Happy Hooker movie with Lynn Redgrave portraying me, but also my own documentary. After that was finished a good friend of mine, a lawyer named Robert Pascal, and Hal led me inside the cozy theater while Philip settled into the front row with his camera.
The audience was enthusiastic. At last, I looked out and saw mostly men who raised their hands to ask me dozens of questions. When I enquired if there was anybody out there who had actually known me for real in the past, one man stood up and hollered: “YES, ME! We knew each other in San Juan, Puerto Rico when you just started out as a hooker in the casinos. Do you remember the many orgies we had together in that little pension next to the casino?”
“Wow! We were barely out of our diapers then,” I snapped at him. The audience roared with laughter. “We did a lot of things like cradle snatching… or just snatch snatching?”
I will not mention his full name, but he is like many I have met. An affluent lawyer in his second marriage, he is now married to a delightful Italian woman with plenty sex appeal and fifteen years younger. They seem very happy. Charlie invited us to his home for an unforgettable and wonderful Italian meal. Of course, his sexy young wife and some of her best friends mostly cooked the meal.
In the meantime, I hooked up with another fun couple. Lisa and her considerably younger new husband, Dennis, took us all over the place… even to an interesting store to buy enormous fancy clothes. Philip hit the jackpot and got six super, colorful silk Tommy Bahama shirts and pants.
Another female lawyer, Betsy, who is Chairman of the Board of the film organization and sponsors the movie theater and her husband, also invited us for a delicious home cooked meal with some friends. Amazing how people who had never seen me but knew me through my books instantly opened their hearts and houses for us and with just one-day notice arranged fantastic elaborate meals and parties.
Meanwhile, a sweet fellow who was at the movie theatre showing my documentary, named Arnold, is a book and CD sales distributor for adult entertainment bought ALL my remaining books and CDs. He paid me quite handsomely in that lovely commodity- cash. He also produced dozens and dozens of enlarged pictures of me that he found on the Internet. He asked me sign them for all his friends but, mostly… to himself… a true fan. Arnold also treated us to a delicious Thai 5- Star Restaurant meal. Result: I came home with more money in my pocket then when I left for the USA and priceless memories of friends old and new!!
One day we looked up a good friend of ours, Art METRANO, and his young spouse. They live in a magnificent penthouse overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on Williams Island, Aventura, Florida. This is one of the most expensive and luxurious gated communities in Florida.
They prepared us a delicious oriental style luncheon. Art was quite a talented comedian and movie star… until he stepped on a ladder in his garden to clean the bottom of his balcony on the first floor and … fell off the ladder with his head down.
This accident left him paralyzed from the neck down. For years, Art struggled to regain the use of his limbs. A very strong will and several operations later, he can now actually walk a few steps and write again with one hand. He then wrote a book about this episode of his life titled "Jews Don't Belong On Ladders...An Accidental Comedy". Next, he turned the book into a one-man theater show in which he has performed all over the USA for the last two years. Hats off to you Art, you are an inspiration to all.
Last, but not least, we decided to spend an entire afternoon in Miami Beach. We visited the most incredible and extensive erotic art exhibition I have ever seen, called the World Erotic Art Museum. Owned by a very knowledgeable, friendly and “together” 74-year-old woman named Naomi who, at the age of 63, bought some erotic paintings for her son’s wedding which took place after her wealthy Jewish banker husband died. With that purchase, Naomi, who already knew how to shop for antiques, came across one erotic art piece after the other. She then decided that since her prudish husband that never allowed her to have even one erotic painting in their house no longer had a veto, she would build an erotic museum for herself and all lovers of erotic art (not to be confused with hard core pornography).
She toured us around the immense museum where each room is sheer delight for the eyes. The collection includes statues and paintings covering subjects that are biblical, mythological, oriental, South American, European, Victorian, salon, pin-up, surrealistic, gay, interracial and contemporary fetish. An entire room is devoted to Leda and the Swan, or creatures that were half man, half animal. There are dozens of pictures of Marilyn Monroe and Madonna in various stages of nudity when they both were involved in the sex industry. There is even an entire room of pictures and a painting of Josephine Baker is on display. I remember my father telling me that he and Josephine had been lovers and what a great woman she was, both in and out of bed. It is definitely worth your while to check out the film clip on this website.
Naomi invited us to a luncheon and asked me back to do a DVD signing if I can get some copies of my documentary to sell to the public. Additionally, she purchased a dozen books signed by me. We hugged each other goodbye as if we were good old friends and kindred souls.
Our last night was the highlight of our stay in Ft. Lauderdale. Richard and his wife hosted us at their gorgeous villa. The floor shone of a spectacular bright white marble. We joked around about our wild orgies with three of his best friends in that little pension in San Juan (about which I wrote a chapter in The Happy Hooker and how one of the boys who robbed me blind then, is now a judge in some far away Polynesian island… but is still a bad boy.) We made a conference call to his two best buddies who were involved in our three-week period of fun and games in Puerto Rico. Everybody in the room stood around us curiously listening to our laughter and wild anecdotes…
Towards the end of the dinner, I excused myself to go to the bathroom. I tried to wriggle discreetly between some chairs and the table. I did so backwards and suddenly… whammo, I fell down hard on my back, injuring my shoulders, knees and neck, but without breaking anything. Philip looked pale with horror and instantly pulled my pained body onto its feet again. I was not aware that in this lovely villa there was a high step downward to the sunken living room. Charlie instantly called out to his architect friend seated across from me at the dinner table and instructed him to make the floor a level height the following day, and to cover the lower part with a thick dark parquet wooden floor. Rose, his wife, also agreed as she had seen another girlfriend nearly fall at the same spot.
Several weeks prior, I was already limping quite a bit from a sore hip. At this point, I really felt like an invalid. At the airport, Philip managed to get me a wheelchair and thus we did not have to queue in long lines and got royal treatment all the way to Amsterdam.
I loved every moment of our stay except for being the fallen woman of the party. Overall, we had a great time. There are people and places we definitely want to visit again. But we also intend to explore a new South American country like the Dominican Republic or Peru... already looking forward to next year!!!
To all of you who were so generous to invite us to stay as guests or invited us for a meal, rest assured if you ever come to Amsterdam… that we will reciprocate. You betcha!!
Wishing you all a happy Easter
P.S. For those who live in southern Spain: keep an eye out for my next theater production the last week in May with Peter Searles in: Hey Gringo and Sex with Pete.