The 2011 East Coast Book Tour Part One:
Christmas past, a Disney Adventure and The Columbia of St. Augustine
By Arthur Cola
I’m remembering my youth these days particularly that of Christmas morning when my Lionel train chugged round and round the tree, and the village built of those little cardboard houses shimmering with glitter snow. Today, larger versions of them are becoming popular again. Mine were bought on State Street at Woolworth’s in Chicago. They had a hole in the back in which you placed one of those chubby 120 volt bulbs from the string of lights giving off their green, red, blue, gold and white hues to the village and Nativity scene which was nestled within the circle of train track. Then those plastic like windows let through the light. Above all of this was a real fir tree, for our family it was of the short needle variety like a spruce or Douglas Fir. Its branches spread out to create a triangle like shape, which was perfectly reviewed before my father, sister and I purchased it. I, of course, was the expert on Christmas tree shapes. Near the tip of those branches, until those little Italian lights were invented, glowed those plump bulbs mentioned earlier and among those were those glass tube bulbs which bubbled up liquid in a rainbow of colors. Dangling from those branches were all kinds of glass ornaments not the kind which depicts a character as commonly seen today. Rather they were of a solid color like gold, silver, red, blue, green and so forth. Some were round and others elongated like an icicle, and of course tons of tinsel cascading down. On top was our Angel, still used to this day in my home.
“Good grief Charlie Brown, we just got into November,” you might be thinking. But I have good cause to be thinking of these holiday images so dear to me. You see I just returned to my home in Wisconsin after an extended promotion tour for my book: “The Stone Cutter Genius” in the east. From our nation’s Capital to Monticello in Virginia where the vibrant fall colors were at their peak to the still summery like feel of St. Augustine, Tampa, and Orlando Florida I traveled. Naturally I had to visit that famous Mouse. Thus my two youngest sons who live near Disney World took me there.
I must digress from my point here to tell you about the great plans for an addition to Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom area of Disney World. One can see the construction going on behind those walls on which the entire plan and story of what is being created is pictured. There’s going to be a Seven Dwarf ride which will take you through their diamond mine and Snow White’s cottage. You will be able to ride under the sea and view the treasures of the Little Mermaid. Above ground will be the castle of the Beast and Belle’s village with a variety of shops. All of this and more (i.e. Goofy’s Roller Coaster) is spread across a mountain range which forms a scenic backdrop for the Magic Kingdom. Another event taking place in fall was the EPCOT Food and Wine tasting event. I had never experienced it before. It’s quite fun for the older folks in particular as they give you a passport which you have stamped at each Food/Wine Station of the nations of the world scattered throughout the theme park. I loved the Brown Bread and cheese sample at Ireland and of course the Ravioli in Italy. Just as much fun and tasty were the Belgian Waffle, beef of Argentina, Burrito of Mexico, pastries of France, and of course their wines to compliment that particular country’s food sample. I have only highlighted a few of the nations represented. All of them offered great treats to our little group. So plan your fall Disney World trip and join in the fun next year.
With hugs to my sons John, Rich and Elena (John’s girlfriend) I was on my way up I-4 towards Daytona Beach. But my destination was north of their in our nation’s oldest city founded in 1565. St. Augustine is unlike any town in the east. Its historic district is like walking in the villages of Spain while on pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James). I suppose that it was natural to think of Spanish towns especially since I had recently seen the new movie called “The Way.” The film starring Martin Sheen and directed by his son, Emilio Estevez takes you along the famous route from France to the shrine of St. James in Spain with Martin Sheen’s character, which is that of a father trying to fulfill his son’s dream. The transition of a grief stricken lone man on a mission to one of compassion and faith as he meets other pilgrims is remarkably rendered. If it doesn’t get a nod from Oscar, I would be greatly disappointed.
I felt that I was on a pilgrimage of sorts as well in that I was once again returning to the City which served as the setting for my very first book, Papa and the Gingerbread Man. I had written the story while visiting the ancient city several years ago. My grandsons had called me for help with a school project which just happened to be that of finding the elusive Gingerbread cookie man and then sending a post card telling their teacher where the famous cookie man was seen. It was a way to teach young children their geography and as a teacher myself, I couldn’t be more excited about the project. I sent the card but I also wrote a story about a Papa’s adventure through the streets of St. Augustine as he tries to invite the Gingerbread Man to his grandchildren’s school for a visit. Since I was in town at the beginning of the Nights of Lights Holiday Festival the story is Christmas themed. Thus as I drove past the beautiful Cathedral of St. Augustine I began to envision those scenes illustrated by my son John of the cookie man swinging out of the Bell Tower, running down St. George St. past Café Hildalgo, through the gates into the Castillo San Marcos and hiding in my favorite restaurant, The Columbia. In fact it was to this Spanish influenced restaurant that I headed as it was there where the book signing event was to take place. As usual the staff was most welcoming and gracious and the lunch scrumptious. The event was successful. Patrons dining at the Columbia picked up copies for their children’s Christmas stockings. You can too by going to Amazon.
“See you next year,” I said while presenting a copy of the book to those who served my lunch as is my custom. And soon I was on I-95 heading through Georgia and the Carolinas toward Philadelphia. The route would take me right through Washington, D.C. You may read about my adventure there in my article, “Festa Italiana, Michelangelo and Washington, D.C.”