Monday, January 18, 2010
The Kindness of Strangers
Having just spent a little time in Key West, it is difficult not to think of Tennessee Williams who lived here for many years. In fact the legend is that he and Carson McCullers wrote together on the same long dining room table. As Tennessee once said, "I can write anywhere, but I write better in Key West."
I was just down in KW, visiting a friend, who told me that I should bike by the old compound where Tennessee lived and also find the house with the pink door, called The Rose Tattoo House - probably my favorite Williams play and a great Brando, Anna Magnani film. Whenever I go to Key West, I go to the butterfly conservatory. I seem to be going down once a year and once a year I make it a point to stop here.
I'm not entirely sure what the allure is for me. I have to get there at 9 a.m. to avoid the cruise ship tourists. And it's a kind of New Age, touchy-feely place, but I love it. I love seeing the faces of children when a butterfly lands on their shirt. And, well, I love butterflies. I always have.
When I was a girl, I had a small science lab in my bedroom where I kept my rock collection, my assortment of plants, and insects. The insects I collected in jars usually for a day or so. But once in a while I got a caterpillar and once, as I recall, a monarch butterfly actually emerged from a crysalis I'd watched all winter. My parents, who didn't pretend to understood my fascinations with the natural world (and it was always changing) had the good sense to nurture it.
For gifts I received a microscope (where I examined blood I drew from my poor brother) and various samples of quartz. And my South American butterfly book. I couldn't put that book down. I studied and read everything I could get my hands on. But the morphos, those magnificent blues, entranced me the most. And they are everywhere in the KW conservatory.
This year I did my usual thing - arriving at 9a.m. Always alone. I sit in the gazebo and draw and write, but then after a while I started to walk around. I came up a sculpture of blue herons in a small pool and wanted to sketch them and, as I did, two morphos landed on my journal and stayed as I drew. I took a few snaps with my cellphone, but a lovely young man, named Markos Alexandrou, took the pictures I am posting. It was very thoughtful of him to do this.
This is one of the things that I love about traveling. That a perfect stranger will do a simple act of kindness. I realize that the original use of this phrase (in Streetcar when Blanche, as she is escorted away to the asylum, addresses the doctor and says those famous words - how she has always relied on the kindness of strangers).
But the truth is strangers can be kind. I can think of no better reason to tour the world than to prove that this is so. The butterflies stayed on my journal for a long time. In fact I wound up walking around with them on the book until they flew away. But it was one of life's little blessings and I am glad that Markos took these pictures and recorded the moment for me.