Street Talk - June 2004

By staff June 1, 2004



A Selby Gardens researcher goes where the wild things are.

Selby Botanical Gardens' manager of collections Bruce Holst chafes at comparisons to Indiana Jones, but how else to describe someone who braves mountains, rapids and poisonous snakes in search of rare plant species? Holst is currently enmeshed in a 20-year project to document the 10,000 species of plants in the Lost World of southern Venezuela. H

ow dangerous is your work? On one trip, Africanized bees attracted to the salt in our sweat stung us 10-15 times a day for 30 days. We've had screw-worm maggots grow in our muscles and burrowing fleas that dig into heels and under toenails and produce pea-sized egg sacks if you don't dig them out with a needle. Also, the usual stuff.biting ants, snakes, scorpions.

How's the food? In Peru, the Ashaninka Indians at the base of the Andes Mountains shared a starchy root-based home-brew fermented with spit. I don't recommend the monkey stew.

So why do this? Our collection is a botanical ark of the productivity and diversity that make the natural world complex, stable, and enables humans to thrive. If we lose those elements as a result of greed and ignorance, our children will lose their quality of life. This research enables us to understand and conserve life on Earth.

-Pat Haire

Hot Seat

Bill Hill, like so many successful businessmen, started bringing his family to Sarasota for vacations 17 years ago. When it came time to retire five years ago, he bought a house in exclusive Sanderling on Siesta Key. Now the golfing and travel have been done, and he's founded Dream Builders, which is developing homes in Newtown; gotten involved with the new Phoenix School; and is spreading the philosophy that propelled him from the projects in the District of Columbia to sunny Sarasota.

Q: What's Dream Builders?

A: A small company that's found a niche in building townhouses in north Sarasota. It's been wonderful for us. Our first project of seven townvillas is coming out of the ground as we speak, and it's sold out.

Q: North Sarasota? How racially segregated do you find this town?

A: I personally haven't experienced any segregation at all. I go where I want to go in Sarasota. In fact, I'm selling my house in Washington, D.C. to live here full time. However, some people born and raised here have a self-imposed legacy of separatism left over from Jim Crow. Really, there are just three determinants of the quality of our lives: education, health care and engaging the free market. Race is simply not a factor.

Q: What do you find most interesting about Newtown politics?

A: They're identical to local politics everywhere. There's not one iota of difference between politics in Newtown and on Siesta Key. But the Newtown community is now starting to understand how much muscle it can have. The truth is, most of the differences between the races are simply imagined. My color has been an asset since the day I was born. After all, I didn't know any white folks as a youngster in the projects, so there was no detriment there. And by the time I went to work the entire economy was looking for me-an honest, hard-working minority. So that's what up with that.

People have been helping me all my life and they're still doing it. I couldn't do much of what I've been doing without other people's help. People want to see all of us succeed.

Q: How important is the Hope VI federal grant to Newtown?

A: It's a catalyst for the economic revitalization of the community most disenfranchised in Sarasota. Revitalization is going to happen in Newtown with or without Hope VI, but Hope VI means the local community will have some real material influence.

Q: What will it take for you to feel successful in Newtown?

A: When the families who buy our homes say we've delivered on both the value we promised and the expectations that Newtown will become the place to live in Sarasota. I'm selling my Siesta Key house and moving into one of the villas I'm building.

Q: What keeps you awake at night?

A: Nothing. I'm 58 years old and I'm the American Dream. I can go anywhere I want, consume anything I want, and none of that is really important. My legacy is my two daughters and my grandchildren, Asante and Lake. That's it. That's what's important in life.-Bob Ardren

Best Bite

Fancy pants restaurants come and go in Sarasota, but for a taste of a genuine local institution, visit Sarasota's Waffle Stop on 301 any morning including (and maybe especially) Sunday. You'll find the city's real Old Guard sipping coffee around the horseshoe-shaped counter where Elvis once ate breakfast. There's even an "Elvis is in the Building" special of three eggs, meat and potatoes.

These days it's folks like businesswoman Edith Barr Dunn-who was the waitress serving Elvis here back in 1956-or maybe Marina Jack owner Bob Saraan, Sarasota heavyweight boxer China Smith or a cadre of Sarasota's finest, probably supporting Sarasota police detective Ken Halpin or officer Chris Panichello-co-owners with Dolly Hollinger, the pretty one in the group. She runs the place from behind that horseshoe-shaped counter.

Important note to first-time customers. Ignore the Viagra clock on the wall or some well-polished punch lines may be tossed your way from around the counter.

The food? Hey, it's great diner fare and the coffee is first rate, too. Don't forget to try the waffles and don't hesitate to collar (after all, there is a police connection here) local city or county commissioners and Sarasota Herald-Tribune staffers you'll often see getting their breakfast or lunches here.

It's a Sarasota institution in a town with ever fewer of them.-Bob Ardren

Burning Issue

Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport reports losing more than 30 percent of its passenger traffic in the past five years. Would you favor a modest property tax assessment devoted to preserving commercial airline service in Sarasota?

I'm against government subsidizing private enterprise. The airport is a user-fee-based business. If you decide to use Sarasota airport, you'll pay their fees; and if you drive to Tampa, you'll pay theirs. As traffic increases at nearby airports and they become more crowded with security measures and the like, Sarasota/Bradenton may become a more viable alternative.

Kerry Kirschner, executive director, The Argus Foundation

Yes. Right now people are driving to Tampa and Fort Myers to save a few bucks and for better service. I'd hate to see us lose the air service because I love to fly out of here.

Jim Wallace, retired United Airlines pilot and now proprietor of the New Pass Bait Shop & Grill

No. If you live in north Atlanta, you have to drive to south Atlanta to the airport. It only takes me 45 minutes driving to Tampa and 30 minutes to Sarasota. I don't believe it's a judicious use of tax dollars for an airport that's really unnecessary for the prosperity of our area.

Former State Sen. John McKay

The airport has a $40 million debt and now they want to spend $2 million to attract a new airline-and there's a serious possibility the airline will want more after that's used up or they'll leave. It's going to take a lot of community conversation before a decision can be made on this issue.

Mayor Ron Johnson, Longboat Key

I would do it to support the community more than the airport; because it's absolutely essential to have air service in Sarasota. And don't forget, the airport has an inordinate amount of expenses right now because of the increased security requirements.

Ron Ciaravella, president, Dolphin Aviation

No Lock-Out

Late last year the city's administration presented a plan to the city commission that would re-organize the office space and upgrade the "security" at city hall. Among other things, at the suggestion of Chief of Police Peter Abbott, it would have involved locking the city hall's front door and forcing people to come in through a side door past a security guard.

It didn't fly. Even the most tone-deaf of the city commissioners recognized the potential backfire of permanently locking the front door of city hall, for whatever reasons. And so the plan was re-drawn and the building's back door was locked-and will actually be removed-again for "security" purposes. But now the Sarasota citizenry will be able to approach city hall's front door and find it open.-Bob Ardren

Now Hear This

"In cursive?"

Question asked by nine-year-old Kuymuni Allen when asked to sign a guilty plea for bringing a loaded handgun to school (as reported in The Bradenton Herald).

Looking at Art

Pasture Picture

As many times as you come upon Rosa Bonheur's painting of cows plowing a field, it remains a startling work of art. Perhaps it's the scale-the painting is twice as wide as it is high, a horizontal format that's comfortable for our habit of reading narratives from left to right. Perhaps it's the contrast of the dark soil of the field with the elaborate gold gilt frame that elevates the scene to something monumentally important. Bonheur guarantees our notice by having the large white beast closest to us seem to stare at us. None of the workers pay us heed as they go about their task.

The challenge of working with animals in the hilly terrain is emphasized by seeing the men and beasts as they have reached a minor summit. The cows are the stars of this work of art. Based on the detail we can read in the muscles straining beneath their skin, we appreciate that Bonheur loved to paint animals.

This 1850 tribute to farming was a government commission. The artist intended to recognize everyday life outside the city. She painted three versions of this subject, the first and largest over-life-sized one now hanging across the river from the Louvre in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris. As Sarasota's landscape continues to be developed, we may one day have to visit Gallery 19 of the Ringling Museum to be reminded of the farm life that is so much a part of Florida's economy.

Mark Ormond is a Sarasota art historian, writer and lecturer.

Going Shopping

Communications consultant Linda Larsen dresses for success on $100.

Sarasota's Linda Larsen, who jets around the country presenting seminars on leadership and success, tells her audiences that how they dress speaks volumes about their competence and capability. We asked Larsen to put together an outfit that says "success" for $100 at discount retailer T.J. Maxx.

Larsen arrived looking great in a purple St. Johns ensemble with a simple amethyst jewel hanging from a gold choker and no evidence of perfume. She said she paid $1,400 for the St. Johns jacket, shell and pants, which she bought for a presentation to the annual conference of the Air-Conditioning Association of America, a group of about 1,500, most of them men. "I wanted a little pizzazz-the color and subtle sparkly threads in the fabric; and I wanted it to be fashion-forward-pants vs. a skirt and the shorter jacket length-but not in any way revealing or sexy," she explained. "A lot of consideration goes into choosing the right outfit."

We approached the "Career" section and found many jackets to build the "dress for success" look on. Linda noted brand names such as Kasper, Jones of New York, Anne Klein, Harve Bernard, DKNY, and Tahari as standards of quality and classic design. We loaded up the cart, and she ended up selecting a a soft sea-foam and beige tapestry jacket made by Kasper ($29.99). The jacket had three buttons and was cropped with a bit of a flare. It looked great on her. She pointed out that the length of the jacket sleeve should be just below the break in the wrist. If it isn't, have it altered to maintain that sharper image.

Since Linda prefers pants, she found a perfectly matched pair ($29.99) as well as a shell ($19.99), both in beige, made by Kasper. "For $80, we came up with a pretty good alternative to my St. John," she declared.


[] Save your money until you can buy one top-quality suit in a classic style, which makes it versatile and long-lasting.

[] Always have a black and tan basic suit (pants or skirt, whichever you look best in) in your closet to build on.

[] Avoid linens, which tend to wrinkle; they could be in your wardrobe for a more casual look.

[] Solid, conservative colors are best; keep away from stripes unless they are pinstripes.

[] Do not wear open-toed shoes to business events.

[] Invest in a good leather purse or briefcase and keep your jewelry simple-one ring on each hand, no dangly, sparkly pieces and nothing that jangles and clangs.

[] Focus on your audience. If they're young, be a little trendy; if it's a business meeting, look businesslike; if it's an older crowd, be conservative.

You can access Linda Larsen at

-Rebecca Baxter

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