I just finished posting an update on a node I wrote back in January, 2004. At that time Cypress Gardens in central Florida was the object of an $11 million rescue deal voted on by the Florida Cabinet.
The park, a delightful collection of botanical gardens and a lake which had been the scene of water shows featuring movie stars such as Esther Williams back in the 1940's, had shut down in 2003 for financial reasons. Many Florida residents thought of the park as a historical and cultural icon and wanted it reopened as it had been.
Cypress Gardens now has a new owner who will turn half of it into an amusement - excuse me - adventure park. The theme of gardens and water will be retained - at least for now - in the other half.
At first I was upset by the "deal" implications. Then I thought, "Well, the park is going to have to earn its way, hence the carnival rides, etc." But I think it also says something else about the way we are as a people today.
Cypress Gardens was conceived in the mid-1930's, well before television was found in every home. For those who visited the Gardens' cool pathways, had their picture taken with a hostess in an antebellum gown, or marveled at its more than 8,000 varieties of tropical plants, a trip to Cypress Gardens was an exotic adventure. I think it is much more difficult for us to experience "exotic" today.
A few years ago I went on an African "no shooting" safari in Botswana and Zimbawbe. I had spent many years in West Africa but I had never visited the "big game" areas of that continent. I was very excited about my trip.
My guide was a family friend, an ex-Rodesian employed as a school teacher in Oprapa, a closed community at the edge of the Kalahari Desert. Many of Botswana's diamonds are mined in Oprapa, an isolated village surrounded by its own game park. Keith spends every weekend in the bush and is a very knowledgeable guide. I'm sure he showed me everything there was to see.
But there was something about the whole experience I could not quite put my finger on. It finally came to me one sunny afternoon when we were in the Chobe River National Park, watching the elephant migration. There I was, on a barge in the center of the river, watching the herds arriving at the start of the dry season. Hundreds of elephants, splashing triumphantly into the water after their journey. And the thought came to me,
This is just like television!
I have become so accustomed to seeing exotic scenes in television documentaries that I had a sense of déjà vu, "been there, done that".
And that, I think, is what has happened to places like Cypress Gardens. We are no longer impressed with what was formerly an enchanted spot. We have become jaded.