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VOL. 46 | NO. 22 | Friday, June 3, 2022

Fountain of Youth delivers, just not what I was seeking

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I recently drank from the waters of the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, Florida. Soon after, I tested positive for COVID.

Don’t draw any cause/effect conclusions. It’s not my purpose to speak ill of the semi-famous fountain – which, housed unobtrusively in a stone building, actually more resembles a series of leaks in a garden hose – or of St. Augustine itself. Nor was the purpose of our trip an effort to wash away the nearly seven decades of wear my body has accumulated.

Consider it instead another in my sporadic efforts to explore interesting sites reasonably accessible from Nashville.

Chasing youth was in fact the opposite of my reasoning for choosing the destination. I like my history old, and it doesn’t get older, in terms of US cities, St. Augustine having been founded in 1565.

Its Fountain of Youth connection is even older, dating to the 1513 visit to the area by Juan Ponce de Leon and his discovery of the water source that may have been the one that I drank from. Or may not have. No definitive claim is made. As the website for the attraction states:

“The water contains over 30 minerals and the spring would have been the perfect replenishment site for Juan Ponce de Leon’s ships upon landing on Florida’s shores 500 years ago.”

In case you’re wondering, it tasted kind of … mineral-ish. Dry, almost. Not at all cold. Refreshing is not the word that comes to mind.

And, truth be told, the fountain was not nearly the most interesting part of Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archeological Park, a 15-acre, privately owned attraction. That distinction belongs to the fellow manning the blacksmith exhibit, an anthropologist whose unofficial remit extended to explaining how the Indigenous 16th-century population was persuaded to adopt a Eurocentric religion. (Hint: It was not a huge leap from native lore to Christian symbolism.)

My great-grandfather Rogers was a blacksmith, so I tend to gravitate to demonstrations of the trade. But never before had one touched on the Romans’ use of nails in crucifixions, and the relative rarity of their use in olden-day construction.

But I’m getting a bit sidetracked here. The FoY park is just one reason to visit St. Augustine, situated less than an hour’s drive south of Jacksonville on the Atlantic coast.

Is it perhaps over-touristed? Of course. But not in the loud, honky-tonk manner of our own beloved Nashville. Think instead of a Spanish-influenced theme park built by someone with not quite enough money to make it as bad as it might have been, situated in a quiet city that wears its age and claim to fame fairly well.

Some observations and advice for potential visitors, gathered over four days on-site:

• Despite multiple opportunities we deemed it best not to engage with the middle-aged woman striding back and forth along the main tourist drag, hauling a big banner proclaiming that TRUMP WON. Others seemed to feel the same way.

• If your rental car is Avis and you experience a tire deflation issue, save yourself the time and money and head directly to the Avis-affiliated Firestone place rather than any other local business Google maps may recommend.

• Hope that your visit to the Pirate and Treasure Museum does not coincide with that of three groups of adolescents, who are perhaps only slightly less disruptive than actual pirates.

• Judging by the profusion of various “ghost” or “haunted” walking tours, St. Augustine may be among the more possessed cities in the New World.

• Should you decide to take in the sunset views from the nearby Cap’s on the Water dining establishment, bear in mind that you will not be the only people with the same evening plans.

• If you opt for a noonish walking tour on a cloudless day, be advised that not every informational stopping point will offer shade. Wear a hat with good coverage, no matter how goofy it may look.

• If your Airbnb offers one of those big massage chairs of the type often seen in airports, do not sign on for more than five minutes. Trust me.

As for the COVID: Exposure probably predated our trip, and it came on with familiar symptoms. Vaguely sore throat. Alternately flowing and congested nasal passages. Nagging cough. Distinctly substandard energy levels.

In other words, it was pretty much like every cold I’ve ever had, so I figured a common rhinovirus had finally caught up with me. No, said the test I took when I got back home, quickly and unequivocally.

Well, I dodged it for a long time. And yes, another test confirms: Kayne has it, too. Thanks to vaccinations, we both plan to live to travel again. But perhaps not soon.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com

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