Travels & Traditions: Naples, Florida - #109

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  At the turn of the century the wealthy families of North America began building winter homes in Florida.  The rich and flashy of the northeast built their homes on the east coast of Florida.  The rich and never-to-be-flashy of the mid-west built their homes on the west coast of Florida.  They came here to Naples and constructed a community of quiet luxury.

Today, Naples is one of the richest and fastest-growing cities in America.  But because it sits on a strip of land that runs between the Gulf of Mexico and the fragile ecosystem of the Everglades, the residents are deeply involved in protecting their natural environment.  In other words, Naples loves the good life but it is just as concerned with its wildlife.

In the next half-hour, we’ll take a walk into one of the most unusual swamps in the world... discover the origins of the teddy bear... unearth an orchid that smells like chocolate... and visit a zoo where video technology is used to give you an amazing close-up view of some of the rarest animals on our planet.  So join me, Burt Wolf, on TRAVELS AND TRADITIONS... as we take a look at Naples, Florida.

In 1885, Walter Haldeman, the owner of the Louisville Courier newspaper, sailed down the west coast of Florida.  He was looking for a healthy spot to build a winter home for his family.  At the time, the lower west coast of Florida was almost totally deserted.  There was no one in Naples -- no houses, no tents, no Native Americans.  There wasn’t even a Naples!  What there was was a beautiful seven-mile crescent beach lined with pine trees and palm trees.  Haldeman and a group of his friends bought the land and drew up the plans for Naples.

Today, the place to get your first look at the low-key luxury of Naples is Third Street, where people enjoy getting around on bicycles.  It’s part of the Old Historic Shopping District, and it’s made up of flower-lined streets... one-of-a-kind shops... restaurants... and galleries.  A few blocks down is Fifth Avenue, Naples’ official main street.  Elegant shopping.  Good eating.  And Wynn’s Food Market.  Wynn’s has been a family-run fixture here for over fifty years, and I was told that I must stop in and taste their coconut cake.

BURT WOLF:  What do you think about the coconut cake?

CUSTOMER 1:  It’s the best.

BURT WOLF:  They’re the best?

CUSTOMER 1:  The best ingredients, the best taste.  The best on the street, the best in Naples.  That’s all I can say!

BURT WOLF:  I’d better get a piece of this cake immediately.

CUSTOMER 1:  You mean you haven’t tasted it yet?!

BURT WOLF:  I’m going to taste it now.

CUSTOMER 1:  Oh, don’t waste any time!

BURT WOLF:  Okay.  Could I... That’s your regular coconut cake?

TIM WYNN:  Yes, sir, that’s it!

BURT WOLF:  Great.  I would like, uh, I would love, uh... Can I get just a slice of it with a fork?

TIM WYNN:  One ready to go to eat, huh?  We can do that for you.

BURT WOLF:  See, I’m not the first person to ask this here.

TIM WYNN:  Oh, we sell many slices every day.

BURT WOLF:  Now, why do you think this is so famous around here?

CUSTOMER 2:  Well, I’m just very fond of coconut.  Anything with coconut in it is fine with me!

BURT WOLF:  I’ll get a piece for you.

CUSTOMER 2:  Thank you!

BURT WOLF:  Can I interest you in a piece of coconut cream cake?

CUSTOMER 3:  Oh, absolutely.

CUSTOMER 4:  What is it?

CUSTOMER 3:  Coconut cream cake.

BURT WOLF:  We’re taking an impartial survey here.  Could I have a piece of that cake?  Now what was it?  It was pudding that was in here?

TIM WYNN:  Yes, a coconut pudding.

CUSTOMER 1:  The old pudding trick, huh?

BURT WOLF:  Mmmm... Mmmm... Mmmmm... Sometimes words are not necessary!

CUSTOMER 3:  It’s absolutely wonderful.  In fact, I would purchase -- is that it?

CUSTOMER 5:  That’s it!

CUSTOMER 3:  We want one.

BURT WOLF:  I’m going to be working here on commission, you know.

For a taste of the wilder side of Naples I spent some time at the Caribbean Gardens.  Fifty-two acres of unusual plants and animals, it began in 1919 as a private garden with 3000 species of tropical vegetation.  In the Sixties, Larry and Nancy Jane Tetzlaff, well-known leaders of wildlife expeditions, brought their collection of rare animals to the Gardens.  These days their sons Dave and Tim run the park.

What struck me about Caribbean Gardens was their unusual use of video monitors.  First you see film of an animal in its natural habitat... then they bring out the real thing.  The impact is fascinating.

DAVE TETZLAFF:  We live in a media age where people want instant images.  And for a long time when we did educational shows here, we could describe things to people, but when you really see it... I mean, you can talk all day about how a leopard jumps out of a tree on something -- when people see this up on the screen it’s like dynamite.  It’s just like they walk away saying, “Wow, we’ve never seen anything like this before.”  But when you take the live animals, which I think is very important, and combine them with that, you’re giving people a very unique concept where you’re talking about something but showing it at the same time.  To preserve animals I believe it’s a legacy.  It’s the responsibility of everybody -- every living man, woman, child on this planet -- to continue.  It’s our responsibility.  And I think, sadly, in the future a lot of folks are going to look at the twentieth century and think, “Man, these guys really messed things up.  They had so many animals disappear or became endangered during this hundred year period.”  So I think now’s the time to correct these problems.  And zoos provide a definite vehicle to bring endangered species -- their plights, conservation -- to the public.  It’s the best way to do it.

BURT WOLF:  Did you ever see a tiger before?

BOY:  No way!  Until now.  And they almost got extinct.

BURT WOLF:  Yeah?  What does “extinct” mean?

BOY:  Well, it means killed.

While I was at the gardens Tim Tetzlaff took me on a boat trip where I saw a group of islands inhabited by different species of primates.

TIM TETZLAFF:  We first started the primate expedition cruise back in 1992, renovated all the islands for habitat for the primates, and it’s turned out to be a wonderful thing.  Guests love being this close to the animals, seeing them, you know, totally open, just a few feet of water in between and love to see them in their natural environments which is one of the biggest pluses we have here on the whole Caribbean Gardens to begin with.

These are ring-tailed lemurs.  There are thirty-two species of lemurs, this is perhaps one of the most easily identifiable because of that beautiful striped tail of theirs.  And that actually works very well for signaling, and they’ll actually take that tail, and they pull the tail up between their legs and they rub it furiously up and down on their chest where they have a scent gland that secretes this rather pungent odor.  Next, they take the tail and they rub it through their wrists, where they have more scent glands, to get the tail real offensive smelling.  Then they drop down on all fours and then they put the tail up over their head, over their back, they approach the other lemur they’re having the argument with , and they begin waving that offensive smell in each other’s face.  And, pretty much, whoever’s tail smells the worst gets whatever they want.

BURT WOLF:  It’s like the U.N.  That’s a strange group of animals coming onto that island; what is that?

TIM TETZLAFF:  Yes, that is one of our transient exhibits -- Homo sapiens.  We have a traveling exhibit of different ones that come in daily.

BURT WOLF:  That’s like a whole family?

TIM TETZLAFF:  Oh yes, it’s a family unit.  Once again, generally speaking, the mother rears those until they’re about eighteen years of age and, regardless, the male kicks them out of the family.

BURT WOLF:  Funny colors!

In 1888, Kentuckian Walter Haldeman, the founding father of Naples, began executing his plan to build a community in an impenetrable wilderness.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): A few years later he built the original Naples Beach Hotel and Pier. Now, the pier was essential because in those days the only way you could get to Naples was by boat. The hotel was essential because Mrs. Haldeman was getting lonely and the only way that Mr. Haldeman was going to keep her in Naples was to build a hotel so her friends could come down and visit her.

Today, the descendent of the original property is called The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club.  It’s right on the beach and since 1946 it has been owned and run by the Watkins family.  Mike Watkins is the president, and his objective is to keep the hotel’s local flavor.  Mike is also interested in the ecological aspects of his property.  In the middle of the hotel’s 18-hole golf course there is a greenhouse where five thousand orchids are grown and put to use in the hotel.  Marty Zewalk is the resident expert on orchids and he conducts classes.

MARTY ZEWALK:  Orchids, basically, are the largest plant family in the world.  They are air plants.

BURT WOLF:  What does that mean?

MARTY ZEWALK:  In their native environment in tropical zones, they’re actually clinging to the trunks of a tree.

BURT WOLF:  They’re growing in air, not earth.

MARTY ZEWALK:  Right.  They’re growing in air.  People kind of confuse the fact that they might be parasitic, but they’re not.  They use the trunk of the tree, or, as we domesticate them in pots and baskets -- strictly for support.  We now have over 150,000 hybrids.  That’s man conquering nature creating shapes and colors that never existed before.

This one is a very popular one and its nickname is “Dancing Lady.”  If you use your imagination, the flowering skirt and the torso and the head and the arms are the dancing lady and when it’s bouncing in the breeze, therein lies its nickname.

Next on the list, the nickname is “Donkey Ears” because of the stiff shapes of the leaves, but very well known by being the Butterfly Orchid.  And I think it describes itself.

This is an amazing one; this is called the Chocolate Orchid.  And if you do take a turn to smell, it smells just like chocolate.

BURT WOLF:  You have to smell that -- it’s quite amazing.

After class I stayed around for lunch. Gunther Killian is the chef and he prepared a Florida tomato stuffed with blue crab salad.  Next was rigatoni pasta with mixed grilled vegetables and for dessert a Florida fresh fruit tart with kiwi, mangoes and raspberries.

For a look at nature in the wild, I paid a visit to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, just outside of town.  Corkscrew is 11,000 acres of protected wilderness... a giant ecosystem on the edge of the Florida Everglades.  It’s owned and operated by the National Audubon Society and considered one of their most important projects.

Ed Carlson discovered Corkscrew when he was a teenager and was awestruck by the wild beauty of the place.  Since then he has devoted his life to protecting the region.  Today, he is the manager of the sanctuary, but he describes himself as the “Chief Swamp Rat.”

BURT WOLF:  Why do people come to Corkscrew?

ED CARLSON:  It’s a world-class natural resource.  It’s got it all; it’s got the old growth forest, got abundant wildlife, it’s a wetlands so it’s got things like alligators in it, you know.

BURT WOLF:  Alligators!

ED CARLSON:  Yeah, alligators.  It’s where the tropics and the temperate zone meet, so we’ve got tropical plants and temperate plants.  It’s just beautiful.  Well, that’s the edge of the cypress forest up ahead.

BURT WOLF:  Why are cypress so important?

ED CARLSON:  Well, cypress is an extremely valuable wood.  It’s a beautiful wood for building and for trim work and it’s very rot-resistant.  It’s extremely valuable to the lumber industry.  So it was basically clearcut throughout its range in the United States.  So it was the long-term interest of Audubon in the nesting and the birds [and the] continued observing of this activity that they realized the forest was being cut down.  So it’s interesting to argue whether the birds saved the trees...

BURT WOLF:  ...or the trees saved the birds.

ED CARLSON:  Right, but this forest is the largest stand of old grove virgin unlogged cypress left anywhere.

BURT WOLF:  Anywhere in the world?

ED CARLSON:  Of this forest type, yes.  Anywhere in the world.

That’s the state tree of Florida.  The locals call it the cabbage palm, and actually the heart of that palm is edible, that’s where heart of palm comes from.

BURT WOLF:  Those little cans of the hearts of palms comes from there...?

ED CARLSON:  Yeah, well, those come from another country, but this palm is also edible and to the locals that’s a big vegetable.

BURT WOLF:  What are those?

ED CARLSON:  These broadleaf green plants are called alligator flags.  And they’re a relative of the banana.  Why do we keep talking about food here?  But they are a relative of the banana, and they grow in the deepest, wettest areas of the swamp.  So if you were looking for an alligator, that would be an indicator plant.

BURT WOLF:  And if you were looking to avoid an alligator...

ED CARLSON:’d stay away from it...

BURT WOLF:’d do the same job.  Great.  I’ll move along here if it’s all the same to you.  I heard that alligators are afraid of people, is that true?

ED CARLSON:  Wild alligators are afraid of people; that is absolutely true.  In fact, when you’re in an area where alligators aren’t used to seeing people, you probably won’t see them at all, they’re so shy they’ll go under water or move away from you.  You can see alligators here because they see people every day and they know not to fear people.  But alligators lose their fear of man when you feed them.  And that’s the problem; they associate people with food.

BURT WOLF:  And they’re fast.

ED CARLSON:  They can be fast.

BURT WOLF:  What’s the future of this place?  What’s going to happen?

ED CARLSON:  The future’s good because we didn’t get into the last chapter.  We saved the birds, we saved the forest, and now we’re saving the whole watershed.

BURT WOLF:  End up saving the people.

ED CARLSON:  There you go!

BURT WOLF:  I like that program!

Somewhere between the wildlife and the good life lies the Teddy Bear Museum of Naples.  It was set up to house the 1,500 teddy bear collection of Mrs. Francis Pew Hayes.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Her collection began in 1984 when her grandson gave her this bear as a Christmas present. It turned grandma into an “arctophile”...which is the technical word for somebody who loves teddy bears.

Since then the collection has grown to over 3,500 bears and each year about 50,000 people stop in for a hug.  The museum is run by Mrs. Hayes’ son, George “Brownie” Black.

GEORGE BLACK:  It’s called a teddy bear because in 1902 President Theodore Roosevelt took a hunting trip for bears in Mississippi.  And he didn’t find one to shoot, but the guides found one and invited him out and he refused to shoot it.  And from that a cartoon got drawn by Clifford Berriman of the Washington Star, and thereafter whenever they did a cartoon, the bear was in the cartoon.  And it was actually called “Teddy’s bear.”

BURT WOLF:  How did it become a doll?

GEORGE BLACK:  It was first introduced as a boy’s companion, similar to a girl’s doll.  And very quickly girls also learned that it was a little bit more durable than their porcelain dolls, so they started playing with bears also.

BURT WOLF:  When people come here to the museum, what are they surprised about?

GEORGE BLACK:  First, the building.  We’re not the normal square, white stucco building.  We’re an all-natural wooden octagonal-shaped building.  Secondly, I think they’re surprised at the range of the bears that they see here.  A lot of people think they’re just crib toys and they don’t know anything about the artist bears and their variety.  And three, just the sheer number of them.  Teddy bear business is a multi-billion dollar-a-year industry.  Teddy bears themselves -- these cute cuddly guys -- are one of the top three, if not the top collectible in the world.  And when you add in the associated items like shirts and postcards and magazines and books and jewelry, it’s astronomical.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): When I was a kid I didn’t have a teddy bear and as I grew up I didn’t feel the need for one. But I have just changed my mind.

Teddy Bears aside, most visitors to Naples come here because it is considered a vacation paradise.  Then they go home and face a different reality.  But that didn’t work for Walter Wiesmueller.  He came to Naples to vacation and decided that he preferred paradise as a permanent address.  So he moved his glass making factory from Bavaria to the beach... and he named it Glasparadies.

WALTER WEISMUELLER:  We bring everything here from the screw to the table, the furniture, the oven... everything what you see here, we move it here.

ROGER HILL:  We set up the oven and the warehouse in the back and the retail shop in the front, and the museum.  Basically what we have going on today is that we have a glass blower here from Romania and another one from Germany, and Walter, of course.  Walter’s going to open up the oven right now and we’re going to look inside.  To melt the glass we’ve got to get it to be maybe 1500 degrees Centigrade, which is almost 3000 degrees Fahrenheit -- it’s very, very hot.

Glasparadies also has an historical collection of glass that dates back over 4,000 years, including something called “Farmer’s Silver.”  German peasants could not afford real silver; glass blowers developed a technique for blowing a little silver dust into the glass.  You ended up with objects that looked like they were made of silver, but were much less expensive.  Walter brought examples of hundreds of different types of glass from Germany to Naples.

Walter also brought his drums!

In 1983, things in Naples took an international turn.  The Ritz-Carlton Hotel opened.  The Ritz-Carlton group has over thirty hotels around the world and they brought their international experience to the neighborhood.

The entrance to the hotel and the design of the lobby has become the visual signature for the company.  Every afternoon they serve a classic English tea.  And just outside is the verandah, lined with old-fashioned thatched rocking chairs.  The objective of the Ritz-Carlton is to find a balance between the group traveler and the leisure business traveler.  Since I travel with a group and (believe it or not) this is my business, I headed directly through the hotel to the seashore and balanced myself on a stool facing the Gulf of Mexico.  A nice little boardwalk ends at an outdoor restaurant called Gumbo Limbo.  It’s a relaxed spot for lunch or dinner, and good for a tropical drink.

The Ritz is also working to develop a reputation for gourmet cooking.  Marc Guizol is the Dining Room chef.  He was born in France, where he began his career.  He also worked in London and Portugal.  What does a chef do to get a star for his restaurant?

MARC GUIZOL:  An enormous amount of work, definitely!

To make his point, Marc prepared a three-course meal that started with a grilled tuna-tomato relish-and-guacamole cocktail.  The main course was roasted loin of lamb with peanut butter sauce.  And for dessert:  a bowl of mixed fruit -- blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries -- in an elegant strawberry sauce, topped with a fruit sorbet.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  As you may have noticed, tomatoes keep showing up on the local tables, and for good reason.  Florida is famous for its tomatoes and they are shipped to cities all across the country.

A note to keep in mind, however, is that when they are shipped from Florida they are not fully ripe.  That helps keep them in good condition during the trip, but when you see a Florida tomato in your market it may still have a pink color.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  That’s okay.  However, when you get them home, you do not want to put them in the refrigerator.  The cold stops the ripening process and kills the flavor.  You want to let them ripen at room temperature.  Two or three days and the red will come out and they will be ready to eat.  Now, we eat a tomato as if it were a vegetable but in reality it is a fruit.

If you let other fruits like pears or bananas sit next to a ripening tomato, the tomato will ripen even faster.  And always keep them stem side up.  The area around the stem is very delicate and easily damaged.  You don’t want the weight of the tomato to rest on that surface.

And this is the Edgewater Beach Hotel, and much of what makes the Edgewater special is what it doesn’t have.  No crowds, no hype.  Just low-key elegance.  John Ayers, Jr. is the managing partner of the hotel, as well as the president of “Visit Naples.”

JOHN AYRES, JR:  We’re the opposite of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.  We’re a place that people come to to relax, to... to get to know their kids again, and to read that book that’s been on the shelf for three months that’s been nagging at them... in fact, it’s the kind of place that I know you’d really enjoy bringing your family to, and we hope you’ll do that.

The Edgewater’s Club Dining Room faces the Gulf of Mexico and has one of the best views to dine by in Naples.  Bill Hoever is the chef.  He made an egg white fruit frittata, a jerked chicken with a mango chutney relish, and a gulf red snapper sautéed with fresh tomatoes, olives and white wine.

And finally, if you want to be transported like the wealthy while looking at the homes of the wealthy, you can take a sightseeing cruise on an elegant yacht.  The 90-foot Naples Royal Princess will transport you along the waterways while serving you breakfast, lunch, supper or cocktails.  I asked Bill Barnett, the Mayor of Naples, to tell me what I am looking at.

BILL BARNETT:  Well, you can buy a lot today -- I think the most inexpensive lot you could probably buy down there would probably be $350,000 today and the homes go up to anywhere from fifteen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty-five million dollars.

BURT WOLF:  What’s the most expensive one?

BILL BARNETT:  The most expensive one that I have seen is about thirty-three million.

BURT WOLF:  Thirty-three million dollars?

BILL BARNETT:  Thirty-three million dollars.

BURT WOLF:  Who lives in it?

BILL BARNETT:  I don’t know who lives in it now... They don’t let us know some of those things.  But they’re really getting some phenomenal numbers.

They also have something called a “dockuminium,” which is basically a condominium for your boat... actually, it’s a parking place for your boat and it can cost you upwards of $200,000!

The cruise puts you smack in the middle of the story of Naples.  One side of the river is palatial and pricey... just a hundred yards away, the other side is protected and priceless.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Well... that’s a brief look at Naples, Florida...balancing between the good life and the wild life.  It started out fighting the wilderness so it could establish a community, then taming the wilderness so it could build a city and now it’s very busy trying to preserve the wilderness that was here originally.  That’s life.  And that’s TRAVELS & TRADITIONS.  I’m Burt Wolf.