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2005-08-09 High 'flight' fulfils ambition

We were suspended 1500 ft above the clear Atlantic waters, in the baking Florida sun.

 

A light breeze rocked us gently in our harnesses; the only sound was of the bullclips adjusting themselves as they prevented our sudden plummet to shark-infested waters, or alternatively, and perhaps more agreeably, our drifting heavenwards into the blue abyss.

1500 ft below us (almost the height of Benbulben) we could make out manta-rays,stingrays, giant turtles, bull sharks and nurse sharks, all going about their daily business.

The Florida waters, seemingly, account for half of the worlds shark attacks.

There was also a localised jellyfish epidemic during our visit. In much the same way that restaurant patrons can choose their fish from a tank for dinner, I began to imagine the sharks looking skywards from out of their vast tank, trying to come to a decision  Ok, you have the skinny one. Ill take the stocky one in the black Speedos, but can you have him plucked first?.

The Celtic Tenors had been invited to perform at the 16-day Florida International Festival at Daytona, on the east coast of the Sunshine State. Florida is one of the worlds most popular holiday destinations, boasting a 1350 mile-long coastline and warm weather year-round.

Florida is also associated with rather extreme weather conditions, at times battered by hurricanes and life-threatening lightning, and in July uncomfortably humid.

The many attractions of the Sunshine state include the Everglades unique eco-system, Miami, Key West, Key Largo Coral Reefs, the Kennedy Space Center, Disneyworld, and Floridas unique wildlife, which includes manatees, alligators and Florida panthers. In 1876, Matthias Day Jnr mapped out the beginnings of Daytona Beach City, and yet, as with many cities in the US there doesnt seem to be a real city centre, as we know it.

In 1902, Daytona hosted its first automobile race, where the previously unheard of record speed of 57 mph was reached. Daytona is viewed as the birthplace of speed, and in 1959, the first Daytona 500 was held.

Since then, fast cars have had fun in the sun along the wide, flat, hard-packed sandy beaches of Daytona. Traffic is allowed to travel on these 23 mile-long sundrenched beaches.

We were fortunate to be staying at the luxurious, newly-renovated Shores Resort and Spa on South Atlantic Drive  formerly the Daytona Hilton. We performed at the impressive Peabody Auditorium, the Kenneth Parker Amphitheatre in Port Orange, and also at the open-air beach-front Coquina rock bandshell (built in 1938). Other festival guest artists included the London Symphony Orchestra, our own Dervish, as well as the incredibly virtuosic and original family group  Leahy.

Seafood is inevitably a speciality in Florida, and includes all the usual seafare , along with snapper, grouper, flounder, Mahi, conch and many others. Key lime pie, which incidentally ought to be yellow and not green, is understandably big on Florida dessert menus.

We enjoyed a top-class meal at Stonewood restaurant. The Bubba Gump Shrimp Company café is obviously inspired by the Forest Gump film. It was suggested we try Crabby Joes on Daytona pier.

When we got there, we had just missed a fight, to which the police had been summoned. The offending, and truly offensive, family (who resembled a bikini-clad Jerry Springer cast  you know the sort who wear hipsters and short revealing T-shirts, and shouldnt do so?), had attacked a waiter with a babys high-chair, and had vowed to return in a while with a gun.

We took a chance, lived dangerously, and ate there anyway amid a rather tense atmosphere. As I floated beneath my purple and yellow umbrella high above the Daytona high-rise and ocean-front condo-culture, I could see in the distance the Daytona International Speedway track out nextdoor to the airport. But all these motorsport and watersport attractions, and this racing and partying city, so hooked on speed, had become a distant silent movie.

My temporary release from the daily race was sadly shortlived. My leash was shortened, I lost altitude, and received a rude awakening by being dunked in the ocean before landing back with a thud on the speedboat.

I had fulfilled my parasailing ambition, but more importantly, I had tasted the feeling of virtual flying and almost total liberation, and had wallowed for a while in the sound of silence.