Thou rememberest since
Once I sat upon a promontory,
And heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s back
Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath
That the rude sea grew civil at her song,
And certain stars shot madly from their spheres,
To hear the sea-maid’s music?
-Midsummer’s Night Dream
I freely admit I have a fascination with mermaids that goes beyond the ordinary. I have no idea if I believe in them or not, but I want to believe. (I feel the same way about the Skunk Ape, so maybe it’s a Florida thing. I believe in Skink, too, but that’s another blog post entirely.)
When you couple that fascination with my obsession with Floridana tourism, it’s really not shocking that I managed to wriggle my way backstage to meet the Weeki Wachee mermaids. Of course, Because This Is Florida (thank you, Campbell McGrath), it isn’t enough to have a city of live mermaids. No, we do it one better – in addition to the regular, garden-variety mermaids who exude youth and fitness, Because This Is Florida we have a former mermaids show.
If the idea of older mermaids, battle-scarred with wrinkles and weight, doesn’t appeal to you, well, I beg your indulgence, although I understand: These ladies are not today’s lithe young sirens. As one Former puts it (that’s how I think of them, the Formers and the Currents), they are “Grandma Mermaids.” The eldest of them lived in Indian Rocks Beach retired from the Former show in her 80th year because, as the Formers put it, “the drive got to be too much.”
So, no, they aren’t young, and they aren’t traditional mermaids. But man, oh man. Get these ladies in the water, and they outshine the Currents by far.
Which makes sense, really. They are the mermaids of yesteryear; they were vintage Florida kitsch, before you could find it on every street corner. They were the forerunners of Weird Florida; they were the metric by which every non-alligator-related tourist attraction would be measured. No mermaids? Well, you better have one hell of a parade or gimmick to match these ladies. I’m talking six-foot-tall talking dog gimmicks, because once you had seen these sirens of the deep, what was next?
Even in their sixties and seventies, these ladies are the queens of the deep, and watching their reunion shows sandwiched between the Current shows, I can’t help but want to be part of their world. Because their watery world beneath the glassy spring isn’t just a mermaid world, it is their world, their sisterhood. And that sisterhood is Florida, in a big way.
They tickle the turtles that come to eat their banana (if you’ve never seen the show I’m not even going to try to explain that; suffice to say, turtles like bananas–A LOT) and they have a free and easy fun in the water that seems just out of reach of the Currents’ grasp. They are the best parts of Florida, tails and all. They move with a grace and elegance that belies their age and proves that no matter how much some things change, some things never can. Just like Florida remains immutable in the face of its constant metamorphosis, these ladies prove that indeed, once a mermaid, no matter how you age or change, you are, at your core, always a mermaid.