There is a quaint little town on the East Coast of Florida called St Augustine. It is considered the oldest continuous European settlement in the continental United States. But that’s not what makes it famous. Tourists flock to St Augustine because they are dying to stay young forever. According to the official Fountain of Youth website, you can actually go and drink from Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth:
“Water From the actual Fountain of Youth located in historic St. Augustine, Florida.
Bubbling up from the Floridan aquifer for millennia, this spring water supported the Timucua people of Seloy – a Native American village that thrived on these grounds for over three thousand years. This unique water quenched Ponce de Leon’s thirst in his quest for eternal life, and this water was instrumental in the 1565 decision by Pedro Menéndez to establish the First Colony of St. Augustine here on the Park grounds.
Please note: We sell the bottle empty as a keepsake from the Park.
We then fill it with Fountain of Youth Spring water for FREE!” (http://www.fountainofyouthgiftshop.com/water.html)
Ummm… Unique water? Eternal life? Bring your own container, fill it at no charge, and stay young forever? Sounds a little too good to be true? It’s because it is!
Juan Ponce de Leon, a conquistador who participated in Columbus’ first voyage to the New World, was a descendant of King Alfonso the Wise (on the wrong side of the bed). Apparently, genetics played its role, and noble Don Juan became known for his wisdom and political savvy. On his second voyage, after several military victories and bloody conquests, he was appointed Governor of Puerto Rico. But political storms started rolling over his head in huge ocean waves. Christopher Columbus dies, his son Diego Colon arrives in Hispaniola as the Viceroy and claims rights to inherit all titles and privileges granted to his father by Queen Isabella. Isabella is also dead by this time, and the widowed King Ferdinand just doesn’t have her iron will, so he gives in. Ponce de Leon, having amassed a considerable fortune, stands to lose much; therefore, as a wise politician, he takes a way out – a new exploration voyage. He’s heard tell of some hitherto undiscovered islands, especially something called Bimini where the natives, according to a rumor, were known for exceptional longevity. The deal he offered to the King was as follows: let Don Diego Colon have whatever Papa found; I’ll find other lands and even finance the voyage myself on the condition that his grubby paws don’t touch anything I discover. And by the way, Your Majesty, have you heard about this longevity thing? Just make me a life-long governor of whatever I find, and you’ll live forever!
No sooner did he receive the royal contract to “search for the islands of Benimy” (spelling was not the King’s strong point, evidently), than he stepped on verdant land bursting with a riot of colorful flowers. As this happened to coincide with Pascua Florida (The Festival of Flowers), he named the new land La Florida, still thinking of it as an island. Since his landing in 1513, for many years it was believed that it eventually became a settlement called St Augustine. Later archaeological findings indicate that it may not have been the exact spot, but the important point is – remember? – longevity. Of course, the brave explorer landed in the wrong place, but he persevered, and, lo and behold! found a little spring of “unique water” which he promptly declared to be the famed “Fountain of Youth.” Drinking from it, unfortunately, was no remedy against war wounds and poisoned arrows. The wise and savvy politician was killed, still unaware that he had made two silly linguistic errors: first, it wasn’t Bimini he was looking for, but the Bahamas where the natives brew an herb called “the love vine” as an aphrodisiac; secondly, he simply mistook the word “vid” (vine) for “vida” (life), thus creating a legend (Molander, Arne (2012) “The Horizons of Christopher Columbus: Using the Heavens to Map America”).
Exit Ponce de Leon, enter Dr Luella Day McConnell, AKA Diamond Lil. Here is an interesting lady! Born in 1870, she became a practicing physician during the times when women were routinely barred even from becoming nurses. On the cusp of the century, she went to Yucon where the “gold rush fever” was raging. Appalled by the corruption of local officials, she couldn’t keep silent, so her medical license was suspended. In the interim, she managed to get married. In 1904, together with her husband, she comes to Florida sporting a diamond embedded into her front tooth. The nickname “Diamond Lil” popped up instantaneously and became her trademark. She heard the legend, bought a chunk of land, and created a tourist attraction. Quite a flamboyant personality, she would weave all kind of stories to amuse tourists and entertain the locals.
Here is the inimitable Mae West who was so impressed by the character of Diamond Lil that she wrote a play where she herself played a title role.
Ponce de Leon died at 47, Diamond Lil lived to be 57. Obviously, both have not benefited from the “unique water.” Perhaps, instead of exploring misspelled islands looking for water, Ponce de Leon should’ve explored Columbus’ diaries where a delicious fruit found in the New World is called “food of angels.” Maybe, had he not gotten into a power struggle with Don Diego Colon, he would’ve discovered the magical properties of papaya!
We love St Augustine, have stayed there often, on the way up North, and always enjoyed the little gem of a town with rich history and strange legends. I encourage you to go there, but meanwhile, let’s take half of a ripe but firm papaya, cleaned of seeds, and about two cups of loosely packed kale, torn into bite size pieces. Peel your papaya and cut it, also into bite size pieces (I don’t know the size of your bite size, so judge for yourselves!).
Next you’ll need to mix some balsamic vinegar with olive oil, freshly ground pepper, and sea salt. Pour the dressing over your kale and papaya, mix well, and leave it alone for a while. The longer it marinates, the better it will be, but at least an hour, until kale softens and darkens in color.
I sprinkled some shredded coconut on top and garnished it with a few blueberries, but feel free to use some chopped nuts and any berries of your choice. I have drunk water from the Fountain of Youth, out of curiosity, but as far as the Secret of Eternal Youth is concerned, I would definitely recommend a delicious papaya and kale salad.
- 2 cups of kale, loosely packed, torn into bite size pieces
- 1/2 ripe firm medium size papaya, de-seeded and peeled
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Freshly ground pepper and salt to taste
- Optional: shredded coconut or chopped nuts and fresh berries to garnish
- Cut papaya into bite size pieces. Mix with kale.
- Mix the rest of ingredients, pour over papaya and kale, mix well. Let stand for at least an hour until kale softens and darkens in color.
- Serve garnished with shredded coconut or chopped nuts and fresh berries.