In Our Travels

Peanut Island Bunker, Saint Pierre Botanica Shop and Spiritual Store, Mai-Kai Restaurant and Lounge

I'm going back to the Delray Wreck, though. I saw only a little sliver of the Inchulva. And I loved it. The remnants of that nearly 100-year-old nightmare provide more than just visual delights: It's a stark reminder that our best efforts can easily be quashed by the tremendous, unpredictable power of nature.

On April 8, 1948, Mort Married Greta. She was 21 years old, the daughter of Russian immigrants, and dressed in silk and satin for the big event. I thought the wedding went well -- nice people surrounded them, from what I could see. The guests were all smiles and also wore some rather elegant costuming that stopped just short of extravagant.

My view came from their wedding album, 52 years later, which Greta ("Like Garbo," she says) opened on a desk at Travel Etc., where the couple operates a travel agency and art gallery. Epstein's their surname, and joie de vivre, along with a love of travel and art, is their real game. That's what they say, but what I say is I instantly got a second mom here in Greta.

She asked me if I'd been eating enough; I asked her what she looked like when she was young, eliciting the invitation to see her wedding album. I noticed, too, that Greta's a sucker for wayward artists. If you're an artist without a studio, you qualify as wayward and should check with Greta. I happen not to be an artist, but a member of that tribe stood before us sporting shoulder-length hair falling onto a white T-shirt. Greta invited him to return and paint in the spacious back room of her shop, where high ceilings, good light, and bonhomie create a good working atmosphere.

Her attentiveness was not just show. The Epsteins rent studio space complete with easels. For $135 a month, you get a place to bring brush to canvas, and if you're good Greta will display your work and try to sell it for you from the crowded walls of her shop. Her front window, tucked between the Lord Nelson Pub and the Stage Door Cafe, sits on the main drag in Himmarshee on Second Street, where some of the highest real-estate prices in Fort Lauderdale exist. Yet the price for displaying four or five pieces on her wall, visible through plate glass from the street is only $50 a month. She'll take a commission as well, if you sell.

The Epsteins' painting-packed walls wrap themselves around the desks of their travel agents like heavy foliage, and the message may be that travel of the imagination is as important as actual travel to the seven continents. Greta displays oils, acrylics, watercolors, and pastels in a dizzying variety of styles that range from Irish rustic to impressionist to postmodern stark. Prices range from $300 to $3000.

I don't have the money to buy, so I've taken to wandering into their space for a look, hoping sometimes to snag a good conversation. It's not like a museum, either, because none of the artists is dead, at least not yet. And many are regional: Vivien Parks has worked in four media; some of it is like clichéd lighthouse scenes, but some of it merits a comparison to Edward Hopper. Parks serves as Greta's in-house teacher, offering occasional workshops. Artist Howard Newman's detailed background brings you vividly onto the streets of New York, where his scenes are set in Greenwich Village.

One of the most appealing paintings I saw arrived in the arms of some guy who works across the street from Travel Etc. at O'Reilly's, the Irish pub. He wasn't the artist, he was just a friend of the artist, who hadn't yet pulled into town from the old country. The artist is Rudock McIlwaine, whose "tranquil scenes depict landscapes and images of the heart of Ireland with an unusual technique," in Greta's opinion.

Maybe he's the Grandma Moses of Ireland. Go see for yourself. And if you want to see the thing that art imitates -- they call it reality -- better still. You can start by buying an airplane ticket from Greta or Mort and traveling to Ireland.

Travel Etc., 310 SW Second St., Fort Lauderdale, 954-522-6111.

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