Key West Florida Weekly

“Sense of Place”

New book encourages exploration of a changing Key West



Margit Bisztray of the Key West Insider Guide (left) and photographer Lena Perkins (right) team up to create “Sense of Place, Key West.” COURTESY PHOTO

“Sense of Place is everything we imagined.” That, according to lifestyle and travel writer Margit Bisztray of the Key West Insider Guide and photographer Lena Perkins. The two teamed up to produce “Sense of Place, Key West.” The book is an ode to the island the two have excovered. After collaborating on some marketing projects, Bisztray realized they could create a unique art book that would eventually take over a year to “manifest.” Even though the women work professionally with their respective crafts, both wanted a pursuit purely for the creativity and self-expression. The book is described as deeply personal in a way that no professional writing or photography presents. Pages alternate between natural scenes and urban ventures captured by Perkins and short written entries by Bisztray. The following draws on our conversation and highlights some of the best reasons to explore this latest work.

The Book Activates All Five Senses

The two were very attuned to walking readers through a full sensory experience. For instance, entries that include the sights and sounds of birds and swishing palm trees. The smells of salt and night-blooming jasmine. The tastes of fresh seafood and key lime. The textures of sand and bare skin. Plus, as pointed out, the composition of senses adds up to the experience of a place. “When your senses are fulfilled like they are here, you feel the place deeply in your being. This is ultimately what you take with you and what you miss and crave. It’s the actual bond we form to a place that calls us back,” Bisztray explained.

COURTESY PHOTO

COURTESY PHOTO

Foodies can Expect Classic Key West Cuisine

“A Sense of Place” serves up pictures of some of the most sought-after menu items on the island, including Cuban sandwiches, pink shrimp, key lime martinis, and locally available fruit. Items were sourced from a combination of popular and off-the-beaten-path eateries and spots.

There is a Balance of Presentation Between the Old and New World

While Bisztray and Perkins did not pre-determine a proportion of natural elements to architectural and urban features, they did want to present a range of settings while touching on history “in all its forms and stages, from aged to refreshed —old buildings in their various incarnations, because history here really is a living history.” This worked out organically as Perkins took so many photos. She described spending a year and a half curating a collection of “quintessentially Key West” pictures, selecting from thousands of shots and always asking “is that enough ocean for a book about an island? Is that enough palm trees? Is that too many key lime martinis?”

Themes Reveal How Constant Change Is

Some of the images in the book, like the Tomasita, do not exist anymore. As a result, there is a sense of preservation and even longing that accompanies these pages. There is a genuine possibility that the book also serves as an updated and more aesthetic form of documentation. “For us, we kept coming back to what is timeless here, what is the essence of here, what is that steady, unchanging ‘ some thing’ we latch onto and love,” said Bisztray. She pinpointed additional references that can no longer be found in real life, such as fish stands in Old Town or a corner grocer with distinct handwritten signs. “It does make one realize how constant change is, here and everywhere.”

The Authors’ Most Memorable Entries Capture Energy and People

Bisztray has different favorite written pieces for her moods—whether it’s dreamy, silly, or nostalgic. One of her favorites references a “barely there hum” that describes the life and energy surrounding us.

Thinking of another, Bisztray mentioned a funny story where a reader told her, “‘I can tell by reading this that you’re a good mother.’ Which is, of course, very nice to hear, but the first story that came to mind was about letting my son collect scorpions under our house on Ashe Street and feeding them to chickens.”

Readers Love Recognizing Their Favorite Spaces

It is also as easy to recount the images and words that carry personal connections with readers who have continued contacting the co-creators.

“People send me snapshots several times a week, showing a page or the writing that speaks to them. I love this.” Bisztray said.

At least three individuals have e-mailed to say they know where the memorable bougainvillea on page 247 is located and how much they love it. The person whose feet are sticking out of the water on page 214 revealed that he was honored to be in the book and that, “yes, he nailed that headstand.” Perkins meanwhile thinks one of her favorite photographs is of the cactus called Pooch, which she says has grown quite a bit since that picture was taken. The banana phone joke is also a guaranteed laugh.

The Stories Provide a Sense of Community

Ultimately, “A Sense of Place” reminds people of their encounters and memories in Key West. As Bisztray explained, “When a story of ours connects to a story of another person, there’s no connection quite like it. That, to me, is community.” The community of Key West extends far beyond who is on the island for her at any given moment.

“It’s everyone who’s touched and been touched by Key West. It’s the longing to be back held by those who leave. It’s every story that happened on the corner of Elizabeth and Caroline, or at the Green Parrot, or staring at the magic of a sunset. People say, ‘I used to work on that boat!’”

For more on “Sense of Place, Key West” by Margit Bisztray and Lena Perkins, go to SenseofPlaceKeyWest.com. ¦

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