Monday, June 18, 2018

Webb's Habitat

I approached Hilton Head with some curiosity. I have visited parts of the coast of Georgia and South Carolina, The Low Country so called,  but had yet to see this particular piece, this fabled retreat tucked into the live oaks and creeks of a marshy indented coastline.
The purpose was to visit my sailing friend Webb Chiles who is in the middle of his sixth circumnavigation of the planet on a small boat, as we shall see. He set my mind to pondering when he suggested that like Key West,  Hilton Head is heading toward that awkward place where the people who keep the place operating can't afford to live there, thus creating an insurmountable labor shortage. Well, perhaps it is surmountable but so far the increasing  gap between the wealthy and the workers seems to defy solution. Which is what makes it interesting.
I arrived Thursday evening and left Friday after lunch so I got see the barest minimum of a place that merits a return visit and who knows, a vacation. Rusty and I took our hour long stroll in the early morning along the main drag and we saw a place that is clean tidy and full of instructions on how to manage oneself. We dutifully stopped at the stop signs and looked both ways before walking. We slowed for sharp curves as instructed. We saw no trash, no bums, no crumbing sidewalks. The air was fresh, not with the scent of stale beer bit of woodlands and dew and pine needles. It was lovely.
I have seen other communities where neon is banned, Carmel California springs to mind, and so it is here. There are discreet shopping centers tucked out of sight in woodland groves and copses, banal shops like Publix and T J Maxx all that a small island community might need. There are numerous restaurants and because Webb is an upstanding guy he had checked for places that accept dogs and every single one with a deck was happy to accommodate Rusty. And motels too, as Webb's apartment is under refurbishment.
So Thursday night we girded up our loins to eat and drink and talk. At least I did, Rusty followed along gamely.
Naturally Rusty was perfect, sitting silently at my feet, no trouble at all. I dined on delicious crab bisque and shell fish cakes on grits, all of which was superb. Webb had a fresh colorful bouillabaisse that was too enormous to finish, especially after that crab bisque. I am made of sterner stuff as it were and scraped my plate clean. The best was yet to come so we repaired to the apartment which is under reconstruction and made ourselves homely on patio furniture with tumblers and a bottle. Rusty watched. I had taken him for a long woodland hike the day before in the mountains and he was ready for a rest. He sat on Webb's deck watching the tidal mash below with some interest while I presented the man with a bottle of his stuff.
Webb Chiles has written seven books about his monumental journeys under sail and he keeps a web (!) page (Link Here) which looks at life, love, music and poetry and death with an unflinching gaze. When I was a young sailor Webb was one of three sailing writers whom I classified in my first rank of writing travelers. I have come out of a tradition where the author gives not much of himself, initials and vague references to peripheral matters not related to the journey itself. So when I read Webb Chiles, Frank Mulville and George Millar and their emotional sailing roller coasters I was hooked. I used to sit on my boat in the Santa Cruz harbor and turn the pages dreaming of travel. In summer I did travel up and down the rugged coast of California, my adventures fed by the generation that went before and figured out this strange business of small boat voyaging. In winter I turned up the heat and kept reading under the glow of my 12 volt reading light above my bunk.
One thing about Webb is his ability to live on next to nothing. He is spartan, no doubt about it, but then he has his weakness and its pretty much unpronounceable. Laphroaig (Laff-roy-gg)  is a scotch whisky of rare pedigree from a place unpronounceable, the Island of Islay ( the ess is silent more or less for some obscure reason) and he laps it up like mother's milk at sea or ashore. I exaggerate but the day is contemplated by the sailing philosopher with a plastic (tumbler) of nectar. Because he is a spartan character with that Webb puts he bottle away. I was quite preapred to not like the stuff but I was determined to share this much read about routine with the Master. He gave me the crystal tumbler so I got the full treatment and I tasted it.
To my astonishment what seemed like a quirk became a thing understood even by me who has no real understanding of whisky. The aroma in the glass is incredibly evocative of peat and those swirling black tannic thick waters of a Scottish bog and the taste seems bound to be a little intimidating when finally you put the stuff in your mouth. Instead the whisky tastes crisp and clear and even carries a slight fizz in the mouth which was weird but spread the flavor  of the drink right across my tongue. I found myself getting lost in it. Webb watched me grinning. Some people advocate adding a splash of water he said, but clearly for Webb Chiles that amounts to heresy. We spoke no more of water and drank Laphroaig unadulterated. It really was bliss. I was astonished but I liked it a lot. I want more but that is my not-so-spartan nature...
The next morning I wanted to see how Gannet was doing in this South Carolina marina and  so we three walked to the water on a lovely sunny morning. I wasn't at all sure how Rusty would do in this alien environment but I guess he has learned to trust me because he walked down the ramp to docks  without a qualm.
An air pump running nosily on the dock for a diver cleaning hulls put him off so I swooped him up in my arms and carried him past the offending engine. He seemed as interested as I in the 24 foot circumnavigating Moore ultralight sailboat.
This is where Webb is at home and he sleeps in the tiny cabin of his very functional Gannet. How he enjoys the truly tiny cabin I don't know but if you check Webb Chiles on YouTube you will find a series of videos made on the high seas that illustrate better than anything the reality of being on a passage in a small boat. And then imagine crossing the Indian Ocean doing that day after day for weeks on end...He loves it.

Gannet looked to my eyes to be perfectly set up and ready to go, with everything in its place. Of course Webb sees this and that which needs improving but the boat looks trim and ready for the final leg of his sixth circumnavigation, from here to San Diego after hurricane season.  He likes to sail so he uses a Torqueedo electric outboard to get in and out of harbors, 900 watts of raw thrust from a battery charged by solar panels. Independent living:
All that was left was to walk the trails of Hilton Head one last time wearing Rusty out for the long drive home, lunch on another delightful deck with my dog watching the world go by, a manly good bye till next time and off we went. It was good and I was sorry to be heading back to work, trading this:
For this:

And this!
My own Gannet...

Friday, June 15, 2018

Hurricane Season

I decided to take this week off, early in Hurricane Season.
 There is still damage in the Keys from Hurricane Irma.
Rusty and I will be back in a  few days. Cheers.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A Dog's Life

Rusty and I are Up North taking a week off together to try some different walks.
It has occurred to me that Rusty is my hero. I say that with some trepidation as my relationship with dogs is a bit of mystery to me. On the one hand I feel as though I should form the ability to appreciate people as much as I do  dogs, yet people baffle and annoy and disappoint me. Dogs never do; they rise above every abuse , every cruelty and every expression of disdain. They forgive and they are patient. When I tried to explain to a Christian how dogs embody those religious value preached by the Christ the human being recoiled as though I blasphemed. You'll hear your neighbors describe people they hate (and they hate much more easily than dog hates) as "animals" and that annoys me greatly.
Animals that I have met and read about would not do half the things humans do when humans behave like "animals." I look at Rusty, just the latest unwanted dog that has come into my life and I see a creature who has every right to not trust people to be angry at the abuse he suffered, traumatized by the life he lived as a stray but after a short period of adjustment he has regained those qualities one expects to see in a happy well balanced emotionally stable dog. People couldn't do it so swiftly and so completely.
(I have heard the phrase about wanting to be the person your dog thinks you are, but I want to be the person my dog is). Rusty the great forgiver, the dog who waits patiently for his walk, who suffers disappointment without tantrums. I don't think I can do it not least because part of me feels the world owes me something, which it patently does not, but that quarrel goes on inside me and occasionally spills out. Apparently there is no sense of entitlement in Rusty, lucky dog.
I have to say I firmly believe that these feelings of respect and the pleasure I get from seeing him happy are born out of his prior circumstances. They could not exist in me were he a bought puppy. The fact that he suffered so much and now suffers no more is part of my pleasure in him. Which brings us back to why I can believe I have a relationship with my dog that transcends all: because  he makes me feel good. That's all. We humans are such self deceivers. One more reason to trust your dog.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Petronia Street

Rusty and I are Up North this week walking the woods together.
  I have no idea where this pile of debris, below, came from.
 It reminds me of Hurricane Irma clean up efforts.
My wife the teacher is on her break in Italy with my family for a month, playing student five days a week and hopefully learning Italian.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Anthony Bourdain, An Appreciation

Part of the fascination of Anthony Bourdain was watching him eat appalling foods with a big grin, knowing he was grossing you, small minded America, out. He was prone to remarking he had the best job in the world but watching him eat stuff I could barely look at left me knowing his was a job I couldn't possibly do.
Anthony Bourdain eats a bowlful of noodles in Hanoi during Parts Unknown Season 8.
Then there is the filming. Even on those days when he is eating recognizable food in a familiar setting one has to remember his was not an ordinary journey made by a private citizen. No, everything he did was filmed in a huge production. Who would like to eat like this?
Image result for bourdain being filmed
I was quite surprised to see how many people I knew enjoyed watching his documentaries on travel and eating. Looking further afield it became apparent that a giant love fest was underway for the 61 year old man who had overcome so much to achieve fame and fortune and throw it all away subsequently at the end of a rope. And he left an old and dear friend to find his gruesomely abused body. That is unimaginable to me: walking into a hotel room to find your good old buddy hanged by the neck and dead. Awful.

Richard Cory

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.

And he was richyes, richer than a king
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Bourdain's public persona, the only one we knew, was that of a man who loved eating and living and doing it all to excess. And by choosing to kill himself he negated all that bonhomie, that lust for life. Never mind what he has done to his family his friends and people who knew him properly, as a human not as a celebrity or TV figurine, like most of us. They tell us we can't know what's really going on and that he suffered from depression of which he spoke. A British newspaper reported his girlfriend was seen in public with another man, hinting at a reason. To me none of that matters. What matters is he presented a truer  picture of life and travel on TV than I have seen. And now he has blown it all away. I am annoyed and feel let down as impertinent and as irrational as that may be.
Image result for bourdain being filmed
With his  sudden and very private act of self immolation real life intrudes, a not subtle reminder than on TV everything is fake. What Bourdain was protesting by his death only his shade knows. Bourdain's rejection of life pushes me to seek out travel experiences with more urgency. I am not (yet) prey to depression as many seem to be so I have no plans to off myself but I know with absolute clarity my time is limited and there is more to see and more life to be felt and endured and sometimes enjoyed. That Bourdain lost sight of that in repudiation of his successful TV character is a shame and a loss and annoying but I am still alive and able to dream and plan and hope. I'm sorry he lost his mojo and now I shall try not to let his death  destroy my belief in the cultivated image he created. I like that TV version of Anthony Bourdain, the one who overcame addiction who loved life and ate crap I would never touch. I have that Bourdain alive and well and cheerful tucked away in my streaming service. The one who gave up and died is for someone else to mourn. I want and shall treasure the one I saw alive on TV. The one who taught me a better way to see when I travel.
Image result for bourdain being filmed

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Out Of Town

Rusty and I will be away for a week Up North, walking and seeing friends.
The blog will meander a bit  before  it resumes  in proper daily format next weekend after my break.
Tomorrow: my view of Anthony Bourdain.