Saturday, February 23, 2019

Oasis

What's  in a name? Quite a lot it turns out, as this place had an Arabic name I think, and it meant something like "full table" but I couldn't keep it in my mind when that was actually the restaurant's name and I certainly can't now. So I think it was a really smart move to rename the place Oasis which has lots of excellent connotations and is easy to remember.
My wife and I were lunching with a friend as my wife works in Key West on Fridays and with her limited break time we took a  table near her Key West office. It turned the meal into a nail biter did her short forty minutes of time at the table. Service was, to put it politely languid, and in a  country where extended lunches are not common and among working people are not possible the idea of having just one person on duty in the front of the house was a weak decision.
Our lunch friend is retired, my wife's former boss actually, the woman who got my wife into the school district in a teaching position and she loves Oasis. Besides that she has all the time in the world to peruse what could be an exotic menu. I reproduce one page here but they have classic sandwiches and pizzas as well as Middle Eastern and Central Asian food. Many years ago I crossed the Soviet Union on a train and he restaurant car on that week long journey proffered expansive menus in Russian. Pretty soon it became clear only the items with a price marked in pencil were available. I ate roast chicken, mashed potatoes and boiled red cabbage every day.  In the same manner we discovered several alluring items on the Uzbek menu were "off" as they lacked  a particular breaded ingredient whose name I missed.
We made do with what was available and we did not suffer. The stuffed pastries I grew up calling Samosas, nowadays are known as somsas and they were delicious. My wife and I had lamb and our friend had spinach, all with a piquant taziki sauce, sour cream and dill. 
We also shared a plate of roasted eggplant rolls stuffed with shredded mozzarella as well as tomato garlic and more dill. 
The food really was delicious  and deserved all the praise heaped upon Oasis on social media but it would have been less fraught had the service been a good bit speedier. I doubt the languid retirees in snowbird world suffered from clock watching during their meals and I suggest you adopt a broad window of time when you decide to eat here.
I am not generally in favor of eating outdoors but the patio here looked pleasant to me but we ate inside which was fine too. Worth a visit with time to spare!


Friday, February 22, 2019

Art In The Mangroves

  We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies. If he only shows in his work that he has searched, and re-searched, for the way to put over lies, he would never accomplish anything.
Pablo Picasso
I was alerted to the quotation above by Myamuh Native a long time reader. I knew when I read the comment that line was going to stick and indeed I did some research, as well as some thinking. The point of the comment was that without the words the pictures don't tell the story and I have to say I agree. Photography is ubiquitous thanks to digital technology which has simplified the process while also making it practically free of cost and idiot proof at the same time. Furthermore the Internet makes diffusion of images so widespread in a  way that was unimaginable in my youth. 
I was reading a  review of a camera used by a friend of mine, Steve in Pennsylvania, a higher quality but not quite professional quality, they say, digital camera of several years vintage, . The reviewer expressed a certain bitterness about the phone snapshot culture as he tested the relatively simple Fuji X-pro 1, a camera too professional for a hack like me to bother with. But this photographer Paul Mauer is struggling with the times:
It's true, I get it – getting the shot is the ultimate goal. But as a photographer, I've spent years rewiring my brain to obsess over image quality and artistic control of my exposure. The idea of an iPhone snap leaves me totally uninspired. If I'm not using my high end gear to produce a magazine-ready image, I'm not interested. 
Consequently, my Canon 5D MkII has been collecting dust over the past three years. I live in New York City, where there's lots to photograph. But lugging around 10 pounds of metal and glass for the off-chance of a good candid opportunity? My desire to shoot faded every time I was confronted with the prospect of carrying my DSLR around with me, and I'd be damned before I took a serious photo with my iPhone.  
And the times really are changing everything in the world of self expression and Art and technology. I can only imagine the frustration of a photographer used to selling images taken with care and superior skill finding a  good enough culture of snap shots flooding the world. We used to buy and study magazines dedicated to photojournalism nowadays we have Instagram. And yet as amateurs flood the digital world we are reminded more than ever that we need filters in the stories we are told of the world around us. This weird phenomenon of shouting Fake News everytime we see something annoying is  taking our culture to the edge of a very dangerous precipice. 
Less dramatically in the world of Art we have to ask ourselves what is worthy. I look at the picture below and for me it tells a story.  In terms of composition it's okay, not brilliant, but in terms of asking too much of the camera it is right there. The telephoto works but the sharpness of the image fades. Sometimes I like it because the camera produces an image that looks like a painting...but it's not great photography. 
Normally I would discard or even delete a picture like that but to bolster my wandering thoughts on the subject of art I was glad I stored it in the cloud and could pull into this page. Compare above at the limit of the camera throw and below well inside the comfort zone of my not very expensive very useful all round Panasonic FZ300:
Which brings me to the question of Art and story telling. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth is one of those ideas that has been around ever since  a storyteller inspired the audience to slap their brow and say that happened to me! We still get the revelation when we read a book, those of us open enough to enjoy fiction! - and see the story unfold in a way that reminds us of ourselves. It's the willing suspension of disbelief that is so striking about fiction. How is it we allow our emotions to override the knowledge that the story is fake? Some smart person made it up, made it credible and we readers lap it up because we know it could be true. 
I find myself in an odd position, suspended from a  thread called Key West that people want to read about and more importantly to see pictures of, a place and a time that calls to them. I have deliberately avoided two areas on this page and one is obvious: no journalism simply because I am no longer one. I saw the writing on the wall a long time ago  though what got me off the radio  was the descent of pre-Internet news into trivia and gossip which did not interest me. Nowadays journalism falls prey to Craigslist and Facebook and loses income once again thanks to free Internet. Free that is, if you overlook advertising which used to go to the journalist's organizations, in print most especially. 
The other area I avoid is the prurient. Unless I first read it somewhere else I don't write about the local scandals and gossip and even then for me it is mostly in passing. This is a small town and hides in Key West are rather delicate you will find, grudges are held close to the chest and deployed for revenge only when needed. The life i like is I think reflected quite accurately in my pictures, my snapshots taken while trailing my active dog usually. I like the weather, the water, the architecture, the open mangrove vistas, the colors, the food and the parts of my life not recorded here so much. 
Is it art? I have no idea. I enjoy testing the limits of my camera, branching out a bit more as time goes by, but in my head it still feels like snapshots to remind me of this day or that place in my diary. A lunch with friends afterward, a nap with Rusty, dinner at home with the wife, a quiet night at work or a horrendous night at work with endless 911 calls... The serenity I find here balances the rest and if it is Art so much the better. If it helps you find a truth that would surprise me but good. I walk rolling like a drunken sailor with a cane but with the constant improvement I hope to be back to normal soon. And I shall improve by virtue of the walking, the dog, the photography which are all part of my recovery. 
 If he only shows in his work that he has searched, and re-searched, for the way to put over lies, he would never accomplish anything.
For Art to be Art it has to be seamless,  not questioning itself, or explaining itself or postulating alternatives to it's own truth. It is; therefore it is Art. Standing there panting in the middle of the road as Rusty trotted off without me, tired of my slow pace, I looked down and saw Art. Centerline paint worn and lumpy like bad custard slopped in the roadway, chipped like porcelain. I photographed it almost as a reflex, seeing what I saw but not sure why it appealed. I looked back at the picture and I found it telling me stories, the effort to pave and paint this lonely half unused road, the mark of human civilization in the wilderness, the permanence of impermanence and the art found in banality, and all sorts of wild and lofty thoughts. I had no idea how to use the image that struck me that way but I just liked to look at it.  
So there we have it. Enough navel gazing for a while and on with the picture taking, the snapshots, the learning to walk again, coping with unusual heat this February, wondering how we will cope next year when access to the city is reduced to one lane each way as bridge works at the Triangle occupy everyone's mind a year or more before they begin. And that's not surprising because traffic this winter has built to an unsustainable crescendo of jams and back ups and slow lines of vehicles winding through the Keys.
The whole question of Art and other esoterics disappears in a cloud of invective and pondering the reality of life in a snowbird economy. But as long as I can escape like this what do I care? Leave home early, don't get bogged down at work and remember that Rusty's happiness is what counts. I exaggerate but this is Art so the truth lies somewhere in the middle. 

The Dinghy Life

They live out there, at anchor, some on vacation, some retired and many making their homes afloat so they can afford to live and work in Key West. 
The difficulty with living at anchor is finding somewhere to land, especially if you are living in one area long term. If you plan on living on your boat away from land you need a base to leave your dinghy and preferably drop your trash and picture up fresh water. Several marinas around Key West and Stock Island offer these services to anchor outs, as they are known. 
 Watching the entrance to Key West Bight (The HIstoric Seaport in tourist talk) morning traffic consists of fishing boats leaving and residents arriving.
 There is of course a peanut gallery to observe and critique boat handling in the crowded harbor.
 Pirates are part of the scene too of course:
Rusty is not a fan of being on the water though he has adapted to walking the docks with me. He is a keen observer:
 Full service marina:
Typically marine fuel has no ethanol and costs a lot more than regular fuel. But energy is energy and everyone needs it. 
 The parade continues...


 Everyone fancies themselves a pirate. 
 Rusty was not ready to remove shoes he wasn't wearing to go on board a boat. Obviously.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Key West Fish And Chips

Businesses come and go in Key West. I was walking Rusty down here early one day and saw the sign advising all he world there are fish and chips to be had here. Last time I came by it was a pizza truck...I think...
 It is a food truck parked where they are always parked here, whatever food they may be selling. I was encouraged to see the owner of the original food truck back on the spot and serving customers.
In March 2014 I came across a South African Food Truck operated here by a  South African business woman by the name of Helena. She and her husband were food truck pioneers and like all pioneers they were less than warmly received by a community that clings to its traditions and brick and mortar restaurants. 
They struggled with the bureaucracy but Yebo as it was called had to close. My favorite lunch, the strangely named Bunny Chow left the island.
 But the redoubtable entrepreneur is back offering what no one else does, as well as foodstuffs that others do sell:
 I took a few pictures while I waited for my fish to fry.

 And then I loaded it in my cart and took the two lunches to go back to my wife's office.
 Light fresh and piled high with real fries. We both agreed we'll be back.
I've wanted fish and chips for a while and I'm glad I found them.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Roadside

On my most recent trip to Miami for another doctor's visit my wife, who is protective of me in these strange times insisted I not drive. Normally on our road trips I am always the driver while she navigates and organizes lunch stops and hotel rooms and all those other critical details. For me to cross the Seven Mile bridge in the passenger seat...well, that's a rare thing indeed.
 My nap ended somewhere near Islamorada and when I struggled back to complete consciousness I looked around for something to do.  With accommodations and an evening out with friends already planned all I could think was to test some manual settings on the camera. Lobster traps! Done:
Then I thought to myself: here's a challenge. Let's see if I have the speed and the wit to capture faces as we buzz along between 45 and 55 mph. Let me tell you, if the quality of the pictures doesn't speak for themselves, it's not easy. 
The Upper Keys are a world apart from the Lower keys. This part of the world has no central focus, there is no Mallory Square, the homes are scattered alongside the highway and the land may be only a few hundred yards wide. Around here you are within an hour's drive of the great metropolis and laborers can be hired and bused here from Homestead easily enough. There is much less of that sense of isolation that you get in Key West.
It's more manicured here, neater, with vast vegetation allowing only occasional ocean glimpses. For all that there is very little dirt here in some ways it feels more removed from the ocean to the casual passer-by.
 Driving through here and trying to actually look at the passing scenery put me in mind of the TV show called Bloodline which was I thought an excellent representation of life in the Keys. It also managed to show me a bit of life in the Upper Keys, life constricted to either side of the road. From an outsider's perspective you could see it as claustrophobic and when I think about that I make myself life. I live on an island two miles by three miles bisected by the same highway.  
No helmet no gloves and sandals on his feet with an innocent passenger. I see this differently now, I wince instead of remaining indifferent. I wonder how little they value their lives?
Most of these communities are a blur to me, I drive by on my way somewhere else, but the the problem is, were I to stop I wouldn't know where to go. 
There are places you can catch a decent view but the Upper Keys to me represent the flow of people and traffic.


And pretty soon I was in Miami, as usual.