Thursday, September 23, 2021

Miami And Packing

I went to Miami yesterday, and yes it was another drive to the storage locker. I took a few photo albums, some books and our supplies of hurricane dried foods, the disaster foods that you keep when you live in a disaster prone area. Our idea is to have them available should we have to do some van hunkering at some distant point. I'm counting on Covid burning out it's welcome by next year. I suppose there might be another lockdown about something else at some later date. Color me cynical but having long life food on the shelf just seems sensible these days.
After the storage locker my wife sent me to Trader Joe's to drop off some overbought food. She was organized until our planned departure next April but when we moved the date up we found ourselves over stocked so she said get some money back, there's no room for all of it in the van. Boy I got told off as the manager said normally they don't take back stuff that was "overbought" but I guess he took pity on my helplessness and this once I got $54 back on my credit card. Jolly good.
Going to Trader Joe's is a a bit of a pain most of the year as they don't have much parking in Miami but a weekday in September is a good time to go as the annoying snowbirds are still Up North, probably enjoying green woodlands in places like Michigan in 70 moderate degrees. Bastards.  I don't envy them one bit even when I'm dripping sweat for the mere crime of breathing in Miami  this time of year.

Next stop wa picking up my glasses in The Falls shopping mall.

I like the tropical walkways but I am not a fan of shopping malls in general. I left home at 5:30 in the morning, abandoning my disconsolate boy watching me mournfully from the car port,  and I got here just after they opened at ten so I was doing well for time.

I walked the length of The Falls as my wife wasn't there to point out the best parking spots but I enjoyed the stroll, even past the empty children play area. I don't think the poster was meant ironically but it looked kind of funny to me stuck outside the playground- precisely the place to get just such a bump.

A proper tropical mall:



I was really dim the first time I came to drop off my glasses as I forgot to drop off my spare frame...so I got that done this time! I guess I'll be back in another week to pick them up! Nothing like creating work for myself...

The long walk back to the car...

Followed by the long drove home, following lines of slow moving cars, dodging thunder storms and ready for lunch by the time I pulled off onto Spanish Main and a small brown dog waiting in the car port for me.
Up next: getting ready for the yard sale this weekend. Oh boy I am such crap as a salesman I'd prefer to be flogged with barbed wire than to sell stuff. Maybe I do miss sitting at the 911 phone waiting for calls...

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Rio Dulce, Guatemala 1999/2000

I don't know if you remember where you were New Year's Eve the night we switched centuries but Layne and myself along with our two dogs were anchored up the Rio Dulce in Guatemala in the company of some sailors of terrible influence. I am sorry to say we all got drunk out of our gourds that night, though the blame was only partly ours. At least we were without doubt securely anchored in the Guatemalan river mud.

We had sailed under perfect following winds from the Bay Islands of Honduras into the dead end that is Guatemala's very small piece of Caribbean Coast. We anchored behind a spit of land, Punta Manabique, that protected us from the east winds and we spent the night a few miles from the port of entry across Amatique Bay so we could organize the boat and walk the dogs and arrive in Livingston in the middle of the morning with two well rested animals who would be in no hurry to go ashore. We already knew the check-in procedure in Guatemala was very by the book and it was no surprise when a launch put out from the town dock bearing Immigration and Customs officials with their paperwork. Most boats entering the Rio Dulce ("Sweet River") have to wait for high tide as the sandbar is extremely shallow but with our 18 inch draft we motored merrily across four and three foot water without. care in the world. The officials monitored our progress from their aerie above the docks and were quite surprised apparently when we didn't get stuck.

We landed in Livingston on the afternoon of December 31st 1999, not by good planning or anything but merely by chance. The rest of the world was on holiday like us and the town was buzzing. Livingston is one weird place geographically speaking. The city is named for a US lawyer Edward Livingston who wrote a constitution for Guatemala after one of their periodic revolutions when the country tried to institute democratic reforms as we under stand them. However in 1838 a counter counter revolution brought the church back into power and all good plans went to shit as they usually do. The city remained stuck by itself at the mouth of the river accessible only by water. A modern cargo port, Puerto Barrios was built across the bay as a railroad terminus in 1895. Nowadays a hundred thousand people live in Puerto Barrios located at the end of Highway 9, while 17,000 live isolated in Livingston with no road out.

21 years ago Livingston was a hippy town for foreigners and the locals were strongly English speaking as they were part of the diaspora of escaped slaves and forgotten English speaking Garifuna, who inhabit the Caribbean coast of Central America. Apparently the Internet has of course put Livingston on the map since then so my observations may be a bit outdated (!) but we won't be driving there in any event so bear with me. I have always been fascinated by isolated outposts of human culture and Livingston was as much an island as anywhere on the water. I could find out very little about it in those days and I was curious to see what we might find.

There is a short stretch of road along the coast and the streets are paved so of course there are pick up trucks and motorcycles but the town mostly looks toward the water for it's living. Guatemala has at last stopped treating Belize (British Honduras formerly) as a break away province but even in those days when official maps marked no border with their neighbors, there were water taxis to and from Belize and Livingston, not to mention across the bay to Puerto Barrios. As a cultural island Livingston stood out from the rest of the Spanish speaking country.

We ate some fried street food that disagreed with us, the only upset stomach we had the entire two years on the journey, and with thick hangovers we took off up the river, an imposing heart of darkness with huge wooded cliffs rising up either side of the gorge. I really enjoyed this exploration as the river was slow and smooth, deep and free of obstacles with scenery we had never seen before.

We ended up anchoring a few miles inland where we met a man and his family working as a caretaker of a section of riverfront for some wealthy Guatemalan. The New Year's holiday had put every motorboat in the country on the river and our slow moving sailboat was not at home amongst the roiling wakes and uncertain pilots. our sailing partners on this leg included a young Venezuelan woman seen here drinking from a coconut and she got us invited on a trip to a bat cave. 

Antonio's family lived a rather medieval existence on the water hemmed in by jungle covered cliffs which may appear idyllic but lest you forget it is not always huge fun being isolated from modern conveniences. We had tiny batteries and minimal electrical features on our boat, lights and fans basically with a tiny TV and DVD player and a couple of solar panels to keep us charged. They had next to nothing.

We were always ready total the dogs for a walk and they of course adapted to the weirdness of a boardwalk through the woods:

The drive to the town of Fronteras continued past homesteads on the banks that gave our journey the feeling of being more time travel than a journey through physical space.

Then of course the Guatemalan Navy put in a New Year's Day appearance, barely caught by my camera that was still letting in light unbeknownst to me. I really do enjoy digital photography despite what the nostalgia photographers will tell you.

You can measure poverty by propulsion because anywhere there is fishing you will find outboards, mostly Yamahas to power the means to earn a living. On the Rio Dulce in the year 2000 it was all paddle power.

The bridge over the river at Fronteras was a very modern piece of engineering so we had some notion we had arrived somewhere. Then we saw marinas and sailboats with Canadian and American flags. Fronteras it turns out is one of those places where many sailors go but not all of them can figure their way out. The Guatemalans used their initiative and created a place with services, a bus line and a place to calla. refuge in hurricane season.

We saw a place to rent a car to explore the interior, which my wife had visited as a callow youth and was anxious to see once again. Meanwhile we took a trip up the river to the Lake which was essentially the end of the road.

Fronteras was your average modern agglomeration of stores, restaurants and people crowded along the highway. Oh and good old fashioned shoe shine boys. Boys who should have been in school but were earning pennies for their families instead. Not a particularly bright future for them, then.

I made my mark when, over lunch I posed the question to my wife, why did the roast chicken taste so much better here than in the US, whither we were bound at last and in a few weeks. She looked at me like I was an idiot and pointed out patiently they baste their meat in lard that imparts flavor and calories and would never be acceptable in the calorie conscious world we normally inhabited.

The thing about exploring by boat is that you have to walk everywhere, any time you ever want to seek out something, be it a part for the boat or a museum for the mind.  We walked like you wouldn't believe in those years, and I will tell you honestly our plans to travel by van will be immeasurably easier because we will be able to drive our 21 foot box almost everywhere.  We might walk a mile to see a movie, e might carry bags of groceries across town to get them back to the beach where our dinghy waited for us. We had to walk the dogs and they loved the less attractive parts of town.

We swam too and cool fresh water in abundance was a treat.

Lake Izbal is a large body of fresh water that feeds the Rio Dulce (the sweet water river) and the Spanish, in order to protect their conquests from English pirates built Fort San Felipe at the mouth of the lake. I wanted to at least see this infamous lake and sail Miki G around a bit. We did that and scuttled back to boring Fronteras after a quick scout on the lake.

Lake Izbal is a big oval surrounded by reedy shores and farms and not much else. We had heard reports of modern piracy on the distant shores with fishing boats coming alongside isolated anchored sailboats and their crews helping themselves to the contents. I have no idea how true the stories were but there was nothing attracting me to go deeper, or to spend the night there so we turned around and went back to a marina slip with easy dog access to the land, always a plus.

Next up we drive across Guatemala to the most beautiful lake in the world according to Aldous Huxley and we stayed in places so cold we fought over which dog to sleep with to keep us warm. The Guatemalan highlands were quite different and quite chilly in January.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Grinnell And James

An early morning walk these days doesn't necessarily mean five am in the dark. For some reason Rusty has instantly adapted to me not getting up to an alarm at 4:25 on those days when I used to work.

Thus I got to see the former Finnegan's Wake at 320 Grinnell looking sad and seeking a new owner. The old Irish pub was the only bar I really enjoyed in Key West. I still miss it.

I saw the alarm sign on the fence and I smiled. No more alarm calls for me. I must have taken a thousand false alarm calls in my career at 911 and I can't, off hand, recall any real intrusions or fires reported by alarm companies. Fear is a superb motivator.

Masks required doesn't seem to be so controversial in most of the Lower Keys these days. Florida's numbers are ghastly enough if you are paying attention. 

One peculiar thing I have noticed is how few cases of colds and 'flu we've had since this mask thing fell upon us. Hmm, makes you wonder if masks really do work?

Early morning sunlight rising up the buildings. It's not too terrible getting up after dawn.

I saw this piece of public art on the edge of Keys Energy's parking lot and immediately thought of a school of grunts swimming. Turns out I wasn't completely wrong.

The author of this rather striking piece of art allows for several interpretations of the work.

The railway condos, an example of how you could get more affordable housing in Key West never again replicated in this overpriced city. Covered parking, balconies and close to the action downtown. Not too shabby. We thought about putting in to buy one of these but I'm not sure even had we qualified we would have been ideal candidates for apartment living.



West Marine's symbolic block similar to those used once upon a time for real, to lift cargoes to upper floor warehouses. I've seen the real thing in Amsterdam when boats would bring loads alongside on the canals.

I haven't caught this mural on Caroline Street for a while.

I saw Richard crossing the street in front of me so I followed him round the corner to see if he felt like petting Rusty.

He did. We chatted a while. He told me he came to key West 48 years ago for the boating and the fishing and he never left. Doesn't want to live anywhere else and likes living on the street watching the circus every day.  He agreed to let me take a formal portrait and of course cracked me up.

If I don't see you again good luck, he said, as we parted, possibly for the last time. I'll look him up next year if we make it back for a visit as planned.


Sunday, September 19, 2021

Ferron Bell

Another from the archives from that wonderful Custom House on Front Street which I miss.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Ferron Bell

I have this unfortunate tendency to make connections and find things funny that most people don't. I have actually been berated for my public  sense of humor by those unhappy beings who don't share my sense of fun which sometimes comes across as too strong for those of a weak humorous disposition. I have never been moved to make artworks out of my puns but I take my hat off to a man whose work is currently exhibited at the Custom House on Front Street but ends on Sunday the 10th so I only just caught it. Lucky me. 
They call it Whimsy which when you look at the art is a good description. I knew I was going to enjoy the show and I did, very much. 
I had difficulty deciding what to photograph there were so many objects on display. 
The large picture below is titled "Hurricane Palms" but all I could hope to do is give you a small taste of the brilliance on display.
 Much is made of the fact that Bell did not make large sums of money from his art. He kept his prices accessible and apparently lived on the edge of financial ruin all his life.
Which is odd because his work is beautifully crafted and has a surreal Dali like quality. Like Dali the artists demonstrates superb technical competence.
 The pictures mostly are light, perfectly executed, in gorgeous arrays of color and I find it hard to imagine they would have been hard to sell had Bell had a mind to sell them for their full worth.
 He enjoyed playing with the royal palm concept too, below accompanied by a piece titled "Pigeon Key."
 Royal Palm:
Board Meeting:
The vertical piece on the left is titled 24 carrot.
From the Art and History Museum's website is wanted to paste these words as they will disappear soon enough as will the exhibit.

“Ferron’s work is unlike any other artist in Key West,” says Society Curator Cori Convertito, Ph.D.  “It is not idyllic.  It is not intended to evoke daydreams in tourists’ minds of swaying palm trees on a pristine beach.  Ferron was eccentric, and so was his artwork.”
That said, Bell had a self-professed love of palm trees and made them the subject of his final Key West exhibit – “Palm Sunday Show” – held on April Fools’ Day, 2012, a year before his death.  The three-hour pop-up held at Smokin’ Tuna Saloon was a benefit for The Sister Season Fund and the Gay/Straight Alliance at Key West High School, and (by his account) the largest collection of his work ever gathered for one show.
“There are many palms in the world and we have a great selection here in Key West,” Ferron wrote on his Facebook page when promoting his show. “We have Lipstick, Feather Duster, Gingerbread, Christmas, Old Man, Royal, Bottle Palms, and others… and each of them is unique and beautiful.”
True to his wit, paintings included a palm tree with its top shaped like a hand (“Palm Tree Dee”) and feather dusters flanking a lighthouse in lieu of feather duster palm trees (“Lighthouse Keeping”), among many other pun-inspired paintings.
“Ferron loved puns. His artwork typically involved a pun or a play on words,” says Convertito. “He took the lovely scenery around him and incorporated elements of nature (particularly birds) in a pun.  For example, he created various examples of a work he called ‘The Crow Bar’ which was, essentially, a murder of crows standing alongside a bar with cocktails in hand.” 
Bell’s passion and creativity were embraced by both of the island communities where he lived and worked.  In Key West, he was commissioned to paint entire rooms with tropical motifs and sold many of his pieces to friends who supported his quirky vision and nature.

 Ferron Bell lived on Fire Island for thirty five years, spending only winters in Key West:
 (Unfinished)  Crow Bar - my kind of pun so I put my shadow in the picture!
 Truman Annex.
 Eggcellent Day In The Keys:
Key West Art & Historical Society celebrates the legacy of one of the island’s most clever visual artists with “Art & Puns: The Whimsy of Ferron Bell”and a special opening reception from 6:00pm-7:00pm on Friday, December 7 in the Bumpus Gallery of the Custom House Museum located at 281 Front Street.  The exhibit runs through February 10, 2019.  The exhibit spotlights the quirky late artist’s trademark visual wit and whimsy, featuring work from private Key West collectors, personal photographs, and newspaper clippings about the unique personality widely known for his off-the-wall and humorous creations.
A self-taught artist, Thomas Ferron Bell began his career at the age of 16 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, moved to Fire Island Pines, New York when he was 21, later splitting his time and talents between there and Key West, Florida. Bell worked full time as an artist, cultivating his audience and frequently bartering and donating his work to fundraisers in the Key West community.