Monday, June 29, 2009

Tropic Cinema

To me the Tropic Cinema is one of the defining characteristics that make Key West civilized. I am a fan of Voltaire Books a few blocks up the street, and I don't mind at all that Key West has it's own symphony orchestra, but the Tropic makes this a civilized town in which to live.
The communal experience of being in a large room, in the dark watching a greater-than-life-sized story unfold is in danger of extinction. I understand the seductive value of DVDs and movies seen in the comfort of home, but to be swept up into the plot one needs the sense of immersion that only a large screen can offer...The Tropic Cinema is on the four hundred block of Eaton Street, between Whitehead and Duval, more or less equidistant from St Paul's Cathedral and the main Post Office, symbolic perhaps of the Art house theater's role part way between commercial enterprise and spiritual retreat.The theater is a not-for-profit organization founded at the end of the last century to bring classic movies to Key West. It started out using borrowed space in art galleries and the splendid San Carlos theater whose Cuban managers seemed to be rather bemused sometimes by the films they showed in their baroque building. I loved going to the movies at the San Carlos, they breathed life into the former Cuban consulate on Duval Street, at least for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday night shows of the nascent Key West Film Society. The society got a 35-year lease on the Eaton street property and started building a modern three screen theater for $1.2 million dollars in 2003. Jean Carper an anti-aging nutrition author has apparently made a fortune peddling her diet advice and put up $200,000 of the cash and got to name the main screening room in honor of her late mother:Natella Carper had a penchant for the flickers apparently and now she has her name in red neon like a marquee. But the Tropic is growing despite the parlous financial times we live in and there are plans to open a fourth, 48 seat screening room as an addition to the current theater:The Tropic is a membership organization and members get discount rates ($6 versus $9 to see a movie) and various invitations to special events. My wife and I have been members since early on but we decided a while back to upgrade our membership to $600 a year which gives us both free access to the movies year round. I guess the idea that we might watch a movie a week for an entire year seems a lot and it probably is, but the real idea is to support the society.We've always viewed the Tropic not only as a source of decent quality films but as a downtown refuge, a place to hangout in, and that got difficult over the past year when the Board hired staff members who viewed the Tropic as purely a business. We dropped out. New management, a more focused Board and we are back and happy to be in the theater again. Lori a dear friend has been promoted to manager and she has restored the theater to a convivial place to gather:The theater boasts lots of movie memorabilia in the lobby, which these days is a bit truncated by the new screening room construction:The society offers the usual lines of clothing......DVDsThey also show DVDs in the lobby to keep up the ambiance:And the place is ankle deep in posters and the like:They have left up one sign from the Commissars of the Ancien Regime, but it's not as draconian as it might first appear. The Regal in Searstown used to have a policy of not allowing bags, to avoid bombs going off in the theater, they said, but the tropic is a different kind of theater:I like to spend money at the concession stand, for two reasons. One is I am supporting my preferred cultural outlet and the other is that they have an astonishing variety of food, with candies priced at a buck and a medium soda for just three dollars, so it's no great hardship to spend a little money here.
Zabar's Coffee is, I am reliably informed, a well know coffee in New York, and i like it well enough. Some times one needs something a little stronger at the movies:New Yorkers have their coffee at the Tropic, Mid-Westerners get their beef:The rest of us get dollar Snickers and Key Lime Pie on a stick for a few dollars more:Not forgetting popcorn for all:And now dogs are allowed back into the Tropic. The problem of dog ownership and going to the movies can get onerous in South Florida. It's hard to find a cool spot to park the car, cool enough to leave a dog inside in the summer if you live out of town. Plus it tends to rain without warning and leaving the windows open in summer guarantees a soaked interior. Much better to be able to bring the dog with you to the movies:From the early days of the film society with Michael Shields, the future has always been one of making enough money to keep going and building on what he started the Tropic seems to be doing well. There are dozens of creative ways to raise money and named plaques are everywhere in the theater. I'd have happily paid $250 to get my name here had I thought of it and had my wife not thought me mad to want to stick my name above a urinal:there are theater seats still available for plaques I believe. Management is also getting to show more mainstream films, movies that draw in patrons not devoted to movies with subtitles. The new Star Trek movie showed at the Tropic and the Tom Hanks/Ron Howard religious thriller Angels and Demons is also getting an airing at the Tropic. Unlike the Regal this is an adult theater where using cell phones and talking in the movies really is frowned on. All that and a glass of wine too.A great place to hang out. I'm glad the Tropic is back and going from strength to strength. Their website is in my Web Links list.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Riding Gear

The bets way I have found to get over a set back is to spend some money. No sooner did I get my Bonneville back to the house than I was figuring out to to get the damage repaired as soon as possible after my 45 mile-per-hour fall. I took a few thumps myself but my Tourmaster Intake mesh jacket ($160) did it's job nicely and paid the price:
I got a few grazes on my elbow through the jacket and on my fingers, through the leather gloves I was also wearing, but my back was saved by the armor in the jacket which showed a few scuff marks there:My boots saved my feet though i got a nice bruise and an ache on one ankle, though no broken skin there happily. It was my legs that took the worst blows and I have a few scabs and gouges on my knees, which had I been wearing these pants would probably have been avoided:Tourmaster's Flex pants ($170) had been on my mind for a while but the Fort Lauderdale shop didn't have them in stock so I hit the ground without them...Tough I guess but there it is. I am quite fond of Tourmaster products, reasonably priced and apparently effective. These are the first dedicated motorcycle pants I have ever owned (in 39 years of riding!) and though they are hardly fashionable they look like they will do a nice job. For the climate prevalent in the Keys they are mesh with armor but have leg covers that simply zip on for added wind protection:Just like the Intake jacket......the Flex pants come with a set of padded liners that keep you warm, warmer than I will likely ever need if I only ride in South Florida in winter:But they also come with what is for me, much more useful: waterproof liners:And both layers can be added together or separately inside the mesh pants and jacket. But, not content, I have added an extra layer to the pants, and this one came out of an aerosol can:As an experiment I added a whole bunch of silicon spray to the outer pant legs, the ones that come unzipped from the mesh base.My thinking is that if I get caught in some rain waterproofing the outer shell will help keep me dry enough to get home on my commute, but if I face heavy rain I can retrieve the waterproof liners from my saddlebags to keep me dry. To that end i also carry expensive Aerostich boot and gloves covers, at $50 each they keep my extremities warm and dry, and because I've had them a while they got some silicon spray too:Add to this my spare summer riding gloves to replace my torn ones, a new face shield for my flip up full face helmet (I was wearing my half face at the time of the accident though my head never touched anything) and then an added coat of silicon spray for my Triumph boots and I am ready to ride, should I ever get the Triumph back! It's a lot of stuff to be dealing with which is why from time to time I just jump on the bike and ride. For people who make the motorcycle a weekend activity, an occasional thing, it must be hard to understand how someone like me just gets on and goes to the store, or visits a friend as casually as though I were driving the car. That is the profound pleasure of the motorcycle as my daily machine, it is atrue car substitute for me. People wouldn't drive if they felt they had to wear all this paraphenalia every single time. And that goes for motorcycles too I guess.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Fort Jefferson Moat

I saved my last series of photos from my Spring camping trip to the Dry Tortugas for use while I am away on vacation. The moat surrounding the Civil War era fort tends to provoke a certain amount of amazement in first time visitors.
Seen from the ferry the low brick structure surrounding the fort is barely visible. But seen close up it is clearly an engineering feat on it's own terms:Seen at sunset, above and the moat seen from the bridge at the entrance to the fort, below: In the picture above the moat is at it's widest, separating the walls of the fort from what the Park Service is pleased to call the "Day Use Area" and, closer to the trees, the "Overflow Camp Sites" if the main camp sites are all full. The moat was originally designed to keep attacking boats away from the walls themselves because those tricky enemies might load them up with explosives and drive them into the fort walls to blow them up. The moat would prevent that sort of dastardly attack. As seen from the top of the fort the moat wall has, on certain sides of the building, collected dunes of sand that have washed up against the outer wall. Thus the moat also keeps the motion of the ocean itself away from the fragile base of the brick fort.The same spot seen from below shows how substantial the land accumulation has become on this, the eastern side of Fort Jefferson. Further to the north the moat itself has become filled with sand creating a rather pleasant, protected beach, not that swimming is allowed here or in the moat itself, but I don't see how one could be prevented from enjoying the sandy expanse... Of course walking the moat is one of the pleasures of visiting Fort Jefferson, which at 70 miles (110kms) east of key west is the most isolated National park in the United States. All visitors should walk the moat, and those lucky enough to be camping or visiting on their own boats can take the time to circumnavigate the fort after the crowds who came by ferry have departed. They leave at 2:45pm so there is plenty of time to enjoy the moat. I met some of the local fauna on my excursion too:
I caught Lucy wandering the wall at sunset which gives some small idea of what a good spot this is to catch the end of the day, far removed from Mallory Square:
An amble around the fort can be done in 15 minutes if speed is the purpose, but this is a contemplative walk and can be used to preview the views one might get were one to snorkel the moat wall:

The moat wall has a break in it, at the northwest corner which allows sea water to roll in and out to keep the water close to the fort good and fresh. For the convenience of park patrons they have built a little footbridge to span the gap. I took the time to swim out along the moat wall on the outside but I have to say I didn't find it that interesting, certainly not as interesting as the coral heads further to the west. I guess it depends on your expectations.

The moat makes for a picturesque addition to the scene out at the fort quite aside form it's usefulness: But I think, in the final analysis, moats themselves are objects of a certain fascination in a country too new to ever have been involved in medieval European siege warfare, so the moat at Fort Jefferson, still fully functional has the merit of being unique in most visitor's experience:Taken like that it could be a crusader castle in the Levant. Not a National Park in Florida.