Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cuban 'Cane Burning

My colleague Belen relieved me at work yesterday taunting me by telling me she is scheduled to take a ten day vacation to Cuba next week. "I'm Cuban American" she gave as the reason for her jaunt to the forbidden isle under new relaxed Obama rules for travel to the godless communists' worker's paradise. I've previously taunted her that I've been to Cuba (by accident, by sailboat briefly) and she hasn't. The tables are turned. But it gives me high hopes the embargo will be lifted sooner rather than later and the Bonneville and I will take to the Cuban twisties. On a related note there are some people who notice the smell of burning in the air and last night we had a related call for service about a "smell of burning." The consensus was that it's sugar cane burning season in Cuba and the winds are strong and out of the south...

This is a photograph of sugar cane fields south of Lake Okeechobee, with a processing plant in the distance, that I took on a motorcycle ride last year in May. The cane fields are burned every year to clear out debris (and unhappily the wild animals that live in it). Then the ash filled fields are cut usually by hand with men, Jamaicans normally in South Florida, armed with machetes. It is grueling work exacerbated by the ash clogged debris from the burning. Big Sugar is a disastrous environmental industry supported rather quaintly by a multi billion dollar subsidy from the federal Government, but as nothing compared to the banksters and re-insurance mobsters these days.

As a result the skies sometimes get hazy and the wood fire smell permeates the islands and we have to rouse the fire department at all hours to go out and look for flames, because one can never take the risk of ignoring a potential fire. One day I'd like to ride the Cuban cane fields and see how they burn theirs. The smell of smoke, not of cigars this time, is a geographic reminder of how close and how far we are from Cuba.

Baker's Lane

I was standing there enjoying a moment of peace and quiet in the sun, taking a moment before plunging into the tree infested alley, when with a rattle and a rumble an Historic Tours of America trolley came charging down Elizabeth Street.
"And that's what we call the Wedding Cake house..." or some such thing the driver announced as they drifted past the pink and white concoction frothing up behind the trees. The rest of the spiel was lost in the strong southerly breezes that have been sweeping the islands for what seems forever. The Conch Train Tour isn't a bad thing to do if you've never done it. It's ninety minutes of talk all over the island for $22 (I think). Locals go free with a visitor, or they did in the age of abundance, so there's your money saving tip for the day. J Wills Burke in his book "Streets of Key West" tells us the home was built as a wedding present to his daughter by the man for whom the lane is named.In 1885 Benjamin P Baker, a contractor and undertaker had his men build the house and they set to with a will. The author suggests in his/her deliciously dry nom-de-plume's voice that the workers were so relieved not to be building yet another coffin they added garlands and garnishes at every opportunity:J Wills Burke also suggests Baker's Lane is an ell-shaped half-street but it did a dead end for me in a straight line. Unlike many of the other 105 lanes in Key West, Baker's is relatively wide under its bower of natural shade:And it even provides off street parking. I could barely make out the tank on this elderly decomposing Harley:I don't doubt someone can identify this old MG down to the chassis number. I've seen it parked on Elizabeth Street for some time, its splendid Triumph Bonneville green color getting a bit faded in the sun:It is a roost for local wildlife and I hope it continues to run, it sounds and looks quite magnificent in motion. Less magnificent as a perch:Incorporation of wildlife seems very much part of the scene for peaceful Baker's Lane. Including guard cats of assorted shapes and ages:And if you have a tree blocking your property line you just deal with it:They used to build quite a fair bit in limestone rock and there are plenty of examples around town. I always like to snag a picture when I'm in the neighborhood:And evocative porches abound on Baker's Lane as they should:And then there is still at least one visible example of Old Florida jalousie windows, the type that open out with a handle you push on:My home has 1980's versions of the same and very slick they are too as you can leave them open at quite a wide angle in the strongest of rains and they keep the water out. Except in summer of course when the central air cools the house a treat. These shutters do the same with intrusive sunlight:You can't stroll Baker's Lane without being asked to think, even by the boring old municipal trash cans:And there was the obligatory stained glass window bearing a message I struggled to interpret. Possibly "Celtic Christian Poofs Rock" ? It seemed a rather mixed message at best, but delightfully bold and cheerful a splash of color, irresistible to my simple minded pocket camera.Further up I saw another slightly odd message suggesting the recipient could be in two places at once:Which was extra confusing to me as I could see at least three ringers...Whoever it was has money to burn, literally, in these tough economic times. Foreclosure does not appear to have struck Baker's Lane and there was a refreshing absence of For Sale signs. Indeed it would he hard to descend to live among mere mortals after a period of residence in what is an Olympian lane:
All green and everything even if the porch light is left on at all hours:Back to the tedium and noise of Conch Trains and people and stuff on Elizabeth Street. Oh but wait! Is that a Bonneville I see parked at the curb and waiting for me...I can tear myself away from Baker's Lane on that.