Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Clinton Square (or Place)

Clinton Square (or Place), almost on the waterfront in Key West, at 3:30 in the morning:

This little triangle, called Clinton Place in J Burke Wills' book Streets of Key West, is one of the first things a visitor will see once they step off a cruise ship docked at the Westin Pier B. Some of it is quite attractive, like the Mel Fisher museum parked behind my Bonneville:And the Clinton Square Market which is Key West's answer to modern indoor shopping malls:Wedged between those two great piles is the third brick building on the Square (or Place, though I've never heard it spoken of as such), which is the red Customs House, now a museum:Currently displaying a series of Seward Johnson's life sized trompe l'oeil (in a three dimensional sense) statuary, one of whom is seen here permanently photographing the actual bronze statue of Ernest Hemingway:On the other side of Clinton Square (or Place) are the t-shirt shops, without which no waterfront resort would feel complete. At least this lot wasn't showing off the usual penis jokes and hilarious fart one liners that plague Duval Street, though you'd think someone could pull out a paintbrush and perhaps some nails and spruce things up a bit. This is not enticing, plywood over the upstairs window speaks of dissolution and decay:Ah yes the "bar hopping Key West" t-shirt, without a doubt the ultimate fashion accessory. Personally I'd be just as happy to see the visitors reading the Historical Marker stuck in the apex of the triangular pocket park in the middle of the Square (or Place). The marker discusses the nearby home of Stephen Mallory whose claim to fame (outside Mallory Square) is that he was Secretary of the Confederate Navy,when there was such a thing. The monument itself, in the middle (as middle as it can be) of the triangle was erected to honor the military who died in service to their country, the US, not the Confederacy which never governed Key West thanks to the intervention of the garrison that prevented secession from taking root: If the park, such as it is, wasn't closed, it would be bulging with sleeping human forms. Perhaps my nose has lost it's sensitivity but the little park doesn't smell the least bit like a toilet as it did of old. The Square (or Place) is named in honor of a New York Mayor, a charmer called DeWitt Clinton, who according to Wills helped build the Erie Canal making New York connect to the interior of the country. Which helped it prosper apparently, though what that has to do with Key West I couldn't say. Then of course there is all the hubbub about pirates who aren't it seems to me historically affiliated with Key West at all. Pirates are a way to make money in the modern era of commercial trinket selling, but before the arrival of city builders in Key West there wasn't much here to entice pirates- no drinking water and no trees to repair wooden hulls and spars . Thus after the city got going so did the US Navy making the harbor a base for pirate hunting in the Straits of Florida.I can't imagine a booming trade in t-shirts depicting the strait laced Commodore Porter, so from a t-shirt shop's perspective, and from that of the bars and the Tourism council, far better be it to stress snazzily clad pirates and "wenches." Oh well, trade still goes on strong in Key West and prices sometimes seem to reflect the would-be piratical past. Booty brought by truck these days:

I have always found the excuse that prices are high because products have to be trucked down the Overseas highway to be rather lame in an age when food is shipped all over the world, just as are raw materials and finished trinkets. A 150 mile drive down a bunch of bridges seems a poor excuse for price gouging. Nevertheless I seem to have strayed rather far from the confines of Clinton Square (or Place) so it must be time to return to work. The lunch break is ended.