Thursday, August 20, 2009

Obama's Shorts

Last night my colleague asked for my opinion in a quiet moment during the night shift.

"Do you think these shorts are too short?" she asked. She showed me a picture of the First Lady stepping off an aircraft while wearing shorts. The caption advised she was on vacation at the Grand Canyon.

I shrugged. How the hell would I know? They look fine to me. I told Paula I don't generally look at mainstream press sites because they make no sense to me. This issue included.

I find it astonishing that I live in the country where Freedom is the watchword and the best use of that freedom is to waste time on issues such as these. How utterly bizarre it is that in a country where you can say anything you want, short of advocating violence, the best the press can come up with is this? Not to mention that we the Baby Boom Generation are writhing on the floor metaphorically trying to tame the fearsome beast of our collective old age: health insurance security. And the focus is the length of a pair of shorts. Why does anyone read this crap? Why does anyone rely on newspapers or television for their news? "Newspapers are dead;" thank God say I.

With all the sources of information and debate open to us at the click of a button am I the only one surprised my fellow Americans, ignorant of their own history, indifferent to the nuances of the great issues of the moment, are wasting time and energy on the hem of a woman's shorts?

Kill your cable, kill your satellite receiver, think for yourself. And ask yourself why are they trying to distract you with this?

Bok Tower

It was night when we took a room at the Hampton Inn where a helpful clerk told us to that the top floor was where we needed to be if we wanted to see the Bok Tower. This is the view which my wife thought was splendid so I figured I'd better take a picture to record the immortal moment. It was 7:30 when I pulled the curtains aside on our $110 suite and checked on the presence of the tower. Sure enough, so we filled up on a copious free breakfast of eggs and sausage in the lobby and drove along a meandering back route to our last destination but one on the Grand Florida Tour of 2009. It seems to me that squirrels probably get lots of human attention in the parking lot at Bok Tower because this little guy ran up to us and literally held out his paws in supplication. We were stone hearted not least because we had nothing to offer and besides I like it that the Keys are squirrel free, so I don't want to encourage any member of the genus to imagine that life in the Keys is the least bit attractive for squirrels. Iguanas are pests enough for the islands. Bok Tower is set in a garden dreamed up by a dude called Edward....wait for it...Bok! Who, just like me emigrated to the US from Europe, Holland in his case, when he was a toddler around 1870. He made a name for himself publishing, of all things, The Ladies' Home Journal a job that suited him so well that he got prizes and recognition for it. He also had the great good sense to marry an extremely wealthy woman so that when he fell in love with a sandy knob of land near Lake Wales, Florida, he had the wherewithal to buy it and turn it into his dream garden. Hence the whole Bok attraction.
Edward Bok's grandmother handed down a saying that is all over this national Historic Landmark -Make you the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it- and I suppose one has to attribute the tortured syntax to the fact that she was Dutch or possibly that was the way they spake back then. Of course, a man of my skeptical mien likes to think a pocket full of cash is a good way to start if you plan to make the world beautiful. Bok certainly did that with his wife's cash so I'm guessing his grandma would have been happy. We were with our solitude.We arrived right at opening time and we had Bok Gardens to ourselves at 8:30 in the morning which was perfect. We picked a spot in the vast spacious empty parking lot, ducked the importuning of the squirrels and legged it through the delightful courtyards of the visitor center. This is something how I would like my dream house to look with capable gardeners to keep the vegetation alive for me as I stroll my shady cloisters.With the sun relatively low in the sky we started walking and the more we walked the better it got. Bok Gardens was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted who turned the sandy hillock into something quite splendid with all sorts of flowering stuff that I couldn't possibly identify:As far as I can tell Bok Tower Gardens is a private foundation but works with the Ag Extension or some other state agency to preserve and propagate endangered species. I checked their website (do I have to tell you to Google Bok Tower?) but they are rather vague on the subject. We walked among areas devoted to the maintenance of native species that are apparently running out of room in the state at large. They also offer opportunities to sit and do nothing much which makes a change from Florida at large as well:
Nature stiffed us and we sat in the little wooden hut on a bench and mediated like crazy but bugger all happened on the pond. My wife liked the moment though.Walking the gardens was a bit of a mind bender as one expected it to be a fresh cool autumnal morning under the oak trees instead it was a blisteringly hot and humid August morning in Central Florida. The silence was delightful.
And as we circled the gardens, slowly climbing the hill the tower kept popping into view between the foliage:
They call this erection the Singing Tower because it has bells behind the ornate windows and they chime in a manner designed to remind Edward Bok of his youth.
More than just the bells make it a reminder of Olde Europe, it has gargoyles too:As we sauntered along with the tower as our goal I must confess I really did expect that we would be allowed to get inside the tower and climb the stairs to the top. It seemed quite the undertaking I grant you, as it is 200 feet (65 meters) tall, but I was looking forward to the climb and the view. The tower is guarded by a moat, as all good fairy tales advise us, and in the moat there were swans doing what swans do best which is preening. The feathers lying in the grass are evidence of a pretty heavy outbreak of preening and general beautifying right before we got there.Like the resident squirrel population I'm guessing that the swans are quite used to people because these two just stared at us, happily without feeling the need to beg. I got a sudden attack of Richard Attenborough-itis when I saw this gecko doing it's best to attract my attention with it's overt display of a large orange goiter:
Calvin Coolidge dedicated the gardens and Bok is buried underneath the tower in the manner that rich people seemed to enjoy at that time. The Lick Observatory above San Jose, California has it's main telescope planted on top of the mouldering remains of it's creator as well.Shortly thereafter all hell broke lose and the Stock Market crashed, and stabilized and crashed again, rather in the manner we see today. The Tower and Gardens are riding it all out all over again. However to climb up the tower takes rather more than just showing up.
Entry to the gardens is ten dollars apiece unless like us you are members of a reciprocating organization, in our case Fairchild Gardens in Miami.However to get into Bok's old studio downstairs in the tower you have to join at the $85 annual rate and if you want to take the tiny elevator up to the bells near the top you have to join at the $1000 a year rate which gets you one visit up the tower. Very funny.I spoke to a gardener who was pottering around at the base of the tower and he said he had been up twice and onto the roof itself, which he described as the place where the usual air conditioning equipment and stuff hangs out. But he noted the views are tremendous and one can see either coast on a clear day. All of which made me salivate even more to get to the top. I wondered if he might have been susceptible to a bribe but he seemed young and wholesome and the thought of corrupting a fresh faced youth didn't seem worth it. Even from the base of the tower the views were quite refreshing. At 300 feet (100 meters) this hill would hardly rate a mention in most States in the Union, but in Florida this is the highest point in the peninsula and by the time global warming has it's way in 2100, this place will be a small island.
They have thoughtfully placed a loo under the trees and a place to sit where one can take shelter during a rain storm so I did, take a seat that is, despite the absence of rain, in the company of Presidents and Rich Men:
And there is President Coolidge looking down on the left with Edward Bok all silver haired staring straight ahead, that fateful day in February 1929 when they opened the place:
There is a little video at the visitor's center and I snapped a picture of the bells, and the concerts they play with them, viewed by hoi-polloi (not the thousand dollar sustainers) via video screen placed at the base of the tower:
And back at the visitor center a nice lady docent showed us how the carillon is operated on a mock up:None of which I really grasped but it was quite unusual all the way round. The bells were cast in England and apparently the original foundry in Loughborough is still in business and stands ready and able to supply parts and replacements as needed. I wonder if in a century Triumph will do the same to whoever gets to inherit my Bonneville. And in inimitable style the Bok Tower people illustrated the size of the largest bell thusly:Big enough no doubt to justify the appellation "The Singing Tower." This is but a very superficial tour of Bok Tower Gardens, there is a stately home on the premises open for tours and much more to the grounds than I have been able to show. I have no idea why I never came here before even when I was frequently crossing the state on nearby Highway 60. Better late than never, as the cliché has it.