Monday, February 28, 2011

Frances Street Cemetery By Night

There is a devil in me that sometimes yells to be let out. After provoking discussion of the cemetery all I could think during a recent lunch break was that taking some pictures at night would be just the thing. I positively bounded onto the Bonneville and rode half a dozen blocks from the Police station. It was just after one in the morning.The cemetery debate continues apace with the sexton holding the line against opening the secondary gate on Frances Street. For cyclists and pedestrians crossing the center of Old Town this closure has spoiled a pleasant short cut through the cemetery's park like setting. The sexton says people entering from Frances Street have disrupted funerals. Closing the gate an hour before a funeral has been suggested as the obvious solution to the dilemma, and I thought I read something in the paper's Citizen's Voice column to the effect that without fanfare the Frances Street Gate is once again open during the day.I don't even know what "letter boxing" might be but the reference in the lower sign to "our families" puts the nature of the problem of access front and center. For some the cemetery is a pleasant diversion; for others it is a family tomb. A few years ago the stout new fencing was put up around the cemetery in an effort to close the place properly after hours. Many of the sections have commercial and family sponsors.The newspaper reported the Historical Society is raising several thousand dollars to help make repairs in the cemetery. Many of the graves are in a state of disrepair and supporters of greater access to the cemetery cite that as a reason to allow greater access. I like the cemetery as it is, shabby perhaps but full of sentiment and history. A crisply maintained cemetery would not be nearly as atmospheric, and as money dries up everywhere one wonders why more need be spent on the portion of the population that feels it's lack the least...I had started out planning to circumnavigate the cemetery on foot but as always happens at night, setting up the camera for each picture and several trial-and-error attempts to take each picture cut down on the available time. This next picture was a ten second exposure with the camera balanced on the fence.This next picture took better advantage of the light from the street lamps.This was an eight second exposure of a typical above ground vault. The usual below ground burials are not possible in Key West which, like New Orleans, suffers from an excessively high water table. Go down three feet and your buried coffins would be floating. So they go above ground much to visitors' delight.I am not given to believing in a hereafter or the supernatural. Every time the subject comes up and I allow my lack of belief I am reliably informed it is most likely owing to my skepticism that I have never had a supernatural experience. Which is as may be, but whether or not spirits and ghosts and all that stuff exist or not, I like cemeteries in general, I enjoy the peace and quiet and the Key West cemetery is among the best to simply look at and enjoy.Perhaps it was a hobgoblin that interfered with my last picture which I took over and over again fiddling with the focal point but that never quite came into focus properly. Perhaps I should have made a sacrifice of something valuable (the Bonneville?) to appease the spirits? Maybe but I stuck with what I got in the time allowed and hustled on back to work.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Stock Island Trailers

Every time I ride down Maloney Avenue in the middle of "downtown" Stock Island I am astonished to see so little change. This street starts out at Highway One, by the Chevron gas station as MacDonald Avenue and then, at the curve by the Tom Thumb inconvenience store it becomes Maloney and dead ends into the marina at the southern end. Stock Island is home to the working poorer who earn a living in Key west and can't afford to live there. It's also home to the critical light industry that can't afford the dirt in Key West, welders, body shops, towing companies, warehouses and taxi companies:These are the streets lined with trailers and immobile homes, trailer parks and RV parks, the homes of working people.This unit pictured below is for sale, though not all land lots underneath the trailers are also sold with the trailers.Lots of people don't like the idea of living in a trailer but for me these places are more like land bound boats.I lived for years on sailboats and it did occur to me during that time that many modern marinas are not that different from trailer parks. A sailboat is a plastic shell sitting cheek by jowl with it's neighbors...There's a large population of Cubans and Haitians here and you'll see them cycling or riding the bus into Key West.I sometimes wonder what would happen to Key West if the population of dish washers, cleaners and so forth suddenly went missing. Of course it's not all trailers; these houses of Dade pine have a South Pacific air to them.
Someone was having fun flying a kite on a windy day. One thing I like in particular about these trailers is the constant effort to grow stuff around them.This is a papaya:
Further south commercial fishing is apparently secured by a large area of commercial docks in some sort of cooperative. There are lots of mostly Cuban fishermen here. I saw a group of them playing loud clacking dominoes. In between time they build lobster traps and paint buoys:During the boom years of easy credit much of Stock Island was bought up by land speculators and hints were dropped right and left about likely development. But in these hard times lots of development has stopped dead and things don't look much like changing soon.I know progress is all important but I wouldn't much mind if things stayed the way they are for a while longer.Looking past the fish docks to Safety Harbor in the distance. Safety Harbor is where Hogfish Restaurant is located.
This is where Maloney Avenue ends at King's Pointe marina, the former Oceanside.
It's quite the life on Stock Island, whether or not it is a trailer.
And at the end of Maloney Avenue there is Peninsular Avenue at the end of which is the Key West Harbor Yacht Club, my own refuge from the rigors of daily living.It's actually quite a spiffy marina- one development that did go through before the economy tanked.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


John Goodman is the star, as he should be of this splendid comedy set in Key West, 1962.I have been remiss in that for some time now I have failed to check out a Key West based movie or two for the frozen huddled masses Up North who need to see a touch of sun on the TV screen. Matinee, from 1993 is available from Netflix streaming as well as on disc, so it could be construed as 99 minutes of instant gratification. The film is set in 1962 just as the Cuban missile crisis appeared on TV screens everywhere.The story is simple enough, Goodman is coming to Key West to open his new horror picture, Mant, complete with "rumblerama" special effects installed at the Strand theater on Duval. Mant is the sensation at Key West High School where the students are also talking about the escalating crisis with the Cubans. However the High School exterior in the movie looks wooded like nothing ever seen in Key West.
Matinee comes in two flavors- on the one had it's a goofy 1950s B movie horror flick premier in a funky small town at the very end of the road. On the other hand, juxtaposed against the nuclear mutation of man and ant -Mant!- is the actual nuclear holocaust threatened by the confrontation building over the Straits of Florida. Duck and cover anyone? Considering the historic pictures I've seen, the reproduction of Smathers Beach as the Hawk Battery front line looked quite authentic.And from pictures of the time I know civilians were wandering the beach, finding their way past the busy military, just as Gene and Stan do in the movie:Stan is being pursued by Sherry who has learned to appreciate herself as a woman by hanging out with an older guy. Life was quite complex in the shadow of nuclear meltdown hanging over Key West.Some exteriors certainly look as though they were shot on Key west streets. My favorite locally shot movie was Criss Cross, always worth a view, and from an earlier time check out The Rose Tattoo. a slightly confusing flick as it was shot in Key West, on Duncan Street some of it, close to Tennessee Williams' home, while the story was actually set on the mainland, on the Gulf Coast. John Goodman as, Lawrence Woolsey, plays the paternalistic film maker who takes his eager fan under his wing and is seen here walking on a street somewhere other than Key West. It looks similar though. Roger Ebert loved Matinee, saying in his review that it reminded him of his own childhood, the duck and cover generation brought up on corny horror movies of decades ago. Mant is the story of nuclear chaos, when a man and an ant get mixed up with horrible consequences.Cathy Moriarty does a lovely job of portraying the love interest in Mant as the half ant's girlfriend and as the love interest of John Goodman in Matinee.The nurse played by Moriarty at the matinee of Mant! is a detail straight from movie history we are told. A producer named Joe Solomon made millions from an inconsequential sex education film named "Mom and Dad" by stationing a nurse in the lobby, and parking an ambulance outside to rush shock victims to the emergency room. Lawrence Woolsey uses the same nurse technique to have patrons sign waivers in case they have heart attacks when they see the horror of the half man half ant on screen:.The horrors of nuclear misuse are clear in the subplot of Mant!But the silly plot line, shown on the screen during Matinee is simply a backdrop to the real nuclear horrors that face the world particularly during those terrible 13 days of 1962.Somehow rumblerama upstairs gets the already anxious theater manager into meltdown as he imagines nuclear catastrophe striking Key West and he fears the theater rumbles are nuclear explosions. As he gtes locked out of his private fall out shelter Gene and the lovely child Sandra played by Lisa Jakub are trapped in the time locked nuclear bunker fearing the rumbling theater above them indicates the end of Life As We Know it. They face the prospect, at their tender ages, of playing Adam and Eve and repopulating the world, but before they can act on this horrible fate...Oops- Nurse Corday is being ravaged by the half ant creature in the theater! John Goodman sees a fortune in his new techniques and plans are laid to bring rumblerama and all that jazz to theater audiences around the country. As preposterous as it all sounds cinema history assures us the silliness of the premier shown here in Key West actually took place in US theaters in the 1960s. In fact John Goodman's character is based on one William Castle who used the techniques in Matinee in theaters where he showed his films.In fact the "Strand" Theater shown in the movie flies a banner opposing the real threat of the early 1960s, not from Cuba or Russia but from "pay TV!" Matinee is a sun drenched feel good movie, silly sure, but lovable enough. And it includes a little sea sun and sand...
...and a few shots of key West to remind us all of the joy of the end of the road. for some other Keys pictures.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Grumpy Little Hamaca Park

I am not a fan of Hallmark Holidays, those moments of bliss manufactured by advertisers and merchants that are deployed during the calendar year to convince us to waste time and money on sentiments that corporations should have no access to. It was just after Valentine's Day, a holiday guaranteed to make me grumpy as prostituting the historic Bishop of Terni (my home town ) in the name of selling flowers and chocolates is a corporate invasion of privacy bound to piss off a sensitive soul like me such that I took my dappled dog Cheyenne hunting the smells lurking in the bushes at Little Hamaca City Park.She prowled the trail, nose down, darting back and forth and paying absolutely no attention to me. At times she was barely visible in the undergrowth.These are the walks that I rate a success. The ones when she stands staring at me are the boring ones and then I feel guilty. Little Hamaca is the cluster of woods between the airport and the Riviera Canal in that part of the city of key West known as New Town. It is a hammock of trees and bushes growing on a chunk of raised ground that isn't ever supposed to flood. It has a rather poor reputation as a hang out for drunks and bums and shy men seeking the solace of the love that dare not speak it's name, mostly I'm told men who pretend to be straight and are thus unable to come out in the numerous and entirely acceptable gay locations around town. In my not terribly frequent forays into Little Hamaca I have never been accosted or molested but I seem to have a facility for blithely ignoring that which freaks out other, more sensitive people. You have been warned.Evidence of drinking was everywhere and it's not like there aren't plenty of trash cans in the park.
It was a lovely scenic sunny day with a light fresh winter breeze continuing to make the outdoors perfect. As we were next door to the airport there were planes in the sky.The plane was towing a message. You know what they say about marriage, in Italy where I grew up: a year of flames, a year of embers and thirty years of ashes. Don't do it Lori! Cheyenne and I are like an old married couple when we go strolling along together. She started to break out onto Airport Boulevard separating herself from me...I watched the sky a bit more, waiting for Lori to float her reply: "Bugger off!" but perhaps she, like me, had no idea who had paid for the banner...Anyone who comes to Key West Diary looking for cloying sentiment and valentine platitudes is in the wrong place. Where was I? Oh yes, beautiful skies...
It was just a glorious afternoon with not an icicle or snow shower in sight.
Down in the shrubbery the colors were magnificent also.
Cheyenne and I were scampering along and enjoying ourselves as only we know how. You'd think the bushes would be packed with people scampering their dogs, but not a bit of it. I expect they were all standing around in the dog park avoiding making eye contact.
I also found one solitary boot complete with a sock inside.I have no idea what happened to the other one. Perhaps this one got left behind when they dragged the body away. Idle speculation is all I can offer so now we should consider instead the natural beauty of prickly pears, nature's equivalent to conchscooter, prickly on the outside and ... something else on the inside one hopes...I have spent far too much time being nice to strangers lately. I think it's time to revert to form and contemplate the wonders of nature without human backup, much as Saint Francis of Assisi did in his hermitage near my former home in Umbria.
Except he didn't have a fat happy Labrador to console him, as the breed was only recognized in England in 1820. They arrived as boat dogs on vessels from Canada, Newfoundland actually before it was part of the Dominion and the English thought they were splendid. Which they are.
All this and a cheerful wife at home ready to make up for the lack of human company encountered in the bushes at Little Hamaca. Which was probably just as well if they do indeed have acts of gross indecency on their minds.I did meet some people on my way out on Government Road.
I didn't speak with them but my gesture of goodwill was not to run them over as I swept by. Valentino, Bishop of Terni (Interamna as it was known to the Romans of the day) would have been proud.