Friday, April 29, 2011

Big Pine Key

Though there is not much land and not too many streets in these islands of the Lower Keys, finding names to use for streets taxes the capacities of some people who abandon the bright and simple for the esoteric.Harbor Lights? What harbor lights? Though strangely named I like how this street, which is a gravel road at best, is also split in two by a wooded island right down the middle. >Cheyenne found a trail through the mangroves with a home made bridge carefully placed across a gambusia mosquito canal. Naturally my dog no longer constrained by a life of petty bourgeois boredom had to explore and tumble into the muddy filthy trench. I turned Cheyenne back as I could a roof;line through the bushes ahead and clearly the trail went somewhere. We contented ourselves with inspecting these weathered and artistic roots.It was a lovely warm afternoon, once again, and Cheyenne retired to the bushes for some shade bathing while I looked around and enjoyed the serenity.
I have lived on dirt roads before now and hope not to have to ever again, though we read of jurisdictions Up North especially in the Great Plains that are opting to turn costly asphalt roads into gravel to save money in the short term. Locally road maintenance turns to the weird to make travel more comfortable. I'll bet it's not everyday you find coconut husks doubling as road fill. I know I don't.I hope this isn't a metaphor for our straitened times.

Whitehead Street

There is a majesty and grandeur to Key West streets at night. It astonishes me how the city transforms itself after dark into something more than the sum of it's daytime parts.I could not stand to live in these well trafficked tourist areas of Old Town, the expensive desirable parts of old Key West, the source of musical noise and loud people staggering. The homes look quite majestic by night and one can see how a visitor might fall in love with this neighborhood, forgetting the realities of day to day life.It is often said that South Florida isn't part of the stereotypical south, a comment prompted by anti migrant feelings no doubt as city slickers took up retirement in Miami, and later Key West. While it's true that the ebb and flow of migrants has given the southeast of Florida it's own cosmopolitan flavor, it is also true that this is The South. One hint of the Southernness of the place comes from looking at the public architecture. The court house at 500 Whitehead Street is as southern as all get out, the beautiful colonnades, the bricks, the clock tower. It's pure In The Heat of the Night which could itself be construed as a cliche...Many years ago sitting on a beach in Nicaragua contemplating my future an American friend sitting next to me sucking down Tonya beer (Como Tonya no hay dos- Nothing Like a Tonya was the advertising slogan I still can't get out of my head) presented me with the paradox of my life. "You crave Northern orderliness in a Southern climate" he said, with a blindingly clear perceptive shaft of light into my troubled psyche. It did not occur to me I might find that, after a fashion, in the Southernmost City. Maybe I did. Or more likely old age allowed me to drop my excessively rigid social control issues.I think Key West offers enough orderliness to make life relatively easy, even though there is clearly a hierarchy of people who own the top jobs and maintain a close grip on the levers of power. There was a period when too much money was flowing through the city, the late 90s and early 21 st century was one of those periods and outsiders sometimes managed to weasel their way in, owing to a sudden series of job openings across town. Those openings have slammed shut with the economic retreat we are in. Consolidation is now the name of the game. Federal and State subsidies and grants are drying up, salaries face shrinkage and positions are starting to be cut. I don't anticipate the economy getting any better either and I wonder how tensions will rise in this isolated little town.

I saw incredible stress and solidarity after Hurricane Wilma gave the Lower Keys the shellacking of a generation. I'd like to think that as the economy shrinks, and prices rise we will be able to weather the difficulties as a community. 41 teachers face layoffs this next school year, but the cafeteria workers who protested absurd privatization plans pushed those plans away with community backing. Those state jobs with proper pay and benefits were saved. when the privatization sharks saw community solidarity.I feel lucky to face the ongoing Recession/Depression down here. And I hope our excellent public utilities keep the water and the electrons flowing.

A Dog's View

Sitting on a street corner letting my dog catch her breath I was enjoying a spot of shade myself watching the world go by. And then this dude comes streaking through all properly dressed for serious cycling. I could hardly believe my eyes, a late migrating snowbird perhaps.This next cyclist is more the sort of speed and attire I expect. This picture I took from a dog's eye view, near ground level. On the whole I prefer seeing the world from a few feet up in the air.Key West gets it's water from the South Florida aquifer, a pot of water that has many municipal straws sticking into it. And among the millions across South Florida who rely on it to feed their faucets the 73,000 Keys residents are literally a drop in an aquifer. We better get hoping for an active rainy season this year (rain, please note, not hurricanes) or else watering plants never mind ourselves, will become problematic. I read the other day that Saudi Arabia has dried up the single aquifer that fed it's irrigation system to grow wheat in the desert, an idea of grotesquely unreal proportions. Any way, because it doesn't rain much they have gone from being self sufficient in wheat to now importing wheat to feed 30 million Saudis. Just one more reason food prices are jumping up.I am glad there are people willing and able to grow ornamental inedible flowers and leaves like these. Beauty still has it's place in the Southernmost City.
I feel as though I should know how to fish. Millions come down here to chase fish and it seems like the least I could do. I keep promising myself I will learn, as a way to catch food, but chasing fish bores me, catching them horrifies me and cleaning them is just downright gross. I grew up on a farm and I have seen animals slaughtered and chopped up. I prefer someone else should do it for me, which does not bode well for me after industrialized society collapses, but until then...

Unconsidered Trifles

If it were the name of the lane it would be perfect; it is instead an instruction for desperate parkers who will block driveways with almost no provocation. The chair just happened to be there, perhaps for the comfort of the parking overseer.Drought or no the banana leaves are as abundant as ever. They droop over the sidewalks like shade umbrellas.The poinciana are blooming more and more brightly every day. It seems early to me but my notion that they should appear in June is doubtless all wrong.
It's a funny time of year, about now when the Keys settle in to a phony war type of calm. The snowbirds have left, schools aren't out yet and all we have left are a bunch of Germans all over Key West for some reason. It may be that as the dollar loses value and the Euro gets stronger (higher interest rates rule! paradoxically) the Germans are the only Europeans left standing with an economy so before they get dragged down by Spain Portugal Ireland and Italy they are taking a few trips. Where better than the Fabulous Florida Keys? Be that as it may all I hear on Duval Street these days is guttural Teutonic mumblings.Of course Cheyenne leads the way until she runs out of puff, luckily next to the bench outside Café Sole where we watched the world go by for a while.

In Key West we are back to living in the calm before the summer invasion of foreigners and families. Further afield one has to wonder what economic numbers will be pulled from the magic Federal Reserve hat as China sells it's dollars and Saudi Arabia facing increasing "unrest" at home. Wayne always says, with glee that we live in interesting times. I am not quite so gleeful.