Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pink Crocs

I won't be taking my Crocs to Italy this weekend. I am, and always have been rather disdainful of fashion which, as I was a child of the most fashion conscious society in the world, was always a trial for everyone around me. No need to cause more grief when I go back; I am sure my clunky German Birkenstocks will be bad enough.I am glad to be able to come home to a place that doesn't much care what one wears, where fashion is as fashion does, not a diktat from someone who thinks they know better and impose their vision on the rest of us. There is much freedom to enjoy at home in the Keys.

Pez Garden

The Key West Sculpture Garden was completed in 1997 and I don't think it took too long for this town's inveterate nick-namers to find a funny moniker for the place. Harry Truman, fine president though he was does, does kind of look like a Pez dispenser, in the nicest possible way.However you won't get any Pez candies out of the dozens of heads on display down by Mallory Square. The centerpiece like the heads, is the work of Miami sculptor James Mastin and it's a fine portrayal of the wreckers who used to make a decent living for themselves salvaging grounded ships. The heads themselves, also by Mastin, were chosen for inclusion apparently by a selection committee and of the original 36 (with room for expansion), only one was black, Sandy Cornish, the freed slave who gave his name to largest church in Bahama Village.You could spend a happy couple of hours wandering the statues and admiring their biographies which are not easy it must be said, to photograph legibly. Ellen Russell Mallory was an interesting inclusion.
She is considered the first "white female settler" in Key West arriving here for her husband's health in 1823. He did poorly and died shortly thereafter. She set herself up as a boarding house operator for seamen and gave her son the best education she could. He became the Secretary of the Navy, for the Confederacy and the square on Key West's waterfront is named for him, Stephen Russell Mallory.
The garden is free and visitors can peruse all the statues and history they want at their leisure.It's a pretty spot though not very shady when the sun is overhead.And for sixty bucks I'm told you can have a brick dedicated to you or someone you care about. All the information is at the garden's rather ungrammatical website here:

West Isle Apartments

In considering a move to Key West most people imagine themselves living the tropical life in a small but comfortable place in Old Town, banana plants growing outside the door and bougainvillea coloring the sidewalk.Meet reality for many new arrivals, an anonymous apartment in New Town:Apartments in Old Town tend to be rooms carved out of old homes, awkward and lacking in amenity and expensive to boot. If $1500 a month for a one bedroom here seems like a lot, in anonymous USA, consider what you get.Indoor laundry, reliable central air, off street parking and easy access to the supermarkets of North Roosevelt Bopulevard...No wonder cops and firefighters line up to snag a place here.And just because it's a modern apartment complex doesn't mean your $1700 two bedroom or $2000 three bedroom doesn't get some tropical foliage to remind you where you are.The tourist eye is always on Old town which is where the wealth accumulates. Working three jobs to maintain a window air conditioner, noisy neighbors and the constant possibility of getting your bike stolen starts to weigh on some people. Others would never consider living a full three miles from Duval Street and all the alcohol fueled action.For others the trailers of Stadium Mobile home park are home, in exotic tropical Key West.Key West, where I learned on my recent foray on the Conch Tour Train that the traveler's palm yields a half cup of water if you cut off a stalk. A survival tool, in arid climes I suppose. In Key West cash is the best survival tool there is.

For more on West Isle:

Key West Historeum

Wayne and Chuck joined with me in a tour of the history of wrecking in Key West. It was June, free-for-locals month and that made the choice easy. Other locals dress up as wreckers and introduce the visitors as prospective crew members. The cast gets into their roles so be ready for audience participation unless like me you stay well at the back and out of range.The Historeum is a museum with a 65 foot tower attached which, as we shall see, gives a splendid view around Key West, as this youngster on an earlier tour had discovered for himself.The "crew member" introduced us to his boss, Asa Tift after whom the lane approaching Mallory Square is named.He led us inside the (air conditioned!) museum and told us what the meaning of "wrecking" really is. It wasn't piracy, it was legal recovery of ship wrecked boats. People made fortunes by rowing out to stranded ships and rescuing them, putting their cargo to auction and taking a large share of the proceeds. What wasn't legal was moving aids to navigation and luring ships onto the f.He told the story well, walking us through the lives lived in 19th century Key West, pointing out the treasures and assorted other goods stashed in the museum laid out like a warehouse. There was the inevitable bar of silver and discussion of piracy which involved intercepting Spanish ships on the silver route from Portobello to Havana and thence to Spain. Pirates based themselves in Isla Providencia off Nicaragua and when they were smoked out of there they moved to "New" Providence in the Bahamas and Commodore Porter based himself in the newly United States' city of Key West to smoke them out of there which he did eventually making the Straits of Florida safe for shipping. Piracy in Key West has always struck me as a myth as Key West the 1820's version has no water, no wood for ship repairs, poor protection in the harbor from the weather and is thus no use to seafarers on the lam. But the piracy myth makes for good tourism in the 21st century...
These barrels contained pottery found in the cargo of one of the wrecked ships:It was a rather nice 19th century room, cooled rather nicely with 21st century air conditioning.Key West as she then looked:And as she now looks, complete with common sense warnings for idiots unable to think for themselves, and who will hire attorneys after they act like idiots and hurt themselves:Do yourself a favor and climb the tower. It has I think even better views than The Top or the Lighthouse.


Later this morning an essay on the Historeum and it's daily tours. Right now I wanted to put these pictures of a diving helmet they put outside for tour members to play with while they wait. Chuck and I were game.It was loud and claustrophobic inside the helmet and I cannot imagine going to the bottom of the sea to do a job of work in it.Luckily I was born into the 20th century and other jobs were available to me.