Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Turquoise Bridge

Driving the 18 Mile Stretch one is struck by the road barriers painted to match the sky of south Florida and the waters of the Keys.

I generally don't drive Highway One between Homestead and Key Largo preferring the bucolic pleasures of Card Sound Road, less traffic more woods and if you need a cheesy introduction to Florida Keys tourist imagery you can stop at Alabama Jack's for some not too bad Conch Fritters, which are basically hush puppies with rubbery bits of seafood scattered in them.

These days if you come in to the Keys on Card Sound Road you are missing more than a mile of elevated driving into Key Largo at Mile Marker 108.

They spent something north of $260 million re-doing The Stretch and they haven't quite finished it yet. Some dude living nearby suggested they paint the median barrier a nice shade of turquoise which everyone resisted. But it seems he insisted a lot and finally they said why not? The result is as you see it and I like it.

The thing about the re-do of The Stretch, all 18 miles of it, is that they didn't rebuild it in four lanes which was an option. There are a couple of passing lanes but in winter especially when you get a few slow pokes holding up the caravan some people get rather impatient, so be warned, that's when you want to use Card Sound Road. Or you can get stuck at 42 miles per hour on the Turquoise Road.

The reason for the two lane new road was hurricane evacuations. Yup, hurricanes! You know how they say the Keys live south of reality...The story is that the state requires the Keys to be able to evacuate residents in the event of a storm approaching within certain limits, twenty four hours I think. The idea was that if they made the stretch four lanes wide more people could be evacuated faster and more development would follow as night follows day. So they made the northbound shoulder wide enough to take traffic in an evacuation and we residents got stuck with a two lane stretch for normal use. Well, bugger.

If you see impatient people passing slow traffic using the special turn lanes you now know to blame hurricane evacuations. So there.

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A Little Easter

There is a place deep in the Tiber Valley in the middle of Italy. From the turn off on the main road the view out is something like this.

There is a sign on the highway, SS448, to point the unwary in the direction of this little hideaway. The sign to the isolated chapel is not too terribly visible which is nice because if you are here you know something not known to many.

The main road perched above the timeless Tiber River was only built in the early 1960's when I was a child. Before that development this valley was almost inaccessible to the outside world.

The road was quite a feat of engineering.

But it turns out the engineers have been at work down in the valley too. When I used to walk through the woods to this Little Easter chapel this road was little more than a wide trail.

We parked our car up at the main road because I had no idea the trail had been widened and smoothed and made passable. "It's a nice walk," my ever supportive wife grunted in the late afternoon heat.

It took a bit but we got there.

I was reminiscing about how much things have changed and how cute and lost in space and rime this little place used to be when a Godly figure stepped out. Bloody hell, things have changed, no one used to live here.

"I'm here on a retreat, to spend some time as a hermit," Brother Giancarlo smiled, leaving me stuttering apologetically about disturbing him. My wife was panting and muttering something about a glass of water but unluckily for her he spoke no English, and even more unluckily for her I was too stunned to translate for her.

He gave us a tour of the chapel dedicated to what Italians call the "little Easter" or Pasquarella. Many communities celebrate this holiday at the end of Christmas festivities but as I recall we used to celebrate Mass here the Sunday after Easter. Why? I haven't a clue and in those days no one encouraged me to ask questions.

It's a pretty spot deep in the woods, a place of peace and contemplation. It's so charming it almost makes you want to join the cheerful friar and become a catholic again and believe in nonsense again. But time has passed and age and aggravation have replaced innocence and contraception still makes more sense than immaculate conception.

The good friar gave us a quick tour of the interior of the chapel which for some reason I felt shy about photographing and off we clumped. The friar followed us a few minutes later,something about having to go into town to pick up a forgotten trifle. My wife was emanating loud vibes at that point, possibly in reference to the large bottle of water he was carrying under his arm. I dare say she was also thinking about a ride out of this delightful place but our hermitical friar was having none of it. Off he drove with a cheerful wave but without us and with his bottle of water intact.

To add to our mid summer flagellation we had to walk out past the water pumping station, of all things, built here with European Union funds. You'd think they could have put in a faucet for the comfort of distressed pilgrims.

No such luck.

"I cannot believe we walked in here without a bottle of water," my wife muttered. Had she been a lesser woman she might have blamed me for her distress. As it was we just enjoyed the view.

Now ask yourself this: how can there not be a God to create such lovely formerly hidden spots on this burned-out planet of ours?

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Key's Summer

The snowbird phenomenon never ceases to amaze me. It is a matter of habit for residents of the northern tier of states to own a home in the Keys for use during the four or five coldest months. For this practice we are very grateful as they cannot, if the assessor is not asleep at the wheel, claim homestead tax exemptions yet they use far fewer services than we year round residents. Yet snow birding seems nuts to me, for summer is lovely.

Climate change skeptics will scoff but floods, heat waves and tornadoes may be passing phenomena but usually summer heat Up North tends to be far harsher than down here. Among these islands we find the summer heat is mitigated by cooler air wafting in over the sea, our homes are built to take advantage of the climate, and life in summer is much more laid back as with fewer people comes greater peace.

There's the paradox, if the snowbirds chose not to leave there would be more people down here and half the pleasure of summer would be lost. We should be grateful for all those grandchildren in Kansas drawing people out of Florida during summer vacations.

So how hot is it in summer in the Keys? Well, these a question. Temperatures rarely rise above 95, though humidity is higher than many people like. I hear the phrase "dry heat" applied to desert heat waves as though 120 degrees in sandy conditions is more bearable. Personally I like the damp that wet heat brings, no hair like straw, no itchy nostrils, no cracking finger nails.

Of course I like air conditioning in my house and in my car, and my friends complain my house is kept too cold, but Cheyenne is my priority and if she isn't panting it's cold enough. Summer is also hurricane season and we're heading deep into that time of year just now. But compared to the weather phenomena (not caused by climate change; never that!) hurricanes seem a lot less frightening by comparison. Summer in the Keys, decidedly the best time of year.

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Mile Marker 58

I am walking my dog once again, and Cheyenne seems to enjoy it as much as ever.

We were driving the middle Keys and at the north end of Marathon on Grassy Key I spotted a likely turn off. It looked like a low maintenance bike path, one side paved the other not. We took the path less paved.

A woman of advanced middle age (I think) approached me in a village in Italy last month and told me she remembered my mother. "You caused her a lot of heart ache," she said and I winced because I am fond of my mother's memory. What had I done, I wondered...

...it wasn't as bad as I had at first thought. "You were always running away and she never knew where you were," she went on.

Well indeed that has always been my abiding problem, a desire to see what's over the horizon, and my nature hasn't changed that much even here in these little slivers of land set in the middle of the ocean.

Cheyenne likes to explore too though this time of year she goes from shade to shade wherever she finds it even next to a slender power pole.

And then she hunts for water to cool off in, but if fresh she'll drink it too.

The odd thing is she prefers mangrove water to the proper clean water I provide her. My dog is weird.

I have met quite a few people complaining of the heat as though anything else were to be expected in August. Even so I find the weather quite bearable. We have a light southeasterly breeze blowing most days, the humidity is low and if not directly in the sun, like Cheyenne, it is quite pleasant.

We walked about half a mile paralleling the highway until the trail ran out.

If you wanted to move here some optimist is offering land for sale.

Good luck finding a bank that will make a loan though, these days.

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Central Italy By Moonlight

It was quite the night to be abroad in the hills of Umbria when the moon was full and the hills were quite atmospheric.

We were walking along a path when I took these pictures through the trees and it was a lovely warm night.

Later we got in the car and started driving not quite aimlessly while we watched the last of the sun go down,

This is the Tiber valley at sunset and one can just see the river between the folds of the hills. My wife's breath was literally taken away by the beauty of it all. Most gratifying.

We drove across the valley planning dinner at Todi, the city on the hill. The city is famous for it's domed cathedral and no one knows who designed it. The say it's "attributed to Bramante" and that name means quality.

The dome is called Our Lady of the Consolation, la Consolazione, and it is quite beautiful.

It was the perfect night, warm and enticing, so naturally I started playing with my camera. This was a three second exposure.

This one was a ten second exposure.

It was a indeed a great night for photography.

Todi is a small market town, and frankly far too much like Key West in some respects, when this was where I came to do my shopping, to buy my newspaper and occasionally to see a movie an escape from a winter night in my dank cold home in the village.

Everyone knows everyone in this town and that wore me out when I was a youngster.

I try not to overdo the sepia with my camera setting but these I couldn't resist.

We drove through town, and somehow the evening lost some of is magic.

A narrow street, construction,street lights glaring and thus we were back to reality.

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