Thursday, February 28, 2013

Bark Park

We aren't dog park types, Cheyenne and I. I've taken her to the Key West dog park at Higgs Beach and she doesn't participate much in doggie packs running back and forth and sniffing each other. So I tend to take her when she can be alone with her thoughts and I with mine. I'm rotten at small talk and the prospect of standing around with a bunch of dog owners talking about the weather or dogs or life Up North fills me with dread. So an empty park is excellent.
She's been here before, off Key Deer Boulevard and on this stop, made to give her a chance to drink after a walk, she really got into sniffing around, outside and inside the fence. So I equipped myself for a prolonged stop.
They don't seem to mind divots here which is nice because some dogs love to dig. Cheyenne spent too log alone I think with her precious family. She neither digs nor does she take an interest in balls, frisbees or coconuts.
I unfurled the written word and after a while Cheyenne came back to base and we hung out in blessed silence.
This can be a busy spot with families out chasing small leather orbs and trying to whack same with sticks, never an easy undertaking I'm told but mid week there was no one there. I may be sitting up all night at work but during the day I get to enjoy the Keys like they were, far from Duval Street.
There are bunches of picnic tables and facilities in this park with an extraordinary assortment of bowls for the picky drinker. The community spirit is strong on Big Pine, the evidence shows.
When we were at Higgs Beach dog park in Key West earlier in the week I was surprised to see some dork letting a big dog in the small dog side of the fence. Owners of small dogs tend to get paranoid about big dogs and it seems inconsiderate to me to stick the big dog among the small. Cheyenne, ignoring the other dogs as usual after her drink, didn't seem to approve either as she watched the dogs race up and down for no apparent reason. You can see the big white lump on the other side of the fence.
A cold front is threatening this week but it's scaled down compared to the blizzards and mayhem real cold fronts cause Up North. Wind, a little rain followed by sunshine they say and highs in the mid 60s for us. Brisk but not life threatening.
From what I read flowers don't do well in blizzards.

Our Big Pine ruminations were interrupted by drizzle that got insistent enough the page I was reading got wet enough the words were obscured. I gave up and headed for the car which was the exact right moment Cheyenne needed urgently to sniff around a bit more.
Across the way the small dog pen was unmolested.
I'd rather eat crushed glass than play tennis or baseball, I spent too much of my youth being required to chase balls all over the playing fields of my schools. The prospect of doing it now is about as exciting as doing detention just for nostalgia's sake. But wandering with my dog as we hunker down (hunker hunker hunker) while we wait for the heavens to open, that is quite pleasant and is enough to convince me to stop off at what might be a hive of industrious outdoor activity at these playing fields. I quite like this dog park and so does Cheyenne, when we have it to ourselves.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Key West Beaches

As amazing as it seems to me, there are people who come to the Keys for the beaches. Boy, what a disappointment that has to be! This is Rest Beach on the south side of Key West Near the White Street Pier, and famous in history as the place where cattle shipped over from Stock Island were slaughtered. What you see in the picture isn't bovine entrails but dead seaweed, washed up by the southeast wind and left to rot. The beach itself is narrow enough, especially at high tide but the seaweed helps nothing. At very low tide Rest Beach exposes quite a lot of dry sandbar which is fun to walk. But as beaches go, around here this is as good as they get...
Wandering the beaches after the nasty weather we've had lately, where clouds and rain constitute " nasty" in my world, I decided to play with my camera settings a bit as I enjoyed the sunny beach day. White Street Pier from the west:
The tire tracks in the picture above mark the passage of the county hired tractor which scoops up the dead seaweed on the larger beaches to make the seaside experience less smelly.
Behind Higgs Beach, part of the Monroe County park within the city limits is the dog run fenced in and a useful stop even for my anti social dog as they have a water fountain there. apparently it's only for drinking. My mind boggles at the idea of people taking their animals to the dog park to wash them. My outside shower does the job nicely for Cheyenne and for me.
Higgs Beach, named for a prominent Conch family in town, has a delightfully old fashioned band stand most often used as a parasol for local residentially challenged hanging out at the beach.
I am not at all happy with the way certain powerful people in the city arts community have shredded the Sculpture Key West exhibit. Everyone wants a piece of what was a successful outdoor show put on each winter and which used to be focused on the open space at Fort Zachary Taylor. Nowadays bits and pieces of it show up everywhere, here at Higgs Beach and at the Botanical Garden on Stock Island as well as at Fort Zach. As a result it's impact is diluted which is a shame. Killing the goose that lays the golden egg is a parable that comes to mind.
Not everyone comes to the beach to sunbathe or look at statuary. Some come to play tennis on the public courts.
Some make their homes at Higgs Park between the dog run and the beach.
Before a group of determined people persuaded the county to let them fence in a portion of the park for dogs the city allowed dogs on the beach at one small spot where Vernon and Waddell streets run out. Dog Beach:
It is a fine thing to see  bright sunshine on the water in February.
And to enjoy sunbathing...
...though some people have to work to keep Paradise looking clean and tidy.
If you want big beaches and long strands you need to go to Fort Myers Beach or Fort Lauderdale and points north on the east coast. Mainland Florida is a sandy peninsula while the keys are a rocky outcrop, and the beaches are the proof.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Pair Of Crocs, A Dog And A Day Off

These Crocs were made for walking.

I can't believe how warm it is, day after day, eighty degrees and muggy as though it were June. I am told climatologists are leaving coastal cities in droves and are buying retirement homes in the mountains for fear of rising sea levels. We hear permafrost is melting, putting more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and vicious storms and droughts batter our farmland. Skeptics point to record snowfalls and, missing the point by a mile, happily play on in their sandboxes and tell us climate change is an anti-business hoax. Climate change promises sudden and harsh storms, extreme temperatures and rising seas. All of which is happening. Had I any offspring I'd be worrying, as it is I shall be dead without issue by the time the Keys sink. May we all live in interesting times!

Cheyenne finds the heat enervating and even though it's not actually June her stamina has taken a hit. Which is actually good for me...a two hour walk cut in half gives me more time to futz around at home and this endless drought does require tIme spent with a watering can. However it is starting to be Spring around here too which means green leaves are sprouting and fruit are starting to appear. Check out these papaya:

It's hard to imagine parts of the country are under snow and blizzards are closing roads everywhere.

Road closures under snow sound dramatic but the big news around here continues to be parking. There has been grumbling about people "saving" parking spaces in front of their homes by putting trash cans and garden furniture in the street. The fact is street spaces are available for anyone, with residential spots for Florida license plates labeled "Monroe" or anyone who buys a parking permit at city hall. Handicapped spots are for anyone with a placard whether or not the space is In front of someone's home. However all these rules don't cut much ice with homeowners in Old Town who get fed up with having to walk from more or less distant parking spots...

However private spaces in front of condos is another matter altogether. Park here and get towed. You have been warned. Stumbling past the Hemingway House on Olivia Street Cheyenne startled a street feline. The cat took up the usual fear-filled pose while my dog ignored it completely.

Plans are moving forward to transform this scrubby open space into parkland with winding paths, parking lots, games, an amphitheater and so forth. I shall miss this pointless scrubby space after it is paved over and made suburban. There is something magnificently wasteful about unused land on the waterfront in such a small crowded town.

Just because it's open space doesn't mean there aren't rules but our Canadian neighbors pretend they don't read English when it suits them.
From time to time they escape the police patrols at night here and you'll see Quebec tagged vehicles enjoying a winter sojourn in the Land of The Free. Odd isn't it how our socialist neighbors to the north get government health care which we eschew and yet they can still afford to spend months traveling, as well equipped as you like in this country, where we pride ourselves on wealthy inequality on a level at par with Rome in its most iniquitous period right before The Fall.

you'd think the Froggies would have the good manners to be up and gone before the sun came up. Not a bit of it.

Someone mistook a bicycle rack for a helmet rack; I wonder what the story was that landed this vital piece of snowbird cycling equipment here?

I got a comment from a snowbird the other day that had me pondering. They wanted Key West to produce a restaurant identical to that which they have "at home." Why then I ask myself do people come to Key West for a few weeks out of the year? It's nothing but the weather is it? Look at them...flocking like geese. Wild men, helmetless and hydration free.

I'm no good at that group bonhomie of riding around clustered to the exclusion of all around and talking loudly. Me and my dog went off to inspect a rare and unusual sighting in Key West: a public bench. Cheyenne was delighted by it with the discovery of delicious god knows what.

There are opportunities for self improvement too. Key West is hopeless in the recycling stakes and environmental stewardship. It's been an immense struggle to get started talking about installing sewers in the Keys. To its credit Key West did it a decade ago with a state of the art sewage treatment plant on Fleming Key, but recycling is a barely understood mystery in this town. Pass a recycling bin and see it filled with food and trash... The concept of setting aside fishing quotas to preserve fish stocks is akin to communism and unlike more enlightened communities in environmental critical zones the Keys remain a playground without consequences. Any idea of preserving now for future benefit is beyond the capacity of our short sighted little town sitting on top of a dying reef. We're all guilty.

The good news is chocolate is available and cheap.

It aggravates me half to death when the stores urge my neighbors to waste money before the holiday then mock them with seventy five percent sales after the holiday. Consumerism is mockery. Tell that to our endangered reef.

I need to walk more and think less on my days off.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Say Goodbye To The Ducks

This sight will no longer be seen in Key West, these vast great duck tours are gone, thanks to the Navy closing their access to the sea. The tours through the city to Truman Waterfront and around the harbor in these huge amphibious vehicles ended yesterday by force of military circumstances.

Perhaps not forever, as Historic Tours of America promise to set up a new base for these machines on Trumbo Road where they hope to be able to launch them one day in the future. How or if that will work out remains to be seen.

Meanwhile the newspaper reports the city is also concerned that at the termination of their contract with the Navy for the city's use of the Navy Pier, that facility might also revert to solely military use. Were that to happen the city would lose huge sums in port fees from loss of cruise ship business. I doubt the Navy will close the Outer Mole to civilian use because the economic devastation would be real, but I have no doubt many opponents of cruise ship expansion would be delighted.

I'm happy enough the ducks will be gone, hopefully for a very very long time, even forever, as they are too large and crass for Old Town streets.

I think Key West is on the verge of selling out to cruise ships with plans to widen the harbor channel, a little entropy there might be good. It doesn't seem healthy to seek to accommodate ever bigger ships in this small town.

Speaking of small towns...The owner of the duck tours took the Navy to task a couple of weekends ago in the newspaper, accusing them of failing to live up to their agreements with the city. The visible reaction from the Navy was a loud snore.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Mexican Relief

My wife and I have a family disagreement over which we have at a certain point in the last decade reached some sort of compromise. An uneasy truce perhaps, and it's on the subject of Mexican food. Happily Lupita's has ridden into town and saved the day, so perhaps our California-Mexican period of deprivation is over at last.

My wife grew in Palo Alto California, south of the great city of San Francisco. Palo Alto ("tall tree" in Spanish) is home to Stanford University where her parents worked and where she learned to appreciate proper Mexican food. I spent my misguided youth in Santa Cruz California where I tried to learn to be an adult and part of that education was coming to terms with "ethnic" food. My childhood in Italy did not prepare me for the ethnic cuisine of a California University town. I never did grasp the concept of eating raw fish, but I had no problems scarfing rice and beans and assorted sauces and meats in the Mexican style.

The CIA figures the are about 115 million Mexicans living in a country that is as long north to south as the US is across. It's a big place with massively varied topography and cultures. So when we talk airily of "Mexican" food we are sweeping together many different styles of cuisine within one enormous country. That has led to my wife agreeing to disagree about the well known Chico's on Stock Island. Even though it's a style of Mexican food usually seen on the Gulf Coast of Mexico I quite like it. My wife is less enamored though the little Palo Alto girl inside has come to terms with the fact the food isn't bad, it just isn't California-Mexican. Old Town Mexican Cafe on Duval panders to tourists and is nothing much to write home about. Amigos on Greene Street isn't bad but it's a bit too gringo and hectic and noisy for our tastes. Then there is Lupita's occupying the space once occupied by the late great Cuban place called B's. It's a worthy successor.
The whole thing is family run and we were served by Lupita herself and her daughter. They have the complete range of Mexican beers on offer and a proper Mexican menu, and this is a touchy subject so proper means in a style one might expect to see in the Golden State. We got a basket of delicious freshly crisped nachos to go with a bowl of chunky slightly spicy salsa. For a main course I chose carnitas which is roughly speaking barbecued pork, Mexican style:

The rice was perfect on both our dishes, properly cooked yet each grain was separate and distinct. The beans were exactly as they should be, cooked through and soft but distinct in that distinctive refried sauce. I even enjoyed the crisp cool lettuce properly shredded on its own corner of the plate. My wife ordered chicken molé the tart rich savory chocolate sauce and she was delighted to discover the meat was already off the bone, which is unusual but welcome.

We got our tortillas wrapped in foil inside the holder and I was figuring this might be the only place in Key West that offers these traditional serving dishes:

I forget the final bill but it was not high and the value for money was first class, and I want to go back as soon as possible and try out a few more dishes, the tacos the burritos (not a true Mexican dish but de rigeur in any self respecting Mexican restaurant north of the Rio Bravo) and my favorite: pork in chile verde.

Lupita's is easy to find across Bertha Street opposite the bilious landmark that is Shanna Key the Irish pub on the corner of Flagler. Its well worth a visit.