Friday, September 6, 2013

RIP Solares Hill



It is churlish I suppose to say that for some time now I haven't made it a practice to read Solares Hill, the weekly magazine wedged into the Sunday Citizen between the advertising fliers and the sports section. But to deny it would be a lie. I suppose it was inevitable that in a world of diminishing print news a weekly magazine owned by the daily newspaper would lose it's raison d'être in a circulation as small as that of even the entire Florida Keys. Mark Howell has been let go along with his assistant Nadja Hansen and even the venerable Sports Editor Ralph Morrow a fixture for 20 years in the main newspaper.

Mark Howell, the Welshman, is an excellent writer a great observer of humans in action and editing the newspaper was for him apparently a secondary skill and it seemed inevitable to me that when the newspaper lost its most interesting voice to editing and hunting advertising it became perforce less worthwhile.


There were contributors, Diane Roberts with her one note humor on the corrupt foibles of our leaders in Tallahassee, and C S Gilbert reviewing culture with a resolute eye, but so much of Solares Hill was given over to the chummy name dropping of the film reviewer and empty how to articles from the insider cliques I started just drifting through and over and past the few thin pages that lately seemed to lack trenchant political comment and critical thinking. I guess the owners got the message, for in their note mentioning the imminent demise of the magazine (last edition Sunday September 8th) they said it was lack of advertising income that did for the paper. I guess I feel lucky that despite any and all shortcomings a town as small as Key West still puts out a full daily newspaper that lands with a thud in my driveway every morning before dawn. Can you say as much where you live?

The Key West Citizen will cease publishing the Solares Hill, The Citizen's Sunday magazine section, as of the Sept. 8 edition.

Publisher Paul A Clarin made the announcement to the Citizen staff on Wednesday.

"Over the past few weeks, we made the difficult decision to stop publishing Solares Hill," he said. "As with many publications these days, there simply has not been enough advertiser support to sustain the feature-rich section."

Clarin said, "Solares Hill was quite popular with Citizen readers and has always added a unique voice to the paper. From insightful observations of our town and the Florida Keys to our links to the Bay of Pigs training sites, the editor and writers of Solares Hill always looked beyond the obvious and dug a little deeper. It's a tragic fact these days that reader interest does not guarantee the financial success of a publication."

The Solares Hill Editor and Associate Editor's positions have been eliminated. Mark Howell and Nadja Hansen will be leaving the company.

In other Citizen newsroom reorganization, the Sports Editor position has been eliminated and editor Ralph Morrow will be leaving The Citizen.

"As we move forward, we will merge some of the Solares Hill columns and features into our Sunday newspaper. This will be an evolving process over the next few weeks, part of our continuing efforts to keep The Key West Citizen a strong, financially successful publication," Clarin said.


Vacation Nostalgia

Umbria, Italy, land of farms, rivers and millennial traditions. It's where I grew up and learned to ride.

Today I board an Air Berlin flight from Miami to Rome. I return September 19th and I know that it won't be enough time and it will be too much time all at the same time. My wife got free mileage tickets and Giovanni, my brother by other parents will put me up so it will be a cheap-ish vacation.

The best part is my sisters really wanted me to visit, they were freakishly insistent as I haven't been back since 2011 and they felt it was time. This from two twin older sisters who used to treat me as though I were a carbuncle on the face of the planet. We didn't worry about emissions back then, or waste disposal or recycling. We expected electric lights, running water at least wo oes a day and a newspaper in the town thirty minutes away by motorcycle. Todi was our market town where the sophistication of the city offered us restaurants and a movie theater and lawyers offices. Today Todi is a cute artsy town where Americans go to experience the "real" Umbria away from the tourist traps of Assisi and Orvieto and Perugia. That's been a change I've had to cope with, my home town a destination?

We got a package of something or other last week at home and I was astonished to see a small, perfectly mailable box inside a bigger box with brown paper used as packing material. What ever happened to waste not, want not? Bloody idiots, they seem so out of touch in the 21st century America where I now live. When I was a kid I wouldn't have noticed.

Back to my vacation expectations. Giovanni tells me he has secured the use of a rather decent touring BMW motorcycle for my use during my stay, like the one he was riding above in 2009. Last year he bought a new 1600 six cylinder BMW and he loves it. Giovanni rides a lot and does a fair bit of freeway riding too, he drives an Audi but prefers to ride as do I when he can; we've been riding together since 1970, before that when we only had pedals. I leave Cheyenne in my wife's good hands and I will miss her half as much as she misses me.

Giovanni and I took different paths. My mother married an Englishman and I learned English from infancy which gave me a huge leg up in the emigration stakes. Besides I always had itchy feet, I wanted to see what was over the horizon, where Giovanni had a career path mapped out by his cardiologist father. He settled down, married and had children and a career while I goofed off to Northern California. I used to ride to this deserted mountain spot to show girls the prowess of my moped 40 years ago. Nowadays the hill climb seems like a bump on the modern motorcycles I ride, and riding the with Giovanni for company is somehow less enticing than the company of those distant days of fumbling exploration.

Key West stays behind of course, and when I get home I will have the prospect of soon getting back to my preferred night shift, the days will be shorter but still warm, my wife will be happy to see me and my dog too. I will be exchanging my borrowed BMW for my 76,000 mile Triumph and getting back to my torn up commute on the Boulevard.

I don't know where the fourteen year old kid with a stammer and an early smoking habit went. He became a cardiologist and still smokes. He's traveled the world but always came home to Central Italy where he belongs, and by belonging becomes my anchor. We neither of us are men's men, we don't do sports, we don't drink to get drunk, we don't play cards, we just ride motorcycles and talk about the meaning of life and our shared history. Giovanni isn't a great philosopher, he fears death and doesn't like to talk about it. So we make the most of our time together and ten days together is sufficient to exhaust us emotionally and mentally. I'll be ready to come home always with regrets. There he is in jeans in the summer heat in the late 1960s roughly. We knew nothing of the Vietnam war or draft cards.

Key West stays the same for me, a refuge, a spot almost off the map with perfect weather and not enough of anything but just enough of everything. I have a refuge in my home and I have a refuge in my job, a fact that surprises me when I think about my job. I like the life. I don't know that Italy would have given me the opportunities to experience life the way America has. In fact I'm sure my life would have been far more constricted, and for that I am grateful.

And when I think back to the little brat I was (the one in the hat) my whole life ahead of me I wonder what the hell I expected. Honestly I think I've lived most of my life in a fog, no planning required, drifting where the mood took me. Until 2008 when the conomy crashed and I was suddenly a difficult to place middle aged worker I always felt I could go anywhere and get a job and make a go of it. So I did. I learned how to apply for a job and rent an apartment, I lived in California because that was where Hollywood said one should live. I learned to like homosexuals and think of them as ordinary people, I learned to de-objectify women as much as my hormones allowed (and the chance of getting laid required) and I got into sailing. I tried hang gliding and learned that was not my sport, nor was scuba diving, too complicated and time consuming in cold dark water. I hated the coastal California weather but I loved the life. All that came to the little boy in the silly hat when he found the nerve to leave his family and home.

I have been getting a bit antsy worrying that I am in the final leg of a life that has taken me round the world, quite a lot of it on two wheels. Is this where it ends? I ask myself. Maybe, but it's not bad as a place to wash up. I have regrets, how could one not? On the whole though I did as well as I could with hand I was dealt. I've been married for twenty years (thanks to her patience) and I am actually eligible for a pension, after a life lived outside the boundaries of a conventional career. Weird that.

I know my wife is jealous of my trip and she is planning a three week extravaganza next year and what she knows I will be enjoying is home cooking at the hands of Rossana, Giovanni's long suffering wife. She'll show me round her garden, she'll confide in me her hopes and fears for the future, their children struggling to find work in a failing Italian economy, her irritations at her work as the doctor in charge of the local medical lab. I met Rossana before they got married and then I disappeared out of Giovanni's life and now she puts up with me stealing him away to go riding. Then she feeds us when we get home.

I went to see my bike mechanic Jiri on Stock Island and we had a little chat, he struggling with his wife who has family obligations in Michigan and he who,loves living on Stock Island. He has aing parents in Czech and when I tell him of my return to Europe to ride his eyes light up and he says "I've got to do that." He goes home to help his parents maintain their home, replace their furniture and ease them int a dignified and comfortable old age. I go to Italy to ride. I am a grasshopper, he is an ant. I saw him taking off up Highway One road testing a K1200R, a 170 horsepower rocket I rented in Italy in 2007 and which blew my middle aged socks off.

Italians love to sit around and talk and when I was a kid it made me crazy. It was like I was the only passenger on a train who liked to read a book, and sitting in a compartment with a bunch of people nattering would drive me to each for hours in the corridor on fold out stools for the chance to read, albeit uncomfortably. To sit with my nose buried in the pages of a good read was considered rude and I lived in a culture where making conversation was the highest art. I can't wait to escape I told myself. Now they look quaint and part of who I might have been when I see them at the cafés doing their Italian thing.

I know when it comes time to leave I won't have seen enough, talked enough with my sisters and their husbands, talked enough with Giovanni or his family ( seen here with his Dad, a shockingly old man who was in his prime when I left in 1982 for the last time), but I know I will have made best use of the time I had, which is in itself a lesson for the rest of our lives.

This will be us in a few decades, if we live that long, and we too will be reminiscing, perhaps about the golden age of motorcycles when they ran on gas and you could ride around the world. I read about the ghastly effects of climate change " the year 2050," but 2050 is long past my sell by date. I figure I will be lucky to see and be aware of 2035 for by then I shall be 77 or so and quite ripe I am sure. So I do my reminiscing now to make sure I enjoy as much of everyday life as I can.

I wonder about people who don't love their lives as much as people who don't love their dogs. It's so easy to love a dog and it's so easy to not love one's own life. Time is running out for us, for our way of life, and change which could be for the better isn't always seen that way. It's change and it's inevitable, but I still look back and miss the glory days of my youth when everything was perfect and motorcycles were great. Sometimes Stock Island in all it's third world glory looks like the Umbria of my peasant youth.

I could go on, I have a treasure trove of pictures gleaned from my precious trips since 2007 when I started revisiting my old home. Suffice it to say I will be riding and enjoying great food in fine company and I will miss my current home and all it contains.

We never had motorcycles this good in my perfect youth. Nostalgia, what a fickle mistress!