Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Not Greece

Summer heat and a few pictures, taken at my favorite spot where land meets water in a public place. They've renamed West Summerland Key, which is sensible as the main Summerland Key, the one with the post office on it, is well west of here. Trouble is they renamed it Scout Key as there is a scout camp on this largely uninhabited island, but the girl scout camp is called ironically enough "WESUMKEE"  an abbreviation of the old name for the island. I call it Homophobe Key because change annoys me, even though the Girl Scouts don't seem to give a toss one way or another about lesbians. Women it has to be said as usual are ahead of the men and the male scouts need to get with the program too.
There is this old pump station  sitting sturdily and emptily next to the old water main installed in 1942 to serve the expanding military needs in Key West, a city that had till then  survived by rain and cistern. Someone has been clearing out the rubble in the old structure and though there was evidence this place had been left abandoned too long  the rather unpleasant contents of this impromptu latrine have been removed with no trace left behind, much to my astonishment.
Cheyenne took stock of the clean room and thought the breeze was cool.  The old toilets in the other room are cemented up and the whole place was actually quite spiffy which I found mildly heartening. People come to fish in these lonely places and they seem never to have learned  how to spend the night in the wilderness and leave no trace. This place has been too fouled up to try to enter in the past. I wonder what's going on? Is gentrification coming to my undeveloped backwater of a non-beach? 
 This funky building reminds me of so many crude structures left behind by humans around the world, places once thought to be critical and now abandoned. I wonder when I look at this stone cube how people lived here and how lonely it must have been alongside a narrow road in the middle of nowhere with no facilities to speak of. A pretty enough spot I suppose but Robinson Crusoe comes to mind. Cheyenne looked around and found nothing of interest which I took to be a good sign.
Afternoon temperatures have been hitting ninety degrees and its too hot for furry Labradors to be out and about unless the wind is cooling things down. I sat outside for a while  and contemplated the beauty of the scene. I love summer in the Keys and watching the sun sparkle on the water was a reminder that getting out on the water is a priority this year.
I am not going to Europe this year and that decision has saddened me. Finding a Greek island in my backyard is some sort of compensation.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Key West Tuesday

I posted an old essay yesterday about the Poinciana blooms across Key West, a reflection brought to mind when I saw this tree blooming on Southard Street.
It's not just the flame trees that are starting to look good. The traffic is lighter, the streets are emptier and Key West is rich with heat and color.
Some people refer to winter as "season" as though winter is the time for tourists, though nowadays people seem to come to Key a West year round, in larger or smaller numbers.
As Cheyenne and I strolled on the shady side of Frances Street I was moved to think of another essay recently published on this page, Key West Diary: Big Coppitt Cemetery and as we walked past the Key West cemetery I thought about how peaceful is the one ten miles north of here...
...not least thanks to this lot trundling by every few minutes. I think the 90 minute tour on the Conch Tour Train is well worth while for anyone wanting to know some of the history of this town. But I'd sure hate to live on any stretch of their route!
Walking the streets of this town always feels like a privilege to me. Cheyenne has fun sniffing everything in sight and I get to see and notice and there's always something to ponder. Like why does an otherwise sensible cyclist choose to ride the wrong way on a one way street?
Check this one out...what the dickens is a St Francis of Assisi hermitage doing in a back unit in Key West? Not open to the public the sign in back says, so I wonder what the point of the label is!? It's hard to imagine anyone coming to Key West for a retreat of Franciscan spiritual solitude, but who knows?
A bit of motorcycle content here, a chopped Harley which I believe to be a pan head because the alloy silver valve covers resemble frying shown by the arrows for those less mechanically inclined!
When we got to Bayview Park Cheyenne was going strong, but the denizens of the park were laid waste by the heat ... or something.

There was a surprisingly large and active group of tennis players being very busy. When I was a kid in boarding school they made us chase balls around playing fields every afternoon in an effort to make us proper Catholic gentlemen brimming with team spirit. All I remember is running around on wet, rainy, snowy English afternoons my knees freezing cold my thighs burning like lumps of ice, my boots clogged with gruesome mud. So pardon me if ball games have lost their appeal now that I am old enough to make the choice to turn my back on them.
On the other side of the park I found more cars than I could photograph parked on the sidewalk. One does it so everyone does it!
This picture amused me despite the fact that free range chickens do not amuse me. They are noisy and messy yet picturesque we are told because visitors find them to be cute. We are told they have been around forever but if you check photos and paintings from the early part of the twentieth century you won't find chickens on the streets. Despite the stories made up about how they got here.
And on the way out of town you can see work has begun on the multi-million dollar project that will soon be the new city hall at the former Glynn Archer School on White Street.
I am looking forward to seeing that finished, as well as the Boulevard re-opening with four lanes and a turn lane in July -can it be that soon?- not to mention the endless project of the sewer construction in the Lower Keys. There sure is a lot going on in these islands.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Keys Chorale On Life Support

I make no apology, I like opera but I also  like the lighter side of the outdoor concerts put on by the Keys Chorale. I remember the Christmas concerts at Fort Zachary put on by their diminutive dynamo of a leader, the now sainted Emily Boyd Lowe and the concerts outdoors at the back of the college put on by her worthy replacement Dean Walters, whose future as leader is now in question:
Florida Keys Chorale was created in 1990 as a no-credit course offering at the Florida Keys Community college. This was at a time when the college offered music courses and classes in theater...Nowadays that's all gone and replaced by the high ideals of business and finance, and yet somehow the Chorale soldiers on. All this was brought to mind Sunday night when we were offered dinner by our boss who left us a note and some funds to buy dinner to close National Telecommunicators' Week. We were supposed to get pizza reputed to be dispatchers' favorite food but really the people who answer 911 are foodies you will find, always rooting around for interesting new menu items to pass the time between phone calls. I like weird Uzbek food from Kennedy CafĂ© which is good for night shift as they are open till midnight and deliver. We've had burritos from the Yebo food truck recently and they went down well. This time Shannon said "honey chicken from Tong's Garden" so we agreed Nick and I, as disagreeing with Shannon takes nerve. We got a  huge piece of chicken breast breaded with a sticky sauce on the side that I managed to get everywhere like Winnie-The-Pooh with a hunny pot. It was delicious.
There is a collection of free magazines and papers in the police station lobby where I was waiting for the driver who called ahead to tell us he was one minute out, and while I waited I picked up a weekly I haven't paid much attention to lately, called Konk Life. Its published by a Conch Bubba who started a community radio station a while back but the community support was lagging so the radio which was grossly underpowered such that by Stock Island the signal was fading, went completely off the air and faded to the Internet which is not what I listen to in my car. But the flimsy ad-filled paper seems to have blossomed while I had my back turned and all the journalistic talent that has recently been fired by Cooke Communications of the Key West Citizen seems to have a found a home in the burgeoning empire of the deBoer publishing franchise. What a pleasant surprise! I waited for the Chinese food to appear and flipped the pages. Well, well, now we have something to look forward to each week to fill the hole left by Solares Hill. 
The editor is an old newspaperman from the Citizen, a sports writer of some local repute and  the writers are familiar to the community as the publisher himself Guy deBoer is pleased to point out. I took my copy of Konk Life upstairs with our dinner and took a  tour between 911 calls. There was lots of stuff to read. The big story that I found captured my interest was the extensive coverage and opinion of a recent meeting of members of the Keys Chorale. It seems they have to choose between dropping their affiliation with the college if they want to keep Dean Walters who is not qualified to "teach a course" though he is eminently qualified to direct the Chorale... However the obvious question is whether or not the musical group can raise tens of thousands of dollars and manage all the minutiae of maintaining a musical volunteer organization...But that is what they will have to do to keep Walters. 
The next issue facing the Chorale is that of diminishing membership. Their website quotes numbers of between 70 and 100 but the articles quote 33 to 37 actual members nowadays, which is apparently a critical quorum that has been reached, and it must not shrink further if the Chorale is to stay alive; fewer members and it dies which gives everything a certain sense of urgency. It has been lost on no one that the Key West Symphony died a rather public and acrimonious death thanks to low funding and bills that could only get paid after unconscionable delays. The economic climate continues to be healthy only in the eyes of the delusional and those removed from the reality of earning a living. For the rest of us money is tight. 
We are entering a new era, one that the city has trodden before certainly, but one that those of us who remember the days of plenty before 2008 can only view with collective sadness. Its the arts that make life interesting and on some days bearable even, a fact not well understood by the troglodytes who measure the value of life by Return  On Investment, yet they are the masters of our shrinking universe more so than previously.  Those that have made a fortune out of Key West aren't stepping up and business and financial leaders who can help with advice and experience as much as with cash could help helm the Arts into a safer future, but I guess that open season on politicians is more interesting and more lucrative. Key West is a funny place and on has to hope that oddness will win out in the end and perhaps the trend toward mercantilism at the expense of all else can be bucked in this small town.
Certainly the dense prose on the pages of Konk Life holds out hope that print in this town isn't dead, far from it, and whatever happens to music someone will likely be around to report on what does happen. I am now looking forward to seeing how often and how much I disagree with whatever I get to enjoy reading in this paper. Just having a paper with a letters page will be a refreshing change from the new and not improved leadership at the daily Citizen.

For other local news the online Blue Paper is also available for hard hitting opinions. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

From the Archives 2009 : Flame Trees

June 2009.

Much to my astonishment we are almost half way into the month of June already, and half of the year 2009 is on the back side of the calendar. So it came upon me slowly that this is the month that poinciana trees choose to bloom. You would have to be oblivious to life itself not to spot these bright orange flowers glowing all over town:

In the Keys they are known as Royal Poinciana, Delonix regia to give them their latin name, but who gave them the regal appellation I don't know I'm sure. The size and quantity of the blooms varies from tree to tree though the clusters of flowers always make an impression:
Even though I live in a corner of the United States which overflows with fantastic flora, I am no botanist, so you can take my word that you can't miss the poincianas anywhere around town, Old Town:
Or in New Town:
The poincianas, known in the Caribbean islands as "flamboyants" create a backdrop all their own:
In parts of Asia and Africa they are known as Flame Trees (Australian flame trees are I think something a little different):
The picture above is Eaton Street at Elizabeth, this is William Street from Eaton looking towards the Schooner Wharf area at the waterfront:
Look up and there are flame trees burning overhead:
Look down and the petals become so much debris, littering driveways, sidewalks and parked cars:
There are trees at the post office on Whitehead Street:
And the green and orange of the tree contrast nicely with the classic white wood of Key West homes:
The flowers themselves look like orchids to me, seen close up:
In New Town the Poinciana Public Housing complex is converted Navy Housing which is now affordable rental apartments for city residents, in the the sort of spacious tree lined tract that one doesn't generally associate with public housing. Personally I think public housing could use fewer high rises and more poincianas:
And across the street is a Key West version of a strip mall:
And just up the street Smurf Village has its own flaming poincianas to brighten up the street:
Call it what you will, royal poinciana, flamboyant or flame tree, its a bloom worth celebrating.