Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Untippable Apple Cart

Key West in the pre-dawn darkness is an entirely different place to the daytime bustling town. I have not been feeling too excited lately to be living in the Keys and that has nothing much to do with my life. I looked in the window of what used to be the earthy down at heel Haitian art gallery and I saw a life style boutique that says nothing to me, not even unattainable desirability. 
I was never part of a movement or a cult or a group when I was a youngster but I liked living among people who used their heads. Key West appealed to me years ago as a haven for bohemians, which I am certainly not, and artist, which I am not either. I liked being among them because I was not a  sore thumb, I blended in and I got the benefit of art and movies and music. And I had friends who liked similar things in life. 
Nowadays much to my surprise I find myself living in a millionaire's haven, Key West has moved away from the chaos of twenty or more years ago and has become liked for it's weather, nit it's contrarian nature. I blame the main streaming of gay culture. It used to be that gays congregate in places where they were more or less accepted. They created communities that met the criteria for people like me who just wanted to drift along the margins.Now being gay is no big thing in much of the country, and I am glad of that change. But one of the changes that affects old sticks-in-the-mud like me is that it's now respectable for dreary people with money to enjoy Key West. And they push out the people living on the edge who gave the town it's cultural edge. 
There is so much more to key West than drinking even though alcohol was one of the fuels that supported social outcasts in their own struggles for self acceptance. Being a  pioneer or a rebel has been a lot less easy than simple aphorisms will tell you so if you do choose to follow your own star don't expect your neighbors to cheer you on. And in Key West social conformity now comes with a price tag far too high for most of us. It's not just the cost of housing these days, which is out of sight. It's the lack of space for people who aren't mainstream. 
Height restrictions are to be eased if a referendum gets passed next year. Initially the relaxation will allow "affordable "housing to be built at 40 feet not 25 but the vote will come down to trusting this is a one time change to help the less well off. I have no faith in the project but don't live in the city so I shan't be voting. The fact that the city commission can't handle this issue because it is a charter restriction should give an idea what a change this could be. 
I read a devastating article in the Blue Paper by Rick Boettger on the subject of the county commissioners' failures to meet ethical requirements in reporting. Furthermore there is a mention of the new sewage system which very controversially installed grinder pumps underground to macerate sewage and pipe it away from homes. Apparently one reason suggested for the shut down of the water system in the Keys after Hurricane irma was to prevent this system from back flooding. If people couldn't flush the pumps which had no power couldn't get back up. Which was one reason engineers suggested they were a bad idea in the first place. There has been no public discussion of Hurricane Iram and its effects on this community and I am asking myself why is that. 
But there again most people don't come to the Keys to seek out acts of civic activism to refresh their golden years. So now that Boettger himself has suggested his run for public office next year  may have a quixotic element to it dois that self awareness increase his value as a candidate or does it permit us to write him of as a poseur? I like his hard questions and his parade of facts but I wonder why anything has to change because of him. 
The incontrovertible fact is that Key West has swept away the signs of Hurricane Damage and it's business as usual here and the money is flowing. It may be shallow living but in the Conch Republic as in the rest of the country at large as long as the cash flows  tampering with that flow is not unacceptable, it's usually not even  possible. Next year's elections may carry a lot of baggage with them at the national level certainly but quite possibly also in this overpriced back water as well.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Sunrise, Sunset

I am not going to wax philosophical about sunrises and their counterparts the sunsets because that would be cheesy, however I will say that if you want to get a reaction on Instagram all you have to do is post a picture like one of these. People feel moved to profound emotions by the colors of the daily drama.
 I took these three with my iPhone and regretted not carrying my big camera with me that particular morning. Rusty was running up the trail in the distance, I was dredging my waterproof Crocs through the high tide pools with determination and all around me was that most appealing light, the almost daylight of dawn above the Torch Keys.
They call them the Torch Keys (Little, Middle and Big Torch) owing to the torch wood trees, a hardwood said to burn long and bright when used in firewood which it never is nowadays what with petroleum and electricity. 
 Then it was the end of the day and the next two pictures I got with my big camera from the deck around my house. Before Irma blew through there were no open water views here but thanks to the 140 mph winds the empty lot to the west of us is now exposed and open. My wife likes it a lot, looking out on Cudjoe Bay.
 Not bad at all I suppose, as these things go.

The Shady Side Of The Street

A few random shots from the streets of Key West. A reminder that Hurricane Irma wrecked Big Pine, not Key West.

 Chuck's daughter painted these bicycles.
 He's long gone but the bikes are still here.
 Higgledy piggledy scooter parking.
It must be winter when the bright sparks are in town.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Monday, November 27, 2017

Key West Artisan Market

Yesterday was a perfect day to be out  and about shopping. It must have been a good day to be out because the place was pretty crowded.
We went to the market with the idea that it was a farmer's market but it isn't. I think that one goes on in Bayview Park. Still if you want soap or crystal infused oils (I kid you not) this is the place for you.
I love the rusty old roof tat survives from the days when this was Cates Automotive selling cars. 
I quite liked the painted glasses but we are bulging with crystal ware at home so I had to restrain myself.
Yes, I have no idea why he was drumming on the roof of his van and he was too elevated and too noisy to ask. So I didn't.
 There was also more conventional music. It was aimed at us old farts with sixties classics.

I love November in Key West with low humidity lots of sunshine and these clear blue skies.  
Sure I like the drama of summer thunderstorms and huge anvil clouds and downpours, but this is nice too.  
I kind of didn't look too closely at stuff but my wife  did some shopping while Rusty and I stood there. 
One thing I did find (on my way to the loo)  was a local coffee roaster for sale in the restaurant store.
 Oh and by the way best come on two wheels or be prepared to walk a  few blocks:
Honey, pickles and charms. Not much in the way of parsnips and cucumbers but that's okay. The Farmer's Market should be firing up soon in Big Pine on Saturdays. May be it already has. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Walking With Korzeniowski

Isla Contadora, Panama Summer 1999

I was feeling feverish and I was glad we had dropped anchor and the boat was snug up the rivermouth and I had nothing more to think about in terms of piloting, going aground, dealing with the paperwork of a Nicaraguan port captain, while coping with his anti-American bad attitude on top of all the folderol required to enter a new country. All I had to do now was get the dogs ashore and let them run after twenty four hours cooped up on the boat. Puerto Corinto beckoned. 
Related image
Getting ashore was no easy thing as the harbor was designed for  commercial shipping and the formidable seawall was designed to support merchant ships so it's only concession to pantywaist recreational sailors like us was a vertical steel ladder set in the gray cement wall. Which would be fine for us but hauling an eighty pound Labrador and a sixty pound Husky was out of the question. One more time I used my initiative to make international sailing dog-friendly and cruised my dinghy to the end of the seawall, found a black sand beach 20 feet wide, dumped the dogs who scrambled up the rocky face only too happily while I went back to the infernal ladder and tied off the dinghy after I scrambled to the top to meet my seafaring dogs.  That I did all this running a  fever and feeling horribly out of sorts is a credit to the peculiar habits I had developed since we had left San Francisco with Emma and Debs in the summer of that year 1998. By now figuring out how to land the dogs in the most improbable places was second nature to us all.

 Doing laundry on the dock in Puerto Corinto.

In those days sailors traveled with book bags and we exchanged books as we went. We soon discovered the trading left us with romance novels, classics and unreadable dreck, in that order. Now that I store books on my iPhone I am never tempted to miss the days of paper. Never. So if I tell you I read War and Peace cover to cover while moored in the Panama Canal for a month, and On Walden Pond while enjoying Thanksgiving 1999 in the fabled San Blas Islands you will understand I am not being a  literary snob, those were simply the most palatable titles I could find at book exchanges. I did enjoy some of them thoroughly I must say and I am proud to be able to say I have in fact read War and Peace in its entirety. Had I had anything else I'd have burned the book rather than put it back in the pile as it was a tedious read and all 1300 pages bored me rigid. There; I've said it.
Image result for streets of puerto corinto nicaragua
It so happened that while we were in La Union in El Salvador I had found a particular book in the dark recesses of our bag. I felt I should want to read it so I picked up Nostromo and dived in. Joseph Conrad is variously described as the greatest English language author ever etc ... and one can't help but feel he wins the title thanks in part to his Polish upbringing. He  is undoubtedly the best non native English speaker to write great literature even if he is not terribly fashionable just now. In school I had Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness thrust down my unwilling  craw but as an adult in my thirties a tale by the seafarer seemed a likely prospect. I was listening to BBC Radio 4 recently (love the Internet!) to a serialized version of a new biography of Conrad (LINK) and listening to the reading of The Dawn Watch by Maya Jasanoff I was put in mind of the time I read Nostromo.
Image result for nostromo book cover

If you aren't familiar with this novel, and why should you be as it is often described as one of Korzeniowski's lesser books, I should explain it is set in a country unknown to Conrad, a Latin American republic not unlike Nicaragua in fact, at a  time of social ferment when Italian emigrants are fomenting drama and a silver mining operation figures prominently. Not exactly a tale of the sea! But finding myself wandering the streets of this unknown port city late at night with my head filled with fever and Nostromo created an extremely vivid sensation of having been transported to another time and place. The streets were empty and the dogs and I walked at random, my head throbbing my breath raspy and all I can remember is the peculiar pattern of the typical cobbled streets, the crumbling Conradian warehouses with wide overhangs casting dark shadows from the iridescent orange globes of the occasional street lights. Everything was dark and silent overhung  by a wispy gray mist. From time to time I saw shadows lounging in the doorways of the warehouses they were paid to guard. They said nothing to us as they watched us warily, the gringo and his hounds.
Sulaco in Conrad's Costaguana is supposed to lie somewhere in Colombia but that night I was convinced Nostromo the incorruptible was walking the streets of Puerto Corinto. Nowadays Nicaragua is touting for tourism but in those days two decades distant the memories of American explosive mines outside the harbor were still fresh enough and though the people of the town were kind enough one got the feeling the Port Captain was holding us personally responsible for something not good that had happened to him during the civil war and the era of American support for the Contras. His active dislike for us pushed us out of Sulaco/Corinto and we made our way rapidly to San Juan del Sur where Nostromo faded away and yielded to a beach vacation culture in Nicaragua's only truly tourist town.
Image result for warehouses of corinto nicaragua
Were you to take me back to Corinto today I doubt I could find my way anywhere, it would be as though I'd never been there. Because in my imagination I never have. The fever broke a couple of days after we checked in and we were gone and all I have left in my head are the images of the dark streets, the orange glow of the street lamps and the image of Nostromo stalking the streets of Sulaco.

Cleaning the hulls and chaning the gear oil on a Costa Rican beach

Saturday, November 25, 2017


The day before Thanksgiving enjoying some greenery in the city of Key West.
 The airport as seem from across the Salt Ponds at the Hawk Missile site.
 I stood on the berm built in the Cuban Missile Crisis era to protect US Hawk Missile installations.
 A couple were out enjoying the sun and the (relatively) cool breeze.
 It is a mildly mysterious place worth exploring.
 Hawk Missile installations:
 Salt Pond condos at the eastern end of the island:
 A friend remarked this view does not look like Key West, the city:

 Joe Cool chasing chimeras in the bushes,. 
 He had a grand time, and these days he no longer feels compelled to kill iguanas. 
We take care of his dietary needs now. No more stray dog hunting for Rusty.