Friday, August 31, 2018

Art And Life

I went to the Art and History Museum this week in the Custom House on Front Street and I happened upon a quite surprising exhibit. They had  a room filled with Key West Folk Art and I really enjoyed it, even though I had no idea it was there when I went to check out something entirely different.
In point of fact I was looking for a few select pictures taken in Havana in 1933 and at first I couldn't find them! Eventually I happened upon them, unmarked in a side corridor. They merit an essay to themselves too.
It was the folk art exhibit that grabbed me and set me to thinking because it happened that Up North I came across a folk artist of a different stripe who apparently has a large garden exhibit where he used to live in Georgia. I was reading up on this self taught artist Howard Finster and came across a quotation that struck a nerve
The bit that goes "may or may not align with our personal worldview" set me to pondering Art as an expression of religiosity which was Finster's bag as it happens, and clearly is not mine. It struck a nerve because as I started to check out the art work I was struck by the artist's desire to express the word of God through his paintings and yet as I pondered it I thought back to my visit last year to the seat of the Holy Roman Catholic Church in Rome. I never batted an eyelid while viewing the Pieta, now protected behind it's ballistic shield:
Doesn't get much more religious than that. And yet it's just Art in my head. And I know the artists in the Middle Ages were constrained by what the Church would pay for, thus a sculpture could be artfully nude but it had to be out of the Bible to get the artist patronage. I am hoping to visit a dear friend in Florence next year and we shall relive the good old days touring the museums and haunts of our misspent youth. Plenty of religious art to be enjoyed there and like Rome it will just be At of the highest level, a wonder of the world not to be missed but it will be religious. Finstser's art comes from the heart and his heart beat the religious note, not because of patronage but because of belief.  And the argument goes because we don't share the belief we shouldn't dismiss the Art even though it is more contemporary by a long shot than Michelangelo. Fine by me, even if I had to think about  it first!
Image result for howard finster’s art

The reason this debate started running through my head was because when I looked through the folk art exhibit in Key West the religious quotient interestingly enough was minimal. Only one of those on show used religious iconography.  This by Geraldo Alfonso:
What was apparent in almost all the artists represented was that their muse wasn't the Bible but the late Mario Sanchez who was thanks to his fame, a huge source of inspiration for other folk artists in Key West. Thus I got to see an astonishing variety of intaglio artwork, depictions of Key West, and conch cottages. Lovely stuff that I will post over the next few days and not all at once else it would be overwhelming. But not religious.
Key West does set itself apart in so many ways. I guess the artists  who moved to Key West in the good old days were driven in part by that very sense of apartness from their own lives Up North, the need to flee conventional lives when your personality or your beliefs or even something as innate as your sexuality pushed you out of the comfort of belonging. Even for Cubans landing in Key West 60 years of Communism would have driven religion out of many lives, though not all. It's odd to think the regime was so anti- everything Christmas itself was banned until the Pope went on a  visit. So  checking Folk Art from the end of the road it is not going to be art that presses those religious buttons. Does it matter? Not really but I wonder where the religious folk art is in this town. Key West is different, and I like it that way.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Blue Hole

Let me be quite clear: there were no alligators to be seen at the Blue Hole when I was there on Tuesday. This picture I took in 2014 and I put it here to not disappoint as everyone likes to see alligators apparently:
Here's another one from that same expedition:
This week there were none to be seen. But there were lots of warnings:
I wonder what people bring to feed the alligators? Table scraps? Stinky dead chickens? As for disturbing an alligator, even the relatively small ones that live here you may be doing the human race a favor if you are that stupid. Let it be enough to see and admire. However, as hard as I looked I saw none.
So, what is the Blue Hole?  It's a quarry that has filled with rain water and created a fresh water pond where no ponds or lakes are meant to exist. The limestone rock of the Keys is  porous and the salt water table is not very deep so fresh water lakes are rare except where humans have dug out the rock typically to create construction gravel.
 It is technically a hole.
Though why it's called "Blue" I don't know. See for yourself in these pictures, the water is nondescript and not blue whatever else it is.
It's a pretty spot especially on a wet weekday afternoon in August when tourists are away and alligators rule.
You can and should walk out onto the viewing platform and you may spot a creature basking in the sun in the shallows right underneath the platform itself. It is tempting to get a frisson of fear being so close to an alligator but  it's worth remembering that a recent resident died of starvation after swallowing a plastic toy thrown in the water by an unsupervised child.
 As usual even the most fearsome nature can be overcome by human ingenuity.
 The Keys are small in terms of landmass so as isolated as you may feel in come places on land you are generally never too far from some well trodden path.
You can walk half way round the hole and right up to the edge but the water itself is a foot or so below the level of the rock. Swimming is not advised. I had my old Labrador Cheyenne fall in once and I wasted no time in getting my arms around her portly self and whisking her out. She didn't seem to notice or care but she was a phlegmatic dog was Cheyenne.
Rusty I trust rather more to take care of himself. I have walked him in wilderness and he is very alert to danger. I have seen him in the Everglades turn round and walk smartly back to the car for no reason I could understand but I never argue with his reactions. I don't doubt he saw an alligator or a boa where I could see nothing. He is a survivor is my little brown bundle of joy.
 He  stayed close as we wandered around.

We spent a pleasant half hour taking pictures and taking in the modest views and smelling the interesting scents.
I'm not sure the telescope is much use unless wildlife is present but there it is, a rather nice old timey touch for those that care to spy on nature.


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

It Comes And Goes

I have received reports from Up North that cold nights are closing in and the end of summer they say  is imminent. Sucks to be them, because down here summer is in full swing. Rusty checking the street before our afternoon walk:
Summer is a rather fluid season in the Keys, a place and time of Nature's choosing, usually between May and November generally consisting of high humidity, intermittent but heavy rain and lots of insect life. It doesn't sound too pleasant but believe me it is often dramatic and beautiful and the other issues you can handle with some help. Air conditioning and bug spray help as well as an umbrella and a cheerful disposition...
Rusty does not like thunder. He doesn't panic but he finds reassurance in being in the car or sleeping on my bed and with the recent approach of some spectacular thunder heads he is quick to retreat to the car for a dry ride home. His wish is my command.
He seems rather less heat resistant now that he lives in cool air, which as it does for humans it appears to reduce his desire or ability to live in the heat. He still likes to sunbathe and hang out outdoors but he has adapted to civilization...
Rain falls at random, some roads are dry and others, like Key Deer Boulevard, have obviously just been rained on. My most recent motorcycle trip pretty much finished off my rain gear so I got some new rubberized clothing and expect I will have to wear it all before too long. You just never know where or when it will start pouring.
It was windy and I stood on the end of Niles Channel Bridge enjoying the stiff breeze while Rusty rooted around.
A  close up through the telephoto showed the sailboat covered in birds, so one can only imagine the mess. It looked so much prettier as a white speck in the distance, anchored behind the hook of Cudjoe Key.
 There is again waiting for the photographer to get a move on.
How could not like summer views like this:
 And here comes the rain to wash off the bird shit:
I switched to black and white as I preferred the ominous look but its really no big deal to drive through as the highway is broad and well marked.
Yesterday was primary day so the wife and I went out and voted. Didn't do much good as most of the candidates we voted for missed the win but this is all they give us to influence things so you have to try. Watching Republicans smother the memory of Senator McCain, a man with lots of faults no doubt, rather makes the taste of politics rather sour. "Nobody's  safe whom we care for none" sang the mischievous little maids in The Mikado. Rendered with more malice these unhappy days.
And so home to my consolation. I have been batting back and forth with a friend the value of alcohol in our respective lives especially since the busybodies have been going to town telling us it is pure poison...and I find I don't miss it terribly now that I am home. I drink tea obsessively. That would be a loss were I to to be told I could no longer drink Yorkshire Tea. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Iron Butt Bun Burner Part 2

I had taken the time to memorize the route to Niagara, which isn't as hard as it sounds. To leave the Keys to go North you take the Florida Turnpike in Homestead and switch to I-95  at Vero Beach. The Turnpike turns northwest to Orlando and Ocala where it joins I-75 to Atlanta. I-95 notoriously goes up the East Coast to Maine. So for me I was on familiar ground all the way to I-26 at Charleston where you trun inland for Asheville where my sister in law lives. At Columbia you take I-77 to Charlotte, Fancy Gap and Wytheville Virgini. So I didn't really need the mapping on the Iron Butt. Home and fresh:
Vero Beach. The Iron Btt doesn't encourage good photography. You stop get gas zero out the A trip and get back on and keep going. They says the time spent stationary kills your average. With 200cc I couldn't afford dawdling.
 The scooter ran perfectly, and all speed will given as GPS, as the speedometer though quite accurate over reads by 5mph when indicating 80 mph. Along I-95 I was running between 65 and 70 mph  with the tachometer on 8500 rpm about a thousand below red line. Fuel consumption dropped from 180 miles from the 2.8 gallon tank on my commute to around 150 safe miles. The fuel gauge is accurate and helpful and when it gets down to the last bar you can still do thirty miles befroe the bar started flashing and then you start puckering if you dont know where the next gas station is...
 I thought I had done a brilliant job of avoiding rain by leaving mid morning. The afternoon storms were pounding Central Florida and though my freeway was wet I was going great. Then the rain started a few miles from Georgia. Stop. ON with Frogg Toggs over my mesh jacket. Thank God for waterproof boots and keep riding.
 At  the Georgia gas station at exit 6 the civilians made a few cheerful remarks about rain and riding  and I replied cheerfully something about being tough to be stupid. It was a nice little boost as was the orange monster and egg salad sandwich I ate at a table waiting for the rain to ease. 500 miles and not yet dark, in ten hours or so.
I had used up my freshness crossing Florida  and now our  60 year old hero is tsrating not only to lose his ears but to show signs of wear.
The idea was to cross the plains of Georgia and South Carolina and North Carolina in the dark and arrive at the top of Fancy Gap and Wytheville Virginia at dawn. It seemed ambitious, a thousand miles in 20 hours... and me getting tired.
This was where the ride turned to shit, not to put too fine a point on it. The heavens opened and I found myself riding through the woods of Georgia and  South Carolina in pitch darkness with what my fiend Eric describes as a toad strangler dumping quantities of rain. The surface was worn out, the striping also and I had droplets all over my visor. As I slowed down the Eco light shone a bright green on the dash to advise me of what a good job I was doing saving gas. Si I sped up a bit to restore minimal vision and every time I slowed down the water droplets in front of my face went a bright bilious green I nearly gave up and looked for a motel. I was genuinely scared but what kept me going was the respectful distance the cars kept from me and I never felt likely to get run over. I would be very grateful if South Carolina could see its way to spending more money on the roads.
I pressed on i the night, turning onto I-77 from I-26  and by passing Columbia the capital of South Carolina. I was stopping for gas about every two hours, about 130 miles and riding on one buttock and then the other other. At the Columbia gas station Trip B told me I had covered 767 miles from my home/ Iron Butt doesn't accept instrument mileages but it was comforting for me to know I had done it in about 14 hours. I pressed on in drying conditions.and started climbing. I like heat and as temperatures dropped to 65 I was not excited.I pressed on glad to see the mild hills didn't phase the Burgman. I was still doing 65 mph trying not to drift down or up as exhaustion overtook me.
 At the Virginia State line my eyelids opened and the crushing need to sleep left me, once and for all. Once again I had contemplated abandoning I-77 in all the miles of roadworks around Charlotte and I fought through my exhaustion. During the day Charlotte always looks like a parking lot on it's freeways and one reason I left when I did was to go through here at 3 am. Brilliant.
 The Virginia State Line is at the bottom on he escarpment that climbs to the plateau that leads to Fort Chiswell and the intersection of I-77 (north west bound more or less) and I -81 (north east bound through Virginia). Fancy Gap was a big test for the Burgman a series of long grades that test the brakes on 18 wheelers and kept my little scooter down around a full 60 mph. A couple of 18 wheelers passed me (!) but not one single car.I was astonished. There was a message at the top saying back ups could be expected in the tunnels to West Virginia for roadworks but I figured at 7 am on a Sunday it would be fine and so it was. When I stopped at Wytheville to call home and enjoy the dawn that banished my droopy eyelids I did some quick calculations. I had done 1,000 miles almost exactly from home in 20 hours. I had 500 left to do in 16 hours. Suddenly the Bun Burner looked doable. Color me astonished.
Everything was in perfect working order. All I had to do was keep on keeping on. Easier said than done through the wild roller coaster ride of West Virginia mountains ahead.

The sun never appeared at first, wisps of fog hung low and the road was wet though it only started raining later. I had to use a sling shot technique to get up the slopes as fast as possible, downhill at 75 mph and on the reverse slope watching the speedometer drop back to 60 mph, 55 on pretty steep hills and 50 on the really long ones.  I had to use the downhill to stay ahead of the trucks who seemed less than thrilled to be passed by a Hobbit on a moped but I was having fun in my own weird way.
 At Beckley I took US Highway 19 and per instructions from an ADVRider inmate I stayed close to the speed limit letting the locals go ahead and make way for me. MY wife hates tickets as she views them as a waste of money ad she likes my Burgman because she thinks its slower than the Triumph. Which it is but its a damned sight more comfortable which allows more consistent saddle time.
 I was clearly no longer in Florida. In 24 hours I had covered 1200 miles. Twelve more hours to go and only 300 miles to do. Piece of cake I thought and started to relax.
 Yeah then the rain started up again. so I put the Frogg Toggs back on and kept pressing on.
I hit a massive pot hole which managed to pop open a little cubby hole where I kept my EZ Pass which flew out and the baffles on my muffler shattered leaving me riding a scooter sounding like it was trying to be a Harley. Very annoying. The wheel rims and tires were fine luckily and I retrieved the EZ Pass intact dodging between cars and so all was well. I kept on keeping on. 
Eventually the sun came out and I stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the view. And the silence. The loud muffler really annoyed me as I hate noisy bikes. This was beautiful country and I got to see a lot of it at 55/60 mph. It occurred to me if I lived in Appalachia I'd probably need something larger to ride than a valiant Baby Burgman. A man likes  a little oomph from time to time. As a visitor I was having  a blast.
 I got tired I will confess dodging rain and sun. I forgot to get gas and thanks to Google maps found a gas station where I put 2.6 gallons of 89 grade in a 2.8 tank. I realized I was functioning but barely when a nice man came into the Subway with my helmet and gloves which I had absentmindedly left on the pump. The sooner this ride was over the better.
It devolved into an urban race with traffic along the shore of Lake Erie on the toll road. Pennsylvania and New York don't mark their state lines so at some point I crossed from one state to the other. I reached for my EZ Pass and it slipped through my gloved fingers to disappear forever in the road. I had failed to figure a way to secure it and my idea of holding it my hand, clearly a non starter failed. The Florida Sunpass comes with stickers so you can move it  easily from vehicle to vehicle. Oh well. I pressed on through some mysterious Google back road through Buffalo, passing heaps of rusting factories sitting incongruously next to lakeside parks packed with people on a Sunday evening.
I Just kept riding, no pictures ( I think this one below is from the last gas station in West Virginia) and took no pictures.
The clerk at the Motel 6 witnessed my arrival and gave me a receipt showing the ride took 32 hours. 
My emotions were a strange mixture of elation doing what I thought was impossible and at the same time I was alone with a box of Popeye's chicken my first hot food in two days, white walls and utter exhaustion for company.
I passed out.