Saturday, July 20, 2013

Blue Ridge Arts And Crafts

It was not a day of glorious sunshine on the top of the Blue Ridge Parkway, though I with that annoying masculine self assurance that drives women to distraction, assured my anxious wife it was just wind blown clouds scudding over the mountains, not real rain. In point of fact it was the precursor to the sort of biblical rains that they talk about with awe for generations to come. It's not yet August but I dare say already that this will go down in the record books as the wettest of wet summers in northern Appalachia.

Which made it a perfectly splendid day to stop in at the Parkway Craft Center

The center at Mile Post 294 is part of the Southern Highland Craft Guild which has five stores in the mountains and I have no idea about the others but this place is fantastic and well worth a stop in their huge parking area for a look.

I say that and I have no great fondness for dust catchers but the artwork here spans the range of disciplines and yet maintains a closeness to the source of the inspiration.

I am no judge of Art but I really enjoyed walking through what is in effect a gallery devoted to interpretations of woodlands, mountains and the lives of those who have lived in these

The art comes in all media including stained glass representing the four seasons.

I was entranced by all of it but this next piece made of poplar wood had me standing there taking in the details for what seemed like forever.

I remember sleds like these towed by oxen in central Italy when I was a child. And I also remember the back breaking labor of phycically remving stones ploughed up in fields that had to be loaded by hand and removed. This was evocative stuff for me.

You think of Appalachia before World war two (and afterwards too maybe) and making money on a loom is part of the folklore of this civilisation lost in the woods.

The history of the Blue Ridge Parkway which was officially completed only in 1987 was shown for all to see. It came home to me that the huge financial impact of this Works Progress Administration project started by the Government which hired contractors to build the roadway to plans specified by Government surveyors and architects would never happen today. They claim 16 million visitors a year come to this place, worth billions to the local economy.

Our leaders today could never bring themselves to undertake such public works to benefit the people of these United States. Furthermore these same people would arise in revulsion if such a public good were suggested by the leader of the Free World.

And notice the segregation of the facilities in these plans drawn up in the 1930s- and notice how separate and unequal is clearly drawn into the facilities for white people versus the toilets of Negroes.

Numbers three and four are for whites, while smaller five and six are for blacks. And it seems race still matters in the land of the free where "all men are created equal." I have come to understand over the years that one major stumbling block to health care reform is the fear that "those people" will benefit, where "those" people are which ever group is the despised race, sect, or minority of the day. Fate spared me from growing up in a culture where government segregated the races so I tend to be slow when it comes to recognizing those unstated cultural indicators. I see "whites only" signs in museums and they appear to me as alien as "No Jews" signs in photos from the Holocaust.

Happily the architecture of the Parkway is less toxic and is actually fascinating to see how beauty was combined with longevity. I am struck by how public works from a hundred years ago looked good, and worked well.
Further down the page I have a picture of these arches that are as functional and apparently strong today as they were when built.
On the Art front I approached this apple from the other side and was enchanted when I saw the slice cut and the seeds in the middle looked like cherries. How does an artist imagine such a thing?
The art is for sale but three grand? They need some one percenters to come through here.
Great stuff but a three foot tall pear half covered in flowers needs a space larger than than my 750 square foot home to accommodate it. If the pear comes the Labrador goes; ie: no contest!
Quilting is a great Appalachian tradition Quilting The Appalachian Way, Article - BellaOnline Forums and there were a few examples on view.
Let's face it, you're on the Blue Ridge Parkway enjoying the road, even if you are stuck in a cage, and you don't want to stop for anything so you slide past the folk thing hoping your spouse doesn't notice. That would be a mistake.
They have tons of shady parking to keep your Cheyenne happy and if you are riding none of your hard core, bad ass biking buddies need know you had a good time looking at pansy folk arts. this is the America you need to think about when politics and day time TV are driving you crazy.
This wouldn't be my blog if Cheyenne didn't have a corner of the page. This blog is about life in the Keys but failing that my fall back position is a reminder that dogs like life as much as we do and travel broadens a labrador's mind. Sixty degrees in July! Cheyenne's heaven!
Rhododendrons come for the mountains in Northern India where temperatures are not at all tropical so you know a furry fat Labrador is happy here. Wandering on the ridge of the Blue Ridge was her reward for being as patient as ever at the Folk Art place.
I could not fail to show at least one panoramic view of this gorgeous place. My great disappointment of 2013 is no plans for a motorcycle ride in the mountains this summer.
And here is a picture I shot on the fly of that archway architecture dreamed up in the 1930s.

How cool is this tunnel stuff in this jungly place?

And some lucky bastard was cruising the Parkway on two wheels....

...mind you this has been the wettest summer ever in the mountains so perhaps a Ford Fusion was exactly the right vehicle to visit the mountains this year! We had fun in any event and that's all that matters.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Living Key West

Something happened to me in the past ten days and I'm still processing what exactly it is. It's nothing dramatic, externally, but inside I've been evaluating how I feel about where I live. It's odd, but I think that for the first time in 55 years I am trapped where I live, and what's even more odd I don't think I mind that too much.
When I used to live on a boat anchored off Rat Key, north of Key West I used to walk into town across Peary Court which was an open space with a baseball diamond and acted as a short cut from Garrison Bight where I landed my dinghy. The Navy took back Peary Court and built ousting it didn't actually need. Now they have graciously given theland back to the city and built terrorist proof housing directly on Fleming Key inside the Navy base. I'd like to see Peary Court revert to open space as it would make a lovely park but now the plans are for more housing. No turning back; oh well.
Thinking about the past led me to Harpoon Harry's, a diner where I always used to eat at the end of those walks in my search for breakfast. I don't eat out much these days at breakfast time as I am eager for sleep but from time to time I go and eat an egg and think back to the "good old days." The modern equivalent for young boaters might be Cuban Coffee Queen nearby:
One piece of social engineering the city managed to do well in its past was to lease the waterfront around Key West Bight and create a boardwalk with quite a few thriving businesses who rent space from the city.
Look up and see commercial planes sliding over Old Town bringing more people to visit southernmost city served by a foreshortened runway. They've talked about making longer but the mangroves, protected by the state, flourish at each end of the tarmac so getting bigger jets into Key West is still not possible or likely.
I first came to Key West by Vespa more than 30 years ago and I really like riding around here even though it has it's shortcomings, flat and straight as it is. A reader mentioned wanting to ride their Fat Boy on the Overseas Highway and I saw this Harley which I think is a Fat Boy (so called for the wide forks that allow wide tires I'm told) on Elizabeth Street:
I was wandering pretty much at random across town and stopped in at the Armory which is operated as an art gallery and a place for artists to visit town and practice their craft. I had no idea what I might see and that's part of the charm.
I just strolled around looking at the art, not taking notes or anything and I enjoyed it.
I like the Art scene but I like it on my terms. I'm not social and my fund of small talk is so small you couldn't put a single angel on the head of that nail, so standing around listening to people getting intoxicated and talking about themselves doesn't do much for me and I come away frm these events worrying how I made a fool of myself. So gallery openings rate as mental thumbscrews for me. But empty galleries are lovely.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, but the Internet made Key West livable for me. The electronic connection gives me the ability to easily reach across the miles and not feel isolated. Silly isn't it? You'd think the choice to live outside the mainstream would predicate a desire to avoid the mainstream but I like the ambiguity of being able to live on the periphery and read about that which he center is busy doing. Sitting in isolation ignoring the world outside never was my style and I valued Valladares' news stand for the connection their newspapers and magazines gave me. That was destined to die with the arrival of the new electronic world order, and it did.
I know they'll you there are no seasons in Key West, and in Spring everyone Up North loves seasons when the leaves pop out and life comes to life anew. In winter they bitch long and loud and my page views go up thirty percent as they frantically seek an affirmation that sunshine still exists outside their gray cold world. The seasons here are hot and humid or warm and dry but that's only meteorologically speaking, because summer is the outdoor season in the Florida Keys. It's the time we see fewer neighbors, a scattering of tourists and we enjoy sunsets at eight thirty, not late by northern latitudes, but later than winter sunsets in the Keys. We fish and go boating, we barbecue and take walks in the rain. We vacation Up Orth to escape the humidity and we crank up the air at home. We watch TV and go to the movies to escape the heat. We watch the tropical weather at the National Hurricane Center website and hope that when that season ends on November 30th we have in fact dodged another one. By the ourmbthoughtsturn to the warm and dry season as we wait for the second cold front of the Fall, theone that breaks the back of the heat and humidity once and for all, rains retreat and the skies clear after each roiling black clouded cold front blows through. That's when we get ready to greet winter residents, plan parties, buy tickets to the new season of plays and spruce up generally for winter. My dog perks up whe she can leave house even while the sun is up...
I met this guy fixing his bicycle and his kilt was ragged and torn from use. "You need a thick skin to wear one ," he said and I admired his comfort. I'd like a kilt but there is some resistance from the wife and I'm not yet readyntomforce the issue. Do you think he looks poofy? UTILIKILTS - American Made Utility Kilts for Everyday Wear I was wndering what the Chief would say if I asked if it was okay for a male dispatcher to go to work in...a skirt? Hmmm.
I like living here.
I miss boating even with my piddly little center console and sometimes I miss living at anchor for a weekend and leaving the land behind. It's been difficult to go boating lately but we will find time again I have no doubt. My wife is gearing up for her new much desired position teaching Adults and I continue to enjoy my city job. I just finished nine years as a police dispatcher, the longest I've held any job, and I find I still like it. I realized I probably can't make the same money elsewhere even if I could find a job that I enjoyed so much. People don't much hire 55 year old men, and I'm lucky I'm so happy where I am. I have high hopes my wife too will enjoy her new job in the school district. Late in life we enjoy our work with a chance of a pension we might be able to live on. How lucky is that? I just keep hoping civilization doesn't collapse in the meantime because I'm snug, for now.
I miss the Porch, a bar that has become popular and crowded and noisy. I like the Krawl on Southard Street not least because they welcome Cheyenne and they have Boddingtons and Palm on draught.
I like Cuban food, not as a substitute for Mexican but because it is old fashioned meat and cheese and bread with no apologies to the 21st century. There is also the fact that Cuban food is truly an ethnic cuisine in Key West, it's what Conchs eat and they like to eat well.
So now and the I go to Sandy's cafe and get a con leché and a cheese bread and rejoice in the fact that this is my home.
I live in town whee I can walk safely at night, where crime is present but more of an annoyance most of the time. Violence breaks out of course but if you lie with calm people and don't get belligerent and drunk in public you are pretty safe from the plague that sweeps many American cities. Key West isn't perfect but I rate it as safe for a common sense sober citizen almost all the time.
I'm not a sports fan but I like that Conchs revere baseball, I like standing on the sidelines and watching this most American of pastimes in this least American of cities, this iconoclastic little own struggling to find its way in the confusion of the new century.
it occurred to me this week that it's a privilege to be here on the sidelines to see how it goes. I don't think the economic future is bright for lots of us, as I watch the ideals of post war Europe washed down the drain of austerity while China and Russia and even lowly Brazil start to nibble at the edges of American hegemony. I like watching the world but I like living in the Keys. That's what occurred to me this past week.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Drowning The Rock

It has been a wild summer and we haven't even entered into the heart of hurricane season just yet. The first wo pictures I took standing on my porch one wild night filled with thunder and lightning, high winds and pouring rain. The electric lights never flickered but such was the owner and frequency of Nature's light show... seemed I could not fail to snatch impossibly brief seconds of night turned into day with my inadequate little phone camera. And there it is, one second dark as the Earl of Hell's waistcoat and the next second night is made day.


I know this has been a wet summer and in case anyone Up North thinks its all beer skittles and sunshine in the Keys I wanted to interrupt my usual flow of sunny pictures with a reality check. This was taken around lunchtime when I snatched a moment between downpours to pay a visit to the bank on Summerland Key. Flooding everywhere, puddles, muck and rotten wetness all day Wednesday.

It was more an act of solidarity and desperation rather than in any real hope of getting walk, that I took my ever eager dog in search of a walk yesterday morning. Rain pounded the tin roof of my house, wind shattered the calm of the trees, Cheyenne clattered down the stairs to the car under the house all happiness and desire.

Skies were clearer, marginally to the east and we drove all the way to the Seven Mile bridge, stopping just short at Veterans Park where the rain seemed lighter. The Cuban chug, a homemade boat used by emigrants to cross the Straits of Florida, is still there abandoned and filling with water, and the gray skies promised lots more to finish the job of drowning the hardy, ugly, vessel...

The rain retreated a while and Cheyenne sat disconsolately under a Tiki hut while I fiddled with my book on my phone. It was dismal and I am pathetic for letting the rain drown my good humor. It was still warm, though not hot at almost 80 degrees. When we were in Asheville on the Fourth of July it was also,pouring, finishing off the mountain communities that were already waterlogged from a soaking wet Spring.

Cheyenne expressed herself thus:

So I took her home and miraculously the skies cleared slightly over big Pine so we got out and walked a half hour through the Avenues, damp but not dispirited fully expecting to be drowned. Not a bit of it, Cheyenne finally headed back to the car and laid herself down at my feet taking her after-walk pause before standing next to the passenger door asking to be taken home. Suddenly she stated barking wildly to my shock. A burly bearded man in his 30s perhaps, approached on foot. "She's been eyeing me," he said warily as I tried to reassure him as to her pacific nature. I urged him to pet her and he couldn't resist her thick soft fur which he admired repeatedly during the prolonged conversation that followed. His confidence won Cheyenne laid back down and rested her chin possessively on my foot as we bearded men spoke. He had had a special dog he said and she disappeared in the wilds of Texas where he was living at the time. It was one of those awful endless stories with no happy ending that haunts those of us that love our dogs. He needed to to tell it and there I was, unable not to hear it. I gave Cheyenne an extra hug when we got home, and was glad she had no idea why.

My wife had to go into town and took the car to Oily's on Stock Island for an oil change. Might as well have been a water change at the rate Mike was sweeping water out of his office. Did I mention we are drowning in rain down here? Stand by for frogs and locusts I guess.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Glynn Archer School Is City Hall

The Mayor of Key West has prevailed and I am glad of that. Change is coming to White Street where the storied Glynn Archer School is now just a shell and will soon become the new and modern City Hall. The tiger has gone, leaving behind a fenced-in hole suitable for a Cheyenne inspection. Key West Diary: El Tigre.
It's been a hard fought battle with everyone who has an opinion in the city and outside it pitching in with advice. This week the Key West Citizen reporting on the budget called the planned new fifteen million dollar city hall "grand." The former city hall on Angela Street was already elderly when Hurricane Wilma dumped a shed load of water on a roof that was past it's sell-by date. The building didn't flood in that epic flooding event in the Keys but it got moldy from rain leaks. Some people wanted the offices rebuilt while others have argued, persuasively it seems, for a new fire station with a parking building and no city hall and that new fire station is scheduled cost between four and five million. Key West Diary: Glynn Archer City Hall
Then came talks with the school district which went well for the city as the school district is in financial disarray with a Board that couldn't organize a sock drawer and apparently has no clue how to balance it's financial books. They folded after some opposition to giving up the school and handed the keys over to the city. Mayor Cates fought off suggestions to keep city hall in it's current temporary location on Flagler Avenue and now it seems opposition is silent and city hall will go ahead. The end of the school year saw the end of Glynn Archer Middle School, named for a famed Keys educator who now only has 14th Street as a memorial - Glynn Archer Drive.
HOB is the middle school recently rebuilt and to such a height that neighbors got mad and the School Board, as usual, shrugged their collective shoulders and said sorry but that's the way it is, sorry for the monstrosity in oyur back yard. Horace O'Bryant students should do a lot better in the new building especially now that this school is gone. Horace O'Bryant Middle School - Index Why there was a note in Russian pinned to the door of Glynn Archer beats me!
House Of Brats as it is known affectionately around town, has been here for a long while and there was some sentiment expressed on the last day of school as the place closed for the last time. Saying goodbye to Glynn Archer school | The thing is though the school was really worn out and now the shell can be preserved in all its Palladian glory while a thoroughly modern city hall goes up inside.
I like this location as its away from the tourist part of town and the school footprint is huge on this block so there will be lots of room for the employees and all the vehicles that end up crowding the city's nerve center. Access is great with White Street and United intersecting right here. Emergencies in Key West usually involve weather so that act that the National Weather Service is right across the street can only be a good thing.
That the police department is about four blocks away will be a good thing too I think, especially as I work at night when city hall is empty, but for administrators it's got to be a good thing to be working close to each other. And when you look at the building you know Mayor Cates was right:
But there are going to be problems. For instance, what happens to Dairy Queen? It's got to have been a blow to lose those middle schoolers and their appetite for soft serve. Tourists like to know where locals go to eat and they get mad when I say Outback and Miami Subs because they want to know we spend scads of cash eating out every night. Actually DQ is extremely popular, and you will see Conch cars with DQ stickers on the back. A Monroe County label on a car license plate is the state's way of identifying local residents, but locals born and bred here know better and stick those two innocuous letters in their vehicles... I don't but I'm not a Conch.

I'm looking forward to the new city hall.