Saturday, October 5, 2013

Fort Jefferson Closed


I got a comment from logbookwasilla - logbookwasilla to the effect that Washington DC shutting things down doesn't matter much on the Last Frontier as they are going into hibernation in Alaska soon anyway. In the Florida Keys hibernation is replaced most frequently by drunken stupors and they can come on people at any time. For the rest of us who earn a living here the shut down is shutting down jobs.

Thursday I took my break by walking around Fort Zachary Taylor a state park, and yesterday I went as close as I could to the Dry Tortugas National Park which is closed as part of the Federal government shut down.
This rather lovely model on the docks at Key west Bight is all we have to look at right now.
The newspaper ran a story on the making of this amazingly detailed model of the military Fort in it's heyday and I promised myself a visit. I did not expect to drop by when the fort itself was not available.
I've been to the fort several times as a search of this blog will reveal. Key West Diary: Life At Fort Jefferson whose most famous occupant is of course celebrated in the free museum they have built.
The man whose name was Mudd is depicted in a diorama. His cell at the fort was a corner room and though not terribly comfortable seems quite pleasant nowadays considering how much people pay to visit the island and camp there! He tried to sneak on a ship to get away, and that's hardly surprising as there were 1500 bored soldiers in wool uniforms in Florida heat and humidity stuck on that small piece of sand guarding him. They could not have been much fun for the man who set the leg of President Lincoln's assassin.
As a prison the Dry Tortugas were nicely isolated seventy miles west of Key West. Which makes them impossible to visit without a boat or plane and now that the Feds have closed the place we have no access at all.
I spoke with a woman at the ticket booth supposedly selling rides to the Dry Tortugas on the Yankee Freedom, the sole franchised ferry service to Fort Jefferson departing at eight am and returning at five thirty pm daily... But not anymore.
She said they are mostly giving refunds right now and trying to sell tickets for the Christmas season. Basically they are hoping Congress hurries up and gets the job done. Unlike the boat crews and the operators of seaplanes to the island, the ticket sellers still have work.
I feel very lucky to,work for the city and I am thankful for my job every day. I get paid well, I live in the Keys and I have time off. I feel privileged. Almost a like a member of a Congress who are paying themselves even as many other federal employees not only don't have work and don't get paid, but who will never get back pay for the days they missed.
Running the ferry has to be a pretty good job too, spending all day on the water and seeing the Fort up close every work day isn't bad. It would seem like reliable year round work in a town that doesn't always offer such a commodity. Until now it was reliable.
I said to the Historic Tours of America ticket seller at the Yankee Freedom booth that we seem to be living in an alternative universe. Rather grimly she agreed.

So Republicans don't want us to have access to cheap health insurance, with all its flaws, they don't want to tax the one percent, and now they don't want the rest of us to visit the National Parks. Whose universe is this?

Friday, October 4, 2013

National Parks Closed, State Parks Open

I knew I should never have opened my mouth at the entrance to Fort Zachary Taylor on my lunch break. When I inquired mildly whether they had seen more or less visitors with all the talk of park closures in the news I got a short lecture about state versus national and the bitter comment that the state can't print it's own money. 
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is the southernmost in the state system and it's wedged on the southwest corner of Key West, tucked away behind the Navy Annex. It used to be surrounded by Navy land so the approach road to the park gates and the drive inside the gates to the parking lot tends to appear mysteriously long and winding for no apparent reason. Visitors on foot have a bit of a hike.
According to the information at the trance to the Fort there is a ranger tour every day at noon starting at the flagpole. I got there late so I contented myself with a self guided walk and some light photography. The fort is very easy to enjoy.
The fort was built starting in 1845 and named for the recently deceased President in 1850. It was designed to protect the approaches to Key West harbor, which became a critical Union blockade base and trade route in the Civil War. The garrison commander Artillery Captain John Brannan secured the fort and therefore the city for the Union by secretly marching from his barracks on White Street to the fort in the early hours and refusing to hand it over to confederate sympathizers in the city.
Back then the fort was surrounded by water and was accessible across a long wooden bridge that connected it to land. As the harbor was dredged the dirt was thrown up,around the fort at the entrance and the landmass grew around the brick building. Today it has a moat separating the fort from the woods and beaches that surround it.
It costs one person on or in one vehicle four and a half dollars for a day pass to the park and I spent more than half an hour in the fort alone before I had to run back to my scooter to get back to work. There is lots to see and views to enjoy and much to meditate on.
I like most people enjoy our parks both national and state and all the paraphernalia of monuments and wildernesses scattered round the country and at this time of Federal shut down the closure of the parks seems like the meanest and most visible side effect of the drive to deprive people of affordable health care.
Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas is closed, putting quite a few people and tours out of work, and perhaps that closure makes this place all the more valuable. Quite aside from the fact that the architecture is similar.
Key West Diary: Fort Jefferson-16 Million Bricks. I have written several essays on Ft Jefferson as I really enjoy the place.
Fort Zachary has its share of guns and military stuff. Originally, when the fort was finished in 1866 it was three floors tall but in 1898 they knocked off the top two to make the fort a less obvious target for modern artillery.
In fact the fort never was defended in any meaningful way against an attacker and nowadays it hosts an annual civil war reenactment as a tribute to the past, as well as a haunted fort theme for Halloween. Friends of Fort Taylor
It's a great place to go for a walk and think profound thoughts if you are so moved. How they built these arches using bricks is conundrum enough.

The US President for whom the fort is named was, quite frankly, an odd fish. He was born in 1874 and he fought in the War of 1812, Indian wars and most famously in the Mexican-American war and he was known as "Old Rough And Ready." His ascent to the presidency was pretty odd too. He didn't find out he was nominated for quite a while as he refused to receive the notification as it was a postage-due letter and he didn't want to pay for it. Also because he had moved around so much as a soldier he had no official place of residence and he first voted at age 62. Rumors that he was poisoned in office were finally dispelled in 1991when his body was exhumed and inspected. It's hard to imagine Zachary Taylor getting elected to anything in the television age. So much the worse are we for it, as the Federal shut down demonstrates.
Climbing the spiral staircase gives a nice view...
...across the Key West harbor, where the deleting study was to have taken place.
And even though the channel won't be widened any time soon there are still plenty of cruise ships dominating the skyline:
I saw rain clouds moving off shore after they doused Key West with one more summer thunderstorm yesterday, and in front of the clouds you may be able to see a few black specks that were a kettle of turkey cultures hovering in the updrafts.

And I enjoyed myself so much I had no time to go to the beach and take a few pictures of Key West's best swimming beach. Key West Diary: Fort Zachary Beach
Time to get on the Vespa and buzz across town back to work. Down the long winding road to the entrance...

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Light Textures Forms and George

I have a habit of over compensating my dog. She has been limping a bit and the vet has given her a course of pills, my wife has upped her dose of the anti-arthritis magic pill that I can't spell, but age wins in the end and we know where this will take us. So while I can and she can, we walk and these days she really really likes urban walks. I miss our romps in the mangroves but it's her time so she gets what she wants, in as large doses as I have time for, and a quick inspection of a surviving Captain Outrageous bicycle seemed to please her.

I was sorry to see the accessory coconut cup holder was reduced to transporting a crushed empty cigarette pack. I suppose the late Outrageous's philosophy was art for every day use there's nothing more everyday for an addict than a cigarette.

I got rained on Tuesday night on my way home from a short shift at work. I had stolen the wife's Vespa 150 and as I came into Big Coppitt the rain started. I took shelter at the Shell station parking the ET4 by the pump even though ironically I had just filled up at the Stock Island Chevron, and I watched the water pour down. The rain has been incessant this summer and last night was no exception. Clearly it wasn't going to stop so I wrapped myself in a waterproof jacket more to stay warm than dry and off we went into the dark sodden night, the Vespa and I. By the time I got home twenty minutes later I was soaked but, I had survived another night of wind rain and minor excitement on the highway. The sunshine that follows the storm is sweeter for out.
Walking Key West I see stuff that puzzles me sometimes but the bike lock cemented into the wall wasn't puzzling - it looked simple and smart. It's a bit like the new style hurricane shutters in the picture above reflecting the sunlight. I use traditional aluminum sheets at my house but I am intrigued by the translucent plastic ones. There's nothing like sitting in your house waiting for a hurricane with all light and all views shut off turtle style by sheets of industrial grade metal. While I'm on the subject of impossible dreams my home will never look spiffy and tidy like this. I am resigned:

It seems like it takes a huge amount of money or time to get things just so and my life is way too normal to expect things to be just so. I recently murdered my wife's indoor basil plant by misjudging it's water needs and her orchids I don't touch. I saw these plants tied to a tree and I wondered if orchids normally get this ...robust?

Some guest house operator on Fleming got the idea, where from I don't know as these things escape me, to put bright white stones in a tree pot. I found them intriguing. I've seen them before but today they looked bright and washed and new. I'd never think of such a thing.

The next thing we came t owas the art gallery that used to be a gay bookstore called Flaming Maggie's a reminder that the building is on Fleming and Margaret streets. It is something else now, thanks no doubt to an uncertain economy.

Now it's called Salt apparently an offshoot of a boutique magazine that was on display behind the firmly locked doors. salt: an indigenous journal | arts, literature & community. Like most things Key West it seems to come and go on a whim published at random. The woman behind it use do paint in Key West then she buggered off somewhere more interesting and apparently now is back selling stuff in jars.

Coming and going is fashionable now it seems:

A pop-up retail space is a venue that is temporary — the space could be a sample sale one day and host a private cocktail party the next evening. The trend involves “popping-up” one day, then disappearing anywhere from one day to several weeks later. These shops, while small and temporary, can build up interest by consumer exposure. Pop-up retail allows a company to create a unique environment that engages their customers, as well as generates a feeling of relevance and interactivity. They are often used by marketers for seasonal items such as Halloween costumes and decorations, Christmas gifts and Christmas trees, or fireworks.

There are different benefits to Popups, marketing, testing products, locations, or markets, and as a low cost way to start a business. Some are seasonal, others go on to sign long term leases, and some use it as creative engagement.


It's lucky they aren't actually selling "provisions" because most working people would go hungry if they did. The word provisions is one I've heard a lot when I was out sailing. For some reason people on boats talk about grocery shopping as "provisioning" as though buying food to go sailing were some 19th century expedition hunting salt pork and biscuits.

Which was when some bloke walked up to me addressing me by name. I think I did pretty well and made eye contact, sustained a conversation and remembered to take his picture. Take that Aspergers!

George has made a split life for himself in Key West and Prague of all places... Not exactly your Iowa cornfield! He was very nice about the blog and we chatted for a while about traveling, child raising (him, not me) Key West and eating out. I hope he calls but I'm never sure what people think and reading me creates one set of expectations which may not be met in real life. He closed with a comment about the night time black and white pictures I get to take on night shift. Something like this I guess!

There is color still in Key West of course, like this lobster claw.

I am reeling from all the colors textures, light and conversation on one short walk. And Cheyenne said nothing through all of it.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

My Favorite Ride

We have all had that experience where when we return after a long absence to scenes of our youth the place seems to have shrunk, and yet we know it is we who have grown not the places that have shrunk. So it is with a stretch of road that may be three miles long, possibly, and yet in my memory it was a proving ground that could never quite be dominated in its entirety.

Of course when I returned to this stretch of mountain roadway for the first time in 25 years, in 2007, it looked short and ugly and all torn up. I remember this place before the road was even paved and then when they put asphalt on it around 1973 it became a smooth black ribbon of perfect joy for a kid on a bicycle, or better yet a moped, and later a "proper" motorcycle. Nowadays it is frankly, horrible, as the pictures will show, all patches tar snakes humps and holes.
The signboard is accurate in its destinations but the distances shown from the top of the hill La Rocca to the various towns and villages. From this spot around 3,000 feet up I am not convinced Todi is but 13 miles away. When I used to come up here to get away there were no signs at all so I suppose one shouldn't be cavalier about progress.
There is also signage along the way now advising of twists and turns ahead (yes!) and falling rocks (no!). I remember a night trip I took with my mother in what must have bee the early 1960s. We used to take off from our winter home in England in the beginning of summer and my mother would drive or put the car on a train for part of the journey and we would arrive she and I and my two sisters twins and elder by ten years after a frazzling journey. This time in particular I recall driving this white graveled road very vividly for some reason, and I recall the banks of gravel, the overhanging bushes swinging in and out of sight as the car crunched down the hill in a cloud of white dust. In those days everything was covered in dust. And when, the next day I hauled my fat tired bicycle out of the cellar and got riding it was only a matter of time before my chubby young knees got stripped of skin by a mixture of white dust, pebbles and grit. I remember the sting and the dramatic rivulets of scarlet blood oozing through the white dust. I hated falling on the gravel but that never stopped me riding. In Italy I was free to wander as I never was in England. Much the way Key West children are free today.

This road then was where I learned to ride. I got my Vespa 50 when I was twelve and it wasn't long before I negotiated the gravel road to the top of the mountain. The fun really began when the road got paved. That was when I could carve corners as I liked, not following the dictates of the rocks ruts and piles of gravel.
This was not an era where young lads got rider training. Especially not for a 12 year old not yet legal on mopeds permitted for 14 year olds, who themselves were not required to seek a license to ride! So I got my practice by learning to shift the Vespa on the public piazza and when I figured I had it down I puttered off to see what I could see. Things were a little slack in those days and my mother loved motorcycles enough she learned not to worry about me. I went everywhere on that little orange Vespa. Once the gas cable broke and and a perfect stranger to me (he knew who I was!) stopped and got a piece of string and jury rigged loop from the carburetor that I could jiggle with my foot and thus get home... That was the world I was privileged to grow up in. That first fix-it taught me a lot about lateral thinking when I was off touring on a motorcycle.
So when the road was paved I read my motorcycle magazine religiously and learned from the aces how to corner, using pressure on the handlebars to counter steer and using my body to influence the bike in the turns. and this was where I did it, pretty much traffic free and undisturbed, least of all by the Carabinieri - the local cops based over the hill who almost never showed up in our neck of the woods.

Let's face it, it was a great piece of road to have to myself and I rode these curves most days for the sheer joy of it. Some days I set myself tests, trying to get from top to bottom with the engine off (what that did to the transmission was of no concern...) or trying speed trials without killing myself on my 40mph 50cc.
I cannot say I have ever seen deer around here and when I was a kid there were no wild boars. They were introduced later to give avid hunters something to chase but in any event there isn't much in the way of wildlife up here. Hitting a deer seems very unlikely.
The formative places and experiences of ourselves leave a mark that frequently we don't notice as we go forward through life. When I rode this highway early in September this year it occurred to me for the first time what a profound impact these curves have had on me. The thing I have noticed is that I have an unfortunate tendency to imagine that my experiences of almost complete freedom combined with the ypungster's innate desire to learn has been replicated in most other riders. In fact I find it hard to imagine how one comes to motorcycling later in life. There is so much to learn about riding and traffic is so intense these days and middle age is a time not for bungee jumping but reflection... And then I have to remind myself also that not everyone rides to live or lives to ride, for some it is just another experience. I tried sailing and I enjoyed the traveling and I also enjoyed the act of driving a boat under sail but somehow once I had learned how to operate sails I also discovered how travel by sail limits sightseeing with its emphasis on fixing things in exotic places and the inability of the sailor to leave his vessel unattended while he travels inland...Motorcycling also has a learning curve and is also useful for travel but it is also much less expensive than alternatives like car ownership, it is actually useful (you can't commute by boat most places) and makes mundane moments interesting. Then there is the fear factor and this eon is tough for me to come to grips with. The possibility of death dismemberment or paralysis is there, but I don't view the risk as being any more fearsome than any other risk in daily life. I nearly fell off my sailboat once in strong winds off the coast of Mexico. That disn't put me off sailing and the drumbeat of fear that sometimes is the only sound accompanying a motorcycle ride gets to be wearing for me. I find joy in riding not fear and riding this road reminded me where that joy was born. You can see my elbow in the picture below and clearly I was not wearing a jacket, though a helmet is required across Europe these days and I prefer to ride wearing gloves. It was as close as I could get to the good old days.
I learned to ride here as though on my own private stretch of track. If I fell down and hurt myself I picked myself up. I practiced taking dirt short cuts, I was fearless, as unfraid of mechanical failures as I was of falling off or getting run down. I came up here by myself when I could squeeze a couple of hundred lire coins out of my mother's purse to buy enough gas with two percent oil mixture to ride for a morning, or an afternoon all by myself practicing the tricks I'd read in Motociclismo. This picture below shows what we simply called Il Curvone -the Big Curve. It was a hairpin that was built quite wide open and always presented a speed challenge to a young racer. Before the road was paved mounds of gravel collected on the outside of the curve like a white parapet with deep wheel ruts circling like chariot marks in the white dust. After they paved it the challenge was to come down hill with the engine off without touching the brakes and without - falling!
I am a fool sometimes when I allow myself to forget, or fail to think about how other people come to motorcycling. It is hard to remember that 43 years ago when the world had half the population it has today and motorcycles were sophisticated if they had turn signals I was out here learning to ride, the hard way. In those days there was very in the way of communication so we read what publishersublished but we had no real communication with anyone outside our circle of living friends. Of all my friends and acquaintances only Giovanni caught the riding bug in similar fashion and we rode a lot together but of the outside world we knew very little. Nowadays the internet makes respiration and repair easy, locating cheap parts simple and allows exchange of odeas and stories with almost no effort at all. That's the good part. But the bad part is that the internet also manages to remove a certain element of adventure from the process. You can ask almost anything of anyone online and spare yourself from feeling like a pioneer. I know it is all helpful and I have availed myself of this process but sometimes I feel as though the pursuit of electronic knowledge - advice - tends to replace the pursuit of experience itself. Go out and do it is what I tell people who persist in asking my advice ( which they never follow) and when I was a youngster that was all there was. I went and did because no one told me not to. I rode across Europe on hopelessly unsuitable motorcycles, clip on handlebars, no spares to speak of, luggage cobbled together and paper maps scrumpled into tank bags. Nowadays people won't leave their driveways without spacecraft quality electronics, motorcycle built for the purpose and oddles of advice from unknown voices on the ether. In any event I hope everyone who wants to has a chance to ride or if not to ride to take a chance in some way that matters to them, Internet critics be damned.

Not everyone had that chance, in fact most people never did get a chance to ride when children, as most parents I instinctively loathe anything two wheeled and if powered by an engine even more so. Me? I grew up in my own world much of it less than desirable but some of it quite lovely.
So as we come to the bottom of the hill and Morruzze is erroneously posted as being just two thirds of a mile away, one kilometer and it is at least three times that, it may become apparent why my attitude to riding is sometimes different from many people who take up,riding later in life. I have never expected other road users to see me or notice me or pay any attention to me. I don't wearing clothing that is bright because I don't count on anything saving my life on the road other than my own wits. I wear black because I am lazy any black hides dirt. When you see me occasionally riding around town without a helmet you see a middle aged fool and I see what you see in these pictures, my childhood of freedom.
My childhood buddy Giovanni tells me I draw perfect lines when I ride a motorcycle, he calls me the Architect for that reason and it is quite a compliment coming from someone who rides faster than any other known amateur human being in the region. Yet my speeds are never particularly fast but I do enjoy tracing an accurate line through corners when I'm on a bike. It's the pleasure of the ride to me, not the speed, so my time spent on the mountain was well worth while. And believe me there were no brown tourist road signs indicating a "wine route" in those distant days! Perhaps it is better today I don't know.
So after all the riding it was time to get home, hair blown back, eyes streaming behind my glasses, none the wiser for my imaginary adventures in the hills, Snoopy style Red Baron motorcycle ace. The rest of the world was going about its business,,sowing and reaping what they had sown, my mother at home organizing the dinner menu with the cook...all the organized world that I escaped from on my motorbike.

So for me the last couple of miles back to the village are a ride down memory lane, the places where I rode taking shortcuts on dirt and I enjoyed having alternative routes. That's what I miss most about living in the Keys. I try to make up for the lack of choice buy changing my riding style, some days slow, some days not to slow, some days taking side roads, even if they don't actually lead anywhere, just for a change of scene. Coming back to my old riding grounds today I realize with fresh eyes how lucky I was to live in the midst of so many roads, trails, hills, and curves. And I was left alone to enjoy them.

I have always enjoyed reading about riding and I am currently enjoying Carl Stearns Clancy's epic First Ride Around the World annotated by Dr Greg Frazier: . Many years ago I remember reading about some guy in England who rode motorcycles in the middle of the twentieth century and he was no one famous and he certainly set no records. Yet he rode far and wide around England and wrote a charming little book that I managed to lose in the intervening decades. He did say one thing I remember well, discussing his journeys. He felt sorry he said for people who only get to ride in cities and never the larn the pleasure of the open road. At the time I had little understanding of his belief as I longed for a few bright lights and busy streets in my life. But now I do.
A fine medieval village in which to grow up. Not really, but as base from which to ride it is as good now as it ever was, once they finally paved the highways and byways!