Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Yes Scotland And One Human Family

So the question is: what do a passel of no account little lumps of subtropical rock and mangrove stalks have in common with the bleak peat bogs of frigid rainy Scotland? Not much on the face of it but there is the little matter of independence that is coming over the horizon. 31 years ago the Florida Keys asserted their right to independence and now, trailing along behind the Fabulous Florida Keys by a matter of decades, the residents of Scotland, be they English, Scottish or citizens of the European Union actually in Scotland get to vote next September on whether or not they want to secede from the overbearing English.
Every nation state has its own flag and Conch Claude Valdez came up with the design seen above. The Scottish flag, a banner associated with a nation but not with a state since 1707, is the cross of St Andrew shown below. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
I figure the story of the creation of the Conch Republic is pretty well known but it has given rise to a mythology and an industry including passports and identity cards, bumper stickers and the notion that the Conch (pronounced konk please) Republic is a "state of mind" all in great good humor. But it wasn't always so, the good humor.

April 23rd 1982 the Prime Minister of the Conch Republic, promoted for the day from his day job of Mayor of Key West, having argued for the removal of a Border Patrol checkpoint at the Last Chance Saloon in Florida City, came out of court and spontaneously announced that if the United States, in an effort to stop illegal immigration, wanted to treat the Keys as a foreign nation with an ID check on Highway One, then so be it. And Dennis Wardlow announced the Free Florida Keys were seceding from the US.

The crowd gathered at Mallory Square to hear the announcement and the Prime Minister attacked the United States by breaking a loaf of Cuban bread over the head of a representative of the US Navy. The mouse that roared promptly surrendered and demanded a billion dollars in foreign aid from the US to compensate for the interruption to the tourist trade caused by the Overseas Highway roadblock. The money never came but notoriety did.
So now every Spring for a week there is a rather cheerful celebration of Conch Republic Days in Key West when drinks are drunk and they race transvestities down Duval Street and the whole thing wraps up with a sea battle between the Conch Republic Navy and the US Navy in which Cuban bread is still the ammunition of choice. The US always loses and everyone drinks their sorrows or their joys away.

Personally I have a different vision for an independent Conch Republic. I'd like to see a place like Andorra or Monaco in the Keys, a city state with no army and only enough navy to protect its fisheries, an economy based on all those items one sees banned in the US, so busy morality posturing, that could be had openly and cheerfully and guilt free in the shining new capital of unbridled capitalism that would be my Conch Republic. How much would you pay to sit on a beach in the Conch Republic smoking legal genuine Cuban cigars, drinking Cuban rum with a new and expensive friend then gambling in one of our world class casinos? Banking secrecy laws would be paramount, every law firm in the city would be the international low-tax headquarters of some corporation or another and every citizen of the Conch Republic would grow fat and content earning ridiculous tax free wages pandering to every American desire impermissible at home. "One (Stinking Rich) Human Family" indeed, my Conch Republic would have the motto of rectitude for citizens, lassitude for visitors, with health care, marriage, and the rule of law for all. I have a dream...of the gates to Paradise built as a frontier post in the middle of the Seven Mile Bridge. But let's be practical...

The US would never let it happen - and see Boca Chica Naval Air Station converted to civilian use, for a foreign country at that? Never! Besides I have a feeling a real Conch Republic would pretty soon descend into an extended impotent lament in the anonymous Citizen's Voice column in the newspaper followed by fratricidal urges and riots at Little League International games against the Americans from Marathon as parents take on the battles only hinted at by their sporting offspring. True independence would never work. Too bad as I could use a substantial raise, and though I do not smoke I have heard Havana Club is a decent rum. For Scotland though it's another matter, far more serious than stale Cuban ammunition bread and illegal rum toddys...

700 Years ago near the city of Stirling, Scottish soldiers handed an invading English army their lunch on a platter at the battle of Bannockburn in June 1314. This September the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood in Edinburgh has called a vote by all residents 16 years and older on the very simple question: Should Scotland be an independent country? Scotland's First Minister in the semi autonomous Scottish Parliament Alex Salmand (shown below just to prove that telegenic politicians are a US obsession) is leading the Yes Scotland campaign on a leftist plank of affordable housing and jobs though how Yes Scotland will follow through on those promises in these arduous economic times... A group of right wingers has come out with a libertarian position supporting independence called Wealthy Nation, so everyone is climbing aboard the change bandwagon it would seem at first sight in Scotland.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, shown above, whose name keeps up the fishy link in Scotland's march to freedom, is also promoting the Scottish National Party's "National Conversation" about independence. However as you might imagine not everyone is delighted about this separatist path. Lately the European Union has said it's not clear Scotland would gain admission to the EU, and suggestions that an independent Scotland might continue to use the English pound have been rejected by ministers in London. The message seems clear: if Scotland decides to set a bad example to independence minded Catalonia and Corsica they will get no help from the Big Boys in Europe. This sort of bullying seems to be having an effect, even as England plans to offer increased autonomy to the Scottish parliament if the people vote No. It's all carrot and stick...

My guess is that current polls showing a slight inclination toward No with a giant clump of undecideds will probably carry the day in September, and if that happens I think it would be a shame. England fought Ireland horribly when they wanted independence, and union was forced on Scotland with a brutality that would give modern sensibilities the vapors. Over the past decade the English who constitute about 53 million of the United Kingdom's 63 million people have given autonomy to Wales and Scotland in hopes of fending off this day. North Sea Oil, Scotland's great economic hope is drying up so England's delaying tactics worked on that front, and losing Scotland won't mean the huge cheap energy loss of even a decade ago. But Scotland's five million residents, like the Conch Republic's notional 40,000 in the Lower Keys, have a lot of scenery to sell. We smaller states end up selling ourselves to visitors with our history and pretty views.

There is in me a streak of silly escapism, a desire for change for the sake of change and the chance to see what happens when one leaps where angels fear to tread, which to some extent is what prompts people to move here. I have no idea what's best for Scotland, or the Lower Keys come to that. But I do have a mad desire to see what happens if the Scots do take that leap of faith. Who knows, perhaps they could lead the way to independence for Wales, Catalonia, Corsica and perhaps even these distant lumps of rock where endless debates about abortion and gay rights and evolution and guns all the rest of the mad mainland political posturing mean so little. One Human Family: is that a philosophy strong enough to build real human freedom upon, instead of using it as an excuse for bed races, fake battles and drunken public partying? Would the real Conch Republic, a place of tolerance and belief in the res publica as originally envisioned find space to live and breathe and prosper? Lead the way Scotland and perhaps Sassenachs everywhere can learn from your example.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Key West This Morning

I don't know what it is but every damned time the temperature drops to sixty I get a head cold. This time around it hasn't been too bad but for a couple of days I was snuffling and hacking and wandering around gloomily like the ghost of Hamlet's father. But all bad things come to an end especially after your attentive wife doses you with Chinese pill called Yin Chiao, along with modern American remedies Theraflu and Allegra which is Italian for "happy woman" oddly enough, and whose brand name sent my over active brain into a spin when I found I was swallowing a Happy Pill. The only true source of happiness comes in a hundred pound bundle of fur, not in a bottle of pills.

You should have seen Cheyenne when I parked the car in Key West in the early dawn grayness and she stood looking at me with a giant shit-eating grin, her tail circling like a slow motion propellor. She loves her Key West walks and when she got out of the car she knew where she was. We set out from James Street she with her nose down me with my phone/camera firmly in my pocket. I thought I wasn't in the mood for picture taking but it didn't take long for Key West to wake me up. A lot of people love the Half Shell Raw Bar, not surprising as it's a funky dive right on the water and what visitor doesn't dream of seafood on the water in a place like this? Just as well really as I ate here once with some friends after a day on the water and I seem to recall it was okay.

I saw this sign outside and out came my Android once again. It's a first for me: No Geocaching! The cemetery has a sign forbidding letter boxing which I believe is the same thing, but I suppose Key West Bait and Tackle has had enough of people using them as a landmark. Strange obsession, geocaching, stranger still to forbid it.

Then I found this sign and I spent a good part of the three-hour walk asking myself what a Gay and Lesbian Bed and Breakfast might be, never mind an award winning one. There was a time when many of these places were ready to take only gay clientele but that was a long time ago. The rest of the country is slowly catching up to Key West and a few other select gay-friendly cities so the whole exclusive gay thing is fading. Not only that, but there are also a lot more gay friendly hubs that are a lot cheaper than Key West or Provincetown or West Hollywood...but those awards keep coming! Award winning indeed, though more importantly I have heard this is a good place to stay. Not that I know, I live here and I'm straight. Strike two. Oh well.

That other symbol of Key West is the hammock. I had lunch Sunday with an out of town visitor and while she lamented the state of my sinuses she suggested an afternoon lounging in a hammock under the warm February sun. Maybe it's time I bought myself a hammock? There's even a store on Duval that does nothing but sell hammocks...on the other hand they are a bit of a pain to deal with, requiring you to bend double and balance to get in them, and then I am an obsessive rocker so it's probably not that great for me as I would be focusing on going back and forth and not on relaxing.

Then we were on Fleming and at the Eden House, an all-comers welcome guest house, I saw a picture of a penny farthing used to represent all bicycles which I thought was rather cute. Most as you can see have two wheels of similar size:

As we wandered down Eaton Street it dawned on me slowly that this might be garbage collection day, as I'm pretty perceptive. The sidewalk was a real slalom of cans and it struck me how much waste we as a society generate. Look at them all...

Cheyenne does her part to clean up where she can. No wonder she loves walking Old Town Key West.

The blue cans are the new recycling bins, replacing the yellow topped cans which were deemed too ugly. And no matter what the color, recycling is a work in progress in this town. The rules of recycling seem to still be a mystery to most people.

Welcome to Key West, now pay! If you overstay your welcome in a parking lot they love to leave their mark on your car. Booted until you pay the overage, and believe me when the visitors find this the first thing they do is dial 911 to get an officer to explain the charges. I like that my job ends when I send them the cops. I'd go nuts trying yo mediate between angry people. I love my job luckily, but not many people seem to think much of dispatching.

This dude found a clever little spot to pass out in, behind a fence under a bush. I laughed when I nearly stuck my face in his cap as I looked got my errant dog on the end of her taut leash. He never noticed a thing!

This extraordinary sign advertises what exactly? Turds or cigars? Some people might argue there's no difference but I actually don't mind cigar smoke. I loathe cigarettes and all their chemical additives but even though I don't smoke anything I don't mind cigars. I like to think its because they are just dried leaves, not adulterated like cigarettes. The flying turd shop.

This bicycle outside the Chamber of Commerce at Old City Hall made me smile. All the no parking signs in the world don't mean a thing to people even when there's an empty bike rack ten feet away. Who knows, maybe it's an employee's or perhaps the rack was full, who knows.

It's like this No Parking sign and the covered box parked in apparent defiance of it. Signs in Key West aren't meant for people that know what's actually going on, so just because you see a weird parking situation don't imitate them.
I am not fond of the stupid t-shirts and signs sold downtown but then I saw this one. It speaks to the misanthrope in all of us, especially me. I wish I could put one on the office door at work.

Early morning Key West looks so different from the lunch time, afternoon and evening crowded streets. I like it like this, no doubt because I'm not a businessman.

This was a good walk, confirmed by the fact that when I got her home she slept off the effects of the three hour walk for the rest of the day.

Deep content snores, make the walk even more worthwhile. I like strolling Old Town anyway but making her happy makes it even better.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Day Off

I have spent the entire week working so I am rather run down. Today my wife and I will celebrate Valentine's Day with Cheyenne and a bottle of wine and I hope a not too cool breeze on the porch. Oh, and sleep, musn't forget sleep to make up the deficit!

Have a good Sunday.

Cheers, Michael.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Hanging With My Bud

Cheyenne and I have spent the past couple of afternoons at West Summerland Key. The area near the water is slightly protected from the north winds of the cold front by the ridge where the Overseas Highway runs down the middle of the island. It's most conspicuous landmark is the old Bahia Homda Flagler railroad bridge just to the north.
We come here often especially on days when I work as it's ten minutes from home, far enough to get us out of the house but not so far as to make getting home and ready for work a problem. In fact we come here so often I am reluctant to add any more pictures of this over-photographed island on the blog. So I decided to play with the camera settings while Cheyenne and I explored familiar ground.
When out of the wind the cold front with temperatures in the mid 60s isn't too cold at all but the slate gray clouds and flat water give it an ominous appeal, almost as though snow is about to fall.

Actually even on a gray day the transparency of the waters shine through:
The brown decaying seaweed pushed up onto the land makes for an impressive swath of cold wet dead vegetation. Crocs don't mind getting wet which is one reason I wear the strange rubber shoes.
I can even risk dunking my feet in seawater when I'm wearing Crocs to look for anemones left behind by the low, full moon, tide.

A few people came and went but this is no one's idea of a fabulous Florida beach, all rocky and covered in vegetation, precious few coconut palms and no sand at all.
I carry a folding beach chair in the trunk of the car and it comes in useful.
Cheyenne liked the old cement platform to lie on so I put down my Kindle and laid down alongside her and felt the warmth of her fur on my leg as we hung out together trying to ignore the strengthening cool breeze. She watched the world while I did my favorite thing...
I looked through the tree branches overhead, the play of leaves and light fluttering in the breeze.
Then home to dinner for Cheyenne and a shower, a uniform and work for me.
She gets on the couch and looks at me accusingly as I get ready to leave. I think she envies the motorcycle as it's with the Bonneville that I am unfaithful to my dog as I chase off on my commute to Key West.