Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Armistice Day

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One in Europe, and the 96th anniversary of what used to be called Armistice Day, the day the guns fell silent after four years of slaughter in  fighting conditions unbearable to modern eyes. Soldiers fought in the dirt under fire, with the constant fear of gas, high explosive or physical attack and their terms of service lasted until they were killed, invalided out with horrible wounds, or the war ended. It was out of this savagery that some great poetry emerged. 
This BBC  article offers a fascinating, if mild, view of life was lived in  the trenches in this four years.(Link)
Perhaps people were made of sterner stuff but I don't think trench life was a picnic in 1914-1918. When it rained the trenches turned to mud holes, when it snowed soldiers froze, when it was sunny they lived in dust holes. Every gallon of water had to be carried to the front lines, food was not so great, and the constant stress of the fear of being killed or injured never left you. Your feet rotted from trench foot, wounds went septic as antibiotics had yet to be invented and anesthesia was not a very refined art at all when it was available. I read an eyewitness account of life in the trenches decades ago so vivid it never left me. Now it's offered free on Amazon: Between The Lines Link. If the dialect is sometimes too thick I can at least advise the book is free!
I grew up in the shadow of World War Two and have seen the 20th century conflicts in the arena of television. I have found myself in the middle of armed conflict, as a reporter, and have found myself not liking it at all. To feel alive I'd rather be riding a motorcycle than to be shot at, even without effect to paraphrase Winston Churchill. However the awfulness of World War One, particularly on the Western Front has remained impressed on me, above all other wars of the 20th century. None of them were nice, this one was the worst, inasmuch as an observer through time can gauge these things. Battlefield stress was treated as cowardice and cowards were shot, not treated. And after the war millions died from the Spanish Flu which further wrecked the chance at delayed happiness for millions more. And now, none are left who lived it.
A flooded trench during World War One
This past weekend was Remembrance Sunday across much of the English speaking world, a time in Britain and the Commonwealth when people buy paper poppies in support of veterans' causes, the poppies a symbol of the flowers found in the fields of Flanders where the trenches were dug. Symbolic too of the blood that flowed. November the Eleventh is known as poppy day.
The Armistice it was agreed would end the war at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, a  stupidly  protracted agreement that was supposed to give both sides time to lay down their arms. In the event it allowed a couple more days of killing as the slaughter continued until that very moment. Canadian George Price was killed two minutes before eleven o'clock that morning after serving throughout the last year of the war. Better known  poet Wilfred Owen was shot and killed on November 4th, a week before the Armistice took effect. He had a rather ironic take on the idea that it is right and proper to die for one's country.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Fort Zachary Taylor

The weather forecasters talk blithely about the folks Up North being caught in a giant deep freeze this week. We are battening down for temperatures to drop below local freezing, which is estimate din Key West around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Last week the beach at Fort Zachary (Link) was in the mid 80s as it will be again soon enough.

I took Cheyenne for a walk as we hadn't been there in a  while.
We wandered under the casuarina trees, known locally as Australian pines, an invasive species much prized locally for their rugged ability to grow anywhere and give shade. The ability to grow anywhere and reproduce by shooting roots underground give some people who prefer local fauna the hives of anxiety. A plan  years ago to replace this robust shade with new  plantings of local vegetation got people so riled it was scrapped over the desires of the State Parks Headquarters which has such a policy in place. 

Even with the beach closed to Cheyenne we had lots to see with trails to walk and open space to wander.
We followed her nose for an hour and we never did get to the fort itself, the hardwood hammock next to the moat, or the open space at the north of the park where typically Sculpture Key West exhibits it's art work in the Spring. 
It was the wrong time of day to get a sandwich and a soda at the Cafe Cayo Hueso, and because I am an 80/80/80 type of pansy I rarely go swimming in November, so I had no need to rinse off.
 Cheyenne liked the puddle of fresh water and sat in it for a while, idly drinking her bathwater.
 80/80/80 is a designation on the tropical scale I learned while sailing the Caribbean.
It means you like 80 degree air temperature, 80 percent humidity and 80 degree water temperature minimum. That would be ideal, and we get close enough much of the year. If that doesn't work for you, try yoga: 

 I enjoy the woods at Fort Zachary Taylor but mostly one comes for the beaches and the views.
The park closes at sunset so this isn't entirely satisfactory as a spot to rival Mallory Square (some people like the White Street Pier for sunrise and sunset). But the daytime views to the west are quite beautiful across the entrance to Key West harbor. The boat below is heading south, out of Key West.
You don't even have to take your clothes off to enjoy the fort. Which, after fantasy Fest is a bit of a relief actually.
Enjoy the snow wherever you are. We are supposed to see a slight dip tonight to 69 and a rather more pronounced front in a week or so.  Otherwise its business as usual at Fort Zachary Taylor, southernmost state park.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Walmart In The News

From October 31st 2011:

Walmart On Rockland

Among the 23 comments there is, as usual, a fair bit of irritation at me, mixed in with misinformation and wrong headed reading of what I wrote. But as it turns out the newspaper wrote a story three days ago on the same subject, with all interviewed parties being very coy about whether or not Walmart really is applying for planning permission for the proposed mall to be built at the former porn shop on Rockland Key, just south of Big Coppitt, at MM9. The sense I get is that Walmart really is working on it, though whether or not they get there remains to be seen.
There are two schools of thought (at least!) on the subject, as far as I can hear. One is the white middle class moneyed approach that I share even though I can't be said to be moneyed, which is that Walmart is bad for workers and the planet and makes for a dismal shopping experience therefore keep them away. Q.E.D.

However the second school of thought which tends to be underwritten by lifelong residents of the Lower Keys is that its about time locals got a chance to shop and save money by having a Walmart closer than Homestead.  And it is possible to empathize with this position. For me its no big deal to drive to Miami but for some people 150 minutes in the car is agony, and driving Highway One is purgatory. 

Because the second group tends to belong to the leadership class in the Conch Republic I suspect that if Walmart wants to set up shop here they will get a swift green light. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Winter Time Sunshine

Shuffling the clock around with the odd logic of a leadership class that likes daylight early in the morning has had one beneficial effect: my dog gets to see daylight on her morning walk.
And I get to see some spectacular plays of sun and shadow and bright tropical colors.
This one is happily in the bag for another year:
Duval Street, the hub of tourist related, dust catcher commerce looks lovely with the sun low on the horizon.
McConnell's Irish bar on the 900 block of Duval is the nearest thing to the late lamented Finnegan's Wake formerly of Grinnell Street. It's a long way off though. I miss Finnegan's and the idea of getting used to a new place makes me grumpy. I need to get over it and try something new. Asperger's.

I really do like this early morning slant on sunlight.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Votes, Visitors and Fernet Branca

The election on Tuesday brought some changes to the Florida Keys political landscape but one has to wonder how on earth a South Florida modest House of Representatives race could have been worth 14 million dollars. That's how much the campaign cost between the victor Carlos Curbelo, Republican, and outgoing Democrat Joe Garcia who was completing his very first two year term in office. This picture below lloks like a political hoarding but it's just the parking lady meditating in her chair with her sign encouraging people to use the Steve Walker parking lot. She sits there all winter and smiles as you pass by:

Because the Keys are contrarians in so many things, in this case a majority of voters here backed the scandal plagued Garcia, whose defiantly idiotic first and only term was described thusly in the Miami Herald:

Garcia’s term was clouded by the conviction of his former chief of staff, who served 65 days in jail for orchestrating an unlawful online absentee-ballot request scheme in the 2012 election. The congressman’s 2010 campaign is under federal criminal investigation over a suspected straw candidate.

Still, Garcia said Tuesday he was proud of his tenure.

“There is nothing that I didn’t get to do while I was serving in Congress, except be in the majority,” he said. “I wish we could have had a different outcome. But that’s the only thing I’d change. There is nothing to regret with a job well done.”

He blamed his loss on “savage” outside spending in the race by conservative political groups.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article3569095.html#storylink=cpy

You have to wonder how these politicians we elect cannot bring themselves to say they are sorry they screwed us over. At least that. But no, they are all proud and feel they accomplished stuff etc etc...No wonder only half the elegible voters turned out. Voting seems to mean less and less when your choices are between one doofus and another. Curbelo is an advertising hack and friend swith the Diaz Balart family of South Florida- the in-laws of Fidel Castro and die hard promoters of the stupid embargo which they view as a justifiable family feud. I cannot conceive that Curbelo will shock us with his pragmatism. I wonder what it would be like if we could have proportional representation and break the backs of the two big monopolistic parties. How cool that would be. And impossible.

Instead we look around, we ordinary people and we see the tourists lining up to enjoy our fair city, crossing Clinton Square in childlike crocodile lines. Or we cross Mallory Square on a breezy sunny afternoon and we spot a wiry athlete strengthening her core muscles in public closely observed by the flabby inert bundles of homelessness that inhabit this place. Key West: contrast and compare.

My dog, my love, brought back to energetic life by the cold weather has been criss crossing the city like a puppy, nose down and speed walking. Seen here heading toward El Meson de Pepe.

And then I saw this bicycle decorated in a rather peculiar manner. I once drank a quantity of Fernet after an excessively large lunch when I was a teenager. I have never forgotten the effect of that ghastly fermented herb liquid on my digestive tract. I cannot now look at the name without remembering vividly and tastelessly my introduction to projectile vomiting. Just seeing the name of that foul Italian digestive drink gives me shudders.

Well, that will take a man's mind off the irritations of voting in a broken political system. Money talks and votes whisper and Fernet Branca still sucks, after all these years.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Duval Circus

To be in Key West at the moment is to enjoy the city before the mad winter rush which the first snowfall Up North brings, but it is also to enjoy perfect weather and a modicum of activity. A stroll along Lower Duval ( the North end of the street paradoxically) puts one in the middle of a lot of people, and their golf carts.
Duval Street is an odd mixture of people, tourists, locals working and locals simply existing on fumes as it were:
 Drinks aren't cheap here but you can get ring side seats to the circus, sitting out in 75 degree air with a cool breeze.
 Want to see a parrot? Got those:
 It seems  a waste to pay for food, eat it all fresco, and have your back to the madhouse parading by.  It's not really a mad house, its just a mixture of people shuffling past your back. You never know  what you might see.
I retreated to pause on White Street, heading for work, and got myself a colada which is several hot strong sweet  Cuban espressos (bucchi)  in one plastic  cup. Sandy's like most Cuban coffee shops will give you a colada along with several thimble sized cups to share the drink. "I'm not sharing," I told the barrista and he laughed at me as I returned the spare cups and got stuck into my caffeine overdose. I sat and stared at the Bonneville and drank coffee and hoped for an energy boost for the long night ahead.
The circus on Duval would have to continue into the darkness without me.