Monday, February 2, 2015

Summer In Winter

I must have photographed the Customs House on Clinton Square a few hundred times but this is the time of year the colors leap out under the at intense blue sky and bright winter sun. This is the time of year the sloping roofline, designed to shed snow looks more absurd than usual as one thinks of similar Federal buildings doing that job properly Up North.
I read a protest on Facebook about the destruction of downtown with street closures in the busiest time of the year. I think it has something to do with sewers so one would like to imagine the work is urgently required. I think tourists kind of expect functioning loos even in this southernmost outpost of US hospitality. 
Like I mentioned last week every foray into town garners a fresh set of cooing pets for my overly indulged Labrador. She puts up with it very politely, as long as there is no food in the offing...
 ...but when there is the hint of a taste of food all good manners go out the window. The Cheyenne food plow is unstoppable. I have no idea what it was but it crunched satisfactorily.
 It is a perpetual hunt.
I've had falafels from the place at the end of the alley and they were quite delicious. The store front for the aptly named Falafel King faces Fitzgerald Street on the other side of the building but Cheyenne likes to hunt her prey in narrow alleys and dark corners.
This picture below I posted on Facebook wondering if there was a connection between smoking dope and smoking bicycles. Everything is illegal in Florida, except riding a motorcycle without a helmet which makes it all worthwhile.
I'm sure some people feel like they've been smoking a bicycle or something else when they see these birds wandering all over the place. 
 Winter as it should be.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Tim Egan, Brilliant Cartoonist

Save the Fool
I get a little nervous when they start murdering cartoonists. I’d feel that way even if I weren’t a cartoonist, but it’s reassuring that so many other people seem to feel that there is something especially wrong with the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Cartoonists, I think, enjoy a special reputation, even among their fellow satirists. They are the modern incarnation of the Fool, or close to it. Like that archetype, they are often seen as innocents and as truth-tellers. In fact, the reliability (and forgivability) of their truthfulness is rooted in that innocence.

In his purest form, the Fool acts as a mirror to the world around him. He blurts out what he sees in the way that madmen do — without regard to manners or custom. He simply reflects the unvarnished, often painful truth right there in front of us. Sometimes that truth is so obvious that the rest of us miss it. It catches us by surprise, and it makes us laugh.

The Fool is not reasoned, nor earnest, nor moral, but he does have an eye for absurdity and a nose for bullshit. He adds no analysis of his own; that is left to those who are foolish enough to call themselves wise.

The reaction to the French terrorists has become a little more diffuse since the Charlie Hebdo story. Since then, a kosher market and some unlucky hostages have been added to the list of bloody outrages in France. The sharpest sting for me, though, remains the murder of the cartoonists. I take it personally. It forces me to examine my own efforts as a satirist.

My first reaction was something like guilt. Those cartoonists were brave; I am a coward. I should be making drawings that push the edge and challenge the darkest, most dangerous forces in this world. Cartoonists in much more threatening surroundings than mine do it all the time, so why can’t I? I should be doing work, in other words, that makes people want to kill me.

I have since backed off that position. I am a coward, after all. Instead, I’ve decided to try and be a better Fool. Of the host of cartoons drawn in sympathy with Charlie Hebdo, my favorites have been the least angry. R. Crumb also labeled himself a coward, but he did draw “the hairy ass of Mohamid” (as only Crumb could), noting it belonged to his friend Mohamid Bakhsh of L.A. And I especially liked Charlie Hebdo’s first cover after the shooting: a head shot of Mohammed shedding a tear and holding a sign reading “Je Suis Charlie.” Innocent, simple, human, real. Defiant, yet sympathetic to non-radical Muslims (if not their faith). The epitome of a Fool.

I’m not Charlie, but I wish I were. 

You can explore Tim Egan's brilliance here: Tim Egan Dot Com

Walking Key West

A stretch of lovely summer days have inflicted themselves upon us, some windy, some less so: 
I never tire of primary colors on Key West streets, especially under the dark blue dome of a cloudless sky. I have, quite honestly lost track of all the transformations of this unhappy restaurants location. I have no supernatural beliefs to fall back on, but if I did, I'd say this place is cursed. Lots of interesting restaurants have come and gone.
 This is Key West in winter:
A colleague of mine just returned from a family outing to Fairbanks, Alaska where his married daughter has set up home, about as far from here as possible. A native of New Jersey he seems to have developed a fresh affinity for snow and stood there talking about minus 20 degrees being "not too bad." He also claimed groceries were cheaper and gas was barely more expensive than Key West which was surprising to me. However Fairbanks doesn't look like this:   
Sometimes the grass tends to look greener away from Key West, all the high prices, bums, endless debates in the newspaper about bicycles and iguanas and leaf blowers and and parking and all that stuff. Then you wake up on a 61  degree morning and wish you were wearing socks in bed and you realize you just aren't cut out for life Up North.
Then you see a porch, a bicycle, two chairs and one shoe, and your mind starts to ask questions to which there are no satisfactory answers.
I wonder how often I have walked past this well worn mailbox on Petronia Lane (which is not Petronia Street, and is not in Bahama Village) and not ever noticed it.
There is always something to look at on this tiny island. Blue skies, green leaves year round and warm sunshine on yellow homes.
Bill Butler Park at this angle looks to me like something exotic, southeast Asian perhaps or from a movie I very much liked the  1996 version of "Victory" from Joseph Conrad's novel:
It had shortcomings in plot development especially if you parse the wordy novel and look at the movie as a film of the novel rather than a piece of art on its own, but for me the moody atmosphere of the Indonesian island, the oily flat sea, the menace of the plot, it all struck a chord. Besides I like Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill and Rufus Sewell. Balcnies, angled rooflines and tall palms. Hmm, Key West or Surabaya?
Victory: An Island Tale 
And here we are back to reality, indoor outdoor living and a curious dog:
 No, no fog needed, no snow for ambient effect, sunshine suits me:

Saturday, January 31, 2015


I confess it will be a struggle for me to be cheerful about a place that replaces Finnegan's Wake, what used to be the quintessential dark cool pub. It was the place I liked to go by myself or with a friend, the food was good and utterly unlike anything else in town. It was a better pub than any I've seen in the US, so that was that when they closed.
I don't eat out much at the moment so it's no loss to the restaurant to say I miss the past. I need to make this a final look back and when I am back drinking alcohol and buying sugar fat and salt and I actually have time to do something other than work and prepare podcasts (!) I will enjoy checking this place out. I am not alone.
I suspect this new clean fresh space will do fine without me for a while. Led by experienced owners, retaining the old chef (Colcannon anyone?) and a strong Facebook following problem. And cooking the pest Lionfish gives us a clue that they know what's going on in the Keys.
Up the street on Caroline Braza Lena the Brazilian barbecue dining room is still flying the sign outside while inside the place is upside down. The sign in the window said they'd be back after renovations. Mind you they've been closed forever.
I used to like this place from time to time not for the full on huge meat meals in the restaurant but for a mixed grill on a plate washed down with a Brazilian beer. So much for that. I'm not doing so well am I, if I ever get to eat out again.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wrapping Up For Winter

"Hmm," I said to my fellow dispatchers last night as we settled in for another night of jollity at work, "it says here people are digging out from under several  feet of snow today in New England." In Key West it's brisk enough to require wool hats and sweaters to fend off hypothermia.
"Sucks to be them," Nick and Kristi replied in unison. With temperatures under 70 degrees all week taking a hot shower has become something of a trial here in Key West, so a quick scan of the online news between 911 calls is a good way to stay abreast of true suffering. Around here true suffering is when you have to wear a  fleece with your shorts as you check out breakfast at Pepe's.
I overheard a woman (not pictured) telling some people she'd just met in Key West how she and her husband were sick of Illinois winters but he has a good job etc...etc...And that sort of talk puzzles me. 
Aren't those the people that like seasons? I saw this guy dressed like half the Michelin man wearing socks too so you know it's cold. I thought of Shannon who got a deal on some kind of huge puffy parka when she worked in a clothing store. It's her standard outfit she says when temperatures plummet.
You know its cold around here when Cheyenne puts in two solid hours hiking around downtown and she tries top delay the return trip  by pretending to be exhausted. She gets lots of sympathy from snowbirds, poor old thing, and they cluck and pet her and she takes her tribute. I read my book on my phone until Princess is ready to move on.
And its not just sympathetic snowbirds who make a fuss of my dog. Homeless dudes sometimes find comfort in her soft fur and compliant attitude.  That cold north wind is evidenced by the hoody.
And so we see why exactly the absence of seasons is just perfect as we look across  brightly sunlit Mallory Square as the hardy Northerners admire the monument to the USS Maine as though drenched in summer heat while the flags flap sturdily in the northeast breeze blowing across the city.
This cold snap is supposed to persist into the weekend when daytime highs will revert to 80 degrees and nighttime lows will be around 70 degrees. Can't come too soon for me though I'm sure Cheyenne would disagree.


The news has been loud and insistent: dangerous mosquitoes to be loosed on the Florida Keys. The Mosquito Control District, a public agency in Monroe County has been the object of controversy locally with dictatorial leadership, high salaries and not a lot of public input. New leadership has righted the problems as far as one can see from the outside, and then this. More controversy.
If you live in Monroe County you get used to insects, just as anyone who lives in Florida jokes about newcomers embarrassed to buy cockroach killing powders. After you've lived here a while lizards on the walls are just one more arrow in your insect repellent quiver. Some people bitch about Mosquito Control and some outsiders find the idea of a Mosquito Control District quaint. Both are wrong. Mosquitoes, not flies are God's mistake. In the background of my picture below you can see the Bat Tower on Sugarloaf Key, another failed attempt to get rid of excess mosquitoes organically. The bats  left and the mosquitoes stayed behind.
Mosquitoes sting, perhaps not as much as no see 'ums, but they do sting as they inject anti-coagulant to suck your blood. They spread disease and they have always been a problem for humans. More people throughout history have died from yellow fever than any other single cause. In the past they vaporized diesel fuel and DDT and sprayed that lethal mixture. From the Florida State Archive this picture of lethal smoke being spread near Tampa in 1950:
Happily in these enlightened times the District sprays little pellets of bacillus thuringiensis to render mosquitoes impotent and reduce the population. But the climate is changing, mosquitoes are spreading and the threat of diseases previously eradicated is looming.
So the question is, should a British company currently lab testing genetically modified mosquitoes in Marathon be allowed to let them loose in the Lower Keys? The answer obviously is no. On the other hand maybe the answer isn't so obvious. I should no longer be surprised by the inability of most people to connect dots but then something comes up and there I am again, surprised! The fact is there are too many people on the planet. A population of seven billion and riding us double the population of when I was born half a century ago. Back then mosquito control was smudge pots and gambusia channels cut in the rock and filled with larvae eating fish...
But in those distant days people lived with a great deal more discomfort than we are prepared to do today. In 1902 William Krome, Flagler's chief railroad engineer is seen here prospecting for a rail route through the Everglades. Check out his defenses against mosquitoes, from the fascinating website devoted to the Keys and the past:
Critics sit snug in this First World orderly environment of clean potable running water, reliable electricity and abundant air conditioning and sufficient resources to eat too much every single day and wonder why we should be the butt of an experiment that they fear may end up poisoning them. I am no fan of GMO foods nor of irradiated foods nor of the Monsanto corporation that seeks to wreck heritage plant sources to create secure patentable profits from genetic coding. I understand all that and I oppose it. I also oppose population growth at unsustainable rates and I acknowledge my part in creating what now appears to be runaway clubs the change. But...the question remains, what do we do with this over populated world. Do we say fuck and let the brown and black people in the Third World die, or go blind from preventable diseases and vitamin deficiency? Do we not have a responsibility to share our wealth? The Ebola outbreak scared us rigid and highlighted the stupidity of cutting public health funding but now we say no to trying to find a way to fight back against yellow fever and dengue? I have read on Facebook, that endless source of lies and confusion how some entitled White residents here feel we don't need to get involved as we aren't at risk for a disease some mopes have never even heard of. I've had dengue and I've seen people die of dengue because they were brown and poor and forgotten by God. Never heard of breakbone fever ( so called because that's what it feels like, believe me)? How soon we forget.
So sure, if it strengthens your convictions call it messing with God's creation ( who apparently created genes for no good reason), call it the new apocalypse, but maybe, in a world where snit bionics are everywhere and losing effectiveness, where vaccination is viewed as witchcraft (the bad kind) maybe we cannot reason our way to splicing genes in a lab to re-eradicate dengue fever. Too bad I guess.
But if like me you look at your dog and wonder how she is descended from wolves and bred to be specifically a Labrador and you think of Gregor Mendel, so then you have to ask yourself, what kind of a leap are we looking at here? Sure I would like to live in a world where we weren't consuming every finite resource so voraciously, I wish there were fewer of us on the planet, but just like you I am not ready to slit my own throat to reduce overpopulation. Just like those powerless endlessly exploited Africans and Latin American peasants and all those others among God's creatures born with an inherent fear of the after life and a determination to live at all costs. Just like the pesky ubiquitous mosquito. I want to live well.

 Ins and Outs of Genetically Altered Mosquitoes