Thursday, May 28, 2015

Bridge Sunrise

The color of sunrise, the land shaded in black the sky still dark blue and the sun promising a rapid and permanent change to the landscape at West Summerland Key.
            


The Old Bahia Honda Bridge is one of the more recognizable landmarks in the Lower Keys and yes, I still find it as photogenic as ever.
           


So I thought to myself I wonder what the textures would look like in monochrome (black and white).
            


I really like the "noir" setting on the iPhone camera as it gives sharp definition that suits the bright natural light of the sub tropics. Here the weathered chalk looked to my eyes like a lunar landscape.
                        


Even the mildest of cloud formations over the old pump house get a wildly mysterious and ghostly cast:
                  


The scene looks banal and pretty in color. 
                 


In black and white and even with Cheyenne, you'd have expect Orson Welles to come stumping into the scene. Which reminds me. its time to order the The Third Man disc  from Netflix.
                         
Great scenery standing on the shore.
                


A good walk.
                            


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Keeping Key West Weird- A Meditation

                             
Picking up from my essay earlier this week on Cuba I saw that rather startling piece of art work. I think it was at the Gallery on Greene. It set the tone for my wanderings early in the morning. A man sleeping in the bus shelter on Caroline Street across from the Bull:
                             
The Blue Paper keeps stirring it up, even in the quieter season called Summer. They use oddly innovative bill board type news stands to promote their online paper:
                 
"Give the Gift of Fun" -  what a weird tagline for a product. What an odd place for an empty display box. 
                
I don't think much of cities that promote themselves with the tag "Keep So-and-So Weird/" I think by the time Portland or Taos or Boulder or Santa Cruz  has to invoke the activists to keep working to keep the place weird, the weird factor has already fled. 
                                 
I'm not sure how weird Key West really is. The stores aren't even that unique  and far too many are chains. The gay community, a bastion of weirdness in decades past is not only properly amalgamated in Key West, its also a shrinking community thanks to the silly cost of housing and besides being gay in America is hardly of itself, weird any more. High time of course, but still the mainstreaming of homosexuality has left a weirdness gap in the popular culture.
                   
I think Key West is pretty, especially when the sun is barely over the horizon. I think Key West and the Lower Keys still manage to offer a certain amount of what matters most to me, being allowed to live on my own terms. I can wear pink Crocs, I can ride a scooter and not raise any questions about my sanity even if I choose to commute 25 miles by said scooter. The fact that I am boringly mainstream in Key West pleases me. This past weekend when outsiders flooded the road I had to take to my motorcycle to avoid being run off the road. Idiots from Up North could not stand the idea of being followed by a faggoty scooter on the highway, an attitude I don;'t have to deal with normally and I found myself offended by the attempts to run me off the road. So I defended myself by riding my motorcycle and the harassment stopped. I had to modify my behavior to accommodate the youn g bucks from Miami. What a drag.
                     
Keep Key West weird, sure. When I grumble that I'd like it cleaner too, they grumble at me sating shabbiness is home to the off kilter. If that is the case I suppose I shall have to submit to the tyranny of filth.
The 100 block of Duval, abandoned, graffitti'ed, scrofulous paint peeling, chickens shitting, palms fading. Weird or not it sure is ugly and the city doesn't care. Now that's weird.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Home Sweet Home

                                         


Stock Island has its moments and its places. Above I saw a row of neatly parked covered jet skis. Wholesale jet skis. That struck me as slightly bizarre until I remembered they rent these things. Wholesale sales for fleets I suppose. Only on Stock Island. 
                                            
Then you have Oily's shop. My wife likes bringing her Fiat here as she grew up in California and Mike came to Key West from Santa Barbara, so they have that in common. Mike relives his youth with his muscle cars. Imagine cruising the other Highwsy One in those primary colored toys. And then there are the dreams of childhood still being created on Stock Island:
                                             
Mind you this is a place that makes no concessions to beauty. Joy is how you make it under the Christmas Tree of wires overhead:
                                             
Remember, dogs are only as bad as their owners make them.  People are bad, dogs don't rob pillage or murder. This one at least isn't trapped on a chain. Cheyenne ignored him of course. 
                                               
I loved this truck. "Runs good." I posted it on Facebook because it made me smile. The eternal hope of humanity. Runs good, ungrammatical, probably not true but always hopeful. 
                                                 
I also posted this picture of a dashboard ornament powered by solar energy. God forbid  we should be encouraged to power our homes with renewable energy. Dashboard ornaments?  No problem!
                                                  
Sanford is alive and well on Stock Island. This is a front yard, not normal but not a total outlier. This nightmare represents a messed up psyche to me! Perhaps it's just money in the piggy bank.
                                                 
A friend of mine bought a house on Stock Island. She is over the moon. It's affordable and means a secure future for her dogs no longer threatened by unsympathetic landlords. She and her fiancé and their three dogs are counting the days until they move in. Worker housing.
                                                 
Stock Island home to some, home to the people who make Key West work. Cool. 

Key West and Cuba

I walked at night and I took pictures and because doing this clears my mind I spent some time thinking. Cheyenne was there of course, darting as well as she can, and because it was after the bar  closing time of 4 am, but well before sun up she was off leash and free to let me walk and  think,so I spent some time immersed in my thoughts.

The subject floating around these days is the apparent end, the possible end, the likely end of the Embargo. There are a few cluttered Cuban protests at such an idea but the older generation is dying and the younger generation, used to the comfort and ease of South Florida is pushing for common sense to surface and for relations to be opened up with the Godless Communists across the way. A sailboat race to Havana, officially sanctioned at last, paved the way for this sort of free thinking. The possibility of open traffic and free trade with Cuba in the near future is freaking some people out in Key West. Freedom has that effect it turns out as liberation brings consequences.

What seems obviously desirable to me causes some people in Key West to worry that somehow the Southernmost City will lose out to tourism in newly approachable Cuba. For my part I long for the day I can roll a motorcycle onto a roll-on roll-off ferry and roll off three hours later into Havana for lunch and a weekend riding actual tropical mountains. If this actually happens I will be able to be in Havana in about the time it takes to get to Fort Lauderdale. And believe me the riding is not all that exciting between Key West and Ft Lauderdale. 

So the argument goes cruise ships will call at Havana, a world class heritage city filled with color light  music cigars and exotic attractions, roll in your grave Meyer Lansky, that will outshine Key West, a  city unable to offer gambling, whores architecture on a  grand scale and historic structures preserved in aspic by lack of money and lack of motivation to sell out and cheapen everything. Havana is a beautiful city they say and no doubt it is worth a  view.

There is however a phenomenon I have noticed about Key West that will I think serve to preserve a helathy tourist trade on this side of the Straits of Florida. Key West has never really been the jumping off point for adventures due south. Certainly some people jump off from Key West to explore the Caribbean but for most people here in the city, this is the adventure, as much adventure as they can handle. Adventure in Key West is measured by image not necessarily by reality. Key West is, let's be honest, a safe adventure which is a contradiction in terms. Nevertheless its a very real contradiction.
Key West is by definition exotic, a  city blessed with tropical weather that creates an ambiance unique to the mainland US. Key West has coconuts and history, alligators and mangroves, Bohemia in English and familiar currency. Here you can safely view men dressed as women, you can ride a scooter secure there are American medical facilities nearby, cab drivers are regulated and the police speak English and don't take bribes...this is a safe place to drink and get drunk, to go parasailing and sunburn, this is home or as close to home as you can get and still feel abroad. Key West is the Disneyland of foreign exotic travel. It's make believe on an island that is a peninsula, tropical in the sub tropics,  Caribbean in the Atlantic and only as laid back as high expectations of modern service and facilities will allow. 
Havana by contrast is the real deal. They use weird money, speak foreign, have a dictator and are genuinely oppressed Over There. Sure things are changing but I remember when my wife and I went sailing in Grenada a full decade after Ronald Reagan's War people in California looked at us as though we were crazy to take such a "risk." Were Cuba to melt down next week and embrace religion and democracy and Freedom next week I dare say in a decade from now the timorous among travelers, which is to say the majority, would still fret about their safety in such an alien environment.
And so I doubt Key West is suddenly going to become a tourist desert when cruise ships can cruise to Havana and when flights will be opened up to all operators, not just the Cuban Cartel in Miami which charges disgraceful fees to ferry distraught families half an hour across the water. I don't think all those Citizens of the Day in the newspaper with their well scrubbed Mid Western innocence will suddenly decide that their Indiana blood is ready to seek out adventure and profit at the Floridita or the Fabrica de Arte Cubano or see them guiding ghost tours in English from the Hotel Nacional. Nor do I believe that the people who enjoy secure adventures with predictable outcomes will flee Key West to take a buggy ride on the Malecon over a pedicab on Duval.
This is of course all idle speculation at this point as everyone is busy telling us that substantively noting has changed yet and travel to Cuba is still severely restricted for us peons of freedom in the Land of the Brave. But I am going to bet not much will change here, If I were organizing cruise ship itineraries I can see no reason why a ship from Ft Lauderdale could not include both Key West and Havana on its way to Mexico or Grand Cayman. Indeed I see no reason why winter visitors with a bit of spunk might not want to puddle jump to Havana for a weekend and why stores on Duval might not sell Cuban stuff legitimately and everyone makes a living.
Honestly I find this fearfulness tiresome just as I find the general vague and politically induced  fear of terrorism to be craven in country that used to pride itself on being afraid of nothing. So what if Key West faces some serious competition? Does this mean we will have to have a serious conversation about an actual real vision for the city? I think stronger leadership might actually be a good thing if it brings purposeful change to this city. The constant withering decline in the unique factor, the presumption that money will always roll in no matter how  much tacky-ness litters the streets its not a good thing. Key West needs to guard against becoming a cookie cutter Florida city like Naples or Sanibel where every last vestige of anything interesting has been trampled by lust for money. But at the same time perhaps the Southernmost City could actually take an interest in preserving its impressive architectural, social and cultural heritage. I don't  think the oldest house is improved by having drunks piss on it or by being forced to live with crude wit-free t-shirts that mistake vulgarity for humor. Anyone who thinks Sloppy Joe's has any connection to Hemingway the writer will probably need to check out the real bar he propped up in Havana.. Or check out the home he adored at Finca Vigia. Cuba gets criticized for not spending money to sustain its monuments. Well, perhaps that's one way to preserve history compared to what we do to it.
Opening up Cuba is the right thing to do and managed properly will be  a good thing to do  for Cuba, the US and the Conch Republic. Time to get on with it and let's be brave and enjoy the change.

Monday, May 25, 2015

A Funky Place

Today's Podcast is Phillip explaining how to stay safe by retaining a sensible smidgen of fear...at least. He's lived an adventurous mobile life and I think you will enjoy my conversation with him. My producer is very happy with the listener-ship of the podcasts and the positive ratings. Please keep them coming and go to http://travelandsafety.com/ to find all 16  interviews, thus far, with more to come. Cheers Michael.
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On the subject of interviews..:

I read an interview in the Guardian newspaper where a bright eyed and bushy tailed reporter Hadley Freeman remembered her childhood hero and wanted to look her up. I have never read Judy Blume; I being of the wrong gender, wrong era, wrong country I suppose, but she has apparently made her literary way across the Atlantic in my absence,  because the Guardian's reporter made her way back across the same ocean for an overnight tour of Key West, in the manner of an explorer reaching the far ends of the Earth. I reproduce here the Key West sections in the hope you will click the link if you have an interest. I found the view of Key West entertaining, though I suppose when you work here the coloured bicycles and chickens take second place to the daily shenanigans of scraping a living.
To reach Blume today, I fly to Miami and then take a little plane to Key West, a small island off the southernmost toe of Florida, where chickens roam free and people get around on cheerfully coloured bicycles. Blume had asked me to come a day early, so she and her husband, George Cooper, a writer and former law professor, could take me out to dinner. She also instructed me to call her as soon as I landed, because she was worried how I’d cope with the long journey from London. (To describe this as unusually solicitous behaviour from an interviewee to a hack is like describing Blume as a mildly successful writer.)
“I feel terrible about dragging you all this way to this funky place!” apologises the perky voice on the phone, as though I had walked on nails to a war zone. “How are you feeling? You must be so tired! I feel terrible!”
Later, she and Cooper drive over to my B&B in their Mini Cooper convertible, to pick me up for supper (they’re both tickled that his surname is written on the back of the car). Blume, wearing a T-shirt and three-quarter-length trousers, gets out of the car and gives me a big hug, followed by a pink baseball cap to protect me from the Floridian sun. Her pretty, pixie-like face, framed with a mass of brown curls, shines with warmth.
Cooper and Blume live in Key West most of the year – the rest of the time, they’re in their apartment in Manhattan or visiting their children around the country (Blume has two from her first marriage, Cooper has one). There is a sweetly flirtatious manner between them, even after 30 years of marriage. Both 77, and trim and spry, they are a testament to the benefits of outdoor, warm-weather living. The day before I arrived, Cooper won a medal in a mini triathlon, which makes Blume clap her hands with pride in the retelling. She does physical exercise almost every day – including, pleasingly, tap-dancing classes – and has the easy grace of someone who can touch her toes without much trouble. Cooper, calm and steady to Blume’s energetic sparkiness, is an eloquent guide to Key West, but Blume is shifting impatiently in the back seat.
“Show her the cinema, George!” she says.


“You’ve got to see the cinema!” Blume replies for me.“You want to see the cinema?” Cooper asks, turning to me.

We pull up in front of the beautifully retro Tropic Cinema.
“George built this!” she says proudly as we walk in, Cooper’s hand fondly on Blume’s lower back.
Cooper was part of the committee that founded the Tropic just over a decade ago. One of the auditoriums inside is called the George in his honour, and the main atrium is the Rudy and Essie Sussman Lounge, named after Blume’s parents.
“That’s my mother and father!” Blume tells an usher inside, in the lobby, pointing at a black-and-white photo of a couple on the wall.
“Oh, right,” the usher says, a little nonplussed.
“Don’t they look terrific?” Blume muses, clutching my arm.
***
The next morning, we meet at a local restaurant for blueberry pancakes (despite having the proportions of a bird, Blume eats like a pro). Afterwards, we go to the home she shares with Cooper, an extraordinary 1950s build with a magical garden of banyan trees and orchids that seem to grow both in and out of the house.
We break for lunch and order a “Judy” pizza from a local pizzeria, topped with red and yellow peppers, courgettes, basil and spinach, and named in her honour. Of course, the real problem with slowing down in productivity means that Blume is still largely defined by books she wrote 40 years ago, and only occasionally does she show weariness with this, wincing a little when I refer to “Ralph”, the name a teenage boy memorably gives his penis in Forever. But in the main, she is a remarkably good sport.
I like to think that Key West, this funky little place which I hope is too far away to be worth visiting will continue in that same vein for a while and be a haven for anyone who can cling to the rock; even the least among us. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Key West Views 2

More pictures, taken at random around town, including this dilapidated large house on Eaton Street posted for sale for several million dollars on a large lot (by Key West urban standards) and now sold apparently and ready for renovation.

A towel tossed at random:
Louvered windows and outward facing Bahama shutters, so called:
No Parking (unless you know the owner). Don't do as locals do, they know more than you. Universal rule.