Saturday, August 29, 2015

TS Erika RIP

What lovely news for a lovely Saturday morning! 
The National Hurricane Center suggests the tropical storm could reform in the Gulf of Mexico next week, possibly maybe, but we are good for  now! And we have a tidy yard and supplies properly stashed. 
There's got to be some rain ahead but for now it's all relaxation before work tonight. 

Tropical Storm Erika

It is the news of the weekend, inside Florida and among Florida watchers, the tropical storm that drowned a couple of dozen unfortunates in Dominica (pro: Dom-in-éek-ah)...Don't know where Dominica is? Don't worry, it's an insignificant speck of land in the West Indies where building codes are...locally adapted and where people are poor with a history formed by Europeans; French and British mostly after Spanirds discovered it on a Sunday and he gave it a Latin name, as you do, of course. More importantly this whirling cloud of heavy rain is aimed more or less at Florida, home to beaches, Mickey Mouse, strange people and loved by all as vacationland USA. I exaggerate but not by much. Don't worry, the story ends well, no one dies, the dog sleeps through the storm and next week the sun will be back out.
If you hunt around the web you will find these dramatic images. The less dramatic ones in the second half of this essay first appeared on this very blog, so it should be apparent one can survive a tropical storm with a little luck. I'm not sure if alligators or hurricanes strike the most fear in people who view Florida, bizarrely, as a dangerous place to live. Distracted driving, guns, lightning strikes and falling coconuts could be considered dangers; mosquitoes and sand fleas are irritants and humidity can be off-putting. The weather, however is mostly perfect ALL THE TIME. Hurricanes are an occasional irritation but unlike California earthquakes, fires and mudslides, or Oklahoma tornadoes hardly anyone dies in a hurricane in the first world. As we mark the New Orleans catastrophe we forget, conveniently, that broken levees created the disaster. Katrina was long gone by the time the 9th Ward started killing people. Paying taxes, maintaining public works and pulling together as a single, multi racial nation maintains our civilization. Falling to keep up with the infrastructure kills people. Hurricanes are merely dramatic incidentals. If you stay sober and sensible you will be fine.
Historically speaking hurricanes came out of nowhere, knocked down tar paper homes and swept bodies out to sea: all before morning. That was before government scientists started studying and tracking storms, before taxpayers put satellites into space. Remember every single loud noisy colorful, overly dramatic weather forecaster gets their basic data from the National Hurricane Center in Miami. All the, weather underground and crown weather services simply interpret the government provided data. You can look at the government page and figure it out for yourself, it really isn't hard. Hurricanes used to be terrible:
As I write this on Friday afternoon it seems to me there is a 50-50 chance Tropical Storm Erika will be a damp squib. Sure, the system may bring rain and maybe even wind, but the path is not conducive to storm development and in those areas where warm waters might feed a cyclone the winds are apparently going to be trying to prevent the storm from reforming, so all in all it looks more like a wet winter weekend ahead rather than a dramatic swath of destruction. I take my cue from the low key NHC predictions at the moment. On the other hand a storm is a thing of Nature and no one really knows what's going to happen so taking a few simple precautions make sense. For me whose job takes over my life when storms approach, for me there is no opportunity for last minute preparations. I may go into work tonight and not come home till the storm has passed. I do get to spend the weather in the safest building in Key West, but I do my job best when I leave home knowing everything is as prepared as it can be. So I cleaned up and even though my wife won't be evacuating I know she will be secure in an organized home, with a support network while I am at work. Evacuation seems silly when the storm is expected to rake the entire state with rain and some wind.
I usually encourage the brash to evacuate. Once a mandatory evacuation is announced it doesn't mean you will be forced to leave, it just means that when the storm arrives emergency services will be shut down and you will be alone. For all the talk of self reliance you would be amazed how scared people get when the house starts to shake incessantly, when the winds are so loud conversation is inaudible, when the internet breaks, the lights and air conditioning go out, when the canal starts to crawl out its bed like a bad science fiction movie...and there is no help to be had. It goes on and on and I suppose it's why people get drunk.
After the storm if things went well life gets easy in a hurry, the weather turns perfect, and life goes back to normal. If not, not. I find the idea of an ice storm to be horrifying and I take solace from the fact that after a storm you might be sweating but you won't freeze to death. Flooding can be horrid but a mudslide such as I have seen in California is infinitely worse. Love Creek in the San Lorenzo Valkey slide in the winter of 1982 drowned 13 people in the mud. Imagine that death, and I think most of those bodies are still lost in the mud. So how bad are hurricanes? Not as bad as earthquakes that routinely kill people and buildings without warning and without mercy.
I like keeping supplies on hand, some cans and packets of food that I like to eat. Mormons require their followers to keep a year's worth of supplies on hand against the unexpected arrival of the Apocalypse, an event that will apparently distract God for long enough that Mormons are expected to be able to survive for a year without help. Ignoring the rather peculiar dogma the result is that you can buy assorted foods that have a shelf life of twenty five years. I like LINK. Preparing ahead of time means hurricanes don't leave you running around like headless chickens when they appear. Put away the garden furniture, which you bought light weight and stackable to make that easy, fill the gas tank, buy water and get some cash from the ATM. Order pizza and wait.
In 1953 the U.S. started giving women's names to storms. 25 years later they mixed in men's names and a few years ago they added -gasp!- foreign names to reflect the various cultures that are affected in the Caribbean as well as in Polynesia and the Far East. Naming storms is helpful in the modern endless news cycles we live in, for those that still watch television. However don't imagine that storms have genders: a storm is an it. Like the ocean, storms don't care about you, they don't care if your life is damaged, storms, brace for it, don't have feelings. I find it odd that humans like to invest storms with personalities but they do. To think of TS Erika as a "she" seems weird to me. But there again I think my dog has feelings and you'd be astonished how many people ignore their yard dogs during hurricanes. Personally I hope bad things happen to them but there again I don't have much truck with karma either...
And like every human experience there's nothing new under the sun. The track shown below looks like TS Erika as "she" approaches Florida. Actually it's Chantal as "she" failed to approach Florida in 2013.
By all means pray for us and remind us to stay safe which I find is a complicated instruction to obey. If you think prayer helps I would suggest praying for Syrian mothers who can't find food for their kids or (black) residents of New Orleans who are still washed out a decade after the event. Keep a couple of extra prayers in reserve if you must in case Erika pulls a fast one and blossoms into a Category Two with embedded tornadoes and strikes just as the incautious are passing out from alcoholic hurricane parties. They say God takes care of fools and drunks but I imagine the Almighty has a few more pressing problems than a first world tropical storm strike. Wish it weren't so but I fear the world outside the Caribbean hasn't stopped being properly chaotic even as we suffer some heavy rain.

Friday, August 28, 2015


I was at the tire shop in Marathon having a well worn screw removed from a tire which had developed a slow annoying leak. I carry an air pump in the trunk as I have found modern tires will work as hard as they can to stay inflated and an application of compressed air can get you home without having to fight the spare wheel...This thing set off the low pressure alarm every ten days for a couple of months till I got around to dealing with it at Island Tire:
I mentioned how young people today don't know how to change a wheel, maybe because modern tires are so much better than the ones we grew up with? I refuse to put spare wheels on for people he said gruffly. It's a basic life skill we agreed, us old codgers, nodding our heads and pondering modern helplessness. Mind you I'm not going to repair my own punctures...I'd rather pay him twenty bucks to get his hands grubby, thanks.
I love this shop, no frills, good workmanship and skill. Take your car to the big chains and there's no telling how the tires will be returned. I've come away with lug nuts missing, wrong pressure and I've heard of worse. This guy offers a service that gives peace of mind in a community where conscientious work is often hard to find.
Besides which I like to make sure my car is ready at a moment's notice should my wife need to evacuate in a hurry in summer. I usually get it serviced in the Spring before hurricane season so it's ready for a summer road trip as well as any sudden unplanned drives Up North when winds come blowing across Florida. I guess it's all part of growing up, learning to plan, thinking ahead, getting ready. I'll leave it to the youngsters to organize hurricane parties, I want my wife and dog out of harm's way while I'm locked down at work during a storm.
And then there are the unplanned events that interrupt the smooth flow of an orderly progression into old age. It was the summer of 1981, almost exactly 34 years ago, and I was watching the sun come up over the desert near Mono Lake in the eastern California village of Lee Vining. My plan was to ride my Vespa, which I had bought new in Brooklyn that May over the mountains to Yosemite Valley and complete my continental ride. Then I met Giovanna who wondered if the scruffy little oik drinking chocolate milk knew Vespas were made near her home town of Florence. Actually I did, as I lived not far south in Umbria.
I don't think either of us were prepared for what came next. Our chance encounter became a crazy relationship that lasted almost a decade and was pulled apart by different life visions. I cannot say that meeting Giovanna changed the course of my life because she simply reinforced my determination to live my life on my terms. Ours was a tumultuous affair, she is 13 years older than me so I blamed her 36 year old self for not knowing better. She blames me nowadays because ...I forget why exactly. But she has a brain tumor now so I suppose she has finally got one over on me and I have to be nice.
I don't want pity she said the other day so she confides in me alone among her family and friends when the cancer seizes her imagination and those around her threaten to look mournful. I make her laugh even over the phone at one in the morning. Fuck cancer. She lives in British Columbia so she is three hours behind me and when the night fears grab her by the throat she sends me a text which is okay as I am frequently sitting up at work trying to remember what is important in life amidst the morass of drunken 911 calls. It seems absurd to me that with so many children, church friends, scattered cousins and ex husbands it ends up being me that routs the demons.
My mother died of a brain tumor so in Giovanna's eyes I am an expert in this struggle which is absurd but sometimes one grasps at whatever straws float past one's sickbed. And perhaps the worst of it is that she feels fine. Last September they removed the tumor, an event she never revealed to me in the compartmentalized, "need to know" way she lives her life, a life of second guessing that was one reason I had to live apart from her. Now the tumor is back and at last the evasions, the "need to know" is stripped away and as she waits for more tests and through them a prognosis I see the old, the real Giovanna revealed, like an old faded canvas smothered by years of neglect refreshed and restored, colors vibrant once again.
We talk and memories come tumbling out, things that I remember about those long lost years that she has forgotten and things that have remained vivid in her memory are gone from mine. I used to go up and see her in Florence and we had whirlwind days of playing tourists in love in one of the most romantic cities in the world. When it was time for me to go home it was a reminder for me of all the good byes of my young unsettled life. We would sit and drink hot chocolate on cold winters' nights at the Giubbe Rosse coffee shop, waiting for the train that would whisk me away. I was always bereft, holding her hand, holding onto her scent, hoping for a few more minutes before I had to go back to my lonely empty life from which she had saved me, a few scant days at a time.
I traveled to America to find a better way to live. We tried it together, life in California but she spoke no English, she wanted children, our characters clashed. She got divorced from her first husband and emigrated to Quebec with her second husband and as she spoke French she settled in Montreal. There was no internet we lost touch. Then she found an old postcard of mine, perhaps she simply found the courage to write to me in care of my stolid farming sister who I knew would never move. If you need me write to me at Liz's address in Umbria, were my instructions. My sister dutifully forwarded the message with no comment. Giovanna was the scarlet woman who threw open the shuttered windows of the castle to revel nude in the morning sun under the startled gaze of the local peasantry going about their chores. Giovanna needed to live life to the fullest every day and it was quite wearing for the proper little man I struggled to be feeling the obligations of my life in my ancestral village.
Giovanna is my last tenuous connection with that life. She remembers me lost in my castle, the poor little rich boy, living like a ghost in the cold empty corridors of the great rock pile that dominated the dying village that had supported it for centuries. She brought life to me when she took the train from Florence. She would descend to the platform like some movie star trailed by men anxious to carry whatever piece of luggage they could for the blonde princess. I need to feel alive she would say carelessly as she threw her arms around my neck and planted a big wet one on my mouth in front of her impromptu retinue. The contrast was too much for me when I had to take her back to Orvieto and stick her back on the train. Castle Dracula was empty without her. I lived a wildly unbalanced life, teetering between ecstasy and depression, between loneliness and exultation.
It is not yet certain what the outcome of the next cat scan might be but this sudden confrontation with the possible loss of another sliver of my increasingly remote and increasingly absurd past has shaken me. My own most recent check up revealed nothing at all and I face the possibility of living longer than I ever expected with a feeling approaching dread. Keep your wife close, Giovanna keeps reminding me, she feels the loss of her third husband, a man who adored her and had the bad taste to die of his own tumor not long ago. I need no reminding how lucky I was to find a woman who not only understood me and my demons but could help me manage them in ways Giovanna never could. To lose two legs of the three legged stool of my old age would be too much. However it is apparent the slide has begun whatever the outcome of Giovanna's tests. Her illness is a wake up call and now I have her and my wife and Giovanni (below) to worry about.  He is my childhood buddy from that era, but unlike my ever supportive wife, Giovanni the cardiologist makes no effort to attain old age, no exercise for him, but plenty of cigarettes.
I don't think I shall do well as a widower and even though I have made every effort to squeeze every ounce out of life, per Giovanna's original instructions I hope I shall be ready for a more contemplative end should my worst fears be realized. I remember a friend once telling me that friends come into your life as you need them, and leave as they came which in large measure is true. However there is also truth in the notion that some few people, good ones if you are lucky anchor your life to where you came from, good or bad. My wife lived our California life with me, a repository of memories of life in Santa Cruz in a pivotal time. Giovanni's role was to grow up with me; he rode mopeds with me and we still do ride together all over the place, and as teenagers he put up with my always frantic search for meaning through sensation. Giovanna helped me become a man and set me free to find myself. She was the gift that made my marriage possible, that enabled me to sort of settle down while still living life and learning to share it. She gave me my life partnership with a woman much more suited to manage my mercurial moods while she eventually found a lunatic as crazy as she, capable of making her feel appreciated in ways that still strike me as unbearable - dramas, fights, doors slamming, irrevocable promises always broken, marriage as a platform for invective.
I keep hoping the tests will show this to be a false alarm and the new tumor will be unlike the last, that this one will be benign and not aggressive that she has years to live. That I can postpone the day of reckoning and not yet have to face the fact that even with the most careful planning I may well end up alone with my memories. I used to hate to talk about my preposterous life as a medieval land owner, a fading way of life inherited from my mother who herself struggled to disentangle herself from her fate of living and in the end dying in the pile called Palazzo Paparini. She spent much of her life in England with her English husband but in the end Fate got the better of her and she died alone and divorced in the castle that defined her youth and gave her refuge in World War Two when the world blew up around her. It extracted a heavy price and I ran away to California to avoid the same fate, and for the longest time I tried to bury my castle in the fog of forgetfulness. I wanted a new start in the world, a life built on my own efforts not on the shoulders of my numerous very capable ancestors. Yet now that Giovanna, the last person who shared that life with me may be about to depart I feel as though I am losing the first of my critical anchors in the world.
I don't think all is well at all. Everything sucks.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Water And Light

 The light has been fantastic lately. 
Clouds are burning up with reflected sunlight when Cheyenne and I have been out in the early morning.
 The clouds then reflect the light back onto the mirror surface of the still waters.
The Navy Basin which was supposed to be handed over to the city. Luckily the Navy decided at the last minute to keep the space for itself, allowing the National Parks and NOAA boats to stay docked at the Eco Discovery Center. The city had been considering a cheesy expensive marina to be built here. Personally I prefer the Navy plan which appears to be to do nothing.
Across town at Smathers Beach the number of joggers in summer is down to a handful so anyone who feels like hanging around watching the water gets to do it mostly by themselves. In winter the beach sidewalk is a freeway of competing interests, jogging, power walking, ambling, skating and cycling...all at once
In summer the water gets so flat that when the haze builds up you can't see where the water ends and the sky begins. It is quite lovely. 
This peculiar platform is described by the city on the impenetrable cement wall as "beach access." Lovely passive aggressive nonsense in this city full of surprises.
Ahh, summer!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Afternoon Thunder

Key West has been getting soaked but just a few miles away I was basking in afternoon sunshine. Rainy season has struck though and clouds roll in pretty easily. I love these summer days with temperatures rarely much above 90 and afternoon breezes. 
I've started riding to work after a prolonged absence from two wheels and I can feel the heat increase as I get to the cement jungle of the Big City. On my canal I I need air conditioning to live indoors but spending time in the shade over looking the canal it feels pretty comfortable. And then suddenly it rains!
Summer weather in the Keys gets dramatic with sudden downpours, temperatures dropping twenty degrees and then equally suddenly its all over and blue skies and sunshine reassert themselves. 
Even the prospect of winter doesn't bother me as winter is dry season and even though temperatures drop from time to time winter day are lovely, short perhaps but sunny and frequently quite warm. A cold day of zero humidity and 70 degrees is entirely bearable. Well, I suppose they would be as I find 100 percent humidity and 90 degrees entirely acceptable. Better than 120 degrees of dry desert heat. 
It's also the time of year when fewer people spend time in the Keys even though that doesn't necessarily mean there is no one around. These people were loudly discussing the relative merits of Clinton versus Briggs and Stratton small engines. Not really a conversation to which I could add any opinions of merit. I left them to it and followed my dog on her search for the meaning of life.
The photograph annoys me technically, as I hate sloping horizons, but in the picture I captured what my ideal summer season means to me.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A-Lobstering They Will Go

August 6th through March 31st is the season for commercial lobster fishing and these traps will be crowding the waters around the Florida Keys until then. Every year there are calls for the two day mini season to be abolished or modified but every year the mini season, a two day hunt by non commercial lobster hunters ravages the Florida Keys.

There is some primitive madness that grips people who spend, I dare say thousands of dollars to kill a handful of lobster from their own hosts with their bare hands. Some people take pleasure in the fact that law enforcement can't be everywhere so they slaughter lobster well beyond their limits. Mini season is a great thing for hotels in the middle of Hurricane Season, so I foresee no end to the madness of mini season.

Everyone likes to eat lobster they say. Snobs prefer Maine lobster, the ones with claws, though I cannot tell the difference. I am not a fan of lobster, I have compared it to fish flavored string cheese, though I eat it out of deference to the generally held belief that eating an animal that will, unmolested, outlive humans imparts magical powers to the person eating it. I think cats should hunt lobster; it would be a fair fight.

Walking Cheyenne of an evening in Marathon I was reminded once again how pixpcturesque the business of farming can be, in the Keys represented by harvesting fish from a stressed-out ocean rather than by tilling fields. It's the way people harvest food and left to themselves this would be as organic as a pesticide- free garden but the fishing industry these days is mad.

Industrial fishing is crazy, with much of the world's catch being shipped around the planet after being plucked from the ocean. We exchange fish with other countries. I heard an interview on NPR's Fresh Air on the subject and it is fascinating and rather disturbing! Yet our industrial leaders want to sell themselves as "farm fresh" in everything. Check out this industrial art:

Lobster hunting is a hard life, and just as I fled from a life in agriculture in the old world I'd never make much of myself in this life. They prepare traps, they paint buoys to identify their catch, they check the pots and hope no one steals their trapped lobster. Like farming when the harvest is abundant the price drops, and when there aren't many lobster the price rises.

And for me this is old world Florida, so I like to take pictures of it.

Imagine taking strips of wood and staples and banging all these things together.

Thousands of them.


Oh and they have some traditional nets!

Good money, independence and a life on the water...any takers?