Sunday, December 20, 2015

Rest Beach

From February 2009, eight months before Cheyenne, I took these pictures of Rest Beach. in December that year this was where I brought her, only to discover I had rescued a Labrador never taught to swim or enjoy the water. Despite my best efforts, to this day, she only cares to drink water not paddle in it.

On The Beach

I am very fond of the book, On The Beach, by Neville Shute that describes the end of the world at the hands of an expanding cloud of nuclear dust. On the other hand I am also fond of just pausing by the beach, sneaking a pause between appointments.Rest Beach is one of my preferred spots for a quick break because it's right there, it's got parking next to Atlantic Boulevard, it has beachfront seating in the form of rather insalubrious tiki huts and from the comfort of the hard wooden benches one can sit and ponder the meaning of life:The nice thing is that there is also stuff to see out on the water, in winter sailboats are traveling Hawk Channel to and from Marathon, cyclists and walkers are enjoying the White Street Pier and the sun sparkles on the water giving it a festive tinsel-like sheen.I feel the need to remind people who don't know, that magnificent beaches are not part of what makes the Keys attractive. Unlike mainland Florida which is a gigantic sandpit that produces incredible arcs of beach, the Keys are more like the Bahamas, lumps of hard limestone rock that don't produce much in the way of sandy beaches. But what there is people do try to enjoy:My wife and I very much enjoy spending our summer afternoons,when she gets home from work and before I leave for my night job, going swimming. Because I live 25 miles out of town I get to keep our little 14 foot skiff on the canal behind our house and its a matter of no effort at all to get out into Newfound Harbor, a wide expanse of protected water, drop the anchor and go for a refreshing swim. However I have to admit I am not fond of swimming in waters cooler than 80 degrees (27C), so the boat comes out of the water in late October usually and goes back in around mid April. Visitors to the islands are less fussy and they go swimming even in February, and some of them manage to get some sunburn on their delicate northern epidermis:Not everyone is so informal. I spotted one gent, nattily dressed, out for an afternoon constitutional, quietly resting at the tiki hut nearest the condos by the beach:That's the great pleasure of the beach, and Key West in general, the whole philosophy of come as you are. I am not really a great fan of beach vacations, all that suntan oiled indolence, the uncomfortable posture for reading, the sand in the crevices, the immobility. However the beach is the place where you can wear a cardigan, or a diaper; the beach is the great leveller:And one has to reflect that I took these pictures on an average afternoon in February, amidst reports of snow ice rain and cold almost everywhere north of here. I can sense winter is crawling towards a gradual close, but in conditions like these winter is no real hardship, even if it is too cold for a swim.I like having the opportunity to ride to work the "long way" round the island, taking South Roosevelt, stopping at Rest Beach on Atlantic Boulevard, and perhaps getting a cafe con leche at Sandys on White Street before reporting for work at the Police Station. It's good to take the time to enjoy the sun, smell the sea air and watch the water for a while.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Holiday Parade 2009

I missed the Holiday Parade this year in Key West, thanks to my job -it's inevitable when you do shift work. But I found the essay I wrote the weekend after I first saw Cheyenne in the parade that Friday night in December. I wondered if at first I would get her, but a weekend of campaigning wore my wife down and first thing Monday I walked into the SPCA on Stock Island and announced "I want Cheyenne." 

It's A Wonderful Life

Key West is more than southernmost party town. Key West is boring middle America sometimes, no time more so than at Christmas, when people take it upon themselves to parade. Because Key West is actually Parade Town USA- any excuse is a good reason to walk down the street all dressed up. And no parade is worth a damn if there aren't motorcycle cops leading the way. Here we have Officers Villareal and Hartle flashing their lights at their favorite dispatcher:I am not by nature much of a sentimentalist, and saccharine displays of cloying sentiment irritate me. The other awkward side to my personality is that I can't stop asking myself difficult questions. I mean if Jesus really was born in a manager in an Arab village to an Aramaic speaking family doesn't that make him an Arab? If this is an accurate representation of his homies why are we locked in holy war with Islam? (The kid in front is actually a 21st century All American high school kid with a temporary though doubtless expensive ailment. He should have been hobbling with a wooden stick to be authentic):
Well, despite all the questions that buzz round my brain like insistent and annoying bluebottles we need to move on and hoof it over to Truman and White for the start of the Christmas parade. Yay!Whoa! Wise man? Al Quaeda? Shepherd? Oil Man? No, just another parade participant...On the subject of disguises go figure why this kid is sitting at her outdoor patio set dressed in a pointy hat...Oh yes, Santa Claus the Nordic heathen depiction of winter has been transmogrified into the Christian depiction of Saint Nicholas, bearer of gifts (Thanks to Macy's Department Store for that commercialization of the annual Yule Log burning multicultural winter gift buying frenzy).I'm not very good at small talk so here are a few images I snapped from the side of the road in poor light without the benefit of my tripod, pictures that have value to me because they show ordinary people in Key West, fully clothed, raising families and celebrating living in a neighborly small town. Jimmy Stewart failed to make an appearance, which was probably just as well as he's been dead a while, but the spirit of that corn pone movie is alive and well in Key West.You can't have a parade without motorcycles in my opinion. In that, I am apparently not alone:
Representing snow is part of the Christmas shtick and very happy I am that snow is represented by bits of white material of various kinds:
The other essential component of a proper parade is a fire engine or two. And check out the kid, children are important if you are going to have a proper community holiday parade:
Music is good too, endless variations on the glorious Christmas Hymns that came out of the Christian tradition in Germany and that have been mangled and rendered almost unrecognizable as muzak and movie sound tracks. Sigh. They were having fun though:
Angels or angles? Christmas is a good time to double check your spell checker.A young Methodist. I am not a big fan of the my-god-is-better-than-your-god school of nonsense but we should doff our elf caps a moment to the memory of John Wesley who contributed not a little to the notion of social justice as a Christian cause.
During the nudity of Fantasy fest there is the habit of launching beads at passersby. During the Holiday parade they toss candy and the kids grovel like chickens pecking in the dust to grab what they can. We had a well trained group of youngsters next to us who shouted cheerful slogans directed at each particular group of passers by ("Nice Car Mister!" they shouted in unison at the dour driver of a Mazda Miata. They were rewarded with an absent minded shower of candy from the driver who could not bring himself, however, to crack a smile). It was an excellent spot to sit, and we enjoyed a few surplus tootsie rolls and Hershey chocolate bites, the overflow of the excellent young ragamuffin barkers on our block.
Nice car, mister, indeed. This lot were smiling as well as tossing our sugar to appreciative youngsters."Ooh!" my wife squawked, "Get that one!" I did my best though everything was against me: no light, too much movement and sugar jitters:
In years past I enjoyed the juxtaposition of cultures in the parade, the boy scouts, mormonically anti-gay walking behind the trannies of the 800 block of Duval, adult themes tastefully done next to ebullient children's religiosity. This year I think there may have been some reaction, perhaps unconscious, to the excesses of a Fantasy Fest fueled by depression economics and an adult desire to vanquish reality for a week. Lots of people complained about the excesses of Fantasy fest. The holiday parade was a succession of church floats and sedate business advertisements. These men dressed as gender ambiguous angels (angles?) were from the Metropolitan Church ( the gay lot as far as I know):
In it's editorial in cheerful support of the small town "values" of Key West the editorial board pointed out the scenery in the city which provides a suitably Victorian backdrop for the Dickensian holiday parade:Some parents in Key West like to complain that there is nothing for their kids to do in town, other parents get off their duff and take their kids to the playing fields for some healthful sporting activities. The city built a hockey rink (Southernmost Hockey League- ice free) and it is enormously popular. Witness:
I am not very child oriented but I do like dogs. I saw this critter riding in a heavily decorated bicycle wagon and my heart went pitter patter. It got worse.
The SPCA parades with a bunch of dogs with little "Adopt Me" jackets and guess what? An actual yellow Labrador bitch marched down the street on our side of the road. Lots of people say they have labs or "lab mixes" but this was an actual female yellow lab and I knew I had to have her. My wife is resisting so there is some friction in the home. My wife says the economy is bad, vet bills can be horrendous, we are planning a three week vacation in Italy next year, etc etc... I say the economy sucks so lots of people are abandoning their dogs. Big dogs are hard to find homes for and that lab needs a home. We are at an impasse and I don't think it's going to go well for my side of the debate. My wife usually wins. Failing a Labrador, here's a picture of an angel (angle). I only realized afterward her legs are unsuitably illuminated but this is a concession to the pervs in the audience. You know who you are:The city commission just approved a concession for a second trolley tour company in the city and residents are in a ferment about how many tours can the city sustain. That will be a thought for another day. This is a Conch Train in holiday trim:This picture is a reminder that frost is banned in Key West and we have to make do with make believe snowmen. What snow men have to do with Christmas I couldn't rightly say, but who am I to argue with inexplicable traditions?
A tip of the hat to our friends and colleagues in Public Works who are routinely maligned for failing to do a variety of responsible tasks that they actually do very efficiently. Here is a Government Truck cleaning the street instants after the last float passed by:
And here is the proper sentiment of the season from all the families and ordinary working people who live in Key West and put up with the noise and chaos that two million visitors a year bring with them.
Spare them a thought the next time you are debating how much to tip. Key West is one of the most expensive cities in Florida and sixty percent of the city's economy is sustained by visitors they say. Merry Christmas indeed; we can only hope.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Bella Luna, Cudjoe Key

The yardstick is Square Grouper and that's what we heard before we went- It's as good as Square Grouper.  Actually in some respects I think it's better. 
My neighbor is the chef  here which made me wonder a bit how objective I could be at the new Italian restaurant on Cudjoe and I like Brian. He and his wife are the sort of people you want for neighbors, quiet unassuming dependable and good for a laugh in passing. But what if I didn't like his cooking? Eventually the wife and I took the plunge and last Saturday went early. ate well, got home and thought, hmm...we'll have to go back.
The eggplant Tuscan stack started the evening and it was done right, crispy outside, firm inside and the green stuff was crispy and peppery. I was quite surprised by the quality of the tomato, which tasted like those things that we used to grow when we were kids. Real flavor on top of the milky mozzarella. 
The restaurant only recently opened at the Mile 22 marker more or less, north of the Sheriff's substation and around the corner from the Kickin' Back convenience store. It used to be Coco's Cantina, Latin food mostly, but the addition of Thai food when the Thai lady was in to cook it at the end of the week...These days the rather spartan interior of the old greasy spoon has been deftly transformed into what you see above. 
Bella Luna, Cudjoe Key
I stopped off from time to time for a fix at Coco's and I liked taking the Thai food home for my wife who has a fondness for it. But  Bella Luna takes away the nostalgia. I think this new eatery is marking a step up for the neighborhood in ways that goo deeper than just having a decent restaurant available.
Bella Luna, Cudjoe Key 
I got to choose our main dish after we polished off the eggplant and some of the best fried calamari I think I've ever had. There is a tendency to fry squid within an inch of their lives giving them the consistency of potato chips. At Bella Luna the calamari were cooked with flavor and moistness yet they were coated, and not overly coated, in crispy fried goodness. I really liked them. My wife indulged me on the main dish as I like beef over wide noodles, an escape from tomato sauce and I thoroughly enjoyed my stew...
We looked around as the dishes came to our neighbors in a  packed dining room. We saw classic pasta. tomato and cheese dishes and I wanted one of each. The desserts were excellent, tiramisu is a classic and I tend not to order it for that reason but this one was strong and perfect and like the panna cotta, a form of Italian custard, it was not too sweet, but sweet enough. We ate too much, trying not to regret the end of the meal.
The prices seem reasonable to me especially as I think you get good value for money. The appetizers were ten dollars or less, while the main courses were under 20.  We had no beer or wine but like the food menu the drinks list was comprehensive but not excessively intricate. I saw several beers and wines I'd like to try on a  non-teetotal night.
The outside seating was in use as a waiting area and we talked briefly with another couple and they too brought up the apparently inevitable comparison with the Square Grouper just up the street. I like the Square Grouper but the menu hasn't changed in a decade, and the new upstairs Tapas bar, which I have yet to visit, must have absorbed a lot of creative energy from downstairs. 
 That's okay. Bella Luna has lots of offer, atmosphere, food, and value for money.
 We will be back and I want more panna cotta.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Charterboat Row

What's wrong with me? I don't like to fish. I barely drink on the scale of epic hang overs and I live in the Lower Keys. I'm not gay either so what I'm doing here is not at all clear. But here I am enjoying myself anyway. Wandering around the body of water known as Garrison Bight (where "bight" is a nautical term indicating a "recess" in a coastline) reminds me that sometimes I do miss living on the water.
Garrison Bight, Key West
I used to live on boats but moved ashore propelled by a drive to hold down serious pensionable work. I got tired of not having the energy to go sailing while living in cramped spaces with limited views and what we could see were neighboring boats.So we moved ashore and brought the dog with us.
Garrison Bight, Key West
And then when I am near the water, not on the water these busy days, but near the water I start pining. Maybe it's not pining but maybe it's just remembering. And like all such things one only remembers the good bits. I remember spending one July like Robinson Crusoe anchoring among the deserted islands of the Exuma chain in the Bahamas. We sailed from one deserted anchorage to the next  living off our solar panel and our water maker and not needing to run the engine. I try to force myself to remember the days and nights of pounding against winds and waves, of watching the sun go down and the sense of desolation that swept across the ocean as light was extinguished and all we could see was each other, and Emma the Labrador confident in us enough that she curled up on the floor and pretended the boat was a home. 
Key West Garrison Bight
It's been years but I still don't take hot and cold clean running water for granted as it flows from a faucet. I lie in in bed and listen to the wind shaking the palms and rattling the windows and I am grateful I don't have to rush suddenly from the toilet to secure a flailing anchor as my wife never fails to remind me, thinking back to an insecure anchorage in Colombia one squally night. 
Fireboat Key West
And yet there is pleasure in absence when one is on the water and away. Noisy neighbors, crowded streets, recalls to duty, they all fall off in your wake and all you see ahead is skinny water and low lying land waiting to be explored.
Charterboat Row, Key West
People tell me riding a motorcycle is dangerous but I think going boating is far worse, at least in terms of loss of dignity at every turn. The two activities aren't always so different but I have fallen off a motorcycle and I have run a boat aground and neither experience lends itself to joy. But I spend more time fussing about navigation when I am underway on a boat than on a motorcycle. 
Charterboat Row, Key West
I think the motorcycle allows the rider to feel more in control than a boat does; at least for me. Planning a trip by bike I look forward with pleasure. Planning a trip on a boat and my head spins with trying to figure out every possible permutation on disaster and it's counterpoint. I would spend myself bankrupt at the marine store buying amulets to ward off all different types of death and dismemberment on a boat. On a motorcycle I am happy to take off with not too much and plenty of hope for the best. It's weird but it is true, and I'm not sure why.
Charterboat Row, Key West
So as I wander around the periphery of the boating world I don't feel like a stranger, I know the lingo and I can pass myself off as a sailor, but deep down inside I wonder if I am.
North Roosevelt Boulevard
I never attained the Frenchman Moitessier's one-ness with the oceans of the world:

Charterboat Row, Key West
To me taking off on a sailboat is like rolling down the launch ramp into the infinite darkness of night, with a gulp of apprehension. 
Charterboat Row, Key West
I like the smell of the ocean, the fiddle faddle of the docks where people gather and talk and make exaggerated claims. But the prospect of taking a  boat out puts me on my toes, measuring the strength and direction of the wind, computing the force of the  tide or the current, preparing a mental back up plan in case of failure. On a motorcycle I make sure the chain is lubricated, the tires have air and I have a credit card. Then off I go full to the brim with anticipation.
Charterboat Row, Key West
But I like the challenge. What can I say? And I miss it sometimes. And I will never learn to fish thank you.