Monday, January 25, 2016

Cheyenne The Wonder Dog

A few pictures of Cheyenne in her new daily life as a dog with a second wind. Actually she is just being a dog and enjoying life. I think she is also prone to taking advantage of me, pretending to be weak when it suits her and getting lifts up and down the stairs when she feels like a ride. When she thinks I'm not looking I see her taking the stairs on her own, but when she stands their looking piteous I don't mind lifting her 110 pounds up 15 stairs. She usually wags her tail when we get to the top.
 A couple of weeks ago I was wondering how long she would last but the vet prescribed a medication for her that recently apparently went generic and is thus affordable, and for the transformation I've seen in her a buck a pill is very worthwhile.
In order to help her get around on the tile floors we have taken to laying down rather ugly plastic mats that give her weak hind legs better grip. What we do for this dog! That and keeping the air cool enough that she doesn't pant. Sometimes I felt like we live in Antarctica.
Her walks are shorter of course barely a block or two but she is enjoying life on four legs. 

And she is back to her puddle antics again. Her hind legs get very weak when I call her to come to shore. She can barely hear me let alone get up. So I have to go wading to "help" her to her feet. Bloody dog.
 All this exercise wears a girl out.
Dr Edie the vet told us the drug works miracles for some dogs and it sure has for Cheyenne.
 Carprofen (marketed as Vetprofen,[1] Rimadyl,[2] ImadylquellinNovoxImafenand Rovera) is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that veterinarians prescribe as a supportive treatment for various conditions. It provides day-to-day treatment for pain and inflammation from arthritis in geriatric dogsjoint pain, osteoarthritiship dysplasia, and other forms of joint deterioration.

She will break my heart when hers eventually stops.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

On Forks And Pasta

I have been reading a rather startling book discussing life, food, politics and history in Sicily. I have a feeling that anyone not having some meager amount of knowledge of Italy in the latter half of the 20th century would get lost in a  torrent of names places, political parties and bizarre rituals, alongside the more traditional murder and violence of the period and place. 

However there are a few tidbits in this fascinating book that have gripped my imagination and won't let go. First it turns out the most plausible explnanation for the derivation of the term mafia is that it refers to an Arab term for  a powerful graceful young man - the sort of young fresh blood needed by ossified organizations like The Mob to carry out the leaders' bidding. 

Then there is the matter of the fork which is mentioned even in the formal review of the book that I have reproduced below. The Australian Peter Robb gets the low down on the origins of pasta and forks in Western Society and his explanation as given to him by a Sicilian with some studies under his belt, is fascinating.
Robb suggests that the popular myth that Marco Polo brought pasta back from China be supplanted by a  new and better theory. He suggests fresh pasta has long been made in Sicily but the durum wheat pasta that can be dried packaged and shipped was developed by Arab merchants for transport around the Mediterranean. Plus he says the first recorded mention of someone eating with a fork was that of a Turkish Princess due to be married to a Venetian Prince. However plague struck and they both died. The Christian leaders of the time argued they were killed as a manifestation of God's disapproval of the fork, a Muslim invention and the Holy Roman Church outlawed the use of forks for centuries, leaving the faithful to eat pasta in the manner shown above. Not terribly appetizing.

By the way Marco Polo it is said discovered sago and camphor in Indonesia not pasta. So there, and I have read elsewhere that Polo probably did not exist and was an amalgamation of traveler's tales told variously to a Venetian scribe who created a coherent narrative we are pleased to call the Travels of Marco Polo. So there!
Talking about Sicily Cosa Nostra ("Our Thing") ends up becoming an object of some heavy discussion and as a resident of Italy in those years I find it fascinating how he ties together all the threads of Mafia, Politicans, The Vatican, Bankers and extraordianry acts of brutality by the the mob's killers- egged on it seems by the US after World War Two as a buttress against Italy's powerful Communist Party. The Fascists suppressed the Mafia in Sicily before the war and they fled to the US to escape so upon their return with the conquering army they set up again on the island and fought the Communists who wanted to rearrange Sicily for the peasants.

You have to give the Mafia credit for their utter lack of restraint and brutality. One preferred method of instilling terror, aside form gunning people down or hanging them and disappearing their bodies was sending messages like the form of torture called being "goat tied." The photo below is a representation by an artist, to not rupture your delicate sensibilities but you can find lots of pictures of bloated faces and protruding tongues of victims of this ghastly way to die. Essentially the victim strangled himself as his legs cramped and straightened out, thus choking himself to death. Nice folks.

From Kirkus Review this discussion of the book. Frankly I found the book engrossing and I would have to say it left me with a sense of wonder and finally some sort of explanation for the bizarre public years of my young life in Italy. Things happened and we never seemed to get a clear explanation for them. Now at last I do!

If it's true, as the Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia once said, that Sicily is a metaphor for the modern world, then author Robb has plumbed the depths of the world. Midnight in Sicily is a work from another age and era. Perhaps only in the 18th and 19th centuries would a foreigner have attempted to write about art, food, history, travel, and the Mafia together. But it soon becomes apparent that in the hands of Robb the landscape of Sicily becomes a metaphor for its history; history is inextricably tied to food; food is inseparable from art. Again, it takes a foreigner to see Italy and Sicily in clearer terms than the Sicilians and Italians themselves. The heart of darkness in this tale is Giulio Andreotti, the most powerful politician in postwar Italy: seven-time prime minister and once hailed as the greatest political mind since Bismarck. Ironically, Andreotti is a Roman who sold his soul in Sicily in a Faustian bargain to secure a political power base from which to rule Italy practically undisturbed for decades. Robb, who has written for the Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books, masterfully recreates scenes as benevolent as friends enjoying a meal or as diabolical as Andreotti's meeting with the most brutal crime boss in all of Italy. There are shrewd insights (``Beyond a certain threshold, power erases embarrassment''); telling phrases (Andreotti, leader of the Christian Democrats, is called a ``sacristy rat''); and deep political/historical revelations (such as Cosa Nostra's permanent aim of eliminating the historic memory built up by those few who've understood that Cosa Nostra was a state within a state). A barbecue becomes an occasion for a learned excursus on the history of the fork. This narrative is itself an eclectic and sumptuous meal that- -through no fault of the author's--leaves the diner with a bitter taste in the mouth.

While it's true there is an astonishing trail of death and corruption in this book I have to say the historical asides, the discussion of the book The Leopard a historical novel about Sicily high on my list of most enjoyed books, all add up to to an engrossing read.
 I can't recommend this arcane story about a province off most people's radar but I was prompted to bring it up because of our modern obsession with demonizing Islam. I have enjoyed thinking about what we would look like were we to get rid of three great inventions from the much maligned part of the world about which we know next to nothing: Pasta and forks, numbers and the decimal point and astronomy as we know it today. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Cold Front

This is a touchy subject when you've got people Up North under unprecedented lumps of snow and services  shutting down. And there again people laugh when residents of the Keys complain about sixty degree weather. I find myself constantly trying to explain that it isn't snobbery or stupidity or vanity that makes sixty degrees (15 Canadian degrees) seem so freezing to people who live here.
Key West Cold Weather
Consider this: the average normal regular temperature fluctuates between 75 and 95  degrees. Summers are not as hot as a lot of places and winters are never as cold as anywhere else. Key West never gets frost as the lowest recorded temperature was forty one (5 Canadian degrees). This means most people don't have proper winter clothing. You may also be surprised to learn a lot of homes don't have heat. And furthermore all those leaky houses with loose window frames become ice chests when the north winds start to blow. 
Key West Cold Weather
This next point is a tough one to get your head around but 60 degrees in Key West is a lot colder than many other places. It's a function of the same watery effect that makes summers cooler than much of the central plains. 110 degrees is not uncommon in Kansas say in August and I've felt it and it's disgusting. Dry heat it may be but it's hot, just as it gets burning hot in Arizona or New Mexico or any of those deserts. In the Keys the cooling summer breezes off the ocean keep temperatures below 100 (usually) and make it surprisingly pleasant even if very humid. Not everyone likes summers here and I do always mention that liberal use of air conditioning in the home and car is a requisite. My wife and I spent a couple of years sailing through the tropics breathing only God's super heated humid air and I have learned to appreciate the joys of modern technology. Some people think living without air conditioning improves their Keys street cred and they may well be right but I do things my way.  
Key West Cold Weather
So in winter sixty degrees can be damp and chill, and when the sun comes out the wind blasts across the islands from the north east bringing all that salt laden humid air with it. Combine that with lack of proper clothing, lack of heating and low physical resistance and you can see why it feels a bugger sight colder here than you might imagine sitting in your snow drift Up North.
Key West Cold Weather
And let's not forget that we live her because we like the heat, we want sunshine, we prefer never to see snow again. Conchs are in a special category here and I never speak for them, as they are a law unto themselves and I always defer. But for anyone who chooses to live in the Keys and then complains about the heat, all I can say is stupid is as stupid does. It's like choosing to live in the desert then bitching about the lack of moisture. So when it gets cold here as it does from time to time, pardon us if we feel it and moan about it. 
Key West Cold Weather
The people I do feel sorry for are the visitors who have come to the Keys hoping for a sunny break under the palms in the middle of their winter fiasco Up North and they get gray skies, strong winds and chilly temperatures. They look pale and wan and say with a brave smile that sixty degrees would be a heatwave at home and they make do. Brave souls.
Key West Cold Weather

Friday, January 22, 2016

Friday In Key West

Some people live over Duval Street. I cannot fathom wanting to live here, on a street where noise never ends. Bars play loud music, crowds gather, and in the early morning clean up crews run generators, sprayers and dump trucks and when you sleep or have quiet time on Duval I just don't know.
But there again you can walk to all the bars you need or want. I have been watching this much neglected mural next to the San Carlos Theater. I was standing under the portico avoiding one more shower and I saw the boat apparently sailing into a black void. Perhaps it was my black brought about by the endless rain, or the stop-and-go-endless traffic on US One but the ship looked like a metaphor for Key West sailing into the bleak dark future of endless upscale tourism swamping the Lower Keys' charms.
There has been a lot of talk lately about reining in the Chamber of Commerce and the Tourist Development Council because there is too much tourism in town. Of course the alternative, in the past, has led Key West to bankruptcy so it is a bit of a delicate balance.   
I feel bad for people who have planned vacations in Key West the  past couple of weeks as the weather has been nasty. But you have to give the determined vacationers credit, as I mostly hear people say 68 degrees in the rain is much better than what they have been living through at home.
I noticed the little alley on the 600 block of Duval has been named. Actually it has two names to commemorate local figures. The sign post marks more changes downtown. 
And then I cam across a sight that cheered me up, a glimmer of Key West as I remember it more fondly. A boat bilge pump in the basket of a scooter. No big deal of course but to me it's a small reminder that boats can be a part of daily life in this harbor town turned resort.
The orange handles looked like the kind of grips you use to clamp onto the hull of a boat when you are cleaning it, but I wasn't sure as I sued clamps of a different type on mine. A harbor rat's scooter it looked like. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

KiKi's Sandbar

I noticed the Can Am Trike, a machine that purports to appeal to people who ride motorcycles, and it was parked in the handicap spot in front of Kiki's Sandbar on Little Torch Key. It could just as easily have parked in the motorcycle parking space even closer to the restaurant. Thus as far as I'm concerned this photo is the definitive proof that Can Ams are not motorcycles, at least not in the eyes of this owner.
Kiki's Sandbar
That aside Kiki's has remained pretty much the same and I am glad of that. The views over Niles Channel haven't changed since this place was Parrotdise:
Kiki's Sandbar
They have a bunch of window seats perfect for out of town guests. Or locals...Maybe when it's warmer we will try the outdoor seating downstairs where they now have an outdoor bar, very Keys style. But frankly I prefer the upstairs view across the channel while chowing down on some first rate seafood and very decent beer. 
Kiki's Sandbar, Little Torch Key
We tried the conch fritters mostly out of curiosity as we had recently been asked about where to get decent ones. Mostly conch fritters are corn balls that taste more like hush puppies than anything remotely seafood-related. These came with a spicy mango habanero sauce and there was a good bit of crunchy  conch meat in them too. We rated them pretty darn good. And yes, we were a bit surprised.
Kiki's Sandbar, Little Torch Key
 Kiki's has kept the same format as Parrotdise, bright cheerful decor, lots of servers, a decent wine and beer list and a solid menu. It's not fine dining nor does it pretend to be but I thought it was pretty good value for money. The fritters, the calamari and the fish tacos all got the thumbs up. I really like the blackened mahi tacos, three to an order for $13 were a good meal. 
Kiki's Sandbar, Little Torch Key
The smoked fish dip is always good here and if you like fried oysters these got general approval. I have to say the appeal of oysters eludes me. People tell me I haven't had a "good oyster" if I don't like them as a species. But even wrapped in breadcrumbs and fried they still have the texture and taste of -forgive me- snot. People love them. Weird.
Kiki's Sandbar, Little Torch Key
If you don't know what beer to order and you don't like battery acid special IPA beer then go for the Funky Buddha Floridian on draft. I mean to say you can have a very pleasant afternoon at Kiki's and they have TV if you need that, but it doesn't intrude beyond the bar into the restaurant. They also sell caps and t-shirts and other dust catchers. Oh and they are also advertising Brunch everyday at eight o'clock with some interesting look food. Might have to check that out. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Squirrel On Wheels

Traffic has been pretty bad on the highway, an endless flow of vehicles stumping along at speeds that infuriate locals, barely the speed limit mostly and substantially less on the scenic bits. The news paper is full of vituperative comments about crowding in the Keys.To me the Keys are always crowded in winter, I'd just like to see more younger dynamic visitors. ON the subject check out this youth on a motorcycle. We were in the car on Cudjoe Key when I got passed by a motorcycle on a double yellow line. He then proceeded to tailgate the car in front, his shirt tails flapping and his plumber's crack there for all to see. I should have been gobsmacked, if you believe Sandi (in her recent comment) but I took it in stride. Motorcyclists of an older more sober stripe call these bright sparks squids, or squirrely kid a surfing terms they say...
Overseas Highway, Florida Keys

I like to make progress as the British say but I reserve my passing to US rules of engagement, on dotted yellow, with turn signals and spending as little time as possible in the opposite lane. That makes me an old fart and far from squirrely... I pass for fun usually not to save time. The best way to arrive early is the ride a steady speed on a completely empty highway, not particularly fast but steady. That happens in summer, not in January. And then there are accidents. Two people have died so far this year on the Overseas Highway which seems quite a low number considering how distractedly I see people drive. Last week a major wreck on Rockland Key backed up traffic for ten miles, so I stretched out in the grass for a few minutes and read my Kindle on my phone on Sugarload Key. When traffic started to move steadily I put my gear on and rolled into the traffic flow easily as cars fail to pay attention when they are in line and huge, unconscionable gaps appear in the stream of vehicles.

US1, Sugarloaf Key

It's been a challenging winter so far, with unpredictable rain showers, some cooling just recently, but also lots of clouds and vast great swathes of traffic. All made much more fun for a squirrelly two wheeler!

One rides the same road day after day and I suppose it could get boring but then we see different weather, fresh traffic, varying shades of scenery and we make a fresh road out of the same daily ride. Slow moving cars become obstacles to be handled, weather can offer a challenge and on those days when there is nothing to be done we sit back and watch the islands and the mangroves and the waters go by. Riding like a squid - a squirrely kid- is just not smart.

We old men plod along and make progress our way.