Sunday, October 9, 2016

New Town

It's been a while since I devoted several consecutive pictures to New Town, that area of Key West developed since the 1960s that was once dairy farms and open scrubby spaces.
There is an unmistakable air of something different, not just in the tropical foliage on these streets, even though they aren't obviously cute like the narrow lanes of Old Town.
I continue to be astonished by Rusty's ability to identify shapes of inanimate objects. He saw the plaster dogs sitting there and watched them intently.
I noticed the notice and felt pretty certain it was supposed to read "Residents" not "Residence" but they should have printed it with dictionary to hand I suppose.
New Town gives you room to breathe, to swing a cat were you so inclined, or to rebuild an old car.
Concrete block, bright tropical colors and a broad porch.  Add a large yard and plenty of parking and a price half that of an Old Town Conch Cottage and you can see the attraction of New Town.
What happened was that in the 1960s a wave of refugees from mainland America, including a  lot of gay men looking for sailors in the style of Tennessee Williams who bought a house in this Navy town, saw the potential in the run down wooden homes clustered around Duval Street. They offered to relieve the Conchs of their homes in exchange for cash money. The Conchs took it gratefully and left the new arrivals to build up their hotels in the run down part of town and good luck to them.
New Town will surprise you from time to time as it did to me when Rusty was leading me in a  circle where Patterson dead ends into a canal. I was chatting with a resident when a boat slipped silently by. My attempt to photograph it didn't go so well but you can see the canal is actually connected to open water, one end at the Riviera Canal and the other at Salt Run Creek near  Winn Dixie and Home Depot. Male sure your boat is small as there isn't much room but I have done it so I know it's true.
It hasn't yet started to cool off properly just yet. We will need a couple of cold fronts to do that, hopefully beofre Fantasy Fest at the end of the month. That seems a bit too soon at this point.
So the Conchs spread out toward Searstown which was built in the 1960s and they slowly filled in the fields and displaced the cows and built their American Dream ranchettes.
I've used this image (below) in another essay from the state archives I think. It shows Flagler's big new hotel for his railroad guests surrounded by empty fields and lots. For the first century and a half of it's life Key West's population stayed stable around 13,000 people. These days it's settled at around 23,000 with the entire island built up.
Image result for searstown 1960s key west
Ever since Hurricane Wilma flooded large tracts of New Town in 2005 I've seen a lot more stilt homes show up in this part of town.
That was the year Katrina wrecked New Orleans and I saw similarities between the two flooding events. In Key West the east winds flooded parts of Bahama Village and huge areas of New Town while the core of Old Town along Southard and Fleming Streets stayed dry and above the waters. In New Orleans it was the same story: the historically white urban core of the city, the French Quarter or Vieux Carre, stayed dry while all around the newer parts of town went underwater to disastrous effect.
But aside from the once in one hopes each generation that the city floods New Town offers a bit more breathing room for people and their toys. And for me and Rusty there are, if you know where to lok, a few grassy alleys as well running between the streets.
Plenty to explore.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Art At The Tropic: Passion Wallflowers

If you go to the Tropic Cinema you can expect to find some interesting artwork on display from time to time. This I was not expecting:
A massively intricate display of cut paper flowers, so abundant there was apparently a little left over:
From the Tropic webpage on the subject of tranquility and inner peace per the artist who says paper flowers remind her of her childhood in Lithuania where she recovered from a childhood injury making paper flowers as part of her therapy.  

Apparently too the artist reverts to paper flower making in times of sadness as she did when her mother died.
 Quite beautiful. Though one is forced to ponder what prompted an entire wall of paper flowers.
 The exhibit area is known as the Gallery at the Tropic...
 ...an imaginative use of a hall way off to the side of the main screening theater.
 It's actually quite the contemplative space when the lobby of the theater isn't jammed with people.
I managed to find a page online put up by the artist responsible for the flowers and it's worth a look as she makes some pretty wild face paintings.
 The evening was concluding for my wife and I with a screening of the new Beatles movie by director Ron Howard. It's a documentary about the early years of the Beatles when they went around the world performing live, before they got burned out on the crowds and the controversy of speaking extemporaneously to people who took them too seriously. It was not a well attended screening on a rainy night in low season. It deserved better.
The lives of the Beatles could never be summarized in one movie so one has to accept that aspects had to be ditched to make a coherent story focused on the live performances. The story showed brilliantly clearly how smart and self effacing and self aware the Beatles were. They had no plans, they were having a "laff" in Liverpudlian English and they laughed at themselves and their insistent questioners. Why is your music so popular? they were asked over and over. No idea came the glib reply. The John Lennon piped up with perhaps the best line in a movie that had several excellent quotations. "If we knew we'd form another band and we'd manage that." Clearly the working class stiffs from Liverpool understood the benefits of being in charge. There was no mention of Yoko Ono but the fresh faced lads transformed themselves in less than two hours into world weary musical mechanics with families and  responsibilities. Being successful is exhausting and it shows. Much nostalgia, much sadness not least because there is always a yearning for the fresh faced promise of the early 60s, gone and lost forever. 
Except for the excellent bits preserved here on film.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Golf Course Community

Great good fortune came to some thanks to the city's decision to annex north Stock Island for the greater good of all concerned. The exact date of the annexation is nowhere to be found online but the Florida Keys Community College on College Road was founded in 1965 and the buildings opened in 1968. This was just after a 1964 referendum called to incorporate Stock Island as a city failed by 47 votes to 36. One has to assume that sometime thereafter Key West took over the northern part and agreed to put the community college there.
On the eastern end of the arc that is College Road on north Stock Island lies the gated residential community at the golf course. The entrance off College Road gives access to the golf club if you turn right immediately as you turn off College Road while straight ahead is the guard house which I photographed from inside the community (above).
The golf course streets are built by the same developer who built Truman Annex, the other gated community in Key West and the similarities are obvious. There are community rules apparently and one friend of mine who lives in here says even here there can be disputes over parking spaces. 
The advantages of life here includes easy access to golf if that is of interest, there are no bums and no outsiders as the gate is guarded all day and all night. To get in to visit a friend I had to give her name, her address and have my license plate photographed. It's the kind of peace and quiet you won't find in Old Town Key West, which is one bridge and 15 minutes away depending on traffic.
Golf courses raise their own environmental issues with use of water pesticides and all that. On the other hand in a bunch of islands where grass is as rare as hair on a bald man's head the neatly trimmed links makes for a pleasant view:
And the trees in the distance are a thick sound barrier to Highway One traffic just beyond them.
On the other hand you are living in a  tightly regulated, neat community which is not always appreciated by the more anarchic elements still left living in odd corners of Key West, the gentrification city. Humor is present too, though:
The homes themselves are mostly attached town homes though I am told there are a few free standing units. Prices are around half a million dollars, more or less and interior space is restricted. By mainland standards these are decidedly not McMansions. 
By Key West standards however they are extremely functional.  They offer all modern conveniences  including modest yards, parking, weatherproof construction and central air. Nothing to boast about in modern North America but in Key West where roofs don't always align with walls and windows often don't close properly this is first rate living. As long as you can cope with being a car drive away from easy drinking in Old Town while always being overseen in your habits by the community rules...
It's either a Norman Rockwell or a Stepford Wives picket fence community:




Spaces are small, typical of Key West, but they lack for nothing and especially for a person or couple who plan to travel away regularly the security and ease of use is a giant plus. 
So there's another way to have a Key West address that is actually in the city...
The Golf Course is hardly noticeable on the north side of US One as you drive east across Stock Island. The cyclist was in Monroe County where I took this picture on the south side of the highway., while the trees are in Key West:

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Watching Hurricane Matthew

I have been following events in relation to Hurricane Matthew, across Florida as a large urban population with no experience of severe hurricanes comes to grips with the reality of hurricane season in the Sunshine State. I should say this whole Matthew drama has been bizarre right from the Caribbean where 17 people have died, and looks to continue in that vein as the storm moves north and changes its path all over the place.  We in Key West are outside the danger zone even though we expect steady winds of a mere 20 miles per hour today with heavy rain for accompaniment. So my observations come from a comfortable spot where life continues as normal. Weird but true- so far- life is uninterrupted in the Lower Keys.
It's been a long time since a major storm hit Florida and this is a state where people come and go, and from what I've heard grocery shelves are emptying and fights are breaking out at gas stations. It was nice knowing what to know what to do on Monday before the herd got spooked when we bought extra water and filled our vehicle's gas tanks as a precaution. We keep dehydrated food in the house for just these emergencies and so all that is left is to sit back and carry on carrying on. I have to say I am tired of hurricanes, and you'd think after a ten year break I'd have had time to get my resistance level back up to face more storms. But I'm not ready. It's not a matter of being afraid it's just a matter of being annoyed at the interruption of my daily routines. In the face of all the catastrophic destruction wrought by this storm my preoccupations seems embarrassingly banal. But that is the truth of this situation; you feel glad to be spared and embarrassed by your relief.
I'm better off than some people because I have been through this before, many times. This hurricane thing has knocked Monroe County's school superintendent for a loop, and its quite funny to watch. This poor guy has made it known he's applied for work to get the hell out of Monroe County and now he's stuck with dealing with half a storm, and it's clear he has no clue. He's the guy at Publix buying potato chips and red wine while forgetting batteries and  drinking water. The problem is that only half the Keys are currently under a tropical storm watch so the superintendent, in violation of normal practice and tried and tested tradition, decided to only close the schools actually affected by the weather. The unintended consequence of this bizarre decision is to throw the school calendar into chaos.  The school district is used to weather related closures, all schools are, not just for hurricanes but for blizzards forest fires or flooding, whatever your local natural disaster may be. So now some of the schools will use make up days at the end of the year and some won't which is causing the entire district to scratch their collective head figuring out how to manage this administrative cock up. All he had to do was close all schools for a day or two and add a day or two to the end of the school year exactly as anticipated. Which makes one really really glad the school board hired this unhappy man to lead the schools. I hope he makes another school district somewhere else very happy very soon.
When you tell people you live in Florida they get a rather negative stereotype in their heads of a retirement community of querulous old people driving badly and complaining about the cost of everything. Florida has tried to change this image of itself and has attracted some younger people tired of snow but a state terrified of raising taxes apparently cannot sustain world class educational opportunities and can't attract top flight business innovators judging by results so far. It's a shame because if you do find a place to live that you like and a job to sustain you, life in Florida is pretty sweet. Life in the Florida Keys is something else entirely, sweet yes, but a world apart from mainland Florida and in a  crisis like a major hurricane the differences become apparent. This photo of Costco crowds came from the British Sun newspaper which is apparently quite interested in our discomfort:
Image result for florida panic buying hurricane matthew supplies
It may be partly owing to the smaller population in the Keys, 75,000 permanent residents, it may be that in these islands one lives closer to nature, but my observation is that the art of survival even in this modern age is better honed in the Keys than on the mainland. When asked I say I live in the Florida Keys to differentiate myself from the mainland, the world gored mercilessly by Carl Hiassen in his novels lampooning Florida. I saw how people coped most recently with the disaster that was Hurricane Wilma which flooded Key West in a way similar to New Orleans yet we saw no looting no violence no sudden expiration of neighborliness. I figured that if I had to live through a natural disaster this place was as good as any. And now that the rest of Florida all the way up the East Coast and around Lake Okeechobee faces a truly testing time we shall see how it goes for them. Perhaps they will exceed my rather low expectations. 
Feeling lucky to be outside the projected path of Hurricane Matthew is a temporary state of mind. If the storm wrecks Miami we lose our source of electricity and water as well as road access. If Matthew curls around as is projected for next week and comes back at Florida (!) out of the Atlantic for a second go, the Lower Keys could get raked. There are more weather systems building in the Atlantic, thus next time could be our turn; who knows...So it's never too early to stock up with supplies, too early to figure out your plan such that if the time comes you can act with confidence and come what may know you did your best.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Morning Walk

A few pictures from a typical morning walk after my night at work. In this case Middle Torch Key.









And so home to bed on an empty Overseas Highway.