Monday, November 7, 2016

Seasonal Key West

Key West has come into the best time of year when the humidity levels are dropping and a fresh breeze comes back after the stillness of summer. I love the bright sunlight that yields crisp colors and well defined shadows.
They say photographers are supposed to prefer muted light and stuff and I dare say they do. I don't. I love the blue sky and the greenery and the white picket fences and white clouds.
 To me those are the colors that best represent these islands.
 And as the sun passes lower across the southern sky the angle of sunlight changes and it becomes less steamy hot and yellow and more crisp and white as the winter progresses.
Fantasy Fest is the mark of Fall though it is not unusual for visitors to be hit by heat stroke when they find themselves drinking in the Fantasy Zone under a hot October sun.
Young Rusty loves the heat, a true Carolina Dog and I have had a complaint that I don't photograph his face enough. It's not that he's ducking in the shade, it's that he doesn't seem to much like the camera. But I am human and he is dog and in the end I will outwit him.
I also got his resting bitch face which I find so adorable.  I really like Rusty a lot. He has wild curiosity and tons of energy and he is devoted to me. What's not to like?
 Public art in Bayview Park has been quite weathered in the sun over the years.
Bayview Park alongside Truman offers lots of shade but no benches. The homeless like to congregate here so the city, in its infinite wisdom likes to remove public seating.
The tennis courts are another mark of the seasons. When the city fills with the energetic idle rich over the winter, that's when the courts fill up with people and racquets and balls bouncing all over the place. 
 Nice one I thought:
 More shade at the Harvey Government Center:
 Good for small brown dogs, thick  grass and lots of shade.
 And some lonely window shopping to remind us this is still the quiet season:
 Oh yes I like bright sun, bright colors and Key West architecture:
And a reminder if you are thinking of taking a short cut to secure affordable vacation space be aware there are scammers on craigslist:

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Winter Cold

I first published this essay in January 2010 about a month after I got Cheyenne from the Key West pound. It was one of the coldest spells I've seen in Key West and we never seem to have repeated it. I hate the cold but I fear climate change more and would like to see a nice cold snap this winter just to compensate for all the warm winters we've had since. This is what the big chill in Key West looks like:

Cold People

The National Weather service predicts Sunday's night time low for Key West should be 46 degrees (8C). In light of the fact the lowest temperature ever recorded is 41 degrees (5C), this is will be a weekend to be remembered.I was talking about this main subject of conversation and we thought back to the winter of 2002 which i remember as a week of temperatures around 50 degrees (10C), when i rode the bus around town as the scooter froze my bones. The only people we took out sailing was a family from Alaska who thought the weather was summery. Perhaps it is even now, seeing as how flowers still bloom on the streets of Key West:
A powerful fish sandwich and heavy weather clothing will keep patrons comfortable in outdoor seating at Buddy Owen's Fish wagon on Caroline Street:It's the tourists who have so little time in town and find themselves caught in the middle of a prolonged cold spell. This one doesn't appear likely to ease up before Wednesday at the earliest and that's enough time to swallow a whole vacation. So much for shorts and t-shirts in January:Not everyone seems to feel the frigid cold of low temperatures and biting northeast winds. And the sight of a bare knee these days is worth appreciating around Key West:I'm not kidding when I tell you this weather is hard on some people. If you think I'm joking and this secretly feels warm you have no idea how one adapts to warm climates year round. Blood really does thin in response to perpetual heat:
The owner of the coffee shop was congratulating himself on buying the gas heater/blower. He uses it at home where he has no heat at all, but he brought to his Cuban Queen Coffee Shop to help the customers who perforce stand outdoors. I laughed and told him I had figured out my reverse cycle heating system in short order.The sky hasn't been completely blue either which lends a slightly menacing air to the day. Another cold front is expected this weekend bringing a chance of rain and absolutely no let up in the cold.
It may seem odd to see people riding scooters and bicycles in bare hands but not everyone has gloves. And not everyone that has gloves can find them.Sometimes, when you lack proper cold weather gear the best thing to do is smoke a cigarette and just look cool, rather than cold.
The idea that the Key West sun may be harmful is hard to let go, even when your ears are burning from the cold:
I have to be honest; the idea of taking a tour is to me anathema just at the moment. I have forced myself to commute by Bonneville the past couple of nights when my wife was home to take care of the dog, but it is a cold joy to be riding once again. The engine takes forever to warm up properly and I wonder what people who routinely ride in colder temperatures do. I remember in my callow youth being cold a lot of the time, but the fun of the chill is not as acute at age 52.Ooh, look! A scarf! I think that's what that is...
Bloody tourists showing off their lily white knees and enjoying the cold.
And what, I ask you, is the point of a padded jacket that has no sleeves?This guy at least has an excuse- he's working:
For women a cold snap is an opportunity to show off some real winter wear, like fuzzy boots and jackets and stuff:And hoodies ( the Harley in the background is purely a coincidence).Churches have been opening their doors to people who need help, and that's not just for homeless people but for people without heat- including homeowners and people who live on boats. I have lots of unhappy memories of cold nights on a boat, and the blessing of 110 volt electricity is not to be overestimated when the nights are cold. Fireplaces are as rare as hen's teeth in Key West. You are more likely to find flames ...on a jeep?
It's too cold for me to think about lighting up my outdoor fire pit, I'd burn one side of me and freeze the other sitting around a fire. However some demented wastrel was running an outdoor fan on their porch:
When the sun did put in a timid appearance it was a pleasant scene to ride a bike through, even though when I got back to the car the temperature gauge read 57 degrees (14C) at 2:30 pm.
The equator is about where I'd like to be right now, sweating like an honest tropical dweller:
I found bitter irony in this Portuguese (or Brazilian) named home. "House of the Sun" indeed!This dude had it figured out, a hat under a helmet, heavy gloves, sweat suit, socks and a big shaggy sheepskin on the saddle to keep his bum warm:
This lady on Summerland Key had it all color coordinated too. She must be prepared for cold snaps:There are a few hard core riders still out on the Overseas Highway (Notice everyone wearing a snug warm helmet? Those lids have a purpose after all!): 

So what is the well dressed Labrador wearing this cold winter season? A snug fur coat of course, all enveloping, with a color coordinated green nylon collar and a nice purple and yellow pair of id and rabies tags to set off the ensemble.
And a great big shit eating grin as these temperatures are what Labradors live for.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Visiting Cuba

The situation for Americans who want to travel to Cuba has become "interesting" as by Presidential order Americans can now visit the Forbidden Isle though the Republican controlled Congress is refusing, as usual, to make any changes so as to foil the President's plan. So now cruise ships are docking in Cuba, commercial airliners are flying there on a schedule and motorcyclists are organizing self-ride tours. I desperately wish I could have joined this one:
Maybe next time ( and they take any brand of motorcycle).
Americans have to fulfill some extra  steps compared to traveling to other countries. From Slate Magazine:
The rule change allows American citizens to visit the island nation without the prior permission of the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control for the first time in a long while—so long as the visit falls under one of 12 approved categories. Here are those categories, per the White House:
1. Family visits
2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
3. Journalistic activity
4. Professional research and professional meetings
5. Educational activities
6. Religious activities
7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
8. Support for the Cuban people
9. Humanitarian projects
10. Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
12. Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.
My wife and I have been talking about going to Cuba soon. An airline ticket round trip to Santa Clara is around 250 bucks, then we'd rent a car for the three hour drive to Havana where you can get AirBnB reservations online...Suddenly Cuba seems very accessible. However I have my own reservations. Above you see the spread laid out for the first American cruise ship to dock in Havana and below we see the market for Cuban shoppers. I know everyone says Cuba will be ruined when McDonalds gets there etc...etc...But they are the people who forget that Canadians and Europeans have been investing in Cuba since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1989. What is of more import to me is how I will feel swimming in dollar bills in an economy held back as much as theirs is.
I have motorcycled across West Africa, as a child I walked the streets of Calcutta and watched the dead being hauled off the sidewalks and stuffed into carts for removal each morning and I have traveled some of the poorest  countries in Latin America, so street poverty is familiar to me. To me it never feels good to know that in the life lottery these folks lost out big time; but the Cuban situation is particularly vexing to me because it seems so preventable. The US has engaged with China and we have seen a tremendous change in what is ostensibly a one party state devoted to equality by fiat, yet we all know that China is unrecognizable as the state that Chairman Mao ran. The only reason the US has refused to engage with Cuba the same way is the family feud between the Castro family and the Diaz Balart family in Miami. Fidel dissed his wife's family who fled abandoning their many properties ripe for plucking by Castro's Communists. Miami Cubans have long held the balance of power in Florida elections and they have required the embargo to win their electoral support. They want to punish Castro, but instead the embargo has done so much harm to ordinary Cubans, not to mention US industry and even our own Midwestern farmers seeking export markets. That stranglehold is ending and the embargo is too, as soon as Congressional Republicans choose to go back to work, and also ignoring the dying older generation of Cuban anti Castroists. So from my perspective the shoddy nature of the Cuban economy is a byproduct of US internal politics, much as the repression in Guatemala, the horrendous poverty in Honduras and the street gangs in El Salvador are by products of US foreign policy. Poor Central America to paraphrase Porfirio Diaz "so far from God so close to the United States" and Cuba is to boot the victim of a banal family feud across the narrow Straits of Florida. Cuba's poverty is not even a requirement of US support of a dictator, or a need for military bases or any of the hundreds of reasons we support the wrong leaders overseas. It's just a family spat disguised as a high moral stand.
I know I'm over thinking it, because when you travel from the richest country in the world (for now) everything else is less in one way or another especially when your neighbors are so poor. It's like a European first world country sharing a  border with Nigeria or Chad. They don't but poverty stricken Arabs and Africans are making it feel like they do share common borders these days and its stressing out our European friends to have so many refugees hammering on their borders.. So my dilemma is broken down into purely selfish motivations: I live so close it would be absurd not to visit. I lived in Italy for close to a decade as an adult and I never went to Greece. When I retire from Key West I don't want to make the same mistake with Cuba- I shall never again live so close to that country filled with music and history, color and culture, so now is the time to go. Dog sitters for Rusty, crisp clean cash for the wallet (no US  credit cards) and a burning desire to spend a memorable weekend- all other considerations and over thinking be damned. And I shall beat McDonalds to it - barely as the golden arches are already  selling burgers at Guantanamo Bay...
Guatanamo McDonalds

Photos for this essay from Instagram natgeo and the Web

Friday, November 4, 2016

Mexican In Marathon

My wife convinced me to drive the 27 miles to downtown Marathon Monday evening to have dinner with her after work. She had been taken to lunch at a rather good Mexican eatery, she said, which reminded her of her native California-Mexican style food. 
I suppose I should point out once again that Marathon Key doesn't exist. Marathon is a city comprised variously described of Vaca, Knight's, Boot and Grassy Key more or less. Marathon is a city, the second largest in Monroe County but it is not a Key. It got its name, legend has it, because laying railroad track across those islands took so long they described it as a Marathon job, in 1910 when Flagler's railroad was busy naming the previously unnamed islands in its path. Marathon is a four lane section of highway lined with businesses and streets that are "Gulf side" to the north and "Ocean side" to the south..
 We got the usual chips to dip as we waited for the main course and they were good and crisp and not greasy and the salsa was spicy enough. Halloween was a nasty wet windy night and we wondered how the trick or treaters were making out. We suspected their parents might rather have been snug alongside us with cold beers and spicy salsa at our elbows.
 My wife's al pastor (shepherd's style) dish came in a format not previously seen by us. It was a single piece of tender grilled beef rubbed and cooked. It was delicious.
 My test for a new Mexican kitchen was a chile relleno (stuffed pepper) which in my case was stuffed with queso blanco the classic delicate white Mexican cheese. It was perfect.
Somehow the rice and beans were proper and perfect replicas of all Mexican orange rice and refried beans you've ever eaten. It was an ideal Mexican meal.
November First is the day of the dead (the Hallows, saints of the day before) and there was at least one skull to remind us.  
The rain had eased up, we each had a car, I followed her Fiat 500 home across the Seven Mile Bridge. Another birthday, my 59th, in the bag.