Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Key West Evening

The parking lot at the county courthouse of an evening...Freeman was a big wig in the Keys in the mid 20th century, sheriff, elected representative etc...His name is everywhere including here.
 Walk the path through the vegetation at the side of the post office. Others have done this too as you can see.
The Audubon House is up Whitehead Street and was looking lovely as I walked toward my destination, the theater.
 The gruesome t-shirt shops that are what greet cruise ship visitors streaming into town....
 The attractions, the shopping, the approach to Mallory Square...
 But I am diverting to the theater at the waterfront. And as there is time to spare I took a stroll through the Pez Garden. 
Its actually the Memorial Sculpture Garden and it is full of heads on blocks that look like Pez Dispensers.  It's not an easy place to write about as a photo of a head and  along description of the person's genius is about as dry  as eating sand. I made an effort in 2011. LINK 
So I took a few more pictures including this one of a guy who put himself through law school as a lighthouse keeper, became a judge and has the Old Courthouse in Key West named after him. Look up at the building over the Mile Marker Zero spot and you'll see his name. If you aren't in Key west you can try it on Google Street View and you'll see what I mean.
I am not sure what these august personages think of this fine figure of a man peering at them from behind a 21st century uniform of flip flops cargo shorts wife beater and backwards baseball cap. 
 And then there are the chickens.Always the chickens.
And this woman who appears to be very likely a woman who preferred the company of women. An interesting biography of someone committed to doing well by helping others. "Eccentricity" notwithstanding.
I have no idea who to photograph and how to describe all these heads (LINK) without getting boring. This man liked his straw hat. There, let's move on.
The play was a monologue given by an actor representing Theo Van Gogh talking about his brother the artist after his death. It was very moving and  surprisingly informative too. The 90 minute play was written by Leonard Nimoy so he's done more than played the pointy eared alien. It was a worthwhile evening out. 
We came in at sunset, we left after dark. A new Key West was before us: 
And the souvenir shops were still there. 
Walking back to the car we passed a little joke, a shadowy figure behind the frosty glass of the old jail. Carl von Cosel, the man who loved a corpse (LINK) is who is depicted. Very creepy.
And so home to a dog and to bed.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Human Family

I saw a French movie years ago, when watching movies with sub-titles was not considered subversive and one of the characters in Diva went around trying to kill people, saying nothing but with a mysterious earbud in his ear. Part of the mystery of the drama was what was he listening to...And I feel the same way when I see the influx of winter visitors bringing their healthy active lifestyles with them. This guy was jitterbugging about waiting for the light (good man!) unable to stand still lest his cardio-thing dropped to unacceptable levels. And in his ear he was getting instructions from who knows where. 
"Coming through! On your right! I'm here!" he called out down the canyon that is Fleming Street next to La Concha. I turned expecting to see  some sort of impromptu procession and it was just some guy on a bike. I'm not sure why he thought car drivers would notice him.
The burden of living on the streets. I can't imagine pedaling my life around all day like this. I wonder how it is we can't harness the determination and resilience of these people who put their heads down and keep pedaling. 
What a motley bunch we are.  Well fed, dressed after a fashion and housed and it makes all the difference, or so we think. I wonder how Key West will weather the storm of intolerance that many see coming from the White House over the next few years. Will they roll back gay marriage? Can they? Does cutting medical care for 20 million Americans lead to a balanced budget? And why do I care, I'm all right.
I hope the economy keeps going as Key West lives and dies by tourism and lately this town has been bursting at the seams with visitors. They bring money and crowds and slow traffic and they come year round almost.  
Will uncertainty and change drive them away? Will the Grater in Chief make them feel greater? I stopped using Facebook during the election campaign as it seemed like a no win proposition and everybody yelling at each other made it worse.
Key West has survived period of far worse uncertainty and has flourished for a long time no matter who was in charge of the rest of the country so I'm not particularly fussed at this point. Skies aren't falling and I doubt they will for most of us. In times like these the Key West motto about everyone being members of one human family cuts two ways.
Either it seems like a ridiculous superficial cliche or it may seem like the most pertinent sentiment we need to live by in a world where anything can happen.  To have lived through an election season dominated by two candidates no one much liked seems dire in retrospect except to those handful of people on either side who supported their candidates rabidly.For the lukewarm rest of us one human family is no bad motto to live by.
And life will go on. Cars will be hard to park in Key West. Illegal aliens will undoubtedly be washing the plates you ate off at the restaurant you visited in Key West. Shopping will continue among the monied classes and the sun will continue to rise.
Me? I'm going to my preferred ice cream shop at Flamingo Crossing and I shall celebrate surviving another protracted season of insult hurling between politicians and on Facebook by eating a soursop ice cream.
Have a nice day. And please, don't mess with my Medicare or my Social Security. Especially if you plan tax cuts for millionaires. Thank you.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Local Elections

A strange thing happened on the way from the elections last week in Monroe County. Everyone voted Republican. It was almost like a straight party-line ticket across the county. A friend of mine asked rhetorically where the progressive Keys had gone...and I wondered if this most recent vote was just another facet of gentrification.
My wife  thought President Elect Trump had coattails because not only did he  win Monroe County just about every other vote went Republican as well. I don't know quite how to explain it all, and in the end most of these votes don't really matter as a winner has won and everyone else lost: so what?  Yet there are a couple fo races that I think had outcomes which may portend change of a a deeper sort across the county.
In Key West as elsewhere across the nation people were talking about Trump's victory, a revolutionary that took the chattering classes by surprise. In Key West that sort of chatter took place at a  Cuban coffee shop or two, and I heard the talk because I was awake unusually early on the morning after the election.
The statewide race that puzzled me was the win by State Attorney Dennis Ward who defeated Catherine Vogel one more time for the top prosecutor's job in Monroe County. Dennis Ward  defeated Vogel's former boss Mark Kohl; two elections ago and as a result Vogel, the chief deputy prosecutor left the county without a job and moved to Ocala. But the rivalry didn't end there. Dennis Ward ended up prosecuting the Schools' Superintendent Randy Acevedo as an accessory to his wife's kleptomania for which she was sentenced to eight years in prison for stealing funds from the school district. In the photo below a picture I took during the trial, the taller older Ward withhis chief deputy rosecutor Mark Wilson who defeated...
...Dennis Ward's rival who was defending Randy Acevedo, Catherine Vogel:
It was a long and sordid case but I was not at all convinced Acevedo was guilty- of his wife's guilt there was no doubt. Frankly I still miss Acevedo as superintendent today, but things went the way they did and I don't blame Ward for prosecuting Acevedo as he did. Ward ran on an anti-corruption platform so he left himself no room to maneuver.
The odd part of that long complex story is that the reverberations from that trial led to Vogel running against Ward and defeating him. He was suddenly back in private practice and Vogel had the top prosecutor's job. Which you would think should have been the end of it. Instead they had a rematch this year and Ward, to my astonishment won! Ward was nominally a Republican (he used to be a Democrat), so was that why he beat the women supported most intensely by the Conch voter base in Key West? Were hey outgunned by the rest of the Keys?  Apparently they were and maybe the rest of the Keys turned out in large numbers fired up by their passion for Trump at the top of the ticket.
The Blue Paper  published a devastating story about Vogel's loudest supporter in this story:
When the previous State Attorney, Denis Ward, prosecuted another one of Harry’s sons for lobster trap poaching, the father declared war. Harry Bethel, Jr. was out on bond for arson at the time. He was sentenced to three years in prison.  Dennis Ward lost his job.
“Karma always wins and payback is a bitch,” wrote Harry Bethel in a diatribe published in the Key West Citizen at the time. He had championed Catherine Vogel’s 2012 campaign against Ward: “I worked as hard as I worked in my own campaigns just for the satisfaction of being a part of your DEFEAT,” he wrote in the email to Ward, “I hope that you and your family have as much misery in your life [as] you have put in my family’s] life.” The email was signed, “A loving father.”
So now Ward is back and rumor has it he is warning there will be a clean sweep through the office. There is no love lost apparently between the office factions. 
The other race that puzzled me a bit was the County Clerk's race where the incumbent, elected in the last race when the long time incumbent retired, was knocked out of the primary. With Amy Heavilin reduced to lame duck status the race closed in on Kevin Madok an experienced employee of the office versus Ron Saunders a local favorite who has held statewide elected office and seemed far too over qualified for the Clerk of the Court position which has been badly mismanaged lately. Madok Profile LINK .Luckily Madok won which was a vote for experience and qualifications. Too bad Saunders has been made redundant by term limits but clearly this wasn't the job for him.
One other surprise locally was  a win by Robert Lockwood in the Public Defender's  race. Again this was a Republican beating a much more qualified Democrat for a more or less non partisan job. Trish Docherty Gibson had worked in the office for twenty two years, was the chief assistant and was anointed by the outgoing, well respected Public Defender when she retired at the end of this term. It seemed like a non contest considering Lockwood has only two years experience and outside of an election he would never have been chosen over the much more experienced utterly scandal free Docherty Gibson. So why did she lose? Who knows whether Trump had coattails and more Republicans turned out or if Conchs in Key West are losing their grip on a county who demographics are changing with the influx of money.
One should I suppose be glad the whole cycle is over but it seems at every level repercussions will continue to jar our consciousness if we are paying attention. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Ferran Adria and El Bulli

The Invention of Food at the Dali Museum, an exhibit worth seeing before it departs November 27th.

Ever since I read about this place years ago, said to be the best restaurant in the world, I have been curious about El Bulli ("Bulldog" named for the bulldogs the original owner loved). It closed in 2011 after a quarter century of serving the weirdest and most sought after cuisine.

If you have no idea what I am talking about the pictures that are to follow will be helped by these perforce elderly essays about the now closed restaurant:

This Little Piglet My favorite essay about eating there, unabashed hero worship. A lovely read.

Chocolate and Zucchini Review of El Bulli 2006  This essay includes a  very complete list of the  three dozen items on the menu and if you click on each item you will get a photograph! Astonishing.

Or this essay from 2008 View From The Wing: Dinner at El Bulli which includes pictures (several broken links too unfortunately) of the restaurant and the staff.

Then there is this gallery of food from El Bulli. Like the restaurant itself which directed diners on how to eat the food,  I am offering you a bunch of links to understand that which intrigued me and propelled me to this exhibit in St Petersburg.

In the photo above the orange thing is food disguised as flame. In the 1990s after an already successful career as a chef Adria and his brother set off on their own path creating food as art. Ferran is the creator of so called molecular gastronomy where flavors are reduced to their essence, and foods come at the diner in shapes and consistencies not previously imagined.(Ferran Adria has the gray hair on the right with arms crossed contemplating an experiment):
Soups could be solids, solids could be gases and liquids could be encapsulated in skins. El Bulli offered a tasting menu for about $250 (plus wine etc) consisting in 36 dishes served at a pace of one every five minutes over a period of three hours. Adria was assisted by 40 cooks and as many wait staff at his isolated farmhouse restaurant by the sea on a rocky headland in Catalonia not far from France.
If you think this is all too weird you'd be right but if you read the essays above you'll know  this odd style of eating was revered by the lucky few who got tables there. El Bulli served 8,000 guests a summer and received about two million requests every year. On principle they declined walk-in traffic to avoid encouraging such rash behavior.
Ferran Adria
Ferran Adria ©elBulliArchive/Pepo Segura

I cannot explain my fascination with El Bulli from such a distance and had I been truly thoughtful I should have written an email one October when he was taking his annual reservations and hoped for the best and planned a trip to Spain based on a positive response in the grand lottery to eat at El Bulli. But such quixotic gestures are not in my repertoire as I like to plan my spontaneous extravagances. However when my wife learned of the exhibit at her favorite Florida museum, the Dali in St Petersburg, she figured out a way to make her Veterans' Day holiday work for us.
The remarkable thing about Adria is how carefully he recorded each of his 1846 unique receipes, none of them ever served more than once. He took notes and photographs and recorded them in "year books" also on display in the photo above.
The exhibit had video endorsements from artists and chefs praising Adria's extraordinary approach to food as art. 
And a presentation on one wall showed a loop video of pictures of each dish served at El Bulli:
How I wished I had gone! Or at least tried to go...I saw pictures of some of his creations at least:
 Inspired by nature...
And the peculiar plates and serving devices -no knives ever, just fingers forks and spoons and not very much meat served either, most dishes were fish and vegetable based. 
Because Dali was Catalan also the museum included a few of his pictures relating to food, peasant-like fish and bread artworks. Though I can say that I got so immersed in the show I got muddled over the provenance of this cutlery set, actually by Dali but I thought it was El Bulli...such were the connections between the two.
It is said Adria took inspiration from Dali's surreal artwork too in the creation of some dishes. We left feeling pretty hungry so we  stopped and got a taste of the black acorn-fed wild pig ham offered at the entrance to the exhibit. No wonder Adria loved this stuff, aged  for three years unlike any other. It was not terribly salty which  air cured ham often is, and was full of the flavors of the forest, quite unique. 
It was a great exhibit and a fine tribute to an artist who is now operating a  foundation they say in Barcelona where Ferran Adria is teaching his skills to a new generation. And not necessarily doing Spanish cuisine any favors his critics claim. As for the belief that this was the "best" restaurant in the world I don't know what to say. Not least because I never ate there but had I eaten there no doubt I'd have loved it as everyone did. A part of me shudders at the extravagance of making food art but part of me too recognizes the need for human thought to be pushed beyond mere expectations fulfilled. I think the world is a poorer place without El Bulli. Interestingly Adria himself knew he could have multiplied his prices by any amount but he wanted to give ordinary people access to his art so he operated a hotel in Barcelona to pay for El Bulli which barely broke even.

On the other hand if you want to eat, as we did last Friday, some dim sum, a cuisine not available in Key West, El Bulli would have been a rotten choice. Plus we got out for around thirty two bucks for both of us. 

And then we rushed over to pick Rusty up from the boarding kennel where he had spent the past five hours. It seemed the best solution for him while I stared at Art, and I took him for a long long walk and fed him treats to compensate. He acted like it worked for him.

On the passing of El Bulli I recall this article from Vanity Fair LINK.