Saturday, December 17, 2016

Bella Luna Italian

The winter season is kicking in slowly as snow Up North hasn't yet been abundant we are told. It's a good time to get out and use the facilities as it were before the hordes show up. We went Italian.
Bella Luna is one of several eateries in the Lower Keys between Big Coppitt and Big Pine that make it possible to stay out of town and still have a pleasant evening out.
Image result for bella luna cudjoe
Bella Luna is entering their second winter in operation and the night we were there it was raining so the new outside patio wasn't indicated.
Image result for bella luna cudjoe
They make crisp calamari rings and the Tuscan eggplant stack appeals to my wife who is very find of squid and eggplants, both.
We've had the baked pasta before and I ordered it again as its something my wife doesn't make. We shared that and a fresh crisp pear salad.
We finished with my favorite dessert anywhere which is the panna cotta("cooked cream") which is a firm milky cold custard and it makes me salivate just to think about it. We know the chef and he had us try the cheese plate which was served with crisp fried bread. Sweet pickles truffle cheese blue cheese and fruit was really too much on top of the sweet.
Over the top and delightful. I plan to sneak a visit during the arrival of the snowbirds and who knows maybe during too.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Holiday Spirit

Kisiti put up a tree at work so we have some good cheer while we answer 911 calls from angry snowbirds or drunk tourists or outraged locals. But Key West is like that, the place is so small that there is an inevitable parallel life going on between people who work here and people who play here. Just like the UPS guy making a delivery in the harbor where the tourists gather:
I walk around sometimes with my dog when I can but always with a camera and I ask myself: how do other people see this place? For some people like the stranded husband below its a series of shopping experiences, but for me the shops are just a  backdrop.
I like to try to look behind the facade that the city presents to the visitors, the back of the famed Curry Mansion, home to Florida's first 19th century millionaire one percenter:
Key West was a trading station. If you read the much derided 19th century diary run daily in the paper you'll see that ships came and went every day bringing the outside world to this town of twelve thousand people. They had their own Amazon in those days ordering products from far and wide which were brought to them in sailing delivery ships. Key West was famous for  wrecking which was a way of salvaging stranded ships on the reef. They too brought new fashions and expensive house decorations to this outpost of America in the days before steam ship.
The main Federal building in Key West isn't the post office as it usually is in small towns this size. Key West has an imposing sandstone structure which houses Customs and the Federal Courthouse among other national offices. It's still a vast building by local standards even though the shipping trade is much diminished. But it's  sheer bulk demonstrates the importance of 19th century Key West to the United States.
The holiday spirit in a  town frost free is hard to define. I always wanted to celebrate Christmas in Summer and thought my only course was to emigrate to Australia.However it turns out living in Key West is just as good. Here you have to decorate troical foliage to get in the holiday mood:
Good enough for me even though some people feel deprived if there is no snow on the ground. I'm all for a frost-free winter thanks.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Park And Pay Key West

Closing in on the end of the year and nothing much changes in the countryside of the lower Keys. No frost no smokey wintery mornings. Mangroves stay mostly green so foliage doesn't change color or fall off  the branches. Everything stays the same.
The city has drawn up a plan to raise parking rates by a dollar an hour which should go over a treat in a town where pretty soon breathing will become a restricted activity. I visit other cities and laugh when they charge 25 cents an hour and shut the meters up at 5  in the evening. 
In Key West the parking controls are in operation from 8 am to midnight 6 days a week and on Sundays its noon to midnight. No exceptions. Now at three bucks an hour seven days a week you'd think the message is loud and clear: don't park downtown. Last year's revenues amounted to 6 million bucks from parking machines which have replaced meters. That's where you insert a credit card and get a permit to park which you can can use in any paid spot on the street or in a parking garage or lot owned by the city. The system is very good and flexible but three bucks an hour seems quite a lot. The answer is to walk further or ride a motorcycle which still gets free parking in designated spots.
And parking is just one more reason to live the suburbs where you park under your stilt house with no problems. And you get easy access to the peace and quiet of the backwoods.
Rusty likes it out here...
I like it. Free parking...peace and quiet and a time to not have to deal with people.

Run Rusty run and then sleep.
Parking rates mean you have to keep out of the Duval corridor and trust that you will find free parking on Whitehead Street or Elizabeth Street. Don't come looking on my street- we're all full up in suburbia with no desire to turn into Old Town Key West...

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Ybor City

The Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City since 1905 is an institution and for that reason I didn't expect much. I was surprised: service was good, by people dressed in formal black (see below!) offering food that was cooked properly and well presented in baroque surroundings. Go if you ever get the chance. 
The food is a mixture of Cuban and Spanish,  and they claim title to the original Cuban sandwich.  I loved their multi cultural explanation of the various ingredients, Spanish Cuban Jewish   and German all assembled in a loaf of bread. 

We had croquetas and empanadas and gazpacho and a stew of baked crab lobster and artichoke. We each got a half loaf of crusty bread and shared a huge plate of chopped vegetable garnishes. It was lavish and lovely. 
Then I took Rusty for a walk in the afternoon sun. East of Seventh Avenue Ybor City is a place filled with promise, gentrification yet to come among a bunch of homes loosely connected by empty lots and wide streets. Were I young and looking for a home I'd look here if I had a budding career in Tampa. 

The peculiarly dressed waiters are everywhere on break. The Columbia is an isolated phenomenon on the edge of town it feels like as you find staff testing and spacing out in privacy on the street. 

We crossed the railroad tracks and there was so little traffic in vehicles or humans I just let Rusty trpt ahead off the leash. All his years on the streets of Homestead seem to have equipped him to cope with traffic quite well.

He went off exploring the grassy empty lots while I admired the Old Florida architecture.                                                               

There is a lot about this corner of Tampa that is appealing at first glance. I lived in Tampa in the early 1990s and I have to say there wasn't much that I liked about it. The city was a rather grimy urban sprawl of wife boulevards and ex-industrial zones of dark brick surrounding a downtown of skyscrapers and streets that were void of people on the weekends. 
I think the city has been working to change over the past couple of decades which included the golden years of money and innovation at the end of the 20th century. I saw signs of renewal in this area but this was clearly not a part of the city that benefited much from the urban renewal efforts of the boom years.
And therein lies its charm. Made better yet by a glistening purring R100RS by BMW, a motorcycle much admired in my youth, and still looking good out for a sunny weekend ride.
Let me be clear: I am no architect nor am I a devoted do-it-yourselfer. Were I looking for a house I'd rather have the one in move-in condition rather than the deal ready to be fixed up. However een a philistine like myself can see the extraordinary charm of these tumbling old structures: 
Rusty had a good time poking around. I was astonished by the lack of visible life. I did pass two black men talking but they gave me the stink eye and went indoors before I could say good afternoon.
Then I passed another African American collecting his mail and I made momentary small talk which ended with him not enjoying his weekend with his feet up but preparing instead for his second job. Which gives you some idea of the hard work that goes into surviving around here.
Rusty has a lively curiosity that I try to foster, keeping him alert and involved:
There is an undeniable resemblance to some of Key West's 19th century architectural styles:
Though clearly the modern era is everywhere evident. A motorcycle here...
...a dive bar there. Or neighbor hood joint I suppose:
And the old brick roadways outlined by the rapidly setting sun:
Thus back in a wide circle to the Columbia Restaurant an hour later and there is still a line to get in:
And just for fun I snapped a picture inside the restaurant of Columbus landing on San Salvador in the Bahamas in a picture suggestive of some painter's fantasy and nothing like reality:
Yes, the Colombia Restaurant really is that ornate. As is the neighbor hood outside in its own way.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Rainy Key West Day

I am not fond of gray skies but my Panasonic camera is sold as rain-proof and I wanted to see. However i am not a fan of muted gray skies and on these days I miss the bright colors and sharp shadows of sunshine over Key West.
The light was washed out, like a room with the blinds drawn. Movement became a blur in the long exposures required on such an afternoon.
Rusty didn't mind the rain and nor did the cat we saw on Grinnell Street:
The man pedaled along
 the edge of the cemetery
weaving slowly,
singing in Spanish,
waving and blowing kisses,
to everyone
as he passed by.
Mark Hedden
My walks allow me to think and be alone  with those thoughts and to see things that others don't seem to. Then I met  a cat who saw Rusty all right. And carried right on eating.
I saw this further along and I have no idea:
The other night at work Shannon asked for my help with a location in the police 911 mapping system. She wasn't even surprised when I knew the answer to a query about a nondescript building on Center Street. I was rather surprised I knew exactly what the place was and as she gave the address information to the officer over the radio she started laughing. "only you would know" she said. 
I like Key West and my camera helps me to observe what I might otherwise miss. I like history too and so I find myself sucked into the views and the unconsidered trifles that other people walk by everyday. People confuse me and I am not much goo at photographing them. So my Key West is not awkward (to me) social scenes which bring out my fear of social ineptitude but street scenes and odd  moments where things don't make sense or the daily order has somehow been disturbed. 
How this picture happened I'm not sure, perhaps an accidental swipe of the shutter control but it expressed my feelings about the incessant drizzle:
I saw lots of couples sharing umbrellas. Unlike most places rain in Key West isn't terrible, on hardly notices it as it rarely leads to hypothermia. Wet clothes dry and looking bedraggled isn't  a terminal social faux pas here.

I wondered why a man would laboriously polish his rather ratty scooter under the rain but Rusty had no time to stop and ask.
At home we rubbed off briskly with a towel and I made tea while Rusty tucked his nose under his tail and waited for dinner.