Thursday, December 14, 2017

Beach Postcards

It was a morning to click the shutter so I did. 
 Turkey vultures at rest:
 In flight:
 Next to the old Bahia Honda Bridge:
 A schooner at anchor:

Fishermen. Usually they come from the mainland with camping gear and spend a damp night eyeing their bait. Not my idea of fun especially in the wrecked state of the area under the bridge, also said to be dangerous since Hurricane Irma tore the place up.

 The Bahia Honda State Park end of the bridge. I am steeling myself to visit Bahia Honda now it's re-re-opened. I can't imagine it will look very verdant. 

 I have no knowledge of butterflies but I did see this one and practiced some macro photography on it.  Either it was dead or it didn't mind.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Audubon House, From The Files

From August 2015 when I first posted this I figure the cold weather could be an inducement to look inwards. I didn't visit the Audubon (Geiger) House for years and I discovered 15 months ago what I was missing.

The Audubon House

I lived in Santa Cruz,  California for nearly twenty years and looking back I feel like I missed a lot of opportunities to see places and things that deserved my attention. I dare say my natural curiosity took me further afield than might otherwise have been the case but I still stumble across stories of  places and curiosities in the Golden State unknown to me. Here below we look out of the Audubon House in Key West at Clinton Square and the Customs House, now a fine museum.  
 In that time I made several efforts to live in Florida but my residence here never jelled. I would hand in my Florida driver's license and re-institute my California document, or vice versa as I tried living in Tampa and St Petersburg or Fort Myers or Key West and none of the visits to the land of sun and heat took very well. I always ended up back in the fog of California's Central Coast living through cold wet winters and long dry summers which never seemed long enough or hot enough to suit my taste. California residents thought I was crazy to want to live in the land of hurricanes alligators and mosquitoes but Florida for me was the land of eternal sunshine and right wing nutters and it remained as elusive as Ponce de Leon's Spring of Eternal Youth.
My best friend sailed to Key West and the little fishing village I had first visited in 1981 and found to be far too isolated became a likely prospect. I brought my wife and my dogs in a mad three week car trip and we sold my boat and bought an ocean going catamaran and made vague plans to sail to the Caribbean. We both wanted eternal summers, me and my California wife. We made road trips around California and I took motorcycle rides and still I felt I barely scraped the surface of all there was to see.  
In Florida we made a conscious decision to see everything we could want to see and that choice was made easy by virtue of the fact that we tried living in mainland Florida after we arrived in our sailboat. Mainland Florida was cheap but not cheerful and we yielded to the inevitable and settled in Key West, more than 500 miles from the Georgia state line, 800 miles from distant Pensacola. We were far from anywhere. We planned road trips and  we carried them out to see what we could. All this by way of introduction to explain why I have never previously visited the so called Audubon House, named for the painter of birds illustrated below, painted by John Syme in  1826:
The fact is he was a visitor for a short time before the Civil War and in his time in Key West he visited the Dry Tortugas and found birds to kill so he could paint them. It was a weird way to do the work of loving birds but that was what he did. He had an interesting life worth reading HERE but the fact is he was  a mere sideshow in this house that should more properly be known as the Geiger House.
In this picture, from the Audubon House website we see the man John Huling Geiger who had this house built and who lived in it with his wife twelve children and their slaves:
Image result for john huling geiger
He was of German descent and said to be  a pretty severe man who made his money by wrecking and by being the best at it. He spared no one and the gruesome tale of having a pregnant slave whipped is told by one of his descendants in the video on display in the house. His legacy is the Geiger plant named after him, as well one assumes of Geiger Key and this superb home on Whitehead Street restored in the 1950s and now one of the best old home museums I have seen, and I have seen a few.
The rooms are perfectly laid out with period accessories and  complemented by Audubon drawings and scraps from letters and diaries of the period. I found the house perfectly done and worth hours of your time. Why I resisted visiting this place I cannot say and it was a mistake not to check it out.
Check out this letter from 1849  describing the idle  idyll of daily life for the upper classes in Key West at the time. 

One has to assume that life in summer was a a bit of a burden for women who had no access to bikinis or sarongs or the lighter side of the wardrobe as enjoyed by modern women. 
Thanks to its  strategic position on the trade routes to and from the Gulf of Mexico, Key West was for a time one of the wealthiest cities in the US. The constant stream of ships brought news from the outside world as well as the latest fashions and exotic household gadgets and dry goods. People lived well here in the most salubrious climate in Florida. In those days only Key West and Indian Key were inhabited by white people in urban settlements. The other islands were barren and only occasionally inhabited by eccentrics, lonely farmers or fugitives. Mainland Florida was an impenetrable swamp filled with yellow fever, insects and rebellious Seminoles allied with runaway slaves. No one wanted to live in Florida. Key West offered all amenities and was thoroughly modern.
It must have been quite the life to have money and slaves and to live in such a place. What am I saying? It still is for those that can! The rest of us work...and it still isn't at all bad!
There are we are told some 28 original Audubon prints in the house's collection but the reproductions on display are as lively and lovely as they are difficult to photograph successfully.
 Outside there is a garden to enjoy after the house visit.
 Hammocks and shady verandas were much in evidence in the period.

The "tour" of the house is a brief introduction at the entrance by a docent and then you are cast loose to visit at will the home and the gardens. This time of year is excellent as there aren't nearly as many people as there would be in winter, as usual in Key West. Upstairs there is this video presentation by Richard de Aguero which is both informative and very funny. He lives in Miami and is a descendant of the great "Old Man" Geiger and he tells a great story or two about the goings on in the house. Well worth sitting down to watch.

I had a great time on the house and my hat is off to the curator Katia Dabdoub Hechema whose work is really extraordinary in bringing this place alive and I am told she isn't quite finished yet.
The outdoor kitchen was  a popular feature in the homes of wealthy Southerners and I've seen this concept many times elsewhere. Pity the poor slave cooking in this inferno.

 The link for the Audubon House is  HERE

Highly enjoyable way to spend a hot afternoon and see how the one percent lived a hundred and fifty years ago. Strongly recommended.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Cold Front

In light of the rather extensive and unusually cold early snap that has sent snow falling all over Europe and the Southern United States I have been rather  reluctant to mention the effects of all this refrigeration on these sceptered isles set  at  a  modest 24 degrees north Latitude. It is cold by local standards, quite brisk with a  persistent north wind but compared to snowmen in Louisiana not much to talk about really. I have adapted one Vespa to ride in 55 degree nighttime low temperatures. I love the handlebar muffs, $30 of vinyl guaranteed to keep your hands warm and mostly dry in rain in any but arctic conditions.  Installation takes seconds and is entirely simple, plus no electricity is required...They look ungainly but they are lovely to wear when you are cold and busy riding.
 I get tired of explaining to hardier folk that 60 degrees in the Keys feels cold and damp and even though some few people understand that indeed the human body does adapt and grow used to temperature ranges no one really thinks 60 American degrees (15 Canadian) is cold. I think you have to live it to discover how cold the salt laden air is especially when the wind is blowing. And some few visitors to Key West are getting the local frozen treatment. Rusty I discovered in North Carolina last month actually enjoys cold weather even though he is superbly adapted to South Florida heat:
We haven't seen low temperatures like this in a  few years so this chill is a pleasant change but it is also a reminder of how hard it is to get used to cold feet and the chill of showering in a temperate climate. This is not the time to be taking outdoor showers despite the abundant sunshine. On the other hand a low of 55 and a high of 66 isn't outside the historical bounds when I took a  quick look at this rather extensive and thus confusing table from the NOAA Key West page: Historical Data LINK
 I like seeing other people out riding in this cold but I don't see many single headlights at night on Highway One when I come to town or leave in the night after work. And if you think 65 is an inconsequentially low temperature check out the gear these various visitors are wearing to ride.
In a way it does make it more seasonal for Christmas but I will be glad to return to warmer normals this next weekend. Humidity will be banished for a while but highs near 80 by day and lows near 70 by night will be perfect and most acceptable. I am not a weather hero. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Welcome To Old Town

I was out walking Rusty early one morning before this latest monstrous 55 degree cold front swept over the Keys and I was trying to picture myself landing in Key West, preferably not at 4 in the morning and coming across the city through the Margaritaville Resort. Aside from a  delivery  truck on front street Rusty and I were alone.
Charles Street looked pretty  good after dark even though it's not some where I hang out during the day.
Then I wandered around the front of Front Street to admire the shops touting for tourist dollars, and boy are they disgusting. You have to ask yourself what self respecting tourist would shop in a store with black shiny mold pouring down he wall?
Or this decrepit jungle at the other end? Across the street is the famous and lovely custom house museum but this tarnished crap is no selling point for this tired old town.
This I thought was the end of the world until I realized its being worked on and the interior is under construction. One hopes there will be some paint in the bottom  of the can for the exterior...
Here's a picture I took a while back of what the city offers to make Clinton Square look nice. The Custom House built for that purpose and converted to a museum worth visiting:
Or  Key West's indoor shopping mall, if you can call it that,  Clinton Square Market:
Better hope the eager tourists don't look to their right and see the decrepitude!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Holiday Cheer

I don't know what to think of my colleagues who profess to like snow. That being the case choosing to live in that tip of the country that never sees frost seems a perverse choice though I'd like to think there's more to living her than living frost-free. We are facing a  cold front this weekend which will be a pleasant change especially as the National Weather Service promises lows below sixty degrees.  
The theme of a modern Christmas has been set in stone thanks to the 19th century fashion of pine trees, yule logs  snow and good king Wenceslas trudging through the snow with supplies for the peasants. None of which has anything to do with the original Christmas in Palestine where the Huns and Vandals had never been heard of along with their mid winter pagan rituals. Nevertheless we now find ourselves stuck with all this stuff that has about as much relevance to Key West as it does to the Middle Eastern climate where the Christmas story took place.
I do find these street lamp wreaths, as weird as the theme is, to look quite good around town. Of course in a town with no Fall to speak of there is plenty of greenery already in place and flourishing after the dusting it got from Hurricane Irma. 
I like Christmas in Key West not least because there aren't blizzards to contend with, but also because the forced requirement to be kind and cheerful puts a  bit of a crimp in the winter population's tendency to get overbearing. Though I must say the nativity scene at the Methodist church on Eaton looked a bit, how can I put this? - sparse? It gained a little from the weedy palms in the background giving it location authenticity but a two dimensional show with one huddle sheep seems a bit lacking in the abundance we have come to expect from these outdoor displays.
Mind you Hurricane Irma is still in view be it ever so slightly. The Keynoter had a heart wrenching story this week on the status of survivors in the Avenues of Big Pine Key, thirty miles from Key West. People living in tents, FEMA needing absurd permits to install trailers to get people housed, ongoing useless chaos. County leaders wringing heir hands which is as helpful as you can imagine. 
In Key West you have to look to see damage though there is a little here and there. Motivated by the need to attract tourists the city cleaned up in a hurry. The Sheriff has announced that adding garbage to the roadside debris along the highway is now an arrest-able offence but nothing has been said about the side streets.  I saw a man pulling trash from the trunk of his Audi yesterday and dumping it along Spanish Main, a main artery on Cudjoe Key. Perhaps the payments on the Audi are so burdensome he can't afford the fee to drop his surplus trash at the dump, poor man.
In the end though we keep on keeping on and as short staffed as we are once again at work I am making horrendous amounts of overtime this holiday season so I hope that everyone in Key West stays sober and polite and refrains from calling 911. Fat chance, I have to think of it all as  job security, and very nice it is too.