Sunday, February 17, 2019

Stadium Trailer Park

In the fight to retain low income housing it becomes apparent that some pretty awful housing stock has to be preserved. Currently occupants of trailers on Stock Island are fighting not to get evicted to make way for new homes that are supposed to be "affordable," which is a tough thing to define in Key West. Generally speaking the new homes will cost far more than the old wrecks they replace.
This means no one wants to give up where they are living. And these are the homes of the people who do the daily grind that keeps this town moving. Chambermaids, gardeners, wait staff, clerks and cooks all live here and you'll see them coming and going wearing familiar uniforms pushing bicycles or on foot.
How these trailers have survived this long is something of a miracle considering the heavy storms that blow through.
But they do survive and flourish, just like the banana trees.

Sometimes I look at the wiring looms and I wonder how they keep serving the customers but they do!
The developers of trailer parks on Stock Island three miles away are offering various incentives to try to side step law suits that are blocking development.
In the end though, the cost of the new housing versus the old will affect people being evicted, not being put at the top of the list of people waiting to be settled in the new homes.
I have no doubt stadium will be here long after I'm gone, and people will still be making lives here and valuable contributions to the city's economy. I cannot imagine what would happen if anyone suggested tearing down one of  Key West's last three trailer parks, and by far the largest.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Clinton Square

It occurred to me, after resting for a while on the bench on the porch at the Custom House that people strolling past Clinton Square have no idea what  a controversial piece of land that once was.
I don't know why it's named Clinton and it is a triangle not a square and it it is also supposed to be the home site of native son Stephen Mallory, of the nearby square fame. Mallory was a lawyer who became Secretary of the Navy for the losing side in the Civil War but in Key West that doesn't mean the waterfront named for him has to change names. No sir!
In any event the Navy Club of Key West decided to honor war dead with the column you see in the triangle, which move upset Confederate adherents who promptly built the fence around the column to memorialize their dead.
Call it a diplomatic victory in a town that was split between sides during the war. As I recently mentioned on this page the military detachment led by Captain John Brannan, by subterfuge secured Fort Zachary for the Union and thus Key West, that most Southern of towns remained with the North. 
Which is not to say a great many influential people, and less influential too come to that, chose yet to support the South and so I suppose you could say they felt emotionally Southern but enjoyed the perks of  being on the winning side after the war. All these red hot emotions are encapsulated in this little monument and its garden and fence. 
Yet if you look at Clinton Square next time you are here you will notice no one paying attention to the place. They walk by looking away.
And there is a small sign explaining the story:
I climbed down from the museum preferring to struggle with the steps and handrail rather than winding halfway round the building on the handicapped route. However these two steps at the bottom nearly undid me. Surprising how hard they were to negotiate and I leaned heavily on my cane much to my surprise.
Stumping back to the car on Whitehead Street I passed the wall which holds up a  raised play area created from wasteland inside Truman Annex next to the old water tank structure. Ha! I thought. Finally I can get my camera at ground level thanks to the level being six feet up. 
Not normally something I can do for the time being.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Day Walk

Key West never ceases to feed my eyes. 
As often as I have walked Center Street I still enjoy the buildings.
I posted this van picture to Instagram to much acclaim and nostalgia.
Absurd growth. This is winter after all.
John Keats in his poem "To Autumn" was thinking of northern seasons. Here's the first verse:
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, 
  Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless 
  With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees, 
  And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; 
    To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells 
  With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees, 
Until they think warm days will never cease,
    For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Not exactly how we see things in the Keys in winter...

These cuts in the rock wall at the new fire station on Simonton Street looked like the image of a cocktail glass. Which probably means I have been living in the Keys too long...
And a  glimpse of La Concha hotel on Duval Street is a reminder that the legendary Top bar is gone replaced by a  spa of some sort on the roof top insider the glass.
I wonder if they tell the spa customers the story about how Chardonnay was the choice of last drink for those committing suicide by jumping from the Top and leaving behind the wine glass.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Sunset Writers

I was listening to a discussion about the life and art of Edith Wharton, the American novelist who lived a surprising life and produced some powerful works of fiction. I can't say I'm a fan though the lively discussion did provoke some interest and I expect I will be cranking up my Kindle on my phone to pile up one more book to read in a very backed up list. 
And then the Great Lives program started looking into Eric Blair, better known as George Orwell, a tubercular passionate political man who fought for his beliefs and died poor and alone. The suggestion on the show was the novel 1984 got a boost by the Cold War antagonisms that took his warning and made it a frontispiece for the Red Scare propaganda of the era. By then Orwell was dead. 
Rusty was running around, checking in on me  from time to time and ignoring my furrowed brows. I was concentrating hard on not falling as the ground was lumpy and  uneven and tusks of grass tugged at my cane. But I couldn't get the contrasting life stories out of my head. I live so far away in time and space from the concerns of those famous people. I live in a flat world of scrubby bushes, featureless and silent, with only an occasional distant weird structure rising up, somebody's idea of a hurricane proof box as ugly as may be necessary. Yet I felt connected in some way to Wharton and Orwell.
As I listened to the Radio Four podcast I found myself answering questions that have been puzzling me for years, and indeed the answers I found came out of the accident, that turning point in my life. I have found myself wrestling with the before and after lives that I have lived: before August 31st, and now after that infamous date. Before the accident I knew I wasn't living the life I wanted to live, I was living my life waiting for the life I wanted to live and I was well aware of it. Its very odd to me how nothing else has changed yet even as I live the same life, work,sleep, gym, and dog walks, I find myself agreeably satisfied with the life, the daily dreary routines. I think I may be verging on happiness.
I am tired of the daily struggle to unstiffen my legs every time I stand up, the time it takes me to get in and out of the car, the massive obstacles posed by flights of stairs, it's all part of the limitations I am working to overcome, and which I shall overcome given time. But at the same time the dreary time consuming restrictions I live within have taught me patience on an epic scale. Rusty plays a part in that too. At first he used to hover round me at home or out walking but as time has passed the dog which you could never credit with the intelligence of a human, has started treating me in the old way, walking further afield, leaving me out of sight for longer, not worrying about my ability to cope.When I was held up by water across the path he accepted I was stuck, and he came back, tail flying high and we walked in another direction. His empathy astonishes me.
I picture Orwell in his hut on the Scottish island of Jura writing feverishly in cold damp conditions at the house called Barnhill. In Google maps it looks idyllic but for the tubercular writer facing his imminent death it was anything but. Nevertheless he finished 1984 and the world of words has been transformed by his controversial effort. Edith Wharton by contrast managed her money, lived a full life especially after she divorced her husband, a man who inherited mental health problems, and of course she created controversy by being strong, wealthy and independent.
As I listened to their stories, with which I was somewhat familiar, I found myself acknowledging the great good fortune of a man who is living precisely where he is happy living, in time and space. Orwell was doing what he needed to do, even as the life drained out of him, Wharton allowed no one to stop her living as she wished. And if you think her times were old fashioned check out how hard it is for men in America today to appreciate strong women. Or socialists like Orwell. We line our lives with fear and prejudice. And I feel that as much in myself as anyone and as I look back at these revolutionaries I don't see much to fear from them, their example or their philosophies. Sometimes we allow ourselves too much indignation and should instead trust that lie will take care of the details.
But the trick I have discovered is a bit like dieting ( which is a fad I don't participate in,) inasmuch as you can end up beating yourself up for one failure and promptly give up. Finding the path to overcoming the fear of expectations is a daily struggle and requires you to forgive failures as you go, and that's hard. I find difficult to articulate how spending two months in bed has brought me to a new realization of how to live my  life but in some miraculous way it has. It becomes embarrassing when people offer condolences on my misfortune and I, like a tool, try to explain my renewed appreciation for life instead of letting that sleeping dog lie. Well, I've learned that lesson. I'll mention the phenomenon here but not in person. Good came from disaster.
I stood on Niles Channel Road  alone with Rusty and watched the sun set. I  dislike sunset pictures as they are too easy to take for effect and I can't figure out what story they tell. I end up sticking silhouettes in front to make them more interesting. These I took deliberately as I knew thoughts were swirling in my head and for those too sensible to pay attention to the words some sunset pictures might be a suitable balm. In case they look too idyllic (that word again) be aware of the squadrons of no-see-'ums launching raids on my bare legs and arms as I stood lost in thought. Maybe the sonorous tones coming from my telephone link to the BBC attracted them.
The  lives I was listening to were both over in 30 minutes each, a compression startling in its brevity and here we are living day by day as though there is no end.  I would hate to have my 61 years summarized into 30 minutes but I doubt anyone will be doing that for me, and if I'm dead it will matter even less. So let us commit to seizing the day, not necessarily by doing big things but by being aware of the day as it flows by even and especially in the small things. It's the best I can offer as sunset approaches. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Human Trafficking

The African Cemetery at Higgs Beach, marking the approximate location of hundreds of slaves who died here awaiting an outcome after they were intercepted at sea and forcibly landed in Key West. Hundreds died, some made it back to Africa, though not their homes. The sole Federal official in Key West, the post master as it happens, was never reimbursed for taking care of them, which act of meanness epitomizes, it seems to me, the total absence of  empathy for the "least among us" in distant 1860.
Across the street from the cemetery is an outdoor exhibit featuring the work of photographer Kay Chernush, who has illustrated the little understood business of human trafficking.
I took a number of pictures and post them here for you to peruse. Better to see them in person as they are on show at Higgs Park through the end of February, Black History Month.
The panels are wordy and descriptive and I think the best I can do is let the photos speak for themselves, in the hope you will be able to enlarge them such that you can read the appalling stories here depicted.