Sunday, December 8, 2019

A Quick Tour Of New Orleans

The well known above ground cemeteries of New Orleans...less startling if you come visiting from Key West.
The story of how the Catholic diocese sells and re-sells graves is unusual and obviously must be unique to this uniquely corrupt north American city. 
In the photo above the plaque bolted to the side of the tomb lists the previous occupants who filled the grave and whose remains were removed to make way for new proprietors. Which is how these are the tombs that keep on yielding an income. Or the occupants might choose to pay extra for "perpetual care:"

 A woman and her dog found their last resting place together:
 Worth the $50  charge. Well worth it and they take dogs too. Doubly worth it.
Stories of the cemeteries:
 A quick buzz through the 1300 acres of city park.
 Three dueling neighbors out painting each others' brightly colored homes:
 Lovely streets:
The columns supporting the freeway are being painted to resemble a forest. Whimsy still has its place in this town:
The Hard Rock building which collapsed on Canal Street killing three workers, all of whom are entombed in the rubble including one body said to be covered by the red tarp visible in the picture below. A Honduran construction worker who tried to blow the whistle on the unsafe status of the building two days before the collapse was declared illegal and sent home to Honduras two weeks ago scuttling attempts to secure his testimony in the scandal. New Orleans at its' finest.
The French Quarter, below. France and Spain fought over New Orleans for decades and a fire destroyed the original French architecture of the Vieux Carre ( the "old quarter" in French) which the Spanish rebuilt in their own style. Thus "The Quarter" is Spanish in style and was only held by the French for a matter  of weeks after the Spanish ceded the territory for the last time in 1803 and Napoleon sold it on immediately to the United States to fund his European wars. Probably more than you needed to know.

A cliche but always delicious. Our tour guide pointed out Cafe Beignet as the better option. Next time we shall investigate. I also very much like chicory coffee which I find to be strong but not at all bitter.
I am not a huge fan of quaint horsepower in the modern world. I wonder how much they suffer to please passengers.
A statue of Pierre d'Iberville an explorer who created the mythical 18th century French presence in these parts.
One of three security guards on 24 hour watch at the crumbling former Charioty free hospital which served the poor of New Orleans and was completely refurbished after Hurricane Katrina but was left to languish by city leaders eager to make money off the location by destroying the hospital and creating housing in its place. The process of self destruction has taken 20 years and the formerly fully operational hospital for the poor is now ready to be transformed into housing. 

On the subject of the 2005  hurricane and subsequent flooding and massive loss of life the location of the ghastly refugee crowding at the stadium now totally rebuilt at vast expense is also a tour site. Waist  deep water flooded the base of the ramp in the picture below:
Canal Street patrially shut down by the Hard Rock collapse. Proudly described as the widest street in North America, formerly separating the post 1803 American Quarter on the left from the French speaking Creole Quarter on the right. Hence the local term of "neutral ground" for street medians.
 Seasonal Vespa!
 An idea copied in Key West, children painting utility boxes on the streets. Very nice too.

Piazza d'Italia which Rusty did not want to explore. All I caught as a passing glimpse of a very 1930s Italian style arch with marble clock face (At six in the morning. The clock keeps time). It's worth reading up on the place if you are interested in this city's inability to finish anything properly..!
The Warehouse and Business District, originally where the new American settlers landed and created their own neighborhood. I like it as it's totally not what you think of, if you think at all of New Orleans.

 French Market workers. Not everyone is on vacation in New Orleans, just like Key West:
 Dogs welcome is an easy way to lure us off the street for a drink. 
 And some people watching from floor level:

The Old Mint apparently has the distinction of being the only such Federal Building to have manufactured coin for both Federal and Confederate currencies. So there, always ambiguous is New Orleans. Now it's also a Jazz Museum, undoubtedly worth a visit.
My traveling hound. He is not fond of horses or mules pulling carriages and foot crowds overwhelm him too.
He was known as the Little Napoleon among other endearing nick names...and he had a home in New Orleans the sort of place I like to explore:
 On the list for a future visit.
 I dare not speculate what happened here:
Dog or horse?  A few street scenes taken as Rusty and i walked and my wife shopped the French Market.
I was hoping to come across Tuba Skinny but they had no events scheduled and were nowhere on the holiday streets of the city. Hope they stuffed their faces properly. I did find some amusing graffiti.
 Don't you sit on a trash can to make a phone call? He does...
 Lovely New Orleans.
Pretty busy tour of New Orleans, I'd say. Time for a nap!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Sunrise Signs

The sign above represents the culmination of efforts to preserve large trees in Old Town. Parking, homeless people and trees not in that order tend to incense local residents especially in winter months when the temporary residents make themselves heard and listened to as they fill the endless hours of free time at their disposal. Rather than cut down the tree warning signs are posted everywhere to keep tall trucks safe. So far, so good but many other trees around town are not so lucky.
I find it refreshing to find a realtor sign without an insipid self portrait of the agent involved. The notion that the inside is worth seeing leads one to the conclusion that the exterior is not up to much. Maybe so, and it is a modern building "in the Key West style," made so popular by the uniform homes of Truman Annex. 
When I noted the unusual electric skateboard on Instagram a friend in California made it clear to me these mono-skates have been a thing there since the dawn of time. A healthy reminder that I no longer live in a place where such symbols of modernity are highly sought after fashion statements. I never was on the cutting edge of anything when I lived in Santa Cruz and I'm sure I am not here either.
I saw a triffid on a porch and was instantly reminded my youthful pleasure in the story of death by stinging plant is an obsession not shared by many people anymore. Triffids were fearsome things in the imagination of my youth now replaced in the minds of other youth by zombies and video games.
A reflection in the window of Captain Tony's Saloon on Greene Street. Photographs of reflections are quite cutting edge YouTube tells me. I am modern sometimes.
The Pepto Bismol house in early morning sunshine. The photo says nothing but I liked the look of it so here it is. To see it yourself look west from the city parking lot on Simonton Street with your back to the fire station. Across Josephine Parker Way, named for a city clerk of long service, is the pink building sometimes shining like a beacon.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Chilly Views

You stand on Rest Beach and look south like a hopeful visitor expecting to see Cuba pop up over the horizon like the monster under the bed... and instead you see an astonishing array of blues and greens and shades in between.  And a few shrimpers ducking out of the weather. They drag nets across the floor of the Gulf of Mexico at night grabbing anything in their path and the crews sleep by day at anchor where they find themselves. When strong north winds threaten they park south of Key West where waters will stay flat through it all.
It may be windy and cold, relatively speaking but the planes keep flying in and out of town and for those new arrivals 65 degrees and sunny is much better than they have seen in a  while if pursuit of sun is the goal.
 It is the season of much activity in the streets, much exercise, color and movement as the sun brings out the cycling hordes, the joggers, the habits of fresh air and movement of the idle classes.
I find myself on the margins trying to find specks of beauty in the weeds. They say there are no seasons in Key West but like so much of natural Florida the seasons are there but they are subtle. Frequently you can identify a season by human behavior, or the numbers of migrant birds suddenly flying overhead. The leaves stay green so the theory goes there are no seasons. I can tell the difference and this is spandex season.
It's also Portuguese man of war season. You should avoid these colonies of stinging tendrils as much as possible. If you are allergic you might have to get an ambulance ride to the hospital. Most likely you will have welts and pain for a bit but as cute as they may appear you don't want to go near them. They are far more of a threat than pythons or alligators to the average tourist. Less sexy I'm sure but that won't relieve the pain of their sting.
Cold winter weather sounds like an oxymoron when talking of the Keys where the lowest temperature ever recorded was 41 degrees.  In a land of vast temperature contrasts that sounds tropical to many but around here when the temperatures drop below 70 (19 Canadian) it is cold. Remember Key West set a record of more than six months straight of temperatures above  80  degrees (27 Canadian)  something never before seen by the weather people.  
This is the first year I've heard everyone begging for relief after a long burning hot summer. Even I who love the heat was overwhelmed by September. Climate change is no doubt a phenomenon that involves more than local weather but the impacts of sea level rise and oppressive heat are felt locally.
Weather people say Hurricane Dorian pushed back coastal waters and collided with the impacts of the extra high tides of the Fall. The combination led to king tides, so called, of unprecedented duration, about three months with flooding everywhere.
In Europe  climate change has become a cause producing protests and vast amounts of apprehension about the future. China and India shrug and keep polluting and we in the middle seem dazzled by the competing attitudes. We recycle a little, ponder renewable energy, buy big trucks and water lawns copiously and wonder why our leaders spend more time reassuring us rather than doing something.
It beats me. Scientists tell us time is short and we need to do lots now to change course from a hot future but here we are. It will be interesting if next summer isn't boiling hot and the winter is freezing cold for a change. Honestly though insurance rates for buildings around here are high and have been for a while. However the real estate market remains strong which in the land of mixed climate messages sounds about right to me.
 Long may it last I suppose. Peace and sunshine and blue waters.
Which for some people those waters are not worth a glance, sitting back to the water contemplating a future on the streets of Key West.
Meanwhile we struggle on and face off against cold north winds, dry skin the endless search for long forgotten winter clothing such as it is. I know I have a fleece somewhere it's just a matter of finding it before temperatures return to normal in a  few days.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Incivility Of Incompetence

The very high tides of the Fall equinox are dropping at long last. I checked the canal the other morning and tides were down at least a foot below the highest of high tides, so I had hope Rusty's favorite path could be walked without Crocs. The sunrise was nothing special I have to say other than the fact that I photographed it while I had dry feet deep among the mangroves. That was really nice.
I am trying to be more zen in my daily life all of which got blown to shreds with the attempted delivery of a new washer dryer my wife found on sale during the recent holiday shopping madness that I ignore. She arranged a delivery date and they promised to arrive between ten and two on my rare day off. Brilliant.  Of course they showed up after two pm and I was not surprised however the attitude of the crew was terrible. I am no one's idea of a handy man especially in someone else's house and when the delivery guy came out of the utility space shaking his head complaining the valves were corroded open and he couldn't handle the "liability" I watched them drive off wondering what the hell just happened.
I called the landlord who is a Miami based builder and a first rate human being, - he even brought me lunch several times when I was in the hospital in recovery, imagine that! - and he explained what needed to be done. I am always ready to learn so next time we need a new washer dryer (in our retirement van, ha ha!) I will know what to do. Actually it was so simple, apply lubricant, wait and then apply gentle insistent pressure and bingo the valves closed and it was the work of seconds to remove the hoses. I realized all I needed to do was imagine I was working on boat through hulls which have similar characteristics and I would never have been faked out by the stupid things. They weren't corroded there was no danger of a water spout, Best Buy's delivery people are idiots. They have to be if they know less than me. So we had to organize a return delivery and next Tuesday is going to be the day. Oh boy my wife is patient with me.
Two decades living in the Keys, and most of those years in houses have made me incredibly leery of calling on experts for repair help. I don't know how it works in more expansive mainland communities but around here the simple act of showing up is a heroic moment of decency by a repair crew. And the ability and commitment to actually complete the task close to budget and close to on time is a lot to ask or even hope for from repair people this community. I suspect it's similar everywhere but the Keys present two problems that are locally significant. One is that not many people move here to build their careers and when you find a service provider worth their salt, and there are a few, you have to find some way to keep them here because the chances are: their rent will go up, they'll fall in love with someone or fall out of love with the"island lifestyle" or their family obligations "back home" will require their immediate departure your kitchen remodel be damned... And the pool of likely candidates to become reliable helpers shrinks even further. 

If these musings strike you as the helplessness of an idiot you are partly right but the post hurricane rebuilding of the Keys confirmed this for me and  indeed I can assure you that after any widespread storm damage to buildings the response times will reinforce the message that there is no help. I know people who waited months and months for major repairs after Hurricane Irma as there were no contractors available even though the Keys were filled with outsiders with tools working flat out. I was lucky my landlord had his own crew and a water truck to come to our neighborhood after Hurricane Irma to help put things right. Even luckier he reinforced my house after Hurricane Wilma and the building stood up perfectly to 150 mph winds. But that's the sort of lucky you cannot buy.
I've spent much of my adult life not living in houses and given my intellectual childhood with lots of books and not many tools I've had to figure stuff out for myself with mixed success. I liked boats because things on sailboats seem logical and serve visible purposes. Also you can add systems as you go where I find houses overwhelming in their complexity. I guess even at this late stage it's not late to start the unraveling of my ignorance. Frankly I'm looking forward to moving into the van which my wife and I have deliberately kept as simple inside as possible.  
I struggle with drawing excessively broad conclusions from one failed encounter especially as it was partly my incompetence that allowed them to get away with not completing the task but it was a reminder of how fragile are the threads that we depend on for daily living. I especially have a tendency to feel excessively the notion that one is never taken seriously because we "live in the Keys." The notion of island time and indifference to delay is pervasive when people talk about life in the Keys. They look at us as though we are the sort of people who don't mind living in tropical indolence with non functioning lifestyles. Inside the Keys what one actually wants is to live in frost free and all that, but we still want things to work. When you call 911 you expect an answer, and when you suffer heat stroke or a heart attack you want an ambulance to show up promptly. Island time butters no parsnips when the chips are down - and I can't quickly think of another metaphor to mix into that sentence. 
The washer dryer will come next week, and the week after that the ridiculous struggle required  to install it will be forgotten. That is until the last time we load it before we leave and get all nostalgic  about "remember when we couldn't get it delivered..?" And then we drive away to a life of laundromats and hauling water by hand and monitoring electrical production and wondering why the engine won't start at the most inconvenient time. Ain't civilization wonderful?

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

A Controlled Burn

From time to time I like to walk the nature trail on Key Deer Boulevard on north Big Pine Key. It's not ideal for Rusty as he has to be on a leash and he is a bit stifled in a place that seems to be full of interesting smells. 
Besides which handling a  camera and a busy dog makes photography a bit more hit or miss than usual for me. Nevertheless the trail is worth it.  If you aren't racing your dog it takes a modest 40 minutes or so to amble round and check the informational boards and stop here or there to take a picture. It's a gravel path so its not ideal for the narrow tires found on wheelchairs but there is the shorter wheel chair accessible trail next door starting in the same parking lot.
Jack Watson single handed saved the Key Deer from extinction and he did such a good job they are spreading far and wide across the Lower Keys to the delight of some and irritation of others.
The trail presented a new set of colors as a sign at the entrance announced there had been a controlled burn recently.
Burns are used to clear the under brush and generate fresh growth which seemed to be working:

The pine trees for which the island is named have been threatened by their own debilitating disease and the dead ones you see around have nothing to do with the burn.

Aside from the burn i saw some fresh wide trails which seemed likely to have been used to get equipment into the burn areas. A few years ago a controlled burn was anything but and burnt up Big Pine Key all over the place. It seems no one was taking any chances of it getting out of control this time.

I know everything will grow back but I found the signboard a little ironic:
You just know the breeze was bringing all sorts of smells to his eager nostrils:

And so back to the parking lot after what was admittedly a bit of a forced march. Rusty can walk when he wants to and I have to stump along to keep up.