Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A wrap-up of pictures from our time in Key West:

A banyan tree in the front yard of a house in the Truman Annex district. This handsome neighborhood, that includes private homes and condos as well as the Naval Station, is home to:

The Harry S. Truman Little White House, his beloved working R&R retreat from Washington D.C. The simplicity and lack of pretension of the building perfectly reflects the far less complicated presidential style of pre-Kennedy assassination America. In both D.C and in Key West, Truman walked through the streets frequently for relaxation and exercise, and there are photos in the Little White House of him casually driving a convertible car through Key West with the top down, crowds waving and gathering around.

Key West's extensive colony of feral chickens are seen -- and definitely heard loud and clear -- all around town; on the ground in heavily trafficked areas . . .

. . . and up on roofs and fences. Noisy fights between roosters broke out every evening outside the tall wooden wall around Big Ruby's Guest House. A sufficiently violent fight would lead to birds fluttering up onto the wall and facing off in plain view during happy hour.

A gold rod salvaged from the 1622 wreck of Nuestra Senora de Atocha, captive in a lucite case to prevent theft but allow museum-goers to put in a hand and lift it. The weight of these solid gold rods is startling. Gold and silver from the wreck were measured in tons and there was evidence throughout the hoard that smuggling was going on among all classes on the ship. Gold ingots without the requisite stamps embossed on them meant that there was no official trace of them on the Kingdom's records; they could be removed by those running the contraband when they arrived in Spain without fear of the ship's manifest giving them away.

Others without a taste for contraband had Inca artisans at cheap wages fashion gold into jewelry, which ounce for ounce was taxed at a far lower rate than raw ingots. The jewelry could be melted back down into ingots in Spain and sold at a price that guaranteed a big profit. This impressive necklace, however, never made it back to Spain when the Atocha broke up in a hurricane and and went down with all aboard.

A splendid condor dish of Inca craftsmanship and combined Inca/Spanish design elements. It's a rare piece, as almost all Inca silver was melted down into coinage. Along with the tons of silver ingots that comprised what the salvage divers called "a reef of silver" on the sea floor, the Atocha carried hundreds and hundreds of boxes of newly minted silver "Pieces of Eight."

This is a painting by Jim Salem that caught my eye. He has his own gallery on lower Duval Street. I love orange, properly used, and this just revels in the color. Prices on art in Key West are about twice what they would be elsewhere for comparable work which kept me from just putting my credit card down on the counter and arranging to have it shipped home. Fritz also reminded me that we have almost no space left for art on our walls. But every time I look at this picture I get a twinge -- it will always for me be "one that got away."

Friday evening -- our last in Key West -- we all planned on dinner at La Trattoria on Duval Street, just steps away from Big Ruby’s Guest House. Fritz and I had eaten well in Key West, and the guys we had come down from New Hampshire to meet had provided laughter and all the warmth that the weather hadn’t. The reservation was for 8:30.

We arrived on time and were told that it would be just a few minutes for the table to be cleared. A quick glance caught the party at the table for eight finishing desserts. We waited in the bar.

At 8:40, we were updated that the check had been paid. By this time some in our party had retreated back to the street outside to escape the crush inside. The next update was that the restaurant regretted the delay but was pleased to inform us that free appetizers would be served. No hint of movement from the guests at what was to have been at our table twenty minutes earlier. Comments circulated among us that avoiding this sort of delay is why reservations are made.

At 9:00 there were clear signs of discontent in the ranks. Dr. Michael (Spo Reflections), who had made the reservation, and I were standing by the hostess desk and I pointedly asked her if it were not possible to discuss leaving with the party at the table, something I have seen done politely and effectively many times. She stared past me into some vague space near one of the wine racks build into the wall. I knew then she was useless.

At 9:10, forty minutes after we were supposed to be seated we walked, clearly disgruntled with the ineffective hostess. On the corner we discussed the likelihood of getting a table without reservations at any decent restaurant in the area. We decided to rough it at a nearby pizza place, where the group’s accustomed good spirits returned. When we got “home” we were given a message from the restaurant, expressing deep regret for what had happened and giving us priority for any reservation time the next night. Whatever the others eventually decided to do, it was too late for us.

Several of us ended the night in Big Ruby’s hot tub, actually a large capacity in-ground pool with ledges and jets all around. After breakfast next morning, we kissed the guys good-bye and set out for the airport for our flight to Fort Lauderdale.


We flew out of Key West as we had come, in a 19 seat prop plane that was an enjoyable ride. Huge areas of south Florida are neither land nor water but something unresolved and startlingly primeval.

And then, there are big expanses of an almost lunar-like landscape . . .

. . . which soon develops into what looks like beadwork at a first, quick glance but quickly comes into focus as tightly organized and laid-out subdivisions around artificial ponds.

In the heart of the luxury hotel district in downtown Fort Lauderdale, an early morning view across Sebastian Beach -- "the gay beach" -- to ships at anchor, waiting for the signal that it's their turn to enter Port Everglades to unload, perhaps take on new cargo, and set out to sea again.

I've never been to KW. Clearly, I need to make a trip...and avoid that particular restaurant. I've had the identical experience. Not pleasant.
I'm glad you're home...albiet cold and snowy. Home is a good place to be.
I very much enjoyed meeting you and Fritz.
I hope to see you again soon.
On the other hand, I am in no rush to experience roosters anytime soon.
Beautiful. Just beautiful.
Michael--we have no roosters. And our guest bed is well over four feet long.
As always, I've enjoyed living vicariously through you on this trip - and Key West is now on my destination list. Thanks for the great photos and accompanying dialogue - you made a great escape for the snow and rain-bound prisoners in the Northeast!
And now I'm back, I'm one of the prisoners -- no power, living by candle and oil lamp light, our "refrigerator" a 5 gallon bucket sunk into the snow. I'm at a library at a remote town that has power and wireless and feeling a bit more civilized.
Will great shots all around!

The painting you wanted is bold and brilliant. It is done in a style I like, however the intense, warm colors are a little too warm for my tastes. You can never have too much art. Just start circulating it like museums do, when you run out of space.

Glad you had a good time, despite several annoyances.
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