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Saturday, June 30, 2012


The Mikes & the World Trade Center
  The Mikes  (forget the irony)
In honor of July 4th, our Independence Day, I think of the World Trade Center and know we will never buckle under the tyranny 9/11 represents. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Key West Part 1 -
Key West Part 2 -

Key West
This is Key West to me
 We arrive in Key West about lunchtime after what has already been a wonderful bus trip down from Ft. Lauderdale along Highway 1 past the Everglades, Key Largo, 7 Mile Bridge, and some of the most magnificent water scenery, a route that almost rivals Pacific Coast Highway in California.  It is peaceful and calm whereas the PCH is rugged and exciting.  Ah, the differences in America are thrilling.

The bus drops us off by the Courthouse in Jackson Square, named for Andrew Jacdson, and a place depicted on maps dating back to 1827.  As we exit the bus, though, I am ready to head to Jake's, the still-existing seedy bar that was the original Sloppy Joe’s Ernest Hemingway frequented.  I like Katz's Deli in NYC, so seediness is nothing new to me!  But Mindy our guide tells us we really ought to put off Jake's and head to Kelly McGillis’ (of Top Gun and Witness fame) for a better meal.  Truth is that Kelly's is no longer owned by Kelly, but ignorance is bliss when 'tis folly to be wise.  I am totally happy there.

Kelly's    Key West
Kelly's "Backyard"
The restaurant is lovely, the building being the 1927 birthplace of Pan American Airlines.  We head out to the patio where a canopy of trees make it amazingly and refreshingly cool.  The restaurant is also a microbrewery, and that doesn’t hurt us at all.

Rob orders Clipper Wheat Beer and I order a Top Gun Margarita.  Of course. It arrives in a tall salt-rimmed glass and is top gun as margaritas go.

In Key West our regular bar food tastes are out.  We order two appetizers: sweet and spicy conch fritters (what else in the Conch Republic) and Flash Fried Calamari. 

Kelly's Caribbean   Key West
Kelly's from the front.  Notice the Pan Am sign.
I have never had conch in any form and only know how to pronounce it because I’m a reader.  This is scrumptious!  Fried but not greasy, and the sauce is a chunky, tomatoey, chutneyish, spicy deliciousness.

The calamari is lightly breaded and lightly fried—still soft and not chewy.  Two sauces arrive with it, a red, spicy sauce and a milder sauce similar to ones I’ve had before.

Had we been staying overnight, we would not have left Kelly’s.  It is that kind of inviting place, and I recommend it. 

But there is still so much to see and do, and the day is passing.

Key West, Florida

Despite the heat, Key West is a walking city.  The residents take pride in the South Florida heritage and keep their homes beautifully restored.  The architecture is unique; the flowers are out of this world, and the maintenance is perfection.  Tin rooves (yes, and the heck with Urban Dictionary) reflect the abominable heat and help keep it out of the house. Walk. Walk. Walk on the brick walkways because you are walking on ballasts found in ships wrecked off the Keys.

Key West, Florida

Key West, Florida

Key West, Florida

Harry Truman
President Harry S. Truman  "The buck stops here."

From Kelly’s on Whitehead Street, we head toward the Truman Annex, a neighborhood that leads us past beautiful homes to President Harry Truman’s Little White House where a large statue of Harry sits on the front lawn, the haberdasher’s hat on his head and his legs crossed—just as he might have sat while he was down here. 

The only presidential museum in Florida, it was originally built in 1890 to house naval officers, but Truman spent 175 days of his presidency here.  There have been many famous visitors and other presidents as well who have found this a restful and lush setting: Taft, Eisenhower, and Clinton, for instance.  Peace talks have occurred here, and problems wrestled with here. 

Key West, Florida
The Little White House
For us it is a must-see.  American history gives us insight. We do not take the house tour, but the photos and information on the main level are informative and interesting.  I’d read David McCullough’s Truman, and so being here is a special treat.  One wonders about a man who seemed a “safe bet” and ended up changing the world through his strength of character.

From the Little White House, we walk past more charming homes to the water enjoying the views despite the sweltering heat.  We wend our way through the streets back to Whitehead, and for me the most important stop of the day, Ernest Hemingway’s home.  He may be my favorite American author, and he is surely one I lovingly taught in high school and led book discussions about in the local library.  Being in his home is awesome because much of it is just as he left it.

Hemingway House
Wendy outside Ernest Hemingway's home

Hemingway's study
Two particularly wonderful moments occur.  The first is going to Hemingway’s study by crossing the courtyard and climbing the flight of stairs to this room.  For years in the high school I’d shown a film on Hemingway, and in it were clips of the author walking up those stairs early in the morning to write his extraordinary books.  He began each day re-reading the previous work, re-writing, and then sweating over the next words. It is here he finished A Farewell to Arms.  Here I stand, walking up the same stairs and looking at his desks and his typewriter as if they are waiting for his action.  Silly?  Maybe.  But that is me. 
Hemingway's study

From the top of the stairs I can see the lighthouse that he used as a marker to guide him home after too much drinking at Sloppy Joe’s. 
lighthouse    Key West

Hemingway's cat
The chain keeps people away; the cats have the run of the place
 The second wonderful moment concerns cats, a fact that might surprise my friends. Hemingway was a lover of cats, and the descendants of his cats still live in the house.  The cats can be tracked because each has an extra toe; they are polydactyls.  They have free run of the house, and there are places for them to seek shade outside the house.  They are cared for lovingly on a daily basis, and a vet comes periodically to make sure they are well.  They are named after celebrities: actors, authors, artists, royalty, and novel characters.  There is a cat cemetery at the house too, and one can see the names of the cats—in itself making for an amusing moment.

Hemingway's cat
Shade and some good reading material

Hemingway's Dead Cats tombstones
Cat tombstone territory

Hemingway's Dead Cats List
To name just a few of the deceased decendants

It is heartening to see several copies of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in his library (though most of his books remain in his home in Cuba).  Twain is his rival for my American author’s affection.  It was Hemingway who said, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” This book might be my absolute favorite.

Hemingway's penny
Hemingway's "last cent"?
You do not have to be an English teacher or even a great fan of Hemingway to enjoy this site.  The tour is informative and interesting, and the house is quite marvelous.  The gardens are beautiful (enough so people get married here), and you can even see the penny near the pool which cost, in those days, the enormous sum of $20,000.  Hemingway was a correspondent during the Spanish Civil War when his wife, Pauline managed the construction.  When he came home and saw it--and the cost--story has it he said that the pool cost him his last cent.  With that he threw down a penny and it is imbedded in the stone around the pool. The 65" pool remains the largest private pool in South Florida. Don't miss this place!  Do it!

Key West

Friday, June 22, 2012


Pawley Island SC8_edited-1
Pawley's Island, South Carolina exudes peace and beauty.  Some areas seem to come from a picture book.

Friday, June 15, 2012


Flying into Anchorage
Flying into Anchorage over the rugged mountains, I saw, for the first time, the pristine snow, the flowing glaciers, and the enormity of the land.  Truely AWESOME.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


KeysKey West is a great destination.  We had our hit list: Hemingway’s House, Truman’s Little White House, Butterfly World, Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square, and a very important stop at Sloppy Joe’s Bar—conch fritters and Key Lime Pie. Anything else would be icing on the cake. In retrospect, we had a lot of icing!  But the ride down was also a great experience.

The bus picked us up at 7:40 AM and had two stops to pick up the rest of the group. Our enthusiastic guide, Mindy, a transplanted Kentuckian who claimed that a 1978 Florida Spring Break vacation anchored her to the state, gave us a good commentary on things Floridian as we passed Everglades National Park.

The Everglades is a MUST SEE. Here, as we traveled, Mindy told us about the Melaleuka trees, a tree purposely imported from Australia because of its obsessively thirsty nature. It was supposed to help DRAIN the Everglades—only it was done at a time before the Everglades’ irreplaceable importance was realized (supposedly).

At any rate, the Melaleuka became a scourge, dropping the water table and producing thousands of strong, healthy pods that have resisted most attempts to eradicate it. They’re working on it. Keep your fingers crossed that these dead-looking trees will not feature in an Everglades obituary.

trees More pleasant were the Mangrove trees stretching their roots out into the water. In Columbia, Rob and I took a tour through impressive Mangrove areas—via canoes—and it was a beautiful and cool respite from the South American sun. Here in the Everglades these trees offer nesting and resting places for the myriad birds that make this magnificent place their home.

Last Chance SaloonSo after quite some time, we come to Homestead, Florida and the entrance to the Keys. We pass the Last Chance Saloon, the site where the Keys' secession was planned.

Once we leave Homestead, Florida and enter the Keys, we cross over 18 miles of water and 26 bridges, one seven miles long and appropriately named Seven Mile Bridge. That’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? It’s beautiful. Going by bus, we are high above the cars and treated to wonderful views of the keys, and sparkling water and the birds. It’s gorgeous, and we are glad we’re not driving so we both can enjoy.
Highway 1 Florida

We stop only once on the trip down—in Key Largo, title of a 1948 Humphrey Bogart movie, but really a center of diving and sports fishing. It is in Key Largo that the only living reef in the United States exists; therefore the diving capital designation.

African Queen
But for me, the important stop is to see the REAL African Queen. Thank you Kate and Humphrey! OK, here I am in one of the most beautiful spots on the planet, and I head directly for a piece of a movie set. I’m shallow. I am not disappointed! My trip is already worthwhile.
African Queen

As I stand on the dock, I glance into the water and spy a sand shark. Better a shark than the leeches in the movie that make me cringe.

We drive through Islamorada, the Purple Island, so named, perhaps, because the early Spanish explorers were greeted by the sight of purple orchids and bougainvillea. Doesn’t that conjure up gorgeously lush images in your mind’s eye?

Actually Islamorada is an incorporated “village of islands” encompassing several of the Florida Keys. Lovely.

Islamorada is known as the “Sport Fishing Capital of the World.” It is a place where most of the game fishing records have been set. There are more charter possibilities here than at any of the other Keys. Notable, too, is this Key lured many famous people to try their luck: Presidents Bush, Carter, Truman and Hoover, writer Zane Grey, and athletes, Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams to name just a few.

Here’s a mood changer. At about this time another we see another famous site—Betsy the Crustacean—a giant 30 feet tall and 40 feet wide anatomically correct model of a spiny lobster built in the 1980s over a five-year period by artist Richard Blaze. I may have seen Betsy only through my bus window, but she is a sight I won’t easily forget.

What, by the way, is the difference between an island and a key as both are land masses surrounded by water?

Highway 1 Florida-to the Keys
An island may be mountainous as we find in Hawaii. A Key is flat. In fact, the highest land in the Florida Keys is 18 feet above sea level.

We enjoy the rest of the sights, picturesque and relaxing as we continue our way down to the tip of the United States—Key West.

Friday, June 08, 2012


The Gates in New York City
New York City, February, 2005
The Gates
7,500 gates, each 16 feet high
 to "create a visual golden river appearing and disappearing through the bare branches of the trees"

Friday, June 01, 2012


World War II Memorial at night
One section of the magnificent World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington DC. 
Impressive all the time, it is simply stunning at night.