Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Check out the Image hosted by
by pictures I've taken in Florida, now updated at WebShots. Make it a good day! Beth

Yesterday we drove 30 miles down to Naples, past rococo malls packed with cars, then along a boulevard sided by three- and four-story mansions near the sea, palm trees edging the two lane road, and “For Sale” alternating with signs for beach access.

We came for the opening of the Picasso exhibit at the Naples Museum of Art, and found two lovely modern buildings, one for the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra with its own galleries, and the other, the Naples Museum, featuring not only Picasso, but a fine collection of modern Mexican masters, with other galleries of modern American art.

Nearly every aspect of Picasso’s range was tastefully on display, our favorites, The Frugal Repast, Women in the CafĂ©, and several portraits of Jacqueline Roque. His drawings, paintings, and pottery, chosen from throughout his long and influential career, show tremendous creativity, classical innocence, and outrage, with absolute simplicity of line and color. I admire his ability to communicate his ideas with a very few lines, whether in the early works or in the later modern abstractions that provoke and challenge the viewer. All show his genius.

The museum was interestingly arranged, with one gallery entirely devoted to contemporary American drawings, some abstract, most compelling those following super-realism, creating portraits, often self-portraits, of startling beauty. The first floor exhibit welcomed us with the exuberant and brilliant canvases of Jerome Tupa who has painted his pilgrim’s journey to the great medieval churches in France and Spain. His larger-than-life canvases bend buildings and glow with vibrant primary colors. A final gallery of paintings for sale (Chuck Close for $68,000), reminds me of how affluent Naples is, notwithstanding the mansions. This link shows highlights of several of these exhibits, including some of the work of Tupa (see below).

Later, we walked along the beach as the sun fell behind the horizon. We’re back on the road this week, paring down to simplicity, carrying the idea of home with us.

Friday, January 25, 2008

NEWS ALERT! My first travel article was accepted and just posted this morning on Women's Voices for Change. Click here to read it: "Trading Textbooks for Travel: A 14-Month Cross-Country Journey Marks the Start of a New Career." And now off to Lovers Key State Park for a nice hike with hopes for seeing more of Florida's truly amazing birds. May your day be especially beautiful!!!! Beth

Wednesday, January 23, began early, without the morning set aside for writing. We drove to Fort Myers Beach to go deep sea fishing. The port was a roadside cluster of cars near a pier, with a variety of boats tied up, from small day-fishing boats to the Delta Queen. We joined 80 folk ready to adventure out on the Gulf.

We all piled onto a two-story ocean-going party boat, each side lined with fishing poles, and later, buckets of cut-up squid and herring. We baited our hooks, threw the weighted lines over the side, and caught fish. The crew pulled our catch off the line with towels, casually throwing back fish too small to keep, with keepers thrown into plastic buckets and ice. I caught a porgie, Allen caught a red and orange grouper. My fish had blue lines on its face; mine was a keeper, but those were the only fish we caught.

But we were out on the sea. For the two-hour trip out, seagulls followed us, their wings in constant motion. It was a beautiful day. Both of us were somewhat fearsome of getting sick (given our previous experience with blueberry pancakes and swells in Alaska), but this boat was so large, we simply sat and enjoyed the vista of the blue-green flat Gulf around us as far as we could see in any direction. Later, Allen taught me how to untangle my line (and keep it that way).

“Did you call me babe?” asked the wiry, brown crew, as he paused to check on our lines.

“I call her Babe,” Allen said, pointing to me. “After thirty-two years, I’ve called her Babe more times than I can remember.”

That name stuck through the rest of the trip, and the day was not measured in numbers of fish.

We saw a bright orange Loggerhead Turtle, its orange flippers and yellow head stuck well above water, swimming near our boat, miles and miles from shore. And when our boat turned to shore, four dolphins followed us in, jumping behind our wake.

Docked again, lightly sunburned, we were on land. A cluster of brown pelicans and a hungry egret met us, preening their feathers and waiting for the moment the crew began to clean the fish. We gave our one fish away (the grouper at 16 inches was not a keeper), and drove into Fort Myers Beach, stopping at the family-run Plaka Restaurant for a Greek dinner. We shared a Greek platter (chicken lemon soup, Greek salad, moussaka, pastitio, spinach pastry, and dolmata), with lemonade, and watched the sun sparkle on the Gulf as we sat under bright blue umbrellas and listened to Greek music and watched grackles beg for food.

Later, television news announcers talk of recession and outline right- or left-leaning plans to stimulate the economy, through accelerated depreciation incentives for corporations or tax rebates for the poor. Despite the high number of houses for sale, the cost of gas that seems to inch up pennies each day, and the countless cars on its six-lane highways that cut through flat mangrove swamps or pass by endless upscale malls, I cannot see Florida suffering long, for people will come to the sun, regardless of the cost.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

On Monday, the sun broke through clouds and a light breeze riffled the palm trees and the water as we strolled along one of Fort Myers’ many canals, this one at Manatee Park. Armed with polarized sunglasses, we scanned the waters and immediately saw little snouts peeking up for a moment or two, then dipping back down. The manatees, we learned, prefer water warmer than 60 degrees, so they clustered together in a cove by the canal. We leaned on the waist high cyclone fence at the observation points to see those noses breaking water, and a glimpse of enormous bellies (they can eat up to 15% their body weight each day), before the manatee sinks to the depths. The manatees can stay underwater up to 20 minutes, but normally they surface about every 2-3 minutes, or every 30 seconds, if they’re very active.

What a mystery of life! These slow-moving manatees have simple needs, eating, resting, and traveling, with a lifespan almost human, 60 years. A park volunteer told us the manatees had nail-covered flippers, vestiges of toes somewhat shaped like those of elephants. Something led these plant-eating air-breathing creatures to stay in the water, those long eons ago, marked only by evolution and the rising and setting sun. Scientists estimate about 3,000 of these creatures remain, the survival of their species threatened by diminished habitat, litter, and speeding boats, though local governments have passed laws that protect the manatee and encourage research.

We followed the wandering paths through Manatee Park to see Red Mangrove trees, King Palms, and the shorter Cabbage Palm with its fibrous trunk, comprised entirely of long strings of golden vegetable fiber. We encountered only one large and very plastic alligator.

Tomorrow we’ll hike through the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, and Wednesday, we fish on the open sea, with projected weather at 75 degrees. I still struggle with access to Internet, but found a coffee shop a few miles away from our condo, and each morning, the writing goes well. Make it a good week!

PS The mystery bird was a Domestic Muscovy duck, but it still looked like a turkey with a red head, thus qualifying it as a tur-duck at least.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

This Wednesday morning, we saw a mystery bird floating on the canal behind our condo here in Fort Myers, Florida. The back of its head was all red, and its breast was white, flecked with black, wings very dark with that almost fluorescent green threading through. Still it was a duck-like bird, something like a big turkey. Maybe a tur-duk-en in the wild? I couldn't find it in Sibley's, the bird bible.

That's not to say we haven't seen mermaids. Here finally is the picture I took of the roadside mailbox mermaid, near Fort Myers, facing east with her brown hair and a somewhat fixed smile. Can I say life-sized? Nevertheless, what an incongruous sight. Whimsical. Celebratory.

I like Laurel Burch's mermaid a little better though; she's a little more mythical, a little wilder, and probably more romantic. This pic shows a quilt made from Burch's book Legends, and I'm sewing again, that is between researching and writing.

And speaking of writers, heartfelt congratulations to Linda Kay Silva on her just released Across Time, her 8th novel. I'm hot to read it now.

Our friends Henry and Jamie stopped by for a visit on their way to Sanibel Island AND Brazil, and I learned that Jamie's family came from eastern Scotland, very near the locale I've chosen for my current project. Jamie looked over some of the books I've collected on Scotland and talked with me a little about life along the coast near Dunsbeath (and the Gunn Historical Museum there).

So to close for today, I was back on Google, looking up links for today's quick write here in the student lounge at Edison College and learned that Laurel Burch, that wonderfully creative designer I've appreciated for so many years, just recently died. But her visions and dreams and paintings will continue to inspire me. Beth

Thursday, January 10, 2008

We went to the Fort Meyers beach on Tuesday, a long meandering drive along a causeway past seemingly endless malls, their patios and columns, porticos and towers reminding me of long ago days, when the French and Spanish bickered over this land. Today mansions private and commercial continue this elaborate style, and endless malls feature fountains, landscaped canals, and covered patios in a balmy morning, with plantings of palmettos everywhere.

At the beach, even in January, people lay everywhere under colorful umbrellas to escape the sun, their browned exposed skin gleaming with sun tan oil. Fishermen spent the day out on the pier, competing with brown pelicans for the day’s catch. The brown pelicans floated on the water close to the pier, heedless of the fishing lines. Seemingly at random, they took to the air, and then turned and suddenly dove into the green waters, surfacing occasionally with a fish.

After 20 minutes, we could feel the sun heating the skin on the backs of our necks and legs so returned to the cove for chocolate almond cashew ice cream. On the way home, I found another mermaid, a life-sized mailbox mermaid, brown-haired facing east, and blonde-haired facing west.

Mile after mile, we drove the 22 miles back along the causeway to our quiet condo, ready for an evening of election returns. The presidential road show comes to Florida soon as the primary here is set for January 29. Clinton and Edwards. Obama and Richardson. Clinton and Obama. Even Edwards and Richardson. Or some combination. I’m not sure even a Democrat can surmount the economic, political and social problems facing us today.

Does anyone else listen to the television nonstop, through all the campaign speeches, the congratulations, the evaluations, the polls, the replays of certain sound bites and not others? I was dismayed at the reacton of broadcasters, mostly male, to Clinton's "tearing up". Many people in public office, as John Stewart points out, have teared up, including Nixon. Many times people who are moved by strong emotion tear up. It has nothing to do with the brain, which in Clinton's case functions admirably. Why wasn't her articulate grasp of economic issues from last week's debate highlighted? I sway between Clinton and Obama, because in my mind, any Democrat would be better than our current administration. I admire Obama's idealism and commitment, his ability to bring more people into the political process. I admire Clinton's professionalism and depth of experience she brings to administration AND she has a heart.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Just a quick note to say that Internet access will keep me offline most of the time, though the Lee County Library here in Fort Meyers has lovely wireless access. We got library cards this morning and already can check out up to 50 books!!! Whoopie!!! So far, Allen's digging up books on India in the 1840s for me, and the writing is going well.

I haven't taken any photographs and am not sure that any photo would capture this tropical landscape. The bridges between Fort Meyers and the nearby islands arch up quite high so we can look out over the cays and bays and see ocean. The landscape is flat, rolling green tops of palm trees with a few high rises here and there against a pale blue sky. Balmy weather at 77 to 80 degrees today. Everyone's wearing shorts, and I begin to understand why people come here from everywhere, and not just for the fishing.

We did a real grocery shoppping yesterday as we settle into our 2 bedroom apartment for the month. I actually cooked! Something great, chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts all stir-fried, served with a side salad of arugula (never used that before) with macademia nuts, cucumber and Green Goddess dressing. Ah! All else is well, even though a small green lizard scooted across the living room floor last night. Make it a good week!

Friday, January 04, 2008

We're in Florida. Slept in Jacksonville last night, saw our first palm tree, and this morning, despite weather reports of abnormally low temperatures (below freezing), the sun is shining! We'll arrive in Fort Meyers later today for a month-long stay, though internet connections will be iffy. Ah, time for Starbucks. No great hardship there.

We'll be in our own two-bedroom apartment, have our own kitchen, and deep in snowbird country. In fact this will be the first time we'll be in an all-retirement community. Dan, the nice man from Minnesota who sublet his apartment to us, says lots of activities (2 swimming pools) will keep us busy. But for now, I'm looking forward to stretching out in an apartment, exploring Fort Meyers, and writing.

Last night we watched the returns from the Iowa caucuses. Each candidate thanked those who worked on the campaign most graciously and then spoke to the larger television audience. I was schocked to learn that Hilary Clinton used her stump speech. Though she modulated her voice beautifully to avoid appearing strident, the strength of her comments could be seen in professionalism. Obama, on the other hand, sketched out the issues underlying his campaign (emphasizing unity) and in such a moving fashion that I was reminded of a story about Clinton's staffers who said, "Don't tell Mama, I'm for Obama." Interesting days ahead.

We're early on the road this morning with only 420 miles to go before Fort Meyers. So I'll just close with this photo of a ritual Japanese drum, dated about 900 AD, that I took at the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Anthropology. Doesn't that combination bird/fish remind you of other transformative symbols? I'm thinking of the mythical Quetzalcoatl, serpent/fish of Aztec fame, but also the overall design reminds me of the artwork of the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest. How was culture shared during pre-Columbian times? An article on Wikipedia traces recent theories on models of migration to the Americas and is an interesting read.

Make it a good week, and I'll hope for internet connections soon.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Can't sleep. It's the middle of the night, or should I say, 4:30 am, just like the old days when I had another packet of papers to read, but I have a dreadful headcold, and tomorrow we begin our trek 1200 miles south, from Philadelphia to Florida. We're hoping for 600 miles today, so I'm hoping a cup of hot tea will ease my head and let me sleep a little, that is before true morning comes.

No internet in sight for the next several days, as far as I know. I've joined a few writing groups online and am learning what "on-line community" means. One site offers readers and the ability to promote your work, but few "readers" leave comments. Another site closed due to pornographic posts, with apologies to all. But I think I may have found a site that offers helpful writerly comments, especially since I got knocked by several readers for overuse of passive voice, a continuing weakness.

Ah. The hot tea is helping. I have an ancient tin of Harry and David Cherry Vanilla dessert tea before me, found in the stores of my mother-in-law, enough for on the road and beyond, for she said I could take it with me.

I was remembering a public television show, perhaps an early version of reality TV for public television. This show put about 30 or 40 people in a rural English mansion for a month or so, and filmed the results. These were ordinary people, recruited from London. I was thinking of one woman, who played the lord's wife. She took her role seriously, even to forbidding her 12 or 13-year-old son from playing with the servant's children. He said, "But, Mom, we're just on a show." Her response, after only a few weeks exposure to the divide between classes so common prior to really recent modern times, was "We must keep ourselves separate. You will be going on to school, and they will not."

So when I'm thinking about the Orkney Islands in the 1840s, how much more engrained and profound the class distinctions must have been, especially when I think that most upper class folk regarded the Scottish as barbarians, barely capable of civilization, having descended from the blue-faced warrior Picts above Hadrian's Wall. These attitudes changed slowly once ideas from the Romantic movement spread. Sir Walter Scott and Rousseau romanticized the noble savage, the primitive, the pure and untouched beauty of nature.

And the poor people ate dried fish, potatoes, and a porridge of oats seasoned with salt, kelp (seaweed) when they were starving, and even less when the potato blight struck. None of Harry and David's dessert tea for them.

Many men (and a few women) emigrated all over the British Empire (Canada, Australia, India), seeking work, and were valued by those leaders of the Industrial Revolution for their sheer ability to work, shaped by the Protestant Ethic and more, the constant threat of starvation.