Sea Oats

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dog Stars by Peter Heller

It never gets off the runway.

The 1940's and 1950's they didn't have Gen Y or Gen X. They didn't have hippies or yuppies. But they did have the beat generation. Hipsters, cool daddies. Like wow man. They met in dark smoke filled basement clubs and listened to cool poetry and showed their appreciation for the disjointed spoken word by snapping their fingers. They were just too cool to clap. Snap for crap. That's what most of it was and why it didn't survive except in the minds of a few goatee wearing mental midgets.

Peter Heller is a fan of this bygone era I believe. His book seems to follow the broken sentences and thoughts of that era.

Readers make an investment in an author and his style. It's very hard to get invested in odd sentence structure. Broken. It is very disconcerting to be reading and have a sentence end abruptly and then to be followed by a single word. Like it or not Mr. Heller, it doesn't work in poetry and it doesn't work here. It's just plain annoying.

Like young high school girls who throw phrases in French into their conversations to make themselves sound witty and sophisticated. They are not either. So shut up. As if.

The book is about a post apocalyptic US and a man, his plane and a very grumpy friend with a gun.You'd think it would be pretty cool, but it just doesn't resonate.Mr. Heller commits the biggest sin in publishing. His story is boring.

The descriptions are just that. They do not move one or evoke a sense of place. If you want to read writing that will draw you into the terrain, read the first four pages of Hemingway's "Islands in the Stream." If that's too long for you, read the first two paragraphs. That's how you write a description that does more than describe. The descriptions in this book were beyond flat. I actually started skipping them altogether; I'd scan the paragraphs for key words in case some "action" or important detail was hidden there. Otherwise this book could have been a third shorter.

Mr. Heller may have learned to fly but he apparently didn't learn anything about airframe maintenance. If he had, he would have known that his plane would have shaken itself to pieces after so many years without replacing some of those pop rivets. But that is a whole other critique. Later. Snap. Snap.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Charlotte's Story - A Book Review

Thousands of books have been written about the Florida Keys and I have read many of them, but there is something special about this one. No real fancy writing and clever turns of phrase. Just an honest account of a woman and her husband in the early to mid-thirties living on a then remote key called Elliot. Not far from Miami, especially by today’s standards, it is whole other world.

Corralling conchs for dinner and for bait, wrestling with thorny lime trees and sand flies they called flying teeth. Running around naked unless they have visitors and beachcombing in a pristine environment that provided for most of their needs and the golden silence.

Much of their story takes place during prohibition. They seemed to feel like most that prohibition was wrong and they stayed out of the fray. Minding their own business pays off handsomely later. But they didn't like people smugglers or dope runners. Except for a character name Bill who threatened to kill both of them for interfering with his plans, they got on well with the people who showed up at the oddest times at their little house in mangroves. And Charlotte runs him off with her knife. Pretty brave act for anyone, let alone a five foot tall woman armed with only a knife while facing a man armed with a gun which he had drawn on her. That takes guts.

The husband is a little condescending towards her, her being a girl and a city girl at that. But Charlotte holds her own with style. You know that if she didn’t want to be there, she wouldn’t have been. Russ, the husband taught her many things. How to repair an outboard engine, how to run a boat and how to navigate. Even though she doesn’t say much in her narrative, you get the feeling she taught him a few things along the way also. A very different culture in those days. 

In some ways, I wish the narrative had been longer. What it must have been like to ride out one of the worst hurricanes to ever hit the Keys, the big blow of 1935! Around 800 people were killed by water that was over 20 feet deep on Islamorada. Today, with population being so high, one can only imagine what kind of destruction there would be with a repeat hurricane. How her husband Russ and Hemingway shared drinks days after the hurricane in a bar would have been great to read more about.

The friendships they built, the people they call “borrowers” and the families who thought they were out of their minds for living so remotely all tell their own stories in this book. Great photos also.
If you love the Keys and wonder what it may have been truly like to live there in another time, this is the book for you.

What a pleasure.

Thanks to Capt.Toye Stevens for the loan of the book. She said to pass it on and I am.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

St. Augustine Florida Historic and Fun

St. Augustine. If you have lived in Florida or South Georgia for any length of time you are familiar with the name. It is a place that floats around the conscience like a good dream. Many people have visited it at least once, long ago or they mean to soon. It is always there and everyone knows its name.
The original City gate.
Rumor has it that this is a very old city. Sixty or seventy years old. Maybe even eighty. I have my doubts. Did they even have traffic lights and cross walks seventy years ago? I think not. I decided to look around despite my misgivings.

Much to my surprise, most of the city had been covered up by a fort. The fort was probably built by the WPA. Created by  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, they built it to look like a fort from the 1560’s to attract tourists to the mosquito feeding grounds so popular during the early part of the twentieth century.

More checking turned up the fact that St. Augustine is actually the oldest continually occupied city in the nation. Officially established in 1565, people have lived here ever since. Not like those quitters in Virginia. 

One of the nice things about St. Augustine is that many of the attractions are within walking distance of each other. Park at the Historic Center parking garage near the Visitor's Center. You should be aware  that once you leave the garage with your car, you will have to pay again. So plan to park there for as long as you can. When I was there, the fee was $10.00 Not bad at all. The garage is very convenient to the fort, literally right across the street. You can walk through the Visitors Center just to the East of the garage and then on to the fort. The people in the Center are very friendly and knowledgeable. It’s worth stopping in and saying hello.
The stage at the Visitors Center.
The fort is a little surprising at first. You would expect this huge massive structure, but it is not. It’s built fairly low and close to the ground. However, it has withstood many attacks over the years from the British, the Indians and other ne’er  do wells looking to move in. It is surrounded by a moat that could have been filled with tarantulas, but more likely water. Either way, it would have been very difficult to breach those walls. Made of mortar and seashells, they actually absorbed hits from cannonballs and other projectiles, giving the invading Huns fits. The fort was also attacked by the governors of Georgia and South Carolina, but it was never taken.

Draw bridge over the moat.
There several options for getting around St. Augustine.  You may go by horse drawn carriage, by bike, on foot, by pirate ship, or by trolley.  You can fly over the city in a biplane or ride in a helicopter and prices are reasonable. If you can, tour the town on foot. It is a relatively easy walk with lots of places to sit on St. George Street and of course in the cafes, bakery shops, ice cream parlors and coffee stops. A little something for everyone. Take one of the two trolley systems. The Old Town Trolley or the Ripley’s (of Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum fame) Red Trolley system. Neither is cheap, but you get three or more days to use your passes. You could ride around on your first day, pick out the spots you want to go back to and maybe walk on the second or third day. If someone in your party is not able to walk in the heat and humidity of summer, taking one is a great option. Hop on and off at over twenty different stops.

On St. George St., the main avenue in old town, there are variety of shops. From a magic shop to lady's fancy lingerie. There are plenty of shaded areas to walk in and lots of benches to sit on. Take your time and stroll. Most shops don't open till after 9:30 AM, so no rush to get in early. 

A must see is the oldest school house. Amazing that the kids could learn anything with all the tourists walking around. Kids think they have it tough now, wait until they see this. There is a real anchor and chain draped around the building. Why? To keep if from being blown away during hurricanes. It must have worked as it’s still standing.

The fort and Spanish town are rich in history and taking them in at a comfortable pace it can make for a   very full day. This is a great place for history buffs, children and just strolling. Children can get bored easily, especially in the heat, so go to a place like the Pirate’s Museum or if you are out and about in the evening, a really fun adventure is the Ghost Tour

Close by to the historic district is Flagler College and the Lightner Museum. This is a must see stop for anyone interested in antiques and the history for Florida in the 1800’s. A treasure trove of wonderful items from clothing to home d├ęcor. Leave plenty of time to see this exhibit. At the above link is a virtual tour which while not the same as being there, is quite good. Some of the photos can be viewed in 360 degrees. Worth a look.

If you are older than you wish to be, try the Fountain of Youth. It may help. I look 10 years younger now, A fresh and spritely 80. How cool. Need a little redemption and historical art, try the Shrine. Want to get on the water for a little while, take the tour on a sightseeing boat, here.

The man can tell a story. Stop by and get his unique take on the history of the area.
Of course there is also the Lighthouse. Nice grounds and plenty of history also, along with ghost tours. Nice to be 200 feet in the air and have the crap scared out of you by a ghost. There are 219 steps to the top for great views. I think they made it taller since I was there over 30 years ago. Well, at least it SEEMED taller. Stop and see the man on the path sitting at a table for a great oral history of the lighthouse and surrounding area. He’s a great story teller. You have to drive over to the beach but it is definitely worth it.

Take at least one bottle of water for each person as walking can dehydrate you quickly, especially in the summer months.

A note about the links in this article. There are several that appear under the name St. Augustine. They are different, so explore. For a comprehensive history of the city, go to this link: History

St. Augustine has a lot to offer. Make it your next family vacation. I’m beginning to believe it might be older than I first thought. Such rich history. Such fun. A rare combination.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Saltwater Cowboys - A Restaurant

Recommended by a friend who went there 12 years ago, I was eager to try place. I arrived about a half hour before it opened, at 5 PM. It started to rain and thunder and the staff let us in early. The place has a great vibe inside. Steam bent pine (?) furniture and cool decorations.My waitress, Katrina, was very prompt and very nice.I decided to with the broiled Talapia stuffed along with baked beans and cheese bread and iced tea. I had heard about the salad dressing and I was not disappointed. Actually brought a quart jar home. The fish was brought in hot and really quick. It struck me as having been filleted, stuffed and frozen and then shipped to the restaurant. It was actually very good, but its texture was not what I expected from fresh. The bake beans were good, but not memorable. Katrina could not have been nicer. I asked several employees about the rumored long lines. They said that during the peak season, July and August, there could be a wait of about 45 minutes to an hour. But they serve drinks through a wind on the outside deck. I went a little before opening and in June and actually went back a few days later and there were no lines. So go early and not in the middle of the season if you can. Great interior and a wonderful view of the salt marsh. Probably can be a little buggy in line near sunset. It's a marsh after all. Plan your visit and be just a little patient. The food and the service doesn't disappoint. Great place