Saturday, March 16, 2019

Spring and St Who?

  Americans will tell you that tomorrow is St Patty's Day. Back where I come from, Patty is a girl's name, though perhaps they just can't pronounce "Paddy." Odd, because, when I try to say "water" in America, no one understands me. There was the famous incident of the flight attendant who struggled for a long time to decipher what I was saying and in the end asked hubby, "What did she say?"
"Wahdurr" said hubby.
  We are in for corned beef and cabbage at our neighbourhood party tonight. Again, I had many Irish friends back home but never got served corned beef and cabbage. "It's an Irish-American thing", someone explained.
  Meanwhile, spring has sprung in Golden Beach. Our white orchid tree is rampant.


Boogie-woogie is in great form

Even Amanda, the straggly alamanda, has made an effort


 And Franky Panky is actually sprouting!


 Alas, we're not likely to see the sublime frangipani flowers before we leave for Up North, though there will be some left in October.
  As you can see, today is a little murky. I went for my usual early morning run on the beach, passed on the way by an elderly cyclist in Full Lycra who called out imperiously, "Stay close to home. It may start raining."
  "Who do you think you are? My mother?" I muttered, "I'm perfectly aware of the state of the sky." Perhaps, I said to hubby afterwards, he was used to bossing his wife about. No, hubby corrected, "He is used to being bossed about by his wife and was taking it out on you."
 I recovered my good mood on the beach


Though it was probably a good thing I didn't encounter the dog-owner who'd left incriminating footprints.


I could have tracked her (it's invariably a her) back home I suppose, but life's too short.  My friend the egret was there was usual.


Though I just missed getting a photo of an osprey flying overhead, an enormous fish flapping in its talons.
  Back on the road, a race had just finished. The temporary traffic sign said "runners" but most of them were walking. Well good for them for trying.


  And another sign of the season - a baby donkey at the riding stables!


 She's an adorable ball of white fluff and scampers around, kicking up her heels.  But she has not been named Patty.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Getting Away From it All

As the traffic gets crazier, the pavements more crowded, as bulldozers invade more and more swathes of flat Florida countryside, as one more small, pretty Golden Beach house falls in a cloud of choking dust and one more monstrosity rises in its place, as the cacophony of obsessive home improvements whines and screeches through the days, there is, incredibly, some peace and quiet left.  It might be found on the beach at dawn, with these the only other footprints.


The company is unobtrusive


 Or busy fishing


In its own way.


 The sun rises over the palm trees, briefly obscuring the man-made landscape.


And I find the last thing I would have expected in the Florida grass - a mushroom. Well it has been raining a bit.


And at Snook Haven today, crowds of people sat listening to banjo music and munching deep fried alligator and smoked beef (I have to give them a big plug - even with the seething hordes, the food was wonderful and the staff delightful and obliging quite behind the call of duty). But if they'd turned and looked at the Myakka River behind them they'd have found it little changed from the old days when panthers howled in the forests and bootleggers sheltered here with their contraband of illicit liquor.


Though even the river was a bit crowded.


The water was a rich, rusty brown and, I suspect, interesting things gambolled in the murky depths. I wouldn't be too keen to go canoeing here.


But for a few seconds you could slip into a timewarp. An antidote to the voracious new Florida that encroaches on it just a little more every day.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Flocking Together

Dateline: Golden Beach, Venice, Florida

  The local ibis mob has been visiting a lot lately (see below). The other day, they took over the front garden. It had been raining and possibly there were more creepy-crawlies to be had. I hadn't noticed any fish swimming around on the lawn but I believe they also like worms and insects.


Ibises are about the size of chickens and also make homely clucking, chirping and tweeting noises. Here they are crossing the entrance to the drive.


There were a bunch of black birds (but not, I think blackbirds) with them too - evidently after the same goodies. In Europe or up north there would be flocks of starlings. This is Florida of course and everything's bigger.
  Elsewhere, on Golden Beach, it was early morning and someone had found breakfast.


The egrets prefer to go it alone. Sometimes it pays to avoid the crowds.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

A Dog's Lunch

 My Florida  dog woes continue. We were at lunch with some friends in one of the city's nicest restaurants. One of the few things wrong with this very pleasant eatery is the ferocious blast of air-conditioning that greets you as you come in through the door. Even by American standards it's bad. (Keeping to the rule this side of the pond that if something's worth doing it's worth over-doing.) Accordingly we repaired to the tables outside in the alley.
 While we were eating,  we were startled by an ear-splitting yap. I looked over the to the next table and noticed a struggle going on between a fat white poodle and its owner. After several more very loud yaps, things quietened down. A little later I happened to glance at the table again and there was the poodle sitting up on the woman's lap with its front legs on the table. Yes, actually on the table. They can't have missed our horrified expressions but the poodle stayed put.

 
   Our friends shared their own Florida canine stories. One volunteered at a prestigious art gallery. I would not believe, she confided, how many people tried to smuggle in their dogs - under their coats, in their bags.
  After team poodle left, I suggested to the waiter that he might take some extra elbow-grease to cleaning that table, as a dog had been practically standing on it. He rolled his eyes as if to say, "Happens all the time." I'm going to think twice about eating in that alley again. I'll just have to bring extra blankets.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Off to the Pub

My American hubby surprised me the other day. "We are," he announced, "going out for lunch and I'm not telling you where."
  We drove around in circles for a bit and then, there it was:


It didn't look much like a traditional British pub but then most pubs in Britain don't look much like traditional British pubs any more. This was a British pub, Florida style. And guess who was the first to welcome us,


We studied the menu and I got all excited, "Bangers and mash!"
"Yes", said hubby, "that's why I thought we should come here."  I'm known for lamenting the lack of  proper British bangers  this side of the pond. When the waitress came, I asked her if they were really bangers,
  "I think so, yes."
  "With the skins on?"
  She looked a trifle shocked, "Er no, they don't have skins."
So, sadly I decided to pass on the bangers and instead chose Scotch eggs and steak-and-ale pie. The Scotch eggs were pretty authentic - at least they were hard-boiled, unlike the trendy runny ones with the ultra-thin crust we got in New York City. The pie was near enough authentic, though a little watery and the meat wasn't the leanest but it was all made up for by some genuine Newcastle Brown Ale, which I hadn't tasted since university days.  Next time, I should try their fish and chips. Unfortunately the pub had a golf theme rather than a football (ours) one but never mind, it was great fun. There was a model train doing the rounds up above.


And some sort of British touches like this


and this


Then I noticed this display on the far side of the bar


I had to push past some customers to get to it,
"Excuse me,I 'd just like to get a picture of Henry the Eighth."
They looked completely blank. "Henry who?"  I am in a foreign country after all.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

A Cracker of a Fair

 A local friend recommended a novel about old Florida,  A Land Remembered by Patrick D. Smith, a rollicking tale about pioneers in the Sunshine State. Reading it is de rigeur for anyone spending time here - while you're idling in your swimming pool or working up an appetite on the golf course it's salutary to remember the people who first came to Florida in the days before air conditioning, battling snakes and alligators, mosquitoes and maddened bulls, bears and jungle. You could make a fortune driving cattle to the coast. If you survived. Which was a big if. The cattle drovers were called "Crackers" which became both a derogatory term for those hard-bitten southern cowboys and a badge of honour for people with real Florida ancestry. 
  Last weekend we went to a "Cracker Fair", a "Celebration of Old Florida". Sadly we could only get there fairly late and had to miss the whip-cracking demonstration. I'd been hoping to see horses (Patrick Smith vividly described tough little Cracker horses called Marshtackies) but they'd all gone home. There was, however, an owl. 


This gorgeous creature was a barred owl - not a barn owl as I at first thought. The wildlife rescue people had also brought along a turtle and a red-tailed hawk called Alistair.


 Here's the red tail.

Some years ago, I made a programme for the BBC on falconry with falconer, Dan Butler and his red tailed hawk. It was good to see one again. 
 Otherwise there were rows of stalls, ranging  from arts and handicrafts to the Sons of Confederate Veterans in their costumes.


Of course Florida was part of the Confederacy though you wouldn't think it these days. Almost everyone in our neighbourhood has moved down from somewhere Up North. But no one seemed to be giving the Sons of Confederate Veterans a hard time. Good to have some live-and-let-live in these prickly times. Hubby's ancestor was an officer for the Other Side but that didn't stop them chatting away about history. In Britain we are often unaware of how complex the Civil War was. The Sons had a book on their stall about an Indian (ie a Native American) one of many who fought for the Confederacy. He was promoted to General, survived the war and lived to a ripe old age. That was a new one on me. A fascinating story.
  Another stall was selling what I think were mermaid costumes. Well each to their own.


And lots of people were enjoying some country music.


 Too bad about the horses but I did come away with a very large jar of home-made pickles.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Little Places by the Sea

There are few things more interesting than nosing around someone else's house. That's why those "home tours" are so popular. I went on one up in western New York where the owners were actually there in person to show off their houses. Here in  Florida, they are more businesslike - the trusting owners leaving the house to volunteer guides who urge you to put on cloth overshoes, direct traffic and lay down the law about "No Touch, No Photos". Hence no photos. Sorry. Though here's one of the gazebo in Centennial Park to get you in the mood.


The one historic (by American standards) house on the tour was built in the 1920s for the Vice-President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, original founders of the City of Venice. The company went belly up during the Depression and the house endured periods of neglect and different owners. The present ones have tried to restore it to its authentic state. The floor tiles were all different colours as it was once a show house for the newly planned town. As in, "Have a look at our floor and choose your tile colour". It had a real Spanish feel, with a tinkling fountain out back and breezy corridors for the days before air conditioning. My favourite was the steep, narrow servants' staircase of pretty curving wood, lit by tiny, exquisite stained glass windows.
  The other houses, sorry, homes (houses are called homes in America, especially if they're for sale) were newer, some of them brash replacements for the old small island cottages now deemed impossible to insure against hurricanes.  Well that's part of the story. The other is wanting a bigger and better place than your neighbours. They all had similar open plan kitchens, soaring ceilings, state-of-the-art bathrooms, many with chandeliers, the outdoor kitchens by the pool with massive, gleaming barbecues, the cushions meticulously arranged three-deep in perfectly symmetrical rows taking up half the bed - a very American thing, I've found.It was the same up north. What do you do when you want to go to bed? Throw them all on the floor? No lumpy British duvets here.
  The queues to get in and out of the houses were slow but friendly. People like to chat about the time they went to London. As we shuffled around in our elasticated overshoes - reminders of the slidy slippers they used to give you in museums in the old Soviet Union  (not to be worn upstairs, I suppose because we might fall on the stairs and sue) it was almost more fascinating to see what the visitors were interested in. Some enthused over the strategically placed photos of radiant grandchildren and/or  family dogs. Some snooped at the strategically placed books. ("Ah - Bill O'Reilly/Louise Penny. Must be our sort of people".) I didn't see "The Art of the Deal." Others were intrigued by the open ceiling-height walk-in wardrobe, complete with tiers of hanging clothes.  Was I the only one astonished that someone would want to let strangers ogle their wardrobe like that?  Another house had the contents of the drinks cabinet out on display, "Quick", I whispered to my friend, "See if they've got Pappy Van Winkle!" No, sadly, nothing fancier than Jack Daniel's. From the balcony, we spotted an out-of-bounds room with closed door and shutters covering the window. "Aha, that's where they've stashed the Pappy!"