Thursday, November 30, 2017

Moonlight on Golden Beach

 One day, soon after we arrived, I woke up early, the moon still up and headed for the beach.

The sky started to lighten as I walked past the big palm trees - they're more used to people coming out to watch the sunset

Then out to the water, where, in one direction, the sky was lightening 

 In the other, the moon with its ghostly silver trail

The familiar spiky trees against the dawn

The birds already out and foraging

In the distance, the fishing pier still standing despite Irma's best efforts

The sun was rising over the airport

But this was something new - a building site where there used to be jungle. The inevitable march of the property developer.

The likely swamp now looks much tamer - with an empty field beside it, shortly to be filled with samey, sorry, desirable new houses. That's Florida these days.

But it was still good to be back.

Monday, November 27, 2017

A Lizard Ballet

Dateline: Venice, Florida

  The month after Hurricane Irma, we arrived to a near-miraculously undamaged house. I hugged my young orchid tree as I'd said I would. The screen on the back porch that Floridians call a "lanai" had a few more holes in it but it wasn't much worse than it had been before. Some trees were down in town and neighbours shared hurricane stories but none too dramatic. All agreed that we were extremely lucky that Irma lost power to such an extent and thank you, St Joseph and Notre Dame de la Chabanne for taking care of our little house and thank you to kind friends and neighbours who sent reassurances and photos! 
  The lizard extended family seemed undaunted - on the contrary, they had multiplied. They were busy scurrying self-importantly all over the place. Here's one of our small friends up on the netting.  He appears to be clinging to the only bit of visible hurricane damage, a section of rubber sealing that came loose.

That curl in the tail is a dapper touch.

The team have done a great job of decimating the insect population. Keep up the good work, lads!

Friday, November 24, 2017

On the Road: Constellation Revisited

Here's a little postscript from our road trip. This is the second time we've driven by the Fantasy of Flight, a museum in Florida that never seems to be open when we're there. But I like to make a detour to admire this Constellation - my favourite commercial aircraft and the loveliest ever designed, apart perhaps from Concorde.

There can't be many of them left in the world and this one looks unloved but still undaunted. Once again, it was hard to get a photo through the wire fence but here you can just about see the pretty tail.

This summer I read Adrien Bosc's French novel "Constellation", a mesmerising eulogy of the 1949 Air France flight that crashed in the Azores, carrying a fascinating bunch of passengers including Edith Piaf's boxer lover and violin prodigy Ginette Neveu. The sort of book that only a Frenchman can write.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

On the Road: Okefenokee Scenic Drive

 Another Okefenokee swamp-dweller enjoyed the view

Since we didn't have time for boat trips and other adventures, we repaired to another part of the swamp a bit further south, for a short scenic drive.

And swamps really are surprisingly scenic. Here was another interesting sign

You'd think no one would be fool enough but you never know. I've heard stories of people chucking Kentucky fried chicken off bridges just to see what happens.
Safer to stick with the pretty purple flowers.

 And the billowing grasses

The bare trees, some of them blackened were signs of the huge fires that periodically sweep through. Even swamps aren't immune but somehow nature incorporates it and comes back stronger.

The chaps with the red patches on their heads were sandhill cranes. I thought there were rare but on this particular day we seemed to see them everywhere. Hard to photograph, though.

 Okefenokee - the same suggested fun and fright but there was something serene about it.

 The great swamp straddles the border between Georgia and Florida. We didn't have that much more travelling to do.

Monday, November 20, 2017

On the Road: Okefenokee Oscar

Heading south through Georgia and a spectacular sky

This is the country for interesting signs - I always marvel at "Deer and Hog Processing", though I should be used to the deer bit by now, having lived in western New York. Then there was Jack's Hot Spot Live Bait and - the mind boggles, "Great Southern Exterminating."
  But as we came to the fabled Okefenokee Swamp,

 the signs got serious.

Can be?
The girl at the Visitor Center (sic)

said there are people who ignore the signs. Like one chap, full of himself, who insisted on going right to the water's edge to take photos. Little did he know that, lurking just a few feet away, was Oscar, the swamp's biggest alligator. Luckily he wasn't hungry. Here, you will be relieved to know, is Oscar today.

A sign says, "The Legend Returns". Oscar died in 2007 at around 100 years old. He was apparently quite good-natured, as alligators go, not like the current incumbent of the "dominant male" position, who's called Crazy and lives up to his name.
The shop at the Visitor Center contained some intriguing artefacts....

A ghoulish kid's delight

Note the flip-flops. Funny how we get a thrill from alligators but also try to persuade ourselves that they're cuddly.

More reptilian ware

These would make nice table centrepieces.

Just add a few flowers.  Now here's an interesting one.

 I can see that they need to spell things out.

 Leaving the Visitor Center and ambling down to the lake, we had a feeling we were being watched.

I believe this pretty fella was a red-shouldered hawk. Here (s)he is in profile.

"Wait, you gotta get my good side!"  They are reportedly fond of swamps. Someone else was watching us too. Sister-in-law spied two eyes breaking the water's surface.

I couldn't spot them but the girl had told us the gators start coming out to sun themselves after 11am. It was about a quarter to. So that figured.

A little further along, there was a bridge

you definitely don't want to fall off.

 More swamp stuff coming up... watch this space!

Friday, November 17, 2017

On the Road; A British Challenge

I threw out a challenge. We were in a little restaurant called Howards in Moncks Corner, South Carolina - yes, we'd been to Moncks Corner a couple of years before for a different purpose  but this time we had breakfast in mind. 

The genial owner seated us in the crowded room after turfing out a family, "Git outta here!" They laughed - obviously regulars. We asked for menus.
  "No menus here - this is home cookin' just tell us what you want." 
  "What I really want, I said, "is British sausages - proper bangers."  (Bangers are something I haven't managed to find the length and breadth of America and I doubted I'd find it here).
  The owner asked for more details, then said, "I'll do my best."
  Meanwhile his grandmother, Vera,  came around with coffee - a sign on the wall was counting down the days to her retirement at age 85. 4 years and a few months to go.
  Then the sausages arrived and I have to say, hand on heart that, if they were not quite the best bangers I'd ever tasted, they were a darn sight better than any other sausage I'd ever tasted in America and as close as they could possibly be to the real thing. I was over the moon and attacked them with gusto. Meanwhile a chap came and introduced himself. He was originally from Nottingham he said. Well I never. Thank you, Howard, for a lovely experience.

To be continued...

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

On the Road: Maybe Mayberry

We were driving towards Mount Airy, North Carolina, which seemed to be an ordinary sort of dot on the map. Not for the first time, we would find ourselves in a not-so-ordinary situation. First of all, there was something odd about the road we were travelling on. There were endless antique, aka junk stalls, as if they were expecting hordes of tourists. Then we drove into Mount Airy itself, 

our prime objective, as always at this time of the day, to find a decent cup of coffee and perhaps a pastry or two. "I'd love a cheese Danish", said sister-in-law. As we stopped at a red traffic light the first thing we saw was a police car that seemed to date from the 1960s. Then we parked and wandered into a bookshop which also sold coffee. Had I been an American, this might have given me a clue.

 As might the man with a "Doorman" badge holding the door. As might these various displays

of retro-type stuff

and so on

 as well as plenty of souvenir shops

bears and barber's poles

and instead of cows, squirrels, turkeys, whatever, Mount Airy had guitars.

Finally this gave us - or rather gave my American sister-in-law, the biggest clue.

Mayberry - the setting, she explained, of The Andy Griffith Show, a sitcom that was hugely popular in the 1960s. And Andy Griffith had been born in Mount Airy, which was now evidently making the most of the Mayberry link.  The show was apparently gentle and innocent and everyone's dream of an American small town.

But we were still looking for pastries.  This looked promising until we got closer

No, definitely, no!

 But then we stumbled into Miss Angel's, a regular emporium of pies, something called "peach zonker" and more Danish pastries than you could shake a flake at. Mine was warm. And with blueberries. Wow.   Pies like they used to make. There's something to be said for nostalgia.

 We asked where we could get a photo of the vintage police car. The man in the shop pointed us in the direction of Wally's Service,

which was a sort of little museum of Mayberry. People of a certain age were strolling around taking selfies.

 And here were the cars. Important to the story, Andy Griffith's character being the genial local Shire Reeve.

Too bad I never watched the Andy Griffith Show or I would have been a lot more excited. Now if it was Ambridge.....or Walmington-on-Sea....

To be continued.....