Monday, April 8, 2024

Eclipse Eclipsed

  I had an appointment at the local hospital today - spanking new and more like a spaceship inside than a place of healing and already too small, with all the population growth around here, when I saw a crowd of doctors and nurses outside, staring up into the bright blue Florida sky. Had they walked out, finding it all too much? No, I realised, they were trying to see the Eclipse, I don't think with much success. If you could see anything at all down here in Florida, it was just a sliver. "I think it did get a little bit darker", someone said, hopefully. Up north, it was a big event. My neighbour said her grandchildren in Ohio got the day off school. Probably because the school didn't want to be sued if the kids burned their eyes off. Of course we should have watched it from western New York and had the whole caboodle - except it would probably have been cloudy. 

   But never mind. Every day brings a different kind of beautiful sight in the sky. 

Florida Gulf Coast sunsets are famous but this was dawn. 

From our front garden

 And here is an actual sunset-from-the-beach (the greeting of which is a regular evening ritual for the neighbours). At this stage it may not look like much.

But after the sun went down the delicate colour spread all over the sky.

With some intriguing cloud formations. 

  It was quite the show and well worth waiting for. And you didn't have to faff around with special glasses.

  And here's another kind of show,  from the tree at the back (which we always thought was an orchid tree but which my plant recognition app bossily insists is a kind of ebony. That doesn't sound quite right, unless they're the same thing.)  We were convinced it had expired after two hurricanes and a drought in quick succession. A month ago it appeared as dead as a doornail. And now look at it. Just in time for Easter. 

We have had some blustery weather though. People choosing the wrong week to come down might have been a little disappointed with the Sunshine State.  But year-rounders, that exclusive club, love it when it's cool. Wind and rain? Bring it on! 

And here's another spectacular effect, closer to the ground this time. After a few windy days this is what happened to the poor beach.

Making walking along it something of an adventure. But these things do have a knack of straightening themselves out again. That's the wonders of nature for you. The north can have its Eclipse. We are managing fine.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Feathered (and other) Florida Friends

Dateline: Golden Beach, Florida

  Sad to report that our very own beached whale has, as expected, gone to his reward but not before hundreds of ghouls jammed the road down to Service Club beach to line the shore and watch. It was not something I wanted to do. But Service Club did have its brief moment of fame, the unfortunate whale (50 foot, 70 foot, depending on where you read about it) making page 2 of this morning's Wall Street Journal. 

But how about some more cheerful flora and fauna stories. The little clockwork sanderlings were in good spirits, if stationary for once.

And back in the garden someone was enjoying the orchid tree - or, as it is now, orchid bush. You may recall it fell down in Hurricane Ian but started to sprout again and now has some magnificent blooms, if an odd new shape.

Down the road in Maxine Barritt park the other morning it was too early for the alligators to start sunning themselves on the lake banks but the birds were at their familiar posts.

This anhinga, aka snakebird looked a little peeved. "No need ter gawp, I'm just dryin' me feathers."

Not sure what this chap was after but whatever it was, I didn't have any.

Meanwhile there was no doubt what someone else was hoping for. The beach fishermen here tend to get saddled with uninvited guests, waiting for a handout.

  And the other evening a tiny eastern screech owl was warbling from our oak tree (that one survived Hurricane Ian.) Sometimes I feel like telling the screech owls to give it a rest with their monotonous trilling all through the night but this time I didn't have the heart. He was so close you could almost touch him, oblivious to us, wrapped up in whatever his current enterprise was. Our once sleepy bit of Florida is getting more and more built up by the day, with tourist season in full swing, the roads more and more clogged, the drivers and cyclists ever crazier. But nice to know you can still get to go a little wild.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Florida Foodie Interlude

Dateline: Golden Beach, Florida 

Goodness, but it's been a long time, for which I give no excuses, save that it was a very chilly January by Florida standards and I've been in hibernation. No frost exactly but cold nights and mornings and a few north winds. Neighbours who've been here many years say it's the coolest they've known it at this time of year. Year-rounders are happy to wear their scarves and woolly hats for a change but I'm still enough of a newcomer to pine for the warm weather we signed up for. Still no risk of having to shovel snow though. It's always worse somewhere else. 

  Meanwhile Shrove Tuesday, aka Mardi Gras, has been and gone and I realised in conversation that "Pancake Day" doesn't mean much to Americans. My friends looked puzzled when I announced that hubby, ace American-style pancake maker, would this year be trying his hand at crepes. "That's nice" (with a veiled "so what?") was the slightly bemused comment.

And the crepes were indeed very nice. 

Note that the strawberries came from here in Florida - Plant City to be exact. I gather it's coming up to prime strawberry time and they'll be having a strawberry festival several months before Wimbledon. So it is really warmer than up north.

I couldn't resist adding another European delicacy to the mix - though not on the same day. Yes it was time to indulge in some British bangers again. 

Not quite the Full English breakfast (no baked beans, mushrooms, bacon or fried bread) but near enough. Thank you to the German butchers' - of all people - for providing them. It took me a long time to find bangers here in Florida after the sad demise of the British sausage shop in Buffalo but it's been well worthwhile. Now, however, it's Lent and I'll have to restrain myself. Or at least try.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

A Florida Merry (Happy) Christmas

We're not quite like the Aussies here - you can't guarantee it'll be balmy enough for Christmas dinner on the beach and sadly it looks like rain tomorrow. But last night was warm and tropical and along with what seemed like half the town, I checked out the arboretum, where different groups decorate and light up the trees. It was an adventure, with kids running excitedly around and signs warning about trip hazards like cables. First, one of those "only in Florida" moments.

 The gazebo was nicely decorated with tasteful Christmas music emanating - I didn't hear "Frosty" once. 

Although it was rivalled by a decorated golf cart parked on the road blasting out some unrecognisable noise that might or might not have been Christmassy. But let's give them the benefit of the doubt. 

Here was our Golden Beach display, with the yellow historical marker and benches to watch the sunset.

The Lions' Club charity had an appropriate theme - and in the background some classic Florida Christmas Palms. Not so silly - palm trees must have figured in the First Christmas.

There seemed to be a bit of an animal theme.

Including Rudolph with his shiny nose. Natch.

Somehow there seemed to be fewer displays this year - there were almost more lights festooned on the onlookers - picking their way in the dark with the help of glowing garlands and flashing mobile phones than on the trees. Well that's an exaggeration. But I'm guessing the last couple of big hurricanes did for some of the trees. And where were the Nativity scenes? I'm sure there used to be at least one or two displays from the churches.

Walking back along the island roads, there was my old favourite the jetskiing Santa

With Prancer (or was it Dancer?) clinging onto the back.

Then in one of the Golden Beach front gardens - I might be wrong but there was something that did look remarkably like...

A Nativity scene!

Hooray for them and a very Happy (Merry) Christmas!

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Festive Times at Golden Beach

 There's a certain something something about palm trees dressed up for Christmas ....

This year, our main shopping street, Venice Avenue looks even more spectacular than usual.

It seems that after the last two years' ravages thanks to Hurricanes Ian and Idalia, the trees have picked themselves up (probably not literally) and are happily strutting their stuff again. 

Now we're well into December I can just about stand hearing the Christmas music in the shops (shoppes,  as the estate agents like to say) so long as it's not Frosty the Snowman, or Winter Wonderland, or Rudolf, or the Little Drummer Boy, or Mary's Boychild (sorry) or..or. But I have to do the shoppes for stocking fillers (stuffers) for hubby as he hasn't yet discovered my favourite ones and I can get ahead of him. (One time I was in a gift shoppe and they started playing Bridge Over Troubled Water. Suddenly I realised that everyone of my vintage was humming along....a surreal moment.)

Meanwhile my kind neighbour donated some Christmas goodies. They did not last long and certainly not till Christmas. But we will have mince pies (mincemeat pies) courtesy of the internet.

But things have moved on since I came Stateside. A lot of shoppes now sell crackers and they actually call them crackers, not cracklers or crinklers or some other across-the-pond alteration. I remember when I was looking for crackers for my first Christmas up in rural western New York. I asked for them at the Party Shoppe. "No hon, you need the grocery store - in the cookie aisle", said the girl helpfully, "You can buy the cheese there too."

Everyone is in party mood, a lot of events, like parades and tree lightings resurrected this year. Also in party mood were some neighbours I saw from the beach. 

I was walking along early in the morning, when, just a few feet away, where there's a sharp drop-off, I heard what sounded like a sneeze and then another one. I looked round and there were two dolphins, gambolling so close I could almost have touched them. As usual they were too quick for me to get a photo of their glossy arced backs - though I did manage a fin...

(A visiting friend saw one once and screamed, 'Shark!' Seeing that pic you can understand why, although they move entirely differently). The dolphins gambolled up and down the beach for a good few minutes and then gambolled off about their business.

Earlier there was Thanksgiving and a family visit for which the French bakery Croissant and Co did us proud. 

Not exactly pumpkin pie but the guests didn't complain. There was also a small pumpkin pie to satisfy the traditionalists.

And in the evening a chance to sample the local pastime of watching the sunset. Not a very spectacular one on that day.

But fun all the same.

And on Black Friday we gave the shoppes a wide berth and went for a little alligator spotting in the park down the road. Yes it was only a little alligator but, hey, you don't get those in Ohio.

Followed by an excursion to the fishing pier from which - unusually for our relatively sedate town - we spotted a group on the beach with a large flag celebrating a certain former President stuck into the sand and a lady sporting a bikini with "Trump '24" on the top bit and "Maga", literally, on the bottom. If I had spotted similar attire promoting any of his rivals, I would of course have reported it in the interests of impartiality but unfortunately - or perhaps fortunately - I didn't. 

One beachgoer wasn't all that impressed...

If the recent sunsets haven't been that great, the dawns have made up for it.

I'm glad the family came when they did because now we're getting ready for Christmas with some chilly weather. And a storm sizeable enough to close the park by the South Jetty.  The rain lashed down and some poor soul visiting from the north drove into the intracoastal waterway, mistaking it for a road. He was saved by a gallant barman from the nearby Pop's Sunset Grill, who spotted the mishap and raced to get him out of his sinking car just in time. Today my morning walking friends and I donned woolly hats and gloves. The year-round residents just love the chance to do that. Not a frost exactly but a cutting wind. If you can't have a winter wonderland you can close your eyes and pretend

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

French Interlude Revisited - Lovely Old Stone

     The countryside of Correze reminds me of western New York - or maybe it's the other way round as France came first. Hills and forests and farms. But there's one thing that Cattaraugus County doesn't have..

One of the beauties of Correze is its old stone. Every little village has its ancient church, like this one at St Hilaire-Luc

Some date from the 12th century or before. In those days you didn't travel far from your village. Even when I started coming here a few decades ago, most of the villages would still have Mass on Sundays. Not so now. But every old church is a gem. And every village has its quaint corners.

Cottages with climbing roses..

A ricketty gate  - or an artwork?

The war memorial surrounded by flowers

And every war memorial has its poignant list of names, mostly from the First World War. And every time I see one I'm humbled anew by so many lives lost from such a tiny place. Many with the same family names.

St Hilaire-Luc is a little visitor-conscious though. A new type of person now comes to Correze and the back-to-the-landers,  second homers love memorabilia. This is the back garden of the antique shop. They'd probably want an arm and a leg for that metal bucket.

In a discreet way tourism has arrived here.

A few miles away is the town of Ussel - our local metropolis, home of the college, the hospital, the big Leclerc supermarket, the swimming pool. While hubby went swimming, I explored a town I'd only usually gone to for necessities. I'd forgotten what a gem it is, even  though the snooty guidebooks consider it pretty run-of-the-mill. Trouble is, there's just so much of this in France. You're spoilt for choice. 

This looked intriguing

And very fittingly led to a small shrine on the wall.

What stories these old alleys could tell.

And St Martin's Church, now the local hub, with only four priests serving a vast mission parish of outlying villages. And two of those have come from Africa.

One year I went to a big bash in this square, honouring devotees of tete de veau (see below!), robing them in academic gowns and presenting them with spoof diplomas. They cooked the gloopy gunk  in a huge cauldron and people sat at long tables enjoying the feast. That arch with the flower arrangement is always lovely.

The little water fountains are typical too.

This is Ussel's most famous house - once owned by the Dukes of Ventadour as their town home. They had a big sprawling castle out in the countryside and had a lot of trendy troubadour connections back in the day. The friendly book shop owner said it's not open to the public - even though it features in all the tourist brochures. He was excited to see us - he said he had relatives in Charleston, South Carolina.  And the bookshop was spectacular.

One Sunday we went to Mass at the Cathedral in Tulle, Correze's administrative centre, deep in the river valley.   Again it's a town that isn't an obvious tourist spot but still worth exploring.

With some grand town houses - some now being restored

And more narrow cobbled streets.

On Sunday it was deserted, with only one restaurant obviously open. Easy to think yourself back into the Middle Ages - without the noise and smells.

Back to Ussel again and here's the little chapel of Notre Dame de la Chabanne, looking like one of those old German spiked helmets.

The interior is glorious. 

A few years ago we came here for the 8th September Nativity of the Virgin Mary feast. It was packed to the rafters, people singing lustily, "Notre Dam-e de la Chabann-e," We joined in, worrying about our Florida house in the throes of Hurricane Irma. And she came through for us. This year the chapel was much less full. Was it that so many people didn't go back after Covid? Or perhaps it was the rival procession in Eygurande, which also has a lovely shrine. Sadly, when we explored around there,  I left my phone at home, so no photos.

We happened to be in Ussel for Patrimony Days, a European Union thing - where various places not normally open to the public let the tourists in. The Ventadour house wasn't on the list. But the Penitents' Chapel was. 

It's now a museum but on this weekend we could get in free.

A horse pulling a hearse. Magnificently morbid.

Across town in the other museum I was fascinated by these wall beds - a feature of some of the local old houses. Each was exquisitely carved and decorated with different patterned curtains. Though you'd have to have been pretty short to be comfortable in them. I only noticed the chamber pots after I looked at the photo.

It was market day too.

Also open to the public was the Chateau de Theil, hidden away in a suburb behind the big box store district and in the process of being renovated. Judging by the photos on display, it had been a wreck before

Now a group of optimistic young people are hoping to turn it into a luxury hotel. Good luck to them. There are a lot of these sort of places in France, though admittedly not so many around here. If it doesn't work out it won't be for want of trying. They've put a huge amount of effort into it. I said if they got a brilliant chef for the restaurant we'd definitely come back.  We were walking towards the entrance when we heard what sounded like a siren going off and a lot of people shouting. We thought we'd set off some kind of alarm and wondered if we should make a quick getaway, when someone explained. We were the 1000th visitors. All the excitement was for us.

When we said we were from America they cheered even louder. Sorry we couldn't promise them a lot of rich friends who might want to come and stay. But it was good to feel wanted. 

Driving back to Limoges Airport we took in another couple of villages and churches.
This old well was at Lubersac - 

- the name derives from Louparsat in the ancient Limousin language, or Loup Perce in French. The pierced wolf. Apparently a knight killed the wolf to save a damsel in distress, in this case also his girlfriend. His services might be needed again.  The local paper has been full of stories of wolves going forth and multiplying around the region. The farmers are less than happy. The pro-wolf camp say they keep the deer population down. But, the farmers point out that no self-respecting wolf is going to bother chasing a deer through the forest when he can grab a fat sheep in a field. They have a point.  

It was a bleak, rainy day, the first after weeks of sunshine. 

Through the drizzle the church of St Etienne looked austere and gloomy, 

And the interior sombre,  though there were some interesting wall paintings.

A modern touch outside was a brand new dovecote.

A last stop at another little village, Meuzac this time, with a smaller, simpler church

But memorable for its eye-wateringly steep staircase to the choir loft.

I wonder what 'elf n' safety would say about that. Presumably the singers made good use of the strategically placed confessional before attempting the ascent.

Au revoir for now!