Saturday, August 16, 2008

Literary Interlude: Dead Animal Poems

Death of a Toad
A toad the power mower caught,
Chewed and clipped of a leg, with a hobbling hop has got
To the garden verge, and sanctuaried him
Under the cineraria leaves, in the shade
Of the ashen and heartshaped leaves, in a dim,
Low, and a final glade.
The rare original heartsbleed goes,
Spends in the earthen hide, in the folds and wizenings, flows
In the gutters of the banked and staring eyes. He lies
As still as if he would return to stone,
And soundlessly attending, dies
Toward some deep monotone,
Toward misted and ebullient seas

And cooling shores, toward lost Amphibia's emperies.

Day dwindles, drowning and at length is gone

In the wide and antique eyes, which still appear

To watch, across the castrate lawn,

The haggard daylight steer.

-Richard Wilbur

View of a Pig

The pig lay on a barrow dead.
It weighed, they said, as much as three men.
Its eyes closed, pink white eyelashes.
Its trotters stuck straight out.

Such weight and thick pink bulk
Set in death seemed not just dead.
It was less than lifeless, further off.
It was like a sack of wheat.

I thumped it without feeling remorse.
One feels guilty insulting the dead,
Walking on graves. But this pig
Did not seem able to accuse.

It was too dead. Just so much
A poundage of lard and pork.
Its last dignity had entirely gone.
It was not a figure of fun.

Too dead now to pity.
To remember its life, din, stronghold
Of earthly pleasure as it had been,
Seemed a false start, and off the point.

Too deadly factual. Its weight
Oppressed me---how could it be moved?
And the trouble of cutting it up!
The gash in its throat was shocking, but not pathetic.

Once I ran a fair in the noise
To catch a greased piglet
That was faster and nimbler than a cat,
Its squeal was the rending of metal.

Pigs must have hot blood, they feel like ovens.
Their bite is worse than a horse's---
They chop a half-moon clean out.
They eat cinders, dead cats.

Distinctions and admirations such
As this one was long finished with.
I stared at it a long time. They were going to scald it,
Scald it and scour it like a doorstep.

-Ted Hughes

Meanderings: A Mutable Frog

For the past 3 days, I've been watching a frog, deceased. It could be a toad, but the underside looks a bit too green. Our toads are generally dirt brown. The whole thing started because I'm always on the alert for stinging insects while in the vicinity of inanimate objects. We have many wasps in Florida who persist in building their nests on posts, railings, gazebos, even mail boxes, in short, anything that doesn't move and to which the unsuspecting human is likely to come into proximity. The size and striped markings of some are truly intimidating. I've learned, though, that it is the smaller, foul-tempered kind that are more likely to sting. On the bright side, at least we don't have yellow jackets circling our barbeques. Of course, the flies render them superfluous. A more aggressive and prolific class of fly I have never seen, except that unlike those in much of the South, they don't bite. For that we have the no-see-ums, mosquitos, and fire ants. Of these, the no-see-ums are the worst. They are teeny; they are impervious to bug spray; and they have the itchiest bite, a bite that returns to torment for days.

Anyway, on the first day, the cohort of flies alerted me to something by the storm drain. I looked, only to see them dive bombing an upside down frog. The frog looked pretty normal, and there were no signs of trauma on his underbelly. I wondered what had caused his death. Did he just suddenly croak, there by the safety of the drain pipe? He couldn't have dried out; it's been raining daily. And they like that. After a rain, his slimy and off key brethren come out and create a cacophony that would put the Budweiser commercial to shame. Perhaps, a bird had gotten him, and he rolled over. But he looked too intact. I mulled the evidence but stopped short of grabbing a stick to inquire. Curiosity and all, there is the cootie factor.

And so I forgot about him, until the next day. There he was, a little further down the incline and a bit puffier. The flies were gone, and on some level I realized his abdomen was distended by gas, but the thought of what else lay in there made me turn away.

Still, I've become fascinated by this process. Today, I went over to find him unmoved, deflated, whatever having escaped through a hole in his upper thoracic region. Overnight, he had developed a whole host of colors, the effect of which resembled those purples and yellows of a healing black and blue. There was a hideous beauty to it.

I slapped myself- mentally. What was I doing? Why was I drawn to this horrible, beautiful thing? Suddenly, a whole host of poems came to mind. There was DH Lawrence's experience with a snake, or the dead toad one, even the pig. Perhaps, this experience of death would lead me to a great insight about life. Naw. Just a dead frog/toad by the storm drain.
I'll save the insights for others.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sometimes a Turnip is a Mailbox

I bet you thought, like I did that the late Julia Child was just a magnificent chef with a cheerful demeanor and a husky voice. Well, think again. Julia Child was a...a...spy. At least according to this report which outs such notables as Julia, John Ford, Arthur Schlesinger, etc. The good news- they were on our side.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Highways and Byways in Hidden Florida

It seems unbelievable, but there are still parts of the Florida that have not been overrun by mega-storied condos, McMansions or motels. If you'd like to see it, take a ride on Route 19 through the Ocala National Forest, as we did on our way to St Augustine Beach. I had stumbled on the beach years ago and decided to head there, hoping against hope that it had not been spoiled. I remembered it as a place frozen in time with huge swathes of dunes in between small motels and beach bungalows. It was the kind of place that had a laundromat on the seaward side of the beach strip.

Well, the laundromat was gone. I think my hotel was built partially on the site. And there were new hotels, but I'm happy to report that it has retained much of its character, perhaps because there isn't a building taller than 3 stories, perhaps because there is room to breathe there, despite the jumble of older cottages on the beach streets. The beach is magnificent, the sunrises breathtaking. The water, however, is chilly for this Gulf bather, and rip currents are common. But I loved it then, and I loved it now. There is no pretension, just a relaxing beachside resort, the kind we enjoyed as children.

Major development has taken place on the town side. Still development is to be expected and is not necessarily a bad thing. Now if you ride down the A1A along the coast and you will see much that development has missed. As you pass lonely outposts of condo developments or the occasional town, you run into surprising, unspoiled stretches.
Not too far south of St. Augustine Beach is Fort Matanzas, site of a Federal park. It's an easy on and easy off, none of this driving into the dark unknown. Here whiting jump, and the water is all shades of azure against a landscape of sand and native scrub, and you can hear yourself breathe in the solitude. For an interesting stretch veer onto the old A1A where the road straddles the beach. Further down, you'll run into Marineland, a park that has remade itself, amidst various research outposts. In between, there are strata of development. Witness the 20's, 30's, 50's and other assorted decades up to the present. Of the greatest interest, however, are the innumerable parks that lead off the highway, each an adventure awaiting the motorist. The photo above came from just one of those off shoots. Incredible. I am left wondering about all those roads not taken. What did we miss?
What I didn't miss was Daytona Beach with its gargantuan hostelries that dwarf the mere human being. Yet, even here there were vestiges of fifties kitsch. Just not my cup of tea, which reminds me...I've shared some secret places, but don't let anyone else in on them, lest they fall victim to what has happened to much of the rest of the state.

One Toke Over the Political Line

Obama's latest radio ad in Florida uses the phrase-after having a President "in the pocket" of big oil companies for 8 years- the implication being that McCain will also be beholden to big Oil. At first I assumed it to be from one of those loony lefty organizations, but, no, there comes the "I'm Barack Obama and I approved this message." Most unseemly to state baldly that the President has "been in the pocket" of anyone as it carries with it the implication of bribery. And unless such venality can be proven, it does little good to fling such an accusation loosely.
On to another situation some would question. Just got a solicitation for money to help the NBRA put up their billboards in Denver. The one in the picture is in South Carolina. They are up in FL, too. Don't know enough about MLK's political predilections, but you gotta love it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Cuban Heritage Trail

Years ago, I went on the Irish Pub tour of Europe. Did you know there is an Irish Pub in Heidelburg or another pres de la Madaleine (at least that's what I told the Iranian cab driver in Paris in my just good enough French-that is just good enough for the Iranian cab driver to find it)? Well, this little jaunt started out as a trip to St. Augustine. Please note the landmark at left, complete with pigeon.

Anyway, we stumble upon not one, not two, but three Cuban cigar shops, not where they sell Cuban cigars because that would be illegal and immoral, although they are Cuban cigars because the shop where we end up buying has a young Cuban man rolling them before your very eyes. Behind the counter is a black and white picture of a young boy rolling cigars in Cuba. It is according to the caption the young man's father at age twelve. I found the leaf a little harsh, but I'm no connoisseur. It did, however, smell marvelous. This I know because the hubster, not Cuban, went native on me.

Nothing would do but that we eat at the Cuban cafe we also found in St. Augustine. I suspect that the abundance of food for a reasonable price might have played a large part in his sudden affinity for my heritage. The food was quite good, although as I pointed out to the South American waiter that my rather tasty Cuban sandwich would have been greatly improved by the addition of at least one slice of pork, as that is one of the defining ingredients in the above named sandwich.

So now we're driving down the A1A. He's puffing on the stogie. We're both admiring forgotten Florida (more on that later). We continue the Cuban Heritage trail with a side trip to the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona which has an absolutely fabulous exhibit of the Ramos Collection, entitled "Great Masters of Cuban Art: 1800 to 1958." If you have the opportunity to see it, do it. I don't know that much about art, but I am something of a museum maven. Take my word for it. It is open until September 1, having been extended.

Mind-boggling. Hubby asks of one painting, "If you didn't know, how could you tell it was Cuban? It looks like the stuff from Europe." Bingo. The exhibit gives the lie to that fallacy that we were third world natives. Not to mention, there is a moment of immense satisfaction that this is a portion of our heritage the s.o.b.s will not be able to steal or erase, as they have erased all the accomplishments BC in the Western mind. I am so moved by the whole experience, I purchase the book for $24.95.

So as we leave the museum, I'm just about Cubaned out. I'm thinking we'll stop somewhere I can get some turkey or roast beef, when we pull into this strip mall in Cocoa Beach where there just happens to be a Cuban cafe called "La Tinaja" with a roguish young Venezuelan waiter named Josue. After a tasty and affordable meal of masitas de puerco frita with arroz and frijoles negros and platanos maduros, I say "enough."

By the way, did you know that Siesta Key in Sarasota started out as a Cuban fishing camp? Scout's honor.