Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Florida Keys Journal: The Garden of Eden

watercolor by Hallie Cohen
Remember Mel Fisher who discovered the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, the treasure laden Spanish vessel which sank in 1622. If you’re in Key West you can go to the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum or purchase some coins and artifacts from sunken vessels that are for sale in his shop on Duval Street. Mel Fisher is only one of a long line of treasure hunters who have come to Key West. Searching for sunken boats or "wrecking" as it's called was one of the industries producing the revenues that built Mallory Square and other major pieces of Key West real estate. Only a few steps down from Mel Fisher Treasures, you'll find the banjo player in the Darth Vader costume along with the artist David Linehan who has tattooed his van with sharpies. Be sure not to miss a desolate bar where anything goes called the Garden of Eden which on a recent night sported a totally empty dance floor or a hot dog stand called Pete's Meats whose logo features a girl in a cheesecake pose together with the soubriquet "You'll love Pete's Meat in your mouth!" Then there's the boutique called French Kiss. You always think you’re arriving at the wrong time when you walk into places like these. Duval Street is filled with aging hipsters supporting Key West's open cup policy (which means you can carry your drink in your hand as you walk down the street) and who sport hanging front porches in addition to the long hair, tattoos and piercing. Many of the them have the bombed out look of the character of Oswald in Ibsen's Ghosts, who got syphilis from his father. If you keep walking and take a left on Truman Avenue you will come to Better Than Sex, which is billed as “a dessert restaurant (featuring such specialties as "two naked balls of sorbet") and whose blackened windows give it the look of an adult video store. And if you're still unsatisfied, the lap dancing establishment Bare Assets is  further down. Most cabs everywhere else are yellow, but in Key West they also have a fleet that's painted pink which will take you  to Sloppy Joe’s the bar where Hemingway hung out and in which his gun is still on display. You see pictures of Hemingway everywhere, including right in the entranceway of Old Town Fitness on Truman where the members of the 1200 Club (those who have lifted 1200 pounds and above) are listed by the front door. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Toni Erdmann

In Maren Ade's Toni Erdmann, Ines Conradi (Sandra Huller) is a German management consultant in Bucharest on her way to a position in Singapore where she’ll be working for Mckinsey. Her father Winfried (Peter Simonischek), a music teacher whose dog has died, shows up on her doorstep unexpectedly interrupting her big pitch to an Rumanian oil company. The humor of the movie derives from the juxtaposition and disconnect between the world of corporate newspeak and authentic human feeling. Winfried dons a wig and buck teeth and portrays himself to be a life coach named Toni Erdmann. Life coach is perfect since his character is a parody of the notion of an "as if" personality. In the beginning of the movie he jokes about looking for a “substitute daughter” but he's the ultimate substitute, at one point posing as the German ambassador and introducing Ines as his assistant Miss Schnuck. There's an uproarious scene in which Ines invites her colleagues to a birthday party she's throwing for herself in which she takes off all her clothes and won’t let anyone in, unless they undress (in terms of the film's treatment of sex, there's, by the way, an uproarious earlier  scene where Ines' lover jerks off onto a petit four). Like everything else in the movie, the farce has its undercurrent of reality, mixed in with a certain tristesse, as the ploy is a thinly veiled search for an authenticity missing in a world where terms like "outsourcing" mask the price that’s paid for expediency. If there's  a teleology operant in Ade's weighty farce, it’s expressed by Winfried/Toni when he says “You have to do this or that and in the meanwhile life is passing by.” The movie is aphoristic and full of the kind of pregnant pauses that are uncommon for absurdist comedy. Winfried sets up the philosophical ramifications of the film’s anarchic brand of comedy at the beginning when he comments “How nice to do nothing and take a break.” The self effacing remark belies the disruption and chaos he will bring into his daughter’s life, but it also betokens the underlying sentimentality of his paternal desires.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Florida Keys Journal: Marathon

photograph of Seven Mile Bridge by Hallie Cohen
Marathon which lies in the middle of the archipelago is the largest of the Keys and the Seven Mile Bridge between Marathon and Big Pine is the longest. Parallel to it are the remnants of the Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad conceived by the oil tycoon, Henry Flagler in l912, a feat of engineering and design (termed "the eighth wonder of the world") that would be destroyed by the Hurricane of l935. Marathon was so named due to the speed with which the original tracks had been laid. True Lies and Fast and Furious both used the railway line as locations. The oldest house in town was lived in by Bahamanians who turned sea sponge into a birth control device. As you proceed southward huge billboards advertising Sandal Outlet where four tee shirts can be purchased for $10 are as ubiquitous as the Key Deer, Lilliputian versions of the animals that account for the Adirondack hunting season. These miniature creatures are so prized that a driver who hits one will have his license taken away. There are dozens of small islands off the Seven Mile Bridge which wealthy yacht owners use as a backyard for their boats. From the distance you can see piers reaching out into the water from these otherwise uninhabited spits of land. JZ apparently bought one for Beyonce. You know you're getting closer to Key West when you begin to see cafes along the highway with names like the Buck Tooth Rooster (roosters are ubiquitous in Key West) and you hear the fighter jets flying overhead from Naval Air Station Key West.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Florida Keys Journal: Bird on a Wire

"birds on wires" over Long Key Bridge (photograph by Hallie Cohen)
You won’t regret seeing the egrets in Long Key State Park and here’s a fact that you learn when you travel the Golden Orb Nature Trail. In 1886 Egret feathers were so valued for use in women’s hats that they sold for twice the price of gold. If you take the over two mile Long Key Bridge to Conch Key you will see all manner of exotic birds competing with the local fishermen who wheel their wagons of bait and tackle to their favorite perches. Looking out on the ocean side, it’s a Darwinian Olympics with birds swooping down to nail their prey just as anglers cast their lines, their faces lighting up as they reel in a catch. Leaving the village of Islamorada, the sign reads "catch you later." After you cross Grassy Key, one of the 1700 that you may never have heard of, you will come to the Dolphin Research Center, where you can also watch and learn about sea lions. Here is a typical morning at the DRC, 9:30 Play With Dolphins, 11:30 Manatee session, 12:30 Dolphin Encounter. Remember Flipper? Many of the stars of the l963 movie were dolphins trained by Milton Santini the fisherman who first brought dolphins to Grassy Key and whose training methods would pave the way for the DRC. Was Leonard Cohen thinking about the Keys when he wrote “Bird on a Wire?” As you travel south on Route 1 passing little islets with names like Fiesta and Duck and witness the daily feast of nature, you can’t help humming the notes of the song to yourself.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Florida Keys Journal: The Lignumvitae Channel

photograph of "Hurricane Memorial" by Hallie Cohen
Lignum Vitae is a kind of hard wood, whose Northern most appearance may be in the Florida Keys and which ironically finds a use in manufacturing the edges of cross country skis. It’s also the name of a passage in Islamorada where the bay meets the ocean. When you cross the Lignumvitae Channel you come to Robbie’s Marina which is a popular gathering place and market. There you can rent a kayak to explore the intricate lattice work of waterways that run through the mangroves where houseboats sporting aphorisms like "I'm on an all rum diet, so far I've lost three days," share parking spaces with ospreys, iguanas, and an occasional crocodile. This is tarpon country and you see driveways and houses named after this powerful fish. A little further north at Cross Indian Channel you will find monuments to Ponce de Leon, the Cuban Rafters, and a armada of 14 Spanish ships carrying gold from Peruvian mines that was nearly totally destroyed by a hurricane in l733. The coral reefs that surround the Keys can be treacherous to ships in stormy weather and interestingly coral from the Windley Key fossil quarry was used in one of the areas most famous and heart wrenching local monuments, the Florida Keys Memorial. Known locally as "the Hurricane Monument,” it commemorates the hundreds of people who died on Labor Day of l935 when a storm with 200 miles per hour winds hit the area. Many World War I vets encamped in Matecumbe and working for the WPA perished along with the dream of a Key West extension of the Florida East Coast Railway. Inhabitants of the Keys have always lived dangerously and the environment's very vulnerability to the onslaughts of nature may account for its fragile beauty.