Five Centuries In Eight Photographs

Yesterday, we visited the Castillo de San Marcos at St. Augustine. For centuries, the fort was central in the town’s existence. Although it has changed hands by treaty several times, no attacker has ever taken it in battle.

That in mind, here is a history of that fort, and St. Augustine…. as, uh, illustrated and outlined, in chronological order, by some photographs:

1. In 1513, Spaniard Juan Ponce de Leon wanders through seeking the Fountain of Youth. He never finds it. [Photo by me, 2014]

1. In 1513, Spaniard Juan Ponce de Leon wanders through seeking the Fountain of Youth. He never finds it. [Photo by me, 2014]

2. The site now marked by a cross, other Spaniards land in 1565. A first Mass is said. [Photo by me, 2014

2. The site now marked by a cross, other Spaniards land in 1565. A first Mass is said. [Photo by me, 2014.]

3. After several wooden forts fail to do the job they want, the Spaniards get serious and decide to build a masonry one. [Photo by me, 2014.]

3. After several wooden forts fail to do the job they want, the Spaniards get serious and decide to build a masonry one. [Photo by me, 2014.]

4. Front of the Castillo de San Marcos. [Photo by me, 2014.]

4. Front of the Castillo de San Marcos. [Photo by me, 2014.]

5. Imperial Spain's flag proudly flew over the town and fort for centuries. [Photo by me, 2014.]

5. Imperial Spain’s flag proudly flew over the fort. [Photo by me, 2014.]

6. Unfortunately, Spain's flag also looked too much like England's Cross of St. George from a distance. Which made fighting naval battles a bit confusing. So in the 18th century, the Spanish changed their flag. [Photo by me, 2014.]

6. Unfortunately, Spain’s flag looked too much like England’s Cross of St. George from a distance. Which made fighting naval battles difficult. So in the 18th century, the Spanish changed theirs. [Photo by me, 2014.]

7. Great Britain took over Florida in 1763. But they had to give it back to Spain in 1783. [Photo by me, 2014.]

7. Great Britain took over Florida in 1763. But they had to give it back to Spain in 1783. [Photo by me, 2014.]

8. Finally, the Americans.... [Photo by me, 2014.]

8. Finally, the Americans…. [Photo by me, 2014.]

A bit of a history lesson. In pictures. But don’t worry, there’s no quiz to follow. ;-)

St. Augustine, Florida

We’re making our way “back north.” We stopped in St. Augustine, Florida, en route. As we do when we travel, we went to church locally last night.

And this one was pretty impressive. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine is the oldest Roman Catholic parish in North America:

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The tower of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The tower of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Brief history of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Brief history of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Among The Best 25¢ I’ve Ever Spent

Got a bit of a surprise on Monday in Key West. It wasn’t, as you know, at Hemingway’s house. I mean down at the docks behind Conch Seafood:

Manatee, below a dock in Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Manatee, below a dock in Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Manatee, below a dock in Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Manatee, below a dock in Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]

As I tweeted the other day, a manatee appeared seconds after we had fed the fish, resulting in a marine encounter the two kids – the 9 year old girl especially – loved, and which I later joked to my Irish friends was perhaps the best value for 25¢ I had ever gotten in my life. Yet the fish-feeding had proven itself to be an unexpected learning experience too. However, not in a way you might think.

It had all started when I had given our friends’ 11 year old son a quarter to slot into the dock edge (environmentally safe) fish food dispenser, which resembled an “old-fashioned” gum ball machine. Bear in mind he can no problem handle iPads and land 747s using Flight Simulator. Indeed, he is so sharp that early last year, after his mother, “Maureen,” had explained to us at their Dublin breakfast table how she was flying Emirates to Abu Dhabi on her way to India to join our now late friend Kam there, while munching his toast he flat-out contradicted her idea of her own travel itinerary:

Young son: “Mum, you aren’t on Emirates. You’re on Etihad. You’re going to Abu Dhabi.”

Maureen: “No, darlin’, I’m on Emirates.”

Young son: “You’re stopping in Abu Dhabi. You can’t be on Emirates. You would be going to Dubai.”

My wife grabbed her iPad and checked the web. Yep, sure enough he was the one who was right. “Good luck you didn’t turn up for an Emirates flight!” my wife laughed.

But that same lad in Key West the other day didn’t understand he needed first to slot the 25¢ coin into the machine and turn its handle until the coin was swallowed…. and that he needed next to position one cupped hand below the chute to catch the falling feed…. as that feed would be sliding out and down into that hand the second he raised the chute’s cover with his other hand.

Stumped by how to operate it, he hesitated. I bravely took charge of the archaic technology. Oh, and, by the way, it is “technology” that had once been commonplace in the Republic of Ireland too.

Good grief, young people these days. ;-)

Sharing Champagne

One of them has already arrived. My wife’s Irish long-time friend‘s mid-twenties niece took a coach to us from Orlando, via Miami. She got here to the Keys two days ago.

I knew her, although not very well. As we three have spent the last couple of days together, I’ve discovered she’s an absolute dry-witted riot: “I texted my friends back in Dublin, ‘Ah, sorry, I can’t go to see a film tonight. Oh, I’m busy by the poohol.'” (Note: You have to read that in an Irish accent.)

Next, having (we believe) just about worn out their two kids – a boy 11 and a girl 9 – for the last week at Disney, Universal, the Kennedy Space Center, and who knows where else (we’ve been receiving intermittent WhatsApp updates), our Irish friends’ contingent are due to descend upon us in full later today.

However, on a somber note, someone else won’t be here of course. And I’m now getting somewhat upset thinking about her while typing this short post.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of champagne glasses with a transparent background.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of champagne glasses with a transparent background.

“We’ll have a glass for Kam,” my wife’s friend has already decreed.

I have to admit, it is going to be an exceedingly difficult moment for me when we open the Champagne on her behalf. We are determined to remember her with smiles – even if coupled with tears. I’m sure you understand what I mean.

Before the big group arrives this evening, I’m going to try to take the opportunity to get some more writing done. I awoke with some further revisions in mind. And I doubt I will have much time for tinkering, to say nothing of composing, for at least a few days after today.

_______

UPDATE: And the U.S. plays Germany at lunchtime today. Have to work around that too. Another distraction. ;-)

Presumably it won’t be on ABC. It’ll be Univision once more. We have to watch Spanish-language TV to see the U.S. national soccer team in World Cup action….

Happy Hour

After a dinner out on Thursday evening, we decided to have a couple of drinks in a Cocoa Beach bar that was also attached to our hotel. As we walked in, I spotted several other couples sitting at the bar talking mostly to each other; and the bartender appeared personable enough. As we took bar stools, I thought, “Fine. This seems okay.”

Hmm. However, I had missed that one customer was a 30-something woman sitting by herself near the end of the bar, one empty seat over from the one I had just chosen. As my wife and I settled in, we noticed her son – who could not have been more than seven or eight – was with her, amusing himself at an unused pool table.

While we overheard her (it was impossible not to) increasingly emotionally bemoaning (I suppose reasonably enough) to a man the other side of the semi-circular bar about how she had lost all of her iPhone videos of her late mother, I ordered a Courvoisier. Beside me, my wife asked for a white wine. Having quickly scoped out what others were drinking, after the bartender stepped away to get our drinks my wife joked to me under her breath that he had probably not poured Courvoisier for anyone in ages.

Free Stock Photo: A mug of golden beer with a white froth, against a black background.

Free Stock Photo: A mug of golden beer with a white froth, against a black background.

Indeed he did appear to have served up largely beers. Obviously having heard me order it, after the bartender put the Courvoisier down in front of me, the 30-something woman asked me about it. As she did, she began to get exceedingly talkative and friendly.

Free Stock Photo: A Beautiful Woman Sitting At A Bar With A Drink [Editor's Note: This photo is merely for illustrative purposes, but I gather you've figured that out already.]

Free Stock Photo: A Beautiful Woman Sitting At A Bar With A Drink [Editor’s Note: This photo is merely for illustrative purposes, but I gather you’ve figured that out already.]

Within seconds it became clear she had had too much to drink already. My wife was sitting directly next to me, on the other side of me. Listening to the woman’s ramblings, I noticed my wife look down at the floor and start shaking her head.

Fortunately other customers strolled in, and the woman had a new bunch to distract her. Among that group was a 20-something guy who was apparently a newly minted soccer scholar. Amidst his World Cup bluster, he started regaling the bar about Argentina being the best soccer team in the world, and how John Brooks is the best player ever.

And that guy had only just started drinking. After hearing him hold forth for rather too long, my wife (who is English and usually restrained in her opinions) took hold of her wine glass, leaned over and whispered into my ear, “He’s an idiot.”

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a drunk man with a mug and a watch.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a drunk man with a mug and a watch.

I hardly needed her to point that out, though. Suddenly the boozy 30-something woman called it a drinking session and offered a loud, slurry goodbye: “You are my favorite bartender!” She did not appear to be headed to a car, and the bartender seemed to know that. (My wife later told me she suspected the woman was a hotel guest.) Taking her son’s hand, she ambled out the door.

We finished our drinks. After we left, my wife remarked to me, “That place was such a pick-up joint. She didn’t care you were with me, or what your situation was.”

As I’ve reflected on that evening, I realize I’ve always been mildly uncomfortable in most U.S. bars. I never really relax in them. They are not like British pubs, which are often social places and serve meals.

True, pubs have their drunks, loudmouths, and those out “on the pull” too. But U.S. bars are often dimly lit, excessively cliquish, and devoted primarily to drinking and “escapism.” They may have a “happy hour,” yet more often than not they have struck me as sad places. :-(

The Keys

Happy Sunday from Marathon, in the Florida Keys. Got here at last yesterday evening:

The view from the rear of our rental house, near Marathon, taken around 6:30am today. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The view from the rear of our rental house, near Marathon, taken around 6:30am today. [Photo by me, 2014.]

And I could, uh, much too easily get far too used to this. ;-)

Whenever we travel (in America, Ireland, Italy, France, wherever), we always find a Catholic Church and attend services locally. Doing so gets you mixing a bit – even if only for a little while – with area residents in a “non-tourist” manner. Once, in France, we even found ourselves at a baptism.

So we went to church early this morning at the beautiful San Pablo. It is gorgeous. I have to get a couple of photographs of it before we leave.

And I’d never been in a church before in which, in the pew, was a prayer card that included a “Prayer for No Hurricanes.”

Gimme Some Space

We visited Kennedy Space Center yesterday. I had never been there before. It is “awesome” in the truest sense of the word:

Large Vehicle Assembly Building. Not bad for a photo snapped through a window of a moving tour bus. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Large Vehicle Assembly Building. Not bad for a photo snapped through a window of a moving tour bus. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Saturn V rocket on display. Kennedy Space Center. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Saturn V rocket on display. Kennedy Space Center. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Front of shuttle Atlantis. The whole ship is on display, but getting the entire spacecraft into one photograph seems almost impossible. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Front of shuttle Atlantis. The whole ship is on display, but getting the entire spacecraft into one photograph seems almost impossible. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Part of the underside of shuttle Atlantis, taken standing at the rear, looking toward the front of the craft. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Part of the underside of shuttle Atlantis, taken standing at the rear, looking toward the front of the craft. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center. [Photo by me, 2014.]

We had thought we might have been incredibly lucky and seen a launch. SpaceX, a private company leasing space from NASA, had delayed the launch of a Falcon 9 rocket to yesterday. Unfortunately, though, the space gods did not look fondly on yesterday either, and the launch was scrubbed yet again. Oh, well, these things happen, we and hundreds of others who waited to see it until 7:01pm were told when it was canceled.

One other thing. In case you were unsure, yes… image …I can manage a dopey tourist “selfie” too. ;-)

Road Trip!

Good Morning! (5:45 ET USA.) Me, on Twitter, last night:

Leaving early Wednesday morning to drive from Pennsylvania to the #FloridaKeys. After 3 overnights, we get there Saturday. Yes, we are nuts.

Just getting ready to head off. Will be on the net intermittently over the next few days while on the road…

Oh, and the sequel is downloaded to the iPad, via an app that does Word, so the tap tap tapping will continue. While writing a novel, you do not really get “holidays.” I’d never planned to put it down over these weeks; and ideas can spring up at anytime as well, so it is worth being prepared.

image

And holidays also give you the opportunity, perhaps, to stock up on some new “story material.” ;-)

They Say I’m A Public Figure Now

Our minds work in the oddest of ways, don’t they? I stood emptying the dishwasher earlier, and as it began to get lighter outside I noticed the couple of inches of snow already on the ground. A fraction of a second after, I thought of the 15 inches (UPDATE: maybe 18?) due overnight tonight here in the Catskills…. and I abruptly thought of sunny Florida (we are planning a trip there in the summer)…. and my thoughts jumped to the size of the house we might all need (there could be at least ten of us)…. and that she might want to drop in at the last minute, so we might need an extra bedroom….

Suddenly it hit me: there will be no more trips. No more get togethers at all. Not ever again.

I felt a chill. We were all supposed to grow old together? How arrogant we all are in assuming anything like that, aren’t we?

I shook my head and carried on emptying the machine.

It’s no surprise, of course, that the ingrained habits of nearly two decades of close friendship are hard to lose in 2 days. After Kam’s death at only 45 on Sunday in London (I can barely think of her without tears coming to my eyes), I’m trying now to push my mind back towards normal mode (whatever that is).

You may have noticed the Goodreads logo I added to the blog recently. They came back to me a couple of weeks ago. Seems I passed “the author test.” So it’s “official.”

Now, I’ve finally created a Goodreads author page:

Passports: Atlantic Lives, 1994-1995

I do Twitter (I have to admit, I love Twitter; I’m “addicted” to it) and (as you can see) this blog. I just have to figure out now how to use the Goodreads page best? If you are on Goodreads in any capacity, your suggestions would be welcomed. :-)