Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Could we please keep the chatter down? Thank you.

As I await my family's return from Kate's singing "gig," hopefully bearing that delicious pizza from the Roadhouse in Riverhead, I have been reading blogs. Actually professional blogs, written by professional journalists, unlike this scribbler. Columns by Con Coughlin, Norman Tebbit, Damian Thompson, Peggy Noonan and Maureen Dowd. These have covered a rainbow of subjects ranging from the possible partition of Libya to the stagnation of the Roman Catholic Ordinariate, with financial crisis, immigration and right wing extremism thrown in between. All excellent and intellectually stimulating subjects. I have enjoyed all these writings, even though I have not agreed with every word that the columnists have written on their electronic pages. But such is the gift of a free press where such arguments and comments may be placed in the public domain in a fair and reasoned way.

Then the scroll down to the ubiquitous "Have Your Say." Page after page of unstructured, unthought, unreasoned reaction (usually full of spelling errers) by people who style themselves something like YouTubePete, TepidCocoa or Darkseid (sic.) And these are not tabloid blogs, but belong to the "quality" pages of the Daily Telegraph, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Yet they are byte after megabyte of pure drivel, often developing into protracted arguments between those who post their opinions.

Surely this ought not to have a place within the pages, electronic or otherwise, of true journalism. And is it not a cheap and cheerful way of enlivening the blog or the column itself? And do people, other than the interested parties who post, read this stuff? I argue not, as life is too short to waste on the meanderings of Phill2Curry when it comes to NATO policy.

Letters to the Editor was a different expression and discipline. Together with millions of others I have, on occasion, spend hours and more composing a reasoned note to the editors of many newspapers. I have had one or two published, but only after much agonized revision with both dictionary and thesaurus standing by.

What do you think? Comments may be left by.....

Gaspar's Island

Wednesday morning and we were driving on what I call the “old road” south out of Englewood, heading for Gasparilla Island and the small town of Boca Grande. This is Placida Road, which connects Englewood with the unremarkable settlement of Placida (Spanish: calm), population 1064, six miles to the south east. There’s not much to look at on this road, once you have taken stock of the numerous real estate signs and empty condominium developments. But it leads to a corner and a right-turn just before Placida (which has probably dropped in population during the typing of this paragraph) onto the bridge and causeway to the Island.

Gasparilla Island was named after one José Gaspar, romantically called by some the “Last of the Buccaneers,” but a particularly nasty piece of work. Born in Spain in the mid 18th century he served in his country’s navy until he fell afoul of the authorities and in particular the King of Spain, Charles the Third. So he did what naval officers rarely do these days and turned to piracy. For forty years he conducted what amounted to a maritime terror campaign up and down the coast of Spanish Florida, taking treasure, burning ships, killing the men who would not join his hearty crew, and imprisoning women (and some men) on the suitably named island of Captiva for ransom or sexual favors.

In 1821 Florida changed flags and became part of the growing United States of America, and Gaspar made a wise decision to lower his Jolly Roger and retire. But on seeing a prosperous looking ship flying the British colors he decided to have one final attack, for old times’ sake as it were. No way, Jose. It was a trap. In the final approach the ship suddenly raised the Stars and Stripes. It was the heavily armed USS Enterprise, who gave no quarter. Gaspar chose suicide by drowning, and the majority of his crew was killed or captured and hanged. Good work, eh? But at least it gave the island a nice name. Gaspar’s name and legend remains. There are some who claim that his treasure remains buried on the Island, but as this announcement was first made in 1907 by the owners of the newly-completed railroad, it must surely be taken with a large grain of sea salt. Likewise the annual winter Gasparilla shenanigans that happen each January in Tampa, when a faux pirate barge is towed up river, the pirate himself is given the keys to the city, plastic beads are draped over everything, and massive hangovers are created. Central to all this is Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, a prestigious social group demonstrating not only a complete failure to read the history books, but a singular inability to spell.

But I digress. We paid our toll and drove onto the island...

Headin' South

I’d never used the alarm function on my Blackberry© before, and was surprised not only that I was able to set it correctly, but how gently it woke me up early on that morning of leaving. Still, getting dressed an hour before even the first bird cleared its throat is never easy. Yet I felt pleasantly alert as we packed the car and headed west for the hour’s drive to Long Island MacArthur airport.

South West Airlines were their usual efficient selves, and even the (now) accepted security checks were conducted with grace and humor as we stood in line like naughty school-children outside the head’s office, shoes in one hand and boarding passes in the other. An easy flight of a little over two and a half hours and we landed in Tampa International Airport in bright sunshine, yet unexpectedly cool air. The taxi driver was sullen, and clearly dependent on GPS navigation, yet did demonstrate a unique ability to negotiate service ramps, signed at 25 mph, at 60 mph. But at least he got us to the car, the old Lexus, which had been kindly loaned to us for the week.

Soon we were enjoying that old familiar drive south. First the weaving Interstate 275 which took us through St. Petersburg and over the Sunshine Skyway bridge, and then I-75, over the wide Manatee River, and on past Sarasota and Venice. I say “old familiar,” for what I was doing was rediscovering my love of this part of the Gulf Coast of Florida after many lack-luster, even disappointing visits – mainly since the death, over nine years ago, of my father-in-law David Kerr. He was the person who above all others instilled in me a deep appreciation of this part of the world, its fishing and way of life.

Seventy miles later, as we turned off the Interstate onto Jacaranda Boulevard I could still hear his voice telling me time and time again, visit after visit, that “We must slow right down here as it’s a speed trap!” Yet in all those years we never saw a police car. I wonder what he would have made of the huge new roundabout where the road crosses East Venice Avenue.

The beach house on Manasota Key was unchanged, but the icons of the old days were now missing. The days when David would retreat here from Tampa almost every weekend. In those days it was truly a home from home. The bar was ever stocked and there were always frankfurters and meatloaf in the freezer. Oh, and a tide table pinned to the kitchen cork-board. Vital information. Now it was still comfortable, but with the empty air of a vacation house.

Arriving here at the height of summer may seem crazy to some of my North Eastern friends who make noises about the heat and humidity, but their blinkered attitudes and myths have to be firmly ignored. (And ironically as I write these notes they are baking in intense temperatures as I enjoy a refreshing Gulf breeze.) Gulf Florida is spectacular at any time of the year if only the visitor is prepared to adapt, slow down to the speed of the locals, and relax. But so many simply don’t see beyond their entrenched perceptions. They simply don’t get it!

That first evening was the first of many opportunities to cook out on the new kettle grill. Now using these is always a pleasure, but stoking coals with the blue Gulf within sight doubles the pleasure. And I’m convinced that it also make the food taste even better!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Splendid Welcome Home!

Leaving the beauty and peace of Manasota Key is always a wrench, but a gentle welcome home took the form of the blooming of the two Caryopteris (Blue Mist) shrubs in the garden. Sadly there were once six of these, but four of them did not survive a landscaping alteration some five years ago. The remaining two, which we have had for eight years, and inherited when they were a mere two feet tall, continue to thrive. The last of all the shrubs to bud, I always wonder how they survive every winter, especially the brutality of the last one (and the brutality of my cutting back in March!) Yet the small cream buds appeared in the last week of May, and now the long blue flowers are bursting open. They will continue to bloom through August, and then quietly wither as the month changes. Oh, no! Let's not think about time passing at the moment!

Monday, July 25, 2011

And back again.

With a plethora of images, ideas, observations and potential scribbles. Please let me unpack first.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Most Splendid Twenty Four Hours

And it truly was. As Sunday services go, yesterday's had a certain energy. But the main event of the day was the annual parish barbeque. A delightful affair, made all the more manageable by a slightly reduced attendance. Some sixty people, with a variety of good hors d'oeuvres, country style ribs, grilled chicken and hot dogs. As ever, Pierre Weber brought over a selection of delicacies from his restaurant, and then dined with us. (For those who do not know Pierre he is a parishioner, and one of the finest pastry chefs in the north-east. He is the third generation of chefs and bakers in his family, whose roots are in Alsace.)

Tonight we pack for tomorrow's early flight to Florida. A week in Manasota Key on the Gulf Coast. We are traveling light. Leaving the house at 4.00 a.m. we fly from MacArthur Airport to Tampa, pick up a kindly loaned car, and drive south for two hours. The Lord willing we will be munching lunch and sipping a cold beer at the beach by 1:00.

Perhaps a blog post from the beach. Perhaps not, but so much to explore and later write about.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tim 0 - 9 Deer

A weakness in the fence. A deer or more. All tomato plants decimated. I now console myself that the herbs are better than ever this season, and that Jim's local corn (on the cob, picked twice daily) is sweeter and tastier than I can remember in recent years.

Nothing Like a Good Thunderstorm..

... And that was nothing like a good thunderstorm. In fact it amounted to nothing more than an overnight shower of rain. But the build-up was ever so exciting. It all began about noon the previous day when the National Weather Service dramatically changed their forecast and announced a "Thunderstorm Watch" for our part of the island. That's the basic announcement, which includes advice about lightning being the nation's number one killer, and that if we are sensible people we really ought not to go outside in such circumstances. Increased certainty may raise this to a "Thunderstorm Warning" when the forecasters say, "Yep, it's coming!" They then repeat the bit about lightning and death. If it's a really nasty piece of storm then it's re-titled "Severe Thunderstorm Warning" when anything from hail the size of golf balls to the four horsemen of the Apocalypse may descend on us. Fortunately we never reached such danger levels that evening, but all sorts of flashing red banners on the websites, and loud bleeps on the weather radio continued to make us feel that we might just lose a bit of sleep that night.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. From now on I shall trust in a wet finger, and maybe hang a piece of seaweed outside a window. And if I do hear thunder I will probably wander outside to see if there's any lightning.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Rather Good Summer Supper

Before I publish the previously announced posts may I simply say what a lovely day off this has been, culminating in a rather good evening meal. And yet a very nervous cooking challenge in an area of cuisine in which I have had very little experience. True barbeque.

Among my Monday morning chores was a visit to the supermarket. I had already scouted out the pork section a few days ago, and was happy. I brought home a nine pound pork shoulder on the bone. Perfect. I trimmed off the hide and excess fat, and let it come up to room temperature. Simple. Then I checked my other ingredients. One Weber kettle grill; quality charcoal. hickory smoked wood chips (soaked for hours)and confidence. Ah. The last ingredient was missing.

To date, you see, barbequing (sic) has been a form of cooking that was easy. One, to which I had become used. It involved a fire, and a grill,and an approach to cooking that involved "over the stove" vigilance. And of course it worked. Especially when the fire was on a propane grill. One turn of the tap, and one click of the ignition, and the oven was at 600 degrees Fahrenheit in twelve minutes. Now charcoal is different.

I stoked up the coals about 1.30, and by 2.00 they were ready. Then I moved them to one side of the kettle, scattered some hickory chips over them, and placed the meat on the other side over a drip-tray. Lid on, vents only slightly open. Check every hour and add fresh coals and chips if needed. Replace lid.

The pork was removed at 7.30, and needless to say was mouth-watering. Served with home-made cold-slaw and local corn. Slow food indeed!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fourth of July Celebrations. A Pictorial Blog

A break from writing. Independence Day celebrations at home. Great company! Lots of fun and food!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Dearly beloved...

Last week the State of New York, after months of agonizing debate and (let's be honest) party political compromise, voted to legally recognize same sex marriages. They join, or rather will shortly join a hearty American crew: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, plus Washington, D.C. and the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon. I, for one, quietly welcome this. A seasoned, thinking, theological approach to this peppery subject can surely only come down on the side of those men and women who desire the right to have their committed relationship recognized by the country or state in which they live. And the church in which they worship.

My diocesan bishop has granted permission for the episcopal churches in Long Island to proceed with the sanctification of such marriages. In a personal text in which I asked him about the permitted liturgy he advised adapting the current wedding service with sensitivity until the formal liturgy is approved. This I will do, if I am asked. No great announcement or trumpet. Matrimony, being a sacrament of the Church, is above such popular headlines.

Sadly there are already loud sermons being delivered on the east end of Long Island. Not from the episcopal churches of my deanery (although there might be one, let the reader understand!), and we do not expect any response from the culturally-aligned Catholic tribes. Why should we? What they deny in church they practice in reality anyway. No, it is the local Baptist congregations that are of concern. And these groups are black, African American. With regret I suspect that in many parts of America this will a racial/cultural issue. And that is horribly sad, because it suggests that the black community have forgotten what it is to be a denied person or group. The people to blame? Their religious leaders.

I have heard a report today from a lesbian member of the local Baptist church that her minister denounced this change in the law, and that "we" ought not to condone such a sinful thing. The usual aggressive popular homiletic: Love the "sinner" but condemn the "sin." I heard her, and on many levels. She once had told me that her family had been Episcopalians, or as she said, Anglicans. I teased her. Maybe she ought to return to her roots. She laughed, but something in her eyes agreed.

Independence Day Weekend 2011

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Did Thomas Jefferson, the principal, but not the only hand behind that Preamble realize the weight and significance of those thirty-six words? I think not, for despite the linguistic beauty and balance of those famous lines, they contain nothing that was original, or even remarkable.

Jefferson admitted this. He later wrote honestly of this work, the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, stating that it was:

Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.

Yet the Preamble, and the words that followed were to change the course of history. And in more ways than we might think. This was no mere separation from Great Britain and all that that implied. It was the beginning of a new era, and new nation, and a new vision.

Thank God for the newness of it all! Cessation from Britain could have been concluded in a different way, substituting one system of corrupt government and institution for another. If that had happened, this weekend and holiday would have hollow cause for celebration. But thankfully that was not the case.

Those who wrote and those who signed the Declaration of Independence did so out of necessity. They’d had enough and were not prepared to take any more. But in founding the new nation, and fighting for their freedom, they announced to the world, in particular the European powers, that they were acting out of a sense, not only of genuine grievance, but also a declared hope in a better future. For all people.

We mustn’t pour too much personal glory on the fifty-six men who signed the Declaration of Independence. They were no saints by any stretch of the imagination, and some by even the standards of their day had colorful financial backgrounds. Many had both wives and mistresses. Some were commented upon for acts of violence towards their domestic staff. Most were slave-owners, but again let it be said that they were men of their day. Over half of them were Anglicans, eventually to be called Episcopalians – so at least the country got off on the right foot!

Who ever they were, whatever their background, what they agreed was that the new nation, still as yet to be fought for, would be one which demanded high ideals of its citizens. Ideals and standards which are enshrined to this day.

The relationship of July 4th, 1776 to the United States of America may be likened to the relationship between the Day of Pentecost and the Christian Church. Both mark points of beginning and inspiration for the future. Both are, broadly speaking, birthdays.

But just as the Church does not simply look back to Pentecost but rather looks to it as continually inspiring the present day as the Holy Spirit continues to be poured out in the world, so the United States ought not to regard the Declaration of Independence as a mere historical document.

Just as the Church without the spirit of Pentecost is void and without substance and purpose, so also is the United States – unless it continues to bring to life in each generation those brave and bold words adopted and signed by the Continental Congress in 1776.

That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights.

The making real of those words is an endless challenge, and one which involves all. Let’s celebrate that challenge tomorrow in whatever way we choose.

God bless the United States of America.