Friday, April 25, 2008

Final Days of Sun and Sand

Wednesday was a busy one. I finished shooting in Fort Myers Beach and made the two hour drive to have a bite to eat with my godfather and aunt. It was his birthday on Tuesday so I gave him a little present of Retsina.

After the meal and checking out the rooftop view of our restaurant, I made my way up the windy coast to Tarpon Springs. This city boasts the largest Greek population in the U.S. Prospering in the sponge diving and trade until a disease nearly wiped them out (the sponges, that is), Tarpon Springs has remained a center for Greek culture.

It's a good indication you are hitting the town when you see business with names like Koulianos, Kavouklis and Pappas. Many a white and blue-striped Greek flag flies and there is plenty shops serving souvlaki, dolmathes and Greek coffee.

My stop was an import shop that I had become familiar with via the internet. It had many of the cliche and tacky nic-nacs that tourists buy in visits to Greece, but some products that Greeks actually have interest in as well. I had to check out the soccer, music and movie sections. There was a friendly old woman minding the counter and I soon met the owner. He was in his late 30's and very smiley and interested in conversation. We went through the music section and explored the offering. There are many types of Greek music and I do what I can to remember them. Tsifteteli is one of my favs and big in Greece. It comes from Asia Minor and has a heavy Arabic and Turkish influence. The scales and modes give that heart-wrenching pull as can only be felt as you move from Greece and further east. Rembetika is an old form of resistance music, and was popular with those fleeing the Greek-Turk conflicts. Written in the 20's, these lyrics sing of much drugs (which was usually a precursor to performance), sex and counter-culture. Much of the popular music has a cheesey-pop feel, as viewed from our American pop perspective. But unmistakeable and undeniably Greek, is the Bazouki!!! The Greeks do a fabulous job of integrating this very Greek instrument (large, mandolin-ish) into all of their music. Techno and club has the wonderful instrument integrated into it as well! There is nothing more of an homage to Greek culture than this instrument. Long may it live!

Well, enough about the music. Let's just say we spent a good deal talking about it. I scoped out some tradtional Makedonian music, Tsifteteli and contemporary.

They had many Disney movies all in Greek. It was fun to see the covers.

We spoke also about the European styles of soccer and agreed that the British were the most fun to watch. We laughed about the Italians, always with long hair, shirts untucked and socks down to their shoes. Their style tends to be slower (especially by Germanic standards) and somewhat strategic, especially when it comes to drawing fauls! LOL. But they have won the World Cup four times and are phenomenal. Unlike most countries, most Italian players stay on Italian teams! On a funny note, he mentioned that in the airport in Italy there was a gigantic add with players from the national team, posing in nothing but their speedos. Viva Italia!

Basketball rivals soccer as the most popular Greek sport. He mentioned that Greece beat the U.S. in the last World Cup. I didn't know that!

So, yes, we talked on and on about many more things. It was exciting for us both, I think. He seemed to go on and on and I felt like I was doing the same.

Then it was a 3 hour drive to Tallahasse, slept in a cheap hotel and then woke for the 2.5 hour drive to Destin where I shot some cool properties. One view, was in the gorgeous, beach-front house. The view stunned me. From the rear porch, two colums framed the few down the dock, to the sand, to the chair and umbrella upon it and to the greenish ocean. Clouds accented the sky above. With my polarized sun glasses, I actually told the manager that that was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.But this place has a lot of the 'most beautifuls' and that is why people come here.

After some tacos and a sundae for dinner I walked around the planned city of Seaside. I've mentioned this place before and it is a town that has only sprung up recently. It's numblingly cool! The architecture is very boxy and has the two-tiered, southern porch design. Nothing is over two stories, and if you have a third level, it is a look-out/observation room. Just imagine a contempoary, clean take on my house front, doubled. I gazed in the solitude and looked up at the sharp, boxy architecture, set against popcorn clouds in the dusk sky.

I floated down the cobblestone (paver) streets and felt like a disembodied ghost, floating down their streets and looking from side to side in complete rapture. It feels somewhat as it does when you walk through Colonial Williambsburg with no one there. You see all of the cool architecture, which has many similarities, but you also start to see all of the individual accents. If you had an architecture degree, money and time, you would build the things you will see in Seaside and Watercolor.

Before I head back, I crossed the busier main drag, passed under the sleak wooden pyramid which was the gateway to the beach. The stars were up and I was alone with the white sand beneath my feet and waves gracing the shoreline. I looked up at the constellations and begin to get lost when you start to see the southern hemisphere. My phone called up the chart and I got my bearing again. Hello again, to the other side of the world. Puppis, Pyxis, Antila & Vila. Haven't seen you since New Zealand!

Today's shoots brought me to beachfront towers in Panama City Beach and rental houses throughout the coast. Whilst the last shoot was dragged out due to mis-communication my work had with the manager, I was eventually on my way. At least I got to explore these wonderful houses, that are all along this glorious coast. I will continue to encourage people to visit this beautiful area. Sigh.

After my shoot, I was looking forward to making the most of my last stay in what has become my favorite area of Florida. How lucky I am to complete my trip in the Destin region. As a friend put it, perhaps it's 'Destin-y.' Har-har! I was going to head back to Alys Beach, that Greek-styled town that was white, new, spacious and open to the sky and sea. I drove back to an area under construction, but devoid of people. I parked my car, walked across the 30x30 patch of golf-course like grass, up the wooden stairs, continuing across the level deck, and down the stairs into heaven. In front of me was the sea, 4 sets of beach umbrellas and chairs, the white sands and the emerald waves hitting them. All to myself.

No one was around! The sun shone and waves hit. I put my belongings on at little table beneath the table and danced into the sea. From afar you would have seen what you thought was a child playing in the sea. But as your drew closer you would think, 'that guy must be drunk!' I teased the waves by running into them, jumping over them and laughing at them. Their power would make me wobble as I waded through them. You could feel where the sand had eroded beneath your feet and also why they broke so hard there. I grabbed my camera and got pretended it was as waterproof as I, attempting to get a good wave shot. It was nailed by a wave or two and I thought it best to put it down. This time I crashed into the waves and swam out into them. I wanted to feel the power of the undertoe and my curiosity was sated. It was strong, but I kept myself safe. On the morrow I wished to be tending to my garden at home and not the one below!

It was difficult to drag myself away. Even a few mouthfulls of salty seawater hadn't discouraged my zeal. Perhaps next time I would have someone to share a cool wave with. But by myself I can be as silly as I wish. Stop for a moment to watch the tiny bi-valves, wash up in a wave and burrow themselves into the sands in a blink of an eye, then take a scoop of wet, white sand and throw it into the sea, and then run into the crash of a big green wave. The Emerald Coast.

Night saw some sushi in Seaside. I ordered eel sashimi (means raw), blue crab rolls and seaweed salad. They cheated with the eel by putting BBQ sauce on it. The rolls were good. You usually get the customary soy sauce, shaved pickled ginger and wasabe (horseradish stuff). You should take the wasabe and mix it into the soy, making it as spicy as you'd like. It's good to take the ginger, put it on the sushi, and dip it into the soy and pop the whole thing in your mouth with chopsticks. Or you can uses that ginger as a refreshing cleanser. Whatever you like. (There was the occasional Blackhawk or Raptor which flew overhead too!)

To me, Asian food offers the most complexity of tastes - which makes it my favorite. Like having an intellectual conversation, stimulating your senses in so many a way, but often leaving you wishing you had more. French and Italian food seems to be more similar to anomorous rapture, leaving you with a warm smile and need for a wonderful nap.

This Florida assignment is coming to and end. I will be returning relatively soon. But as with all assignments, I find out when I'm told.

I will miss parts of this routine, but mostly, some parts of the unique state. I've covered details enough, but the Emerald Coast will continue to hold a special memory for me.

Oh yes, a word to all those good people... As I've said before, I have but myself as my constant companion. So, the correspondence with others does help to break the monotony of those with myself. Don't get my wrong, I've chosen the solo path I lead, but the companionship from afar is very much appreciated. I am blessed to have such good friends and family that take the time and make the days I wee bit less lonely! True friendship and support. I want to let you know that it means a great deal and will speaking with all such people very soon!

Cheers, and I hope your daily travels treat you well! Ciao!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Battle of Leyte Gulf (Quick note to Grampa)

The Battle of Leyte Gulf is considered the largest naval battle in history. It was probably the very last, as we have moved to the era of jet fighters and the guided missle cruiser. Being that my Grandfather's battleship, the U.S.S. California, played a major role at Surigao, I thought I'd mention that the History Channel is covering it in some detail Friday. I don't know how good the show is but might be worth the watch. It's on the History Channel, Friday at 9pm. Here is a link for the show. Click on THIS. Hopefully they show some 40mm (click HERE to hear the sound of them) and 14-inch gun action-your former jobs. See you soon Grampa! Time to hit the road..

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

There is A Lot of Sun in Florida

Today I was cruising around Marco Island in a white Porsce Carerra, top down and soaking up the Florida sun. Well, it wasn't my car nor was I the one driving. The property manager was bringing me to the different properties. To make things a little more humorous, she turns to me and asks, "Do you like Jimmy Buffet?"

To end the shoot we stopped at a house that was one of the more remarkable I've seen. It was single-level, but spacious and had many doors which opened out into the pool area, covered by a great big screen canopy. Just outside was the access channel to the ocean. You could take off in your boat after a nice swim in your pool. You'd be down to Key West in about three hours. The place would run you $3,500 for a week, but I've seen one condo go for that much in Vail for one night's stay.

Next I was off to Naples for a shoot in a golfing community. I really had an urge for a donut and coffee. To my extreme great pleasure I found a little French Bakery. It was run by a husband and wife. She was from Norway, he was from Provence. It was tough to choose, with so many wonderful French pastries, tarts and breads. I ate a light cheese and egg roll, apricot tart and coffee. The tart was cut like a piece of pie and had thick pieces of fresh apricot baked right into it. Oh, man it was delish! After finishing my coffee I walked to my car and was feeling so rejuvinated I just had to walk with my arms straight up in the air!

I've discovered some more things about much of Florida. Many people come from the north and stay. They say that the weather takes a little bit to get used to. After awhile, they say you get so used to it that ten degrees of temperature difference makes them shudder. That is why you'll find people from the likes of such places as New York or Massachusetts who can no longer imagine moving back. Just thinking about winter makes them cringe.

Times have been tough down here. This year was one of the worst for the rental/resort business. Luckily, spring break pulled them out of their hole. Some housekeepers have told me that they are short of staff. Places that would require two people to clean now are cleaned by one.

Squirrels are a rareity here. Even people that were used to seeing them up north will point and shout, "Squirrel!" Some kids are scared of them.

This season has incredible weather every day. On the coast, you have an awesome sunset or sunrise every day. People congregate near the beaches, become quiet and just let the sun ease itself into bed.


On my way to Naples I took advantage of a brand new iPhone web application called Fly Tunes. This allows you to listen to internet radio and select a variety of stations. I plugged my phone into the car and tuned into some nice Baroque. I tell you it was nice, cruising along into the beautiful day with some pieces written for recorder and harpsicord, classical guitar, violin and the like.

I dealt with some pretty cool women at my next shoot. The resort sat between golf courses called Mustang, designed by Lee Trevino and Pelican, by Arthur Hills. I rode in the rear seat, facing backwards as I was driven around by the two very amiable and jovial sales managers. The last person to stay in one of the rooms I shot was John McEnroe.

As much as I've dissed Fort Myer's, the place I am currently staying in is very cool. It's got a great view of the ocean from my fourth story perch.

I plan on packing a lot into tomorrow. The morning will start with a shoot and then I take the two-or-so hour drive to St. Pete's Beach to have lunch with my Godfather and aunt. I'm looking forward to seeing them. Then I plan on heading to Tarpon Springs! I'm really excited to soak up as much of the Greek town as possible. Then I'll head on up to stay in Tallahassee. I plan on finishing the drive to Destin the next day, in time for my shoot.

More good weather back home. That's cool! I've devoted myself to soak up as many walks and runs on the beaches that I can. It's important to be mindful of the beauty around you. I'll give a 'Yasas' to Tarpon for everyone!

My Environmental Pulpit (In Honor of Earth Day)

As people turn their attention to what they can do for the environment, I highlight a few things we all can do.

Try to stop drinking bottled water. In America, we have access to drinkable water right from the spigot of our kitchen sink. Instead, we have bought into the belief that bottled water is somehow better and safer. Public water has a history of being highly scrutinized and therefor a longer history of alarmist reports against it. Is a person's knowledge of the bottled water they are drinking that which gives them the belief it is safe or the scrutiny of the public water sources?

In a time when water is the scare for most of the humans on earth and drinking polluted water one of the leading causes of death for those with no easy access to drinkable water, we may not want to be so casual in our own consumption If you have concerns about that water you drink, invest in a water filtration system (PUR, etc.) Bottled water companies are concerned about making profits not necessarily providing people better water. If you'd like, fill up some bottles from your own filtered water.

Try to consume less. The next time you go to Target, walk out with what you intended to get. It's often fun, and comforting, to buy things. But to truly reduce your global footprint, we can try living more simply. It's important to keep that economy going but might be more important to ween the monster of consumption.

Occasionally, spend time and money on organic, free-trade and locally-grown products. Let's face it, it's nice to buy things cheap than spend money you don't got on basic stuff. But when you think of the diesel fuel that went into bringing some, fat, tasteless and mutated strawberry 1,000 miles to mold in your fridge, you start to see things in a different light. Think about the packaging and preservatives on top of that! Hmm, if I go to the farmer's market or the whole foods co-op, that money is going to the people instead of some big corporation. I'm getting something healthy and great tasting and it's lessening my damage of the planet. Cool! Yes, fair trade means that it probably comes from a big ship that took lotsa fuel to get here, but you are probably giving that money to the actual farmer. In many parts of the world, it's the power monger who has control of the resource of that land and the rest of population becomes a serf. (Look at Russia, Africa, S. America.) So, by buying fair trade, you are usually supporting environmentally friendly processes (how they grow, harvest) and also supporting basic human rights. Sweet!

People have their own ideas and their own ways of living and we are all environmental usurpers in one way or another. What more can we do than give it a good try?

Yahoo has a fun link:

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Wasting Away Again in Margueritaville

The Keys were in true form as I eased up northward. Great puffs of white clouds drifted on the bluest of blues. Once you clear the islands (there are about 2,000 of them) you enter out onto bridges which sometimes arc upwards and downwards or become straight causeways. You look out to your left or to your right and you have the flat green and dark blue ocean. There are usually fishing boats cruising around the water and the occasional helicopter or little white blimps floating in the sky. I stopped for a brief video spot and then kept going. I was heading to Sanibel Island for a one-night stay and shoot, I would have to figure out some other lodging for the following night.

You took a bridge which dropped onto the island. The route was already slowly-moving, bumper-to-bumper traffic giving me a “here we go again” frame of mind. But cruising in the car is actually pretty cool. On the island, scores of families bicycled on adjacent bike paths, proving to be another means of retarding car traffic.

The main stretch of the island had pricey restaurants, but there was a DQ and a place that sold hot dogs!

Having been in a more bummer mood, I took myself out on a run along the coastline. The beach was covered with shells and a late afternoon tide. Birds were on the prowl with beaks and people with buckets. I was wondering what people were collecting and stopped during my cool-down sea shell hunt to ask a couple of older ladies. In a very friendly and southern tongue they mentioned they were looking for shells and sand dollars for Christmas ornaments, and explained how they use them. They also mentioned that they heard some people hunt for scollops (scallops) to eat.

The restaurants were busy and a needed something healthier than a hot dog. I did the obligatory stint at the bar, as I thought I’d leave the tables for peoples. When solo, you often find yourself seated at a bar. Generally, with the exception of a pub, or if I wanted to get sauced with locals, I really don’t like sitting at the bar. The underneaths of your forearms adhere to the stickiness of the bar and your elbows begin to hurt. There is usually more noise, like this night, which saw an acoustic guitar dude signing Dave Matthew and the like. I wanted nothing more than to be away from people. I have been steeped in tourists for the past many weeks and wanted to clear my thoughts. The medicine of my run was gone and the long drive to a mirror of everywhere else had brought me back to what I had left.

When you are by yourself you end up watching things on TV that you normally never would. It’s similar to being on a plane. One part captive audience, one part nothing else to do, and another part thankful for a distraction. I’ve watched some films and parts and some in their entirety. The TV has had What Women Want (Mel Gibson), Hot Chick (SNL’s Rob Schneider), Harry Potter Part something-or-other, and other films that I would not have paid to see but glad I saw them. These are usually in the hours right before sleep. I’ve watched the Wild on Versus and its been hard to get to sleep with the intensity that watching hockey brings out in you. They are a team that makes you proud, but frustrated.

During my shoot I ran into a family that was checking into a room I was shooting prematurely. No big deal. I asked where they were from. They were from Massachusettes.

As I left the island I gassed up the car at a station. The cars in the lot had license plates from Connecticut, Massachusettes and Michigan. When I hit the road, I stared at this truck with a dad and his son in it. I thought to myself “They got to be from here.” I looked down to see a license plate from Connecticut.

I stayed at a Red Roof in Naples. Compare this $60 a night to the places I’ve been in. I’m just as content. Besides, I usually get to park right next to my room. This becomes much easier to load and unload all my gear. This one in particular had an IHOP right next store. How nice it was to have a burger!

Naples is a spread-out city. The upscale drag had a nouveau-Italian look to their building fascades. Pubs, art galleries and lots of Italian restaurants. It got its name more as a selling point than heredity. As I got in my car to leave my look-around, I saw a palm with ‘Makedonia Greek.’ I thought to myself “Awesome,” until I realized its political overtones. I’ll spare you the geo-politics.

Well, I’m still trying to find a beautiful nuances of each place. I am conscious that it is tinted with my tired eye. It is important for anyone that reads this to keep in mind that I take these things in on the go. For example, the majority of my coverage of Key West was done on a day of two plus hours of driving and two video shoots (a day’s worth of shoots). So, walking over five miles on top of that, through masses of tourists and the like, does not give me a totally objective view. You’ll have to pardon the synicism.

The general demographics is not too surprising. Below Daytona the population is predominately Caucasian. You don’t have the African-American representation that you normally see in the south. There is a very strong Latin population, mostly seen in the service industry. The Asian population is very sparse and the Native population is somewhat represented. In most these here parts the tourist, service-industry abounds. So, you find a job doing that, being that or you go elsewhere. There are homeless. It was most visible in the Keys where they were sleeping in the parks and anywhere else that was remotely comfortable. I saw one poor man with diabetic legs, puffed and swollen to the point of rupture.

There are plenty of flip-flop sandal-wearers here. Plaid shorts and polos are popular too. A lot of guys have the unwashed, pony-tail hair and there are plenty of woman with leathered skin. For spring break gawkers there are plenty of chances to see chicks and dudes with as much skin bared to the sun as possible, and glassy-eyed from booze. (Though this mainly pertains to areas like Panama City Beach, Daytona Beach, etc.) Instead of being appealing, I find it quite the opposite. It’s like in the hot dogs at the gas station. You know the ones that have been on the cooking rollers for far too long. They have past their edible state long ago and now just ooze in their greased skins.

A run and a swim in the ocean. I swim out and lay back on the naturally-buoyant saltwater. Trying to keep my toes up I let the waves bring me back into the shallows. There wasn’t much to see with my mask and snorkel. I will say this part of Fort Meyers is better than the previous!

OK, so I plan to get my shoots in and get ‘er done! I heard tell my Godfather is going to be in the region and hope to connect with him. Although it may have to occur on my northward drive day, I thought a good idea might be to meet in Tarpon Springs! I’ll be damned if I see this entire state and don’t spend time visiting one of the largest Greek communities in the Western Hemisphere! We’ll look into that.

I’m glad that back home finally got some nice weather. Every day here is in the 70’s and 80’s. The sun shines and the clouds are of the cottony, billowy kind. You see palm trees everywhere and the picturesque ocean. At night you can keep the sliding doors completely open and sleep to the relaxing sounds of waves and the wind in the palms. It is beautiful. But, like too much strawberry milk, such a thing loses its savor when it is ceaseless. It might make sense to get as much of it as I can take before I return home!

I hope this week brings you beautiful weather and happy birds. Be sure you listen to them! They are most alive now! I’m looking forward to their song!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Little Sergeant Major

Let's just say I wasn't the one doing the puking this time! I showed up at the dive center bright and early. The man behind the counter said I must not have been contacted and that they were scratching the morning dive due to wind. They would be taking an afternoon dive if the winds settled and asked if I would be interested. This kind of monopolized my day. Not much would be achieved other than a dive.

On the way back I took some shots of Hemingway's old address, where he wrote 'Farewel to Arms.' I then returned to my place and did business stuff.

Sunny skies and winds subsiding. We shot out into the green water. My companions were from Connecticut and New Hampshire. Do you see a theme developing down here? The chop was not all that bad but some people were queasy. Our tanks were ready and the stop was made. We had been given the ten minute warning earlier and so got into our dive suits. My Akona 7mm has been perfect for the waters down here and perfect the cold waters up there! We strapped on our BC's and did the step out off of the back of the boat. When entering, it's always good to place one had over your face mask and regulator and the other securing any free dive computer and regulators. Kerplunk!

They told me that the instructors would stay with the less experienced and that me and this Jim guy would be partners and could do our thing. Awesome. It's fun to lead! We dropped down and were on our way. Let's go.

We were diving a mere 25 feet. Nice, shallow and so stress free! We made our way into a maze of coral. It was very much like going down grocery ailes at Cub. Only instead of cereal boxes there were shelves of coral, fishies, sponges and all sorts of stuff. There were lots of yellow rimmed Yellowtail snapper that swim all around and love to feed upon people's vomit. There were palm-sized Sergeant Majors, black and yellow striped, always inquisitive and look as though they want to know, "What's going on? What's going on?" There was the occasional, very thin Trumpetfish, big-eyed Mahogany snapper, Stoplight parrotfish, Four-eyed Butterflyfish, and a spiny lobster or two, receding for cover, butt first. It was great fun to slowly kick fin into a row, with the sides of it at least eight feet high on either side. Sometimes there would be a narrow channel and you could float through it with barely a foot to spare on either side. You could look in a crevice and see schools of fish hiding from danger. That first venture was especially nice because, save for my partner, we were completely alone.

As I dropped into another row I saw a five-foot nurse shark about a person's-length to my left. I did not want to create any Steve Irwin incident so gave him his space but watched as he moved from our invasion. There were also big Gray and Blue Angelfish, Barracuda and most scary to me, Grouper. They were harmless, and just sat near the bottom gazing up at you. It was their size, awareness of you and glug, glug of their mouths that made me interested.

I had the munchies when we came back aboard and ate some orange slices, an apple and some pretzels. I lost my partner due to puking (he had to surface once during our dive to do so.) A former Puerto Rican joked that he needed to have a mojito! I joined up with one of the young divemasters and some crotchity guy. This time we took the boat into what they called the 'hay stacks.' Coral in that respective size and shape stood on the ocean floor. I followed this guy's lead as he took us into the too shallow area and the swell of the sea pushed us forward and pulled us back. It was further compounded by the fact that we were going inbetween coral slits. You had to even use your arms to fight the swell. The other guy kept floating to the surface and you had to fight to stay under, being in the variance of the 1 atmospheric pressure range. It was kind of obnoxious. Let me lead dude!

Well, that was the dive. One frustrating thing was when the captain saw my camera and said that will get seawater on it. I took it back to the car. Dang it! I could have brought that with no issues. But are you going to contradict the captain's wishes? No way! One cool part was that we were near the air base. Jet after jet after jet took off and landed. Even during the captain's briefing he had to pause once or twice while an F-18 came in for a landing. It was actually pretty sweet to hear and see so many jets. You hear about our jets being up in the air continually. Here, it really comes across.

Back to 'A Taste of Greece' I went. I ate some chicken souvlaki, a Greek salad and some baklava. Oh, yeah, and a Retsina.

My last eve in Key West. I've got a chance to experience some of the Cuban culture, Duvall Street, the southernmost point, the Sunset Celebration, coral diving, and the wildlife. This morning I walked to my car to find an enormous pile of turkey poop all over the rear window of my car. Just moments ago a guy walking his dogs and letting them crap right on the sidewalk (pick up your dog's crap!) says to me, "Look's like you parked underneath a tree! It happens, bra!" So, um, yeah, the roosters. I heard that they don't know what time morning is and they start their noise at 2:30am. This morning I awoke to their sqwak. The time? 2:40am.

Gay culture is another big thing down here. While I didn't bump into the more notable gay quarter I did have a chance to talk to some of the leaders of the gay community. They worry that people think it's not as Gay down here as it used to be. I argued the point that it's because it is become a part of the mainstream. They agreed but also had concerns about that. When I asked them about tensions between the lesbian and gay community, the chairperson seemed to think it was totally inclusive. From the looks of things, I'd say the Gay crowd is much more populous than the lesbian, which would make sense. You are attracted to a place that meets your interests and your needs. I would say this place has more to meet the gay male needs. I had to chuckle as I overheard one gay couple talking over dinner about a show, "well it's sexy and silly!" He he! I'm happy they are happy here. I, however, am thinking about that damn turkey crap on my car!

Now it's time for a brief smoke of the pipe on the second story porch of my place. My scuba gear is rinsed and drying and the Wild game is on the net radio (Versus has the Capitol's game). Now is the time for Gaborik to shine!

It's about a six hour drive tomorrow, so I should shove off and give myself some time. Although I'm not looking forward to heading back to my least favorite part of Florida, Fort Myers, I get to end in my favorite, the Emerald Coast. Ultimately, it means I'm heading home.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cayo Hueso

After shooting the Hollywood Crowne Plaza I shot southward towards the keys. The highway was stop and go due to a diversion, so I to the chance to get some food and gas.

As fate would have it, the station was right next to a Mediterranean restaurant and so I was excited! I got some tabouleh (salad) and shish taouk (chicken pita). The chicken was a bit raw but I wolfed it down. Afterwards, the Middle Eastern girl working there brought out some fried pita, sprinkled with brown sugar and said “have some of this.” With the lemony-white dipping sauce it wasn’t half-bad. I finished this all with a Greek, er, Turkish, er, Arabian coffee. Let’s be fair, it should be called Arabian coffee. After all, that is where the coffee migrated to first and was prepared in that fashion, first! Italian trading brought it to Europe and Turkish occupation brought it to its former occupied territories, including Greece. The Greeks stopped calling it Turkish coffee after the invasion of Cyprus. So, even though it’s probably best to ask for Greek coffee in a Greek restaurant and Turkish in others, it’s the most correct to call it Arabian. But what about Ethiopian! Isn’t that where coffee came from? Ah, er, perhaps you’re right.

So, what is it? Most of you probably have had it and know. But it’s essentially coffee ground to powder and boiled in water and sweetened. The result is something that doesn’t even taste like coffee to me. It tastes more like black honey! And at the end of a really good cup, the more tar you will find resting in the bottom of that tiny cup! Americans are the ones who watered it down into the thin stuff it is now.

Down to Cheeca Lodge and Spa. Man, oh, man, what a place! After being greeted by valets (I asked to park it myself) you walk through the court yard and into main building. It has 3 restaurants, which open up into the open-air seating which is covered with a newly thatched roof. Like is common down here, there is the typical pool and tiki bar. It has an activity hut with an assortment of white boards with activities and times for snorkel, fishing and eco trips. There are kayaks to use at your whim and benches and cloth tents all along the daily-raked beach.

When I got there I decided that I am going to be a guest and take advantage of what was there. Seeing the shore lined with open topped kayaks, I hopped in a Perception Mona Kai and paddled out into the green water. It was very sunny and a generally gorgeous day. There would be the occasional school of fish jumping out of the water in unison, a sure sign that something like a barracuda was pursuing them. The water was so warm, being only about four feet deep. In this water turtles and sharks swam freely. When you looked back to the property you would see the strategically planted palms and daily manicured sands. It was beautiful, in its own, resort-type way.

That night I ordered some food, which was fine and expensive, surprise, surprise. I heard complaints come from at least three different tables about service, food or why someone was seated before them. Piles of affluent children hung on their parents and wine was sniffed and poured. Afro-caribbeans waited on the Caucasian crowd and I spoiled myself with a piece of key lime pie. I sat and thought about slavery, astronomy, politics and the Wild game that was soon to start. After paying, I laid for a moment on a padded beach chair. The top of a palm stood next to the moon. Leo was high overhead. Auriga was setting. I'd rather say farewell to this winter constellation in St. Paul.

That Wild game ran especially late out here! Making for a little more drowsy of a morning, I still got my shots, although the sun was playing hide and seek and the day would be one of the colder ones here.

I head to Marathon. Not having success in finding a fly fishing comp, I fell back on a site I was personally more interested in - the Sea Turtle Hospital! Having been there years ago it had stuck in my memory as a wonderful place. A non-profit hospital and recovery station for sea turtles. Converted from a hotel destroyed in a hurricane the hospital takes care of around 100 turtles a year. These poor guys are gashed by propeller blades, have limbs sawed off by fishing line, ingest man-made plastics, hooks and the like and also have natural injuries from sharks. The director took me around and did a fabulous job in front of the camera! He highlighted certain turtles, pointed to the injuries on their carapaces, heads and fins, showed x-rays and explained concerns and all-around created a perfect piece. Man, if I could just shoot stuff like this, along the educational, non-profit, realm... I'll have to shoot a few more properties before that. But we shall see!

The main drag of Marathon seemed like a more populated version of a dessert road. Many shops were weathered and no longer in business. Even the IHOP had not a single car in the parking lot. It’s is doing well, I think, but it just appears sad to me. I stopped at one of the few places that was not a marina-bar-restaurant (I’m beginning to cringe at them.) That, which seemed like a biker’s diner, still hadn’t a dish under $17. So, I grabbed a bowl of chowder and then hit the Winn Dixie (the main grocery store down here) for some oranges and Gatorade. It was tough to get to sleep, hoping the Wild would recover.

Morning saw another shoot. The highlight was whilst taking yet another shot from a tiki bar. From the corner of my eye I could tell a large figure was slowly edging over to me, looking at me and over my shoulder, so-to-speak. Sometimes, when in a rush, I find this annoying. But I looked up, friendly-like, to see an air conditioning serviceman saying, ‘that’s a nice camera!’ What a joy it was to find a southerner! He was from Arkansas. I shut off my camera and we had a good chat about gravity furnaces, lemon sharks, our respective states and family. His demeanor made me wish I was in the north of Florida again. Such a genuine and nice guy and a wonderful retreat from the New England blue bloods down here! Here's to Dana Air Conditioning Service.

Down to Key West! I drove over 7-mile bridge, talking with yet another new property shoot on my phone and writing down details on my legal pad. They are closing the enter bridge for a few hours Saturday. It is good that I’ll be heading north on Friday! I also passed the Pigeon Key haunted research island that I had been on year's ago. You can see it to your right.

Before I hit my next appointment, I ate at IHOP and got a haircut. Boy, the woman spent the most time anyone has spent on my disappearing hair! Hearing the Village People playing in the background and noticing that my eyebrows were being trimmed, I thought, ‘Yeah, I’m in Key West alright!’

Next to my next appointment I found a Greek café!!! I swung in and took a peek. It felt nice. Greek music was playing, a menu was packed of American-Greek food and there was a beverage section. I searched for Retsina and only saw big bottles. A girl came over and showed me the regular ones, tucked behind the others. I brought them to the counter and the old Greek woman gave me the suspicious-old-Greek-woman glance. I have gotten this before, in Greece. She looked at the bottles and asked, “Are you Greek!?” I answered cautiously in the positive. She pointed to the bottles and boasted, “This is the best Retsina!” As I was buying them she asked, in a suspicious tone, where my family was from. I mentioned Kipseli and she shrunk her face in non-recognition. “Near Kastoria, by the village of Nike.” (I know I pronounced these right, at least! kastoriA! Niki!) She said told me where she was from, “Veria,” in very quick Greek. I asked, ‘Is that closer to Thessolaniki?’ She slapped the map right behind her, ‘Kastoria is here,’ SLAP, ‘Veria is here,’ SLAP. (Yes it was closer to Thessolanki!) I talked a little bit more and I said I would be returning. My limited customary Greek failed me and I did not attempt it. In fact, my French is the only thing I’ve been able to keep going in stressful times. Like in Albania when they singled me out into the headquarters and it was just me and a bunch Albanian police with Koloshnikovs. They knew no English (which was common), some knew French. I gave them my $20 bribe and was on my way. Sometimes it’s much better to do that and be on your way than to be detained in such a place

Anyhoo, if I’ve the time, I want to do a little segment at the Greek restaurant. That would be great!

The property I shot was decorated as contemporarily tasteful a place could be and I found it intimidating that the owner was paying close attention to my shots.

OK, Key West. The architecture is very southern, with two-story porches and green growth everywhere. Palms are packed into every yard and there’s a lot of historical homes and iron fences. Houses are in all sorts of states, as you see in the house, but rich properties abound. Parked cars line both sides of the street and there is room for but one car driving down a street at a time. At a stop sign you stop about ten feet back as to allow a turning car approaching you, a place to turn.

Feral roosters are everywhere. They cockle-doodle-doo ( I think it’s more like ‘ur-ur-ur-urrrrr’) at all hours. All hours. Traffic stops for them. They live under abandoned houses and sleep in trees. Feral cats abound. They are on stoops everywhere. People leave food out for them on the sidewalks and throw it to them at restaurants. The cats and roosters live in harmony with one another.

Scooters are everywhere as well. You can rent them, along with bicycles. It makes sense in such a tightly packed place.

The main drag is called Duval Street. On it you will find ice cream shops, art galleries and restaurants. At one end, one block over, you will find a big, striped, concrete marker which denotes the southernmost point in the continental US. People wait in line to take a picture with it. I walked to the other side to do a bit for the camera. The minute I did so, a mass of people thought that looked like a good idea and so followed me. Oh well. Behind it is an iron fence, beyond which you can see military dishes and arrays. Off the coast you can see fighter jets patrolling.

If you walk Duvall street down to the other end, you will find the location of the Sunset Celebration. I head that way in order to film it. Walking down that way, about two hours from sunset, the drag began to feel like another version of Bourbon Street. Throngs of people begin to flow to seek out attractions. Mediocre music from mediocre bands filters out to the street. A guy started a conversation with me. I asked a guy where he was from and he said Connecticut. I mentioned how there seems to be a lot of New Englanders down here. “That’s cawse we got all the money,” he gaffawed.

I ate at a great Cuban place called Pepe’s House (in Spanish, of course.) I had a mojito, which is a must down here! It is a drink that comes from Cuba and has rum, lime juice, mint leaves, water and sugar in it. In other words, it’s a more drinkable version of grog. You see, grog was what they served sailers way back when. Alcohol kills bacteria and lime provided vitamin C which prevented scurvy. From this originated the term the derogatory ‘Limey’ for Brits who implemented the use of citrus to fight scurvy, etc.

I ordered, chicken, yellow rice, black beans and yucca. The Yucca was similar to a potato, but with sinewy strands that you had to pull out. It was very tasty! The black beans were, very black and tasted like coffee. The chicken was covered in a great white, mushroom sauce but the chicken itself was a bit dry. Before this they had served up warm buttered bread and crackers and two types of salsa, one of which had a great kick to it. We were in an outdoor brick patio, recessed and surrounded by trees. Pigeons flew from tree to tree overhead and were mating with each other (first time I've seen that), roosters pecked at the ground and then found their bed for the night in the trees overhead, and cats came out and stared expectingly at customers for food. The rum and food cheered me, as did the Cuban music coming from a duo around the corner.

I finished and sat on a bench near the performers. They began a meringue and I smiled and filmed the band and a couple as they danced. The waiters and waitresses stopped what they were doing and began to meringue. I teared-up cause these people were truly happy and living who they were.

The sun was setting and performers came out. Along the railing performers were spaced about 20 feet from one another and surrounded by crowds. There were jugglers, glass walkers, comedians and musicians. I filmed them for a bit. Out in the harbor great sail ships were going back and forth before the sun. The whole atmosphere had an energy that made me catch my breath.

I heard pipers piping. Yes, sure enough, at the end of the performer row, two bag pipers were playing. I completed my moment there. Keeping my mic on to record the pipes, filming pipers fingering, bellows,sporrans, people’s expressions, sail ships, sun and such, it was a special time. They did the traditional Amazing Grace, which I normally can’t stand, though love the pipes. This time, however, I got quite choked up. With pipes playing, the sun setting and the occasional person crying. The ships were sailing to the Grey Havens. I wrestled back my own tears and finished my night.

Tomorrow is diving in the Keys. Will I keep my food down? Or shall the beans and yucca flow? Perhaps I should have bought something to take. I still want to see if this nausea is an occasional thing. After all, if Charles Darwin had to manage his own extreme sea-sickness during the entire voyage of the Beagle, I should be able to handle it for a half-day journey! What will this new day bring?

I’ll continue to send you all good thoughts as I always do.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Drift Diving and Film Festivals

Perhaps eating fish n' grits before scuba diving wasn't such a good idea.

Being that my next shoot is in Hollywood and I've heard tell that the best diving in Florida is off the coast of Jupiter and Palm Beach, I made diving reservations. As normal I had head out early to be in the area with plenty of time to prepare. I ate my fish n' grits out on the dock in a little wooden booth that had a canopy and sat on a sliding rocker mechanism. Once done, I got myself some canned pineapple and a beverage at a local store. A diveshop owner had told me that after a dive, pineapple mixes with the sea salt on your lips for a tasty treat. I thought I would experiment.

I showed up at the dock to discover the dive boat fully loaded with folks, gear and engines chugging. I was a little surprised and confirmed that departure time was 1:30, and it was. It was 1pm but people had got there early. The dive leader told me that I was right on time and to drop my gear and find another place to park. I'll spare you the story of regular coastal parking fun. Man, I hate rushing! I completely emptied my canvas sack of all my clothes and threw in my gear.

We pushed off. The crowd was a good cross-section of the folk that you find in Florida. People were from Connecticut, New York, Illinois and Ohio. When you ask someone in Florida "are you from Florida?," people usually respond with "Yep!" but then continue by saying that they were originally from this place or that place. This place and that place usually ends up being New York, Connecticut or Massacusetts. People have the thick east coast tongue, brashness, but are usually upfront and friendly. Go south of Daytona and the demographics change quite a bit.

The pitching of the boat got me queasy. The worst rolling I've experienced had to be in New Zealand. There I managed to fight it off until the return trip. Next, would have to be Lake Superior. There were times on that trip that the boat was actually adrift and see-sawing fiercly. But on Superior, I did not have queasiness get to me. As normal I chose not to take anything for motion sickness. For this diving trip, I could have used it.

We were going to do a drift drive. The lead diver holds a float flag and lets the current carry him along. The boat tracks the flag and picks up the divers when they surface. The rule with drift diving is that the group stays with the guy with float. If you are not with him, you are lost. We exited the boat and waited for the group to gather. Some people had some equipment troubles and remained on the boat or surface, the leader descended, the guy with the spear gun descended and then the guy with the video camera did the same. I knew it best to stay with someone and so I joined the cameraman in a search for the leader. Let's just say we fell into the 'lost' category. But the current flows in one direction and so we would make our way.

We dropped into near zero visibility. At about 60 feet the floor of the ocean could be seen. How can you describe the reef? Well, imagine that you gave a bunch of little children some playdough in a wide rainbow of colors. Blue, purple, green, pink and every other color you could imagine. Then give them some wire mesh, twist ties, jell-o and the molds to go with them. Leave them alone for a day or two and then, presto! What you see is the most rediculous extraterrestrial scene you could possibly imagine!

When you cast your eyes back and forth you'll see the occasional fish and the wildest assortment of undescernable forms on the bottom. Then you allow yourself to scan the bottom as you drift around. You see shapes in the form of giant vases, deflated basketballs, green Cheetos sculptures, minature trees, ripped-out seat cushions, feather dusters, empty kalamata olives, thin feather boa plants. Most of the time, the structures are unending and you would serve to deface the sanctitude of this place by putting a fin down.

During that first dive, the fish were spectacular. Groups of matchbook sized, little blue fish, flattened blue and yellow-nosed fish the size of frying pans, elongated ones the diameter and length of broom handles and any other variety you could imagine. My partner and I also saw a spotted morey eel and, most special, a loggerhead turtle swimming onwards. We were also acosted by a perpetually curious Remora. A Remora is a shark-looking fish, gray and white, that is about an arm in length. What I noticed first were slat-like structures atop its flat nose. These slats perform a suction which make it adhere to things like sharks and rays. It then feeds on the scraps which fall from the feeding animal's mouth. Well, this guy was very curious. He kept following us and my partner kept swatting at him to keep him at bay. I liked the fact he stayed with us.

At one point we descended into a little cove with a sandy bottom. What I thought about was how much like this resembled a place I would stop in the woods. A V-shaped indentation into the side of a hill with all sorts of secret growing things in the crevaces.

It was when we surfaced, got on the boat and prepared for the next dive that I got much more queasy. It might sound weird, but one dive is usually enough for me. I've sated those inquisitve tendencies and am now ready to chill or go do something else. Maybe its the puke-i-ness talking or sensational fatique, I am just ready to go. But we got ready again and as we were about to jump in again, I excused myself for a moment, removed my bc and puked over the side. The New Yorker said he saw that shrimp n' grits on the menu and it just didn't sound right. Well, it did to me and tasted great! The first time, that is.

As we were getting ready for the next dive people started talking about their decompression time and when they would be ready for the next dive. I looked at my computer and cursed myself for forgetting about that. I have done such shallow dives that it really didn’t matter how frequent you were in and out. But at these depths, you should be mindful of how long you are down and how long you need to acclimate your body to the pressure. I stared at my dive computer with the same mind-numbing and lost state that I used to get while calculating my THACO in Dungeons and Dragons. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t get it or could not calculate it, it was more that under pressure, calculations make me feel like a lost student in a classroom. Everyone gets it but me! It’s nice to have folks like Craig and Rob help you in times like that.

For our second dive we were all grouped together. The guy in front had a spear gun. There didn't seem to be nearly as many fish this time. I was fine with that fact as any fish of reasonable size soon had a spear sticking out of it. That served as a bit contradiction for me. To see a gentle, sometimes curious little creature swimming along and then, wammo! The fish is now impaled and thrashing around. It would be just like going to the candle part of church, where everyone lights a little candle and places it in the sand in order to offer up prayers to those in need. Then some chucklehead comes along and starts slapping out all the little candles with their paw. Sure it would looked kind of cool and might be something you'd think about doing for fun, but, hey! Poor little guys. They ended up in a little pile in the trash bin. I do think they planned on eating them though. They were mainly hog fish.

Well, that was the dive. I got the camera out a little bit - on the surface. But there was neither much video going nor was there any pineapple munching. My queasiness somewhat numbed me.

It sure was nice to have my first Atlantic dive completed. Last time I dove was beneath ice. The time before that was a summer dive in Square and before that, New Zealand.

Oh, about sea salt… When you are at sea, the salt gets everywhere, especially if there is wind. Anything that is moist attracts salt. Anything. When you are done with the sea you have this grimey film all over you. Your hands are cakey and you really desire a shower! It’s worth it for the experience.

Today’s breakfast was movie popcorn, cherry Coke and Reeses Pieces! In the morning I rinsed off my dive gear and dried it out in the sun for a bit before I hit the road for Boca Raton. Palm Beach was having their International Film Festival. I got there right before the 12pm showing, grabbed a random ticket for the 3 independent showings mentioned grabbed my popcorn and snacks and got my seat. I had selected the student showcase which was showing the award winners of the high school and college category.

I had been jones-ing for a move badly but neither time nor a good selection had panned out until this moment. This was perfect! There were about ten different students films which ran from commercials, music videos, animated and short film. They ran the gamut but all were good for what they were. One had production value that would easily bump most Hollywood pictures in many ways, but most had the independent feel. It was strange that the best produced were also the most violent. There were a few films involving torture, horror and the like. It’s bothersome that so much film energy is spent on that. In one film I laughed at the thought of “what could be done with a hole-puncher” and then cringed at the fact that the writer figured something out. Icky!

Most of those in attendance were the kids that made the films. It kicked off with the promoter making a point that she wanted those kids to stay in the area and make films in Florida. I thought that was really great! It’s wonderful when people support the arts at the youth level and understand the mutual benefit of showcasing your own area and talent!

Afterwards there was an question and answer session for the students. I asked one about distribution, to help it along. Students had many different aspirations. One of the girls was actually heading off to play soccer for North Carolina! (Their the best in the nation.) Most of them were pursuing their film desire. I grabbed my camera and got a few of the kids to promo their pieces, which they did gladly (Their folks were their too.) One of those I got was a kid not much older than 11 who had starred in one of the films about a piano savant in Chicago. He had ‘young actor’ written all over him.

Feeling quite rejuvenated by the session and the Mitzner commons with rows of palms and fresh, new fascades and sculptures, I popped in the car and headed south to Hollywood. I was wondering where to eat, pulled quickly off the congested beach front street, and voila! Right in front of me was Tony’s pizza. Yeah, I ate there cause of my name, partially. But it’s also been imprinted on me from an early age.

Way back in the basement of Transfiguration school with Ms. Rubio and her guitar is where it all took place. The class of 30 or so of us, the same 30 that went to school together for eight years, all in our little blue uniforms. Rubio would end each class with that one song about flies and frogs or whatever. But each song would incorporate the names of at least half the kids in the class and you always waited with anticipation to see if she would put you in a role. Two people would end up getting married. So, you’d both dread it and hope you got paired with the cute girl in the class. But, without fail, it wasn’t me ending up with the cute girl. “Oh where will the wedding supper be, uh- huh, uh-huh, oh where will be the wedding supper be uh-huh, uh-huh, way down yonder by TONY’S PIZZARIA…” Yeah, without fail…

This Crowne Plaza certainly is a ritzy place! But all the ritzy places seem to blend together. For dinner I had Miso glazed seabass and a New Zealand Cabernet Sauvignon. Yeah, I pretty much only buy New Zealand wines. Props to N Zed!

Oh yeah, I just got a call the other day that some people had bought some of my photos on display in Winona. That's cool! If you conjure up thoughts to do something, do it! Hell, at the very least you can say, "at least I tried, dammit!"

The next shoots go south from here. It should be about a week in the keys before I head back northward. In the meantime, check out the fancy sink!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Kayaking with Manta Rays & Manatees

Now this is why I took this gig! I kayaked through tunnels of mangroves crawling with mangrove crabs, built upon the ancient midden mounds of Calusa Indians, out to the sound to have a manta ray flying to my left, a manatee snorting to my right, ospreys, herons and pelicans soaring above and having my HD camera to video the world!

Here is the quick version. I woke at 4:30 and left at 5am. Drove 2.5 hours from Fort Meyers Beach to St. Pete’s Beach. Videoed stuff. Drove 1.5 hours to Cape Haze. Got comped a kayak tour and a sunset cruise tour. Went kayaking through mangroves, saw and videoed birds, crabs, manatees and fellow kayakers. Grabbed a quick dinner. Flew back for a two hour cruise. Shot the sunset and surround. Took the ferry to my current lodging.

OK, now in more detail! I woke at 4:30, grabbed my previously packed bags and left Fort Meyers in the dark morning. It was so nice to leave that congested place! I got into my realm of music, especially now that I purchased a cheap cord to plug directly into the car stereo deck instead of broadcasting through the FM transmitter. Some chill tunes, some thundering and passionate soundtracks! I arrived in St. Pete’s Beach early, so I took a brief snooze. I met the property contact only to discover she hadn’t yet seen the video agreement, etc. Let’s cut this part short by saying that it had nothing to do with my responsibilities but also that I had gone all that why for, why? Well, when life give you lemons… I shot a few quick captures of St. Pete’s to get the feel which did not take long. The beach was not as busy, being so early, and I caught some funny signs. Let’s head to Cape Haze.

Next it was back down south, half the distance of my previous northward journey. Cape Haze did not seem as ‘happening.’ But for me, the sole two-lane road which took me there also meant it may be less obnoxious than places like Fort Meyers beach.

I located the office where I would check in, but being that it was early and not check-in time yet, I thought I would catch some quick lunch. A plate of healthy grilled tuna and veggies for me. Next, I chatted with a captain at the dock who directed me to Grande Tours. After a very brief and friendly discourse, I secured both a comped kayak and sunset boat tour with the exchange of some advertising footage. The trip was taking off soon and so, let’s go!

I grabbed my gear, tucked into my kayak and joined our guide Chris, a mother, father and their two daughters. Through years of being on tours, I’ve always found an excuse to linger behind, have some special alone time with the surround or tuck into something others didn’t see. At the gardens of Williamsburg, Haggis water caves of New Zealand or, now. Take some time to linger and you’ll start to see spirits.

This time we paddled together and when I saw something of interest I would pull my camera from its protective drybag and shoot. By the time I was done, the group had shot out of eyesight. But with a few paddlestrokes, I was in the pack again. We paddled into mangroves. Mangroves are big tree-bushes that grow in shallow water. These particular mangroves had low tunnels which you could kayak through. All amongst the branches were these black, spider-like crabs which slowly inched upon the network. I let the group pass and had the tunnel alone to myself.

We came into a more open area and our guide pointed the surrounding features and some history as well. We shot out into the sound and then back into another opening. At this point Chris pointed to an arc of mangrove which had grown upon a specific Calusa midden mound. I knew well of the Calusa. These are stories I have told every year for a decade. They were a indigenous tribe which resisted the Spanish and, in fact, where never conquered. Instead, the Calusa succumbed to disease but had taken many Spanish conquistadores down before their own extinction. The leaf I' m holding grew from that very mound.

As we went out into the open water of the sound, a manta ray flew up through the air, six feet from my port side! I could see his wing-like form and thin tail behind him. Exciting! Then we went further into Gasparilla sound, named after the famous Spanish pirate. We were looking for manatees. Although not too optimistic, I was hopeful. Chris said to look for a smooth patch of water, with a large shadow beneath it. He had told my earlier that he had only seen one in the last six months. With determination and a bit of magic on my mind, I focused on that water. I believed hard enough, looked right at a patch of water, and then… a walrus-like doggy snout popped out and snorted! Oh man, it was cool! I was alone with it and called the rest over. He kept on poppin up his snout from time to time and even lifted his head out for a bit - just a person’s length away. I'm sorry I don't have a picture for you as I gave the priority to video taping.

When we were done I grabbed some quick tuna sashimi at a restaurant and then went back for the sunset cruise. The group gathered in chairs on the boat and Captain Dennis took us out. It was nothing too spectacular. We saw the sound, a golf course which the Bush’s play at, some very rich people houses and boats and then the sunset. The coolest thing was that we got to see dolphins. They were frisky and eating fish. Dolphins are always so nice to see.

When we returned, I anxiously raced back to the ferry landing. I had discovered early that that was how I was to get to my next shoot and place of lodging. I drove on to the ferry and was brought across. At the outside check-in they were a-waiting and drove me to my place in a golf cart. (Earlier I passed many little carts running around, one even decked out as a Hummer. Good grief!) The driver conversed in a very removed, butler-like tone, dropped me off and when I inquired where to meet my contact in the morning, he mentioned that I would be picked up at 7:25am. There was no time to do much but shower and prepare for Thursday. But it sure looked swanky there!

This morning I was greeted with my pick-up and chaffeured to the office. After our discussion I was given the boss' golf cart and left to roam the island for filming. It was a beautiful, hot and the clouds were not yet accumulating, save for some thin wisps which framed structures nicely. I chuckled like a goon as I drove around, doing my best Mr. Rork impression many, many times. "I am Mr. Rork, your host. Welcome to Fantasy Island." For you underlings who have no reference, look up Fantasy Island on YouTube. I also had to take a goonie mug of myself. Why take oneself so seriously?

The island had 4-plexes, 8-plexes and houses. There was a restaurant, store, swimming pools, tennis courts and a kids area where they were meeting with a pirate! I secured my camera and tripod with one hand and steered with another. I had never driven a golf-cart before. It was fun. Mine did not have a speed governor!

After the shoot I decided to hit to road instead of linger in Cape Haze. Back up and east to Orlando. The accompaniment today was Dixie Chicks, Gogol Bordello, Gai Sabre and Return of the King soundtrack. The sky got puffier and puffier as the day progressed, but the sun shone brightly.

So, now I am here for a shot tomorrow morning. I'm currently staying at the complete opposite of my former lodging. No private ferry here! Now it is a Super 8 Motel, right along a truck corridor. Plenty of J-braking and air assists. But I'll take this over the bacchanalistic humm of Fort Myers, especially knowing tomorrow I leave once again.

I hope the weather at home improves. Believe it or not, I miss it. There is no where on earth like home.

And, oh, by the way, it looks like I will be home for Greek Easter. I can not say how much that means to me. Kalinikita kai teleme...!