Cuba: An Introduction

Esto No Es Cuba

 

For years we dreamed of visiting and exploring Cuba. Starting in Havana with its rich cultural and historical heritage, we were planning to travel in the interior of the country as well and see authentic Cuban life in rural villages, away from the big city and the touristic resorts. This plan didn’t work for various reasons.

Before sailing to Cuba, I read a thick book: Anderson’s Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life and I couldn’t help but admire Fidel Castro’s struggle against military dictator Batista and Imperial America’s interests and presence in Cuba in the 1950-s. Castro, Che Guevara and a  handful of rebeldes hiding in la Sierra Maestra started a movement that grew and spread and sparked a full scale revolution which overthrew an unjust cruel regime and implemented social and agrarian reforms in the early 1960-s. To us the Cuban Revolution, like the French Revolution (and any other revolution) was, and still is, the greatest event in any country’s history.

Che Guevara graffiti on a wall in Havana

Che Guevara graffiti on a wall in Havana

 

In Cuba, we were expecting to find „the accidental eden„: a country small and isolated but independent and dignified; a land unspoiled by big industry where all crops are organic and the food is healthy; a defiant welcoming people that stood undefeated and proud so close to an imperial giant. We wanted to show to our children that an alternative is possible and can work for an entire nation. An alternative to capitalism, consumerism, globalization; a whole different system organized around principals of equality and simplicity, where people were not reach in possessions but nevertheless educated, healthy, and happy.

We didn’t find that country and our romantic expectations all burst into pieces in just a few days.

Instead, we found a ruined place with building crumbling over their residents and streets resembling war trenches; dirty stores with almost no merchandise inside; people begging for a dollar or a T-shirt or a roll of toilet paper or anything at all, with tears in their eyes and no pride left in them, cheating, stealing and prostituting themselves to survive another day full of incomprehensible misery, afraid to speak out their indignation; a dysfunctional system that has abandoned its citizens in deplorable state to fend for themselves; and a government implementing its rule with police force, propaganda and cruel restrictions to basic human rights.

 

A street in Havana

A street in Havana

We arrived in Havana on July 24, just in time for the big national holiday: the anniversary of the Moncada assault 26 de Julio, but we didn’t see any organized celebrations and festivities.

The first Cubans we met were the immigration and border officers, a doctor, the dock masters, and a drug dog who one by one boarded our boat upon arrival. They all, except the dog, asked for propina (a tip) in a way we couldn’t refuse. One guy even returned our five dollar bill and said he couldn’t accept less than twenty… They also „liked“ our big garlic which they spotted in the galley and of course took some of it. This unpleasant situation lasted for a few stressful hours. One by one various officials boarded Fata Morgana and extorted American dollars from us. And this is the „normal“ procedure for all boats arriving in Cuba.

In the next few days we met more Cubans. We noticed that those who were corrupted like the border officials, or those who had relatives in America sending them money and things, managed somehow to live comfortably, but the ones who were trying to lead more honest life and had no relatives outside of the country,  lived in complete misery, even though employed.

The Cuban doctors, teachers, drivers, janitors all receive a ridiculous state salary, the equivalent of about 10 to 20 US dollars per month which cannot cover basic expenses like food, electricity bill, water. And pensions are even less.

 

Tita, 82 and Roberto, 83 in their downtown Havana apartment. Both retired. To survive, they collect fresh water and boil it at night, selling it in plastic bottles to neighbors the next day. ( The municipal water in Havana is dangerous to drink if not boiled)

Tita, 82 and Roberto, 83 in their downtown Havana apartment. Both retired. Tita’s pension is about $ 8 per month. To survive, they collect fresh water and boil it at night, selling it in plastic bottles to neighbors the next day. ( The municipal water in Havana is dangerous to drink if not boiled)

In Cuba, there are two currencies: the Cuban peso for the Cubans and the convertible peso (CUC) for the tourists, which complicates the crippled economy further and is insulting for the population. The convertible peso’s value is almost the same as the US dollar. 1 CUC costs 24 Cuban pesos. There is also food stamps for the population (as if the entire population is underprivileged or in a state of emergency, which they pretty much are). This is the only country in the world that distributes food stamps to its citizens outside wartime, which get them a small ratio of basic products like rice, beens, eggs (if there is any),flower, sugar, and salt but this is not enough to get by. And they cannot afford anything „fancier“. A bottle of 1.5L orange juice costs 1.5 CUC. One beer is 1 CUC. One bread is 3 CUC. So they are pushed to resort to alternative ways of providing for the family.

A truck driver makes about 360 pesos or 15 CUC per month. So, he will steal the truck’s fuel and sell it, as well as most of the load, property of the state. Thus, often, the goods don’t get to the stores and nobody wonders why. A construction worker makes about the same salary as the truck driver. So he will steal construction materials and sell them. Thus, buildings and roads are falling apart often killing residents, the whole infrastructure is crumbling, and nobody wonders why.

 

We tried to find and buy bread. This is the local panaderia, bakery. All they had was galletas, dried hard bread.

We tried to find and buy bread. This is the local panaderia, bakery. All they had was galletas, dried hard bread.

But if Cuban people today are stealing and cheating and prostituting themselves, it is because they are pushed to do so in order to survive, not because they are inherently bad. It is the last consequence in a chain of consequences. And in the base of the chain is, with no doubt, the American embargo.

In the years after the Revolution, as a response to a massive nationalization of American business and assets in Cuba, United States placed an embargo which prevents American companies from dealing with Cuba, as well as US citizens from traveling  to Cuba. It also sanctions non-US corporations trading with Cuba. Thus, during the Cold War, Cuba’s economic survival mainly depended on trade and assistance from the Soviet Union. But after the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, Cuba was left hanging in thin air, alone. And the US embargo is still on.

 

A Cuban Girl

A Cuban Girl

The embargo is cruel, unjust, hypocritical, and simply ridiculous. Its stated reason for still being in effect after half a century is the lack of democracy and human rights in Cuba. At the same time, USA has supported and even helped to implement cruel dictator’s regimes in the region: Pinochet in Chile, a bunch of dictators in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, and many many others. Instead of helping to liberate the Cuban people from communist oppression, the embargo is causing poverty, famine, and suffering among the population.

But the embargo is not the only reason for the present malfunction of the communist regime in Cuba.

In such a deplorable economical state of affairs, a political system based on principals of „equality“ cannot function at all. Pretty much everyone is „equally“ poor. And in such an environment corruption on all levels easily takes root. The entire communist idea, the principals of the Revolution, got corrupted long ago and today the poor Cubans we met are placing the blame for their dire situation entirely on the Cuban government who seams has abandoned them, or more precisely, keeps them as slaves. „What do you think needs to be done?“, I asked a man (whose name I cannot mention here) after he invited me in his house with dirt floors and no windows which he shares with his daughter and four grand children, to show me how Cubans live so that I can show the world. Getting very close to my face, with an intense look, he answered: “ Fusillar a Castro“ (Shoot Castro).

A poor Cuban household in Jaimanitas, near Havana

A poor Cuban household in Jaimanitas, near Havana

Later that day we witnessed an arrest further down the street in Jaimanita, a small village near Havana where marina Hemingway is. An army jeep full of soldiers quickly appeared and  stopped in front of a house and all people walking up and down the street suddenly disappeared. The soldiers ran in the house and pulled out four middle aged men with handcuffs. Someone explained to us, the arrested were organizing something against the government, but one of the many „chivatos“ (traitors) who are all over the place betrayed them. We don’t know what happened to those men.

It is evident that a great change is needed for Cuba, if not a new Revolution, and fast. The country, like a small ship that has sailed a long way across storms and sharp rocks, is now sinking, but the captain is not letting an SOS signal keeping the passengers away from the life-rafts. And on the American ship, a humongous cruise boat near by, people are watching the spectacle and having a party.

 

A Cuban Man

A Cuban Man

 

 

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Monkey Tom. Discovery of an Artist

Private Property. Do Not Enter.

This is one of the most alluring signs. I enter.

It’s all very fascinating. Is it a trailer park, is it a junk yard, or is it a museum?

The road is wide and covered in pale gravel, bleached broken up corals, and faded wet carpets. From the entrance to the end is probably a hundred feet. There are six or seven shabby old trailers on both sides hidden beneath trees I’ve never seen before and surrounded by huge piles of junk. I am almost convinced that this place has been abandoned ages ago and there is no one living here. No signs of life.

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The road ends in the sea like a boat ramp. There is an improvised wooden pier, a yellow houseboat on the left and a grey house on pillars on the right sticking out of the water. The sea is calm here and in the distance lays a mangrove island and a small anchorage where a few sailboats quietly rest. An idyllic scene reminiscent of some distant past, forever lost, my dear Hemingway.

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This place can only be possible in Stock Island, I tell myself. In this poor neighborhood divided in small fenced in trailer compounds, like decrepit ancient campgrounds, one can see all sorts of strange dwellings. And this one surpasses them all. There are mountains of junk taller than the trailers.

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But as I slow down and inspect closely, I realize things have been carefully placed, the junk has been meticulously arranged. The discovery enlightens me. The place morphs in my mind like a rock becoming a turtle. The junk transforms into artworks. The trash is now found objects. The piles- installations and sculptures. Yes, this is a bizarre offbeat museum, a lunatic gallery, and I am thrilled!

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Art is all around me. Barbarous, paranoid, psychopathic art; crying, roaring, and laughing at me. What a discovery, what a luck, what a fortune!

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Then, as I celebrate, a creature appears. Riding some weird contraption that blends with the place and soon disappears among fishing nets and fake flowers, an old, very old guy with a straw hat slowly approaches and says nothing. I say, Hi.

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I figure, this must be the artist, and his noble steed. And it is.

His name is Monkey Tom.

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(He once had a monkey named Igor, but the pet died stung by a scorpion. Someone later told me, that Igor actually was killed in a bar fight.)

Monkey Tom showed me around, and we talked for a bit. I went back and visited a few more times, and we talked even more. His life is a saga full of love and betrayal, adventure and glory, and there are articles even books written about him. But that doesn’t mean he is famous, or rich, not in the sense you might think.

In Stock Island where he presently lives, everyone knows him. He is the local celebrity. But he is not at the least known in Key West where the galleries are and the tourists with money willing to buy „local“ arts. But that’s ok, his paintings are not what the tourist requires anyway: colorful seascapes, palm trees, and flowers. His are of bizarre creatures with three eyes, old men with white beards and faces covered in fish scales, ghost shrimp boats, sea monsters, and storms. He paints on whatever is lying around.Old paddles, driftwood, turtle shells, coconuts…

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And he would exchange an artwork for a good meal or two. In fact, a girl I met at the Rusty Anchor restaurant, Inka, has an extensive collection of Monkey Tom paintings which she bought from him whenever he needed some cash and a bowl of soup. The whole restaurant is decorated by his artworks.

Inka with dog Maya at the Rusty Anchor restaurant showing Monkey Tom paintings

Inka with dog Maya at the Rusty Anchor restaurant showing Monkey Tom paintings

Later, in a mechanic’s shop where Ivo was going to pick up some spare parts for the engine, I recognized Monkey Tom’s paintings all over the walls. Marc, the mechanic, collects them and has hundreds of them. He also receives Monkey Tom’s mail and helps him when needed…

I must end this post here, although I wanted to show you all the details of Monkey Tom’s place and his paintings… Oh, well, I will do this next time.

p.s.

Monkey Tom has a website with lots of details about his past life and his artistic explorations. Check it out.  www.monkeytom.org

 

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Visit by a German Journalist

A few days ago, a journalist, Ann-Katherin Eckardt, came all the way from Germany to write a piece on Boat Punk for NEON magazine, a magazine targeting readers in their twenties and thirties, reflecting the young generation’s issues, aspirations, and viewpoints of the world. With her came a photographer Charles Ommanney, and they stayed for 3 days in Key West interviewing and photographing kids from the Boat Punk community.

Tyler, who is one of the founding fathers and nucleus of the community, helping everyone, organising Boat Punk events and meet-ups, and who was also featured in a French reportage by  Anne-Cécile Genreand , was the official host of the event and the star of the article which should be published in NEON soon.

Tyler introduced us to Ann Katherine and we had the chance to talk to her a few times during her short stay even though we felt we don’t truly qualify as Boat Punks, or at least as Punks: we have no tattoos nor piercings, no Mohawk haircuts, and we don’t listen to the right music. The only reason we are part of the Boat Punk community here in Key West is our common ideas and ways, shared experiences, as well as our friendship with Tyler and the others which is now fathoms deep.

Still, we all felt a bit flattered by the attention. By the recognition that what we, as a community and as individuals, are doing is interesting to others, unique and exciting, but also valid and rebellious, worthy of international attention and recognition. That people across the Oceans will read about us, the Boat Punks, and maybe get inspired.

The last day of their visit, we all gathered for a sunset sail aboard Tyler’s boat Rocksteady.

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The Photographer

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Tyler

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Boat Punk Mash-Up

The following is a collage of recorded conversations and personal written reflections, and an attempt to reveal (maybe this is not the right word) who, what, why, when, and how of the relatively recent Boat Punk phenomenon. These are the stories and thoughts of Rebecca, Cherri, Ryan, Tyler, Tony, and Stacie: the Boat Punks in Key West, mashed up in one piece. I collected their written and oral accounts and took the liberty and huge responsibility to slice the individual stories and collage them in a way to create a collective piece that would pertain to the entire gang, a piece all can relate to. Even though I have been very careful, individual passages have been taken out of context to produce a somewhat universal but nevertheless altered meaning. 

–Mira

BOAT PUNK MASH UP

by Rebecca, Cherri, Ryan, Stacie, Tony, and Tyler

 

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Met up with friends Sunday and hatched those rafting plans I mentioned with a couple close friends over drinks that very night. Yesterday we visited some places and found beginning flotation and building supplies, and today I found a place next to a boat ramp where we can build and launch the framework for free!

You can call me a boat punk and I can tell you what I’m thinking right now.  

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As I write this, I’m sitting in the cockpit of my private yacht, my own personal ship, floating in a sea of turquoise, beneath a sky of stars. 

The process of transferring our hopes and dreams, our whispered fantasies, from the realm of the imagined and intangible to the concrete and lickable world of truth is one of the most fascinating processes available to the human experience, in my perception. The amount of roadblocks, obstacles and governors we place between our dreams and our realities is another concept I have been masticating for months. From what I can see, from my frontal lobe experience, it is possible to achieve your dreams. I just did it.

I have an oven to bake bread in; I have a cooler to keep beer cold, a liquor shelf, and a toilet. I have a bed (10 of them in fact). I have the table I’m sitting at with a computer plugged in and hot coffee at my side.  I have a fishing pole and a small BBQ that I can use at the same time while listening to my favorite music.  I have a library and a bike shop, and a backyard fenced in by over a million miles of coast line where my neighbors are interesting and the crime rate is almost nonexistent.  I have a wall to hang art and another to hang my hat.  And all this for the arguable sum of nothing.

I realized I didn’t want to live like normal people when I was a little kid.

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I had so many questions. I went to Sunday School. I had to read the bible, but I didn’t understand. I wanted to ask questions. How did this happen? How did that happen? They couldn’t answer my questions! Like the Noah’s Ark thing, that was a huge deal. They were teaching me Lord of the Rings type of stuff and I wanted to know like how the fuck this magic shit happen? They couldn’t answer me! They couldn’t answer me! And even when I was 6 years old I could still put two and two together. You got two animals of each on the arch. Forty days and forty nights, all you gonna have left at the end is lions and tigers. And also there is like you know one hundred thousand different kinds of ants and they live communally… That just doesn’t work! It’s fake, it’s thought to kids, it’s fucking…you know…and don’t bring up dinosaurs. So I got kicked out of Sunday school for not asking the right questions. And my parents were very, very upset.

There is an unrest forming, a casually brewing system of frustration, present amongst many of the finest people I have the joy of being connected to in my life. It is a storm of confusion, of anger and resentment, for the prevailing public standard in America. For the way many people raise their children, for the fog that exists in the minds and the eyes of the tourists we see bumbling through the streets on a daily basis, for the midwesterners drowning in our seas because, at the age of forty, they have never swam in the ocean, for the boy scouts who come to our schooner’s to learn of the sea who’s hands are lilly soft, for the mothers in the parks who warn their children of the inherent dangers of the sand beneath their child’s feet at the playground, frantically dressing them with fresh, thick socks, a filter for the evils of dirt and potential pain, for the war veterans we take into our homes to avoid their slow death on the sidewalks of our finest cities and the dreamy teenagers who volunteer on our properties, lacking the taught skills or motivation to wield a hammer or drive a plow, entrenched in their personal sagas, lost in a dreamland of television, nutritionally defunct meals, apathy, fear and misplaced ideals. 

It’s all very interesting.

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When I was in high school I said I wanted to be an ex-patriot as I grow up. I got suspended for three days.

When I was in high school I was an outcast. My neighbors were my only friends. They were much older than me and they were Punks. They were the only friends I had. They would take me to Punk shows. It was the only time I felt cool, it was the only time I felt accepted. I was fortunate enough to have this outlet because I didn’t fit in the school at all. So I started going to Punk shows. And I realized: Punk music caries a message. I got the message. 

It’s so strange…even some of my earliest memories were listening to music. I remember sitting in the driveway, someone working on their car, listening to music. And I was listening to the lyrics of the music realizing that they are saying something. And just like that, the whole discovery. Wow! Tripped me out, dude. This one memory I’m saying, the song was I can see for miles and miles by The Who, an old classic rock. Then I kind of looked out and I was sort of like, Wait, I could see for miles and miles too! It was like a weird revelation.

In my personal realm, I am on the reaping end of a dream I have been sowing for months. Post the „completion“ of a nearly eight month long, filth infested restoration of the boat on which I now rest, write and create art, I’m reflecting on a process that reminded me of the values I intend to place upon my own life and instilled in me a brand of astonishment that is reserved for the people who have a vision and possess the fortitude, both mentally and physically, to apply the strength, dedication and patience necessary to reap fruition in a tangible sense.

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I got a skateboard as a kid. That was really sort of cutting edge back then. Now every kid has a skateboard but back then not a lot of people had a skateboard. And, you know, getting into skateboarding writing graffiti, hanging out with punk kids and stuff, I started getting into Punk Rock. And I started listening to this old Sex Pistols type of Punk Rock and stuff. It was cool ‘cause you could say SEX pistols without getting in trouble. I was about 9 or 10.

Then there was this alternative college radio station It was on the Fridays nights and it would go till like 4 in the morning and it was called the bottom 40. They would play mostly Punk music and shit like hat. I remember staying up listening to songs and I would record some things. I always wanted shit that was fast, I needed something Punk but fast and they played this Bad Brain song and that fucking changed my life, it was fast as fuck, the fastest music I ever heard, dude. That was my influence right there.

At that point I kind of knew what anarchy was just being a skater, there were anarchy signs on everything. And when you research the bands and learn where they come from really influences you.

Ryan

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I suppose though I’m unsure whether I fit into the [Boat Punk] piece, as I’m at most a fringe-boat punker–there because of the situation. Many would never consider me ‘punk’. I never wore the right studded pants or collected the right audio cassettes. For me punk meant screwing the normal assumptions, roles, and attitudes pushed upon us by society. It meant doing something different and working, in whatever small way, for a world that could be something different. The people I think of as punk are radically different from what most might visually and aesthetically think of as punk. While part of me was on Rocksteady because of Tyler, another part was there because I believed in a boat that offered inspiration and a website (www.boatpunk.com) that offered collaboration.

Punk is no more an expression of freedom as claiming a national or spiritual identity.  It’s common to point out all the black cloths and tattoos and the shinny things in the face.  It may be true that we all look the same, which is a two way street that, in my mind, is just a wash at best. Probably like cowboys, businessmen and gangsta’s, the dress and hangout spots filter out people with strongly opposing characteristic values.  I’v never been to prison but I don’t imagine on the first day you walk around introducing yourself to every single person you see and discuss the potential benefits of acquaintanceship. If I had a swastika on my face I think I would try to get to that side of the room as quickly as I could.  On one hand a marked punk can walk into any city in the world, find the other punks and be in good hands, on the other hand I’ve been cornered by some jock who has me totally confused with some other black shirt tattooed kid that threw a bottle at him the night before. Or upon walking into a store for the first time in my life only to have some manager escort me out reminding me that just last week I had been banished for life.  And I know there are people out there who have paid heavily for my own shenanigans. Like I said the looks part is a wash.  Below and within that, however, exists camaraderie in a community that is strong and free.  Though widely varying philosophies and practices surface, networking and moral support persevere in creating a bond of unity where d.i.y. (do-it-yourself) becomes d.i.t. (do-it-together).   

Community is: everybody takes care of each other. And it’s really important. It’s kind of like here, you know. If you guys need anything you call us, or we hail you guys. Like if we need a dinghy ride. Everybody working together to create a community.

I lived in the Slabs for 14 months and I made moccasins. I made a little community camp, and did little acoustic night and all this shit. And that’s what I did.

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I was dating a girl at a time and she lived in LA and she took me to Slab City. We just stayed for like a weekend. But I felt in love with the place. And I didn’t go back till 6 years later. I was touring with a Punk band and all this stuff, so…but in the back of my mind I knew the band wasn’t gonna last forever and I knew I didn’t want to work, pay rent: I didn’t want to do all that stuff, you know what I mean, it just didn’t feel right to me. So after the band broke off I went to Slab City. And Slab City is a giant community in the very essence of the word. In the Slabs there’s gardens, and there’s libraries, music and arts and everything, and you don’t get this anywhere else. There is for sure a dark side to it. The thing about the Slabs is, you either want to live there or you have to.  Because, you know, some people have no place else where to go. Whether they have a warrant or they are running from the law or whatever. So it’s like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. All these crazy people. I’ve seen giant mansions made out of trash. I mean, nicer than any Hilton that you can stay in. Some of these people have been there for 40 years. Oh my god, I met so many cool people there: Builder Bill, New York Mike… I want to go back, I miss it right now…

And then I got this idea to buy a sailboat and I did that. I got the idea because of this documentary called Hold Fast. It was this punk guy and two girls, they bought this boat and filmed their experience. Kind of crappy filming but super awesome. Full inspiration. And I was in the Slabs. I was gonna stay there but I decided I still had some adventure left in me. So I watched this documentary and it just filled me with zeal. And I was just like Fuck this. I got out of the desert and I got me a sailboat. From the desert to the ocean.

I tried living on land and I hated it; it’s very expensive. So I ended up buying my own boat which was the most exciting day of my life. I know she doesn’t look much to anybody else but me but I think she is beautiful. So that’s how I ended up down here. It’s been quite the adventure for sure. A learning experience. I was really scared at first. Now I am completely comfortable.

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I always wanted a home for myself. But I am a traveler. A house, you always have to go back to. So, I figured a boat will be perfect. I am almost turning 40 and finally have a home of my own. A home I can travel with anywhere in the world. I really like the freedom of it, travelling, and self-sufficiency. Plus, it is free to travel using the elements. And that is amazing for me. Humans have been doing this for centuries and we lost it.

I believe it is important to live a life intimately connected to the rhythms of the natural world–one who’s daily processes are affected by earthbound realities like wind, rain and tide. The loss of connection to the natural world is destroying our humanity.

I like being immersed in science and facing the challenge of adapting to it by way of education and experiment.  I like being reminded that being human is nothing in comparison to nature as a whole and that an interest in self preservation is nothing more than that.  I like living almost off grid and only very near an overly structured society.  I like seeing the fruits of my labor very directly providing a sustainable freedom of travel.  I like the gleam of wanderlust in the eye’s of the dreamers.    

I think the most important thing we can continue to do is act on our wildest dreams. To stay true to ourselves and our intentions. To laugh loudly and create blindly. It is a fucked up global situation. We’ve made some pretty big mistakes, as a species, and I wouldn’t be surprised if momma Earth decides any moment now she’d like to wipe the slate clean and start again. I’m easily convinced of this potentiality every time I saunter down Duval Street and watch a fraternity boy in American flag print swimming trunks chuck a full can of beer across the street at noon on the 3rd of July, drunkenly screaming „YOLO!!“ and then pointing a series of gyrating pelvic thrusts in the direction of the guy he just creamed, who is now crying. Or many of the more subtle examples of mistreatment that you can see every day if you chose to seek them out. What, exactly, defines our culture’s definition of „crazy?“ 

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The other day, I got these worms, I call them burn worms. I thought they’d be great bait. Got them under the rocks. Giant worms! And I grabbed them and they burned the shit on my hands. So I looked them up online and they are called bearded fire worms. Here you go, there is the name!

I love critters, I love nature, I love checking all that shit out. I think it’s really important that everybody knows about how everything lives and its little spot in the environment, and how little it takes to destroy it…But people are ignoring that. I try not to get depressed about it…

Still, a lot of kids are getting around now, caring about the environment and all that stuff. I think that it’s really good for the kids to know ‘cus if they all band together can get pretty cool. When I was a kid I felt I could do more about it, but there is not much you can do as a single person, you can just do your part… As I get older I’m getting a little more bitter and angrier about it. I think animals are more important than people. But I think it’s up to people to protect them.

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Personally, I am reacting to my own disgust by concentrating on building a life for myself that I believe in, the type of life that, if more people chose, would generate a better world. I have only been back on the water for a week–a week that has rekindled truths I am, personally, consistently guilty of forgetting about. It has been a wild week–consistent high winds with numerous passing gales possessive of headwinds over 30 knots, some gusting upwards of fifty. She has not been a particularly gentle teacher, aside from when I float in her relatively still waters during a warm tropical rain, an hour of respite between the winds. These are the lessons the sea taught me this week:

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(the end)

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Liveaboards, Yachtsmen, Cruisers, and Boat Punks

*The following personal and highly subjective observations are based on the local boat scene in Key West, Florida.

There are various groups of boating people. Each of the four groups I will outline here can be subdivided in others smaller and more specific ones.

 Liveaboards

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The majority of boat owners actually don’t use their boats for sailing and cruising but to liveaboard at the dock or at anchor. It is much cheaper (and in some cases completely free) than owning a house or renting an apartment: there are not municipal, school, road, garbage or any other taxes to be paid when you live on a boat. These are usually single men above fifty, unemployed and unwilling to work, with long beards and bad teeth. Their derelict vessels are in desperate state of neglect and the chances of them ever sailing again are slim to none.

 

Yachtsmen

Only a fraction of all boat owners, about 5 %, actually sail. To do so the boat needs to be ship-shape and this requires tons of money and constant work. For this reason, sailing was until recent years, an activity privileged to the rich yachtsman and his wife, members of the yacht club. They would go out sailing (with a hired captain) not too far from port, participating in regattas and races once every year or two, dressed exclusively in white. For maintaining their boat sitting at the marina the rest of the time, they would pay others to do it.

 

Cruisers

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The cruisers, mostly single men, often couples, and rarely families with children, who permanently liveaboard and travel by sea, are a sort of a romantic minority. These are generally very interesting, intelligent, and hardworking people whose stories of bravery and exotic adventures we read in magazines and books. They inspire us and challenge our limits.

 

 

Boat Punk

 

Tony

Tony

Since a few years now, there is a distinctive fourth group of seafaring people. These are young kids in their twenties and thirties with left-wing progressive views, disenchanted with the capitalist system, and the middle class standards in the United States of America, seeking alternative ways of off-grid living, self sufficiency, and ultimate freedom.

Recently, owning and maintain a boat has become more affordable than ever thanks to the development of new cheaper technologies, the access to on-line information about how to build and repair a boat, and to the global economic collapse. Boat prices have dropped dramatically.

Thus, young rebellious kids can now get an older used boat for as little as a few hundred dollars and fix it up on a very low budget using all sorts of recycled materials, even junk, and go exploring the world.

What sets them apart from the rest of the boaters is their willingness to come and stick together in a tight community, almost a kinship, sharing knowledge and skills,  helping each other, having fun, working together, facing common problems, and doing all sorts of unusual things.

In Key West we met and befriended an interesting crowd of artists, anarchists, environmentalists, animal rights activists, feminists, socialists, musicians, vegetarians, misfits, jacks-of-all-trades, and other non-mainstream enthusiasts, all suffering from incurable wanderlust: Tony and Chopper aboard Pisces, Ryan and Stacie aboard Liquid Courage, Becca aboard Dolphin, Miranda aboard Snoopy, and Cherrie and Tyler aboard Rocksteady who have baptised themselves Boat Punks, deriving from the streets and the Punk scene.

Ryan

Ryan

Punk is a lifestyle, a movement, and a political statement. Since its origins in the 1960s and 70s as an underground music genre, Punk has evolved into a complex ideology opposing the state system and established social structure, challenging the social orthodoxy, political and mainstream cultural establishment, and promoting individual freedom, an anarchic resistance, non-conformity and social revolt, DIY ethics and anti-consumerism.

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Cherrie and Tyler

Although our shiny 38 feet relatively new catamaran Fata Morgana doesn’t really belong, conceptually or visually (unless we spray some graffiti on her, which I have considered) in this fourth group, our family’s ideology, values, and way of life do. And so naturally we have joined their extravagant community here in Key West. Our experiences with the Boat Punks include:

Moreover, we have decided to write a collage article on Boat Punk in collaboration, each person contributing his/her own individual story and reasons for doing what we are doing. I will publish it here soon.

 

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Maya and The Pride Parade

June 30, 2013, Key West, Florida

„Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well“

-Barack Obama

Every year in June there is a Gay Pride Parade organized in Key West. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender from the local community as well as from all over the world gather on Duval Street to carry the longest rainbow flag on the planet, one mile and a half in length. Locals and tourists come to watch the colorful loud bunch of gays, as well as gay supporters, as they parade from one end of the street to the other celebrating freedom of sexuality. The euphoria builds us, pink confetti, shiny beads, and little round packages with condoms fly over the crowds of slightly drunk onlookers.

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Ivo, Maya and I go to check out this year’s parade. We are a bit late and miss out the long rainbow flag. We get to the New Orleans House bar. On the sidewalk in front of the bar there is a crowd of dancing people dressed up in pink feathers and high heels, suntanned buff guys in tongs, transvestites with silicon breasts. Everyone is dancing and drinking and laughing. The music is so loud and irresistible, Ivo and I join the celebration.

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Maya is shocked. Although I talk to her before we go to the parade and try to prepare her for what we would see, she is stunned and not happy at all. At her age, nine and a half, sexuality is something of a mystery. Homosexuality even more so.

A young guy from Kansas, twenty one, drinking and dancing with the crowd tells me he has a sister Maya’s age and that he wouldn’t bring her to the gay parade. “Kids should not see such things, not before they are eighteen,” he tells me. “What things? You mean “reality”?” According to him, children should be kept comfortably ignorant of the real world and all its nuances, differences, miseries, injustices, and sufferings. Little girls like Maya shall have shiny pink bubbles to live in until they are at least eighteen, and little boys: shiny blue bubbles. Like little Buddhas, the harsh reality should only come to them as a shock when they are older and smarter and more capable of coping with it. Including homosexuality.

I explain to him that as travelers, our children are exposed to all sorts of sights his little sister in Kansas watching kids-friendly shows on TV will probably never see.

Travelling is discovering reality away from the screen and the school system which establish values and set social norms for our children. I also tell him that each kid is different, individuality should be considered in this matter. Maybe for his sister is best not to be exposed to certain things because of who she is or who her parents want her to become. But it’s not the same for Maya. And then I ask Maya what she thinks about the whole thing: the gay parade and gay people in general.

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“A gay person is someone who is a boy and likes boys. They are OK. Like Raceton, I like him a lot. But Transvestites I don’t like because it’s not normal, they are guys that look like Lady Gaga and have boobs. I think this is wrong. I didn’t like the parade, I only liked the music. I felt awkward and embarrassed especially when my dad had his picture taken with the girl-guy, not cool… I think kids should not go to such parades, only teenagers, if they want too”, Maya tells me after the parade.

So maybe I am wrong? Maybe gay parades should be rated 18+? Or maybe Maya simply doesn’t like the fact that her parents don’t just look at the show, like the rest of the “normal” people, but participate in it: dance, pose for pictures and interact with gays and transsexuals. Maya is forced to be a part of the show herself, maybe that is what she doesn’t like? At least now she has a realistic idea of what a gay person is and a transgender . It is a valuable lesson for her; she has just broaden her horizon and she is now more at ease with the subject.

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Although at this point of her life she doesn’t fully understand and approve of some aspects of homosexuality, she is wise enough to understand difference and cope with it. She already had an experience of rejection by her peers based on differences, and her answer to this is I don’t care about theses people who don’t like me or understand me. The important thing is that she likes and proudly accepts herself the way she is.

“I know I am not a normal kid, I am special, but that is different [from being a homosexual]. At school I once showed up wearing a traditional Chinese dress and people ignored me, they didn’t talk to me. They didn’t like me in school, they thought I was crazy and didn’t want to play with me, and that made me feel sad. When I showed up with a short haircut nobody recognized me. They thought I was lying when I told them I saw the Northern Lights, and a volcano, and that I was swimming in a canyon with my clothes on. I am different because I travel a lot. But I don’t care about those people at school and what they think. Nature is my new school and I will learn everything from Nature and Travel.  Besides, I never think I travel too much, it’s impossible to travel “too much”. I love travelling, it’s totally my favorite thing to do and I shall keep doing it”.

Maya, don’t you think that gay people feel sad too when someone doesn’t like them and tells them they are not normal?

They are who they are, and you are who you are Maya, and there is nothing wrong with this.

Maya

Maya

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Sherri, Nathaniel, and Baba Ghanoush

Shortly after I place the add in Craig’s List: Used RV for Sale, we get an e-mail: We are VERY interested in your Fleetwood Pace Arrow, that goes like this:

              Hi there.
My husband and I are looking for an RV and live right up on Big Coppitt.  We’d like to know if we could come and take a look at your Fleetwood this week.  We are moving out of the Keys in mid- to late-June to embark on an adventure across the country and are hoping to buy an RV within the next couple of weeks.  We checked out your blog and it looks like you’ve been living the life we are hoping to start on!  🙂
             Thanks so much and looking forward to your reply!
             Sherri
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 Maybe after all Baba Ghanoush will continue her exciting travels with adventurous people aboard.
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Here is how Sherri and Nathaniel showed up to see Baba Ghanoush for a first time:
Nathaniel and Sherri

Nathaniel and Sherri

Turns out Sherri and Nathaniel are the right guys for Baba Ghanoush. A young couple with three cats: Tigger,  Stinky Pete, and Fink, they are off to New Mexico to learn about sustainable house design and alternative building methods,  harvesting electricity from solar panels, wind generators and hydro turbines, rain water harvesting, filtration and storage; to help build an off-grid self-sufficient community, a complex of  greenhouses, gardens and homes powered by sun and wind and a truly sustainable organic farm using renewable sources, all part of a project called The Solar Ark. I will devote a separate post about it, it is mind-blowing.

Nathaniel and Sherri telling us all about The Solar Ark Project (inside Baba Ghanoush, after many beers)

Nathaniel and Sherri telling us all about The Solar Ark Project
(inside Baba Ghanoush, after many beers)

Sherri, a marine biologist, environmentalist, and teacher at the local college in Key West, and Nathaniel, with a Civil Engineering knowledge  and a building background, plan to eventually build an alternative off-grid college with a program focussed on sustainability, where students will participate in building the campus themselves and will learn everything from history of sustainability to solar and wind power, natural medicine, canning and preserving foods, composting, etc learning not only theoretical but also all the practical skills needed to build and support various alternative green-energy installations. The college will be off-grid politically too: no accreditation, no student loans (which Sherri believes are evil).

Sherri

Sherri

The System uses people, it is not made FOR the people,“ she tells her students. „In the Capitalist system, people are not important. Capital is. You are nothing but creators and distributors of capital. You work to make money and your life revolves around spending it. It is all wrong. We are exhausting the planet’s resources and nobody cares. The way we presently live in the USA is so screwed up. I want to change things.“

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Nathaniel studied Civil Engineering in college and when he asked if he could combine his Civil Engineering studies with Environmental Engineering, they told him he couldn’t. Had to choose one or the other.

Nathaniel

Nathaniel

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But isn’t the whole point combining these two fields for a better future of building and housing? It’s ridiculous. We have the knowledge and the technologies at hand, we just refuse to apply them and use them for better purposes. All we need is around us. All is interconnected. I am in love with the idea of having a garden, collecting water, and raising chickens,“ he told us.

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We stayed up until 2 a.m. talking with Sherri and Nathaniel that first time we met them, drinking beers in Baba Ghanoush (they instantly fell in love with her and decided to buy her). And it was not enough. So they came back the next day with a bowl of delicious garlic-filled baba ghanoush and pita chips, and we now spend every possible free minute together: at our boat, or at their pool, or at their parent’s house near the river. As a matter of fact, they were just here today again; brought us a bike, gave us a canoe, an underwater film camera, two pairs of sunglasses, books, fishing gear, four limes, and bunch of other things they will not take on the trip. And they are not planning to come back here. They also promised us an aloe plant and a bunch of herbs we will take with us on the boat.

Neith, Sherri, we are absolutely inspired by you guys and so proud that Baba Ghanoush will be a part of your journey!

Way to go, Baba Ghanoush!!!!!!!!

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Pix from the pool party

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Sherri, Viktor, Mira

Sherri, Viktor, Mira

Maya and Viktor

Maya and Viktor

Ivo, Nathaniel, Sherri, Maya, and Viktor

Ivo, Nathaniel, Sherri, Maya, and Viktor

Nathaniel, underwater with beer

Nathaniel, underwater with beer

Nathaniel, Sherri, Maya, Viktor, Mira

Nathaniel, Sherri, Maya, Viktor, Mira

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The Sound of The Sleeping Sea

Once, when I was a small child, I pressed my ear to my sleeping mother’s belly, I remember. I listened to her inner world. The murmur of rivers running inside her, the screeching of doors, the eruption of miniature volcanoes, the distant cry of a whale. Thus, I was drifting away in my sleep, my ear pressed to her body, my head rhythmically capsizing a bit with every exhaling of her breath. 

They are longing for freedom. As we all do. A total and simple state of weightlessness, like kites high above the world, detached from their strings, lost in the upper corners of the atmosphere, long forgotten by the kids who made them, who knew they would never find them again.

Thus, they float. In small illuminated vessels, pushed by the winds, carried by the waives, as if the sea herself has heaved them up overnight. A tiny subculture outside the rest of the world, outside the confinements of your familiar city, outside the buildings where you work, where you live, and where you die.

We were anchored out in the bay, far from all other boats. There was music coming from the radio. Familiar old songs I was hearing from the first time. More people showed up on dinghies and climbed aboard. The sun did its usual trick and gloriously left the scene provoking much admiration and delight among all. The night fell. We ate and drank and talked and laughed. Someone remembered his childhood aliens. Someone else revealed a secret about this uninhabited phantom-island, not far from here, that is still Spanish territory as a result of some ancient agreement, but nobody knows. A woman’s voice on the VHF radio announced that there were reports of  ‘a man in the water’ and the coastguard was looking for him. Over.

Kids went to bed first, then I curled up next to Maya in the aft cabin under the deck. I heard goodbyes as some people left; I heard dinghies detaching themselves from the boat and disappearing; I heard the people who stayed still talking and laughing. We were ten left on the boat, the music still playing, the VHF woman still desperately searching for her man in the water. Then all was silent. The sea was sleeping beneath us.

The sea was sleeping beneath me. I pressed my ear to her belly. I listened to her inner world. The murmur of rivers running inside her, the screeching of doors, the eruption of miniature volcanoes, the distant cry of a whale. Thus, I was drifting away in my sleep, my head rhythmically capsizing a bit with every exhaling of her breath. 

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Boat Punk Video reportage by Anne-Cécile Genre

Weekly Photo Challenge 

 

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The Nudist French-Canadians in Miami

After the Boat Show in Miami, and after our RV gets out of the auto service center, we start looking for overnight spots in safe areas in Miami while negotiating the catamaran in Key West and all the details around the contract and the sale.

The first night we sleep undisturbed behind a Publix store, and the next, in front of a 24 hour Wall-Mart in Hollandale Beach where we discover in the morning a small yellowish ticket on the windshield of our sleeping Baba Ghanoush saying “ No commercial vehicle parking between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. : fine $104.“  Baba Ghanoush IS NOT a commercial vehicle, she is an RV (Recreational Vehicle) and as a matter of fact, we were not parked, but stopped (people inside the vehicle). Next, we freak out, we find the police department, and we gently fight over definitions with a nice policewoman, who finally gives up, says, you are nice young people, and don’t do that again, and indulgently acquits us of all the charges. Great!

Now, back to finding a safe overnight free parking spot in Miami area for a 32 feet 1988 suspicious-looking RV…

It’s getting dark and we pull over behind another Wall-Mart in another part of Miami and just like that, accidently, the most amazing sight unfolds before our perplexed gazes. Baba Ghanoush stops abruptly, facing a population of  about twenty vans and campers of all sorts: big and small, new and old, almost exclusively with Quebec registrations, stationed in the most remote corner of the parking lot. There are also a few commercial tractor-trailers parked between the campers, a few permanent vans where homeless locals live, and some mini-busses. Not a single normal car. It looks more like a campground than a Wall-Mart parking lot.

In the middle, between the campers, there is a group of tanned men in their sixties wearing nothing but shorts and sandals, holding beer cans, staring at us, their conversation interrupted.

Bonjour, we greet them friendly in French-Quebecois, but it’s hard to break the ice. We join the gang for the night, instructed on which spot to park. We obey. We are not absolutely sure what is going on here, but we feel safe, among compatriots. We sleep.

This little off-grid campground, whose precise location I am not going to reveal as I now feel very protective of it, exists for many years. Its unknown French-Canadian founding fathers first settled here decades ago and each year spend six of the harshest Canadian winter months in Miami, near shopping and near the beach. More precisely, near the nudist beach, as these are no ordinary snowbirds, but nudist snowbirds, who don’t pay for campsites in crowded over regulated campgrounds. I absolutely admire them, and I can’t believe the local authorities are letting it happen. Maybe there is a reason why no one disturbs them and the police car slowly passes trough a few times a day with no objections. Living in the area half the year, they are supporting the local economy by spending their Canadian pensions in near by stores and restaurants. Plus, they occupy only a fraction of a humongous parking lot in back of Wall-Mart, which, if the no overnight parking rule was enforced, would remain deserted and unused anyway. Thus, they don’t bother no one and no one bothers them. I think, that’s the way it should be.

We spend a few days there, trying to fit in, accidently breaking some of the unwritten rules and regulations, like: taking someone else’s overnight spot, running the generator too close to the neighbor and thus ruining his atmosphere, using the water from the little water pump near the fence for washing our Baba Ghanoush in broad day light, and having too much fun at that same water pump taking late-evening cold-water bucket showers. Next time we’ll know better.

The Historical Washing of Baba Ghanoush

The Historical Washing of Baba Ghanoush

We spent a few great days there. We met new friends.

Marcel helped us fix an electrical problem with our RV and took us to a nice park and a pizza buffet; Stephanie from Switzerland introduced us to her dog Mapuche; Nicole thought me how to do crochet and how to make beautiful knitted handbags out of plastic bags; and we spent the last evening before heading off to Key West sitting in our folding heavy-duty camping chairs, under the parking lot lights, sipping warm beer, and sharing funny stories with Alex and few other guys until midnight.

A handbag made out of Dolarama plastic bags.   -by Nicole Cloutier

A handbag made out of Dolarama plastic bags. -by Nicole Cloutier

Evening socializing at the Wall-Mart French-Canadian nudist campground.

Evening socializing at the Wall-Mart French-Canadian nudist campground.

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Volunteering at The Dali Museum

Beloved imagination, what I most like in you is your unsparing quality. 

 

– André Breton, The Surrealist Manifesto 

Not too long ago, I wrote about our Saturday Market volunteering career in Saint Pete:

For about two hours each Saturday, we used to help a merchant to load his produce on a truck, and, as a token of his appreciation, he used to give us one thousand pineapples.

(For a more detailed and truthful account of these events, read  The Pineapple Volunteers)

At about the same time as we found a way to fill our bellies with vital vitamins free of charge, I also found a way to satisfy my hunger for culture and art (also free of charge). I became an active volunteer at the new Dali Museum in Saint Petersburg Florida in order to gain access to the galleries, as well as numerous events and lectures. (Apparently, there is no Green Card or any other type of work permit required if one, no matter from which country of the world, is willing to work without remuneration in the United States. Only a background check is required.)

Me running away from the Dali Museum, Saint Petersburg

Mira running away from the Dali Museum, Saint Petersburg, Florida

Salvador Dali, my favourite artist as a child when I was somewhere between Maya’s and Viktor’s age, had a great influence on me. Looking at the colour reproductions of his paintings in a book, I remember feeling the presence of the marvellous, the magical, the outrageous, the paranoiac. When I found out that a museum full of his paintings is just under my nose, I had to do something about it. And I did the right thing, I became part of it. I volunteered.

The museum opened doors in 2011.

„Designed by architect Yann Weymouth of HOK, the new building combines the rational with the fantastical: a simple rectangle with 18-inch thick hurricane-proof walls out of which erupts a large free-form geodesic glass bubble known as the „enigma.“ The „enigma,“ which is made up of 1062 triangular pieces of glass, stands 75 feet at its tallest point, a twenty-first century homage to the dome that adorns Dali’s museum in Spain. Inside, the Dali houses another unique architectural feature – a helical staircase – recalling Dali’s obsession with spirals and the double helical shape of the DNA molecule.“

http://thedali.org/about_the_museum/the_building.php

Via an internet volunteering system, I choose my days and hours of work, about 2-3 hours a week. My job is distributing headphones to visitors on the first floor next to the gift shop.

Hi, would you like a headphone? I need one ID for each adult. No, I can’t take your credit card instead. Press 1 and the play button for general information about the museum and the collection. Each painting has a number on a label beside it. Press that number and the play button again for more information on that painting. All the galleries are on the third floor. There is a guided tour as well every hour. You can take the stairs or the elevator. The restrooms are just around the corner. You can also watch a 7 minute film in the theatre here on the first floor, it’s free and it plays every 15 minutes. Enjoy!

They take the stairs or the elevator and up they go to the third floor. They return to take back their IDs. We keep them in alphabetical order.

What is your last name? Here you go.

I collect the headphones and place them on a rack to charge the batteries. Sometimes, I listen to the recording punching random numbers. A woman’s voice talks about paintings I don’t see. I haven’t been on the third floor yet. I have no idea how the little labels with the numbers on them look like. Only when I accumulate a total of 8 hours of work I will become a member of the museum with free access to the galleries, events, and lectures.

Two weeks pass.

My two-hour shift is almost finished. This makes exactly eight hours total. I gently place a set of headphones on my head. I take the elevator or the stairs. I burst into an open door and there is a painting before me. And I realize then, with an amazement I have not been able to lessen since, I am looking at a canvas touched by Salvador Dali. The painting is literally a record of the painter’s hallucinations. His body, which was there, touched the canvas which radiations ultimately touch me, who am here, like the delayed rays of a star.

I will not spend one hour rushing through the galleries consuming all 96 paintings at once, unable to digest them. I will take one at a time, savour it, enter it, let it melt slowly before swallowing it. I can visit the galleries every day if I want to, and spend time with one painting at a time. I can also borrow and take home books from the shelves of the volunteering office, all about Dali and his art, Surrealism, as well as other painters, photographers, and art movements. I can also attend all sorts of events, lectures, and shows, some of which are for members only and a guest. And I did take advantage of everything! I borrowed a book on double images, where Maya learned about Dali, as well as Archimbaldo’s portraits made out of fruits or fishes; with Maya we attended a lecture about Tattoo art and Dali; another lecture on Salvador Dali’s childhood and early years; and an opening of an exhibition, members only, including a theatre performance, wine, and buffet. It was amazing!

There are volunteer opportunities in almost every museum or art centre in America, and I was considering signing up at the Ringling Museum, after we moved from Saint Petersburg to Sarasota. For me this is a perfect option to stay connected to art and culture, to learn, and to become involved with the local art scene in the places we visit when we are not in a hurry.

Mira. SurrealIn front of The Dali Museum, before a member-only event

Mira. Surreal
In front of The Dali Museum, before a members-only exhibition openning

 notes, inspirations, web sites:

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

The Dali Museum website: http://thedali.org/home.php

Andre, Breton, First Surrealist Manifesto:   http://www.tcf.ua.edu/Classes/Jbutler/T340/F98/SurrealistManifesto.htm

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