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 Ubuntu Family

Not only Viktor made a new friend here at 3D Boatyard. We all did. Dylan’s family came in a package of four: a dad, a mom, a brother, and a sister. The package: a catamaran a lot like ours.

Well, our family’s configuration is pretty much the same, and so we all got a friend each, or, at times, two friends each, or even four friends each!

Viktor and Dylan

Viktor and Dylan

While Viktor and Dylan go fishing after the work for the day is done, or playing soccer, or videogaming; Maya and Kashara go to the park for a walk, or draw, or polish each other’s nails, or watch movies while eating pop-tarts.

Maya and Kashara

Maya and Kashara

Boatyard Feet Close-up

Boatyard Feet Close-up

During that time, Ivo and David talk about boats and repairs, sailing and navigating, David patiently explaining things and giving Ivo invaluable information like: how to clear customs in some island of the Bahamas for example, or which VHF channel to use to talk between boats.

David and Ivo

David and Ivo

Lori and I, we might go for a walk and talk about literature, homeschooling, life on the boat, and life in general.

Lori and me

Lori and me

We also spent many evenings together, the four kids in Baba Ganoush having fun gaming or watching films, the four adults in the cockpit of our boat drinking beer and getting to know each other better, the way new instant friends do, discovering, with pleasant bursts of surprise, more and more common interests, worldviews, and passions. For me, two such moments of joy were finding out that David is an artist, and that Lori is an English and Icelandic Language major who, like me, has a great passion for reading and writing.

Viktor, Dylan, Maya, and Kashara aboard Fata Morgana

Viktor, Dylan, Maya, and Kashara aboard Fata Morgana

There was also a lot of exchanging and lending of instruments and machinery going on between our two catamarans on a daily basis, as well as a constant flow of little dishes and boxes full of home-made exquisites like David’s famous banana muffins or my eggplant stew, Kashara’s  macaroni salad, or Maya’s potato salad.

And this is happening in a boatyard while working ten hours a day to fix the boats, no beach nearby! Imagine when our two catamarans meet again near some tropical Caribbean island with nothing to do, but snorkel, fish, and explore the local villages…

I long for that moment.

Ubuntu, sanded and painted all shiny and new, left the Boatyard yesterday, everyone waiving goodbye. Floating away, the boat left a big space in the boatyard and in our hearts incomprehensibly empty.

Looks unnatural.

Feels sad.

Ubuntu Tango with Lori and Me

Ubuntu Tango with Lori and Me

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Not Sad Viktor

Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.

― Anaïs Nin

For the first time since we started this journey five months ago Viktor is truly happy.

Until now he was closed in his shell, playing video games or listening to music on his iPod , reluctant to participate in most of the family activities, in a state of denial. You see, leaving everything behind, friends included, is not easy, especially for a fifteen-year-old.

But all this suddenly changed about a week ago.

Let me tell you, he is all over the place: he wakes up in the morning, puts on his working pants and starts working: grinding, sanding, helping to fix the boat. Then he eats dinner. After the work is finished around 5 pm,  he goes to the park near the boat yard and he plays soccer until his pants are damp with his own sweat. Then he takes a shower and he eats supper. After supper, he might go fishing from the docks or he plays video games and listens to music in Baba Ganoush until late at night.

Why this huge change, you might ask.

The answer is simple: he met a new friend, Dylan.

Dylan is seventeen. For five years now, he’s been living on a catamaran much like ours with his mother Lori, his dad David and his sister Kashara who is sixteen. They have been cruising in the Bahamas and the Caribbean region, and sometimes come to Florida. They have come to 3D boat yard in Key West to work on their boat Ubuntu, sanding and painting her. So now, we are two catamarans here in 3D, two families with too many things in common.

This is why Viktor is all over the place. He is working hard, sanding Ubuntu, with Dylan beside him; playing soccer with Dylan; going fishing with Dylan; or playing video games and listening to music in Baba Ganoush until late at night.

With Dylan.

Viktor and Dylan working on Ubuntu.

Viktor and Dylan working on Ubuntu.

Viktor and Dylan playing soccer.

Viktor and Dylan (and Humphrey), fishing.

Viktor and Dylan (and Bogart), fishing.

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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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Maya’s Corner

I am so happy, I got a flute from a guy named Phil.  And I keep practicing but it is really hard and I loose my pacience. But I know with practice I will be an expert someday. Phil has at least a dozen flutes and he plays them at the beach at sunset. He has all kind of sizes and some very special ones. There is one made out of turquoise. Mine is wooden and has a bison on it and strings made out of bison skin. Phil lives in a very very big RV with his wife Margie in Turtle Beach. Thank you Phil!

Maya and Phil at sunset, Turtle Beach

Maya and Phil at sunset, Turtle Beach

Sometime ago I was on Skype with Anne-Sophie, a very good friend of mine from back home. I always call her Anne-Sou for short. She speaks French. Back home, we play a lot wii, we ride our bikes and we do sleepovers. Me and her together we have a huge imagination. I miss my old friends and Anne-Sou… I love meeting new people and making new friends, but the worst part is every time we meet new awesome people they go away like after three days or after e few hours, or we go away.

In Turtle Beach, Mia was my new best friend for a week. Me and her were always together. In the pool we were splashing, playing with balls in the water, it was so fun! The second day after we met we thought about a sleepover. So we asked her grandma, and she said yes, and my mom said yes too! So we rushed to our RV and we packed up my PetShops, Bubba, my teddy bear, and my swimsuit. We planned what we were going to do at the sleepover all the way back to her condo. There, we had popsicles and we went back to the pool. After, we played PetShops all day and a bit of the night. Mia always sleeps with crossed legs and she sleep-talks. It was so funny. We wake up, and first thing’s first, we play PetShops.

Maya and Mia

Maya and Mia

The last day before Mia left, our families got together for dinner and Mia and me made a performance: Clown Act, Goblin, Ballet, Shower, and Restaurant. It was funny.

A bad thing happened:

We were supposed to meet Bear Grylls at the Boat Show, but the stupid RV broke down so we couldn’t see him. It was going to be the best day of my life but it turned out to be the worst day of my life… And I am pretty upset to write about it because it reminds me.

The drawing Maya made for Bear Grylls. (It's him standing next to a volcano)

The drawing Maya made for Bear Grylls. (It’s him standing next to a volcano)

The message on back of the drawing.

The message on back of the drawing.

But every time something bad happens, something good happens too. If the RV haven’t broke down I would meet Bear Grylls, but I wouldn’t meet Jasmine. She is my other best friend for a few days. Nickname- Jazz. She made me dice nail polish, white with black dots, and glitter nail polish on my toes, rainbow color. We watched movies together. Once we watched a really scary horror movie, so scary I almost peed my pants.

Jasmine and Maya

Jasmine and Maya

Dice&rainbow nail polish designs by Jasmine.

Dice&rainbow nail polish designs by Jasmine.

Next subject:

Two dogs wrote to me. Their names are Joppe and Tango. I like Joppe because he is funny and he said he can pee when they tell him to. Tango is cool too, he likes eating and he even eats carrots. I really wished I had a dog too.

I sell pot holders $2 each and two for $3. And it is $2 minimum, which means you can give $3 or $4 or more if you want to, but I am not forcing you. I don’t buy them, I make them out of my shirt sleeves and they can be pretty handy sometimes. I was thinking to buy me a skateboard with the money, but now I don’t know what will I buy, I am still thinking about it. I only sold one for $2 so far. I also found lots of seashells at the beach and I was thinking to start selling them too.

Maya's Pot Holders

Maya’s Pot Holders

When i am pretty bored I go swinging for like half an hour or more and I also sing when I swing. I sing about what will happen in my life or what already happened, or what I’d like to happen.

I love traveling. I loved the Everglades. It is fun to see all the trees and gators, it’s so cool.

I also like when my dad makes freshly squeezed orange juice. My dad is my favorite member of the family, he takes good care of us.

My favorite guest from the trip is Mia and this guy named Ray. He is awesome! He brings us lots of pizza and he has amazing stories. Once, when he was 17, he needed to go to California with an airplane but he ended up in Spain instead! It is a long story but a good one. He gave me awesome cookies! I gave him one of my pot holders.

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Mi Casa Su Casa

We leave Turtle Beach, direction: Miami Boat Show 2013, right?

We get to South Beach February 13th around 7 p.m. and our old RV (Baba Ghanoush) stops in the middle of Michigan Avenue, not far from the Convention Center (where the boat show will start the next morning), coughs, gasps, and, without any particular reason, dies. We push her large lifeless body away from the middle of the street to the side, in front of a fire plug (the only free parking spot near by). We sleep there, with one eye open, waiting for the police or the parking enforcement guys to show up any minute. Plus, it is humid and hot as hell, it’s South Florida…

The next day, still no parking ticket, the manager of the near-by building complex passes by and we tell him about our misfortune. We tell him not more than a few confused hurried words, trying to explain that we don’t want to take the parking space in front of his buildings, but we are kind of stuck. And than the most surprising thing happens: the manager, Azael, who doesn’t know anything about us except that we have two kids with us, invites us to take shower, use the laundry and even sleep in one of the vacant apartments of the building, furnished, luxurious, with two big bedrooms. For the first time in almost four months we sleep in normal beds! For the first time in almost four months we take showers in a private bathroom, and not in the beach, marina, campground, or sailing school public showers! For the first time in almost four months we have a private clean toilet, and we don’t have to run to the park, Walmart, or any other public restroom! And running water, and electricity, and a laundry machine! All those things people usually don’t even think about, made us so happy. We stay there for three days.

After three days and a few unsuccessful attempts to fix the RV problem ourselves, Baba Ghanoush gets transported to a service center by a tow-truck for $350. It’s Saturday, the service center is closed on Sunday and we have to wait until Monday or maybe Tuesday before we will see her again, running. So we are homeless again.

We go back to the apartment for two more days, before our Baba Ghanoush is finally resuscitated, for a total of $1, 035.

Bad things are always sudden and unpredictable and tend to occur in the worst of moments. But thanks to our RV’s little fit, we got to meet Azael, his beautiful wife Sonia, and their three kids, Shaun, Jasmine, and Kevin, who thought us a lesson of kindness and humanity.

And the boat show?

Well, that’s another story.

Azael and Sonya

Azael and Sonia

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Friends from Turtle Beach

We are on the move again after a full month staying in Sarasota’s Turtle Beach. We absolutely loved this secluded quiet place, away from the crowds of tourists down in Siesta Key. The park became our home and all the people we met there became our friends and temporary neighbours.Some are from the local community, others, visitors like us.

Toma, from Russia, now married to an American and living in Sarasota

The most avid fisher-woman I’ve ever seen, full of energy and laughter. With a contagious smile on her face and strong accent, she would tell us stories of horror and unimaginable endurance from the Second World War in Russia, where Nazi bombs killed all of her family, and she survived for years living in a hole dug in the ground, starving. She knows the value of proteins and she celebrates every fish caught on her hook.

Toma with a fish

Toma with a fish

John, born in Montreal, Canada, now lives in Texas

He would tell us the funniest stories in the morning, passing through the park on his way to his 6-mile walk. We hope to see you again soon and here some more of those stories! Say hi to your daughter back in Montreal, and thank you for the fish!

Jan and Tony, from California, now live in Sarasota

Authentic Californian hippies, they thought us how to fish for flounders and sharks. And with reggae music running through their veins, and ours, we spent together a crazy evening at O’Leary’s Tiki Bar down in Siesta Village. Road Block, a surprisingly good reggae band, plays there every Friday between 6 and 10 p. m. and the place is packed with dancing people.

Jan and Tony at the beach

Jan and Tony at the beach

Ivo with Desi Adams from Road Block in O'Leary's Tiki Bar

Ivo with Desi Adams from Road Block in O’Leary’s Tiki Bar

Candis, Harley, and Mia

On vacation from Fargo, Candis, Harley and their grand-daughter Mia, 7 years old, practically adopted Maya for a week, as Maya and Mia became best friends. They have rented an apartment in Tortuga, a condo near our park. The girls activities that week included: constant swimming in Tortuga’s heated pool; playing PetShops in Mia’s room; a legendary sleepover at their place; a very improvised dinner at our place in the park (with  a shower curtain for a tablecloth, foam dishes, plastic cups and no knives for the turkey and sausages I grilled on the BBQ); another dinner at their place with Mia’s parents, who came for a weekend to get Mia. Harley, who is a professional jazz musician and can play on various instruments, played the clarinet for us, and the girls performed last-minute choreographed dances and skits, and we all got cheek muscle pain from laughing too much.

Mia and Maya, drawing at the pier in our park

Mia and Maya, drawing at the pier in our park

Mia, Maya, and Candis

Mia, Maya, and Candis

Ray, lives in Sarasota

As a way to escape the daily boring routine, Ray delivers pizzas from a restaurant two evenings per week with his flaming-red convertible Jaguar. We met him thanks to Wally, to whom he brings food Tuesdays and Thursdays. He started bringing us delicious pizza from the restaurant that didn’t sell the night before, as well as salads, chilli, even crab cakes, and other masterpieces that he makes himself.

The first time I tried a salad he made, I felt (like the one who escaped Plato’e Cave to discover the real world outside the cave) struck and enveloped by light. I then realized with nostalgia, I’ve been living in some sort of a salad cave all my life… But most of all, we enjoyed ray’s incredible stories and company. Thank you Ray!

Ray's Crab Cakes...Yum!

Ray’s Crab Cakes…Yum!

Anna and Lucas from Bavaria, Germany

One day, they parked their car next to our Baba Ghanoush in the park and stayed with us for two unforgettable weeks. Nineteen-years-old, just out of high school, beautiful intelligent kids, they are touring Canada and America for a year before going back to college, sleeping in a car, cooking their own food on a small portable propane stove.

We thought them to fish at the beach, we trained at sunset following Lucas who is a track-and-field athlete, and, with two more Canadian friends who came to visit us for a few days, we went to Fort Desoto Park and we made sand sculptures.

Maya and Anna painting

Maya and Anna painting

Lucas training with Ivo and Viktor

Lucas training with Ivo and Viktor

Laundry time ...in the beach showers...

Laundry time …in the beach showers…

Fun time with Anna, Lucas, and Ivo

Fun time with Anna, Lucas, and Ivo

Anna and Maya working on a sand sculpture, Fort Desoto.  -photo by Lucas

Anna and Maya working on a sand sculpture, Fort Desoto. -photo by Lucas

Mira's sand sculpture

Mira’s sand sculpture  -photo by Lucas

We also grilled things on the BBQ and partied in the park, together with Wally, almost every night, around Ivo’s fires „made from scratch“ out of dead wood and dry  palm leaves.

BBQ time with Maya, Ivo, and Anna

BBQ time with Maya, Ivo, and Anna  -photo by Lucas

Once, Wally wanted to have roasted lamb like the one he had in Crete years ago, and so he makes me take a pen and paper and write down the necessary ingredients: a boneless leg of lamb in a net from Publix; mint jelly for coating the meat; elephant garlic cloves; a specific type of charcoal, and a Key Lime Pie for dessert. We get the stuff and Anna and I rub the meat with olive oil and salt, poke wholes all over and stick in slices of garlic everywhere. Then, we wrap it in foil and we forget it on the grill for about three hours. Best lamb all of us ever had!

I also made salad with the free vegetables we get from the market every week. (Same as in Saint Pete, we volunteered to help a farmer in Sarasota’s Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays, and he gives us, for about half an hour of work, three-four boxes full of Fruits and veggies. There is enough for all of us: our family of four, Anna, Lucas, and Wally for a week!)

Half an hour worth of produce.

Half an hour worth of produce.

After dinner, at about 10 p. m., Wally calls a 24 hr. Walmart, electronics department and wants to buy new two-amp speakers for his laptop, which we got for him from his storage. We listen to Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries, full power, and it’s past midnight! The following days and nights, the park echoes with Wally’s favourites: Pavarotti, Leonard Cohen, Bob Marley, Willie Nelson. I can’t believe no one complains or calls the police. I guess everyone likes the music, we do. In any case, I promise myself we’ll get Wally some nice headphones soon.

The night before Anna and Lucas left, we took group portrait, 30 second exposure, with Wally asleep as a background. We miss you Anna and Lucas!

Mira and Anna, with Wally asleep

Lucas and Anna, with Wally asleep

Lucas and Anna, with Wally asleep

Anna and Anna, with Wally asleep

Anna and Anna, with Wally asleep

Ivo, Anna, Mira, and Lucas, with Wally asleep

Ivo, Anna, Mira, and Lucas, with Wally asleep

We love experiencing a place as opposed to just visiting it for a short period of time. Our plans are to return to Turtle Beach and our friends after visiting the boat show in Miami, and a catamaran for sale in Key West.

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Wally

“I’d rather hop freights around the country and cook my food out of tin cans over wood fires, than be rich and have a home or work.”

-Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

When we first came in the park near Turtle Beach, we noticed a dark mysterious lump  folded in upon itself in a brown sleeping bag lifelessly lying on one of the pick-nick tables. Only two legs, as dark and devastated as ancient totems, protruding from the cover. For a couple of days, the lump did not change its position nor shape. But when a cold front arrived and the temperatures dropped a bit, an old mysterious tortoise-like being emerged beneath its blanket and lugged its massive shell towards a roofed shelter at the other end of the park. I brought him a bowl of hot soup I have just made and cautiously started a conversation. A month later, the conversation still goes on.

Wally in the Night Park

His name is Wilhelm Gilbert von Wahlenmaier the Third, the mayor of the park.  But everyone knows him simply as Wally, the Mayor. And when I say everyone, I mean EVERYONE! Wally has a plethora of friends, a number in the thousands. People just cannot resist his charisma  and every day friends stop to converse with him for hours. He graciously granted us a permission to stay in the park as his ephemeral guests, and so here we are.

A very special relationship grew between us, and is still growing. One of friendship and trust. We learned so much from Wally, not only about his life, but also about many other things. Wally is an educated and well-versed fellow, graduate from Denison University, Granville, Ohio, with a bachelor degree in Business Administration and Marketing. He had a successful real estate career, a big beautiful house, and hundreds of lovers. Until one day…

On November 20 in 2000, Wally closed the last door of his last house behind him and realised to himself, Oh my God, I’m homeless… He rode his bicycle to the nearest park and the park became his new temporary home. It has been for the past twelve years and still is. He knows everything that goes on here, and here, possessed by the craving to recount his younger happier days, he tells us stories of love and betrayal, of war and horror, of glory and dismay. He is also writing a book on The Homeless Situation in Sarasota, Florida, an account of his own experiences, as well as those of countless homeless women and men he met. You see, we don’t event think about it, but often we only perceive the present condition of a person we meet, ignorant of their past, their reasons, their circumstances. A grey pile of forsaken ruins consumed by the devastating effects of time, is in fact the Colosseum once trembling with violent glory and rage. But, Oh boy, Wally was a gladiator, a Titus, a Colosseum.

Wally

Born in Columbus, Ohio, in July, 1943, he was a tiny baby paralysed with polio. He overcame it. He overcame everything: his mother’s death when he was 14; thirty three months of hell in North Vietnam when he was only 17; even three marriages, one of which to a terrible Mennonite princess.

But life was always good, and still is for Wally. He never complains, he greets everyone, he enjoys every minute of it. If you pass by in the morning you will here him cheer, Good morning, how are you? I’m fine, how are you, you will respond without stopping. I am marvellous! If I was any better i’d be a twin! And if you stop for a chat, he will tell you one of a thousand around-the-world stories.

In Africa: a hot-air balloon, over the Serengeti, infinite plains stretching before him, the water beasts like ants beneath him, he drifts: a weightless dandelion carried away by the wind, crystal champaign and caviare at sunset, a beautiful lady he loves. (Back on land, he almost gets killed by an irritated Masai warrior for snapping his picture.)

In Greece: an endless table covered with all fruits and fishes of heaven and Earth, a thousand intoxicated guests, a chain of five thousand Sirtaki dancers by the sea, a roasted goat. At the head of the table, he is the guest of honour. Reaching out with a fork, he plucks the roasted goat’s eyeball out and eats it.

In Saint Petersburg, Florida: at the opening of the new Museum of Art, he meets Salvador Dali.

In the Caribbean: he sails on his 27-foot Catalina sailboat for 5 years and almost marries a gorgeous doctor in Barbados. She is still waiting for him. Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaah….

In Egypt: down the Valley of the Kings, he meets so many marvellous people.

In New York: 1983, at the Metropolitan Opera, Pavarotti sing for him and Dorothy, his sugar mama, almost twenty years older than him, an artist and an intellectual, he learned so many things from her. They loved each other dearly.

People sometimes listen to Wally’s stories and tell him, You are not real. But you gotta remember, it’s all true. It’s ALL true, he says.

Such is Wally: full of memories and legendary adventures; a  landmark here in the park, and a form of hallucination.

We respect him very much and this last month we shared many stories and many precious moments. One day, when it is time to move on, we will miss him, and surely enough, he will miss us.

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Communitas. Genesis

The strangest thing. A small and almost unstructured community has come into existence right here, in the park.

A spontaneous and fragile birth of a tiny fruit-fly nymph: Dolania Ephemeroptera.

First, a family from Switzerland in an RV tentatively joins us for a few unforgettable days. Next, a young couple from  Germany travelling around North America by car decide to stay and stick with us for an undetermined period of time, hopefully longer. And recently, a woman with a dog currently living in a car, are often to be seen around. An intense and unfamiliar spirit of solidarity can be detected here, early in the morning, at noon, and late at night. As well as in between-time. It is defined, I believe, by the uncertainty of future outcomes. In other words, we are all staying here until they kick us out, or until we choose to leave, whichever comes first. But Wally says they wont because it’s up to him, and every time this sounds reassuring. Wally is the mayor (here in the park). He is not really a person, but a place. An icon and a legend, Wally is our nucleus. I will write more about him, as well as each and everyone of them in my next posts.

The Family from Switzerland

After two days and nights of undisturbed squatting in the park’s parking near Turtle Beach in Florida, a small rental RV joins us. Michele, un italiano vero, Claudia, his beautiful better half, and their kids, the six-years-old twins Laura, and Fabio, decide to move on the other side of the campground’s fence next to our Baba Ghanoush, where the grass is greener, the sky is bluer, there is no fees, no structure, no order (no showers, no electricity, no full hook-up).

Laura, Claudia, Michele, and Fabio at Turtle Beach, Florida

Laura, Claudia, Michele, and Fabio at Turtle Beach, Florida

They are on vacation from Switzerland, travelling all over Florida. We quickly become friends. Together, we are driven by the irresistible impulse to have fun. At the beach or (when the Red Tide is raging there) somewhere else. We play volleyball, we play football (the Americans wrongly call it soccer  but we are all with European roots); in the evening, in our park, we have BBQ and lots of vino. The kids, like innocent shamans, are playing with burning sticks near the lake. Fabio and Laura, who only speak Italian and some Swiss-German dialect which to me sounds as beautiful as butterflies, are teaching Viktor and Maya a song which they now only remember in their dreams. How is it possible that kids of different languages always find a way to communicate? Isn’t it magical?

Their feet covered with grey dirt,  fingers sticky, eyes heavy with sleep, the kids are transported into their beds in the campers. Tomorrow they will continue the game.

Around the fire, Michele continues to sing gently, and we all join in, the songs of Adriano Celentano, Toto Cutugno, and Al Bano and Romina Power. The night will never end.

A few days pass, and our new friends have to continue their journey. Departure is the saddest part of every friendship. We didn’t have enough of each other and yet it is time to say goodbye.

Who will sing to us Felicita now, Michele?

When will you play with Maya again, Laura?

Who am I going to photograph now, and how are we ever going to play football without you, Fabio?

When are we going to savour again the best spaghetti with tomato sauce, Claudia?

We miss you, guys…

Laura, Maya, and Fabio

Laura, Maya, and Fabio

The men washing the dishes at the beach showers.

The men washing the dishes at the beach showers.

The Unstoppable, Unbeatable, Football Legend: Fabio

The shy but ambitious Fabio. Before the game.

Fabio, a frail little guy, but feisty.

Claudia and Fabio playing football (soccer-am.)

Claudia trying without any chance of success to score a goal against Fabio

Two players: Maya and Laura, trying to outrun Fabio. Impossible.

Ivo is trying to take the ball. from Fabio. Ha-ha! Better luck next time, Ivo!

Ivo is trying to take the ball from Fabio. Ha-ha! Better luck next time, Ivo!

Gooooooooooooooooooooooal

All of us

All of us

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