Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Fort Jefferson

 Located in the Dry Tortugas Islands about 70 miles southwest of Key West.  They were discovered by Ponce de Leon back in early XVI century and were named due to the abundance of sea turtles that used them as nesting sites.  The dry connotation came because there is no source of fresh water available and perhaps now also because no alcoholic beverages are sold there J.


 The islands were taken from Spain in 1822. Since they are strategically located at the maritime entrance to the Gulf of Mexico, the United States commenced to build a fort there in the late 1840’s but it was never completed. It was mostly used as a coaling station for the Navy and a prison during the Civil War.  The only notable historical note was that Dr. Samuel Muck and two others implicated in the assassination were incarcerated there.

 Fort Jefferson was built using 16 million bricks and the outer walls are now in a state of disrepair and crumbling down, particularly around the opening used to fire the guns. The bricks came from Pensacola and New York and the labor from slaves and prisoners.  The wives of the soldiers were employed in cooking and washing.  It is the most impressive brick structure I had seen along with the Coca Castle in Spain.

 It has been visited by some pirates of prominence such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway.   The only ways to get there now is mostly is by seaplane or boat.  I went by boat and it takes about 2 hours of navigation.  Once you get there is plenty of time to explore the fort.

 One of the beauties of this park is that unlike others, you can virtually walk over without restrictions.  Other than sightseeing, there is bird watching and snorkeling as well as just plainly relaxing. The islands have large rookeries of birds and are a major migration route. John J. Audubon while visiting there painted birds for his book.  To this day, it reminds a center of attractions for birdwatchers.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Short Tour Around the South

 Atlanta is the most vivid city of the southeast.  I first set foot here in 1970 and the changes have been extraordinary as in other cities in the South but in a greater scale.  Nothing is the same, not even the Varsity, it has been modernized, and the skyline, it was not there before, not to mention the airport...the busiest one in the nation as they claim!  The most impressive location for me was the Aquarium, it the best of the one I have visited and the tunnel across the major tank was impressive.  It is a place to just look and not photograph but I did it anyway…with not great results due to the reflections of the glass walls.  The porpoise show was different, it was all indoors as in a theater seating.

Would there be an Atlanta without Coca Cola?   John Pemberton formulated it in the 1880s and the original formula included morphine and was marketed as a medicine.  He was a physician and a pharmacist and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel fighting for the South during the Civil War.  Later on during prohibition the formula was changed to remove the alcohol content, the current formula is treated as a trade secret.  The Coca part of the name was derived from cocaine and the Cola from the use of caffeine extracted from the kola nut.  Below is a statue of Mr. Pemberton in front of the Coca Cola museum in Atlanta; he died poor. I recall seeing another museum with a large bottle of Coke in front in LasVegas but do not know if that museum still stands.  I prefer Pepsi but Coke will do.

 Driving across the south, one finds a Barbeque places in all towns who claims that they are the most famous, the ones with the original recipe and the best barbeque sandwiches.  I just stopped in the one below in the city of Sumter, South Carolina who claimed all of the above.  Was it?  Well it was good.  But the building is the most elaborate I have seen and the interior decoration was also great; from that point of view, Maurice Piggy Park is the most luxurious I have visited.  Another item that I have never seen in a Barbeque Place was a buffet line…and there were some customers pigging out.  I tried their mustard barbeque sauce that was very good; it can be found in supermarkets.  The chain has about 14 locations mostly in South Carolina.

Next I visited Huntington State Park, a place I had visited regularly since the early seventies and the most rewarding place to photograph birds, even better than Sanibel Island.  This is a smaller park and the birds are accustomed to people so they are easier to approach. In this occasion I captured a roseate spoonbill taking a bite of a snowy egret.  The spoonbill was doing his feeding business of moving the bill underwater right and left and suddenly the egret landed in front of it.  It appears that latter did not like the former to mess with its meal.  It seems that the wood storks and an anhinga found the occasion funny and were laughing about it.  The shaken snow egret was not pleased.

There are not only birds but the other most common species are people. But they may not be too appetizing to alligators.  The wannabe Rembrandt seemed annoyed by the paparazzo that was targeting his landscape painting.  But I did capture the gentleman who has recently entered the South Carolina Beard’s Club 2014 beard, moustache and facial hair competition.

 Driving south from Huntington State Park, Hobcaw Barony is found before crossing the bridge into Georgetown.  This property was purchased by Bernard Baruch, originally from South Carolina who was an entrepreneur and political figure during the first half of the 20th century.  He entertained famous people such as Winston Churchill and advisor to presidents Woodrow Wilson and t President Roosevelt during the First and Second World Wars.  The property of approximately 16,000 acres is located in the Waccacamau peninsula, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Wynjah Bay to the west, and came into the property of his daughter Belle who upon her death, deeded it to a foundation.  There various structures in the property and at one time, rice were the major agricultural crop back in the 19th century that was tended by slaves.  Some of the structures such as the Hobcaw house and the Bellefield house can be visited with prior arrangements.  There are also guided nature tours, I choose to take the one of the beach which is part  nature reserve and borders a new development to the north; these houses are subjected to beach erosion as is the situation along the majority of the length of the Atlantic coast.  Erosion is very obvious inside the preserve as can be seen from the base of the dead tree, farther inland the palmetto, the state tree of South Carolina is abundant.  Plan your trip there before going.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

An Italian Sampler. Part 2.. Napoleon's Italy

Bastia, Corsica.

Napoleon Bonaparte was born in the town of Ajaccio, Corsica in 1769.  The island also claims that Christopher Columbus was also born there, as many other places do.  Some historians claim that Napoleon is the second son of Corsica and that Pascal Paoli is # 1 since he is considered the father of modern Italy and created the Corsican Republic that was an independent state in1755.  In the Place St. Nicolas in Bastia, there is a marble statue of Napoleon depicted as a Roman emperor carved by Francesco Bartolini in 1853.  This park was built in a landfill material that was excavated from the construction of a railroad tunnel in the XIX century.  Corsica is known for the “vendetta “code that mandated revenge to preserve a family honor.
Near the park and closer to the waterfront, you can find the conning tower of the WWII French submarine Casabianca.  This sub escaped the German occupation of France and joined the Allied Forces.   During the war it saw action mostly in intelligence missions and in delivering war supplies to Corsica for the French resistance.  The sub was named after Captain Luc-Julien-Joseph Casabianca who was a French naval officer that fought under Admiral Comte de Grasse in the battle of the Virginia Capes, defeating the British fleet in 1781.  This led to the surrender of Lord Cornwallis in Yorktown and the independence of the United States.  In 1798 Casabianca was the captain of the French flagship Orient who carried Napoleon to Egypt.  The Orient was sunk by the English fleet during the battle of Aboukir Bay killing most of them aboard including Casabianca and his 12 years old son.
Strolling around Bastia, one finds the typical sights of a Mediterranean coastal city offering great photo opportunities.  The first image of a fishing supplies store below I suspect is just set for tourists since it was the only store of this type; very colorful.  Next is one of the fortresses that defended the city during medieval times followed by the beach cove.  Being a port town, one finds a multitude of colorful ferries navigating the waters.

During WWII Corsica was invaded by Italy but after the downfall of Mussolini in 1943, the Italian forces changed sides and joined the Allied forces.  The Free French army landed in the island of which the 4th Moroccan Mountain Division was a component.  They fought in the battle of Teghime and the monument below commemorates that event.  The landscape image is the view of the mountains and coastal area from that point.  Lots of bikers were observed in the mountain roads of the islands which I assume are very challenging.

The Corsican flag (Bandera testa Mora) represents a black moor head and its origin I found obscure.  But it appears it has been used since the middle ages and incorporated into various countries flags, coats of arms and paintings. In some European countries in the XV century it was used to represent saints with African origins. It also known as the Maure symbol and originally the headband was a blindfold that was raised.
                                                        Portoferriao, Elba
This city is the biggest in the Island of Elba and best known as the site of the first exile of Napoleon Bonaparte.  The name means Iron Port because of the iron mills that were once the source of wealth.  It was of strategic importance in the Renaissance and strongly fortified.  The yellow building below was Napoleon’s House is; he escaped from the island and returned to France where he governed for Hundred Days until finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo.

The island is About 12 miles from the Italian Coast in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Today its major business is tourism.  The major attractions are the fortifications around the island and the various shops.  It takes a lot of walking to visit the 3 fortifications in the island.  To reach one has to walk around the island requires detours thru some of the neighborhoods.  Most of the houses are painted yellow and/or pink and have potted flowers or climbing vines in the front.

I saw this memorial in one of the parks and though that is was a memorial to a fallen fireman because of the flaming marble corner.  It happened that it was in honor of a Finance Officer that was killed during a terrorist attack in 1973 at the Fiumicino Airport in Rome.  In 1985 I was at this airport coming home. A week later watching the night news saw that it was attacked again.  The video showed a coffee stand inside the airport with all the chairs and tables knocked around…the same place I was drinking my last cup of expresso before boarding the flight home.

The island is a tourist paradise for northern European coming for the sunny holidays.  The port was full large yachts belonging to the glamourous people and the beach umbrellas waiting to be rented.  The flower was growing from the fortress walls and was very common; it is caper; the thing you eat.  And it is time to say “arrivederci” to Elba.