I fear that the Wildlife Photographer Of The Year Award may not quite be within my reach, but I still wanted to put those up 🙂
My last post featured some funky Key West buildings, but it’s not only stationary items that dazzle on this island – there’s also a fleet of elaborately painted cars cruising around.
Time for more pictures, methinks.
And coming up in the next instalment, Key West painted cars! I bet you can’t wait, can you?!
Life on small islands usually bears little reflection of how citizens of the same country experience their daily lives just a few nautical miles away on the mainland. Key West is no exception. With an area of just seven and a half square miles and a population of twenty four and a half thousand, it is very much its own microcosm. The pace of life is slow, its inhabitants are laid back, class backgrounds and socioeconomic disparities pose no barrier to socialising together. Miami, famed city of vice and ginger haired serial killers, is three-and-a-half hours by car and 40 minutes by plane, but it may as well be on a different planet.
It should not come as a surprise that Key West criminals are a very special breed with their own set of priorities and particular ways of doing things. My friends, who I’m staying with here, told me of a recent bank robbery, where the robbers were discovered just a few blocks away from the crime scene, in a local bar, having a drink, the holdall stuffed with cash right beside them. I’d like to think that the round was on them, and that the cops stayed for a couple of cool ones before making their arrests.
Besides hearsay and local anecdotes, there is a much more authoritative source of criminal activity on the island – let me introduce you to the trusty Key West Citizen:
Every day, The Citizen features a Crime Report section. Here is a sample of the headlines and articles that have appeared since I got here on Jan 15th:
This one is my absolute favourite so far:
Yes, a broken window was the crime of January 20th. An antique broken window, if you please.
I’ve highlighted the amusing passage in the last two pieces:
Toledo has its scrawny street cats, and Key West, as I found out this week, is overrun with resplendent roosters. The reason they have taken over the island has something to do with Cubans, who arrived on the island in their droves in the mid-1800s, being partial to cockfights. But after these spectacles were outlawed back in the 1970s, the chooks were duly booted out into the streets – now talk about a fowl unemployment crisis!
There are thousands of them roaming the isle, scratching a living together. Public opinion on the “Key West Gypsy Chickens”, as the breed is officially referred to, is sharply divided – some love these colourful and resilient characters, others are twitching to have them all culled. But the upshot is that they are protected, and people who are not nice to them are prosecuted, as you can see in this news item I spotted in the Key West Citizen on 18 Jan 2013:
It has to be said, the males of the species are handsome little devils. (See below, NOT above!!)
And it’s not only live roosters that are omnipresent – they’ve spawned a whole genre of idiosyncratic Key West art and, of course, merchandising.
And while the boys are strutting about town getting five-figure modelling contracts, the drab clucking females are dutifully raising the next generation.
As everybody who’s been through this process knows, it’s impossible to get a sense of your own progress on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis.
So, more often than not, it’s other people commenting on your level of linguistic competence which triggers the realisation that you might actually be getting somewhere, and I’ve had a couple of heartening pronouncements from unbiased strangers recently.
The first one tumbled out of the mouth of a friend of a friend when the three of us were having a drink together. The guy (who I hadn’t met before) asked me how many years I’d been living in Spain. That’s right, he said “YEARS”. I realise I’m willfully misconstruing his choice of words into compliment on my Spanish, but, I reckon, if he thought I’d been in Spain for a long time, then my Spanish must be getting quite good, right? On the other hand, he may have such rock-bottom expectations of foreigners acquiring a serviceable level of the language that he was impressed by me ordering a a bottle of tonic water.
A slightly less ambiguous appraisal from another complete stranger came last Tuesday, during a flight form Madrid to Miami. I got chatting to a chirpy Nicaraguan lady in the seat across the aisle from me. Although I’m unlikely to meet her again, I shall nevertheless love that woman for ever and ever, because she asked me if I was Spanish! Oh my, if I’m managing to fool a native Spanish speaker into thinking that, I must be making some serious headway!
As an aside, even though I’m not in Spain at the moment, Project Trilingual is by no means on hold. Key West is a stone’s throw from Cuba, and the island (the whole of Florida, really) is full of Cubans and other Latin Americans. Spanish is spoken everywhere, and I keep listening to people in the street speaking it in their various regional accents, and I don’t miss any opportunities to converse in Spanish with the staff in shops and restaurants. It’s great to be able to understand what’s going on around me. Only a year ago, this would have been impossible, and I find it very satisfying 🙂
After a loooong day’s travelling, involving a train, a bus and two flights, I woke up on a boat this morning. Or rather, a floating house. And if I crane my neck just a little bit more, I think I might be able to spot Cuba in the distance…
For the next two weeks, I’ll be posting from Key West, Florida. I’m staying with my dear friends Vicky and Ian, who moved to the sunny little isle from cold and drizzly London a year ago.
Most of you will probably agree that personal hygiene, beauty and assorted bathroom-related habits are a fascinating matter. I’ve written about “bad” national eating habits once before, and today, I decided to scour the market research database I have access to for factoids relating to body care products.
So, in terms of annual per capita expenditure, who do you think spends the most on…
Answer: Norway, followed by Australia and Japan. Surprisingly, Iranians spend more than the Portuguese and Latvians.
In 2010, an Iranian cleric famously blamed the country’s recurring earthquake disasters on women “not dressing modestly enough”. The use of lipstick, fortunately, was not implicated.
Answer: Brazilians. Makes sense. It’s hot there, and they are notoriously body conscious.
At the whiffy bottom pit of the table are Pakistan, China, Vietnam, Nigeria, Indonesia and India.
Men’s Grooming Products?
Answer: Ireland. Really. Irish blokes forked out the equivalent of US$30.4 on men’s grooming products per capita in 2011. Or maybe it was their better halves, driven by their far more discerning olfactory sensibilities, to make the purchase…?
Skin whitening products have major traction in many parts of the world, especially in the Asia Pacific region. In India, 84% of facial moisturisers sold (by retail value) in 2011 contained skin whitening ingredients, followed by the Philippines (65%), Taiwan, Indonesia (both 52%), Thailand (50%), Egypt and Japan (both 41%).
The Japanese are not just obsessed with attaining a flawlessly pallid visage, but they are also the world’s top spenders when it comes to “super premium” beauty and personal care products (i.e. top end luxury brands) – they shell out three times more than Americans and ten times as much as Canadians. The latter, intriguingly, clock up the highest per capita spend on hair removal products. I must admit this puzzles me – surely they could do with a bit of insulating body fluff to stay warm…?
[For data source, click here]
The start of a new year lends itself to doing a bit of strategy revision on up-and-running projects. In this vein, I’ve already told you in a recent post that I’d committed to reading more in order to crank up my Spanish vocabulary.
Besides tackling the reading issue, what’s also been on my mind is that I could be working my intercambios (language exchange sessions) a lot harder than I currently am.
Like most people, I’m a bit lazy. I turn up for my intercambios, we have a chat over coffee or a glass of wine. I might even scribble some notes on loose bits of paper. Usually, both parties end up learning something, and we go away happy, mission accomplished. Well, sort of.
It would a big difference, I’m convinced, if I actually prepared for these sessions, for example by keeping a notebook throughout the week, jotting down specific questions and queries which come up while I’m working on my Spanish by myself, i.e. during reading, studying grammar, working through podcast material or listening to the radio.
It would also help if I made a specific point of practicing new vocabulary and expressions that I’ve come across during self-study by foisting it onto a native speaker.
I do actually keep a notebook for recording new words and expressions, and I occasionally re-read them, e.g. while waiting for the bus, but so far, I have not been making a conscious effort to practice the new material with a live victim, and I never retain what I’ve heard or read just the once. This strikes me as a major missed learning opportunity.
I think my laziness is down to having a virtually unlimited supply of native speakers at my disposal. It’s one of the paradoxes of human nature that we often don’t fully appreciate what we’ve got when there’s an abundance of it.
There’s a myriad of uncertainties about grammar and vocabulary usage swirling around in my head, but I fail to resolve them efficiently. I just take it for granted that these questions will eventually resolve themselves in time, by virtue of the continued exposure I get just by living in Spain. And they will, but I could make progress so much faster if I made a smidgen more of an effort in honing my approach.
So, the plan is this: I’ll be keeping a notebook dedicated to language queries, taking care to write them down as and when they occur, ready to be inflicted upon the next intercambio. Watch this space…