Friday, September 30, 2011


Head for Little Havana. Go to almost any walk-up window attached to a grocery store or, my favorite, a laundromat. Order a cortadito (60 cents) and one of the bulk cigars they keep in bags by the window. I like the El Barselo torpedo ($1.05). Tell the lady at the window to keep the change. For that money you get a caffeine buzz that will last all morning and a good hour's worth of smoking on the cigar. This explains why Starbucks has not made giant inroads in Little Havana. Thanks, Fidel, for sending the very best of Cuban culture our way.

Monday, September 26, 2011


For starters: Get yourself reincarnated as a Seychelles giant tortoise. Meet Toby, who was one of our neighbors when we were staying on Denis Island, a 350-acre resort at the northeastern tip of the Seychelles archipelago. No one is exactly sure how old Toby is, but best guess is that he was born in the 1860s. Toby's days are pretty much the same: He munches straw, eats fruit from the noni tree and, about 2 a.m. each morning, he sidles up to one of his female cohorts and makes the beast with two backs. It causes quite the ruckus. Good for ol' Toby.

To the right is Brutus, another oldster, in the 130-year-old range, who we encountered on North Island. Giant tortoises really like having their necks scratched. But I had to assure Brutus that it was not foreplay.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Been reading the newish novel from Albert Brooks: TWENTY THIRTY: The Real Story of What Happens to America. It's a fairly brilliant, and funny, distillation of all the woes that grip our world, set 19 years in the future. An excerpt: "Candidates never aligned themselves with the White House anymore, or even with their own party. They ran as individuals, on the notion of returning America to the people. It was all bullshit, of course. What it really did was introduce a new kind of motionless government. Nothing got done.

"Denying new spending provided the House and the Senate with the illusion of expressing the people's voice. But the people didn't want their lives and their nation's infrastructure to rust away. What they really wanted was somebody to make tough choices, which took a leader.  And the one thing the Legislative branch could never be was a leader."

Read the book. You'll laugh. And you'll worry that we really are heading toward a future as Albert Brooks envisions it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


So I was out on my morning walk across the Rollins campus when I spotted a woman wearing skinny jeans, a white t-shirt and ... high-heel sneakers. I stopped to admire. The shoes. They were full-on Converse with maybe a five-inch heel. Apparently, these sorta shoes are nothing new in fashion, but they were new to me.

As the woman approached, I smiled, pointed at the shoes and said: "So you a big fan of Tommy Tucker?"

The only reason I remember the name of the songwriter who penned "Put On Your High-Heel Sneakers" is because my biology teacher at Leesburg High School was also named Tommy Tucker and I was always asking him to sing the song in class. I got pretty lousy grades in biology.

The woman just looked at me.

"Huh?" she said.

"Elvis sang it, too," I told her. "And the Stones. But I liked the Grateful Dead version best."

The woman just looked at me some more. I don't think she liked what she saw. I got out my iPhone.

I asked the woman: "You mind if I take a picture of your shoes?"

"Yes, I do," she said. And she kept on walking.

Been humming that song all morning and can't get the damn thing outta my head.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Welcome to my rum bar, where today we will assemble my go-to cocktail -- the Perfect Rum Drink. It follows an easy-to-remember recipe you'll find throughout the Caribbean, one that allows for plenty of leeway so you don't have to be absolutely precise in the proportions. For this version, I used Appleton VX rum, but any decent rum will do. I suggest you devote much time to experimenting...

Friday, September 16, 2011


File this under: Things I've Done That I Won't Be Doing Again. Ever. 

That would be -- rock climbing. With its sheer granite mountains that seem to shoot straight up to the sky, Kalymnos is a big draw for rock climbers.

I fell in with a group of climbers from Italy and Holland while out hiking one morning. They talked me into giving it a try.

Some of them hung upside down in this dome (below, left). As for me, I took baby steps up a "starter" wall. See that guy in the red shirt? It took me about an hour to get there. You don't want to know about getting down. Let's just say that for Floridians rappelling does not come naturally.

From now on, I'll hang out with the goats. But yeah, the view of Telendos was worth it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Some favorite signs from Kalymnos, Greece....
We brought along a bag of coffee from Palmano's so our pals Richard and Teresa could vicariously enjoy our travels.
Found this handwritten map on a remote trail -- directions to a taverna. Beats hell out of a billboard.
Call me picky, but I kinda prefer my fish without the funk.
Taverna. Mediterranean. Pirates. Taverna. Sun. Taverna. How could it not be a "wonderfull" place?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Scattered all over the hillsides of Kalymnos and other Greek islands you'll spot distinctive blue-and-white monasteries. A few of them are home to actual monks, but mostly they are private shrines, erected by families to celebrate good fortune or memorialize loved ones or simply to glorify God.

This particular monastery sat all by itself at the tip of a rocky peninsula approached by steep steps carved into the hillside. You had to work to get there. It was a snug little place -- my pal, photographer Peter Frank Edwards, and I had to stoop to get through the door. But once inside, it seemed to expand and become far larger than its outward proportions.

We lit candles. We paid tributes to our own particular gods. And then we went about our day, a bit larger than our own outward proportions.

Monday, September 12, 2011


A growing number of Floridians are employing man's alleged best friend to help spruce up their yards and, at the same time, control pesky weed infestations.
     "If properly installed, a dog can make a terrific lawn ornament," says Wade Wacker, a specialist with the Florida Department of Agriculture's office of horticultual canine development. "And some breeds, especially basset hounds, can also be put to effective use as ground cover."
     The benefit of planting dogs in your yard, says Wacker, is that they can provide a constant source of high-nitrogen fertilizer and, during drought conditions, the excessive-slobbering breeds can be used for irrigation.
     The dog in this photo, a two-year-old basset named Monty, recently ingested a pound of mozzarella and a filet of wild salmon meant for his owner's dinner table. Monty also feasted on several square yards of carpet, three pairs of sunglasses and a pair of sandals. Monty's owner is reportedly considering using the dog for mulch.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

HOME SWEET FLORIDADA: Vampires at Hooters

Here's the hands-down winner of our weekly HOME SWEET FLORIDADA Award for Behavior Most Befitting the Strangest State. It is also a finalist in the Dying Newspaper Hall of Fame for Best Lede Ever. Thank you, Danny Valentine of the St. Petersburg Times:   
ST. PETERSBURG — The vampire attacked just before midnight on the porch of a vacant Hooters.
The second graf is pretty much a humdinger, too, in an Only-in-Florida kinda way:
Milton Ellis, 69, was sleeping in his motorized wheelchair when he awoke to find Josephine Rebecca Smith, 22, of Pensacola on top of him, said police spokesman Mike Puetz.
You can read the whole bloody thing right here. And I'll have some wings with that. Skip the special sauce.

Thursday, September 08, 2011


That's a big bowl of fresh Greek yogurt with black cherries and melon drenched with local honey -- breakfast on Kalymnos, the island where we recently touched down for a week. We stayed in Emporios, a village at the very end of the main coastal road, where goats roam the hills feeding on the thyme, oregano and rosemary that grows wild. So the meat here comes pre-seasoned and all those wild herbs help cancel out the eau de goat. The goats wear bells around their necks, each tuned slightly differently, so the goatherds can tell which goat is where. The result -- a daylong goat symphony from the hills.

The family that keeps the goats and the bees invited us to join them one afternoon as they made their rounds. A pretty steep hike, especially for flatlanders from Florida. Thousands of years ago, the rocky facade above Emporios served as a fortress when the locals had to fight off invaders, and the sanctuaries they carved out from the mountain still hauntingly remain, like armored faces looking out on the sea. The payoff comes at the top -- a view for the ages.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

I got me a big woo-hoo! GUT CHECK hit No. 1 in its category on Amazon yesterday. Didn't stay there long. That bastard Tony Bourdain came along and supplanted it. But thanks to all of you who helped boost it for a moment of glory.
What you got?

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Florida avocados vs California avocados

I just received a bag of big ol' avocados from down Miami way (thanks Christine, Courtney, Josh) and it is reinforcing my notion that our Florida avocados are far superior to those California Haas avocados on a number of fronts.
     Forget the fact that they contain less fat. That's not a plus in my book. Fat is good. And good fat is even gooder.
     If I had to just sit down and eat an avocado plain -- ok, maybe a little lime and salt -- I'd probably go with the California variety. Ounce for ounce, they pack a lot more flavor. But our Florida avocados lend themselves better to cooking. I'm going to take a couple of my avocados and make a curried avocado soup which is easy and perfect for these hot-hot days. And I'm gonna take a couple more and make a big batch of guacamole, some of which will top the tostones we're having for dinner tonight. 
    Here's the what wins it for Florida avocados: They are bigger, much bigger (see how they dwarf the English muffins? See how just a small slice is half as big as my hand?) No, bigger is not necessarily better ... except when it comes, perhaps, to avocados. The California and Florida varieties both cost about $1.59 at the grocery store these days. But ours are about four times bigger. Lean avocados for lean times...

Faces from the road

These are some of the good people we met during our week on Kalymnos, Greece. Kalymnos is the island of sponge divers, and back in the early 20th century, when the Mediterranean sponge beds began to decline, many Kalymnians moved to Florida. They settled around Tarpon Springs, founded the now-famous Greek community there, and started sponge diving in the Gulf of Mexico. Everywhere we went on Kalymnos, whenever we told folks we were from Florida, we heard something like: "My great uncle Stathos, he lives in Tarpon Springs. You know him?" Next stop: Tarpon Springs. There are a lot of people we have to look up...

Friday, September 02, 2011

News bulletin: Florida Governor Rick Scott will privatize his own brain

In a move to bolster state revenues and make good on campaign promises to bring 700,000 new jobs to Florida, Gov. Rick Scott announced today that he will privatize his own brain.
            “Not only will this show the corporate world that Florida is open for business,” said Scott, “it will demonstrate that we are totally willing to make ourselves human vessels of free enterprise by undergoing general anesthesia and splaying open our frontal lobes.”
            According to the most recent reports, Florida lost some 62,000 jobs in July, the second worst drop in the nation. Scott predicted his personal brain privatization could stem the flow and result in a net increase of jobs, since “implementation will require a huge amount of manpower to fill all that empty space.”
            While Scott admitted that the details of how the brain privatization would work are “a little fuzzy at this time,” he said his office would soon start accepting bids from businesses wanting exclusive rights to operate Scott’s brain on a rotating, short-term lease basis.
            “It will be a win-win situation,” said Scott. “The leasees will enjoy unlimited executive power in the decision-making and regulatory process and the state will share in the profiteering, er, revenue stream. Plus, it will be more cost effective since the state won’t be saddled with my upkeep.”
            Dean Cannon, speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, said that while Scott’s plan “shows the governor’s commitment to the economy, it is hardly innovative.”
            “We in the Florida Legislature have been letting the insurance and real estate industries run our brains for years,” said Cannon.