Thursday, May 29, 2008

Racial Profiling

There was a new counter employee in my neighborhood Chick-fil-A. Her black skin was very dark, and she had a very French accent.

"There's a new employee," I told Judi. "She's from Haiti."

Judi rolled her eyes.

"Okay," I said, "maybe she's from St. Martin or St. Barths. Or Martinique or Guadalupe."

Judi gave me a frank look*. "If you lived in St. Martin," she said, "or St Barths, or Martinique or Guadalupe, would you move here?"

Um... no.

* Frank Look: A look that says, "Are you a moron?"

Okay, okay, I know she could have been from any of France's many ex-colonies that speak French. Or even from France itself. It's true that we have way more Haitians around here than, say, Senegalese, but there's no way to say that this counter worker at Chick-fil-A isn't our one local immigrant from Senegal. So much for profiling. But, anyway, I was reminded of a story that happened many, many years ago:

In those days, there was an excellent little mom and pop restaurant in a strip mall near us. Pop worked in the back, cooking and washing dishes. Mom worked the front, waiting and busing tables and taking the money. When he wasn't in school, Teenage Son helped his Mom.

This was a black family, and Mom and Pop spoke English with a touch of an accent. The food was Caribbean: Jerk Chicken and Goat, Oxtail, Peas and Rice, stuff like that. Judi and I ate there often -- the food was terrific -- and I spent a lot of time trying to place Mom's accent and figure out where in the Caribbean they were from. They were definitely immigrants: They had a bumper plate that said "I (heart) the USA" nailed on the wall behind the counter. That was a dead giveaway.

I know, I know, where they were from was none of my business -- that's why I didn't ask outright -- but I was curious, and hey, as long as I'm not rude or prying about it, I have a right to be curious. I think it's in the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.

So anyway, I tried to figure out the accent. It definitely wasn't Jamaican, though the food was. And it definitely wasn't Haitian or Dominican. I measured it against the accents of various islands, but it didn't seem to fit in anywhere. The best match I thought I could make was Bahamian. The problem was that the restaurant didn't serve the cuisine that I thought of as Bahamian: There was nothing with conch. No baked macaroni and cheese, or potato salad. No stew fish, no johnny cake, and, sadly, no guava duff. I'm not a desert kind of guy, so when I can, I just eat guava duff as the main dish and consider myself a lucky soul. I recommend that, if you have the chance, you do the same.

So anyway, as I said, I tried to figure out the accent. Then one day, I had my opening: Mom, who was very chatty and down to earth, said something about when they "first moved to the States," and I said, with a straight face, "Oh, you aren't from here originally?"

"No," she said, "we are not."

"Where are you from?"

"Oh," she said, "we are from Toronto."

That mysterious accent?


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Monday, May 26, 2008

Haiku for Memorial Day

"Memorial Day"
contains memory, as do
we, reliquaries


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Haiku Tuesday

Out of pants! (Clean ones.)
What to do? (Don't let yourself
get in this tight spot.)


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Open for Business, The Sequel

The big news around these parts isn't the sequel to Indiana Jones, it's the latest installment in the butterfly garden. It's open for business, and Judi is more excited than I can describe. There are going to be a lot of pictures in this post -- my apologies to those on dialup. But before I get to the new garden, look how the first garden has grown and filled in (you can click on any of the pictures in this post for a larger view):

The Old Garden

Compare that to how sparse the garden originally looked, which you can see if you page down the March 25th post, or by clicking here.

Here's a more detailed picture of the first garden now:

The Old Garden Detail

On to the new garden. It looks a bit sparse at the moment, but it, too, will fill in over time:

The New Garden

Here's a close-up:

The New Garden, Detail

The new garden is completely different from the first one: The first garden has some flowers, but emphasizes bushes. The new garden is almost all flowers, and includes the first tree, a Cassia. It's only about three feet high now, but it will get bigger.

Here's a giant milkweed flower:

Giant Milkweed Flower

A zinnia flower:


Pink verbena:

Pink Verbena

Here are both gardens, the new one in the foreground and the first one in the background:

Both Gardens

You may have noticed the adirondack chairs and the table. Here they are, center stage:

Chairs and Table

The choice of colors was inspired by our travels in the Caribbean, where objects are commonly painted bright colors. Witness these chairs in the courtyard of the Rose Inn, in the town of Rincon, on the island of Bonaire:

Chairs at the Rose Inn

If you are ever in Bonaire, by the way, I highly recommend traveling to Rincon (you will need a car) and lunching at the Rose Inn. You will have some fabulous local cuisine, including some dishes that are specialties of the Netherlands Antilles, like tutu. It's Judi's new favorite place to eat on Bonaire.

Back to the butterfly garden: There has been a steady stream of clientele, and Judi has been busy snapping with her camera ("burst mode" on your camera is your friend). A Giant swallowtail in flight:

Giant Swallowtail In Flight

Photo: Judi

What we think is an Orange Sulfur, spied over the leaves of the Cassia tree:

Orange Sulphur

A Gulf Fritillary on pink verbena:

Gulf Fritillary on Pink Verbena

Photo: Judi

Gulf Fritillary in flight:

Gulf Fritillary in Flight

Photo: Judi

The underwings of a Viceroy Monarch:

Viceroy Underwings

Photo: Judi

And, finally, an example of the mellowing effect that a butterfly garden can have on a personality: Judi used to hate dragonflies, but when this unusual-looking one alit in her garden, she was moved to take a picture of it:

The Old Garden

Photo: Judi

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008


The title of this post was the headline in our local newspaper this morning. For those of you who don't know, Palm Bay is the city where I live.

Currently, there are no fires near my neighborhood, but the blowing columns of smoke are clearly visible. It's very, very dry -- the rains haven't started yet -- and very hot. The fires are believed to have been set by an arsonist, possibly driving a blue van. Fires have also been burning near the city of Cocoa, about fifteen miles north, and near Daytona, about sixty miles north. They've been burning since Sunday, Mother's Day. Somewhere between fifty and seventy homes have been destroyed. School has been cancelled today throughout the entire city of Palm Bay.

I don't have television, but yesterday I ate lunch in a restaurant that had a TV tuned to the news, and it cycled constantly between our fires, the tornadoes that have been seeming to hit the Midwest every day, the cyclone in Burma, and the earthquake in China. Not what you would call a slow news day.

It's been a while since I took part in Haiku Tuesday, but I thought I would today. The observance of Mother's Day was first proposed by Julia Ward Howe in response to the suffering of mothers during the American Civil War, and this (sorry) haiku is dedicated to a mother in China who was interviewed on NPR this morning:
It's not about me.
It's my children, dear God. How
can I save them? How?


Thursday, May 01, 2008

A politician I could vote for

Apparently there is an election imminent to choose a mayor for the city of London. The candidate of the Tory (conservative) party is one Boris Johnson, who has something of a reputation as a buffoon. Apparently (I'm not expert on British politics) Johnson got into the race because the incumbent mayor, from the Labor (liberal) party, is running (or standing, as the British say) for reelection, and he was considered such a shoo-in that the Tories thought, "Well, we have to put forward someone as a candidate, so why not that buffoon Johnson?"

But, as we have often seen, elections can run peculiar courses. Now it appears that Johnson has a pretty decent chance of winning.

I was listening to a story about this on the radio this morning. Johnson's clownish image is to some extent hanging over his candidacy, and apparently at one point he was asked, point blank, if his buffoonry was merely a front. His answer:
Beneath the elaborately constructed veneer of the bumbling buffoon, there may well be a bumbling buffoon.
I instantly pointed at the radio and shouted, "I could vote for that guy!"

Think about it: A politician who actually admits (or at least claims to admit) that he is a buffoon! How refreshing! Boris Johnson is also a Member of Parliament (aka MP), and he has also said this:
The dreadful truth is that when people come to see their MP they have run out of better ideas.
Gotta love it.


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