Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sunset Celebrations In Key West

A couple of you have asked for posts on growing up in Key West. I will be happy to oblige you after I tell you why I haven't been as regular at blogging. Basically, my life is busy. I'm currently enrolled in grad school, teach full time, and try to maintain working relationships with my husband, daughter, and friends. When you take out sleep and showering time, there just isn't much left over. That's not really a valid excuse, but it sounds good, so I'll continue to use it until I think of something more clever to say.Every afternoon, as the day passes into evening, a daily celebration occurs at the western edge of Key West. People of all walks of life gather around the seawall and applaud as the sun sets over the water. Some people are celebrating the ending of a beautiful day in paradise but others are just clapping because everyone else is and they don't want to appear confused. How this tradition started, I don't know. I do know that your first trip to Key West will include at least one visit to what the locals call "Sunset." I've never seen anything like it before.

I've seen sunsets. I've traveled quite a bit and seen the sky turn many beautiful shades of violet and gold, but I can honestly say that the sunsets in Key West are truly a work of art. Part of it is just the sheer beauty of it but another part is the fact that this daily natural occurrence draws the nuttiest people in town.

It's been awhile since I was in Key West and even longer since I attended a sunset celebration. Occasionally, we'd have visitors in from out of town, and we'd go with them to view the oddities that I've not seen anywhere else. I can't say that it's a place we would frequent of our own volition, but every once in awhile it provides some amusement. Some of the regulars to sunset have changed over time but the feeling of the place is still the same.

There are many vendors that set up along the water. Some sell local food fare and others sell things that really have nothing to do with Key West but are something you'd associate with a tropical island. Lots of those items can be picked up at the local Walgreens but buying from someone in dreads that smells of incense just makes it seem more authentic I guess. All sorts of items can be found, shirts (both hippie and touristy), jewelry, pieces of art, various items made from parts of the coconut (which isn't native to the Keys), and differnt types of food that have interesting ingredients like Key Limes. Watching the sunset with a chicken kabob marinated in Key Lime juice in your hand just makes the whole event so much more memorable.

In addition to the vendors, there are street performers. For many years the locals just enjoyed the show like the tourists but somewhere down the line, people started barking about how these people needed to be liscened like everyone else in town. Key West is really into codes and enforcing eco-friendly legislation. After much fighting there was resolution and the street performers went on with their entertaining.

Some regulars at sunset that I remember:

*The iguana man: This guy had MANY iguanas and often was draped in them. You could have an iguana sit on your shoulder or arm and get a photo taken for a small fee. In recent years, I don't recall him being there, but I do remember giving him a wide berth when I did see him because iguanas can be very mean. I'm sure that everything they had to put up with every night made them even more crankier than normal.

Then there was the Southernmost Bagpiper. This wasn't the only music you'd hear at sunset but it definitely was the most sad sounding. He is a very good bagpiper, but if you've ever heard bagpipe music, it's hard to make it sound festive. Most times you would see him slowly walking around the pier, wearing his wifebeater undershirt and kilt, playing for money. Yeah, I don't think this is something that most towns have....
There are other various performers that are synonmous with sunset. There are people that juggle fire and just about everything else you can imagine. There's a guy named "The Cat Guy" who brings his cats out nightly to have them do tricks like jump through a burning hoop. I think people in town starting fussing about cruelty to animals at some point, but he's still going strong. I think they should have focused on the cruelty of having to look at his wig. There's a tightrope walker that's been doing his thing for over 20 years. His little setup is now a permanent part of the sunset celebration. If he falls, I'm not sure what will happen to the sunset celebretion as we know it.

There are lots of other characters there at sunset. One is the Silverman who poses as a live statue. People usually get a kick of watching him and trying to see if they can get him to move, very much like the guards outside Buckingham Palace. Somehow, I don't think Silverman would be welcome there. There's also the "Cookie Lady" who drives around the pier selling her homemade cookies and sounding a lot like the front man for a sideshow at a circus. She looks real "earthy," and that not's something I want in a cookie. Interestingly, I haven't seen her or any of these other performers anywhere else in town. Maybe they're like vampires and only come out at night. Perhaps they frequent different places than me....I'm not sure.
Looking back, I think I took this event for granted. I'd like to see what's going on there now and if there are any new regulars. There's nothing here in Mississippi to compare, although one time I did see some hunters sitting real still on the tailgate of their truck, parked in the middle of a dirt road, waiting for a deer to cross so they could shoot it. I wanted to pull over and watch the event and applaud because it looked more like performance art than hunting. I'm not sure that clapping would have been welcomed or helpful in their efforts to be quiet. Although Key West sunsets are something that I do miss, I have to say that watching the sun go down behind the woods near our home in a swing built by my husband has a certain beauty of its own. I think it's all about appreciating the uniqueness of where you are and experiencing life no matter where you are on the map.


Crystal said...

Key West seems like such a fascinating place to live. Thanks for sharing the stories and pictures with us :-)

Crystal said...

I'm giving you the Lemonade Award. Stop by my blog to pick it up. :-)