Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

I smile a lot these days. I wake up each morning with a smile on my face. I can’t wait to discover what the day has in store for me. As I go through the day I smile at everyone I meet and I find it’s infectious – even people who are seemingly having a bad day will smile and nod when I greet them with a big, sappy grin and say hello. I find I am surrounded by happy people and I thought I’d share with you some of the smiles I’ve captured as well as some of the things that made me smile in this series of photos of Sarasota.

Each Saturday morning I hike up to the downtown Farmer’s Market for my fresh organic fruit and veggies, olive oil, nuts, cheeses and fresh bread. I arrived this morning to find not only the Market, but also the entire length of Main Street blocked off for an Art Fair. Here are a few of the things that were making people smile:

Beignets, funnel cakes and French apple pie

Beignets, funnel cakes and French apple pie

Kettle Corn

Kettle Corn

Street Music in Sarasota, Florida

Street Music in Sarasota, Florida

These giant fiberglass critters had the most amazing effect on people. I stood for about 20 minutes and watched as people came around the corner and were confronted by these behemoths. Every single person got a big grin on their face the moment they saw them:

Giant fiberglass critters were good for a smile

Giant fiberglass critters were good for a smile

This guy got a big kick out of a giant frog

This guy got a big kick out of a giant frog

Last week on one of my walks I happened on a little park, tucked away in a corner of downtown. Bright blue benches, planters filled with blooming plants and more of Sarasota’s ubiquitous clown statues were backed by the most fanciful fountain I have ever seen:

Clowns gaze over the fanciful Pineapple Avenue fountain

Clowns gaze over the fanciful Pineapple Avenue fountain

Another clown statue, looking toward downtown Sarasota

Another clown statue, looking toward downtown Sarasota

The backdrop of the fountain

The backdrop of the fountain

A detail of one of the many enamel insets of the fountain

A detail of one of the many enamel insets of the fountain

These enamel inlays weren’t only on the fountain – they were all over the sidewalk as well! I really think they let children design this park – you can’t help but smile when you look at some of the sidewalk blurbs. I have no idea what they mean, I only know that they tickled me.

In the velvet black of night, Farthing slid to his beloved

In the velvet black of night, Farthing slid to his beloved

Guided by a single star, the elegant swimmer entered the Gulf

Guided by a single star, the elegant swimmer entered the Gulf

Though very wise, the Eldersnails were not known for their excess humor...What fun!

Though very wise, the Eldersnails were not known for their excess humor…What fun!

And one final photo – every Monday evening I go to the Historic Asolo Theater at the Ringling Museum of Art to see screenings of historic films. This theater was built in 1798 to honor the legendary Catherine Cornaro, who was the bride of James II, the King of Cyprus in the 15th century. It was a popular venue, hosting some of the greatest theatrical performers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, until it was dismantled by the Fascist regime in Italy in the 1930’s. A Venetian collector/dealer, Adolph Loewi, purchased the theater and stored it in his personal collection until, in 1952, the Ringling Museum purchased the theater, brought it to Sarasota, and restored it to its former glory. The theater is exquisite in its design and detail and you can’t help but be awed by it. While not “technically” making people smile, it does indeed inspire:

Historic Asolo Theater at the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art

Historic Asolo Theater at the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art

Hope you enjoyed the smile tour – and that it made you smile, too! Keep reading folks, because I’ve just finalized my round-the-world itinerary and am anxiously awaiting my visas from a few countries. I’ll be spilling the beans about my six month trip in the next couple of days, so be sure to tune in soon. I’m getting excited now!

The other day I received an e-newsletter from my loan officer down in Key West, Ruben Concepcion. One of the articles dealt with the IRS’s recent decision to stop collecting the Federal Excise Tax on long distance phone service. Taxpayers will be eligible to file for refunds of all excise tax paid on long distance service billed to them from February 28, 2003 through July 31, 2006. You can either collect all your old phone bills and add up the amount of tax you were actually charged, or take a standard $30 deduction, which is apparently what most people are doing.

But to borrow a well-turned phrase from Paul Harvey, here’s the rest of the story. The tax was imposed in 1898 and originally targeted the affluent because phone service was a luxury back then. The purpose of the tax was to help pay for the Spanish-American War, which lasted six months. But after the war ended the tax continued and consumers have coughed up well over $300 billion to pay for a war that cost only a tiny fraction of that amount.

IRS

The only way to obtain your refund is with your tax return. Tax forms will include a line for requesting the overpayment amount, and the refund can be claimed on 2006 returns due in 2007. And although interest will be paid on the refund amount – don’t forget that we’re dealing with the IRS – the interest is taxable and will need to be reported on your 2007 income tax returns. Can you believe it? It takes them 109 years to get rid of a tax that was supposed to be “temporary” and now they’re going to charge us interest on our measly $30 refund. Amazing.

This past Saturday evening I attended my first opera – Madame Butterfly. My house-mate, Sascha, is a bass player in the opera so he was able to get me a $5 house ticket. It was definitely in the nosebleed section – the very last row in the upper balcony – but the acoustics were great and I had a bird’s eye view of the performance.

sarasota_opera_tosca

Madame Butterfly is the story of Pinkerton, a dashing officer in the United States Navy, and Cio Cio San (not a complete innocent – she has been a geisha, after all), a nonetheless fragile, unworldly girl in love with the handsome sailor. It is clear that Pinkerton, although infatuated with the fifteen year old Butterfly, is a philandering heel, who upon the occasion of his marriage toasts to the day he will celebrate a true wedding to an American woman. Pinkerton deserts Butterfly and she pines for three years, always believing he will return to her and to the son he has unknowingly fathered. He does return, with his new American wife, and when he learns about his son he declares that Butterfly must give him up for “the good of the child.”

The set was exquisite in its detail: trees laden with cherry blossoms overhanging a traditional Japanese house with its sliding paper panels, all perched atop a hill overlooking the distant azure harbor. Even more breathtaking were the Read More

I was on the phone with Dad until midnight last night – he was trying to go to the links on my recent blog entry about the Honda car commercial and the fantastic machine, but he didn’t have the flash player he needed, so I walked him through it. We finally figured it out (hard to know what to tell him since I can’t see what’s on his screen) – got the software downloaded and installed – and he was able to view the videos. He is so mechanically inclined that I knew he would love the videos. As the car commercial played I recorded his running commentary:

“OK, now I got a couple of gears running down a plank – oh – they’re falling off the plank onto the floor and rolling over to something else and making it turn – oh – that’s part of a muffler! And that’s hitting – oh – it’s a windshield! Now these screws are turning and rolling off and hitting – ah – it’s a radiator – and it fell over – and it hit…a tire… and now the tire is rolling uphill and hitting another one, and another one and – that’s making a lot of other stuff fall and …oh for God sake it started a fan! And the fan rolled over and started another whole chain reaction that made water spray and started the windshield wipers and now they’re crawling across the floor! Now here’s the end and the finished car is rolling off the block. I’m gonna have to study this. This is something you can watch over and over. I’m definitely gonna have to study this.”

I knew he’d love it. He takes things apart just to see how they work and he can fix anything, my Dad. And you just gotta love YouTube!

When I lived on the Outer Banks I was fortunate to have a house located on 12.5 acres, surrounded by Nature Conservancy land, so it was not uncommon to be visited by critters of all kinds (read about them here). I had deer, fox, snakes, HUGE snapping turtles, nutria, giant Osprey, big ‘ol green warty bullfrogs and one inch long tree frogs in colors ranging from lime green to bright orange, Great Blue Herons, possum, rats – you name it. But the one thing I never saw was a raccoon. I KNOW they were there – I saw their tracks. Not to mention I had to bungee down my garbage can lids or they would tear up my trash and spread it all over the yard.

Raccoons climbing the palm trees in my front yard

Raccoons climbing the palm trees in my front yard

I had hoped that I would see a raccoon before I left the Outer Banks forever. But I never caught a glimpse of one. Sometimes we get our wishes in ways that we would never have imagined. In Sarasota, several stray cats live around the complex where I now live and the building manager, having a soft spot in her heart for cats, Read More

I received both of the following videos by email and they are just too good not to share. The first is a commercial for the Honda Accord that aired in the U.K.

Can’t view the above YouTube video about the Honda Accord? Click here.

There are no computer graphics or digital tricks in the film. Everything you see happened in real time, exactly as you see it. Filming was done over four near-sleepless days in a Paris studio, after one month of script approval, two months of concept drawings and a further four months of development and testing. It took five months of production and design work before “Cog” was ready to shoot. The film took 606 takes. On the first 605 takes, something (usually very minor) didn’t work. They would then have to set the whole thing up again. Read More