24 April 2012

The edge of the world: a Blog Off post

Every two weeks, bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic in an event called a Blog Off. This week's topic is "The Edge of the World" and we're being encouraged to write about an event where we pushed past the boundaries of what we knew to be true at the time. Here's my take:


The Bahamas is known the world over for a geographical feature it shares with just a handful of places around the globe, blue holes. The Bahamas' blue holes are essentially sink holes that lie submerged in salt water. In most of them, fresh water and salt water coexist in an uneasy truce. The salt water sits in a clearly defined and visible layer on top of the fresh water and diving into a blue hole is a really wild experience because you float between the two extremes.


The photo above shows Dean's Hole near Clarence Town on Long Island, The Bahamas. Dean's Hole is the world's largest submerged blue hole. This aerial shot explains pretty clearly why they're called blue holes. Dean's Hole is 202 meters deep, that's 663 feet. The water surrounding it is at most a meter deep, so that's a pretty profound drop off.

Not too far from Long Island is Cat Island, a nearly deserted paradise I've been running away to for the last five or so years. I've written about it extensively in the past and I have a story to tell that dovetails into this Blog Off Topic perfectly.

This photo shows Fernandez Bay, the beach where I stay when I'm on Cat. The first arrow shows the location of the cottage that welcomes me back every time.

The second arrow points to a salt marsh and the location of an unmarked blue hole referred to as "Boiling Hole" by the locals because when the tide goes out it bubbles and gurgles and when the tide comes back in it forms a whirlpool over its entrance.

Kayaking in a salt marsh can be tricky.

In a kayak, you're sitting right on the water and it's difficult to get any kind of perspective on where you are.

This means that it's difficult to judge distances and it's hard to see underwater features until you're directly over them. Add to that skewed perspective that you're in one of the most hostile environments you can find and not getting lost becomes a huge priority.

Salt marshes are full of dead ends and the advice my friends and I had to work from consisted of "Stick to the deeper channels, watch the tides and look for a wide spot of shallow water." Deeper is a relative term because the water's incredibly shallow everywhere. Keeping an eye on the tides is vital because getting stranded in a receding tide is a recipe for disaster when outside help is non-existent. Monitoring the tides was important too because the only way to spot the blue hole was to watch for bubbling or a whirlpool.

After a few hours of looking for our blue hole, we realized that there were all kinds of wide spots of shallow water.

Here are a couple of shots of my friends and I taking advantage of being lost and putting ashore during that first trip back into the marsh.

Would that Boiling Hole were as readily identifiable as Dean's Hole on Long Island or any of the other blue holes on Cat. But alas, we were looking for the hardest one to find and I always like a good challenge.

After around three hours of paddling and exploring, we were about to call it a day and admit defeat. We couldn't find Boiling Hole and that was that. Everybody was exhausted, hungry and more than anything, thirsty.

I am more persistent than my friends I guess' because I insisted that we explore one more stretch of marsh before we called a day. By this time, there was a slack tide and I knew that if we were going to find that blue hole we were going to have to paddle over it directly. The slack tide too told me that we had to get out of there within an hour or we risked being stranded when the tide finally started to go out.

We were at the edge of the world and I wanted to reach just a bit past it to see what was there.

Within about five minutes we paddled over this:

We'd stumbled over the mouth of Boiling Hole.

Boiling hole drops around 100 meters straight down and the water surrounding it is at most 40 centimeters deep. It was the wildest thing to suddenly not see the bottom of the water after having scraped against it for the previous three hours.

Boiling Hole is connected to a spring and about five feet under the surface, the water turns into the best-tasting spring water you can imagine. Within seconds of our discovery, my party donned masks, snorkels and fins and our trek turned into one of the coolest things I've ever seen underwater.

The blue hole was some kind of an interzone and the salty parts of it were full of reef fish. The freshwater parts were filled with water plants that could never survive in the sea. There were crabs and other invertebrates that had evolved the ability to move between the two zones. I'd never seen an environment like it. That we couldn't see the bottom of it was a bit unnerving and knowing that if we stayed there for much longer we'd be sucked down into it when the tide turned made us hurry our exploration. Slaking my thirst while still underwater was a pretty wild experience too.

My friends and I were miles from other people and hundreds of miles away from modernity. Being back in that salt marsh provided a blissful isolation I've found in few other places. But at the same time, that isolation came at a cost. As fascinating as it was to explore that environment for the first time, it was uncomfortable and exhausting.

However, in the intervening years I've explored that salt marsh countless times and have been back to that blue hole frequently. I don't get lost back there anymore and it's a real thrill to guide people back to a blue hole that feels like it's mine somehow.

And now that I feel comfortable back there I can concentrate of paying attention to the lemon sharks, the green sea turtles and the mangrove jellies that call that marsh home. What's hostile to me as a Homo sapiens is welcoming to may other forms of life and it's a real treat to see the world from their perspective from time to time.

I pushed past the edge of the world that day and I'm a better man for it. Because of that experience, I can relate to other people's frustrations and fears better, I can understand my need to know everything better, and I can see how different organisms co-exist in an environment that completely foreign to my own species. Frankly, that's why I explore.


As the day goes on, a table will appear here like magic. It will list all of the participating bloggers in today's event. Click on the links to see how other people approached this topic.

11 April 2012

A Coverings preview

Coverings is next week and I can't believe it's here already. It's a show very near and dear to my heart and I've been attending it for years. Every year, my involvement in the show increases and as of last December, I'm on the show's staff. For the last six months I've been running all of Coverings' social marketing initiatives, hence my near absence from this blog since the end of last year.

During the show next week I'll be working five straight 18 hour days so I doubt I'll be filing any dispatches from the show floor, but during the week following either Todd ( my energetic collaborator) or I will post a wrap up of the new stuff that made its debut during the show.

For now though, here's a preview from some of the major manufacturers who'll be exhibiting next week.

Apavisa (Booth 2519) is heading to Coverings with Archconcept, a new collection of patterns in stone, metal and cement finishings that are inspired by the latest manufacturing technology and trends in architecture. This revolutionary range of porcelain is well suited for indoor and outdoor applications.

Azteca (Booth 2211) will awe attendees with Jasper R40, a new ceramic tile series serving up a marble look that will enliven walls with its striking shade variations. It is available in a 23-x-40 cm format and four colorways: Cream, Beige, Grey and Jade.

Azulejos Plaza (Booth 2106) will impress attendees with Ecowood, a porcelain stoneware wall tile comprised of 85% recycled content. It comes in four colors and can be used outdoors.

Baldocer (Booth 1914) is bringing digital front-and-center to its porcelain collection, spotlighting its innovative methods for adding distinctive decorative touches, such as high and low reliefs, colorations, stone and wood lookalikes, and more. The outstanding range of tile formats is available in 43-x-43, 40-x-60 and 57-x-57 cm.

Casalgrande Padana SpA (Booth 4700) is showing Architecture and Bios. The first newcomer is a fully vitrified porcelain stoneware collection that’s a sophisticated, high-performance option for floor and wall covering, indoors and out. The line is available in a range of 12 colors and a finish reminiscent of brushed cement. Bios brings sustainability to the surface with its unique antibacterial properties, achieved by blending the material base with mineral particles. Such tiles have become a requisite for LEED-ID credit eligibility, and have won extensive recognition.

Ceramiche Coem & Ceramica Fioranese (Booth 4714) are sister brands spotlighting interesting introductions. Check out Pietra Valmalenco from Coem and Cottage from Fioranese. Pietra Valmalenco offers a contemporary stone look whereas Cottage features a rustic wood style.

Ceramiche Refin (Booth 4123) has three new products that capitalize on the latest technology. Among them, Cromie is a collection of chromatic ceramic tiles based on the scientific criteria of brightness, saturation and shade.

Cisa Ceramiche (Booth 4806) will unveil Modula, a beautiful series that replicates the look of natural stone, and Royal Marble that recalls the traditional elegance of the real material. Both are available in four colorways and various sizes.

Crossville (Booth 3200) found inspiration in concrete and refined stone to create Structure, a minimalist design that contains at least 20% consumer certified recycled content. The new offering is apt for commercial and residential installations, and is offered in large format and plank-shaped sizes.

Duradek (Booth 3842) is debuting at Coverings with five new products incorporating Tiledek. It’s a PVC waterproof membrane developed specifically for exterior tile applications and featuring an anti-fracture/crack insulation barrier, making it choice for concrete installations.

Emac Complementos (Booth 2114) has collaborated with prestigious Spanish fashion designer Francis Montesinos to create a collection of high-style aluminum profiles named Novopeldaño Art. The installation possibilities are limitless—as a stair nosing, in countertops, worktops and more.

Emilceramica SpA (Booth 4718) is presenting On Square. The new collection exemplifies the elegance and simplicity of balance, bringing together 45 blocks of cement reproduced on the ceramic surface to maintain the richness of the material. The contemporary offering comes in four colors in 80-x-80, 60-x-60 and 30-x-60 cm formats. Additionally, look for inspiring introductions from three of company’s sister brands: Ergon, Provenza and Viva.

Florida Tile (Booth 3223) is touting Gallant HDP and PietraArt Stone Mosaics. Gallant gives marble, onyx and travertine a run for their money thanks to the high definition technology used to mimic the looks. The porcelain floor tile is appropriate for all residential and commercial wall and countertop applications as well as for residential flooring. The Stone Mosaics marvel with a wide range of colors, sizes and textures to complement all tastes and installations.

Granada Tile (Booth 4465) will be calling attention to three new whimsical works of cement tile art—Normandy, Alhambra and Barcelona. All are part of the Echo Tile Collection that is made of durable and recycled content, and are ideal for bathroom and kitchen applications.

Lilywork Ceramic (Booth 2903) is debuting Arabesque, a tessellated field of mosaics that is fully color customizable within the Lilywork palette. It’s a look that would make for a lovely addition to walls, floors or even pool surrounds.

Litokol Spa (Booth 4534) is giving grouting mortar a fresh new look with Litochrom Starlike. It features antibacterial properties and is spot on for gluing and jointing all tiles and mosaics, even those rated R12. Additionally, it has a high-resistance to chemicals and abrasions, and is available in a myriad of colors and combinations.

Metropolitan Ceramics (Booth 2800) will roll out Quarrybasics Abrasive, a product providing excellent silicon carbide coverage that prevents slips and enhances the look and longevity of quarry tile.

Mosaico+ (Booth 4330) has four exciting lines that will liven up interiors and exteriors with intense depth of color, dimension and texture. Among the newcomers is Dialoghi, which is a magical meeting of materials—glass and metal, metal and wood, etc.—that offers a truly compelling look and is available in three sizes.

Oscar & Izzy (Booth 2554) is a newcomer to the international expo and is bringing fun to the show floor with its retro-inspired collections of decorative ceramic tile. All lines boast bold illustrations and bright colors, and are offered in 4-x-4 and 6-x-6 inch and subway sizes.

Sabine Hill (Booth 4175) is showing for the first time at Coverings, spotlighting its collection of eight classic cement tile designs that masterfully meld modern and organic shapes in endless colorways. All of the offerings are meant for wall and floor coverings in both residential and commercial environments.

Settecento (Booth 5012) is showing Lodge, which is a glazed porcelain portraying the essence of rustic, reclaimed wood. This natural beauty is available in four colors, two sizes (9-x-38 and 6-x-38 inches) and two surface finishes.

Solistone (Booth 4270) is stepping into the commercial arena with a new division of products designed specifically for commercial architects and interior designers. Primarily composed of porcelain and ceramic mosaics, the line also uses unconventional materials, like seashells, to create innovative surfaces suitable for interior and exterior walls and floors.

Taulell (Booth 1723) is premiering a variety of new products, one of which is Ónice. Neoclassical in nature, it features the spectacular shine of onyx stone and is available in seven sizes.

Undefasa (Booth 1911) unites classic and contemporary designs in its two new collections, Country and Rajasthan. Both styles’ color palettes are based on the tones of natural stone, and can be used as floor or wall tiles; Rajasthan can be installed outdoors.

Zirconio (Booth 2111) will zoom in on its incorporation of inkjet technology to create Dolomite, a captivating color-body porcelain that seamlessly imitates the look of natural stone.

If you're a design pro in greater Orlando, please be sure to register for the show today by following this link. Remember, it’s all free and as a bonus, I'm giving a talk on Twitter and Facebook on Thursday that's worth AIA, ASID and NKBA CEUs and then again on Friday I'll be presenting a modified version of that same session on the show floor. I hope to see in Orlando!

10 April 2012

Flowers: a Blog Off post

Every two weeks the blogosphere comes alive when bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic. This week's topic is flowers.


Most of the Let's Blog Off staff live in climates more temperate than mine and they're out every afternoon enjoying the riots of tulips and daffodils that explode across the north at this time of year.

I remember well those spring flowers and I'd be lying if I said I don't get a pang for them from time to time. Things like tulips and daffodils can't grow in places where there aren't true winters. I live in such a place and if the price I have to pay for not having to endure winter is that I have to give up spring bulbs then so be it.

Ponce de Leon landed in Florida on Palm Sunday in 1513 and named my adopted state "Pascua de Florida," that means "The Feast of Flowers" in Spanish. He certainly named this place correctly.

Though we may not have tulips and the rest outside of a florist, those of us in this part of the world get a consolation prize that's nothing short of one of my favorite things about life down here. Namely, there's always something in bloom according well known florist from this website. And I mean always, year-round.

Between the orchids I grow on my patio to the jasmine and jacarandas, I'm surrounded by flowers now in ways I never knew were possible when I was a kid in Pennsylvania. Despite the fact  that I've been a Floridian for 20 years, every time I come across something blooming in January or February I react to it as if it were the most exotic thing I'd ever seen.

The novelty of tropical plants never grows old. Nor for that matter do the flowers I see every day. Here are some photos I've taken of my neighborhood over the last few years and flowers are forever figuring into my photo safaris.

So put me down as a fan of the flower.


As the day wears one, a list of participating bloggers will materialize below. Give everybody a read. And while I'm telling people what to do, leave a comment below if you have a good flower story or observation.

05 April 2012

Easter in the Bahamas

As many of you know I am presently in Eleuthera, Bahamas and this weekend is Easter and its a bit different than in the US. In the Bahamas, Easter is a big religious holiday and more the way that I remember it as a kid. For instance, this Friday is Good Friday and you will find very few stores or businesses open. Some may be open for a few hours but not many will be open at all. That's a memory that I have from childhood and I can't even remember why. Saturday is a normal day and everything is open and if you have forgotten anything this is the day to do so because you won't be able to until the following Tuesday.

Easter Sunday has many ceremonies and church services but you won't even be able to get gas.

The Bahama's as a region is a very Christian country with churches of every denomination.
Monday is Easter Monday and again everything is closed and is generally a day of celebrations. All the various congregations on the island set up great feasts at one of the local beaches and everyone goes, eats, enjoys themselves and as a general rule it is the first time Bahamians will go into the water for the year. That part is funny because the water here, even in winter will be 75-80 degrees and it can be 90 degrees in the shade but they won't go into the ocean. I have to admit I now have a bit of this too. Water that is 80 is what I now consider "refreshing" and below that well--- I just wait.

Ten Bay Beach

Easter Monday is celebrated on the calmer Caribbean side such as this and every settlement has its own beach. Here in Governor's Harbour everyone goes to Receiver's Beach which is about 6 miles away. Every congregation provides food and drinks and families from all over the community join in. Strangely it seems that almost every Easter Monday that we have been here it rains and I mean--- It Rains. Most of the time it seems to be at the end of the festivities so it isn't really a problem.

Life here and not just at Easter is much like it used to be as I remember from my youth. Things are slower and holidays are holidays- everything is closed. Yet in the last few years, I've begun to see changes happening and stores and some businesses are staying open longer. They have started on the trends of the US and I have mixed feeling about that. When I need to get something, I'm grateful they are open but at the same time it signals a change in the times. Even here.

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