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Monday, October 31, 2011

ANDALUCIA BY WHEELCHAIR -- part 2

ANDALUCIA BY WHEELCHAIR We found a fabulous accessible villa near the sleepy village of San Pedro de Alcantara, the glitzy yacht hub of Puerto Banus and the two main east-west roads. Ronda, with its famous bull ring and bridge, was just up the hill. Actually, the journey to Ronda is up a twisting, turning, spectacular serpentine road. Perched in the mountains over the River Guadalevín, Ronda enchants like a town from an ancient fairytale. Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles fell under its spell, marveling at the natural beauty as well as the captivating ruins of Celtish, Roman and Moorish origin. Right next to the fabled bull ring, a city-operated surface parking lot is convenient and accessible, if not beautiful. Bull ring tours are cheap and the ground level is wheelchair-accessible – we even wheeled out onto the playing field. The Parador, an historic inn, has an outstanding accessible restroom. The pathway around it provides unparalleled barrier-free views of the valley, the gorge and the stunning old bridge that spans it. Be sure to look at all the houses that hug the rim and spill over and into the gorge with terrace after whitewashed terrace of dining and living space.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

ANDALUCIA BY WHEELCHAIR


By Steve Wright



Andalucia is at once cool mountain air and steamy Mediterranean Sea, fabled landmark cities and little towns you’ve never heard of, home of both ancient Islamic architecture and endless modern faux villa compounds. Southern Spain, the land of stunning vistas that Moors and Christians fought over through the ages, is now being taken over by the working class British vacation package and the upper middle class Brit. second home in the sun craze. While its sprawl is consuming the land, the British golf course and condo invasion may be the best thing that ever happened to Andalusian accessibility. All that modern building might not be pretty, but it is providing thousands of rental units with level entrances, wide hallways, large showers, accessible patios and a wealth of other wheelchair accommodations not found in centuries-old dwellings. Because one could spend a year exploring Spain’s largest autonomous region and not be bored of its rich culture and contrasts, it’s best to plan a stay of at least two weeks. It’s also best to find one very accessible place to sleep and focus on an area east or west of Malaga. Otherwise, your 16-hour daytrip will involve eight hours of driving.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

DREAMING OF ISTÁN -- part 7

DREAMING OF ISTÁN Now it is near nightfall. On a weeknight, Istán’s few restaurants are not so full. But look up into the wrought iron-ornamented windows and quaint balconies of the apartments and townhouses. Families are sitting down to a traditional home-cooked Andalusian meal at the traditionally later than any American visitor can imagine hour. The odds are 10-to-1 that whatever they are eating is more simple, authentic and flavorful than anything you will taste from the most exclusive restaurant. Wander around in quietude listening to those delightful fountains that comforted Istán inhabitants for centuries. Happen upon a hub of activity. It’s a little well-lit joint with a few barstools and a couple tables. The specialty is piping hot pizza with local olives, chorizo, and peppers. Maybe a pizza joint seems out of place in a centuries-old village Spanish village founded by Muslims, but the shop fits in with Istán like cheese and tomato sauce on a six-slice pie. With stars twinkling over the mountains and valleys, make one last sweep through a village of colorful potted plants hanging everywhere and very fortunate Istán inhabitants readying for bed under southern Spain’s enchanted moonlight. Wright is based in Miami. Contact him at stevewright64@yahoo.com

Friday, October 28, 2011

DREAMING OF ISTÁN -- part 6

DREAMING OF ISTÁN
Walk up the steep streets. Notice so many old people walking that the early evening hours look like a retirement village outing. Or maybe there are so many healthy seniors out and about because they stay fit walking instead of driving, downing fresh mountain water instead of high fructose corn syrup sodas. Look up at the Sierra Blanca Mountains or out across the Rio Verde valley. Watch how different the greens and purples and other hues become as the sun softens after 7 p.m. Marvel at that Andalusian sun. In late May/early June, it trades midday intensity for a warm, glowing, photographer’s dream light from sevenish till total sundown about 10 p.m. Wonder along the streets. They are now full of children, families. Many are gathered around the little kiosk selling snacks by the beloved Mirador del Peñón, a lookout point. The air is cool, crisp, fresh and more pure than the auto exhaust fume-choked winds off the sea below. Walk back up the hill and a cathedral bell rings. It’s the real thing, coming from the beautiful Baroque-steepled Iglesia de San Miguel – a parish church built in the 16th century on orders of the archbishop of Sevilla and named for the village’s patron saint (not the popular on-tap cerveza of the same name).

Thursday, October 27, 2011

DREAMING OF ISTÁN -- part 5

DREAMING OF ISTÁN Back at the bar, have a little piece of bread with some meat and cheese. Rejoice in the fact that the no-name place has just a few tapas to offer. A Chinese menu-length list of offerings would be suspect, no? Settle up with the barkeep and walk over to Fuente y Lavadero El Chorro, an historic water fountain and washing area that has become the emblem of Istán. Study the large number of irrigation channels that flow through the town. They date back to the ingenious Moors who used them as a watering system for domestic and agricultural use. Stop and look everywhere you go. The terraced nature of the Andalusian hillside village means that there often is a street one level above you and more on the levels below. Gaze up at the rooftops. There is laundry hanging on a line and it isn’t something from a movie set, it’s the real deal. Check out all those TV antennas. Look the other direction, at the street overhead. Kids are playing some kind of game created on the spot that involves a soccer ball and apartment walls in a sunlit crook of a dead end street.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

DREAMING OF ISTÁN -- part 4

DREAMING OF ISTÁN Leave the rental car at the informal car park where route MA-427 deposits motorists near the center of town. Walk in late in the afternoon and join the villagers in a meandering pilgrimage to one of the handful of small bares (bars). The summer sun is still hot, so seek comfort in a little corner place that serves delightful cañas – little six ounce beers – of the ever-present Cruzcampo or the equally popular San Miguel. If you want to visit the post office, or buy some dry goods or visit a bakery – do so early. Nearly all the shops and services in Istán shut down at a very early and civilized hour. While the strip mall and ‘round the clock convenience store world predominates less than a half hour’s drive away, Istán remains magically insulated from the modern-day horrors of traffic jams leading in and out of soulless places. If there is a store, restaurant or service connected with any national or multinational brand, it must have hidden itself well – because Istán is a small scale place where mom and pop shops rule the roost.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

DREAMING OF ISTÁN -- part 3

DREAMING OF ISTÁN There is a nice inn on the outskirts of town, a few named restaurants within, a 500-year-old church and some famous fountains all about – but Istán isn’t the kind of place with “must see” sights. For those who like to explore via checklist, who like to pinball from Point A to Point Z with a set itinerary of famous places and memorized addresses, Istán isn’t worth the 15 kilometer drive from the N-340 main road. If tapas bars with printed menus – in English – are a must, head to Mijas – a beautiful place nearly destroyed by hundreds of look-alike souvenir shops, restaurants shamefully serving British grub instead of local seafood and the endless roar of custom coaches disgorging hordes of folks on guided tour holiday. Istán is for people who see streets too narrow for cars and jump for joy. Istán is for those who stroll into town with barely a toddler’s command of Spanish and look forward to a short conversation with the local’s en español. Istán is for those who like steep hills and dead end streets and the thrill of getting lost – though you can’t lose your way for very long in a town with only a few dozen streets.

Monday, October 24, 2011

DREAMING OF ISTÁN -- part 2

DREAMING OF ISTAN After a mid-16th century rebellion by the Moriscos – Muslim converts to Christianity – was quashed by the Castille Crown, King Felipe II repopulated Istán with settlers from Murcia who spoke the panocho dialect. Inhabitants of Istán are still known as panochos. While leaving the sprawling and overpopulated greater Marbella, the curving road to Istán passes farm too many cranes building far too many English-designed, yet supposedly Spanish-style villas. Eventually, the twisting ribbon of roadway outdistances urbanization and gives way to the open spaces that characterize the entranceway to the Sierra de las Nieves natural park. The pristine park serves as both a Spain-designated hunting reserve and a UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve. Tension eases and blood pressure calms as your pocket-sized European rental car makes its final spiraling journey into Istán and its stunning vistas. Everywhere in the city, the sound of soothing water can be heard. Translators of languages used in pre-Roman times say the word Istán meant “spring,” or “pass of the waters.” Natural springs feed the city and fountains flow with ice cold, pure mountain water all about. Even with a nearby reservoir supplying modern-era piped in water, many locals can be seen filling up water jugs at public fountains adorned in colorful Andalusian tiles.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

DREAMING OF ISTÁN -- part 1


DREAMING OF ISTÁN

By Steve Wright

Your friends will not believe you. You will tell them that there is an unspoiled piece of Andalusian charm left in the Malaga province. They will scoff. Costa del Sol has been ruined by gray apartment towers, ex-pat pubs, retailed-to-death roads and faux villas on every terraced hillside, they will tell you. The coast has been corrupted and even the famed whitewashed villages in the hills have traded tradition for tour buses, they will remind you. But there is a place where old people still gather to watch the sun set over the mountains. There is a village that proudly has a population well under 2,000. There is a village where locals still outnumber tourists by a large margin, where the taverns don’t even have signs, where the streets are so narrow that nearly all the cars are parked on the outskirts. Istán is the last holdout of tranquility in an area ridiculed for pompous Puerto Banus and paunchy, over the hill Marbella. Founded in the 1448 by Muslims taking refuge from a defeat at the hands of a Christian Army, Istán still boasts whitewashed houses, Arabic roof tiling and narrow streets of its beginnings more than 500 years ago.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

TODAY IS MY BIRTHDAY

Travels During My 47 Years on Earth They say that travel broadens the mind. I say it lightens the wallet. But if you're lucky, it may add a few tavern-worthy stories to your repertoire. Actually, nothing makes a trip by train, plane or automobile more worthwhile than a celebrity encounter. My wife, Heidi, and yours truly have had many. A brief rundown of the famous, the often weird places they pop up in, and our very own special moments with them include: * Fred ``Mr. Everybody'' Travalena, on board a ship somewhere off the coast of Jamaica, where the impressionist who used to get television work insisted ``everybody in Hollywood wants to work the cruise ship circuit.'' Sure, just likely every cruise passenger wants to be cornered in the elevator by a has-been. * Peter Jennings, on the streets of New York, where the ABC newsman said ``hello'' to Heidi as I walked by oblivious to the whole encounter. Shortly after she asked ``didn't you see him?,'' her wheelchair broke down. Coincidence? We think not. * Richard Simmons, on the streets of architecturally-picturesque Columbus, Ind., where I urged Heidi to race up for campy patter and an autograph. She threatened divorce; I left with nothing more than a lousy photograph of the diet guru, taken from the window of our Chevy. * Tommy Lee Jones, power shopping Neiman Marcus on Chicago's Magnificent Mile, where we kept our distance and the clerks said he was mean to them. He also looked really old and bald. But hey, far be it from us to take cheap shots at the rich and famous. * Bob Vila, at Rumplemyers' fine Central Park South location, where the bearded and burly one was downing a sundae piled high as the Chrysler Building. My supervisor at the time was the Columbus Dispatch newspaper's Old House Handyman columnist. I thought I'd curry favor, perhaps even an afternoon off, bringing back a signed photo of TV's home improvement whiz for the boss. But I soon demurred, realizing that getting between Bob and his ice cream was about as wise as hopping into the gorilla habitat at the Bronx Zoo.

Friday, October 21, 2011

GOURMET LONDON -- PART 9

GORDON RAMSEY TO ALAIN DUCASSE IF YOU GO:  Spoon+ at Sanderson: 50 Berners St., London, W1P 4AD; phone: 0207 300-1444.  Momo: 25 Heddon St., London, W1; phone: 0207 434-4040.  Veeraswamy: Mezzanine Floor, Victory House, 99 Regent St., London W1B 4RS, (entrance on Swallow St.); phone: 0207 734-1401; on-line: www.veeraswamy.com  Quo Vadis: 26-29 Dean Street, London, W1D 3LL; phone: 0207 437-9585; on-line:www.whitestarline.org.uk/Quo_Vadis_Restaurant.htm  Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s: Corner of Brook and Davies streets, Mayfair, London, W1A 2JQ; phone: 0207 499-0099; online: http://www.the-savoy-group.com/claridges/default.asp

Thursday, October 20, 2011

GOURMET LONDON -- PART 8

GORDON RAMSEY TO ALAIN DUCASSE Maybe it was the emotions swelling in us all on such a special occasion, or the intimacy of the private room with our own staff assigned to us, delivering very personal service, or the fact that our wonderful English adventure was drawing to a close. Important things, all. But let’s face it: warm and fuzzy don’t feed the bulldog if the food’s not up to snuff. From the moment our fish knives sliced into the rilette of confit salmon and dill with baby fennel and endive salad, accented with chive crème fraiche, we knew we’d picked the right venue for our gathering. The cool texture and subtle symphony of flavors gently embraced us like a summer’s breeze. This was complemented with an excellent wine selection: Sancerre, Vigne Blanche, Henry Bourgeois, 2002. The main event was a sautéed breast of black leg chicken with baby artichokes barigoule, truffle pomme puree and morel sauce, and was paired with Chateau Haut Gravet, grand cru classe, 1999. Moist and succulent, the chicken was a modern turn on a traditional and hardy offering, pleasing our whole group, which ranged in ages from 6 to 71. The grand finale was an intense and captivating warm chocolate fondant with milk ice cream, chased with smooth-as-silk coffee and dishes of dark chocolate truffles. After our good-byes to family that evening, we headed back to our hotel for a short night’s sleep before our early morning flight. We felt ready to return to Miami, with its tropical fruits and fresh sea food and salsa rhythms. But we knew we’d return to London someday, because a destination is always worth returning to when you know you’ll get a great meal there.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

GOURMET LONDON -- PART 7

GORDON RAMSEY TO ALAIN DUCASSE Once at our table, we opted for the two-course fixed-price meal. Steve’s pea risotto with salty ham and hint of mint was to die for. His main course, home-made egg-rich spaghetti, was delightful. Heidi’s roast pork medallions in balsamic sauce was splendidly tender and tasty, sitting on julienne vegetables, and exquisitely flavored by its own juices. This was even more remarkable given that we live in a city where Cuban roast pork is excellent and plentiful; a pork dish must be truly smashing to impress us. At meal’s end, Steve coveted Heidi’s crème Brule, of which a generous portion was served in a shallow terrine. The crispy, savory-sweet, thin crust hid a filling of tangy, farm-fresh raspberries in the dish’s cool center. Yes, the Marco Pierre White name was still grandly earning its well-deserved reputation. But no gourmet tour of London would be complete without a meal at a Gordon Ramsay establishment. Ramsay, another Michelin-starred culinary demi-god with mood swings, has an outlet in the landmark Claridge’s. The hotel, with its stunning art deco décor and magnificent Dale Chihuly chandelier, has long been a favorite with British royalty and European aristocracy. Ramsay’s restaurant seemed the perfect spot for dinner on our final night in London, at which we would gather with family to celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary. With so much expectation resting on this meal, would it be all we dreamed? It was, and so much more.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

GOURMET LONDON -- PART 6

GORDON RAMSEY TO ALAIN DUCASSE So far, our London food tour had been spectacular, with an emphasis on the exotic. But what about the English chefs who had made big names for themselves in recent years? For instance, take culinary bad boy Marco Pierre White. These days, with eight highly-touted restaurants in his White Star Line stable and a history of flamboyant behavior, he is a living legend. Larger-than-life, his own cottage industry. We were a bit skeptical. And so we found ourselves standing outside of Quo Vadis, White’s bastion of so-called “modern British” cuisine in Soho. In this very building, set on a relatively quiet side street, Karl Marx once lived. A plaque near the entrance says so. And for much of the 20th century, an Italian restaurant carried on its business within these walls. We arrived just a few minutes before they officially began serving, and were greeted warmly by a pretty, young hostess clad in black clothing and spangly flip-flops. She offered us a seat in the small, clubby lobby, and said she’d return once she’d changed shoes. We took in the sumptuous woodwork and staircase leading up to the space that was once Marx’ apartment but is now the men’s loo. What stood out the most, however, was the instantly recognizable artwork of British bad boy artist Damien Hirst. We were grateful that they consisted of pieces such as giant framed word search puzzles (containing the name Marco Pierre White) and Hirst’s acid-blotter-like, psychedelic-colored circles, rather than slices of livestock embedded in giant Lucite blocks.

Monday, October 17, 2011

GOURMET LONDON -- PART 5

GORDON RAMSEY TO ALAIN DUCASSE After a peek at the menu, we knew that here they respected the traditions of Indian cuisine without being mired in it. The dishes of northern India form a mystical union with Southern India’s curry leaves, tamarind and sesame seeds, the ultimate result being a wondrous selection of Indian “comfort food.” The seafood used in the dishes is impeccably fresh and spices are crushed and prepared daily. Palnitkar told us that the chefs – an executive chef supported by a team of regional specialty chefs -- create new dishes that are rotated through from time to time, their popularity determining whether they make the menu more-or-less permanently. Steve selected the spicy crab cake appetizer and delighted in its dazzling flavor and heat. Steve’s more traditional chicken tikka entrée was done to other-worldly perfection, which he paired nicely with an understated pinot Grigio. Heidi feasted on a delicate chicken samosa appetizer, followed by wonderfully piquant and sizeable prawns in a red curry sauce, served with Basmati rice and complemented with an icy cold Cobra beer. Moist, fluffy naan bread rounded out the main course. If you think that Veeraswamy is like other Indian restaurants that offer a limited and predictable dessert menu predominated by the usual yogurt/honey/cardamom-heavy suspects, think again. An offering of a trio of sorbets reminded us of the tropical flavors so plentiful in Miami. But the topper was the multi-layered, creamy cake that, Palnitkar explained, was painstakingly created layer by individual layer, and garnished with black pepper ice cream. What sounds odd on paper becomes, in reality, a rich, sensationally tasty masterpiece.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

GOURMET LONDON -- PART 4

GORDON RAMSEY TO ALAIN DUCASSE OK, so we’d had a good meal. Actually, a fantastic meal. But wasn’t London still predominated by stale-smelling, darkened curry joints with carpeting that had been installed when the Taj Mahal was in pre-construction? We figured finding innovative Indian food would be as challenging as finding a Cuban coffee window in this city. Once again, we found ourselves growing enlightened. The next day we disembarked from a big, red double-decker at Piccadilly, and just off the English equivalent of Times Square we entered an unremarkable office building clad with scaffolding. On the mezzanine level, the elevator door opened and we stepped into a cheerily lighted restaurant called Veeraswamy. No stale carpet smell here: just lacquered walls of purple, green, yellow and other vibrant sari colors. The light from sleek, modern lighting fixtures played delightfully on chrome and gold leaf accents. Not what we expected from the oldest surviving Indian restaurant in the United Kingdom, whose storied history includes visits from Edward, Prince of Wales, Indira Gandhi, Charlie Chaplin and Marlon Brando. Our host, General Manager Vilas Palnitkar, directed us to a pleasant table near a window, from which we could see office workers running errands on lunch hour and men working construction on the building.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

GOURMET LONDON -- PART 3

GORDON RAMSEY TO ALAIN DUCASSE Momo is the creation of Mourad “Momo” Mazouz, a Berber restaurateur extraordinaire who rose to fame in Paris before coming to London. Inside, Momo is scintillatingly exotic, an incense-tinged sojourn into 1,001 Arabian Nights that somehow avoids the cheese and campiness endemic to most restaurants of this ilk. Here the effect is authentic, and one becomes pleasantly entranced by the dark woodwork and Moorish-style decorative accents. Because the London weather was gently balmy that day, however, we chose to dine outside beneath sweeping canvas awnings. Our server, decked out in Arabic garb, complete with curled, pointy-toe shoes, was coolly pleasant. (We thought perhaps the shoes had something to do with his attitude.) We perused the menu, taking it all in. Executive chef Mohamed Ourad’s selections are a mélange of North African classic dishes and his own secret family recipes. Steve selected the tagine de poulet aux citrons confits et olives vertes: chicken tagine with lemon confits and green olives: a pungent stew of tender poultry and aromatic spices. The aroma and taste were heavenly. Heidi’s couscous brochette de poulet -- chicken couscous -- was magnificent. Expertly grilled, marinated boneless chicken arrived on a side plate, and was tender enough to cut with a fork. The pieces -- along with a side of lighter-than-air bulger wheat and golden raisins -- are then added to the mini-pot containing the delicious pieces of vegetables and the exquisitely flavorful stew-like sauce to create a sensual culinary symphony. Though the lunch entrees are generous in size, we had to sample the hot-out-of-the-oven quince tart, with sweet, fleshy quince slices atop a scrumptious pie-like crust, served with a dollop of quince ice cream and mint leaves.

Friday, October 14, 2011

GOURMET LONDON -- PART 2

GORDON RAMSEY TO ALAIN DUCASSE Indeed, that is where we had dined, at legendary French chef Alain Ducasse’s Spoon+, located in Ian Schrager’s ultra-hip Sanderson Hotel, an office building-cum-crash pad of cool, courtesy of the designs of the visionary Philippe Starck. Walking in to the lobby and gazing at the sleek lines, out-sized and odd-shaped furniture and funky textures, we’d had a flashback of home. As Miamians, we’d visited The Delano in South Beach, another Schrager/Starck collaboration. We expected amazing food in Miami: a seaside destination of the chic set, blessed with a mind-blowing cultural mosaic. But London? Wasn’t that a stronghold of stodgy carving stations and menus unchanged since the first Queen Elizabeth raised a scepter? Preconceived notions die hard, but once in London, ours were soon tossed into the Charnel House of Culinary Misconceptions, where they landed with a deafening thud. Our foray into the wilds of London’s innovative cuisine scene began with a taxi ride in search of a little street to nowhere. Our cabbie doubted that we’d find what we were looking for on Heddon Street, a road that dead-ends into a pedestrian mallway. But we stayed the course, and sure enough, at the street’s end, we found a Moroccan souk in the heart of Mayfair.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

GOURMET LONDON -- PART 1

GORDON RAMSEY TO ALAIN DUCASSE We had died and gone to foodie heaven. That was our verdict, as we nibbled the last bites of the delicate chocolate chip cookies, brought to our table as lagniappe, an offering of “a little something extra” from the chef. Those tasty, baked-to-perfection morsels had been preceded by a most memorable grazing meal – served dim sum style -- of tasty Caesar salad; spicy shrimp brochette, so fresh they crunched aloud, served with pita bread and a creamy, tzatziki dipping sauce; riotously-flavorful Thai rice accented with scallions; creamy, rich, golden whipped potatoes; sea bass with “stockfish” condiment; pan-seared glazed scallops with crispy rice and lemon condiment; clever, chicken wings with Tandoori sauce and wok veggies; warm, miniature donuts with a red berry compote and a chocolate fondant to die for. After concluding the meal, we sat in serene contemplation at our table in the peaceful, green courtyard complete with mini-waterfall. Who knew London was such a dining paradise? London: the capital of all things boiled and de-flavorized.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

DISABLED REALTORS -- part 8

Overcoming the Odds and Getting the Job Done What challenges does she face in being a Realtor because of her disabilities? Walking up or down stairs means carefully maneuvering while holding tight to the railing. She takes an elevator whenever possible. Because of the damage the accident caused to the frontal part of her brain, numbers are a challenge for her. “I had to re-train myself. I remember one time after the accident going to the grocery store. At the checkout, I was sure the clerk gave me too little change, and I almost made her re-count the entire contents of her drawer,” she said. Frustrated by her difficulty with numbers, Martin said, “I was more upset with myself than anything.” To cope with this challenge, Martin is very organized. “I’m anal about it, truly. I am very file oriented. I work from left to right on my desk. Once I misplace a file, I lose it,” she said, referring to the emotional upset she feels when something occasionally goes missing. “I can’t rest until I find it,” she said. Most of Martin’s clients don’t think of her as having a disability, since the outward manifestations are generally not visible to others. They do notice her fastidious ways, though. “Sometimes they look at me weird because I’m so anal about being organized,” Martin said, with a smile in her voice.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

DISABLED REALTORS -- part 7

Overcoming the Odds and Getting the Job Done Martin’s recuperation lasted a year and a half. She used a wheelchair for a year, then a walker. She now walks unaided, though stairs are difficult. Other residual effects include a bulging disc and pressed nerves in her back, numbness down her arms and legs and chronic pain. She also has nerve damage on the left side of her face. Additionally, Martin has had to go through cognitive retraining. Before the accident she was a private investigator with her own security company. But the work was sometimes dangerous, and as a single mother, Martin began to re-think her career path. “Life is too short,” she said. In 2002, she became a Realtor, selling both residential and commercial. She had always loved working around properties – her father had built and owned apartments when she was growing up – plus, she had experience in insurance and marketing. It seemed like a natural next step for her, career-wise. Martin also has a job doing property management for a company that oversees five developments totaling 600 homes. She enjoys the property management work, but laughingly says of it: “The only time people talk to you is when they have problems.”

Monday, October 10, 2011

DISABLED REALTORS -- part 6

Overcoming the Odds and Getting the Job Done Peggy L. Martin is a Realtor who radiates confidence and a love for the field, even though she lives with major challenges on a daily basis. An agent with First Realty Network in Boynton Beach, Martin must cope with the fallout of a horrific car accident which occurred in 1988. While driving, Martin turned a corner and crashed into a tractor-trailer that had stopped in the road and had no running lights. Upon impact, her car was propelled underneath the truck. The roof of the car peeled off like the lid of a tin can. Her seat belt tore in two from the impact. Though originally declared dead at the scene, a policeman found a heartbeat on her. She was air lifted to a hospital, where she spent two weeks in critical condition, not expected to live. “My forehead was crushed, my brain was punctured, said Martin. She suffered over 100 fractures and had over 100 stitches in her face alone. “God brought me through this whole thing,” she said. “I’m much more grateful for what I have now.”

Sunday, October 9, 2011

DISABLED REALTORS -- part 5

Overcoming the Odds and Getting the Job Done It took him a while to develop a system to compensate. He copes by using pocket-size micro-recorders and writing down many things. He also plans out as much of his work as possible, knowing that some things will happen spontaneously anyway. “If I’m going to an unfamiliar location, I go early and survey the situation,” he said. He knows his limitations and works within them. Though he doesn’t mention the stroke and its impairment of his memory to clients, he tells them he has a “poor memory.” For Williams, steps are doable but sometimes difficult. He doesn’t need any accommodation for his labored gait beyond a standard handrail or banister. If he does discuss his limp, he tells clients he had an accident that injured his leg. “People are always much more concerned about me than I am about myself,” said Williams. He’s never encountered an instance of discrimination with a client. “I approach people with the attitude: ‘This is who I am. Accept me or not.’ All of us have our disabilities: some physical, some mental, some spiritual,” Williams said. Ultimately, Williams is a Realtor because he truly enjoys it. “It’s the only thing I know how to do, and am confident doing it.”

Saturday, October 8, 2011

DISABLED REALTORS -- part 4

Overcoming the Odds and Getting the Job Done Selling properties has also been Cal Williams’ calling for the last 32 years. An on-site agent for Beazer Homes in the St. Augustine area, Williams’ career was put on hold 14 years ago when he suffered a stroke. The stroke’s immediate effects rendered Williams totally paralyzed on his right side and without the ability to speak. He went through 21 hours of brain surgery and two years of rehabilitation. “During rehab, I was told I’d never be able to work again,” said Williams. But Williams worked hard to prove them wrong. Today, the residual effects of the stroke are a pronounced limp and short-term memory impairment. Fortunately, his employer at the time of his illness was very understanding about his situation. “I told them ‘you’ll probably not want me back.’ They replied ‘let us be the judge of that,’” Williams said. He went back part-time, then transitioned back to full-time. From the time of the stroke until he returned to full-time work, three years had passed. His greatest challenge returning to work was remembering important things necessary to assist clients in purchasing homes.

Friday, October 7, 2011

DISABLED REALTORS -- part 3

Overcoming the Odds and Getting the Job Done Although dealing with a limitation many people see as insurmountable, Diaz has been very successful, selling $7 million in 2003. How does he do it? His PDA, laptop and office computer all have screen-reading audio software, which converts the written word to the spoken word. With the software, he can do such things as e-mail clients from his PDA and write his own contracts on his computer. Diaz has a secretary, as well as a driver, who also describes properties as he guides Diaz through them. He doesn’t tell clients he’s blind until he meets them, and has never had a client decline his representation because of his disability. “Clients are amazed by what I can do with my computers. (Because of the computers), I immediately develop a rapport with them,” he said. What’s the biggest challenge now for Diaz, a man who views his blindness as “just an inconvenience?” “To sell more properties,” he said, with the zeal of a true salesman.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

DISABLED REALTORS -- part 2

Overcoming the Odds and Getting the Job Done

“I described colors for them. I tried to describe the color blue by describing the ocean.
I ran into a solid block wall,” he said.
“You cannot describe colors to one who has never seen them.”

This experience changed his attitude about his blindness and made him “thankful to God” for the things he did have.

“I got peace inside. I began to think maybe things aren’t so bad,” said Diaz.

He began working at a local hospital developing x-ray film. He married and started a family. As time went on, though, he wanted a better economic situation for himself and his family.

“I called a local real estate school and was told they could not accommodate me. They were not set up to train a blind person,” he recalled.

Diaz wouldn’t give up, and got the home study course materials, which he had recorded onto audio tape. He studied from the audio tapes, but failed the test on the first try.

“I asked myself: ‘Do you want to be where you are?’ The answer was ‘no.’”

Diaz studied even harder and passed the real estate exam on the second attempt.

In January 1970, Diaz opened his own office. He worked out of his house until 1983, when he bought his own office building.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

DISABLED REALTORS -- part 1

Selling real estate is filled with challenges. There are difficult buyers, quirky sellers, confusing contracts, changing economies and a host of other potential pitfalls. A trio of Sunshine State Realtors negotiates through all those hurdles while also coping with significant disabilities. But they don’t want to be thought of as “disabled,” or worse yet, “special” Realtors. Above all, they are savvy business people, they are educated agents, they are outstanding client advocates. But all three acknowledge that they have achieved while managing the demands of disabilities ranging from vision loss, memory impairment and cognitive difficulties. Erodio Diaz would have been an airline pilot if he hadn’t lost his vision, said the Hialeah-based commercial and residential Realtor, who has been working in the real estate field since 1967. Diaz came to the United States at age 9 from Havana, Cuba. At age 13, he lost his sight and many of his friends, who could not relate to his new world without vision. “When I lost my sight, I didn’t know what to do. I even thought about suicide,” said Diaz. At age 17, he returned to school, this time a school for the blind. There he met classmates who, unlike himself, had been blind from birth. They had no concept of what colors looked like.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

KEY WEST BY WHEELCHAIR -- 9


KEY WEST BY WHEELCHAIR

WHERE TO STAY

Southern-most on the Beach, 508 South St., 800-354-4455. http://www.southernmostresorts.com

WHERE TO EAT

Duval Beach Club, 1405 Duval St., 305-295-6550. http://www.kellyskeywest.com

B.O.'s Fish Wagon, 801 Caroline St., 305-294-9272 . http://www.bosfishwagon.com

Thai Cuisine, 513 Greene St., 305-294-9424. http://www.keywestthaicuisine.com

WHAT TO DO

Old Town Trolley, 201 Front Street, http://www.trolleytours.com/key-west 1-888-910-8687

Truman Little White House, 111 Front Street, 305-294-9988. http://trumanlittlewhitehouse.com

The Audubon House, 205 Whitehead Street, 305-294-2116. www.theaudobonhouse.com

Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, corner of Greene and Whitehead Streets, 305-294-2633.
http://www.melfisher.org/museum.htm

Sebago Catamarans, 201 William Street, 305-294-5687. http://keywestsebago.com

WHO TO CONTACT

Information: 800-352- 5397, www.fla-keys .com.

Monday, October 3, 2011

KEY WEST BY WHEELCHAIR -- 8


KEY WEST BY WHEELCHAIR

We call ahead on the day of our sunset cruise. We don't hear a gasp on the other end of the phone when we mention the word "wheelchair," as we sometimes do.

Instead, a polite woman knowledgeably and casually answers our questions about access.

We learn boarding and disembarking will be no problem, but that there are no accessible restrooms on board the catamaran.

Heidi makes sure to use a dockside public restroom beforehand.

When it comes time to board, several crew members adeptly guide Heidi and her chair up a ramp, then lift her gently onto the deck.

The skillful crew is obviously well-trained in assisting passengers with disabilities; they know not to grasp the chair by the armrests or leg rests, which can pull loose.

Once on board, Heidi chooses to remain in her chair, its brakes more than sufficient in keeping her in place, even when the waves swell and break.

Complimentary beverages are provided once we set sail, and the soothing sounds of Bob Marley set a relaxing, insouciant tone.

The sea breeze caresses us gently as the setting sun sparkles on the water's crystal surface.

Soon we reach that sublime state of reverie that is the reward for exploring the world.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

KEY WEST BY WHEELCHAIR -- 7


KEY WEST BY WHEELCHAIR

The unassuming museum boasts examples of items recovered: silver plates with detailed scenes crafted by Incan artists, bejeweled sabers, gold coins, ornate necklaces.

The displays are accompanied by written narratives that provide historical and social context.

Though the museum has an accessible entrance and decent aisle width throughout the galleries, some of the items can only be seen from a standing position.

A display that invites visitors to lift a solid gold bar inside a Plexiglas box is about chest-height to an average adult.

Also, the elevator to the second floor must be operated by a museum guard. Upon our arrival to the upper floor, the guard tells Steve to come back downstairs to get her when we wish to depart: not a feasible arrangement for unaccompanied visitors with disabilities.

Still, the museum is intriguing and well worth a visit.

For lunch we go to B.O.'s Fish Wagon. Located about a block from the Historic Seaport Harbor Walk, the ramshackle corrugated metal structure with vintage license plate decor isn't much to look at.

And the flatware and utensils are of the plastic and paper variety.

But the food is first-rate: grilled fish and fried oyster sandwiches.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

KEY WEST BY WHEELCHAIR -- 6


KEY WEST BY WHEELCHAIR

The Audubon House and Tropical Garden nearby doesn't hold the same appeal. Access through a gate is confusing and the house itself isn't that interesting or accessible.

Access is excellent, though, on wide pavers that wind through the garden filled with orchids, bromeliads, herbs, papayas, banana and sapodilla trees.

Perhaps the attraction that best epitomizes Key West's spirit is Mel Fisher's shipwreck museum of the Atocha.

Fisher was a local character who spent 16 years chasing his dream: to find and recover a sunken Spanish galleon full of treasure.

Enduring legal challenges and the death of his son, Fisher never lost faith in his mantra: "Today's the day."

July 20, 1985 was the day that the Atocha, loaded with gold, silver and jewels, was found.