Street Talk - July 2004

By staff July 1, 2004


Tahja brings the ancient art of belly dancing to Sarasota.

Palmetto-born Cindy Harrison-or Tahja, as she says she's been known since the age of 13-has a wandering spirit. After high school, it lured her to Spain (where she studied languages and became fluent in French, Spanish, Italian, German and Portuguese), then on to Egypt, Iran and South America.

Along the way, she also mastered the seductive undulations of gypsy, flamenco, Hawaiian, and raqssarqi, or belly dancing, and now teaches both group and private dance. She's taught herself to play the piano and Arabic instruments like the oud and doumbek; and every month, she and her ensemble of musicians and performers host a standing-room-only hafla at 15 South on St. Armands Circle. Describe a hafla. It's an Arabic party. We sing, dance, and invite the audience to participate with music from their own countries. It's very casual and friendly.

Why are you known as Tahja? It's from the Indian city of Rajastan, which means "land of the kings," and the Taj-Mahal, a temple built by an ancient king for his queen. So I have that balance of both king and queen in my life.

Why is belly dancing so popular? It's about moving internally from the torso, so it has a more emotional base. Plus it attracts women of all ages and size. My first teacher was in her 60s.

What's the biggest myth about belly dancing? Dancing for your husband or sultan. It's such a small part of it. Many women dance for each other, and men also dance.

How many admirers have you "danced" with? I've known many people, but whether they were lovers or friends, they were always my teachers in life.

Now hear this!

"There are just too many newspapers around here."

Longboat Observer publisher Matt Walsh who, two days after he announced a new paper on Siesta Key, found out a former employee was starting a paper in competition with his flagship on Longboat Key.

Hot Seat

Mike Connelly has six months under his belt as the new executive editor of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A native of Iowa, he's held posts with various newspapers including the Wall Street Journal. He brought his wife and two teen-age daughters to Sarasota from Columbia, Md., where he spent six years as a vice president at the Congressional Quarterly.

Q: What is an executive editor? Are you responsible for what we read in the paper every morning?

A: The executive editor is responsible for all content except editorials. If you've got something for the editorial page, call Tom Tryon.

Q: What does the Herald-Tribune need?

A: The Herald-Tribune is an ambitious paper. That's what attracted me here. The challenge is to do an even better job of reporting the life of the community. This is a vibrant, exciting place. There are a lot of good stories here.

Q: So what's your plan?

A: At the newspaper, at SNN Channel 6 and at Herald, the goal is to deepen our coverage of Sarasota and Southwest Florida. That means more stories, bigger stories and a continuing effort to tap into what makes the region tick.

Q: What were you told by management when you walked in the door?

A: The biggest thing that attracted me was the opportunity here-growing a market full of people who are good news consumers. Janet Weaver, my predecessor, talked about how carefully people here read the news section, and that's a great opportunity.

Q: Is it any different producing a newspaper in a tourist town like Sarasota where snowbirds come and go?

A: Not very much. This region has a lot of smart newspaper readers. That makes it like the best places I've worked.

Q: In the fine old Front Page tradition, do you still keep a bottle of whiskey in a desk drawer?

A: That's a tradition that passed a long time ago.

Q: What keeps you awake at night?

A: Nothing, except having a teen-age daughter.-Bob Ardren

Best Bite

It's summer, when on a lucky day you can buy live, hand-picked shrimp from a bait stand and eat honestly fresh shrimp for the first time in your life-or at least this summer.

In other words, summer is for simplicity in Sarasota. And nothing is simpler than pizza-good pizza. For that you need a fire, something to put it in called an oven, and basic Italian ingredients.

Primo Ristorante on the North Trail has served Sarasota's best wood- fire-baked, rustica-style pizza for a decade. Oh, sure, there's veal for the veal crowd and sometimes a special of gorgonzola sauce over tortellini that's wonderful, but not in hot weather.

Proprietor Mauricio Colucci knows his roots, and nothing is dearer to his heart than a rustica pizza coming away from the fire in his wood-burning oven. A little tomato sauce, a little roasted eggplant, a little prosciutto, a sprinkle of mozzarella and several dabs of ricotta really set things off, especially when the pie is charred around the edges. This is why some of us spend our vacations hanging out in little Italian towns like Chioggia-they're the real thing.

It's summer and time to slow down and enjoy the simplicity-pretty sophisticated simplicity sometimes-of life on the beach.-Bob Ardren

Burning Issue

There's an old cliche that "Everybody wants progress, but nobody wants change." Over the past 30 years, the population of Sarasota County has nearly tripled. Has that change improved or degraded our quality of life here?

"The quality of life for most of our citizens has improved. Just look at the social amenities now in place and the ability of everyone to utilize the assets of our community. As a 1966 graduate of Sarasota High School, I've seen our small town grow into a small city that I love and enjoy."

Al Hogle, former

Sarasota City Commissioner and now

Longboat Key

Police Chief

"Sarasota County has done pretty well maintaining our quality of life. The big growth has come in places like Venice and North Port, of course, and we'll see in 10 years or so how things like the 2050 Plan change things east of I-75. Things like upgraded buildings along the South Trail certainly improve the visuals in that part of the community."

Paul Thorpe, retired

executive director of the Downtown Association and 34-year resident

"I've been here since 1970, and I don't put a lot of store in what many consider the so-called great advances we've made. I'm more concerned about how we're leaving behind all these service people who take care of us. There's no middle class anymore and we haven't even kept up with the needs of our schools. If that's progress, I'll eat my damn hat."

Marj Baldwin, president, Sarasota Tiger Bay Club

Growth has unquestionably improved it for those among

us who want more restaurants, upscale shops and expensive

housing options, while it has degraded it for those of us who

previously enjoyed easy access to beaches, uncluttered

roadways, a choice of affordable housing options and a

casual pace of life. I would include myself among the


Jack Gurney, Pelican Press journalist

and former Sarasota city commissioner

Sure, there are things that I loathe, but overall, the quality of life here has improved a lot over the past 30 years.

Mariana Cotten, Sarasota artist

Looking at Art

Man and Pachyderm

Steven Katzman is a master photographer whose prints are exquisitely made. This image is the result of Katzman's keen eye anticipating exactly when to click the shutter. In this large photograph, there appear to be two neutral subjects and one active one reaching in from outside the frame. Aside from our suspension in the humor and tension of the moment, Katzman absorbs us in a contemplation of form and texture. The wrinkles in the skin of the elephant are echoed in the forehead of the man. The curve of the pachyderm's rump is repeated in the slope of the man's shoulder. A comparison of the trunk and the tail to the man's nose clearly emerges.

Katzman's brilliant cropping keeps our focus sharp. The starkness of the black void to the right contrasts dramatically with the bright whiteness of the flecks of straw on the man's sweater that seem to float on the surface and make us think we could dust them from the print. Only a black and white photograph would allow us these connections. We can even read his watch to see that it is 12:06 p.m. It must be feeding time.

Steven Katzman has been taking pictures for more than 30 years. His work can be seen at Sonnet Gallery on Main Street in Sarasota.

Mark Ormond is a Sarasota art historian and consultant.



Rolling with vintage motorcycle collector Ray Williams.

Ray Williams feels the need for speed. The broad-shouldered 47-year-old was riding a mini-bike before most of us took off our training wheels, and he still owns his first full-sized model, a 1975 Honda 354.

"Everyone wants to feel the thrill of a really 'bad-ass' bike," says Williams. "It all goes back to the rough-and-tumble guys, the Hell's Angels. Now it's society people. The doctors, lawyers, they all want one."

Williams himself is a businessman with a master's degree from Cornell University in veterinary medicine. He started accumulating unusual bikes 15 years ago and opened American Legend Cycle Sales in Sarasota in 1993 primarily to stock his private collection. "Now people know I collect, and they call me when they have something I might like," he says.

His name has even crept into celebrity rolodexes. Along with major league baseball players down for spring training, Gregg Allman, Woody Harrelson and Paul Reubens (aka Pee Wee Herman) have all bought, borrowed, or rented bikes from Williams.

His personal favorite? Either his limited edition model of the Harley-Davidson that Peter Fonda rode in the 1969 classic movie Easy Rider, or a raging, 160-horsepower Italian Ducati. But mostly he tools around town on a custom 120 HP Vengeance custom chopper with a raked front end. On occasion, he does drive-a Porsche twin turbo.

At least he's cautious. "An accident when I was 16 destroyed my kneecaps," says Williams. "So I always wear a helmet. I've had a lot of friends killed who didn't."

Going Shopping

Mote Marine's Kevin Curlee outfits a saltwater aquarium.

Kevin Curlee has been assembling aquariums since he was six. "This hobby is like a drug, but unlike a drug it lowers your blood pressure and gives you therapy," says Kevin, now deputy director of aquariums at Mote Marine.

We took Kevin shopping for a saltwater aquarium, keeping our budget within the $300 range. His first recommendation: Find a reputable fish store and forge a relationship with someone who knows what they're doing, to ensure a supply of healthy fish coupled with personalized service.

Our first investment was the tank. We found a 10-gallon All Glass Aquarium for $85 that comes with a light, filter and pump. Rule of thumb: For every two gallons of salt water you can house one one-inch fish. Our tank can house two to three fish, plus a couple of environmentally supportive invertebrates such as a shrimp and some coral.

Next, the aquarium display at the Fish Bowl, where there are at least 100 tanks full of fish and other creatures. Where to start? With the salt water and gravel. For $13.99 you can buy enough Instant Ocean water conditioner to set up a tank and do a couple of water changes. The gravel (actually live sand) is $32.

Then comes the live rock. Three rocks the size of tennis balls are sufficient for a 10-gallon tank. Sold by the pound, the rocks cost $70. The rock creates tunnels, overhangs, crevices and holes for the fish to hide, as well as attachment points for invertebrates. Take the aquarium home so the live rock can create bacteria. This begins the nitrogen cycle,

Now you introduce the fish. The beauty and variety of fish available are overwhelming, but in order to live together, fish must be similar in size and sorted within their behavior type. Bigger fish eat smaller fish; more aggressive fish eat less aggressive fish.

Kevin points out Nemo, a clown-percula, which costs $30. His favorite fish is the Coral Beauty, costing $31.99. The Coral Beauty is subtle in color but a big, feisty fish with character; and because of its size it would be solo in the 10-gallon tank.

The next item to enter the tank is coral, beautiful in every aspect. Kevin chooses a mushroom coral at $54. Now for the invertebrates, which control the algae in the nitrogenous cycle. Kevin suggested a large snail or two little ones, each costing $2.99. To add more character to the tank Kevin picked a banded shrimp, at $13. Total cost: $336.

More tips:

Kevin prefers prepared frozen food. (A package costing $10.39 lasts four months.)

Have your fish store test your water (free). However, if you need it there is a testing kit for $15.99.

Purchase a reference book such as Saltwater Aquarium Fishes, by Axelrod and Burgess (it's also available at the library).

The lighting level in your tank should be compatible with the light levels in your fish store. Different light intensities can cause "light shock."

Always pick a fish that will not outgrow the tank you have. Fortunately, trading fish is an option at your reputable fish store.

--Rebecca Baxter

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