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Ruskin in national and international spotlights

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image Gus Muench explains for television viewers in Switzerland and Germany the popularity of the delicacy harvested from his traps in the Little Manatee River. Melody Jameson Photo

Film crews, magazines look to Ruskin


RUSKIN — If the traffic load on U.S. 41 through this historic community should noticeably increase soon, many of those vehicles could be headed for Crabby Gus’ place on the Little Manatee.

Why? Because from points across the U.S. to mountain peaks in Switzerland to a couple of airline corporate offices, the chance to hand pull traps of Blue and Stone crabs from the waters of the Little Manatee under the watchful eye of a weathered Florida Cracker has become worth the trip.

The opportunity to eat the freshly caught delicacy prepared dockside, along with hot hush puppies, crisp, tangy cole slaw and icy beverage probably doesn’t hurt the appeal, either.

At least a Swiss television film crew in town last week thought so. They’ll be sharing the experience in a travelogue on Swiss TV, as well as in webcasts for Switzerland and Germany.

Then, there’s the Spirit Magazine feature with the same focus that one of its writers is pulling together for the reading pleasure of Southwest Airlines customers in search of in-flight amusement.

And, lo, the experience that is unlikely to be available in New York City or Chicago or Dallas is to be touted to delegates and other attendees at the upcoming Republican National Convention who will be hanging around hot Tampa in late August.

“It’s been crazy, just crazy,” says Gus Muench, the Tampa native and lifelong crabber who established a little sideline he called “Crabby Gus’ Adventures” a few years ago. In between harvesting the prized seafood from his 300 or so traps and selling the catch in bulk, Muench would take a half dozen guests at a time out on one of his crab boats to share his river, his environmental philosophy, his understanding of the sea life and avian life so long a part of his world, while pulling a few traps.

In time, he created a website. Strangers with a taste for the different sometimes booked crabby tours and even high profile folks like Gov. Bob Martinez, another Tampa native, would drop by to appreciate the neat and peaceful Muench home site on the Little Manatee’s south shore.

That’s how Esther Winter, a Swiss journalist, along with her German videographer, George Dender, and sound technician, Marcel Kohn, found their way from Tampa, down U.S. 41 along Tampa Bay’s eastern side, through Ruskin, to the river. “We wanted ‘Old Florida’,” she said in her accented English Sunday afternoon (June 3), trying her first crispy-on-the-outside, soft- on-the-inside hush puppy as a soft southern voice drawled an answer to the inevitable question.

Comfortable in cut-offs and sneakers, the blonde Winter sat in dappled sunlight at a Muench-made picnic table beside his cook shack and explained the crew was filming for a new travel documentary titled “The HolidayChecker” designed for Swiss and German travelers. The film also may be shown on Edelweiss Air flights, she added, one of which recently became a regular at Tampa International Airport.

Zeroing in on destinations anywhere in the world, the travel program’s presenters “check out” the best activities, the best accommodations, the hottest attractions, paving the way for travelers in the audience eager to arrange a memorable holiday, Winter said. She had stumbled across Crabby Gus while researching aspects of the Tampa Bay area, she added. What she read promised to demonstrate “Old Florida” as they imagined it.

And they were not disappointed. The crew spent several hours on the river — after all a designated “Outstanding Florida Waterway” — filming close up the crabbing process and from a distance the crab boat plying smooth waters between small islands. They ate with enthusiasm what had been harvested and cooked without preservatives or freezing or delay. Satiated, they settled on the wide Muench dock to record an unhurried interview with a river man now in his mid-70s who began cast netting and crabbing as a child, with his dad as guide.

They left late in the day, headed to Tampa to complete a week’s worth of filming, capturing other types of attractions in the area, including Busch Gardens. They were still getting used to air conditioning, in their hotel rooms and in restaurants, they said; something that is not particularly popular in their native habitats. And the distances that Americans take in stride amazed them, they noted, because in their Europe, walking and bicycling trumps the automobile. But, they agreed, they gladly will come back at the first opportunity.

Meanwhile, the Spirit Magazine piece featuring Crabby Gus and the river and Ruskin and the Tampa Bay area is due out in August, just in time for conventioneers aboard incoming Southwest flights to get a taste of what’s cool as they encounter sub-tropical August humidity.

And Muench is pondering how to host not a half dozen, but perhaps visitors by the dozens, all after a new experience, something that can be described to brother Kiwanian in Minneapolis or fellow councilmen in Cleveland or PTA mothers in Kansas City. The website that normally gets 40 to 50 hits a day, Muench said this week, has been racking up five times that number.

Then, just to keep things interesting, producers in Hollywood — California, that is — currently have underway not one, but two feature length films on the life and relationships of John Ruskin, according to internet reports. The English social critic, outspoken writer, dabbling artist and namesake of the local community he never saw managed, it seems, to generate a sensual tale with a totally and wholly non-sensual marriage. Producers are promising that the rebellious woman in question – Effie Gray — and Ruskin will become household names. The film releases are slated for later this year.

So, when traffic on U.S. 41 begins to pick up...

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson

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