For 27 years Hania and I have been driving down to Miami to catch a movie, browse in a bookstore, have dinner, watch people, savor the feeling of being in a big city. Though each place we go – Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, Miami Beach – has more of the air of a village (leafy, Mediterranean Revival, Art Deco) than of a great metropolis. Even urban, gritty Wynwood, a recent addition to our Miami trinity, hardly reminds you of Manhattan or Tokyo.
This past Saturday I got the feeling I'd been missing, ironically, in a place that is actually called a village: Brickell Village. Imposing towers – finished and unfinished – rose all around us as we made our way to 1111 Peruvian Bistro (where I ate the most delicious lomo saltado of my life). After dinner we made our way through another upstart canyon to Brickell Center, which was lively even though half of its businesses have not yet opened. A band played on the second floor, in the open-air concourse that spans S. Miami Avenue, and you got that big city thrill of finding life – people, music, the impromptu – in the middle of concrete and glass.
A story in this morning's Herald tells of the death of Zoo Miami's "beloved Komodo dragon" (three words you rarely hear strung together) who appeared on Late Night with David Letterman. "He was," the zoo's Ron Magill is quoted as saying, "just a wonderfully laid-back lizard."
At Fresh Market this morning I came upon two young women speaking German in front of the refigerated beer case. One had her hand on a bottle of Bud Light.
"Are you from Germany?" I asked.
They told me they were, and that they were looking for an American beer.
"That's about the worst one," I told them, pointing to the Bud. Then I asked how long they were staying. They said till tomorrow. I directed them to Riverside Market, adding that they'd have the thrill of crossing a swing bridge on their way there.
Having done my good deed for the day, I'm off to Key West tomorrow, to do a reading at the new Books & Books, probably from the chapter on Key West.
Thursday I went to Bascom Palmer for my semi-annual checkup, and then, blurry-eyed, attended an event at the Faena Hotel. Friday I listened to Blaine Harden, my old friend and colleague from the Trenton Times, speak at Books & Books about North Korea. Saturday, Hania and I celebrated her birthday in Wynwood with dinner and an art walk. Sunday I gave my friend Bahar, visiting from Phoenix, a quick three-hour tour - Biltmore, Venetian Pool, cafecito at Versailles, Dominos Park, Ball & Chain, the murals in Wynwood - before dropping her back at her hotel in South Beach. Then I drove home and read the article in the New York Times Travel section about Little Havana.
Yesterday at lunch I found myself sitting in a restaurant off Brickell with four Cuban-Americans. Two of them couldn't stop talking about Obama's speech in Havana.
"I'm a Democrat but I'm anti-Obama," the younger of the two men said. "But he hit the ball out of the park.
"Exile is a word you can't use in Cuba," he said, "because it has connotations of fleeing the regime. Obama used it again and again. He shoved it in their faces." The man was convinced a Cuban-American wrote the speech.
"He mentioned Miami three times. They hate hearing that Cubans have done well in Miami."
When he got off the speech, the man gave a short survey course in Cuban-American history.
"When Cubans first came here, people wouldn't hire them. But that was good. Because instead of working for someone else, they'd go buy a lawn mover and set up their own business.
"My father always said that the Cubans were the first immigrant group that came to the United States with a superiority complex. Because their life had been so much better back home.
"He studied at a college in Nova Scotia, so he learned English, but when he came back to Miami, every time he'd go into a store he would ask if they had someone who could help him in Spanish. I asked him why, and he said: 'So they'll hire our people.' Cubans looked after each other; they had solidarity, which is different from chauvinism.
"When I got to the age when I was able to vote, my father had a talk with me. He said, 'Your mother and I are Republicans. Your grandmother and grandfather are Republicans. You should be a Democrat.' I was surprised. He said: 'Then our people will be represented in both parties."
Monday I drove down to Miami Beach to have lunch with a friend at A la Folie. The sidewalk tables were all taken, so we sat at a small round table by the big front window. A cat slept curled up on the pillow next to me. My buckwheat crepe was folded into a flat square just like in France; I washed it down with a glass of Normandy cider. A pretty young woman in a small round hat sat at a table across the room, looking like an ingenue from an Eric Rohmer film.
Returning to Fort Lauderdale, I stopped at Primanti Bros. on Oakland Park Boulevard to buy a bottle of water. The staff wore T-shirts that said "Bite Me" on the back.