Best Of :: People & Places
At a Cuban café, you attempt to order a steamed-milk espresso and you get a meat-filled pastry instead. When an irate driver on I-95 suggests you fellate your cousin, you smile bewilderedly and give a thumbs-up. And at work, the Colombian fellow in the next cubicle always seems to pull twice as many clients as you do. Oye, hombre, this is Miami, where if you don't have at least a working grasp of Spanish, you're a second-class citizen. But there's hope yet for a lead-tongued gringo like you. At the University of Miami's Intensive Language Institute, a handsome facility tucked into a corner of the Coral Gables campus, you can redeem yourself of your high school Spanish-class truancy. The schedule is designed with professionals in mind, meeting two evenings a week or every Saturday. If you feel like bludgeoning yourself with knowledge, the intensive course is eight hours a day for one marathon week. The classes top out around six or seven students, and the veteran professors are attentive and patient. The best part: It's pass/fail, so if you can persuade your boss to pay — an eight-week biweekly course costs $625 — you can miss a class or two without fear of turning in a C-minus with your expense report.
You can dress her in a parka, crimp her fur, and keep her in your purse, but don't forget: Your dog is still an animal. A pack animal, and it's time to re-acquaint Princess with her long-forgotten species. The Martell dog park is a wedge of suffering grass in the middle of a severe cement landscape, rimmed on the north and east by I-195 ramps, the west by a condo tower, and the east by Biscayne Bay and the sex offender-habitated Julia Tuttle Causeway. But to the finally unleashed urban dog, this is nothing less than heaven: a tract large enough for an epic game of catch (it's about the size of a little-league park) ornamented with a half-dozen big trees to pee on and, if you time the visit right, a plethora of friends equally interested in ass-odor appreciation. Arrive after 5 p.m. on a workday — parking is tricky, so it's wise to drop off your car a few blocks away and make the walk — and the place is packed with downtown-residing yuppies and their toaster-size canines. Run free, purse dogs!
Since tag-teaming in 2002 to form their Friends with You collective, Sam Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III have been on a tear to corner the globe with their vision of magic, luck, and friendship. The Miami-based conceptual duo started off creating a line of designer toys featuring a wacky cast of cosmic characters with names such as Buddy Chub, Fluffy Pop, Bumble Grump, Red Flyer, Albino Squid, and Malfi. Since then, their mysterious creations have opened portals of opportunity for the artists they could scarcely imagine. Their premium toy line can now be found in some of the top boutiques across the planet. They have carved out their own niche in the contemporary art world with their eye-popping installations, performances, paintings, prints, sculptures, and multimedia works also draw the attention of corporate moguls. Some of the clients they have seduced with their otherworldly charms include MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, Nike, Volkswagen, Toyota Scion, Red Bull, Target, Sony, BMW, Mini Cooper, Hasbro, and VitaminWater, among others. Borkson and Sandoval's neck-craning projects have become a staple during Art Basel Miami Beach, including a spacey blimp parade in 2006 and this past December's giant bounce house at the Scope Art Fair. In the past few years, these big-dreaming homeboys have repped the 305 in places as far-flung as New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Copenhagen — all under the simple rubric "Come Play with Us!" — while conjuring an undeniably winning franchise.
She was elected in 2005 and not a moment has passed without controversy for Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones. Her former political opponent, Richard Dunn, sued her in Miami-Dade Circuit Court the second she took office, claiming she bought votes, and two years later, commission colleague Marc Sarnoff accused her of public corruption. Yet in spite of the troubles dogging her short political career, Spence-Jones has not only survived Miami's cutthroat politics but also successfully leveraged her position to help the people who matter to her — the predominantly black residents living in Overtown, Liberty City, Allapattah, and other low-income neighborhoods in her district. Under her watch, the Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency has finally begun to make inroads in revitalizing the long-neglected historically black community. She made sure the agency spent millions of dollars fixing up storefronts and streets along NW Third Avenue in Overtown, including a $752,903 renovation of Jackson Soul Food Restaurant. Yet Spence-Jones didn't really flex her political muscle until it came time for her to vote for the controversial Marlins stadium deal. Fresh from maternity leave, Spence-Jones channeled great late black leaders M. Athalie Range and Arthur Teele Jr., leveraging her vote to make sure her constituents were taken care of. If the Overtown CRA didn't get $500 million it was promised from the city and county, she would vote against the stadium. An avalanche of criticism descended on Spence-Jones. But she held her ground. Her gambit paid off. She got the $500 million for Overtown. Florida International University political science professor Marvin Dunn sums up the commissioner: "I have nothing but praise for the stand that Spence-Jones has taken: Show us the money. Nothing wrong with that. Bringing home the proverbial bacon is what we expect our politicians to do."
As far as local dealers go, Nina Johnson has earned her spurs on the local scene as a tireless dynamo and community activist. Her gallery has become a favorite hub for art lovers searching for provocative exhibitions that linger in the mind long after one leaves her lively, shape-shifting space. Since opening its doors in November 2007, Diet has become known for its modest yet focused stable of emerging and mid-career artists as well as an invitational program for international artists. Johnson has also organized lectures by visiting curators and critics, and publishes an electronic newsletter featuring reviews and interviews written by local artists on Miami's booming scene. Best of all, Johnson is among the rare handful of local dealers confident enough to give her artists free run of her space without waffling on the commercial necessity of hewing to the bottom line. Her shows are impeccably curated and often among the most discussed after the monthly Wynwood crawls. Among recent standouts were Maria Jose Arjona's beguiling performance marathon, "Remember to Remember," and Andrew Mowbray's witty "Tempest Prognosticator," in which the artist turned himself into a human weathervane. This past December, Brian Burkhardt transformed Diet into a veritable mad scientist's project, installing a sprawling bio-dome-cum-studio that housed samples of the hybrid species of plants and insects he has created during his career. For many people suffering from the bloated offerings that typically cramp the bowels during Wynwood's monthly openings, Johnson has proven a deft hand at trimming the fat from the bone.
For years, the county commission has been controlled by a certain block of rabidly pro-growth commissioners who are quite cozy with special interests. That all changed when Dennis Moss built a more moderate coalition that got him elected as chairman. Moss, whose District 9 is a geographically sprawling chunk of Southern Dade, then set forth assigning committee chairs. Left out in the cold was Commissioner Natacha Seijas, whose derrière was so used to sitting in a chairman's spot it almost seemed like a foregone conclusion she'd be in charge of something. Of course, with growth at a standstill thanks to the economic slump, Seijas and her ilk seem sort of aimless anyway.