Best Of :: People & Places
If you live in Miami and you're not the type to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Elián saga by screaming and burning photos of Castro and Janet Reno outside Versailles, there's a good chance you're pretty cynical about Cuban rights activism. And who could blame you? Enough hot air comes out of Calle Ocho's daily coffee-counter arguments every afternoon to power a transatlantic flight. That's why Raices de Esperanza (or "Roots of Hope" for the gringos among us) is so refreshing. President Felice Gorordo, a 27-year-old Miami native, cofounded the group while he was a student at Georgetown with the simple goal of opening a dialogue among young Cubans about how to better their lives. Now the group has 3,000 members at 55 universities and sponsors an annual conference to foster communication and support emerging bloggers such as Yoani Sánchez. Gorordo's brand of activism won its biggest victory yet last September, when Colombian pop singer Juanes announced a concert "for peace" in Havana's Independence Square. Miami's hardliners raged, stalking Juanes at his Key Biscayne home and smashing his CDs in Little Havana, but Gorordo took a different tack. "Let him go, and we'll judge when he comes back," he said. "It's worth a shot." Sure enough, the Juanes show drew hundreds of thousands of Cubans, and he used the stage to preach freedom. Most agreed the concert bettered the cause for human rights. Raices de Esperanza's embrace of dignity, innovation, and communication prevailed over screaming and empty posturing. That's a revolution we can all get behind.
What you need is a weekend away. But alas, Miamians, you're already living in the very place most Floridians vacation. So where to go? If you answered the Keys, go ahead and line up in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Seven Mile Bridge. (Besides, it's the same pastel motels, just more coconuts.) Instead, steer the car north like you're heading for Disney, but bypass all the mouse-touting exits and that spooky biblical theme park called the Holy Land Experience. Deep in the Ocala National Forest is Wekiwa Springs State Park, where you can spend the weekend camping in a backcountry Florida Shangri-la. Here's the scene: Moss-draped oaks canopy the park's springs, and pristine blue water nestles in natural rock that, thanks to the Floridan Aquifer, is always a cool 72 degrees. As for lodging, choose one of the campsites in the inner circle for the best shade, and kayak the Wekiwa Lagoon for some guaranteed gator watching. Camping costs $24 a night, or for primitive camping, $5 a person. Otherwise, park admission is $6 per car. For noncampers, the park is open 8 a.m. to sunset.
Most TV news talking heads, even the dudes, look and act like failed beauty queens trying to make a second career for themselves. But WSVN's Belkys Nerey bucks that trend. The 42-year-old Emmy winner is a solid, straight-up anchorwoman — telegenic but still intelligent. Born in Havana, Nerey spent her childhood in Long Island before tripping down I-95 to South Florida. Once here, she studied radio and television at Miami Dade College and Florida International University, got her start in cable news, and earned a spot in the Magic City's media parade as cohost of local gossip institution Deco Drive. Today, Nerey is cruising through the post-Deco phase of her career, holding down WSVN's nightly newscasts alongside Craig Stevens. And whether it's a celebrity sex scandal or a political con job, she always delivers the day's stories with appropriate seriousness. Case in point: Unlike some of the lesser faces populating the public airwaves, Nerey never falls prey to that annoying TV anchor tic of flashing a vacant smile after reporting Miami's latest murder.
Without warning, a woman brandishes two bushels of tree limbs and proceeds to beat our friend Lourdes from toes to shoulders. Between sweeps of the soggy branches, the woman dumps bucket after bucket of cold water on our friend. No, she's not swabbing the deck of a fishing boat. She's helping Lourdes relax with platza, one of the traditional spa treatments available at the Russian and Turkish Baths on Miami Beach. The baths attract Miami's ultimate relaxation-seekers, those who are willing to abandon modesty, vanity, and sometimes plain old comfort if it gets them closer to bliss. Women and men in barely-there bathing suits, heads wrapped in towel turbans, endure the volcanic heat of the schvitz as if sweating were a way to absolve past sins. A skeletal older man stands under a heavy waterfall that pounds on his bony shoulders. He raises his head, eyes closed, waiting to be beamed up to the mother ship. Make your way through the rest of the grotto-like rooms and hear the cries of those jumping into the icy polar tank; catch glimpses of red flesh, pores screaming from the extreme heat, and shield your eyes from the meaty woman having the mud hosed off. What are you looking at, you perv? Pass the wet branches and wait your turn. A day pass costs $30, and the baths are open from noon until midnight.
Michael Putney doesn't tweet. He doesn't pop up when we search his name on Facebook. And as far as we can tell, he doesn't blog. No, sir, Michael Putney is decidedly old school, and in this Internet age, we couldn't appreciate him more. While most TV reporters seem to come and go, Putney has been covering local government and politics in South Florida for nearly 30 years. Add to his incisive reporting a hosting gig on This Week in South Florida, one of the few must-watch local programs, and his occasional columns in the Miami Herald (which often upstage the newspaper's regular gaggle of columnists). There are few voices on local airwaves we trust as much as Putney and who report on politics with such authority.
Miami is a town where clubs spit out adjectives like exclusive, VIP, and upscale like an overchewed piece of Juicy Fruit. But WALL Lounge is actually one of the few places that can blow hard without bursting its own bubble. Jessica Alba, Gabrielle Union, the All American Rejects, Erykah Badu, Swizz Beatz, Jamie Foxx, Jason Binn, and Selita Ebanks are just a few of the celebrities who have walked through WALL's infamous doors. Other guest sightings have been rumored, but unless the press snaps a picture, they're almost impossible to confirm. In fact, it's nearly impossible to get a photo of the place, period. WALL's success lies in its size; it is so boutique it does not merit a VIP section — the lounge itself is the VIP. So if you're lucky enough to get in, keep the video phone ready — you might catch a TMZ-worthy moment.