Havana Spared Most of the Worst
I read with interest Paula Park's article "The Quintana Plan" (January 22), about architect Nicolas Quintana and his ruminations on the development of Havana. I feel a sense of consternation over the many vicissitudes he had to endure thanks to Fidel Castro.
I am not familiar with his specific architectural achievements (although anyone anti-Le Corbusier can't be all bad). In general I can breathe a sigh of relief, in this context only, that Cuba and particularly Havana went into a "deep freeze" at the dawn of an era that encompassed some of the most mediocre, inhumane, and -- yes, this is important too -- unadorned architecture in the history of mankind, both in the realm of theory and actual built structures.
One can only gaze in disbelief at the wanton destruction of downtown St. Louis for the sake of a silly arch; at the square miles of eighteenth-century buildings (the hemisphere's largest such collection) that were taken down in Caracas and replaced with glass-and-steel behemoths; at the laughable plans for Brasilia; at the permanent stunting of the Manhattan skyline with rectangular Mies-erable buildings and their unspeakable "plazas"; at the routine insults of plastic panels in building facades; at the Dadeland-era Canary Wharf in London; at the creeping mediocrity even in 1950s Havana (especially East Havana); at the complete disregard for human psychology and social interactions before the altar of ill-conceived utopian ideals. And don't get me going with expressways and urban renewal!
I am increasingly grateful for merely adequate, sustainable, pedestrian-scale neighborhoods. But aren't we glad that Guanajuato and Savannah and Key West and South Beach squeaked by unscathed, whether through neglect or design.
People might not realize that of the hundred best-loved (I did not say most visited) structures or built environments in the nation, only one has been constructed since 1960: Disney World. Worse, probably none could be built under today's regulations. One of the reasons for this sad turn of events is that architects and landscape architects have become somewhat marginalized, thanks to their obsession with showcasing projects that relate to technology rather than the psyche, the ego of the designer taking precedence (and receiving applause) over even the most mundane human needs. (Shouldn't there be a law against benches without backs?)
Architects have become further marginalized by their disregard for the ultimate maintenance costs of their projects and by sustainability issues; by their maddening brushing-aside in most urbanist plans of the hard fact that community development is incremental; by their emphasis on impractical "prettiness" (often visible from a helicopter only); and, even if they grant a nod to siting and regional context, by their silence about whether a property is fit for development in the first place (not a word from Mr. Quintana on the environmental consequences of the new Venezuelan town of Caricuao).
To this I might add the failing of society, which tolerates obsolete building and zoning codes and allows designers, developers, and bankers to get away with all they have been doing. Just ponder the coming tragedy in Coral Gables with the Rouse project ("Show Them the Money!" April 10, 1997).
Yet amid this litany of sins from the past, which we will be stuck with for decades, there is a glimmer of hope that other regimes -- incorporating new urbanism, native-plant landscapes, the better aspects of harmony in Chinese feng shui -- are beginning to take hold. But these ships do not turn on a dime, particularly now that the accountants are in charge. The worry remains not only whether Mr. Quintana will outlive Castro but whether the new ideas will percolate through fast enough to save Havana from the chaos that surrounds us in Miami.
Cage Match: Madonna vs. the Spice Girls
Say it isn't so! Miami's premier alternative newspaper has been not once, not twice, but thrice bitten by that insidious tickling bug known as the Spice Girls. It was only a matter of time.
But far worse than the mere mentions of, to quote Mr. Blackwell, "the only spices in the world with no taste," was the fact that Keith Lee Morris ("Lighten Up Already," January 22) frivolously associated Madonna with the Spice Girls in his list of artists who "will try to fool you into believing they're fun in an effort to mask their inadequacies."
Mr. Morris, what kind of spice are you smoking? Madonna is no Barbra Streisand, but her sheer ability to outlast such snarky (and errant) comments as yours for well over fifteen years hardly puts her in the same category as a bunch of hyperactive tarts who just happen to have a better publicist than Milli Vanilli did.
Guilt-Free Devil Music
I must admit that I agree with Keith Lee Morris's plea to adopt guilt-free fun music. I am one of those thirtysomethings who keep up on the latest music trends. And while I definitely enjoy artists such as Fiona Apple, Rage Against the Machine, and Tupac Shakur, I do not make the claim that the only good music is "devil" music, heavily laden with dark images of death and dissonance.
I am guilt-free when I say that once in a while I enjoy mindless, happy, even silly tunes -- although, I'm not sure I would take Morris up on any of his suggestions. If Marilyn Manson is right and the babes from Hanson are "instruments of the devil," then I can only say a prayer for him, myself, and the rest of the world.
Corn to Be Wild
I just got started on Jen Karetnick's review of the Smith & Wollensky steak house ("The Unkindest Cut," January 15) and it was the usual good work until she noted parenthetically that the purists might find corn in ceviche "somewhat odd." Not so. In fact, these purists expect to find corn there, as well as a piece of sweet potato and onion.
This from someone who has been there (Peru, where ceviche is a national obsession and was very likely invented) and married to one of that country's better ceviche preparers.
And Here to Speak on Behalf of the Mayor...
Usually I enjoy reading Jim DeFede's column, but I was disappointed by his unfair portrayal of Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas ("Style: 10, Substance: 0," January 1).
In his zeal to paint Penelas as lacking in substance, Mr. DeFede omitted nearly all of Penelas's accomplishments. He neglected to mention Penelas's "Safe Streets/Clean Sweep" initiative that has improved police responsiveness and contributed to an eighteen percent drop in crime. He also omitted Penelas's economic accomplishments, including a budget with no tax increase and his successful efforts to keep jobs in Miami-Dade and attract new ones. In his analysis, Mr. DeFede also failed to note Penelas's successful renegotiation of the new arena agreement with the Miami Heat, a substantive accomplishment that he lauded in a previous column.
Perhaps Mr. DeFede's most disappointing omission was his failure to recognize Penelas's successful fight to establish a county ethics commission. I for one appreciate Penelas's many efforts to fight corruption and promote higher ethics within the county, and I hope that Mr. DeFede will begin to support and encourage those efforts as well. (We can only wonder whether the county commission would still have overridden Penelas's veto of commission slush funds if Mr. DeFede had acknowledged it as a positive, substantive move by Penelas.)
Mr. DeFede's outstanding rating for Penelas's style and professionalism was deserved, but his low grade for substance was based on an incomplete ledger. When we see the full picture of Mayor Penelas's first fifteen months in office, he clearly deserves high marks in both categories.
William J. Collins
Let Seth Lead You Out of the Musical Wilderness
Jeffrey Strichart's letter (January 1) about the South Florida music scene is correct only in part, namely: "There is a multitude of derivative, lifeless bands being chased around by promoters."
Promoters, radio stations, and record labels all seem to be stuck in a blind alley of tedious promoting, playing, and signing mimic bands that are ignorant of original sound and creative lyrics. This is a common practice: Bore the public until a band's market value declines; then a new cycle begins. The industry offers up new original artists to audiences starved for inventiveness. The rousing activity is then followed by imitators again.
We are now in the period of copycats, awaiting the birth of a new beginning -- unless the record companies abort the baby.
Here in South Florida there is a music scene, and a sound. Read Nina Korman's article "Unsung Heroes" (January 8). At the Songwriters in the Round at the Park Central Hotel you'll find at least one new birth: Seth Rottman. He sends out energy to the audience that reverberates. Funny that the audience recognized fresh talent and applauded louder for him than for the professionals with record contracts!
I'm sure the people who were there that night are still hungry for more of Seth's music. The way Quentin Tarantino brought the film industry out of menopause, so Seth could start something new for music.
Whoever is in charge of hooking up new artists with major labels makes me think that even when they're awake, they're asleep. Blame whoever that is! They're the ones who feed the record companies. And the record companies start the chain reaction down the line to the radio stations, and finally to listeners.
The Seth Fan Club Grows
I agree with Nina Korman that Seth Rottman has very original material. My girlfriends and I were surprised to read that Seth is twenty years old. With his boyish cute looks and his joking with the audience, and his introduction of his dad in the crowd, we thought he was about fifteen. He reminded us of a young George Michael when he used to be with Wham -- except for sexier gyrating hips!
I'd like a copy of his song "Alien." It made me laugh so hard I almost wet my pants!
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Brian Rocks the Underground
There is an underground music scene here that grows every day. But the underground is more than just music and kids; it has a lot to do with culture, lifestyle, and values that are outside mainstream society.
South Florida's problem is not that there is no scene, but that it is so small. But let's be realistic: South Florida is predominately a dance city -- the Bee Gees and all. If the kids aren't at a discotheque or a rave, then they're at a hip-hop party.
Tons of magazines about all aspects of the music subculture are sprouting all the time. The scene does exist. For those who say it doesn't, I say you're just not tuned in to what the underground is really about.