Jen Be Illin'
I've been able to stomach restaurant reviews in which Jen Karetnick reminisces about her days in sleepaway camp, in New Jersey, and God knows where else, but her review of Cafe Aqua ("Just Add Water," January 30) frankly made me nauseous.
It had nothing to do with the actual restaurant, but rather the disgusting laundry list of ailments through which Ms. Karetnik has suffered while writing her columns. Viral meningitis and hepatitis? Is she kidding? I hate to jump on the bandwagon, but the moniker "Kavetchnik" never seemed more fitting. Jen, honey, feel better, and from now on please stick to subjects more appetizing.
Hasta la Vista, Buena Vista
Your recent feature article about the City of Miami's Buena Vista East area ("What a Lovely Neighborhood," January 16) brought back a lot of memories, none of them good.
We lived on NE 45th Street in the Buena Vista East neighborhood from 1972 to 1983. In fact, our house was purchased by one of the persons mentioned in the article. When we bought our home, Buena Vista was a fine neighborhood of old two-story homes, one of the few concentrations of two-story single-family houses in the city. The neighborhood began to deteriorate suddenly and dramatically in the late 1970s. There was a huge influx of undocumented Haitian refugees into the area. This influx was permitted by the Carter administration and was actively encouraged by Miami commissioners, who nevertheless did absolutely nothing to deal with the needs and problems of these people, and who made no effort to enforce zoning and building codes.
Within a few years, the population of the neighborhood had doubled, then tripled. Single-family homes were being used as rooming houses, holding as many as 50 and 60 people. Lawns and trees were destroyed, trash littered the area, and indoor furniture was kept outdoors on lawns and driveways. Houses were illegally subdivided and divided again. The new residents had no knowledge of building and zoning requirements, and the city did nothing to educate them.
During this period my wife and I were active in several neighborhood and community development groups. I was a member of Miami's Planning Advisory Board and also served as secretary of the Buena Vista East Association. We lobbied, begged, and pleaded ceaselessly for code enforcement, to no avail. We were ignored by commissioners -- except, of course, just before election time. Zoning and planning officials not only ignored us, but on occasion also mocked, and insulted us. I should add that the neighboring Design District merchants and their spokespeople never showed the slightest interest in our plight.
We finally bailed out in 1983 and moved to Miami Beach. Almost everyone else in Buena Vista whom we knew also left, some before we did. Four years later we finally sold our house and tried to put this unhappy episode behind us. Occasionally one of us would drive through the old neighborhood. We had joked that it would probably pick up as soon as we moved out. But it didn't; it got worse.
The New Times article was like a blow between the eyes, at the same time dredging up the past and making it clear that nothing had changed. I was incredulous to discover that the unlicensed restaurant we had protested about to then-city manager Howard Gary in the early 1980s is still in business! Code enforcement in the region clearly remains a joke. I suppose that law enforcement there is at the same level it was in the early 1980s, when I called 911 repeatedly while watching through my window as two men burglarized a neighbor's home -- and watched the police arrive a half-hour later, after the burglars had driven away.
Any attempt to reduce Buena Vista's problems to race is a red herring. Almost all of our African-American and Haitian friends and acquaintances in the neighborhood left before we did. The real problem was the city's failure to enforce its own codes and to provide adequate services. City of Miami government and services were a joke when we lived there and remain a joke today, as the article demonstrated.
Richard H. Rosichan
Pamela's Last Act
I am going to miss Pamela Gordon's theater pieces. I was introduced to her writing when I took on part-time publicity work at the New World School of the Arts. As I cut and saved New World theater reviews for the archives, I had the opportunity to read her. In my New York City snobbish way, I was taken aback: Here was one person who really knew her theater.
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I particularly remember her piece on "Death of a Salesman" at the Coconut Grove Playhouse ("Miller's Tale," January 25, 1996) because she'd seen a good number of stagings of that play.
We were right there with her, too, when she wrote about Edward Albee ("Edward Albee's Mindscape," January 23, 1997) -- at the New World lecture for young playwrights, at the deli, at Albee's house, in his garden! It gave us a much-needed portrait of the man. I wish she wouldn't go.