Somehow we missed that particular issue of Caretas, the respected Peruvian newsweekly, the one in which it reported that Peruvian congresswoman Cecilia Tait was pregnant with a child conceived with the cooperation of Miami Herald reporter Tyler Bridges. But there it was in Joan Fleischman's "Talk of Our Town" column, in the very paper that employs Bridges. "He looks like Richard Gere but with green eyes," Tait told Caretas. Seriously? Tyler Bridges? The same Tyler Bridges who, in a Herald opinion piece, pondered the eerie similarities between his life and that of the late John F. Kennedy, Jr.? (Sample: "John John went to Brown. I went to Stanford.") More recently Bridges shared with readers his experiences preparing for and running a marathon. Surely he won't keep us waiting too long for the details of his long-distance political liaison. We'll be patient -- and maybe nervous.

You don't have to live in South Beach to be painfully aware of the fact that finding a place to park your car qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment. Keep this garage in mind next time you're about to lose your mind in the quest for parking. Owned by the City of Miami Beach, the Seventeenth Street garage could not be more conveniently located. It's an easy walk to the Jackie Gleason Theater, the convention center, Lincoln Road, and only five short blocks from the beach. It's open 24 hours a day and has space for a whopping 1460 vehicles. The dollar-per-hour rate (maximum eight hours) is quite reasonable. On special-event days it's a flat rate of five dollars. According to city officials, the garage opened 25 years ago, but a thorough renovation in 1996 expanded the facility and spruced it up considerably. You can almost always count on finding a space there, shielded from the blazing sun and close to where you want to go.
"Buenos dias" in the morning. "Buenos tardes" in the afternoon. "Buenas noches" after the sun goes down, just before they lock up the store for the night. "¿Como andas?" "¿Como andamaos?" "¿Que pasó?" The list runs through your head every time you go for a newspaper. The fates have placed you in Little Havana and you're okay with it. In fact you like it, how real the neighborhood feels, how different it seems from everywhere else in America you've lived. Unfortunately you don't speak Spanish -- at all. Or at least not more than a few words. You're painfully monolingual, though you keep trying. Every day you buy your paper at the neighborhood bodega, the one with the shrine to San Lazaro burning near the cash register. Every day you wave and say hello to the butcher. He's 92 years old, you're told. He sits there every day, liver spots sprinkled over his face, all his hair gone. Plastic-wrapped hams and strange-looking cheeses mummify in a cooler. "¡Hola!" he says to you one morning. You do know that one and respond in kind. The next day, when you see him, you smile and prepare for a similar exchange. "¿Como andas?" he asks. What?!? What are you supposed to say to that? You head home and flip through a Spanish dictionary. You call a friend and ask for an appropriate reply. By the next morning you're smarter. But so is he, sitting behind his meat cooler, eating cheese off a cracker. "¿Que tal, mi amigo?" he calls out, reaching over the cooler to warmly grasp your hand. You stare at him blankly, frozen in fear. ¿Que tal? Where the hell did that come from? You mumble something, "Bien" probably, grab your paper and scurry back to your dictionary. Tomorrow you'll be ready.

The Miami Light Project, a nonprofit cultural arts organization founded by Janine Gross and Caren Rabbino, gained a solid reputation soon after its debut in 1989. Today it is best known for bringing to Miami performances by renowned contemporary music, dance, and theater artists. Miami Light also commissions new works and provides an outlet for Miami's own avant-garde performing artists. In this town, however, unfettered artistic expression has been a complicated affair, particularly when Cuban nationals are involved. By the time Beth Boone became executive director of Miami Light, in May 1998, the complications had gained national notoriety, facilitated by a county law severely restricting the circumstances under which Cuban artists could appear here. Despite very real risks to her organization's financial health, in May 2000 Boone and Miami Light joined with the ACLU and several others in successfully challenging the so-called Cuba ordinance in federal court. With the law on her side, Boone proceeded to introduce Miami to a glittering array of Cuban artists. In just the past twelve months she's sponsored performances by Grupo Vocal Desandann, Los Fakires, and the legendary Los Muñequitos de Matanzas. But Miami Light has a much broader mission. Under Boone's guidance, in the past year alone we've had the opportunity to see Philip Glass and Foday Musa Suso, Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson, and Miami's own Teo Castellanos as he created his one-man hit NE 2nd Avenue. That's the kind of cultural kaleidoscope that makes living in Miami worthwhile.
On the University of Miami campus it is possible to take a short walk in the woods and end up on what seems like a tour of the globe. Founded in 1947, the Gifford arboretum was named for the first graduate forester in the U.S., a UM professor and expert on tropical woods. At one time there were more than 500 species here, but in the Seventies and Eighties the collection suffered from neglect and a few were lost. Then, as bulldozers prepared to carve more parking lots out of the campus's north end, local activist Kathy Gaubatz stepped in and saved the place from ruin. The collection, which now includes about 450 species, has been renovated and inked in on the university's master plan. The plants are being retagged and a new checklist of the holdings compiled. It is a little-known sanctuary, and according to director Carol Horvitz, a UM biology professor, one of the few places in South Florida to find a fully labeled grouping of more than 90 percent of the 130 species of shrubs and trees native to the area. From a box by the parking lot, pick up a brochure and begin a self-guided tour through thirteen families of tropical and subtropical plants, including palms, figs, hardwoods, and ornamentals. The trail is well marked, the plants all wear tags bearing their common and Latin names, and benches here and there invite repose and reflection. Note the handsome lignum vitae tree, planted more than 50 years ago.

In Miami, the poorest large city in the nation, women and girls make up the majority of those living below the poverty line. It's a disgrace for Miami and a disgrace for mainstream charities that historically have shortchanged programs specifically for women and girls. And it should embarrass the Florida legislature, which continues its relentless drive to eliminate desperately needed social services. The Women's Fund makes up for some of the neglect by funding innovative and often ignored organizations and projects, programs that cultivate creativity and self-reliance, that help girls and women break abusive or addictive bonds and develop their strengths and talents. Women's Fund grantees don't get a lot of money. Last year the three-year-old nonprofit (affiliated with the worldwide Women's Funding Network) awarded a total of $51,500 to sixteen specific projects, some operated by local social-services and immigrant-relief organizations, but most of them unknowns such as MZ Goose, Pridelines Youth Services, and URGENT Inc. The funding totals a mere fraction of what most lobbyists make in a year, but it's a start.
The Banana Bungalow is a youth hostel, but a nice one. Pastel-colored and improbably located in one of the most expensive tourist traps in the world, the bungalow is low-key and freewheeling. The young and adventurous from around the globe pour in and out of this place, wedged into the southern end of the Indian Creek waterway. They sit by the pool, play billiards, trade tall tales by the bar. The bartender decides nightly what the happy-hour special will be, but the beer is always cheap. A night will cost you around $15 to share a room with three other travelers; private rooms $50 and up.
They were proof of Miami's status as the Latin-music capital of the world. They were an engine of economic growth. They were a sign of our slowly developing political tolerance. They were a plot to thrust subversive Cuban musicians into our midst. They were the pride and joy of Emilio Estefan, Jr. They were the downfall of exile extremists. They were a glamorous, gaudy, God-awful fuss. But most of all, they were gone. Poof! Somewhere in Southern California, then-Grammys honcho Michael Greene is still smiling at his sleight-of-hand.

BEST REASON TO STAY IN MIAMI DURING THE SUMMER

Mo' curls

Sure, the heat and humidity is a killer. But just look at those soft curls you've developed, the streaks of gold in your hair, the silky texture. Who needs a high-priced salon when you can get touched up by the sun? Think of it as deep-heat conditioning for free. Indeed the only folks who don't have a reason to stay in Miami for the summer are, well, the high-priced stylists.
The best new building won't be there much longer. It will be taken down not because it is an historic landmark no one cared about but because it wasn't meant to last. But while it stands, it's incredible to behold. Artist George Sanchez decided to create a model of the famous 1929 Le Corbusier house in France, an exquisite example of modernist architecture, and put it up underneath the I-395 underpass off NW Thirteenth Street. That's right -- Overtown at its most blighted decrepitude. It sits clean and sleek -- at night it glows -- amid the concrete and filth of Miami's neglected urban core. Sanchez called it "The Blessing." Maybe that's what the city will need to follow the artist's path and create permanent beauty and hope in an area too long without it.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®