For anyone not familiar with the local "rancho" phenomenon, Rancho Grande is a revelation. It really is a ranch of sorts, complete with horses and the occasional whiff of barnyard, way out in what passes for the countryside. But it's a club of sorts too. Tables and chairs are spread around a dance floor, all open to the breeze but sheltered from rain by a patchwork roof. You can drop by any weekend (not open weekdays) dressed like a guajiro or a prom queen or a yachtsman and lounge around drinking beer, sampling the excellent Cuban cooking (while it lasts), and watching. Infants and grandparents, fat, thin, black, white, tall, short, hairless, hirsute. The main reason to drop by is to dance to the DJ music (all Latin varieties), and that's another revelation: On any given Saturday night there's the lone exhibitionist, seemingly a different man each week, stepping and turning for hours in extended experimental theater. There are the couples with amazing vibrating butts. The salseros. The bachateros. The vendors of flowers, toys, chains and watches, snapshots of you, and "African art." Sooner or later almost everyone joins the parade at Rancho Grande.

There's nothing quite like surrounding oneself in bromeliads to ease the troubled mind. This lush little enclave has 150 different kinds. "Bromeliads are cherished for their lovely variations of color, spectacular bloom shoots, and their important role supporting animal life via rainwater collected in their rosettes of leaves," notes the garden's Website. From time to time a greedy subspecies of urban wildlife has been known to sneak in and run off with a few orchids from the Arthur Laufferberger Memorial Orchidaria, another feature of this sanctum. But you can relax. That security problem has been addressed, according to the nonprofit Beach Garden Conservancy, which manages this refuge from the sands and sidewalks of South Beach. The Japanese Garden is an oasis within an oasis. A number of tables and benches scattered throughout the grounds provide perches for those who may enter to slake their thirst or hunger with a little food or drink. The gardens are open every day from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is free.

It's a bright and sunny weekend morning. You're headed down to the Keys for some R&R. You think you're pretty smart to use the Shula (SR 874) because it isn't heavily traveled at this hour and it's the quickest way to join up with the southbound turnpike. As you approach the exit for SW 107th Avenue you become aware of a change in your surroundings. Everything seems to open up -- wider lanes, broad grassy median, a smooth ribbon of highway beckoning to you. Is this the turnpike already? Just as you're about to pass under the bridge some involuntary reflex causes you to floor it. You begin to smile. So does the state trooper standing on the bridge, radar gun aimed right at you. Then a quick radio call to one of several FHP cars poised at the on-ramp. You're doomed and don't even know it.
Grimm displays a willingness to actually leave his desk, unlike some columnists we know. And as far as we've seen, he has never wasted column space writing about the comments generated by his last column. No, Grimm goes down to city hall and rummages through files. He visits the boulevard where protesters marched, and he witnesses the sentencing hearing from the courtroom. Such shoe-leather reporting informs Grimm's intelligent opinions on the news of the moment. Generally warm and funny, Grimm can definitely be prickly on occasion, and appropriately so. His subjects are as far-ranging as cockfighting, black-market plastic surgery, failed shopping malls, swingers clubs, and the tasteless campaign of "Pete the Fireman" Iriardi, an obscure political candidate who attempted to exploit a 9/11 heroism he completely fabricated. Grimm makes all these issues (and many others) relevant to his readers. In his eyes, South Florida is the most interesting, crazy place in the country. He is, of course, right about that.
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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®