Founder and organizer of the Afro Roots Festival for the past five years, a regular hand at Rhythm Foundation world-music shows, and longstanding member of the traditional Cuban outfit Conjunto Progreso and the jazz group Mantra, Jose Elias just can't get enough of different cultural stuff. As anyone who has heard the ambitious occasional performances by his Afro-Polyphonic Space Orchestra or (later) the Afro-Polyphonic World Orchestra knows, he loves nothing more than fusing wildly diverse musical cultures, however chaotic, cacophonous, or simply beautiful the results. But still he felt that something -- or someone -- was missing. So this year Jose Elias added the Women and Culture Festival to his things-to-do list, putting together a slate of female performers and traditions from Africa, the Americas, and the Middle East. Thanks, Jose, for making sure that everyone has a chance to be heard.

Every day he assaults the senses of the unprepared and quickens the mirth of the accustomed. Trapped in crawling traffic beneath his welcoming gaze, thousands of worker bees trying to make downtown-Miami money without actually having to live there contemplate his message. Is it a commandment? A suggestion? A calling? A joke? "For a Healthy Clean Tush," Mr. Bidet advises. His stick-figure form, painted on the side of a building, is bent into a sitting position, a large triangle symbolizing a spout of water aimed at his derriere. Even now, a pack of teens with a cell phone is calling the advertised telephone number, snickering, hanging up. Taking pictures. Calling back to ask, "Is this for real?" You bet. Mr. Bidet is but one of the faces of Arnold and Donna Cohen, South Florida's bidet barons, whose bathroom devices have been getting the job done since the Seventies. Donna rattles off a long list of loyal customers, including actors, ex-presidents, CEOs, and TV weathermen. Thanks to what Cohen describes as "a little office out in Los Angeles," this includes notables such as Jack Lemmon, Barbra Streisand, John Wayne ("When he was still alive"), Dr. Joyce Brothers, and Jimmy Carter ("It's what keeps him smiling"). "We thought we'd send one to Clinton, but he was in enough trouble," Cohen quips. Beware the lure of the bidet: Once you've soaked, mere paper becomes almost heretical. "It becomes like a little cult," Mrs. Bidet confides.

Castillo, a Dominican who's been on the team since 1996, grabbed national attention last year with a 35-game hitting streak and so many stolen bases that state troopers were looking to send him to Starke. He's risen from a kind of low-confidence junior to a second baseman with remarkably few errors and a batting average that climbed from .240 in 1997 to a .304 average over the last three seasons. He can handle outspeed stuff down the zone but tends to struggle a little with fast balls up. Castillo won his second NL stolen-base crown last year, barely holding off Juan Pierre. This year Luis and Juan are expected to make the most exciting base-stealing pair in baseball, and thus help the injury-prone pitching staff once they make it to first.

Readers Choice: Mike Lowell

BEST LEISURE ACTIVITY OTHER THAN CLUBS OR MOVIES

The beach

With winter 2003 one of the coldest and snowiest on record (tee hee!), one should not take for granted the ability to dip one's tootsies in the ocean or bay, with impunity, in the middle of February. Florida natives or long-time residents whose blood has thinned may well shun the sands until midyear, though the height of summer is our least favorite time to go -- scorching sun and bath-water temps are not so refreshing. Still we are blessed with weather that accommodates a beach excursion most any day (barring hurricanes). We recommend you stay through sunset, the better to appreciate the shifting shades of water and sky as day turns to night.

Robaina is a 41-year-old BellSouth service technician who slugged his way up from small-town politics to the state stage in November 2002. Whatever you think of him, he's shown some political savvy along the way. When he ran for mayor of South Miami six years ago he wooed the Police Benevolent Association, whose union muscle and manpower proved essential to victory. Once in office, he made sure not to languish in the parochial shadows. He promptly pushed a law requiring gunlocks on all guns in homes with children. So what if the NRA challenged it and won? Robaina's little city made headlines. In 2002 the National Civic League and Allstate Insurance Co. named South Miami an "All-America City," beating bigger neighbors like Miami Beach. When Carlos Lacasa announced he was vacating his House seat to run for state Senate, Robaina moved in, beating out an opponent in the primary and then taking 86 percent of the vote in the general election. Once in Tallahassee he landed on two important committees, transportation and health care. He's ambitious, young, and likes to mix it up. He'll be around for awhile.

Readers Choice: Alex Penelas

Indomitable party czar Barton G knows more than anyone the elements needed for a successful social gathering: a fabulous setting, plenty of tasty food, and endlessly flowing drink. Add to that a couple of aloof giraffes, a friendly chimp, half-naked dancing girls, a selection of disco stars, and teeming hordes struggling to get in and you have the ultimate affair, which he threw this past October to inaugurate his namesake Barton G the Restaurant. With military precision more than 800 guests arrived at a parking lot near the Miami Beach Convention Center, checked in, and then boarded shuttle buses that took them on a short jaunt to Fourteenth Street and West Avenue, formerly home to Gatti's and Starfish. Beyond the velvet ropes loomed one of this town's truly over-the-top bacchanals. Giraffes posed lackadaisically on the sidewalk like detached supermodels. Sabrina the chimp, dressed in a chef's uniform and toque, signed autographs and waved the crowd into a large air-conditioned tent filled with food stations. There, cooks made pasta dishes to order, served up miniature hot dogs, cheeseburgers, and lamb chops. Several bars offered a plethora of beverages. A cornucopia of cookies, cakes, brownies, and tiny candy apples beckoned by the door. The neighboring twinkly lit garden featured a similar setup. But back at the tent was where the entertainment dazzled. Dancers sporting feathery headdresses and not much else energetically kicked up their heels. The Trammps, Thelma Houston, Evelyn "Champagne" King, and Gloria Gaynor crooned their greatest hits under a glittering disco ball. Celebs such as Sopranos star Joe Pantoliano hobnobbed with the little people. Alas, close to midnight the spell was broken and the merrymaking had to end. But knowing the eatery's first anniversary is a scant five months away, we eagerly await what the brilliant Mr. G has up his sleeve for the next bash.

Size really doesn't matter. Nestled along the southern part of the marina, this little rental place gets more fun from less space. Boat sizes range from 22 to 25 feet. There are Catalinas for the faint of heart, Hunters for the more adventurous, and J's for the hard-core speed freaks. If you don't know what you're doing, take a class. Individuals and pairs welcome. After ten hours you'll have a certificate that will let you pilot a 30-footer in an enclosed waterway like Biscayne Bay, and try out your new skills.

As the city spills ever outward, formerly rural residential land becomes densely populated suburban sprawl. This particular traffic nightmare -- about a mile east of Metrozoo -- is a maze of too-short turn lanes spilling stopped traffic onto busy SW 152nd Street, traffic lights at seemingly random intervals, horn-honking motorists, and general craziness that makes people wonder whatever happened to their once-idyllic neighborhood.

We don't know about you, but we've been around these parts long enough to admit to a kind of airsickness and bone-tiredness of all this Starbucks-KFC-Subway-Howard Stern-no money down-fatal accident on the Palmetto-¡tu eres comunista!-we'll pay you to drive this SUV-live on the scene of a drive-by shooting-South Florida ambiance. And sometimes we dream of getting back to a quieter time. When that mood strikes, we're likely to pay our five bucks and slip into the oldest building in North America -- William Randolph Hearst's twelfth-century Segovian monastery (which still operates as an Episcopalian church). Past the gardens and stone cloisters, and onto a smooth oak bench. Aaahh ... starting to feel human again.

When a guy can afford to donate his salary to charity, you know he's loaded. Arriola, Miami's blue-eyed angel of death -- er, city manager -- made off with a cool $42 million when he sold Avanti/Case-Hoyt, his family's printing business, two years ago. Since then he's done a magnificent job of flaunting his wealth. First he joined Merrett Stierheim's team trying to straighten out the public-school system (salary: one dollar), then quit in a huff, but not before insulting Stierheim by calling him a "horrible leader" who "doesn't respect women, or blacks, or Hispanics." More recently Arriola publicly insulted the reform-minded chairman of the county's Public Health Trust, attorney Michael Kosnitzky, labeling him a "cancer" in that organization. Then he accepted Miami Mayor Manny Diaz's offer to become city manager and loudly proclaimed he'd donate his six-figure salary to the United Way, but not before unceremoniously, gleefully, firing several veteran city officials. Is this what it means to be filthy rich?

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®