Best Of :: People & Places
It's probably just as well that the government center courtyard isn't extravagantly landscaped and decorated, because it would most certainly be overshadowed by the real-life dramas that unfold there on a daily basis. Its location is a natural magnet. The Metrorail's government center stop is directly above it. Within your field of view is the Miami-Dade Cultural Center, the county courthouse, the central bus terminal, the main public library, and various government buildings. It's hard to imagine a resident or tourist who hasn't at one time or another crossed the courtyard, at least on the way to someplace else. But it's the people with nowhere else to go who make the place so engaging. The benches invite area bums and crazies to sit a spell while being regaled by their own. Relatively quiet Sundays, when the missionaries drop by to sermonize to the apparently drunken flock, might even be the best time. Unlike other people-watching spots, however, you won't just be a spectator here. You'll become part of the entertainment when, without fail, somebody will approach you hoping for "spare" change, some attention, or simply directions how to get out of there quickly.
Canker creeps, Wagner Creek reeks, traffic snarls, rain storms arrive, Latin Grammys arrive, rapists prowl, kids take bullets, DCF kills, Omar Paisley dies, John Brennan dies, Leonard Pancoast dies, MIA rabbits get to live, Crandon Park cabanas live again, Augustín Roman steps down, David Leahy steps down, Constance Kaplan steps up, real estate goes up, cafeterías get busted, pot growers get busted, Miami Seaquarium gets busted, smokers get the boot, Chuck Lanza gets the boot, Mandela gets an apology, more rapists prowl, tolls rise, gas prices rise, Nikki Beach fades, cruise ships kill, drag races kill, Robert Curbelo, Jr., gets busted, Ric Sisser gets busted, Performing Arts Center busts budgets, MIA travelers are frisked, priests are accused, cops are convicted, Doral is born, Celia Cruz dies, Wilkie Ferguson dies, Chesterfield Smith dies, Rene Touzet dies, Florida Philharmonic dies, Cuban hijackers go to jail, José Canseco goes to jail, Miami Gardens goes broke, Miami Herald goes dumb and dumber, NAACP arrives, Marvin O'Quinn arrives, terror-alert orange arrives, FTAA arrives, cops swarm, protesters are arrested and sprayed and shot and beaten, and more traffic, more rain, more bullets, Carlos Manuel defects, Bob Graham stumbles, MIA workers smuggle, smuggled Cubans land on South Beach, old Beach buildings go down, Bliss House goes down, downtown booms, Lighthouse Café burns down, Miami bond ratings go up, Sunny Isles goes up, up, up, Ira Clark gets the boot, Steve Shiver gets the boot, George Burgess gets appointed, MIA rabbits take bullets, José Calvo takes a bullet, manatees die, Millie the orangutan dies, Clyde Killens dies, turnpike kills, canals kill, rip currents kill, DCF kills again, Judge William Hoeveler gets the boot, UM's North-South Center gets the boot, North Bay Village politicians are busted, Fernandez Rundle boys are busted (again), Mercedes Masvidal is busted (again), Miami Circle is buried (again), more traffic snarls, more rain falls, crops get swamped, Joe Carollo goes bankrupt, Sal Magluta goes to prison, Willie Falcon goes to prison, Fabio Ochoa goes to prison, Manuel Noriega stays in prison, David Paul gets out of prison, Miami's film festival sees new life, S&S Diner lives on, Miracle Mile Cafeteria dies, Piccadilly dies, Marlins take it all, Denise Calvo takes the Fifth, public schools take a hit, Kelly Cobiella hit with DUI, Bill Kamal hit with DUI, Romero Britto hit with DUI, Norman Van Aken hit with DUI, Frank Cobo cops a plea, Pat Tornillo cops a sweet plea, David Samson dies, Raul Ernesto Valdes-Fauli dies, Space 34 dies (temporarily), serial rapist Reynaldo Elias Rapalo gets caught (finally), and at last some good news (happily): Ron O'Daniels strums guitar, violates Miami Beach law banning street performers, gets arrested, refuses guilty plea, sits three weeks in jail. Then the extremely wise Judge Mary Jo Francis steps in and declares the law unconstitutional. Miami Beach buskers are free at last!
When the night ends, it doesn't matter if the artwork altered anyone's perception because, as they say, it was all good. Rocket Projects, at 3440 N. Miami Ave., was at the vanguard of this lowbrow cultural movement, always providing complimentary booze, DJ sounds, and even, on one chilly night, free barbecued chicken out back. OBJEX artspace's soirees tended to be a higher form of lowbrow, but with new digs at 203 NW 36th St., this gallery gets credit for taking the art party movement into ever deeper depths of Wynwood. Lawrence Gartel went even higher (i.e., lower) for an exhibition curated in conjunction with David Lombardi's Roving Fridays. This show, Cyberotica, featured digital art inside the warehouse and painted ladies (literally) who were shaking what they had on a rickety little runway out back. Free vodka drinks, natch. There were many other shining examples of this exciting new trend, but we don't remember them.
Step into the Raleigh and instantly you're transported to another time -- 1940 to be exact, the year prolific architect L. Murray Dixon's monument to Streamline Moderne design threw open its dazzling doors. Slink through the sophisticated lobby like the movie star you are. Slip into the cozy bar, boasting martini glasses festively illustrated in the terrazzo floor, for a cocktail. Head outdoors and take a dip in the spectacular scalloped swimming pool surrounded by towering palm trees. Check into one of the 104 rooms and suites decorated in Art Deco-period style and your pleasant journey to the past might convince you it's futile to return to the present. The Raleigh's name was meant to pay tribute to Sir Walter Raleigh, intrepid British explorer, notable poet, and charming courtier to Queen Elizabeth I -- a true Renaissance man. Who better than an urbane figure like renowned hotel honcho André Balazs -- behind the swanky empire that includes Los Angeles's Chateau Marmont and New York's Mercer -- to assume ownership of the Raleigh? He did so recently, assuring continued excellence.
The future of poetry is on the streets. Urban angst and inner-city pressure have inspired the hip-hop generation to take up "spoken word," where emotion and intimation flow from moving lips to open ears. In Miami a young, dreadlocked, dark-skinned man known as Kronos (real name: Yves Verela) performs his poetry at art functions as well as popular poetry nights, and often teams with bands and DJs to lend music to his lexicon. His deepest impressions are planted during conversations with strangers, when the engaging but gentle poet breaks into freestyle verses, always leaving the listener with reflective phrases: "One gets the whole truth half the time." Kronos's life experience as a traveler from his original Haiti to Miami's sunny shores, plus an extended stay in Israel, has certainly contributed to an ethereal multinationalism in his phrases: "I betted, you came, I summoned, you added a smile without the sentimental charge of a Motel 6." For members of a generation short on voices that speak directly to them, Kronos represents a youthful renaissance.
This ten-day tennis tourney at Crandon Tennis Center on Key Biscayne has become the fifth biggest in the world, behind only the four competitions that form the Grand Slam. Last year's singles winners were Andre Agassi and, in a thriller against hometown favorite Jennifer Capriati, Serena Williams, who notched her second consecutive Nasdaq win at the 2003 event (followed by her third at the '04 event). In addition to the finest pro tennis this side of Wimbledon, the event includes a blimp, exhibitions, food courts, and many other diversions. That it pumps millions of dollars into the local economy doesn't hurt.
Builders are banking on Miami's magic in a big way. Somehow in the next two to four years -- poof! -- the downtown area, from Brickell through the newly christened Biscayne Boulevard Corridor, will fill with some 40,000 new residents eager to shell out a quarter-million to a million bucks to live in so-called lofts in chic neighborhoods. For now, many of those neighborhoods are largely imaginary, hopeful names scribbled in developers' dreams: the Performing Arts District, the Cultural Arts District, the Florida East Corridor. The names of the new so-called loft projects are no less whimsical: Aria, Quantum, Platinum, Star, Mist, Blue, Sky, Ice. But who knows? Sometimes developers' dreams do come true. Maybe in five years or so Miami will be transformed into Manhattan south, with well-heeled culture vultures perched in high-priced nests overlooking Biscayne Bay. On the other hand, maybe there aren't quite so many gritty culture hounds with deep pockets ready to move into little skyboxes in America's Poorest City. Maybe then the prices will come down and families from the shrinking middle class will have a chance to move into condos with "endless views of Biscayne Bay." It's possible not even the middle class will buy into the developers' fantasy, and the buildings will stand empty, sky-scraping testaments to another crazy Magic City scheme. That could be cool, too. Imagine mile upon mile of empty towers. A wild squatters' underworld. A sultry Blade Runner. Instead of the art scene driving development, once again we'll have urban decay driving the art scene.
In the absence of a full-fledged art cinema, the place to see a movie may as well be chosen for its parking as much as its programming. Narrow ramps, cavernous floors, electronic parking-payment contraptions? No thanks. When you have only five minutes to put butt to seat before the credits roll, pull into the wide-open lots at Sunrise Intracoastal (for free). Hustle to the ticket booth and enter -- lines are rare, except at bargain matinees showing movies with geriatric appeal. "No stairs to climb. Listening devices available," the North Miami Beach theater advertises, clearly spotlighting a more aged demographic than those ramp-cavern-contraption places. Though the programming won't be proclaimed "adventurous" by any sane person, you are likely to find two or three of the Intracoastal's eight large auditoriums screening those artsy foreign and indie films you read about so wistfully in the New York Times.
As any starving artist knows, it is possible to create culture without money. But it's a heck of a lot easier to be creative with money. For the 1000-plus cultural groups in Miami-Dade County and thousands more individual artists, Michael Spring has been a crusader, benefactor, and best friend. The director of the county's Department of Cultural Affairs oversees an annual budget of more than nine million dollars, and he makes sure as much of it as possible sustains the cultural diversity that makes Miami's art scene vibrant. A graduate of Edison High and the University of Miami, Spring has a long-standing commitment to Made-in-Miami culture. A member of the county's arts bureaucracy since 1983, he is a supporter of established institutions, but he's also the go-to guy for new arts initiatives. This enlightened bureaucrat pushes artists and arts presenters to think bigger, to reach new audiences, and welcome other cultures into their work. Spring has spearheaded a major county initiative to maintain and build new arts venues and has structured grants programs that nudge otherwise ethnically isolated groups to present their work in unfamiliar territory. Tango in Overtown? Vodoun dance in Little Havana? Why not!