Best Of :: People & Places
Richard Blanco speaks like a poet should; his voice is a low, soothing rumble that gives his words the weight of authority. He looks like a woman's dream of a poet; on the cover of this year's The Most Intriguing (and Sensual) Male Poets calendar, his shirt is open to reveal a stretch of tan skin, and his eyes are cast seductively downward. But what makes Richard Blanco our choice for this year's best poet goes far beyond his admittedly attractive visage. Blanco's poetry is powerful, and his poetic journey is unique. It all comes from the unique balance of his brain, which has allowed him tremendous success both in writing as well as engineering, the technically challenging field that pays his bills. Blanco did the poet-as-professor thing in colder climes, at American University and Georgetown University. But he's moved back to Miami now and doesn't plan on teaching anymore. "I realized that I am much more of an introvert than I thought. And being responsible for doing a dog-and-pony show for 80 people every day it really wore me out," he explains. "I came to realize that for better or for worse, a blessing or a curse, I needed to exercise both sides of my brain. I need to do my spreadsheets and my math. It's part of who I am. I really get a kick out of it, just as much as I do with poetry." He spends his days as a civil engineer, consulting for city planning projects. His technical skills are reflected in his poems, which reveal a careful balance of prosaic craft and glowing, tender detail. Blanco's first book, City of a Hundred Fires, was written in Miami and captures the nuances of Cuban-American cultural identity with deft brushstrokes. It won the University of Pittsburgh Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize in 1997. His second book, Directions to the Beach of the Dead, revealed a poet pining for home. Blanco has come full circle back to Miami Beach, but the formerly familiar now seems strange. "Now that I've come back and it's changed -- well, Miami changes every 36 hours it seems -- it's almost like a violation, like, how dare you change without me? I'm trying to stop living off memories, and trying to understand this place on its own terms as it's evolving. Miami as a petri dish has always been an anthropological and sociological marvel," he explains eloquently. Blanco says he returned for his muse, the beach. Evening strolls along the lapping shore fuel his creativity. It will be interesting to see how Miami inspires his future poems. While the poetic side of Blanco's brain finds romance in the city's contrasts, the engineer on the other side whispers fears about a lack of public housing, potential financial ruin, and economic and climactic storms. "There's an overlap between my engineering and the concerns of my poetry. The whole idea of the construct of the city, planning and design -- knowledge that I have from engineering of things that they're doing wrong and not doing.É I fear for Miami sometimes, because it's on the fence. And most people don't realize that," he says in a sobering bass.
James "Jimbo" Luznar opened his joint on Virginia Key, Jimbo's, a half-century ago. And there's no better place on the water to take a toot.
What is your greatest triumph?
We used to be where the Herald building is, but then they said our boats would have to go. So we looked at Snapper Creek, Mart Park, then we ended up on Virginia Key. It stunk sometimes, and there were mosquitoes, snakes, coons, opossums, and iguanas. It cost us a lot of money to be there, but we stayed. They've been trying to get me out of there for a long time, but now everyone all over the world knows Jimbo.
Born in Homestead, Kevin Wynn is the producer and cohost of Downtown Dade, a TV talk show that covers the arts and culture and airs on the county's government access channel. He is also the coprogrammer, with Barron Sherer, of Cinema Vortex, a nonprofit organization devoted to screening unusual, significant, and neglected film and video works. And he's the creator of Public Domain Playhouse, a continuing series of screenings he curates with Sherer.
What is your greatest triumph?
My greatest triumph? I dont do triumph. Ive never had one. I cant tell you how it feels to triumph, or what it looks, tastes or smells like. I wouldnt know triumph if some guy ran over me with a TR4.
There are several safe, clean places where we can let Fido run off-leash in Miami-Dade. Coconut Grove has several dog-friendly parks; the Beach has some nice locations; there's a spot on Virginia Key where dogs can swim and sunbathe; but of all the canine treats in my Miami, the mac daddy of all dog parks is in Aventura. Two years ago the city, which is burgeoning with young dog-owning families, built the expansive new Veterans Park. The $600,000 two-acre expanse has a wonderful, well-kept, welcoming space. There are pooper-scooper dispensers throughout the space. There are doggy water fountains and doggy showers. And the most endearing detail: red fire hydrants. All of this greatness, of course, comes at a price: You have to live in Aventura, and show proof of residence, to gain access. It's almost reason enough to move there.
It is a dark time for Miami-Dade County's executive mayor. The evil lords on the county commission annihilated Carlos Alvarez's bold offensive to strip them of some bribe-making abilities. Then the Galactic Empire displayed the true power of the Dark Side when it crushed Alvarez in the Boundary Wars. Beaten but resolute, the good mayor fled to the outer rim of the county's suburban wasteland to regroup and complete his training. Upon his return, Alvarez successfully destroyed the Imperials' diabolical device: The Public Silencer. In time, this Obi-wan of the Swamp may finally bring balance to the county.
Come one, come all, to the "Read to Farley" sessions at the children's section of the North Miami Beach Library, the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month at 4:00 p.m. This is no ordinary dog. This shaggy mop o' unconditional love once suffered from crippling agoraphobia, owing to early abuse. But his patient handler, Margo Berman, a professor at Florida International University, worked tirelessly, training him to overcome his fears and earn his Therapy Dog badge. Now Farley helps shy children who have trouble reading aloud. Once the youngsters sit down with Farley on the colorful rugs, they don't want to stop reading him stories because he is a great listener, mispronunciations be damned!
When Charles Burkett ran for Surfside mayor in 2004, he was up against a group of candidates endorsed (and some say handpicked) by Paul Novack, the town's outgoing mayor of twelve years and most powerful political force. The Novack-endorsed slate labeled Burkett, a property owner who restores and resells homes (and manages the money in his massive family trust funds), as a developer and won the close election. Burkett ran again in 2006, and this time he was up against a full-scale smear campaign -- opposition loyalists distributed copies of a paternity suit filed against Burkett to local media and Surfside residents, and termed his ally and commission candidate Howard Weinberg a pornographer; they pointed out that Weinberg (an attorney) represented a triple-X Website in an anti-spamming lawsuit. It's worth noting that the media campaign was waged by both parties, although Burkett, a slick operator by all accounts, tended to let his allies and surrogates distribute paperwork detailing the Novack crew's alleged campaign finance violations. Despite the lost election, the paternity suit and an admitted campaign finance flub, Burkett won in March. "I think people can see through the name-calling," Burkett said. "They're trying to label me a developer, but my campaign platform calls for stricter development controls. Not that I'm calling anyone a liar."
Renting Vizcaya for a weekend evening may cost $10,000 ($7500 for a weeknight), but a properly bacchanalian affair should at least have traces of ancient Rome, if only in the form of a few well-placed Neo-Italian cherubs. Though one can only imagine the grandeur with which James Deering entertained in the early Twenties, parties at Vizcaya -- corporate sponsors and unfortunate cover bands notwithstanding -- transport the reveler to an ethereal Xanadu. When populated by a fashionable and enthusiastic Miami crowd and watered down with icy cocktails, the mansion -- with its view of the bay and ornate courtyards surrounded by labyrinthine gardens -- inspires a sense of mystery, beauty, and fun.
When Arthur Teele, the powerful but beleaguered commissioner of Miami's mostly black District 5, committed suicide in the lobby of the Miami Herald July 27, 2005, Mayor Manny Diaz lost his most daunting opponent. Among other beefs with his honor was Teele's opposition to the mixed-use Crosswinds development in Overtown, a multimillion-dollar project that Diaz's administration endorsed but Teele characterized as horrific gentrification. When District 5 went up for grabs this past November, many expected Teele friend and anti-Diaz gadfly Rev. Richard Dunn to pick up where the U.S. Army Ranger left off. But after City Manager Joe Arriola and others campaigned against Teele, former Diaz aide Michelle Spence-Jones won the seat, ensuring the district's reversal from anti-Diaz HQ to another vote for the mayor.
Any activity is better when you're intoxicated -- bowling, dancing, shooting pool, flicking your lighter at a Bon Jovi concert -- but the ultimate nightcap is pancakes. Serious drinkers know that after a good night of partying, you need to begin warding off the next day's hangover with a stack of alcohol-absorbing pancakes. The original buttermilk, the "healthy" grain-and-nut ones, chocolate chip ... it's all good. The fact that your one funky-smelling friend always complains about the outrageous prices at this establishment makes the excursion even better: "Damn! I didn't know I was going to have to dip into my retirement account for a Belgian waffle!" he whines as the rest of you fight over the butter pecan syrup. Besides the pancakes, there is always an interesting crowd -- both employees and patrons -- during the third shift at IHOP, which enhances the atmosphere. And no one will care if you're acting a little nutty as long as you're not being an ass.
Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and City Manager Joe Arriola cut a sweetheart deal with their buddy and prominent local attorney Hank Adorno and his seven clients. They thought Miami taxpayers wouldn't notice. They were so wrong. Manny and Joe found themselves in the middle of the biggest scandal to hit Miami City Hall since Cesar Odio ran Dinner Key. And they certainly underestimated the public outrage that the fire fee debacle would generate in the Magic City. Chants of "Joe must go!" resonated throughout the subtropics. But Manny held on to his extroverted chief administrator, even though portions of Circuit Judge Peter Lopez's ruling nullifying the seven-million-dollar settlement stated that "all parties directly involved in settlement negotiations" knew they were trying to bamboozle the taxpayers. So now Manny has lost his golden-boy glimmer, while Arriola, who has announced his retirement, seems to have lost his mind.
So he has the chops, the looks and most of all the voice and the presence. And, while no single performance ever could exhaust the possibilities of any Shakespearean role, Euriamis Losada's Romeo was a triumph: impulsive, young and sexy, but also in precociously masterful command of the heavenly music that is Shakespeare's language. This Romeo's banter with Nicholas Richberg's fine Mercutio alone would have been reason to cheer: clever dialogue that was at once of its time and timeless, made to titillate and entertain with its sensual possibilities even as one could not help admiring the craft of play and players alike. There was also more than a touch in Losada's performance that is too rare among young American actors, a disarming desire to conspire with the audience in making the play work, to play to them with no apologies, to shatter all barriers between the performance and its witnesses. Losada's final scene in Rafael de Acha's Romeo and Juliet had New Theatre audiences in tears. His complex Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice, incidentally, proved that his Romeo was no one-time fluke. Here is a young actor to watch.