Most people don't know that Russell Banks, the John Dos Passos Award-winning author of famously cold-weather novels such as Affliction and The Sweet Hereafter, spends half his year in South Beach. But unlike most snowbirds, Banks is very active in Miami's literary life. As a board member of Cities of Refuge, an international program that finds two-year residencies in the United States for writers being persecuted in their home countries, Banks has joined forces with Books & Books owner Mitchell Kaplan to make Miami one of the program's host cities. If the project is successful, the housing of one or more foreign authors would instantly improve the scope of our literary life, because COR residents frequently teach in local universities, run seminars, and give readings. Of course, Banks has already been a loyal participant in Miami Book Fair International, and his 1985 book Continental Drift is one of the best American novels to use our city as a primary location. His newest work, Dreaming Up America, is a terse and vivid account of the history of the United States, dictated off the cuff by Banks to a French documentary crew. Smart, passionate, and thorough, Banks is among the best we've ever been able to claim.

In June, during the city's summer lull, Gen Art hosts the once-a-year event Shop Miami that is perhaps the easiest place to meet Miami's single ladies. Women here usually travel in packs, focusing most of their energy on buying sample sales from local designers. Last thing on their mind is looking for Mr. Right, or at least Mr. Right Now, which is good for men looking for women with their guard down. Plus, the event serves up plenty of free drinks, which only helps the ladies relax even more. And unlike a dark nightclub, the music isn't loud and there is plenty of lighting so you can be sure you are flirting with a perfect ten.

If you haven't heard of Denise Duhamel, a professor at Florida International University and author of eight poetry collections, it's probably because you think contemporary poetry sounds only like this: "Evening storm/Snow hammers the glass/Surface of the house where we fell/In and out of love, the bedroom/Like the knife that cleaved/Our hearts into separate hemispheres/Of loneliness" (editor's note: poem by our own dumb writer) and not like an open letter from a Mattel Barbie doll; and not like the liner notes to a Cyndi Lauper album; and not as a response to the warning the surgeon general puts on condoms; and not as a legal diatribe on sex with animals; and not as an explanation of a menu change in the White House; and not as a collaboration with another poet; and not as a visual object that asks to be considered as its own genre of art; and not as something that a modern American can actually relate to, forcing itself again and again past the defenses we've perfected in the face of so many false claims to our emotions; and not as something that is actually, truly contemporary; and not as something that is — gasp — actually worth reading.

Peppy's in the Gables

Sure, watching a two-dimensional Italian waiter play the accordion under the stars as a mutt and a cocker spaniel slurp up the last noodle of spaghetti is pretty adorable. But we don't live in the Magic Kingdom. We live in the Magic City, where no self-respecting Lady is going to eat a plate of pasta in an alley with a broke-ass Tramp. So what's a guy to do in a town where there are more princesses (suck it, Cinderella) than in Walt Disney's 100 Years of Magic DVD box set? Take her to Peppy's in the Gables, an intimate little spot where the exterior looks like it was torn from the pages of a fairy tale and the cozy interior is dimly lit and filled with orchids. Plus, with Peppy's recession-friendly four-course dinner for $20, available Tuesday through Sunday, any jobless loser will come off looking like Prince Charming. The dinner includes a glass of wine and your choice of salad or soup along with an appetizer of mozzarella marinara (think of a giant mozzarella stick) or beef carpaccio. The main entrée options range from chicken piccata to pesce del giorno, and every dinner ends with ice cream. It's enough food to satisfy the appetite of Ariel's meaty nemesis Ursula, but with Peppy's delightful waiters who come fully equipped with exotically heavy accents, the experience is enough to make any Belle or (Sleeping) Beauty "part of your world."

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
Courtesy of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Hello, darling, how are you? Well, yes, yes. I had a magnificent time taking you to LIV nightclub at the Fontainebleau for our first date. I am so glad you enjoyed our private time in the skybox VIP, suspended over the club like we were a pair of woodland fairies sprinkling our happy dust all over the party revelers. Well, I was calling to see if I could interest you in a different sort of playful activity for our second date. No, no, dear, there is nothing sexually untoward about my idea. Well, baby doll, since the day is so enchanting, no threat of rain showers, just the glorious Miami sun to light our way, I figured I'd take my 1965 cobalt blue Shelby Cobra out of the garage, pick you up, and take a day trip to one of the most whimsical places in Miami-Dade. We'll let the wind whip our faces as we cruise down Old Cutler Road, marveling at the expansive tree canopy that will shield us from the sun's rays, to our destination, a truly marvelous tropical garden that has been around since 1938. I'll pack us a picnic basket filled with watercress sandwiches and scones, but forget the tea. I'll bring a couple of bottles of Mumm Napa Santana Champagne to quench our thirst. We can pick a spot on the two-acre Richard H. Simons Rainforest exhibit or stroll through the Lisa D. Anness Butterfly Garden. And, of course, you will absolutely fall in love with the Arboretum, an eight-acre display that features some 740 species of tropical flowering trees. Arranged by plant family, these collections show a fabulous diversity of form, structure, texture, color, and fragrance. And these are just a few of the things we can gaze at while we are at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. So what do you think, honey bunny? Shall I pick you up around noon? Smashing. Noon it is.

Surf. Sun. Espionage. It's an apt description for the sexiest show on television. Jeffrey Donovan plays blacklisted ex-spy Michael Westen. Cool, sophisticated, and blessed with the knowledge to make bombs and GPS devices out of household items, Westen is part Sean Connery James Bond, part white-hat-wearing good guy, and part MacGyver. He's also a total badass. In between trying to figure out who burned him and dealing with his neurotic chain-smoking mother, Westen makes his living as a freelance problem solver, helping folks down on their luck while kicking bad guys' butts with the help of his feisty ex-girlfriend, ex-IRA operative Fiona, played by the melt-your-face-off-hot Gabrielle Anwar, and his longtime womanizing ex-Navy SEAL pal Sam, played by the always-entertaining Bruce Campbell. Scenes take place anywhere from South Beach to Biscayne Bay to the suburbs. Unlike other shows that have been shot in Miami, this one is not full of Miami clichés (wall-to-wall salsa music playing all the time) or scenes written by dudes who've never set foot in the city (it's always portrayed as muggy, sweaty, and rainy). Burn Notice is written and shot on location; shows a fresh, sexy perspective of our beautiful burg; and gives the rest of the country more reason to envy us. It's also a lot of fun to watch.

Cape Florida State Recreation

Sure, there are the obvious spots — a street-side café or neighborhood dive bar — when you want to observe the variegated human populations of South Florida. But looking down on Earth and its inhabitants from the 95-foot Cape Florida Lighthouse is a way better perspective.

Located on Key Biscayne, and built in 1825, it's the oldest structure still standing in Miami-Dade. Park guides provide tours of the historic tower, but — unless you're with your grandparents — avoid them. Instead, show up when the sunlight gets lazy and climb the spiral staircase all the way to the top. From there, it's an endlessly fascinating 360-degree view of the Atlantic, Biscayne Bay, mangrove forests, and the beach. Watch little kids as they scurry over sand dunes, through green growth, and into the ocean waters. Scope teens tucked into thick brush, engaged in various forms of bad behavior. Check out families flocked inside the picnic areas, grilling hot dogs and carne asada. But bring some military-grade binoculars for a chance to glimpse the few remaining residents of Stiltsville. Or, yeah, the sunbathing nudists aboard that pleasure yacht anchored offshore aren't bad to watch either.

Just three days after taking over for 23-year veteran Tony Segreto on the 6 p.m. broadcast, Joel Connable stood before a green screen doing what even national squawk boxers failed to: clearly explain the situation involving US Airways Flight 1549’s descent into the Hudson River. Connable had one advantage most didn’t — he’s a former private pilot — but his ease in front of the camera and seeming concern for the story helped too. His often ad-libbed delivery on a range of stories was a welcome change from so many of the teleprompter addicts that fill our local airwaves. He might not have been able to single-handedly bring WTVJ out of its ratings slump (a new set, better reporters, and less hyperkinetic direction would go a long way), but his increased role was a positive addition to the troubled station.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My remote can reach, even out of sight

For it's likely under the beige-gray couch.

I love thee at the level of volume

To hear thee giggle at thy flubs sweetly.

I love thee free, for thy Murrow Award;

I love thee pure, praying thee will earn more.

I love thee with a passion put to use

Wondering what the "Q" rightly stood for.

I love thee with a love I seem to lose

With others — I love thee with the breath and

Smiles of broadcast life! — and, if Ansin choose,

I shall but love thee more after transfer to Orlando.

Bahia Honda State Park

The next time you spend a weekend in the Keys, make it your mission to find Mile Marker 37 and plan an entire day in the small piece of paradise known as Bahia Honda. With its emerald green waters caressing the powdery white sand, an effervescent coral reef just off the shoreline, and the tattered remains of the old Flagler Overseas Railroad in the backdrop, Bahia Honda State Park is one of the Florida Keys' best-kept secrets. It is, quite possibly, the best beach you'll find in all of Florida. The three beaches that make up Bahia Honda stretch out toward the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf, and their waters are teeming with fish. Along with kicking back on the supple white sandy beaches — or in the shade of one of their many pavilions — and wading in the warm turquoise water, you can also take a hike along the Silver Palm Trail or ride along the bike path. The Bahia Honda Bridge is a great place for pictures or for spotting the nurse sharks that swim underneath the railroad. The park also features kayak rentals and boating excursions. Overnight lodging is available, but because reservations are tough to come by, it's probably best to stay at a hotel in Marathon, which is a good 20-minute drive away. Key West sits about an hour south. Park entry costs $3.50 per person, $6 for two (plus 50 cents for additional person), and $1.50 per walk-in. Open from 8 a.m. to sunset.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®