Category Archives: Miami

Red Hot Cuban Love: Denied!

Forbid me to go somewhere and… I probably won’t go. It’s not sheep mentality, but cheap mentality. Getting caught traveling to Cuba can land you a fine up to $65,000 if you are an American citizen… and that would probably be the most expensive tan you’d ever get!

The next best thing would have to be Miami’s Little Havana (New Jersey’s Union City also boasts a large Cuban immigrant population but Havana On The Hudson lacks beach proximity and a modicum of exoticism.) I could already imagine myself walking down the colorful streets, surrounded by bustling Americano Cubaneros smoking big cigars, and in the background, the Buena Vista Social Club musicians (the ones that escaped) playing on the sidewalk.

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Unfortunately, it seems I had picked the wrong day. There were about two people on Calle Ocho and the guy in the top photograph was one of them.

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No music either! Just a Julio Iglesias astral mark of adoration on the Walkway of the Stars. Sigh. Of all people…

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The party was only on the walls. Where was everybody? I stopped in a store to inquire.

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Newsflash: no one speaks English in the neighborhood. It’s exactly like Japan! I asked: “Donde esta el mondo por favor?” but I could not understand the shopkeeper’s reply. Probably because I had asked him where “the clean one was” instead of asking him where everybody was. I think it may also mean “Where is the world?” but that would not make any sense, would it? I thought he was just a happy fellow but, with hindsight, I think he was totally laughing at me.

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I tried my luck at a small sidewalk eatery. Perched on a bar stool, I ate a multitude of pollo croquettas and drank seven cafecitos which I loved very very much. Cuban food rocks. I was up all night and I think my eyes pretty much bulged out of my head but it was totally worth it.

Noticing that I was way over my cabeza (and probably under the charm of a customer that ate like 10 people), the waitress walked me close by to a small enclave… next to the McDonald. It was the Maximo Gomez Park, the famed domino park. That’s exactly where all “el mondo” was!

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The park was briefly closed in the eighties for restorations. The shopkeepers of the neighborhood attempted to make this shutdown permanent because of vagrants and drug dealers congregating in the park. When it reopened despite their best effort, no one under 55 years old was allowed on premise! They seemed to have relaxed those rules since then because they willingly granted me access (either that or I had a really bad face day!)

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The park consists of a bunch of domino and chess tables protected from the elements by an overhead striped canvas. There were no unoccupied tables. All the guys and the one woman (whose colorful bling is displayed in the above picture) were concentrating very very hard. This was obviously serious business and serious business is difficult to photograph.

No one was smiling at me. No one was looking at me. I took that as an implicit ok and so I proceeded.

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I will tell you that, fashion wise, hats are very much the trend this year in the Cuban community.

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Men waited patiently on the side lines for a table to open. Sometimes, they glanced at me with not a discernible ounce of friendliness. I am insecure. When people do not show me love, I think they hate me. I was not feeling very comfortable.

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Perhaps it’s the pain of being away from their native country… At least, since April 14, 2009, Cuban Americans can go back to visiting their relatives once a year instead of once every three years, one of President Bush’ policies enforced since 2004. I’d probably have a long face too if I was precluded from traveling to Belgium to see my friends and family (except my sister who I think should move to Cuba, like now.)

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After about an hour, a little guy wearing a dark suit pointed at me and gestured exaggeratedly towards the exit. I realized I may have had overstayed my welcome. I called a cab and hung out not too far from the security guard (the park rules state that bringing a firearm on premise as well as using bad words will get you suspended from park activities from two to four weeks – I guess someone needs to be there to enforce that.)

An ancient Cuban grabbed my arm and tried to get me to go with him. He was cooing and doing a not so good job at wooing me (I’ve never been crazy about the forceful arm grab.) Then the dude with the cigar from the photo above showed up and asked me if I had taken his photograph. He did not seem very happy. Quite the opposite actually. I saw my cab, disengaged my arm, ran towards the car, jumped in it, and, like in a gangster movie, told the driver to roll out of there.

Some of the domino players appeared actually quite friendly but they sure did not make up for the ones that eyed me suspiciously or the one that was just a nasty meanie.  I was denied the red hot Cuban love I was hoping for so dearly. Yes, I did get some love from the eighty-nine year old dude with the golden teeth who attempted to kidnap me in broad day light but, sincerely, I was expecting something quite different. As in younger and with real teeth.

Calle Ocho is probably a more interesting place to visit the last Friday of each month when the Cubans hold their Viernes Culturales fair.

To close the chapter on Pequena Habana, I saw the dead over there. Playing dominoes. Very amusing.

anthony-quinnAnthony Quinn

hav_028Cuban Anthony Quinn, undead version.

Astonishing, isn’t it? Or is it just me fantasizing again?

note: my friend Dorin saw the Quinn photo and thinks I’m smoking crack. Whatever.

South Breach

Standing on the sidewalk, he crumbles his Starbucks paper bag into a compact ball and throws it in the air.

“Wherever the wind blows us” he says to his companion. The ball lands smack in the middle of the street.

“That way!” he says. They begin to cross the street.

“Excuse me! How about the wind blows you towards the beach instead, eh? Like that I could take cool pictures. What do you say? Yes? Please, pretty please?” Well, obviously I can’t let these two escape without at least trying. I had been eying them for the last half hour on the Starbucks patio, building up the courage to talk to them.

bsobe3_0401Villte and Brother Ra

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vsobe3_037Listening to the music of the wind playing the pan flute

Villte was on her way to Peru. I assumed she was hitchhiking her way there but modern hippie chicks take the plane nowadays. Brother Ra… Well, I’m not exactly sure what he was doing in South Beach. An artist from DC (link), he seemed strangely out of place among the rest of us, non-dreadlocked tourists. Still, I can’t imagine Haile Selassie hanging out at Starbucks, eating coffee cake…

Le South Beach hodge-podge finale. Well, not quite final but close.

Too bad I can’t find anyone to finance my street photography activities. The deal would work like this. A very very nice individual would buy me a plane ticket to a destination outside of Dallas (preferably somewhere I can swim and where no one wields a machete), put me up in a hotel that would not have to be a Mandarin Oriental (see, I’m not asking for the moon), and in return I would provide this extremely endearing person with a photographic slice of life from said tropical destination. This arrangement would work particularly well for someone with a fear of flying and who would want to live vicariously through me. Living is something I do really well. I’m just throwing this idea out there. You never know…

Last day of my South Beach mini-vacation before emigrating to Downtown Miami for a couple of days. Last walk on Ocean Drive.

sobe1_007You can’t make noise on Ocean Drive unless…

sobe1_014Unless you attempt to save the South Beach sinners. South Beach is a great place for sinners.

sobe1_0161I think this one is a sinner. If not, I’m volunteering to take him down that path.

sobe1_0371The parrot downing shots? Sinner.

sobe1_056Women in total need of atonement.

sobe22_101Not a nun.

sobe1_059South Beach’s idea of day entertainment: Mango’s

sobe22_102It’s good to know that the repentance people are right across the street.

sobe2_007Moving on… This man has been waiting to get paid for three months. It is however unclear whether he has been waiting three months in this chair. Conversation proved difficult due to the bitterness that comes with not getting paid for three months.

sobe2_0452South Beach cops get to wear cool beach attire and ride funky lawn-mower looking machines.

sobe2_023I have developed a liking to photographing people and their cell phones. Like here…

sobe1_009and there.

sobe2_011These, I just had to photograph for the hair awesomeness

sobe2_015These guys were totally messing with me, a stark contrast from the very well behaved hair ladies.

sobe1_036The Muscle Beach. Some need it more than others.

zsobe1_003Reviewed beach attire, not great for tanning, but definitely beats an SPF 50+

sobe1_005Four days in South Beach and I saw four retirees total. Retiring in Miami must totally be an urban legend. Either that or someone keeps them well-hidden from the general public (or the repentance people got to them and they all moved to Utah.)

I think that when I retire (which is probably never if the markets do not rally to my long and plaintive moans of despair), I would not want to be surrounded by six-packed stud muffins and sixteen year old Brazilian models (photographing these must have slipped my mind – so sorry.)  I’d sincerely prefer to live among the arthritic wrinkly folks attached to oxygen tanks who still want to have a good old time (Utah is out.) Wait until I blog about that!

The Starbucks Dog-Thru

On my first morning in South Beach, I googled Starbucks locations on my iPhone (how anyone lives without one of these is beyond me) and I walked around the block to the nearest venerable institution. If you overlook the palm trees and the sun darting lovely rays on the large patio, it looked just like mine. I ordered my regular venti non fat latte with whole milk foam (a compromise latte of sorts), paid a dollar more than usual  for palm tree maintenance, no doubt, and sat on the terrace among the indigenous population and an unusually large number of dogs .

Not one minute after I deployed my stuff on the table (I never travel light even to Starbucks), a guy sitting nearby introduced himself , his friends, and all their pooches. Two minutes later, he was cracking a mildly tasteless joke – something about “hands-on work” (sigh), 5 minutes later he was informing me that his life revolved around making money and making love, and 15 minutes later, I had a new Starbucks family to come home to every morning. Voila!

sobe2_029Bob, Brian, Rich, and Meryl

I was settling in amidst the new compadres when a young guy walked up to the group and asked:

“Hey, can I borrow one of your dogs?”

Now, I thought that sounded a bit strange… until I saw the guy with the borrowed canine walk to the end of the patio, knock on the window which opened 5 seconds later, and get his drink almost immediately… as well as a cookie for the dog. The man had effectively bypassed a very long line of people waiting inside the store.

In light of the dog-thru, several facts appeared under a brand new prism of perception: the reason why so many people brought their dogs to Starbucks, and also the reason why so many dogs seemed so well fed.

In South Beach, if you like coffee and instant gratification, you must own a dog. Here are a few of these lovely Starbucks accessories:

sobe1_066Bentley (no Mike, this is not a Jack Russell! Or if she is, she must have eaten a copious amount of genetically modified dog food!)

sobe1_077Bob’s pooch, Malibu

sobe3_024Rich’s Zeta

sobe3_021Kenneth’s and Tom’s lovely Doberman Diesel

sobe3_028Branching out… A non-Starbucks dog on a wall

sobe3_032A very touching Basset Hound

sobe3_033The back of said Basset Hound… in precarious equilibrium

sobe2_040Yorkie transportation on Ocean Drive

And to end my Starbucks post which I segwayed into being about South Beach dogs, the Oscar goes to Alvaro and…

sobe2_025Alvaro’s seven Italian Greyhounds.

Even the dogs are Italian around here!

note to Razz: non Monsieur, don’t you dare sermon me about going to Starbucks in the land of Cuban coffee – after an incursion in Little Havanna and seven Cuban coffees later, I was unable to sleep for a very very long time.

Best ways to spend your AIG bonus in South Beach

If spared by the financial crisis or if discreetly spending your AIG bonus money (like incognito), you should enjoy a nice stay at the Delano Hotel in North South Beach (if among the lucky five who received more than $4 million, you may want to try The Setai.) Xuxa and I being lovers of luxury, we could not resist spending a little bit of time in the famous venues.

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The Delano staff seemed particularly hostile towards photographers.

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After taking one photograph of the long Philippe Starck designed lobby, I was asked rather firmly to put the camera away. We proceeded to the outside bar, followed closely by Buzz-kill. I ordered a $13 Mojito which came in a small plastic cup. At this point, I will recommend you save your Mojito money and spend it wisely on the awesome long glass Mojito at Nikki Beach. I don’t mind the price if the cocktail is particularly good but in this case, it was completely average… So I took more photographs.To avenge my wallet.

note to self: at next scheduled introspection, examine boundary issues.

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The photograph is a bit crooked because of taking it fortuitously, lying on a bed across the pool, pretending to be looking at something else. Xuxa and I loved our time at the Delano very very much, but soon the wind blew us towards The Setai…

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But not before snapping one last time: a decadent drunk sleeping in the hotel lobby. Then we really had to make an exit after Xuxa spotted Buzz-Kill, hurrying towards us, not looking very happy. One last thought: the Delano and the Shore Club are both owned by the same company. On their website, the description of the very pleasant SkyBar at Shore Club includes tips on how to get in: “go early, dress to impress, and bring a model.” Is it just me or is this totally nausea inducing?

Moving right along… The Setai. Xuxa sat at the bar, ordered a lychee Martini, and decreed with nonchalant certainty: “I have come home.”

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So, okay, the Martinis are $16 a piece but they compare to none. The bartender becomes your best friend in a matter of minutes. I could easily live there too.

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Xuxa and I got our portrait taken and you may wonder why I was wearing jeans in this temple of sophistication. The answer is very simple: I packed at the last minute and had a glass of wine in the process. That combination… combines not well and resulted in a large suitcase which content included five pairs of jeans, winter boots, numerous sweaters, and no shoes. It must have been a cold night prior to the departure (I’m also a very light weight: one tiny glass of wine suffices to propel me in a totally happy stratosphere where packing the right clothes appears completely secondary to stuffing the suitcase with a maximum of stuff.)

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After sipping on her Martini for a whole ten minutes, Xuxa Cienfuegos expressed her desire for a more muscular drink: a Sazerac. The bartender improvised a little bit and laid on the counter a glass which resembled no cocktail glasses I had seen in South Beach so far (that would be big.)

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It all went downhill from there.

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Just time for Xuxa to smoke one on the very windy patio.

Aside: she came to Miami with her “last five cigarettes EVER” and they lasted her not even one evening. They were not her last five ever either.

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Her demeanor seemed to indicate that it would be a good thing if we took a cab and went back to our hotel – not the Setai – quickly before we got in trouble. So we did just that.

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In the hotel room, Xuxa sat on the floor. She announced there would be no better time to do some work. Sigh.

I tried to reason with her.

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She gave me the Olympic raised fist. Her version anyway. In the end, I threw the towel and let her “work.”

The next morning, neither she nor I functioned at the top of our potential. As Xuxa would say: “It’s the downside of knowing how to live.”

Hi! My name is Nathalie and I am a sport addict

I have never considered myself a sport fan by any means, more a nerd who rides her bicycle a lot. I do not watch games on TV. I do not date sport nuts. I never know which teams play in the  Superbowl. So imagine my surprise when I suddenly discovered my inner jock in South Beach and that through no amount of introspection whatsoever.

I was walking up the Rive Droite of Ocean Drive and sat on a little wall to do some people watching with Xuxa. My gaze rested absently on a bunch of men playing beach volley ball. Oooh the sheer intricacies! The strategery! The magic of the little ball flying over the net! Finally a sport I could follow hours after hours after hours… I am not sure I can adequately convey my new found love for the game but I took a few photographs to help you understand.

asobe1_018My favorite

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I still feel puzzled by my sudden attraction to the game. I self-analyzed all the way back to Dallas and could not come up with any answers… I just know my inner jock is telling me to move close to a beach (preferably in Italy.)

South Beach: a fashion statement. Like totally!

To recap Florida so far: Xuxa Cienfuegos (an alias to protect my friend’s identity in view of said friend 1) playing hooky 2) participating in frenzied bacchanals caught on film) and myself land in Miami, and Xuxa immediatly proceed to confuse “conference attendance” with “confer and attend dance” at the beach.

I had previously vacationed in Miami with the rat bastard ex but we had not much visited South Beach (SoBe) at the time. Expecting brilliant white tee-shirts tucked under Armani suits in the land of Tubbs and Crockett, Xuxa and I sashayed our way to Ocean Drive for a stroll among the trendiest of all.

At this juncture, I would like to point out how lucky you are to have me to bring you to the cutting edge of fashion.

Popular in SoBe this year:

sobe11_002Simile-silk shorts imprinted with “South Beach” in shiny lettering. Increased size of buttocks may be required to fit it all in one line.

sobe1_010Bling and caps resting mid-forehead.

sobe1_035Nipple bling – no pain, no gain!

sobe2_020Shorts aspiring to be pants and almost succeeding

sobe2_027Japanese shorts and steroids

sobe1_042Animal-print onesies for chicks who like to dance on bar counters. Here at Mango’s. Mango’s deserves a post of its own.

sobe11_003Tasteful onesies for toddlers anxious  to make a statement

sobe22_1001Boas and other snake accessories. Very HUGE in South Beach!

sobe22_001If you’ve taken good notes, bought your bling, your short-shorts or your pant-shorts, pierced your nipples, got your hands on roids, and found a nice yellow constrictor for the night, you may be one of the happy few to attend the “Girls Gone Wild” party at the Mansion.

Xuxa and I, feeling seriously outclassed, decided to stay on the Rive Droite of Ocean Drive where men play volley-ball with wiry muscles and six packs on their stomach (not in), bear names like Giuseppe, and limit their fashion statement to minimal clothing (as we like it.) Epic, this next post will be for you. 🙂