How Do You Mend a Broken Heart

Posted in: Uncategorized- Feb 18, 2017 No Comments
“I have discovered the secrets of the pyramids, and found out how the Egyptians and the ancient builders in Peru, Yucatan, and Asia, with only primitive tools, raised and set in place blocks of stone weighing many tons!”  Edward Leedskalnin

 

Born in rural Miami in the 1920s, Coral Castle is sometimes called the world’s youngest megalithic structure. As the story goes a scrawny, one hundred pound Latvian with a broken heart single-handedly quarried eleven hundred tons of limestone to build a monument to a teenage girl who wouldn’t marry him.  Edward Leedskalnin, a reclusive bordering on fanaticism, worked alone at night so no one ever saw him move the stones. One stone alone weighed twenty-eight tons yet his tools were little more than what could be found in a junk yard.  Many theorists from engineers to pseudo scientists have tried to fill in the blanks about how he did it.  Some talk of levitation, Prime Meridians and the natural Earth Grid principles of diamagnetism.  Others embrace the idea of alien intervention. Perhaps it was just the awesome resolve of a Freemason with a broken heart engineering a megalithic stone bandage for a wound that would not heal. Ed never revealed how he did it and took his secrets to the grave in 1951.  So there it stands along a miserable stretch of US1 surrounded by fast food and pharmacies, a weighty mystery that could outlive all the skyscrapers and stadiums we’ve built with modern machinery.  She must have been some girl.

A Million Orchids

Posted in: Uncategorized- Jan 05, 2017 No Comments

In the 19th century, South Florida was an orchid paradise with millions of orchids on every branch of every oak and mahogany in the forest.

In the 20th century men ripped the flowering orchids from the trees and shipped them north to consumers who disposed of them once the gorgeous colors faded driving the orchid population to near extinction.

Now In the 21st century, Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden is engaged in an effort to re-populate native orchids into Miami’s urban landscape.  The Million Orchid Project, if successful, will restore one of Miami’s most beautiful natural attributes to bloom within the bustle of our daily lives.

This time please don’t touch!

On the Anhinga Trail

Posted in: Uncategorized- Jan 02, 2017 No Comments

“Out on the Anhinga Trail the only sounds you hear are the wind riffling through the sawgrass and the splash of fish feeding on insects and one another and the great long-necked anhingas diving or emerging from the mahogany waters of a sluggish seaward moving slough. You hear a hundred frogs cheeping and croaking and the sweet wet whistle of a red winged blackbird. A primeval six-foot long alligator passes silently through the deep slough to the opposite side, coasts to a stop in the shallows, and lurks, a corrugated log with eyes.  An anhinga rises from the water and flies like a pterodactyl to a cluster of nearby mangrove roots and cumbrously spreads and turns its enormous wings like glistening black kites silhouetted against the noontime sun.  It’s mid-May, yes– but what century?”

Russell Banks on Everglades National Park, Florida

History Takes Time

Posted in: Uncategorized- Dec 15, 2016 No Comments
It has been said that, at its best, preservation engages the past in a conversation with the present over a mutual concern for the future.” William Murtaugh, First Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places

 

The Miami Circle at the mouth of the Miami River, where the Tequesta tribe settled more than a thousand years ago, provides a rare physical link between the prehistoric and historic periods in the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans.  It is a National Historic Landmark, “a nationally significant historic place of exceptional value illustrating and interpreting the heritage of the United States.” Less than 3% of historic places in the United States ever receive this distinction. It’s worth remembering however that when it was first discovered in 1998 there was heated debate over the cultural value of the Circle and the foolishness of preserving it in its original location.  Local politicians and businessmen worried that it might set a dangerous precedent that could scare off investment if Miami started preserving historic sites near precious waterfront real estate.  “Visionary” Miami Mayor Joe Corollo forewarned; “My concern is the profound effect, the chilling effect it would have on other major projects that are coming to the city of Miami.”

Since those debates buildings like Icon, Epic, Four Seasons, Brickell Arch, Wells Fargo Center, 500 Brickell, Met One, Two, and Met Square, Marina Blue, 50 Biscayne, 900 Biscayne, Marquis, Mint, Infiniti, Brickell City Center, 1450 Brickell, Perez Art Museum, Frost Science Museum, and 1000 Biscayne have all been built downtown with no apparent end in sight to investment and development.  One can only imagine how much greater Miami would be if we hadn’t scared away all those investors by preserving our history where the river flows into the bay.

 

Nacho Libre and the Grand Canyon

Posted in: Uncategorized- Nov 25, 2016 No Comments

One clear September morning we knelt on the rim of the Grand Canyon between the blue sky and red rocks watching condors ride the thermals below. We’d been to the canyon before but never seen condors, so this was unexpected and awesome.  Back in the 1980s condors were driven to near extinction, so in 1987 all wild condors were brought into captivity for breeding.  Today there are about 70 of them living in northern Arizona and southern Utah near Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon. The park ranger said these birds probably lived in the caves below the rim of the canyon where wild nests now cradled condor chicks.  Like acolytes we watched them softly spiral, massive 9-foot wings unfurled, unruffled, graceful, and ephemeral.

Behind us a frustrated but patient Indian gentleman (dots, not feathers) was trying to encourage his young daughter to come and enjoy the incredible natural wonder they had traveled so far to see.  She, however, did not give a shit and thought the Grand Canyon was boring. To make her point she parked herself on a rock far away from the family with her back to the rim ignoring him, them, nature, god, and the birds.  Father’s passionate reasoning had little effect.  She wasn’t in the mood.

Back at the lodge that night we curled up to watch a show called Star Talk with Neil de Grasse Tyson whose guest was an American astronaut who told a story about one mission when he and a fellow astronaut were staring out the shuttle window watching earth go by at 18,000 miles an hour and gazing in awe at the Clouds of Magellan.  For the astronomically challenged among you, the Clouds of Magellan are two dwarf galaxies containing billions of stars that satellite around the Milky Way.  As he recalled the view was so awe inspiring and the moment so transcendent that there was no place in the universe he would rather have been.

Just then one of the other astronauts on board called them to come quickly because they were about to start Nacho Libre a really silly, very funny film with Jack Black who wants to raise money for orphans by moonlighting as a Lucha Libre (a costumed Mexican wrestler) but must keep his identity secret because…….. I’ll say no more.

The point is, who on earth would rather spend two hours watching Nacho Libre than the Clouds of Magellan or sit with their back to the Grand Canyon rather than watch soaring condors against the backdrop of nature’s most spectacular hole in the ground?

Truth is sometimes you just want nachos, not steak and sometimes you prefer a dumb movie to an exploding sun but it’s also true that there are other times when you are just a pain in the ass little brat.  It all depends on the perspective from where you’re sitting.  Enjoy the view.

Wave Goodbye

Posted in: Uncategorized- Nov 01, 2016 No Comments

In the opening of his book Some Kind of Paradise author Mark Derr states that “Sometime in the next century or two, the sea will cover Florida as it has periodically for the past 250 million years, and sometime, assuredly, the sea will retreat, leaving a peninsula dotted with lakes and marshes, ringed by a new beach of glistening sand.”  Say again? What? How long do we have?

Florida’s tenuous dry foothold above the sea has become a human concern for the first time since man set foot on planet earth.  No humans had ever lived in Florida until about 10,000 years ago so it never made any difference if Florida was wet, dry, damp, or sub-marine.  The Everglades formed about 5000 years ago covering the South Florida peninsula with a shallow sheet water that slowly flowed southwest to the sea. No place in Florida is more than 60 miles from salt water and no place in Florida is more than 345 ft above sea level. And in Miami, where the average elevation is 6 ft, a slender outcrop of oolitic limestone called the Atlantic Coastal Ridge is the only thing that separates us from inundation.  Water falls copiously from the sky above, bubbles up through the porous limestone below, and surrounds us on the south, east and west leaving us a precious dry sanctuary that many of us mistakenly believed was permanent.

In the beginning of the 20th century water management engineers made life possible for millions of people to live the Florida dream by damming and draining wetlands and fortifying coastal areas in an effort to domesticate nature. Today the Promethean task of managing Florida’s hydrology must balance environmental sustainability, societal necessity, and corporate insatiability in a state where the governor denies that climate change is real and forbids use of the expression.

As the sea rises along Florida’s 1,350 mile coastline the stakes are rising too. Scientists regularly revise their estimates for when they think South Florida will return to the sea. Creative, forward thinking urban planners, architects, and engineers are designing solutions to mitigate the inevitable but there really is no solution for what ails us.  And real estate developers keep building in the flood zone, along Collins Avenue, on man made islands in Biscayne Bay, in massive construction projects downtown, and continually creeping further into the Everglades.

“Sometime in the next century or two, the sea will cover Florida as it has periodically for the past 250 million years.”

Wave goodbye!

 

Katharine the Great

Posted in: Uncategorized- Oct 02, 2016 No Comments

Oh Great!

One thing I was always grateful for about living in South Florida was that we didn’t have to worry about great white sharks down here in the Caribbean. We have bull sharks, hammerheads, black tips, and reef sharks but they’re all relatively cordial compared to the “white death.” I’d always believed that the water here was too warm for them and that great whites preferred a nippy surf temperature to be at their predatory best.  Oh sweet delusion.  Sadly, when I learned that a 14-foot great white shark named Katharine was swimming around Miami Beach my naiveté got lost at sea. How distressing to learn that great whites are found in all oceans except the polar seas and not only are they comfortable in the Caribbean but a monster measuring 21 feet weighing 7300 pounds was once caught in Cuba. We know about Katharine’s visit because trackers follow her on the marine research website OCEARCH.  Katharine “The Great,” named after Cape Cod native and songwriter Katharine Lee Bates, who wrote America the Beautiful, was first tagged off Cape Cod in 2013.  Since then Katharine has turned 14 and is old enough to mate and make little great whites.  There is some speculation that her 700 pound weight gain might mean little ones are on the way,  so keep your fingers crossed.  Where Katharine goes next is anyone’s guess, but now that we know that she and her 300 teeth occasionally winter in Miami she could make it a great white Christmas this year.  Thank god we don’t have great whites in the summer.  Or do we?

Prolonged Exposure

Posted in: Uncategorized- Sep 15, 2016 No Comments

Miami is like a beautiful woman with a low IQ and an ugly temper. And just as people will overlook narcissism and superficiality in a curvaceous creature with sparkling eyes and enchanting smile, they often ignore Miami’s poverty, felony, illiteracy and road rage while admiring the voluptuous curve of her shoreline.

Precariously balanced between the warm blue Atlantic and the primordial Everglades, Miami is a major urban center dancing a tricky 21st century pas de deux. It is rich and it is poor; it is nature straining against concrete; it fights ferociously for preservation while racing impatiently into the future; and it has one foot in North America and one in Latin America. A magnet for fugitives, exiles, retirees, wannabes and hedonists, Miami speaks with a Latin accent and embraces one of the highest percentages of foreign born residents of any city in the world. Miami is 2.5 million people building a giant nebulous puzzle without a blueprint and almost certainly missing some critical pieces. Perversely, this uncertainty adds to its charm and is promoted as some kind of inspired cultural improvisation. The outside world observes the Miami scene and hopes that the pieces ultimately produce something beautiful that isn’t blown it into the ocean by a hurricane before they’ve had a chance to enjoy one last vacation.

I first saw Miami in 1966. I didn’t come here by choice and had no desire to stay. People often feel this way. I left at the first opportunity, but returned several years later, met someone, and stayed for a few more years. Miami should come with a warning, “Prolonged exposure to tropical climates might permanently impair your ability to consider other living arrangements.” I’ve been here ever since.

I Took a Walk Down By the Sea

Posted in: Blog- Nov 09, 2014 No Comments

Eruv refers to an imaginary boundary determined by a Rabbi that allows adherent Jews within a community to extend the boundary of their homes and thereby circumvent a commandment in the Bible that prohibits them from carrying anything beyond their property line on the Sabbath.  Without Eruv they wouldn’t be able to carry a baby, a purse, or even a tune beyond their home on the day of rest.  Miami Beach has had an Eruv for over 20 years.  Marked by a string that extends for miles around the Beach the Eruv is strung on poles, lamp posts, between buildings and beside the boardwalk 12 feet above the ground.  This is by no means the only reason you should visit the boardwalk but it should encourage you to feast on the surroundings as you stroll along one of the most beautiful and interesting walks in Miami.

In the mid 1980s the City of Miami Beach built an elevated boardwalk along the ocean from 46th to 21st Street as part of a plan to create a continuous beachwalk the entire length of the island. It is still a work in progress, but the section from 46th Street to 5th Street is finished and offers a glimpse into the intricately layered beauty of Miami Beach.

It is populated with wild green parrots, ibis with long curved beaks, mocking birds, homeless cats,  and a cast of characters borrowed from a romance novel set in purgatory.  The buildings provide an architectural retrospective of Miami lifestyles of the last 80 years. The seascape is colorful and brilliant.  Cargo ships move along the edge of the Gulf Stream and cruise ships head down to the Caribbean.  Sometimes dolphins or rays break the surface while ospreys, pelicans, and gulls peruse the waters from above.  The sand is dotted with beach umbrellas, lifeguard stands, yoga classes, weddings, soccer games, and from time to time perhaps even a small rickety wooden boat filled with abandoned trash from mysterious inhabitants whose fresh footprints in the sand lead away toward an unknown conclusion.

Many old buildings have been restored or are in the process of renovation these days but without a doubt the most fascinating project in the neighborhood comes from Argentinean developer Alan Faena whose redevelopment of several entire blocks near 32nd Street exemplifies the rebirth of the area.  Conceptually a “mini city” with its own apartments, shops, restaurants, art, and theatre the Faena District combines old buildings, new buildings, Pritzker Prize winning architects, a film director, set designer, landscape artist and assorted other collaborators in an all out assault on conventional real estate development.  You have to provide something special if you ask $50 million for a condo.

The boardwalk offers a perspective many visitors never experience but those of us who live here never tire of.  It costs nothing but a little time and the walk will transport you to a quiet place you didn’t know existed in kitschy, trendy, hyper-hip South Beach.   Take a walk and see for yourself and keep in mind that sometimes a string is more than just a string and a walk can be more than just a walk.

Note:  The elevated boardwalk is 12 feet wide and dedicated solely to pedestrians so bicyclists are not permitted. The paved beachwalk south of 21st Street, however, is accessible to bicycle use and other recreational activities.

 

Bones of Key West

Posted in: Blog- Sep 19, 2014 No Comments

A student of mine returned from Key West this summer to report that it was so boring he couldn’t understand why anyone would ever want to go there.  He was 17 and French so I dismissed him as possibly a bit too young and blasé to appreciate its charm but when two older, well traveled individuals expressed their own criticism it put me on the spot to explain the exotic, irreverent, allure of our southernmost place.  For me it’s something written in the bones.

The Spanish called this place “Cayo Hueso” which literally translates to “Bone Island” because of the human bones they discovered scattered along the shore.  Over time new bones made of conch, drowned ships, an overseas railroad, African slaves, six toed cats, roosters, gingerbread, sponge, mile marker zero, Harry Truman, Key West pinks, Cuban cigars, and sloppy bars were left behind by the “Have and Have Nots” who preceded us. They set the scene and permeate the ether.  They are the bedrock of its ethos.

I love the scale of Key West and the liquid horizon in every direction. I love the architecture and the flora.  I love that it’s perfectly cool to do nothing, that one doesn’t need a reason to drink beer for breakfast, that roosters seem to know the answer to the big question, and pirate is still a respectable profession. I appreciate the island’s devotion to abnormality and share its fatalistic sense of humor.  I’m amused by the idea of the Conch Republic and bemused that there are people who believe the island is divinely protected against hurricanes.  I love to remember that Key West is just an island in the stream.

And although the bones erode and the island’s natural beauty is spoiled with plastic junk its allure remains irresistible, intoxicating, and inspirational.  And I return here to the end of the road where I’m happy as a conch to fritter away the time, surrounded by the bones and the sea to add my own quiet chapter to the story.

 

September 5, 2014