Stately royal palms and sea grape trees are ubiquitous. I watch as a man casually harvests
coconuts on a main street, surrounded by exotic flowers
and plants: purple bougainvillea, yellow allamanda and
Miami exudes colour and passion with Lolita, a
killer whale, The Heat, on fire in the
NBA, tropical beaches, spas that pamper flesh, lavish
golf courses, New World cuisine, pungent cigars, luxury
yachts and spirited nights for those who play after dark.
It pulses with rhythms of a diverse population,
two-thirds Spanish speaking from Argentina, Cuba,
Haiti, Columbia and other South American and
Caribbean countries. A 76 F./24 C. average yearly
temperature attracts an eclectic mix of celebrities and
tourists seeking fun in the sun, and for this snowbird, the
sky's surreal cotton candy clouds are welcome
relief from shoveling snow.
A few degrees above the Tropic of Cancer, Miami is a
network of barrier islands, coral rock and mangrove swamps
connected by bridges, causeways and panoramic roads. Miles
of white sand beach hug the coastline while the balmy
Atlantic and Biscayne's tranquil Bay gently envelop the city.
South Beach's Art Deco District, 800 architecturally
protected buildings circa 1930-40 was transformed from a
slum after a major exposition in Paris on the arts of
decorative motives of modern-day buildings, hence art deco.
Streamlined and simple, poured concrete enabled buildings to
be erected quickly, and the invention of neon lights and use
of aluminum fostered straight
horizontal and vertical lines. I
wander through a pastel wonderland, vibrant with bikini-clad
in-line skaters and tanned pedestrians meandering
through architectural treasures, luxury resorts, chic,
boutique hotels and patio bars crammed with thirsty
patrons while others play volleyball on the beach.
The downtown hub for international business
and finance offers soaring office towers and ultramodern
condos. After a relaxing cruise, I listen to a
Latino band and watch ad hoc dancers groove in
unabashed appreciation at Bayside Marketplace, a
waterfront shopping and dining destination with an outdoor concert amphitheater.
Little Havana's main thoroughfare, Calle Ocho, (Eighth Street) is lined with restaurants
featuring Latin specialties and cafes where men sip cafecitos, play dominos and debate politics, a
contentious topic post Cuban Revolution, resultant boatloads of exiles, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and
last year's tug-of-war over Elian Gonzalez whose relatives tried
to keep the boy from returning to his Cuban father after the Coast
Guard saved him from a raft on which his mother had perished.
A 50-member Las Vegas troupe caused further furor last year by
defecting from Cuba. Here, artisans hand-roll cigars, and tailors
create custom guayaberas (traditional cotton shirts) while salsa
and merengue fill the air. I sip Cuban coffee with enough jolt to
maintain alertness for hours then notice a mural with Jean
Chrétien in the centre of a group of Summit of the Americas Latino presidents.
Coconut Grove, once legendary as an arts colony, now draws throngs to restaurants,
cafes, galleries, boutiques, movie theaters and bookstores.
designed and planned in 1920 by George
Merrick, features beautiful Mediterranean-style homes and
winding waterways, renowned for world class dining and
a flock of top galleries exhibiting Latin American and
Spanish art. The Village of Merrick Park, an upscale shopping
mecca, features 115 haute couture fashion and home decor
shops, boutiques and gourmet restaurants in a lushly
landscaped setting. I ogle a sleek, metallic blue Maserati selling for a mere $110,000. Think
Toronto's Hazelton Lane on steroids.
Aventura in the north features towering luxury condos, great
shopping in mammoth Aventura Mall and the Turnberry Isle Resort and
Club that luxury Canadian hotel chain, Fairmont, has added to its
expanding market. Director of
Public Relations, Carmen Ackerman, says
that Canada is the number one international target with Fairmount's
strong Canadian presence and loyalty. Cuban born, her favorite
restaurant in Little Havana is Versailles. I joke about The West Wing
running a Latino for president. "For us, it's normal," she says. "We've
always had mayors and councilman of Hispanic heritage." Ackerman
claims Miami is a prime business location
to sell wares in Latin America and
Europe. "It's a perfect gateway and great
distribution point so you get a domino
effect." At the port, I watch giant cranes
unload ships while a fleet of massive
cruise ships anchor nearby.
Construction and hospitality industries are booming.
Fairmount, Grand Bay in Coconut Grove and the Biltmore in
Coral Gables were formerly the only luxury hotels. In three years,
Miami has added three Ritz Carlton's, a Four Seasons, Mandarin
Oriental, J.W. Marriott, National and Loews. "Everybody and
their brother have opened a hotel in Miami; our rates are the
highest they've ever been, and we enjoyed a terrific season,"
Miami offers a breathtaking array of restaurants featuring cutting-edge design and
innovative cuisine. Over 6,000 dining spots cater to a sophisticated resident population and more
million visitors who consume $3 billion worth of delicious meals.
From casual alfresco cafes for people-watching to palaces of haute cuisine,
Miami is a full-fledged culinary hot spot, with flavor-packed menus filled
with spicy and delicious options.
Celebrity chefs include Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay and Alain
Ducasse. The culinary destination originated fifteen years ago with a new
style of cooking, "New World" cuisine, known also as Florribean, Tropical
Fusion and Nuevo Latino. A quartet of star chefs, the "Mango Gang," aka
Mark Militello (Mark's South Beach),
Allen Susser (Chef Allen's), Doug
Rodriguez (OLA Miami) and Norman
Van Aken, (Norman's) pioneered the contemporary
cuisine, which combines fresh local ingredients and
Caribbean and Latin America influences with timehonored
European techniques. High in flavor, low in fat,
showcases clean tastes from combinations of fresh seafood and tropical fruits
Local waters offer a bounty of fresh seafood including snapper, grouper, lobster, stone
crabs, shrimp and conch. Fruits and spices grown in Miami's backyard in the agricultural
breadbasket of South Dade include citrus, yucca, mango, cherimoya, hearts of palm, avocado,
guava, papaya, coconut, banana,
cilantro, ginger, garlic, coriander and scotch bonnet peppers.
Intriguing combinations are marinated, grilled and steamed to create dishes that
palate. "Mango Gang" members have received their industry's highest honors and distinctions,
authored cookbooks and have created empires and
We tried Chef Allen's, rated by the Zagat
Survey, 2005 as Miami's best for Caribbean, New
World food, wine list and service as well as Chispa,
Spanish for spark. Relatively new, Chispa, not rated,
was the equal to Chef Allen's, which is located
adjacent to an Aventura mall. At Chispa, roomier and
near exotic Merrick Park, I tasted chef Jesse Souza's
delicious seared marinated octopus with toasted garlic
and capers, a signature piece, and tuna tartare and marinated shrimp on toastones and madiros
with guacamole and presto on top.
I sip a mojito, a refreshing combination of lime, sugar and rum,
the mint julep of Cuba served
in a tall glass and dream about the Gulf
Stream off shore, where I could swim all year in 72 F./22 C. water.
Conga drums and Bossa Nova street rhythms along with mambo, rumba,
samba and tango dancing transform Miami into the perfect destination to
engage one's passion. The charm glows steadily like an ember in the
spicy, sultry South Florida night.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
Mike Keenan: Fairmount Turnberry Isle & Resort - entrance, 18th hole south course, Key lime
pie, stone path; South Beach bikini; Catamaran
& Hard Rock Café with giant revolving guitar;
Bayside: dancing-at harbour; Chispa: dancer;
Chef Souza; American Airlines Arena -
Shaquille O'Neal, Daddy's Home; Chrétien -
Summit of the Americas Mural; cruise ships,
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/