By Lynn Schnurnberger
I grew up in the Bronx, and when I was in elementary school, my mother would pull us out of classes every year—for three months!—to winter in Miami. As a result, I never got used to inclement weather and I think of Miami as a second home. Still, Miami has changed almost as much as I have in the ensuing years. Though—buoyed by a restoration of the ice-cream colored Art Deco District (with its neon lights and hotels that look like ocean liners), and an infusion of lively Latin culture—unlike me, Miami’s getting younger.
“It’s like going to Cuba without a passport,” said a friend who went with me to “Viernes Culturales,” the street fair which takes place on the last Friday of every month in Miami’s Little Havana district, Calle Ocho. We downed $3 Mojitos, swayed to salsa music, saw men in Panama hats rolling cigars and went in and out of a half dozen galleries which featured, among other things, brightly-colored Diego Rivera-like murals. Once a year the celebration explodes into a 23-block extravaganza and if you happen to be there this March 12th, you can join 119,000 dancers in their quest to retain the Guinness record as The World’s Longest Conga Line.
At first glance, the nearby Lincoln Road shopping mecca may seem like malls back at home, but among the T-shirt shops and high-end stores, you’ll find YUCA (an acronym for Young Urban Cuban Americans), a restaurant which features spicy empanadas, sugar cane shrimp and salsa classes as well as Friday night performances. Lincoln Road is also home to the great Books and Books, an independent store where I got lost for hours leafing through design books galore and a $6,000 limited edition about Mohammed Ali; it’s also just a few blocks from Espanola Way, a tree-lined haven of Latin clothing boutiques, galleries, tapas bars and Brazilian restaurants.
For my money, nothing beats sitting under the stars and watching a free movie or concert “Wallcast” at the recently opened Frank-Gehry-designed New World Center. If you dare—after all you’ll be wearing a swimsuit for most of the day—have a hearty breakfast of bistec e huevos at David’s (or, as I did, just enjoy a great cup of Cuban coffee); dinner at Gloria Estefan’s Lario’s can be crowded and noisy, but for some people, that the point. I, however, am not that girl. After one night in a disappointing, shall-remain-nameless hotel right off of Ocean Drive and in the middle of Miami’s frenetic nightlife, I was grateful to move to the Mandarin Oriental— its private beach, impeccable service, out-of-the-way location in Miami’s financial district and the spectacular sunset view from my oversized terrace, provided an elegant oasis of calm. Not to mention that I saw dolphins, twice, swimming right in front of the hotel!
And although I didn’t make it to the 1920s Venetian Pool (with it’s free-form coral rock lagoons and 25-foot cascading waterfall, some say it’s the most beautiful pool in the world), I know that one day, I will. Because given my history, Miami always beckons.
Photos: Images provided by Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, www.gmcvb.com.