Sunday, October 9, 2011

Between Heaven and Hell

Portland people are nice, and they are certainly polite . . . but I'm really enjoying the big smiles of South Florida. In my first ten days here I've been called "sweetheart," "darlin'," "baby," and "love" by a variety of strangers of various genders, colors, and accents, workers in local businesses and fellow customers as well.

Miami is much more gritty than Portland, more alive, a city of contrasts and extremes, full of people running at a higher energy level, whether for good or for ill. Miami is messy, Miami moves fast. To live here it's necessary to carve out an oasis of calm, a neighborhood. You can't make all of Miami your own.

There is less of the sort of beauty you find biking up a residential street in Sellwood, not much of the "community" you'd sense walking down Hawthorne Boulevard, little of the casual elegance of a Portland pizza palace or this week's hot new bakery. A bakery is a bakery here, not an expression of the regional aesthetic. And besides, the bread is probably made with lard (see below).

If PDX is heaven (and NYC is hell), MIA is earth. And that's fine with me.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Shell Game, Part 2


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This afternoon I will drive to the beach and return my seashells to their home, at the sugestion of both Kerry (my daughter) and Enrique (my consultant on all things Floridian and Cuban).

I felt the ceremony should be commemorated with a poem, and I thank Enrique for the thought prompts he sent me ("protectors of life, a place for little creatures to live, protector of treasures, protects the soft parts of an animal, going back to the way they will be sand, to rest in peace") even if his response to my poem's first draft was "R u getting soft?"

I wrote this in the shade of the awning of my new little rolling home, my Miami carapace. If I am getting soft--and it may be true--at least I have more protection for the most vulnerable parts of me than I did when I first began picking up seashells, in 1982.


      They will be sand, and rest in peace

A handful of shells,
empty houses,
spiral protectors of life,
protectors of treasures.

I remember lying on the cold sand
just at dawn,
filling my hands with your tiny cold beauty
never thinking of a little life,
a little treasure,
no longer needing your protection.

Now, with little
life of my own left to protect,
I return to that beach
I return you

to become sand, to rest
to offer rest
to someone else who comes to the beach
seeking protection,
a home.

A man once taught me
about the spiral of life,
the same man who showed me
there is always something
hidden inside.

Life, or
some other treasure.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Culture Clash

The honeymoon is over.

Having grown weary of the early-morning ride to find good decaf cuban coffee and cuban toast, I decided to begin making my own, even though an earlier experiment several years ago, involving aluminum foil and my clothes iron, had not been a great success. 

The coffee, of course, is easy. 

The last time I bought a loaf of cuban bread, maybe twenty years ago, I knew one had to go all the way to the back of the nearest cuban supermarket, where the bread oven sat, and wait for the next batch of loaves to come out and be put into their paper sleeves and then stood up in the bin at the edge of the counter. 

This time I decided to eschew authenticity for convenience and biked over to the nearby Publix grocery, where cuban bread is just another commodity to be labelled and barcoded.

And given an ingredients list.

It’s bread, right? Flour, water . . . maybe an egg. 

But lard? Lard, in the year 2011?

Toto, I’m afraid we’re not in Oregon any more. I don’t know if it’s the Jew or the vegan in me that recoiled, but suddenly I saw the end of my main motivation to get up and get going on Miami mornings.

Or should I accept it as one more “sabor” of my adopted culture? And if I’ve eaten it unknowingly every day this past week, does it matter if I also eat this loaf, for which I've already paid what my mother would have called "good money" (the waste of which would probably cause her spin even faster than hearing the word "lard").

In any case, am I really as pure as I claim?

The week before I left Portland, I went out to dinner with a good friend who lived in Florida for several years. Like me, she had been a vegetarian for decades--except for a brief spell when she first arrived in Tampa. The same thing happened to me my first year in Miami. And what food was it that tempted each of us to fall off the veggie wagon?

Pan con lechon. Pork sandwiches, dripping juices and redolent of garlic (and served, of course, on that innocent looking bread).

Am I doomed to fall each time I cross that Florida border? Maybe Tex Antoine was right (look it up, kiddies). Maybe I should just surrender myself to all that makes Miami Miami.