Monday, March 27, 2006

Discovering Miami

Despite my continued outbursts against this town, I had some more Miami-based fun this weekend. I volunteered to be a Bus Captain on a guided bus tour of the city called Discover Miami, stopping at six different locations where ethnic-flavored mini-festivals were taking place. It was very interesting. This city, like most American cites, represents a huge tapestry of nations and ethnicities. There were almost twenty buses leaving from all the different festivals and crawling around the city. Each bus had a tour guide and on my bus was a guy named Kevin Wynn who hosts a TV show about Miami. He knew tons of interesting things and was very informative and funny throughout the day.

Our first stop of the day was Little Havana. It was early and sparsely attended, but it was quite nice. Musicians rocked out to Cuban rhythms, art dealers displayed some wonderful paintings and wooden sculptures. I had an empanada. It was delicious.

Next, we headed to Overtown. According to our tour guide, this central area of the city is a harking back to the time of segregation. Back when Miami was first founded, the black people were forced to live in this section of the city. Slowly, over the century, people began to leave, to escape the ghetto and settle in other parts of town. Sometime in the middle of the century, the city of Miami decided to demolish a huge swatch of land in the center of Overtown to build the I-95 right through the center of the city. The neighborhood has never recovered and is definitely one of the slummiest parts of town. Still, the neighborhood is attempting to recover and recently remodeled and redesigned a historic theatre in the center of Overtown. This was our destination, the renovated Lyric Theatre.

There was a choir singing gospel tunes, tables full of African art and sculptures, and a guided tour about black diaspora inside the new section of the theatre. A little underwhelming, but they were setting up for a big show later on.

Next was the Jewish-themed stop, Temple Israel, not far from my job in midtown Miami. An historic synagogue, one of the oldest in South Florida and built right in the center of the city next to quiet streets and a cemetery, it is a beautiful place. The main complex is a classic structure with a gorgeous main sanctuary, huge and impressive from all angles and impressive from the inside. But the most interesting part was a small sanctuary built in the late 60's, designed by Kenneth Treister, who also designed the Holocaust memorial in South Beach. The outside of this small sanctuary looks like a mansion from some weird Star Wars planet. Inside, stained glass and rock-face walls convey a sense of inner light and inner peace.

Outside of the Inner Sanctuary.

Our second-to-last stop was Little Haiti. The smells of food were everywhere here. Roasted corn, big spigots with meat and rice. Women dressed in wild, bright, gold or turquoise dresses. There was a stage set up like all the other locations but the brightly colored reggage-esque band had sound trouble and couldn't get their act together before it was time for the bus to move on again back towards Downtown, our launch point for the day.

Here, there were two festivals set up, a Native American exhibit and the European concert (read: white people). There was also an antique car show going on through one of the main streets. As you can imagine, traffic was a nightmare and I didn't linger after my official "duties" were over. I hopped in my car and tried my best to avoid traffic on my way back home. I got a little lost, ended up in Overtown. I don't know if it had to with the tour or the fact that I'm getting better at the whole driving thing, but I found my way out of Downtown exactly where I wanted to be and then home, safe, sound, and newly appreciative of this strange, spread-out, metropolis.


LoriB said...

Thanks Elad, I felt like I was on the tour with you! It was wonderful to read about your positive miami experience, and glad that the driving thing is getting easier.

Elad said...

you're welcome, Lori! I'm glad you liked it and recommend you particpating next year. It was better than I thought it would be.