6 Startling Truths about Miami

I recently traveled to Miami with my husband to visit my son who has lived there for the last three years.  My preconception of Miami was an amalgamation of Robin Williams dancing like Martha Graham in the Bird Cage, Jackie Gleason saying “And away we go” on the Jackie Gleason Show and the obligatory Miami Vice of cocaine, scantily clad women and cigar boats on the run.  Flamboyant, hard drinking, hard partying, vice-ridden and over exposed Miami.  After spending three days there, I can assure you that there is a much softer side of Miami.  An honest, authentic side.  The side that rarely gets any airtime.13866692_10154350659443688_1001912075_n

 

Of course, I doubt I would have discovered this softer side of Miami if it weren’t for my son.  He is a natural explorer and has spent three years finding nooks and crannies that the typical tourist would never find.  He’s not intimidated by foreign languages or exploring new foods.  To be a good explorer we all need to be open to something different.  Something that isn’t the status quo.  We weren’t likely to discover these truths if we had camped out on South Beach drinking overpriced mojitos for three days.

 

Here are the 6 startling truths about Miami:

 

  1. The food is amazing. This is high praise from a NorCal (Northern California) dyed in the wool foodie such as myself. I used to think the best taco I ever had was in San Diego.  Nope.  It’s Coyo Taco in Wynwood.  Try the devilishly complex, sweet, salty heat of the Cochinita Pibil on their house made corn tortillas.  The best fried chicken I have EVER consumed is at Yardbirds. Something about 27 hours of brining and frying in a cast iron skillet makes it crispy juicy delicious.  Anything off the Versailles menu is authentic Cuban goodness.  Sanpacho is a Colombian restaurant in Little Havana that has an amazing Bandeja Paisa ($9.95!!!) that takes up two giant plates and could have, if my husband had concurred, fed a family of 4.  Bulla Gastropub in Coral Gables had terrific, delectable tapas served by an incredibly friendly staff.  Whatever your food vice, it can be found in Miami.  Just remain open to exploring the nuances of this melting pot of cultures.

 

  1. Incredibly friendly people. It’s intimidating getting off the airplane at MIA and hear almost 80% of the folks around you speak exclusively Spanish. I felt like I had just gotten off the plane south of the equator and I should be exchanging my money for pesos.  The signs might have been in English but the language of Miami is definitely Spanish.  Happily, this does not create a language barrier.  The clientele in a restaurant may be completely Latin with us being the exception, but the service staff tolerated my attempts at Spanish with a smile or switched happily to English. We elected to eat outside for one meal and a few errant raindrops fell down and the server offered to move us to another table; as if to say, “So sorry for the raindrops.” Several of the places we ate did not have table service; other customers happily gave up a stool or a chair for us to sit together.  Not the sort of friendliness you expect in the big city but wow, what a refreshing and welcoming experience.

 

  1. It’s more than just Palm trees and skyscrapers. The University of Miami has an amazing campus with exotic Banyan trees, wandering Muscovy ducks, fish that fly out (yes, fly) of Lake Osceola AND a warning sign for crocodiles. Fortunately, we didn’t see any crocodiles but I can assure you I have never seen even a warning sign for crocs in Manhattan. It is lush with vegetation and wildlife.  There was a peacock standing in front of my son’s house.  There are leaves on some of the vegetation the size of a VW.   We came across several Ibis’ (long-legged wading birds), a blue heron hanging out on a rock and a tiny green heron splashing on the rocks.  And there have to be more palm trees in Miami than any other city on the east coast.  Natural lush beauty is plentiful in Miami.

 

  1. Art abounds. Typically, when I think of art I think of New York, Chicago or Santa Fe with rows and rows of galleries, sculpture gardens and art museums. The secret to Miami is that you don’t even need to set foot inside a gallery.  The most amazing art is available out in the open in the Wynwood and Overtown neighborhoods.  They are old warehouse districts that have what seems like hundreds of outside murals of all shapes and styles.  Murals of the Dali Lama and Andy Warhol, science fiction and realism, black and white and psychedelic.  If you don’t like what’s in front of you, you just look across the street or walk a few steps more for something completely different.  Miami is rich with art.

 

  1. It is family centric. Whether we were at Versailles at midnight or Coyo Tacos at noon, there were families everywhere. My impression previously had been that Miami was singles bars and clubs.  There are the obligatory gallon size mojitos on Ocean Drive in South Beach and it’s a must see for the Miami Vice art deco and people scene.  But the other 90% of Miami is full of tight knit families.  We took the short ride out to Key Biscayne and there were at least 10 large families having picnics on the beach or near the lighthouse.  Point the finger at all the family centered Latinos in Miami if you want, but you don’t see families of 8 to 10 eating out together in San Francisco at midnight.

 

  1. Miami is soft. There seems to be a perpetual breeze. It is accentuated by the sway of omnipresent palm trees.  It may have been 90 degrees but it felt like a soft velvet licking your skin.  We were trapped in a rain shower walking outside at one point and hid under an awning waiting for it to pass. But we suddenly realized, what does it matter if we get wet and it’s going to stop eventually.  We got a little wet, it cooled down, it stopped, no harm, no foul.  It’s a pace; a pace you don’t find in many other large cities.  It’s soft and patient.

 

The trip was especially nice because my son was able to play host to my husband as a first time tourist to Miami.  I’m so proud to see my son be the leader and caretaker while us “parents” sit back and take in the hospitality.  The tables were turned in the captivating city of Miami.

5 Surprising Characteristics of Parisians

As I write this, I have finished my first two days in Paris on my own. Paris is beautiful and enchanting. I encountered many interesting surprises around almost every corner.  I had no idea it would take 45 minutes to get from Charles De Gaulle airport to my hotel. The traffic as you approach the city at 10 in the morning on a Thursday was just crazy. It felt like there was only one way into the city; kind of like everyone in New Jersey trying to get into Manhattan through the Holland tunnel. I was also taken aback by all the graffiti. I’ve thought that the French have it all figured out since Americans don’t seem to. But, alas, we all have our downfalls.

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The best part of the trip in was my taxi driver.   He kept calling me “My Lady”. We had a lovely conversation about his parents immigrating from Cambodia and how much he loves Paris. He explained the good neighborhoods from the bad and constantly complimented me on any French I attempted to speak. I was kind of hoping I could keep him for a few days as my guide. This young man was so polite and open, I had no idea what else was in store for me.  Can’t I just keep him? Is he the friendliest person I will meet in Paris? Who else is going to call me “My Lady”…. like ever?

 

Turns out that Paris revealed these surprises to me:

 

  1. Parisians are gracious. I had a friend advise me before I came to make sure I said “Bon jour” and “Merci.” Parisians are not a fan of the abrupt American. When I arrived at my hotel, two gentlemen opened the door saying “Beinvenue Madame, bon jour!”, with smiling faces. I think every employee in that lobby said “Bon jour, Madame!” You might be thinking, “Well, Cathy, isn’t this a hotel, shouldn’t they be that gracious?” The thing is every brasserie, cafe, shop and museum was the same tune. The sweet lyrical “Bon jour, Madame.” The Parisians graciousness made me feel welcome and humbled me.

 

  1. Parisians have a slower pace. One of my guides for a walking tour of Montmartre explained that if you purchase an espresso at a cafe, you had the right to the table for the entire day.  He wanted us to understand this in case some server tried to brush us off. This slower, you have all day, take a moment to be in the moment attitude was a big adjustment. I still ate my food too fast (especially when dining alone). I’m sure they thought I was an American Speedy Gonzales. This is in juxtaposition to say Manhattan or San Francisco when every minute counts in a race to get through the day. Savor the moment.

 

  1. Many Parisians are animated. On the drive in from the airport, there had been an accident and there in THE MIDDLE of the highway, the two men on opposites ends of the collision were boisterously yelling at each other waving their arms madly. Quite the theatrics. When the woman who was the concierge for the apartment we leased was showing us the place, she didn’t speak English. We didn’t speak French. The language barrier was crossed as she pantomimed how the locks worked, the door to the balcony, and all the various attributes of the apartment. It was hysterical. She bantered on in French stopping to ask “Oui?”…as we echoed back “Oui. Oui.” Enjoy the theatrics; they will often get you through what you need to know

 

  1. Parisians love their city. Parisian pride is even more fierce after the threat to Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Recent terrorist attacks on their own and their neighbor’s soil have fueled that fire.  This kind of pride, Parisian Pride, doesn’t develop overnight. Several guides and drivers I met were incredibly proud of their neighborhood whether it was Montmartre or Rive Gauche. I had the impression that every Parisian felt as if Paris was the center of the universe. It certainly is the center of theirs. The thing is, after 8 days in Paris, I was beginning to think the same thing.  Where else can you experience world class food, wine, art, history and music? ?  When I first arrived, I took pictures from every street corner because it was so beautiful and remarkable. Pretty soon I had WAY too many pictures of rambling cobblestone streets.  Every corner, every niche of Paris has something unique to offer. It’s okay to capture the moment even if you have to edit it later.

 

  1. Parisians are passionate. I’m talking the essence of passion, the pureness of passion. I mean passionate about their interests and what there is to love about life  I went on a walking tour of Montmartre and the guide was enlivened and passionate about Montmartre and the artists who lived there (i.e. Van Gough, Renoir, Monet, Picasso….).  I went on a cheese tasting in a cheese cave from the 1600’s and our guide was passionate about French cheese.  There are over 2,000 types of cheeses made in France, and this guy knew each one, the distinctions between them AND could combine a wine and cheese so that you thought you were eating cauliflower or grapefruit.  My friends and I took a cooking class and our instructor was almost beyond passionate about the food of Paris.  He knew the history of the dish, its origins, it’s modern adaptations and had sourced every product to identify organic and GMO free.  He orchestrated 8 novice cooks to create an amazing three course lunch in a matter of 4 hours. The passion of all these Parisians was contagious.

 

Paris has been on my bucket list for over 30 years.  Ever since my 7th grade French class.  It was an amazing vacation and the thing I learned is that it’s the residents I will remember most.  The Parisians themselves are the heart of the experience.

My Love-Hate Relationship with Northern California.

It’s been thirteen years. I dumped Northern California because I didn’t trust it any more. There was no way my house was worth the inflated mortgage I was paying. It was the age of rolling blackouts. The company I was working for had been for sale since my first day of employment. I had no idea what middle school my daughter would attend but I knew it would be at least a 45 minute commute. I was a Human Resource executive and California was manufacturing labor laws faster than I could keep up. Doing business in California involved jumping through more and more and more hoops. There was going to be a mass exodus and I wanted to be in the first U-Haul out. So I went ahead and dumped Nor Cal and moved to North Carolina and didn’t look back until this last year.

I’ve had several trips back to California in the last year for training with CRR Global. I’ve had the chance to rediscover all the things I loved so much about Nor Cal and all those things I don’t. It’s like meeting up with an old lover and loving that cute smirk but hating that he leaves the toilet seat up. It’s a love/hate thing. There is the good and the bad. The yin and the yang.
my love hate relationship with Nor Cal

Here they are:

1. Redwood trees. These are the most beautiful, enormous, magnificent awe inspiring groves of trees anywhere in the world. Breath. Taking. There is nothing like looking up at a 250 year old tree that has been around longer than the United States. We actually stepped into a tree (Yes. Stepped INSIDE) that was alive and had a hole that ran through the entire length of the tree and you could see the sky at the other end. They are resilient through fire, earthquake and flood.

What I hate? There is no easy way to get there. Every trip to a redwood grove involves a death defying trip down a winding twisting road. My big brother was behind the wheel so at least I wasn’t attempting the maneuver of the white knuckle drive but as we went to Big Basin State Park I did mutter a few prayers.

2. Pedestrians are king. When you are strolling along the waterfront in Sausalito or Tiburon and you suddenly see an ice cream shop that strikes your fancy, you may safely walk directly across the street without looking for oncoming vehicles because they will stop regardless of whether or not you are jaywalking. And bring your pets too. Because the cars and buses will come to a screeching halt so that you may check out that T-shirt in the boutique that just went on sale.

What I hate? Being on the driving end of this deal. My son and I drove through several towns and it was AMAZING how many folks and their dogs and their bicycles walked blindly into the street without a care as to whether there might be a vehicle within 30 feet. Pedestrians are king and vehicles are just a nuisance.

3. Let the fog come rolling in. There is a natural air conditioning system and it’s called the Pacific Ocean. When I actually lived in San Francisco some 35 years ago, there was no need for air conditioning or bathing suits and shorts for that matter. On the flip side, it was never that cold in the city in the winter as well. So basically, you could have the same wardrobe all year long. And it is ALWAYS 50 degrees at night.

What I hate? As W.C. Fields famously said “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”. So you will never need shorts. You will never go swimming at Ocean Beach. Not only is the water temperature too cold but so is the air temperature. And while I’m on a rant. When I would drive from Novato to SFO, I drove through 5 micro climates. From hot (windows up and air conditioner on) to tepid (windows down, air off) to freezing (windows up and heat on) in a matter of 45 minutes. Because it’s 50 degrees when the sun sets; you will be barbecuing in a parka.

4. Diversity is embraced. Every walk of life is embraced in Nor Cal. Language, ethnicity and sexual orientation are all wide open. It’s a live and let live life. Vegetarians, vegans and recycle purists can safely compost without any judgement. The market basket of endless possibilities of organic, farm raised vegetables and fruits is amazing. There is a flavor for every taste. It’s exciting to be able to dabble in all of the culinary choices.

What I hate? This openness and the weather attract a huge homeless population. As I drove my son through Golden Gate park I was shocked to see that at the end of the park some 50 or so homeless at the intersection of Haight Street. And of course the recent kerfuffle over foie gras seems a bit closed minded. But once a foodie, always a foodie.

5. Hotbed of intelligence, progress & opportunity. The amount of creativity in California is rather astounding. Google, Facebook, Apple, Hewlett Packard…they are all here. A stone’s throw from each other. I took a class in the middle of Google’s campus last year and the Google bikes were omnipresent. There is a vibrancy about it. There is progress and innovation on a palpable level. Heck, the Google car drives through my brother’s neighborhood on a daily basis. How cool is that?

What I hate? For all its innovation and forward progress the traffic and parking are almost on the magnitude of LA (not quite but real close). There are insane commutes of over an hour and 30 minutes EACH way. And the public transit is disjointed. I remember being without a car when I lived in Pacifica and had to commute to Santa Clara. It was impossible. My husband ended up taking me to work at 5 AM on the back of his motorcycle to get to work. An hour on the back of a motor cycle in 50 degree temperatures and fog was miserable.

6. Cutting edge food. You can safely assume that I am a devout foodie. And there are endless options from high end French, to food meccas like Chez Panisse and hole in the wall coffee places like Blue Bottle Coffee. The Farmer’s Market at the ferry building where you can actually find foie gras in one of those stalls. Amazing. I’ve lived in New York City and have visited many other cities but the San Francisco Bay Area is the mother lode of food options.

What I hate? It’s frigging expensive. We all went to a restaurant in Healdsburg and some of the appetizers were over $20. That is outrageous. It’s also impossible to get a reservation without 6 months’ notice at some of the more renowned restaurants. So as a visitor, unless you have planned it a year in advance, you won’t be eating at the better places. Of course that saves money on the trip but who wants to travel THE food mecca only to grab breakfast at the hotel buffet.

I do seem to leave my heart in San Francisco every time I revisit. There is something so predictable about not having rain for 6 months of the year and the fog pouring over the hills. It’s just that it all gets jerked around by the steady stream of money out my wallet and the catch 22 of having to drive a car but not being able to park. So how about you? Do you love it or hate it?