Sunday, February 28, 2010

Freedom and Captivity

During the week I spent with my grandson I had opportunities to think of freedom and captivity. We all went to the Miami Metropolitan Zoo, the best I've seen, with enormous open spaces. None of the animals were crowded. This elephant must have once performed in a circus. Why else would it sway back and forth in what seemed like a dance and look to us for applause? Then it was free to roam and ignore us, which it did.

These long-necked creatures--I wish I had noted their name--ate from a tree, cooperating at the 'table.'

Our grandson, along with other children, fed giraffes that took the offered greens with tongues more than a foot long. They frisked and galloped, and nursed their young.

Birds flew under very high nets; ducks paddled. None seemed depressed except the animals we are most closely related to: chimpanzees. It was a drizzly day. They slumped in the drizzle, depressed and potentially furious. Their brooding torpor shocked me, and I did not reach for my camera. These were not like the charming "Cheetah" of the Tarzan films that entranced me when I was a child. These were big and powerful. A pair listlessly groomed each other. One sat with his back against the rocks, his belly sagging. One walked a bit and sat down. A sluggish group. They looked miserable, in prison for life. (How can anyone believe that imprisonment is a soft punishment for us?) Humans, like chimpanzees, do not take well to captivity.

A few days later on my way to meet my family, I saw this cat pacing back and forth on a window sill: restless, glossy, alert. From time to time the cat would stop and rub against window frame. At the risk of being late I stayed to watch and imagined a could hear the cat's purr vibrate through the glass.

I finally hurried away and met my family at a restaurant at South Pointe. Our grandson was utterly surprised when his favorite dessert of apple pie and ice cream arrived with a flaming candle and the entire room full of people sang Happy Birthday.

We need lovely surprises!

This morning I had a coffee at my favorite cafe here in South Beach, Cafe a la Folie. To do anything--it's usually to love--a la folie, is to do it madly.

Wishing you all frisky days!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Children, Freedom, Manners

Freda Dudley Ward with Her Children, 1918

New York, 1940, by Helen Levitt

In her poem, "Manners," for a child of 1918, Elizabeth Bishop writes:

My grandfather said to me
as we sat on the wagon seat,
"Be sure to remember to always
speak to everyone you meet."

Now we say to children: "Never speak to strangers."

We also don't let children go anywhere by themselves. We drive them to school. Back home in Massachusetts, spring, summer, winter fall, when I look out the living room window, which gives me a long view of the street, I almost never see children.

J. tells me he took the bus and the streetcar to Boston when he was ten years old. I walked to school and went downtown by myself. I'm not going to blab on about the "good old days." There's a lot about the past that is not good, but children did have more freedom. We went off by ourselves for hours. Tell me, were you allowed to wander, to walk to school by yourself, to take a bus, a subway?

Why are we so frightened for our children? The rapidly cycling news brings us stories of murder and molestation. World-wide. Is there more evil afoot? I don't know. Chris Patten in the recent NYRB describes Americans: "You guzzle more gas and shoot one another with guns whose purchase is apparently guaranteed by your constitution. You tolerate greater degrees of social inequity . . . " If we narrowed the gap between the rich and the poor, would we be less afraid of strangers? Would we give our children more freedom?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Taking a Break

Our family is coming to South Beach tonight for a week's vacation. See you later alligators!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


A while ago my friend K. told me how much he likes Japan, "I feel at home," he said. We agreed that it was wonderful to find a second home. Mine is South Beach, where this dog looked back at me as he waited outside the 13th Street Post Office. The climate is warm. I can shed my heavy clothes and sometimes my cares. Tell me, Where do you feel at home?

In the recent New York Review of Books Freeman Dyson writes: "When expressed in mathematical equations, the laws of quantum mechanics are clear and unambiguous. Confusion arises from misguided attempts to translate the laws from mathematics to human language." But I'll do it anyway: I feel when I walk in South Beach things respond to me and I to them, and in that situation both those things and I are changed. I like to think this experience is like Heisenberg's "observer effect," which "refers to changes that the act of observation will make on the phenomenon being observed." He meant changes that could be measured mathematically, probably unlike what I experience.

Yet, it's not just dogs that look back at me. "Looking back" may not be the best term. These plants do not have eyes, yet when I stand next to them I feel we are altering each other, changing each other.

I walk for hours and appreciate the public toilets. The reflected flash covers my face, and it looks as if I am holding a lit globe.

Some trees on Jefferson have been pruned and painted in the Spanish manner. Does that limit our exchange? (Come to think of it: the high style of those fashion runway shows is like this pruning and painting. The style affects us but we cannot affect it.)

The architectural styles vary. Every time I go out I see something new.

Someone has put two guardian statues on the two balconies of a pent house.

Nothing blocks the view. My eyes can trip out.

Perhaps my feeling at home in South Beach is a return to childhood, when I only half understood what adults were saying. In South Beach I hear many languages, mostly Spanish, and can understand only a few words.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Twilight in South Beach

South Beach does not lose its charm. The game goes on until dark. The wind dies down as it always does at twilight. I watched just as the brilliant light faded to pale blue. Soon pastel blue will give way to gold; gold to darker and darker blue. The evening star rises in a sky just about to go black.

Steps from the game of pick-up basketball, a bumper sticker announces the immanence of the Messiah. The twilight is messianic though wordless, shining on us all. Blasphemy, the orthodox might say.

There is something so satisfying about a ruin, especially when flanked by a thriving plant. This art deco gem is for sale and would take a fortune to restore.

There are children in this expansive tree; none on the climbing bars. Does anyone know the name of this tree? It might be a strangler fig with the strangling root-vines cut off.

These branches are bare but in a few months they will be loaded with bloom. Royal Poinciana will burst out in scarlet.

I like to gather up what might seem like dissonant notes.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Beach Combing

It was a windy day at the beach yesterday. This well-tanned man found a windbreak. I've seen him often: he likes to sun himself standing up. I like to think he is looking at his shadow as if he were looking into a mirror.

The terns were grounded. Two of them tuck their beaks into their feathers but keep an open eye. The terns with their black crests and bright yellow beaks are raffish, stylish figures.

The ocean had tossed up these creations--sponges and sea plants encrusted with coral.

As I waited, the waves washed in this red sweater, which I'll wear on St. Valentine's Day. In the morning there are often discarded clothes and shoes on the streets, on the beach, in the water. If by some rare chance the person who threw away the red sweater sees me and wants me to give it back, I will. But first I will ask him for a reward, not money. What should it be? Should I ask a riddle? Ask that he tell me a story, tell me about his night on the beach? Tell me his dreams?

The gold check-mark is on the left side. Isn't that the side of the heart?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Simple Day in South Beach

This morning the black beans that soaked all night were ready for slow cooking with onions, garlic, and spices. They'll cook all day. We'll eat them tomorrow--always better the next day.

I walked down to Lincoln Road, then to the Epicure for tea, where I met M. who is hoping to start a new business importing fish from the Bahamas. He was eating toast and jam and told me he loved toast. So do I.

From the Epicure I walked south to Sobe Thrifty, rummaged around and spent a little money--very little. J. picked me up. We went to lunch at Las Olas at 6th and Euclid. Five dollars for the two of us: tamales with hot sauce, platanos, rice and beans. We ate outside and watched the passing scene. Cab drivers stop to eat at Las Olas.

Do you know about these Spanish names for food: medianoche, medialuna, ropa vieja, quimbobo, moros y christianos? I'm learning them. Quimbobo, is okra; the word quimbobo must have African origins. Shredded beef is ropa vieja, old clothes.

Then to our allotment at the community garden. I came home with parsley and cilantro. This weekend the mesclun will be ready to pick.

We checked out books and films on dvd from the Miami Beach Library. Back home now, I look through The Sense of Place: The Artist and the American Land. The book opens to page 41, Marsden Hartley, "Smelt Brook Falls," and his poem, "Waterfall," which begins, "From the breast of the tired horizon/ this milk of vague, deserted mornings . . . " I'm looking for paintings of Florida. Here's one by John Button, "Everglades." An utterly simple, utterly flat landscape: swamp and sky.

Monday, February 8, 2010

New Orleans Saints Win

The afternoon before the Super Bowl game I looked for auspicious signs and found them. Lavender and blond hair, players in suits on the beach, a confident man in a bright yellow jacket.

Displayed in front of the South Beach police station was a patrol car from 1955.

Almost everyone I spoke to said they were cheering for the Saints but didn't expect them to win. The team from New Orleans took charge of the game in the second half. Brilliance and luck: Tracy Porter's interception for a 74 yard touchdown run. The Saints rolled on and won, 31-17. Odd numbers are lucky.

Fans crowded Ocean Drive in South Beach.

Light shows transformed the buildings.

A Reggie Bush fan the night before the game:

I found him again after the game:

"Yes, they won!" said the man in the rose-colored jacket, and his companion smiled.

The police were out in case of trouble. I saw none.

The gun's on his hip, the cell-camera in his hand.

We walked home; the crowds thinned out, but cars sped by with Saints' flags flying!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Super Bowl: the Saints

The spirit of New Orleans has come to South Beach. It is carnival on Ocean Drive, which, as the police say, was closed to all vehicular traffic.

Manning of the Colts is reduced to a kneeling position.

There was dancing and shots of "Who dat!"

The man in the gold helmet said, "To think we've lived to see this." It's the Saints first superbowl. He kissed my hand.

The math adds up. Maybe the planets are aligned for the Saints' victory.

Tropical tops, boots for the Arctic.


Football is a dangerous sport but if it takes football to get us all together, I'm for it.

I'll be cheering for the Saints tonight and wearing black and gold. Early this morning I dreamed of girls filing into a church to pray for the Saints.