“We’ve come too far, we’ve made too much progress and we’re not going back. We are going forward.” – Congressman John Lewis, August 22, 2018 at the renaming ceremony of Freedom Parkway as the John Lewis Freedom Parkway.
Most of my belongings were still in boxes and I was using Google Maps to find the Publix Supermarket that was only three blocks away when I read they were renaming Freedom Parkway. How could I find my way around this town if the names of streets keep changing? But a few sentences later I learned it was to honor John Lewis and then it seemed too small of a gesture. Only the parkway? Mayor Bottoms should have renamed the whole dang city Lewislanta. Imagine the perseverance of this man to skirt death on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge fighting for the right to vote, to then be elected to the House of Representatives two decades later.
I spent the Christmas holidays strolling through SoHo, hailing cabs on Broadway and taking in the elaborate window displays down 5th Avenue. It was the eve of the New Year and the new decade, and I was feeling hopeful about what 2020 would bring. I was also feeling particularly proud of myself for having cleverly paired my New York trip with a quick jaunt to Bermuda. Culminating my vacation with my feet covered in pink sand was the gift I was most eager to unwrap.
As a rum enthusiast, the Caribbean is my favorite destination to indulge in that amber elixir. Brugal in the Dominican Republic, Appleton Estate in Jamaica, Bacardí in Puerto Rico, and, the most illustrious, Mount Gay in Barbados.
The world’s great masters are not exclusive to Europe. From Brazil we have Tunga, best known for his fascinating sculptures about the human body. From Chile, Roberto Matta is a seminal figure in 20th century abstract expressionist and surrealist art. From Colombia we have beloved Fernando Botero who created his own exaggerated style of Boterismo, and from Mexico the foremost muralist Diego Rivera. These are only a few of the influential and brilliant artists that hail from across Latin America. This region is also home to artistic movements grounded in heritage, history and tradition—and deserve to be exalted.
The term Isleña, meaning island girl in Spanish, is what we call my grandmother. A term of endearment exclaimed whenever she walks in the door. ¡Llegó la isleña! (The island girl is here!) I grew up thinking it was a reference to our Cuban heritage, but when I became more inquisitive about our family’s lineage, I discovered that her nickname was a tribute to her Canary Island roots. Her father emigrated to Cuba from Santa Cruz de Tenerife and the nickname, along with a strong emotional connection to Spain, was passed down to her.
I think every writer has a Parisian fantasy that revolves around Shakespeare and Company. Opposite of Notre-Dame in the heart of Paris, there is no greater setting. Adding to the romance, this is the bookstore where James Baldwin hung out, where William Burroughs researched medical books for Naked Lunch, where Anaïs Nin drank Bordeaux straight out of the bottle, where Ernest Hemingway often showed up drunk, and where Allen Ginsberg howled naked.
The same way you can’t not notice this building, you can’t not be moved by the collection. The National Museum of African American History and Culture feels like a sacred space. A Sunday school dedicated to celebrating the richness and diversity, as well as educating and preserving the hard truths, of the African American experience.
“Your necklace may break, the fau tree may burst, but my tattooing is indestructible. It is an everlasting gem that you will take into your grave.” A verse from a traditional tattoo artist’s song
I was 19 when I got my first tattoo. I walked into a local shop, pointed to a design on a wall of renderings and unbuttoned my jeans. I wasn’t ready to show the world (let alone my parents) my skin art, so it was imperative to conceal my act of rebellion.
It took me a few seconds to realize that my Anglo friend was referring to the picture of a croqueta.
Clearly, there’s a serious deficiency of ventanitas in Atlanta (and in L.A. for that matter) that pop out croquetas paired with cortaditos. That’s right, restaurants here do not have walk-up windows, which means there’s no such thing as having to elbow through a wall of viejos arguing about politics. That is a cultural experience exclusive to Miami…until now.
After much success with an adorable pink camper/food truck, Buena Gente is set to open their first brick and mortar Cuban bakery and sandwich shop in Decatur. While the pandemic has delayed their opening, you can already see their sign up over the location on Clairmont Road, in the same complex as the Po’Boy Shop and Ms. Icey’s Kitchen and Bar.
Last weekend I was feeling particularly nostalgic for Miami, so I reached out to them on a whim. They were kind enough to take my customized order of two boxes of twelve pastelitos — one for me and another for my “corn dog” friend. I thought it would be a good first step. A primer, if you will, before the lesson on croquetas.
The Power of Pastelitos
After surreptitiously picking up the pastelitos from behind the store (it was the most Miami thing I’ve ever done in Atlanta), I met up with my non-Cuban friends at the neighborhood park to make the drop (the second-most Miami thing I’ve ever done in Atlanta).
Extending the white box filled with goodies, through my mask I briefed them on the different shapes they were about to encounter:
“Circles are beef. Triangles are guava and cheese. The ones that look like cannoli are just cheese. And the squares are guava, but you’ll know that one because you can see it from the sides.”
I made them repeat it back to me like they were going to be quizzed on it for their Cuban citizenship exam. But just by merely having the box in their car they were already culturized, because we spent 45 minutes saying our good-byes. Muy cubichi.
Triangles Are My Favorite
The pastelitos are just the half of it. Once Buena Gente opens, the menu will include additional Cuban specialties like croquetas and empanadas as well as an expanded menu of Cuban sandwiches. Buena Gente will also serve Cuban-style coffee drinks and sodas. Hello, Jupiña!
Public transportation in Miami is lackluster to say the least. And with long distances between points of interest, your best bet is to rent a car. I compiled a few tips on how to drive like a local, whether you’re landing in MIA or FLL.
Anthony Bourdain’s final book World Travel: An Irreverent Guide will be published this fall. It’s slated to be an illustrated collection of Bourdain’s reflections on his favorite places to visit and eat. It was his TV show that gave me the courage to explore places through food. While at home I am a finicky eater, but when I’m abroad I force myself to be as open as possible. When I’m anywhere in the Mediterranean, though, I don’t have to try that hard. Every. Single. Things. Is. Delicious.