Garden For All Seasons: Atlanta Botanical Garden

The trees are not tall enough to obscure the Atlanta skyline, but that’s part of the Botanical Garden’s charm. It’s not an oasis from the city, it is very much the city. One minute you’re in the heart of midtown with music blaring from cars and the next you’re under a lush trellis looking at a dragon-shaped topiary.

The Garden’s cornerstone event is Garden Lights, Holiday Lights, now in its tenth year. It’s the perfect pick-me-up if you’re looking for Christmas cheer. Countless bulbs light up the garden, bringing a smile to even the grinchiest among us.

If you go: 1345 Piedmont Ave NE. Click here for directions and parking instructions.

Garden Lights, Holiday Nights: The 2020 version of this annual event features new safety protocols, so tickets are extremely limited. Get complete pricing, safety information and more.

Is the Membership worth it? : If you’re spending considerable time in Atlanta, I say splurge on the membership. The perks are nice and the family membership pays for itself in two visits.

Shakespeare in Paris

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.

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Sea of Flowers

“It is a land of love and wondrous beauty
Where fragrant flowers ever will grow”

from The Prettiest Flowers by Tim Surrett

No matter how much of a city person you are, there is something magical that happens when you surround yourself in a lush landscape and bathe in the extraordinary colors of flowers in bloom. Luckily, in the Caribbean, you are never too far from being surrounded by natural beauty. Beyond the sun, sea and sand, the region also offers exquisite flora in must-visit botanic gardens and parks. These are a few of my favorite places that feature some of the most unique and picturesque vegetation in the world.

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Falling for Georgia Fall

Pumpkin and cinnamon are my least favorite flavors, so I never had a taste for fall…until I got lost in a field of sunflowers, rolled a wheelbarrow full of pumpkins and stood over a waterfall — all in one 70-degree day.

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The Buena Gente of Atlanta

“What’s the corn dog one?”

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!

Visit them online at buenagenteatl.com and give them a follow on Instagram @buenagenteatl

Fall in Love with Boston in 23 Hours

In the late nineties I cashed in a savings bond gifted to me by my godmother and used the $80 to pay for my first-ever flight. The trip was full of firsts: the first time I saw snow on the ground; the first time I got kicked out of a bar; the first time I saw the lights be turned on in a club to signal the end of the night. It was a thrill ride from the moment my cab drove on the sidewalk to when I stumbled into a comedy show headlined by Wendy Liebman to the simplest of delights of buying tulips at a corner shop.

After two decades, I returned to Boston. And in the span of a day, I rekindled my love for the City on a Hill. If you can spare 23 hours here, she may be able to charm you as well.

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Sweet Home Hialeah

The holiday season is officially in full swing and in the coming days travelers will descend onto congested highways and drab airports to journey to their childhood home or to the home of a marquis family member. I’ll be on a hero’s quest of my own, but nowhere near my hometown. So, on the off chance that your destination is somewhere in South Florida, please consider making a stop on my behalf to the croqueta captial of the world, Hialeah.

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Santa Barbara #Blessed

There is something magical about this place. The beach, the cliffs, the flowers, the trees. They all conspire together to thumb its nose at Los Angeles. Yet, Santa Barbara doesn’t need to be compared to another city to be better than. It earns that distinction on its own. If money and means were available to me, it’s where I would call home…at least part of the year.

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Art Basel: The bourgeoisie and the rebel

Photo courtesy of Flickr creative commons

The first week of December, Art Basel arrives in Miami Beach like an alligator in a swamp. Waiting. Lurking. Watching. And then it leaps out of the murky water with its mouth agape and tail flexing, showing off its massive power over us mere mortals. And we are left with no choice, but to pay the entrance fee and walk into its mouth, which happens to be located at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

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My Fine Feathered Friends from Flamingo Beach, Aruba

It was early November and the fall season air was already brisk. Sweaters and scarves, instead of sandals and spaghetti straps, were staples of my wardrobe. A few months prior I had moved to a new city and, for the first time in my life, I was four hours away from the nearest beach, instead of my usual hard-limit of no more than 45 minutes from door to sand. I needed an escape that required sun, swimming and frosty umbrella drinks, so I looked at a weather map kept heading south until I read 85 degrees and discovered my next destination: Oranjestad.

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