Sunday, April 30, 2006

Whole Foods, Eat your Heart Out

Gardening isn't really my thing. Except when tomatoes cost over $2/pound. Then I'm all green thumbs. Here are some of my own 100% organic non-genetically modified yet disconcertingly large tomatoes. Makes me wonder about what's in Miami Beach water.....

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Aventura Magazine Rocks Sushi House

A strip mall is not normally where you'd find a rollicking, well-dressed, sunset soiree. Unless of course you live in South Florida in which case a strip mall constitutes 70% of most locations.

Last week Aventura Magazine welcomed new hotshot on the Biscayne block Sushi House for a grand opening smorgasboard to rival any Bar Mitzvah. The free drinks were flowing, and the sushi chefs could not make their fancy tempura/jalpeno/spicy octopus concoctions fast enough for this wily crowd. There was much feasting on tuna tartare on tortilla chips, ceviche, and seaweed salad galore.
The crowd was...mixed. There were trendy young professionals with cute dresses and fun haircuts and then there was the geriatric Williams Island crowd. Except these people must be the crazy rich types who tear napkins in half to make the stack last longer because they were chowing that free tempura like there was no tomorrow.

The Sushi House aims high, though. With decor that harkens the early days of the Delano (white curtains and lucite chandeliers, anyone?) and a long sleek marble bar running through the middle of the spacious room, this place may become the Ivy's only competition in Aventura for the legions of young professionals that live there and prefer not to drive 10 miles for dining in stylish surroundings.

This pic says it all - notice the dude on the left. Yeah, he likey his red winey.

Jane Jacobs, in Memoriam

Jane Jacobs died yesterday. And the world lost a fantastic thinker. Her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities introduced me to thinking citically about urban planning, neighborhoods, and the general functioning of these beasts (love them though we do) we call cities. She is the reason I ride a folding bike to work, why I am thankful I can walk to my local grocery store, why everytime a developer proposes new highways or gated communities I cringe. From the Times obituary:

Her impact transcended borders. Basing her findings on deep, eclectic reading and firsthand observation, Jacobs challenged assumptions she believed damaged modern cities -- that neighborhoods should be isolated from each other, that an empty street was safer than a crowded one, that the car represented progress over the pedestrian.

Her priorities were for integrated, manageable communities, for diversity of people, transportation, architecture and commerce. She also believed that economies need to be self-sustaining and self-renewing, relying on local initiative instead of centralized bureaucracies.

We have Jacobs to thank for Washington Square Park not being a highway, for parks that have benches so people can socialize (though the idea was booed for fear that would encourage loitering and homeslessness), for streets that have vibrant "stoop life" rather than bright lights (which accomplish nothing if someone is getting mugged - people stop crime, not lights). For mixed use neighborhoods. Everytime I pass by a refurbished municipality that is dangerous and deserted at night (San Francisco) or ride through neighborhood with highrises and no communal areas (Brickell in Miami), I think about Jacobs. In short, JJ was an awesome woman, a fierce mind who influenced the world for better.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Free Cone Day!

Stop what you are doing right now and head over to the closest Ben & Jerry's. In addition to the free i-cream madness, they are running a contest for new wacky names! Might I suggest the "All Purpose Dark Crunch," a blend of mocha ice cream, pomegranate juice swirls, and nuggets of crunchy wisdom.

Inside Out Magazine Celebrates w/ Jonathan Adler

I have been a 'lil busy the past couple of days and thus a naughty blogger. Do forgive me, love, and though these party pics be a bit tardy, enjoy the revelry post-haste.
Onto the festivities!

Last week Jonathan Adler played host to Florida Inside Out magazine's one-year anniversary at his charming Lincoln Road store. It seems like only yesterday when I hoisted sails up to a Boca Raton Robb & Stucky store to welcome the new mag and was thoroughly impressed with the high-level content and layout. The Jonathan Adler store was jam-packed with local design and magazine glitterati and happy, luxe, nostalgic home furnishings. Jonathan (wearing the green polo on the right) was hospitable and friendly, kind of like his decorative pillows.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Free Outdoor Movies!

Every Wednesday night in May! Grab a slice at Andiamo and enjoy. Two out of the five movies feature J. Lo!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Shopping-Writing is Genius

Sure, the "Thursday Styles" section in the NYTimes is consumerist-heavy and far from pressing news. It's the only section of the Times that may actually cause brain atrophy. Alex Kuczynski's "Critical Shopper" column is the single redeeming feature of the section. How else would readers know that the Abercrombie and Fitch flagship store in New York has hearing-damaged salespeople? But The New Republic takes aim at the frothy section with a biting essay on the paper's seeming self-aware embrace of materialism.
In fact, it's precisely this simultaneous mocking of, and wallowing in, our luxe-life obsession that makes "Critical Shopper" a creation of Frankensteinian genius. Plenty of Times readers may be dying to hear every last detail about the parking lot at Fred Segal's Melrose Avenue store, but some may feel a twinge of shame about their aggressive acquisitiveness. After all, the Times is bringing luxury porn to a much broader audience than, say, Millionaire or Rich Guy magazine. Those publications are preaching to the choir of conspicuous consumption--to readers who not only have scads of money but have few qualms, if any, about spending it ostentatiously. "Thursday Styles," by contrast, is seeking new converts, reassuring its more skeptical readers that there's really nothing wrong with showing off their good fortune. This is delicate work considering that even many ultra-affluent Times readers belong to the ambivalently wealthy ranks of the "Bourgeois Bohemians" profiled so piquantly in now-Timesman David Brooks's 2000 classic, Bobos in Paradise.
The term "luxury porn" seems a bit excessive, but catchy nonetheless.

Free Zagat Guide

Help the Zagat's people do their job by filling out their NYC restaurant survey. These guides are "semi-useful" as directories and absolutely useless if you're looking for "candid," reviews that are "accurate," and composed by "discerning" writers who "compile" restaurant "reviews" for a living.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Sea Turtles Are Spiritual Creatures

Lest you think all the condos, hotels, and speedboats have taken over, a giant leatherback comes ashore to remind us all that South Florida is an episode of "Wild Kingdom" always in progress.

Nature paid Miami Beach a little visit this weekend in the form of a 1,000 pound sea turtle laying her eggs in the sand. It was a glorious site with all varieties of beachgoers (pajama-clad toddlers to sweating morning joggers) gathering around and marveling at the miracle of birth. It was also an opportunity for a nature lesson for all the kids and adults in attendance. Apparently sea turtles lay anywhere from 90-120 eggs at a time. After covering them with sand the mama goes back out to sea leaving the ones to incubate for 90 days. It's Survival of the Fittest. Kind of like Miami herself.
Photo courtesy of B. Ahern of M D P & R

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Traveling Jerusalem Without Leaving

NYTimes Jerusalem Bureau chief Steve Erlanger must be getting really antsy in Israel these days. What with Sharon's coma, suicide bombings being few and far between (thank God) , and Ehud Olmert's BORING election, there's not much to write about in the world's most newsed-about city. How else to explain why the paper gave the greenlight for this tired travel piece on Jerusalem? Oh, how I wish they had sent him on a vacay to Dubai.

Erlanger's mind-numbing hook, "Jerusalem is a city built on struggle and rivalry among gods and tribes and those who misuse them," is so obvious, so uninsightful, it sets you up adequately for the yawning to come.

His central thesis, that Jerusalem is a city in flux, an epicenter of tension and change and therefore a compelling place to visit, is composed so clunkily that the LAST thing you'd do is board a non-stop to Tel Aviv.

Jerusalem is at peace, but not with itself. There is anxiety on the streets; every ring on the cellphone thrums with alarm. When I travel between West and East, especially on a Saturday, the city feels fragile, its anxieties cloistered by the wall that surrounds most of the city and cuts through part of it.

For many travelers, that fragility is a compelling reason to visit Jerusalem now to experience an extraordinary city at an extraordinary time, and to see it as a modern city of contention, not just as a Biblical Disneyland.

Yeah, sign me up for a trip to contention-ville. What about a little journalism trick called "color"? You know, the sights, the sounds, the smells, what you observe walking through the alleyways, the fruit and spice markets, even the suburban shopping mall? You're still in the Middle East, buddy, there's more than just politics and archeology to write about. Here Erlanger's lack of talent betrays him. Over and over again he falls prey to the worst thing a writer can do in a travel piece - he tells rather than shows. Especially in a place where there is so much to show, these pedestrian observations are pure laziness. Here's an illustration:

Farther down the hill, you can also see evidence of the extensive dam and tunnel system dug by King Hezekiah in 700 B.C. to ensure that water from the Gihon Spring could be brought inside the walls of the city when the Assyrians besieged it, and to hide the spring itself from enemy eyes. The huge cistern appears to be Caananite, and it is oddly moving to hear the water rushing as it did two millenniums ago. I note the irony of the Palestinian workers, who see themselves as descendants of the Caananites, laboring for the Israeli Antiquities Authority in a tourist area controlled by a foundation that wants to implant more Jews in their neighborhood, Silwan.

It would have been nice to get oh, I dunno, a QUOTE from one of those aforementioned Palestinians. You know, one of those methods by which a reader knows you've actually spoken to the "natives" and recorded their point of view.Embarrassingly the only poetry in the article comes by way of an astute tour guide:
The Romans, like Americans, says Avner Goren, an archeologist and guide, had their vision of how best to organize human communities— in cities of a certain design, with sanitation and walls and straight streets. "They brought their one truth to this place of many truths and faiths," he says, pointing to the site of the new Roman city they built, now the "Old City." The Roman effort to eradicate the early Christians lasted about 250 years. Eventually, Constantine decided to take the religion of what had become the majority of his subjects, and his mother, Helena, and he built a new church where Jesus had been crucified, where Hadrian had put a temple to Aphrodite.
This article had me yearning for the days of James Bennet with his graceful phrasing ("bouquet of microphones") and coverage that truly tackled the complexities and imperfections of this contested land. Even on his slow days we had elegiac pieces on Palestinians children flying kites in Gaza, conversations with young soldiers criss-crossing the country on bus rides home, quasi-comical renderings of almost being kidnapped by Palestinians. Sure, he had his flaws, but reporting from Jerusalem is both the best and worst assignment for any journalist. Both sides will inevitably find fault with the ways the "facts" are presented. But at least JB was entertaining.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Free trips and those that bash them

This opinion piece in the JPost is troubling. First, the writing is sloppy and not particularly thoughtful - it is rampant with large generalized statements that are rarely backed up by authoritative tools (like quotes from professors, rabbis, Jewish professionals, you know, the people who WORK with young Jews). Secondly, it appears the author has never spoken to a birthright israel participant, otherwise he would know how meaningful the trip is to every participant, irrespective of Jewish background. For example, the author immediately assumes birthright israel is for "apathetic" young Jews.
Nothing comes easy like water from a faucet. One has to work hard to achieve something of value. When something is given away for free, you can deduce it is not worth much. To crown someone with the grand Jewish prize of coming to Israel - for being Jewishly apathetic is to tell that person: Judaism is cheap.
Actually, no the program does not cheapen the meaning of Judaism or the experience of visiting Israel with a peer group. And the trip benefits EVERYONE, not only unaffiliated Jews, but observant Jews who could otherwise not afford a trip to Israel.

His central question,
"Would it not have been wiser for wealthy Jews to have invested the approximately $250 million spent on birthright thus far on building academically prestigious Jewish day-schools that go through high school?" implies that the impact of Jewish day schools is felt by all varieties of Jews within the community, but that's far from reality. In fact, Jewish day schools appeal to those already within the fold, those who have bought into Jewish education and are connected to the community. Even if Jewish schools were as competitive and academically rigorous as elite private schools, (some already are) the segment of Jews who are dissociated from the mainstream Jewish community would never send their kids to a full-time Jewish educational institution. The genius of birthright israel is that it is a short-term, no strings attached, completely free gift.....with no explicitly stated agenda.

Try getting 100,000 young adults to agree to 4 + years of a dual curriculum educational experience, and then calculate that success rate.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Tourists in Israel - Better Writing Subjects?

Writing fiction about Israel always presents issues, the most pressing being whether to mention or not to mention living with "the situation." Aaron Hamburger's essay in Zeek well demonstrates this dilemma. He talks about how in the summer of 2000 he set out to research a book about the gay community in Israel but he couldn't avoid talking about the conflict. So he ends up writing about the next most interesting phenomenon in Israel - the hordes of American tourists that populate Israel's streets year-round.

Hamburger writes:

My biggest problem, however, was that in the summer of 2000 the gay community, like everyone else in Israel, had much bigger fish to fry. A novel about gay life in Israel without mentioning the Palestinian issue would have meant writing science fiction.

So I gave up my idea of writing about Israel and became a tourist. I visited a friend staying at the Hilton while chaperoning a Singles’ Mission to Israel. I toured the City of David Archeological Park and got lost in Hezekiah’s water tunnel. I mingled with the teenagers wandering down the pedestrian mall of Ben Yehuda Street at night and overheard a young man in a backwards baseball cap express his desire for a hot Israeli girlfriend despite the fact that he didn’t speak Hebrew: “Sha-LOM! That’s all the Hebrew I need!” And one afternoon toward the end of my trip, I took a moment to sit near the Western Wall and reflect on the time and money I’d wasted. Beside me sat a middle-aged couple from America. The husband turned to his wife and asked, “So has this trip been a meaningful experience for you?”

This ties in nicely with Yehuda Amichai's poem "Tourists."

Visits of condolence is all we get from them.
They squat at the Holocaust Memorial,
They put on grave faces at the Wailing Wall
And they laugh behind heavy curtains
In their hotels.
They have their pictures taken
Together with our famous dead
At Rachel's Tomb and Herzl's Tomb
And on Ammunition Hill.
They weep over our sweet boys
And lust after our tough girls
And hang up their underwear
To dry quickly
In cool, blue bathrooms.
Once I sat on the steps by agate at David's Tower, I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists was standing around their guide and I became their target marker. "You see that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there's an arch from the Roman period. Just right of his head." "But he's moving, he's moving!" I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them, "You see that arch from the Roman period? It's not important: but next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who's bought fruit and vegetables for his family."

Perhaps Hamburger's book will speak to some of the questions that Amichai opens up and addresses so beautifully in this poem.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Patrick McMullan "Kiss Kiss" Party @ The Delano

The Delano played host last night to uber-hip night life photographer Patrick McMullan in honor of Kiss Kiss, his super-thick tome of celeb shots doing what pretty people do best - math equations? Nope. Kissing! This being Miami, land of the kiss-hello, there was plenty of lip-smacking going on all night. And Mr. McMullan was there to capture it all. The crowd was aided in this activity by bountiful amounts of Pravda vodka, which is Russian for "truth" and "justice," or "massive hangover the next day due to the generous pours of Delano bartenders."

Celebs in attendance included Russell Simmons (sans Kimora Lee) and Ingrid Casares who manages to have the same look and maintain its fabulousness for how many years now?

This man never rests! Have a drink, take a seat by the Infiniti pool, have a shrimp skewer! Patrick, you've earned it. The need to document beautiful people doing attractive things is so great; the burden is his to bear.

See, now we're talking. It's fun getting your pic taken!

Zeitgeist Launch

The Design District welcomed new addition Zeitgeist to neighborhood Tuesday night. Featuring German-crafted high-concept lighting, flooring, and a space-age kitchen console that literally transforms into a dining table and stovetop, this place is off the hook. Or maybe it's the copious amounts of Champagne and spaetzle talking. There were lots of Germans there, that's for sure.

At some point everyone donned comically-large 3-D glasses for a presentation about a warehouse that for some reason looked the same with and without the dorky specs. Or maybe that was the Champagne again....

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Spirituality ain't Cheap

Rumor has it that Esther, the artist formerly known as Madonna, will be in attendance at the Kabbalah Centre's annual Passover "Great Escape" at the Diplomat Hotel. At about $600/night (depending on which package you choose) it's a bargain for the chance to rub shoulders with Ms. Blonde Ambition at the 5,000-person communal Seder and optional pilates class. I found their description of the transformative power of Pesach really enticing:
Pesach is a 15-step procedure that unlocks the chains of this critical voice. Over the course of eight days, your actions on Pesach generate the raw energy needed to free yourself from your self-imposed prison. It means finally tasting life's true and lasting pleasures.
If that 15-step procedure invloves eating lots and lots of Kabbalah Matzah, "injected with 5,000 year-old kabbalistic meditations," then I am going to need a bag of Kabbalah prunes in order to free myself from that "self-imposed" prision. I also like how the first night's Seder is alotted about 4 hours - that sounds about right, after all, I'm sure Madge's rendition of "Dayenu" takes a good 20 min - and the second night, dinner and the seder are given a whopping hour. Guess that night they offer CliffsNotes version of self-fullfillmant via the Haggadah. Sign me up, Berg family, sign me up.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Key Lime Foam Rules!

We may live in a glorified swamp, but you can still find avant-garde cuisine in Miami. Here's a few places worth checking out when you're craving a tomato popsicle or coconut milk sponge. Yummy, just like grandma used to make!

Some Tam-Tams with your Manishewitz-tinis?

The NYTimes reports on hipster Jews and their tenuous relationship with synagogues about a year too late. That's ok, better late than only in the Jewish press. Is it still newsworthy that young Jews are looking to connect with Judaism in untraditional ways? What bugs me about these pieces is that they assume Jews want similar experiences that they get at bars/parties from their Jewish institutions. Says one oracle:
"Everything in the world nowadays is about marketing," she said. "If Judaism is really slow and boring and doesn't try to do anything to compete with the parties and the music and the movies, it's going to lose."
Mmm, no, I disagree. Judaism does not need to be re-branded or marketed. Judaism needs to be investigated. I don't expect my local Beth ____ to be the nexus of all things cool and hip. That would be apocalyptic. You don't have to bring drinks and yoga to the synagogue, leave those things where they belong - at your local bar/yoga studio. Perhaps what these young folks are looking for is to be engaged. I think more of these hipsters would be attending synagogue if the sermons were thought-provoking, if the crowds were welcoming to new people, if the memberships fees were not so high. Let's stop pretending Judaism needs to be cool, it doesn't; certain people may feel that it is and that's why they do it, others do it anyway because there are compelling aspects to it. I like the idea of "multiple entry points" to Jewish tradition, but leave the Manishewitz-tinis out of it, please.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Clap Your Hands and Say Talking Heads

I recommend this New York mag story on "grups," grown-ups who redefine adulthood by refusing to actually grow up. The generation gap is no more, parents are dressing cooler than their kids, and, basically, the world is coming to an end.
The casualty of all this? Good music that each generation calls its own. Writer Adam Sternbergh explicates:
Once upon a time, pop culture, and in particular pop music, followed a certain reliable pattern: People listened to bands, like the Doobie Brothers or Cream or Steely Dan, that their Frank Sinatra–loving parents absolutely despised. Then these people had kids, and their kids became teens, and they started listening to bands, like the Clash or Elvis Costello or Joy Division, that their Cream-loving parents absolutely despised. And, lo, the Lord looked down and saw that it was good, and on the eighth day, He created the generation gap.

And then these Clash-listening kids grew up and had kids of their own, and the next generation of kids started listening to music, like Franz Ferdinand and Interpol and Bloc Party, that you might assume their parents would absolutely despise. Except it doesnÂ’t really work that way anymore. In part, because how can their parents hate Interpol when they sound exactly like Joy Division? And in part, because how can their parents hate Bloc Party when their parents just downloaded Bloc Party and think itÂ’s awesome and totally better than the Bravery!

This, of course, is a seismic shift in intergenerational relationships. It means there is no fundamental generation gap anymore. This is unprecedented in human history. And itÂ’s kind of weird.

It's so true. Hasn't anyone noticed that Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah sound EXACTLY like the Talking Heads? Seriously, they should be embarrassed. It's perfectly fine for bands to emulate the geniuses that precededed them, and even to pay homage by covering songs or borrowing riffs, but really, sometimes while listening to CYSY I find myself waiting for "...And you may ask yourself...." and I'm all shoot! Where is David Byrne in all this madness?