On the Great Storm of 1926, the Enduring Power of Opera, and One Italian News Report of the Event, Act I.



As unforgettable as our experiences of hurricanes may be, the newspaper reports always to follow seem somehow “flat” and (despite the pure power of the event) heavily formulaic. Such accounts reliably blend the following ingredients together into one great repeating gray loop: (1) a range of statistics presuming to take the measure of a storm’s felt strength; (2) the sober recounting of a number of close encounters with disaster, and (3) an initial assessment of the damage and losses the bastard winds have claimed as their toll before finally moving along to torment the next hapless bowling pin of a place.

Somehow, even with all of that information, they still seem to miss the real story every time.

The Great Hurricane of 1926 was an unusual storm, in several respects. First, there was no reliable tracking technology then available, at all. As a result, people could ascertain with full confidence that an important storm was indeed moving in, only because it was HERE! The horror moved in stealthily in the early morning hours of Saturday, September 18, taking the sleeping metropolis by gut-wrenching surprise. Second, it hit the most populated areas of the city fairly dead on; and (to make matters worse) those making up said population were generally completely inexperienced with hurricane storms.


2Caption reads “Bay Shore Drive Fathoms Deep Beneath the Ocean, Miami Hurricane. The Drive runs from the center right up to background. Rowboat in center is directly above submerged Drive.”

Next, even though the bottom had finally fallen out on the City’s badly over-heated real estate “Boom” market the year before, Miami was still very much in the public eye, on a global level and somewhat larger-than-life, primarily because the City itself had laid down focused plans toward that goal, and proceeded to follow them faithfully. It would turn out that the Miami they’d thought the world was to see, was not the one finally shown, at all.



A Contemporary Italian News Magazine.

All of which brings us to the colorful, contemporary “news account” of the event as reported in the Italian news magazine below, illustrating the imagined impact of the storm making landfall on Miami Beach. (Image provided by kind courtesy of the Wolfsonian Archives.) Though almost completely fictitious, it nevertheless has that certain “something” that the American newspapers have always so lacked. Quite often there is a truth in “story” sadly lacking in “fact,” because we *consume* fact as birds might seeds in their beaks, taking these two and leaving that one where it lies. Realizing that much is proffered as “fact” is not, we learn to question agenda, and veracity. We grow suspicious.

It’s somehow very different with stories. Stories, of all kinds, we live and breathe, often unawares. They, unlike “facts,” can inspire, guide, or complete us. We hunger for the right “Story,” because in its lack, there can be no meaning. And it is no extraordinary occurrence for people to perish for its lack. Not quite as quickly as if deprived of oxygen, but not too far behind, either.
Which is perhaps why we remain helpless to resist stories. True, we may reserve (and even fight for) the right to choose one story rather than another, but in the end we simply need a good, working story. Otherwise we have no “reason,” and we lack all direction, and motivation. Soon enough, we wither and die. So we will tend to swallow them whole, or even breathe them in unawares, like the very atmosphere It’s in our deepest nature, and there’s no real fighting it, or struggling to change the fact. Our only real choice, in this respect is to acknowledge the situation or live in denial.

And upon contemplation, this somewhat overwrought image from Italy points up a serious problem with the modern American journalistic approach. And it is this: in some important respects, we have been left completely “out of the story.” The idea occurs to me because, for all of its contrived drama, the Italian illustration is no joke, and (I’d suspect) was drawn in a compassionate rather than mocking spirit . The image might not capture at all how we look or actually behave in the pitch of a horrifying storm, but it sure as Hell hits dead-on, how we feel! And that is something of value, if we are. And I hold that we indeed are. Each of us, without exception and very much so.

Now, about these Italians. Does it not make perfect sense, when you stop to think about it, that the People and culture that first gave us opera, might well have an edge on spinning epic tales of cataclysmic destruction and (hopefully) redemption with the coming dawn, all the while keeping the human heart at its center?

In fact, for all we know, it may be that the assembled cast as shown is only apparently chaotic. Perhaps the scene is in truth carefully choreographed for maximum dramatic impact, and all are in their assigned places upon the stage, joined together even as they struggle in a great mad chorus that we cannot hear!

Who better than those of the culture that gave to us “Dante’s Inferno” might serve as the “Virgil” offering guidance as we find ourselves suddenly submerged into the seven circles of this howling, anarchic subtropical vision of Hell?



“West Flagler St. after the hurricane    Miami, Fla. Sept. 18, 1926.”

Thank you.

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Ruminations Upon the Passing of Another Sacred Day…


As another day slips deeper into its dream of twilight, and a weekend begins that is new in all of creation, never before having been seen or experienced in all of Time, and ours for the taking,

May we find ourselves open to the Magic that is all around, even its slightest touch. Because we forget, and the right touch at the right time can make all the difference, even keeping Hope alive.  May that magic– even if glimpsed only out of the corner of one eye– remind us that “now” is all that any of us ever really have, and the greatest possible gift.
Only “now,” where the angels live, do we take each breath, or touch/ be touched by those we love. May we be reminded of where our real treasure lies.

We stand in need of a miracle, or two. May that horizon be near, possibly even….

Enjoy your evening, and weekend.

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Finding Inspiration “Between the Lines.”

Says the caption:  In the rear of this beautiful wild growth/ There is an orange grove.”

Though some might yawn, or shrug their shoulders and think “So what?,” the words scrawled on this old card with such enthusiasm feel to me very like poetry, and bespeak that sense of almost breathless joy that can touch lightly down upon us, often when least expected but perhaps most needed, if we are able to keep our hearts, eyes, and ears open to a sense of the simply miraculous: in the world around us, within ourselves and in one another, in the daily living out of our lives.

Just look at you! In all the world, there is not one other exactly like you. You are the sole bearer of ancestral dreams that in a sense you were born for, and of which you too are a living part! There is never any shame in fighting a just battle, and some weariness and discouragement may be expected. We all suffer, have sleepless nights, wonder how it has all gone so terribly wrong. And we each of us undergo these torturous experiences together, alone.

Yet ever has it always been. To experience is to struggle and to grow and to learn, and is that not what we are here for? May each day be a truly new beginning for us all, because we have (against all odds) kept hope alive. Even just a bit, like a mustard seed. The difference between even one flickering tiny candle of light, and utter darkness, is bigger by far than the vast distance from the Earth to the Sun. Yet if you set your mind to it, you can find one small candle. Maybe left over from one year’s birthday cake.

Look! Just beyond that beautiful wild growth…there is an orange grove, there!”

Thank you.

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On Artist Denman Fink, & the First Sighting of the Venetian Pool.

     Venetian Pool Raw
(The Art of Denman Fink, Part II)

IF Coral Gables may be seen as “The City Beautiful,” then to many its very heart is reflected in the sparkling waterfalls, sun-dappled light touching upon Old Spanish architectural whimsy, and the cool, clean waters of that inviting lagoon that make up its celebrated Venetian Pool. To step through its wrought iron gates is to return happily once more to a beloved oasis, and awaken to a lovely and refreshing dream. Yet this dream is real, and the spring-fed waters at a constant temperature of 77 degrees no mirage!

“What IS this place?,” we have asked ourselves time and again, with no small wonder. We pause to stop and look, scanning slowly our surroundings even as we once again fall completely under its spell. The place is absolutely convincing in its illusion that both gently aging casino and its lagoon are quite ancient, giving every appearance that centuries have passed here, like so many months on a calendar of the eternal, and the Venetian Pool has been beloved and enjoyed by countless generations, one after the next with another to follow, since before present memory. Yet it seemed exactly so the very day its doors first opened, in 1925, and that is part of its essential genius.

Understanding how this unlikely oasis first took shape only adds to the magic. It all came into being as an ingenious and highly creative solution to a fairly important problem faced by young attorney/ poet/ developer George Merrick and the team he’d enlisted to help move his romantic vision of “the City Beautiful” closer to “planned community.” That problem was an open quarry pit, just over four acres in size, laying open, jagged, and crumbling, flat under the unblinking Florida sun.

Quarry and construction at Venetian Pool site 1923
The pit was what remained after the young new city had excavated from the site impressive quantities of the limestone rock (popularly known as “coral rock”) that had helped build and decorate the grand formal entrances around the city, its earliest public buildings, and some of its first homes. (Including, importantly, the Merrick family home, long a pioneer’s humble wood-frame abode, but now clad in the elegant local stone, and christened “Coral Gables.”)

fink painting“Painting of the Venetian Pool,” by Denman Fink. Here is the first rendering of the site, as conceived by the artist, and the means by which he communicated his vision, complete, to architect Phineas Paist.

So how did we get from that point, to now? Whose audacious brilliance and boundless imagination first dared undertake so great a leap, from scar in the Earth to graceful Venetian Casino crumbling gently by mythic lagoon? The question is answered on the commemorative marker of historic designation placed just outside the pool grounds:

“This pool was originally a quarry from which limestone was dug for the construction of early Coral Gables homes. In 1924, Denman Fink, Artist-Architect and uncle of Coral Gables’ founder George Merrick, transformed it into a unique pool, resembling a natural lagoon in a Venetian setting. His design included bridges, towers, a casino and lush landscaping.”

I reached that conclusion by another route. Since Phineas Paist was the architect of record for the City of Coral Gables, and I had in fact read that he spoke of the pool as “his baby,” there was some confusion on my part as to who had actually conceived of the pool. Then I came across the image below, captioned “Painting of Venetian Pool, by Denman Fink.” I had seen it before and paid it no particular attention, accepting the caption at face value. But this time, I paused to take a closer look, and quickly realized that it was no such thing. Here was the initial visual/working plan, the artistic “blue print” from which Paist’s great and good work was poised to move forward. Fink may or may not have been sitting by the rock pit when he did the painting, but at that point it really did not matter, since the scene depicted existed only in his mind.

ven pool 2_e

If you take a careful look, you will see how closely the architect followed the artist’s’ creative lead. Aside from the larger size and shape of the pool itself, which Fink was at that point presumably able only to surmise, the match is close to exact.

den phinPhineas Paist, (L), and Denman Fink (R) with third party at public event, 1926.

Though Paist had certainly earned “bragging rights” to the Pool for his innovative architectural work, and first quality attention to detail as well as the whole, the name of Denman Fink should not be allowed to fade in its importance. It was he who first dreamed this sweet dream, and thereby gave to us all our Venetian Pool.

Thank you.


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The Amazing Rebirth of the Segregation-Era Hampton House Hotel, and a Window to a Dazzling Era in Miami’s History, Nearly Lost.


A 22 year-old Cassius Clay (soon to take the name by which we still know and love him, today) celebrates his victory as Heavyweight Champion over Sonny Liston earlier that evening in Miami Beach, and mugs for a snapshot being captured by friend Malcolm X. Even though the youth had already earned substantial celebrity, he would not have been welcome at “White” establishments, so he’d invited his friend to join him for a casual celebration at his favorite hangout.  When the boxer visited the swank nightclub, he generally allowed himself a glass of Orange Juice. That special night, flush with intoxicating victory, he splurged on a heaping bowl of his favorite ice cream!

The re-creation of the once-ruined Hampton House, at 4200 NW 27th Avenue in Miami’s deeply troubled neighborhood of Brownsville, happening even now and targeted for completion next year, is little short of a miracle. The story tells how very much a community stands to lose when buildings of historical importance are cast aside like yesterday’s dreams, and left to simply rot away to nothingness in Miami’s extreme weather.

At the same time, though, the story speaks just as clearly of how rich a potential harvest can be yielded—if the crop be measured as the growth of Hope in the Human Heart—when investments are made in honoring and remembering the great events of a previous era, anchored in relationship to a specific neighborhood or place. That harvest shines most brilliantly when the sweeter times have been forgotten altogether “on the streets,” even as story, and neither the battered neighborhood nor its surroundings are associated in any way with “greatness” of any kind, and never have been, as far as most people know.

Today, Brownsville stands out as a veritable garden of urban blight, called “the poorest neighborhood in Miami”– a truly horrifying distinction. Yet it was not always so. Back in 1961, when (paradoxically) racial segregation was the law of the land, it was a thriving, middle-class area with a sense of pride, and room for a dignified and respectable venue that might provide the kind of quality entertainment/ dining/ night “out on the town” experience denied the people a few miles away in Miami Beach, or elsewhere in the City, because of their race.

Wonderful pic, courtesy of Historymiami.org. Caption reads:
“City of Miami. ‘Beauty contestants at Hampton House, 1967 August 16.'” Notation is made as to original caption: “Negro Queens at Hampton House, Miami tour, August 16, 1967.”

At the same time, the once-legendary musical venues of Overtown, notably the Sir John Hotel with its famed Knight Beat Club, and the nearby Mary Elizabeth Hotel, once both so alive and filled with music that the sounds fell like light onto the sidewalk out front, and people were drawn to go and listen.  Some called that particular place Overtown’s “Little Broadway,” and everybody knew just what they meant.  As long as the music was playing, or even if there was a promise of music—everything was different. Life was just a little easier for a moment or two, and sometimes that’s all people really need, to get by.  Just, something.

But now, even those most beloved venues had first lost their old shine, and then, before long, grown disturbingly quiet.  Even when the music had poured forth onto the street, a few last times, many had thought to themselves, without speaking, “Why, where’s….?”  The Hotels, their once-proud owners, the people… they were all showing the strain of a neighborhood’s ruination, all caught up in an ominous “ripple effect” that could not have been easy to ignore.  They had all experienced the ongoing trauma of witnessing with their own eyes, several years running, the heedless, brutal, and purposeful destruction of the only world they had ever really known, or indeed-  been legally permitted to call “their own.”   Early one morning in 1960 the demolition crews had rolled quietly into place on the streets of Overtown, their grotesque and incomprehensible machinery in tow. They were there to destroy, and they meant business.

Miami, 1960: the creation of an unprecedented super-highway first called the North/ South Expressway calls for a ruinous swath of utter destruction several blocks wide, and all the way through near-center of the the mostly Black neighborhood of historic Overtown. The birth of the road today called I-95 signaled the death of a “whole” neighborhood, which is the only way real neighborhoods come into being, if they ever do, or know how to be.   It has never fully recovered.

 And so the demolition job began, reducing to dusted grey rubble every church, school, building, home, and green living thing standing on the blocks-wide swath running clear through the neighborhood’s very center and along the entirety of its length, as broad as the six-lane superhighway that was to run high above (now called I-95), and then some. Block after block after memory-filled block was ground quite literally into dust, leaving nothing recognizable. It was no fair match, for the Human Heart is so very easily broken, while the machinery of iron and steel seemed as if it could go on forever, biting and chewing, spitting out crushed stone, then digging back in for more.

ARETHA!   In an earlier day.

And “forever” is exactly what it must have seemed, at least, because a full five years would pass before the dust would finally be allowed to last settle upon a landscape alien and transformed. By the end of that awful season two additional superhighways, I-395 and State Highway 836, would further bisect and dissect the area, each taking as it would for the imperative of its own construction, leaving that much less of whatever had once been. By 1965, fully half of Overtown’s population had been rudely displaced, and the spirit of a community shattered.


 A glimpse of the extravagant and generally “over the top” showmanship that earned the Sir John its rightful place among the always “on the edge” entertainers of the day!


The need for a suitable refuge of hospitality on the “Black side of the color line” in the segregated world of 1961 was not lost upon Harry and Florence Markowitz, a White Jewish couple who owned a number of properties throughout the area, including that on which the 150-room Hampton House would soon come into being. Even the greatest and most celebrated of traveling Black musical performers were not permitted to stay in “White” Hotels, and thus typically returned to “colored town” (as then known) after having given their all to put on the shows that in some cases became the stuff of legend. And it wasn’t just musicians; business-people of all kinds were called upon to travel to the South Florida area for work, the destination called out to families on vacation, and so forth. It was not an easy time or world within which to be Black, if indeed there has ever been one; ideally travelers would find lodging that might delight rather than depress them.

Inspired by great passion, and yet motivated by (in their words) “good business sense,” the couple moved forward on a calculated “leap of faith,” betting that “If we build it, they will come.” They followed their mad inspiration to re-envision a new kind of hospitality for the area, centered on a “new kind of Hotel” to take shape incorporating the old “bones” of the 1954 “Booker Terrace” Hotel that stood on the premises at the time, slowly dying and losing money every day.  And so it was that the “Hampton House” Hotel was born.

The Hampton House never aspired to fully match the “ultra-luxe” hotel experience available at the finer places on the Beach, nor could it have. Yet it borrowed from its finer contemporaries touches large and small that might help the guests temporarily forget that was the case! The remodeled facility took shape in the clean, simply elegant architectural style now affectionately celebrated as “MiMo” (or “Miami Modern”), boasting a defining sleekness of line, floors of cool terrazzo, graceful wrought-iron railings, and a number of other touches. The building was designed by young architect Robert Karl Frese, who would in time build a reputation as a leading specialist in the delightfully funky motels of the era, responsible for dozens of them around the southeast, a fair number done for such clients as Days Inn and Holiday Inn.

The Hampton House nightclub, in full swing! One neighborhood resident, who remembers, said in an interview: “When [the Hampton House] opened in 1961…it felt like we were onto a gold mine! It was quite a nice place, that we enjoyed and thought of as ‘ours’… We’d head out ‘dressed to the nines,’ and have ourselves a time. We just loved it.”

Inside, the hotel offered not only 150 clean and tastefully-appointed rooms, but a 24-hour restaurant serving quality food on pristine white linen tablecloths, a strictly-enforced dress code for the guests and a “flamboyant” maître d’ wearing gold lame, ready to properly greet and seat them, and a dimly-lit night club/ musical venue showcasing the best live jazz and R & B music happening in town. Since any number of celebrity musicians “adopted” the place as their own while on tour in the “Jim Crow” South, it was not entirely uncommon to be delightfully surprised by an impromptu performance never to be forgotten.

For years running the hotel operated at full occupancy, building a loyal and diverse clientele.  Among the “regulars” was a 22 year-old, loud and motor-mouthed (but nevertheless lovable) boxer named Cassius Clay, soon to be famously known as Muhammad Ali, his friend and mentor Malcolm X, Motown Founder Berry Gordy, and a range of entertainers including (for example) Sammy Davis, Jr., Jackie Robinson, Sam Cooke and Nat King Cole, jazz greats Sarah Vaughan and brothers Nat and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley; chanteuse Nancy Wilson, and rhythm and blues singer LaVern Baker, later inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Also, importantly, the Hotel became “home base” for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during his visits to Miami as called for by the growth and development of his movement. Local members of the Congress for Racial Equality (“CORE”), a key National Civil Rights group, assembled there weekly, and held strategy meetings with Dr. King when he was in town.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,meeting with associates. The FBI was watching.
But so was the World.

The highly esteemed and Internationally Acclaimed Dr. King for the moment allowed to be just “Martin,” feeling at home and among good friends, enjoying the refreshing and always-great feeling taking refuge from Florida’s distinctively smothering heat in the cool waters of a nice pool.

Videotapes exist of two interviews given by Dr. King filmed at the Hampton House in 1963 and ’64, and locals still speak in awe-struck tones of his stirring presentation of a “draft” version of that all-time epic in masterful oratory–“I Have a Dream” — finally delivered unto the world from Washington, DC on August 28, 1963.

The hundreds of thousands of people converged upon the National Mall at the Lincoln Memorial, on Aug. 28, 1963, all about to hear in Dr. King’s unmistakable voice and intonation, “I Have a Dream.” None who were there will ever forget.  (Nor, for that matter, I suppose will anyone else.)

Ironically, it was the death of segregation that signaled the end of an era for the Hampton House. After years of decline, its doors finally closed for good in 1972. Thereafter the building slid steadily into a state of ruinous, very nearly irreversible, decay.

“Hampton House, 2001, before renovation” (Photo credit: Gurri Matute.)
“When architect Daphne Gurri first saw the Hampton House in 2006, it was in a state of total disrepair: The roof and second floor had collapsed; the floor was covered in mud; and a 35-foot ficus tree grew in the middle of the two-story structure.
‘The [trees] uprooted all the walkways, and their roots intertwined with the railings,’ says Gurri, principal and owner of Miami-based Gurri Matute. ‘It was like something from your imagination, like the Sleeping Beauty movie, when the castle is covered with vines.'”
Demolition orders were pending ominously, but despite the deeply dark skies, the final rains never came.

The property was condemned as a dangerous structure and fully deserved to be; orders were issued by the County demanding its demolition forthwith.

Artist’s conception of restored building, upon completion

Meanwhile, a small handful of stubborn and committed community members who remembered, and believed, notably Ms. Enid Pinkney, were able (against all odds!) to stay the pressing demolition, seek and find funding and support for restoration of the property as one of bona fide historic value, and (in short) once again set the Hampton House onto a road to the future filled with possibilities, instead of the final shutting of a last door upon a dead end. It is a remarkable story of a remarkable place.

Thank you.

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Are They STILL Paving Paradise, to Gain a Wal-Mart?



HERE is a story calling for our immediate attention and focus, because the stakes are the highest, and it is happening even now. It involves a fairly simple sale of a 90-acre parcel of land in the Richmond Heights area of South Florida, which may not at first seem relevant to you. But it is, very much so, and in fact you have likely read or heard of it. The headlines read “Endangered Forest to be Destroyed to Make way for Wal-Mart,” or some variation thereof. The real power of the story, and its true importance, lies in the land itself.




Ordinarily, the destruction of Miami’s constantly dwindling native environmental bounty is hardly newsworthy. It has now been well over one hundred years, after all, since Man undertook in earnest his unrelenting and determined assault upon gracious Mother Nature and all of the good gifts she had always offered up so freely here. Not one has been wholly let alone: unmolested, free of meddling, active obstruction, or even being cut off at the root. And in many cases, only out of spite.




Early 1920’s, clearing the land for Carl Fisher’s Nautilus Hotel. Illustration from Florida Enchantments. Captions read:
“Foot by foot, gleaming with sweat, a small army of workmen conquered the rampant jungle. ” Then, “The Nautilus Hotel was destined soon to rise where this dredge sucks hungrily at the bay bottom in its herculean task of covering miles of ugly stumpage with sand fill.” The Nautilus Hotel opened in 1925, with land enough for a “new polo field.”  (Below) The site, completed. below.




Virtually every expression and aspect of her being has been sadly affected, and the campaign even today proceeds apace, with short-sighted politicians and self-infatuated builders/ developers waddling with the self-assured swagger of those who have bought every right to speak to power, in all the right places. Yet not one of these casts of characters can credibly claim ability to birth a living tree. Not even one

Back to the land in question. It is not just any land: far, far from it. It is among the largest remaining intact tracts of an exceedingly rare forest environment set quite apart by the luxurious diversity of plant and animal species to be found (in many cases, only) there, known as the Florida Pines Rockland Habitat. A hundred years ago, the forest thrived on Miami’s higher ground, given its name by the tall, picturesque pines (variously “Slash pine,” or “Dade County Pine”) rising from a lush, lower field of growth, all perched atop the dramatic limestone ridges of the area.








1890’s, “Pure stand of Pinus Elliottii with dense undergrowth in Florida,” Coconut Grove area.

From an estimated once 185,000 original acres, we’re down to 2,000 plus TOTAL, give or take. Which effectively means, the world is down to that amount. The land is that kind of unique.



Florida Pine Rocklands



“Forest Defense is National Defense,” it was once understood.  Poster, 1941.



Yet why does this particular story so stand out? Two primary reasons. First, the land’s seller was our own University of Miami. Second, just as bad, or worse, it sold the land to a Palm Beach development company, Ram Development, knowing that it intended to basically pave over the entire plot (and then some), and anchor the whole undistinguished concrete mediocrity with a Wal-MartStore. The acreage was sold for $22M, despite the fact that the land had been GIFTED to the School by the U.S. Government following its shut down of the Richmond naval Air Base of which the land was originally part.



Landscapes of Miami, 1898.

And you won’t be hearing any comment from the U of M, because it is still “in bed” with the Developer, having granted rights of use to Ram to build to its heart’s mischievous content on an adjacent 40 acres of which it has kept ownership. In other words, it has sold into prostitution outright the bulk of the miraculously virginal land, and exercised a “pimping” option on the remainder. And from one point of view, it’s done well with the transaction. But from another, the idea of an institution so beloved and for so long bearing the City’s very name counting and eagerly re-counting out its pieces of silver for that so precious it has sold, leads only to a feeling of sorrow, and hollow emptiness. If we would help the institution so many of us love, we must ask, “What can it now do to redeem itself?

And despite the nature of the institution, the question is anything but academic.

It’s a stunning heartbreaker. More to come.

Thank you.

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"Awakening Into the Florida Dream:" Observations from Within One of the Greatest.


One of the great “New Deal” or WPA Depression-Era art installations at Coral Way Elementary School in Miami, FL, where I and my siblings studied (among other, less colorful subjects) the Florida Dream. My Father attended the school before us, and his mother taught fifth grade there for decades until her retirement in the early 1960’s.

Man’s true history cannot be written until he knows the self that is beyond time. Then he can write his history, and then he can know his beginning. Then he can know it is not a line, but a circle, ever evolving, ever moving, like infinity. No beginning and no end to it– that’s the history of Man going on and on recreating itself over and over again.

             — Lambertus Ekkart, Love of the Known

Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.

— Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

Reiner Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

The Florida Dream, Bound for Glory.

Your friendly host, at Bear Cut, Key Biscayne, perched precariously out in a mangrove tree doing his best to keep his canvas (below) from becoming a kite without string.

Photo: Chuck Fadely, The Miami Herald

Biscayne Morning___ P. Crockett




HERE follows one man’s chronicles of a most unusual adventure, and I can only hope that by some means unknown it may make safe passage into your good hands. I would gladly provide you with my coordinates, if I could, but that is most unfortunately impossible. Where I now sit writing is not a place subject to pinpointing upon a map. Neither does it appear governed by, or even the least bit interested in, any part of the web of Logic, Law, Divine Justification, etc., found so useful by Man in the exercise of his unfettered lust for control and domination, for Power and for wealth, across the span of centuries.


Moonlight on Biscayne Bay, 1904

IT has been weeks now, you see, since I first set forth upon my venture into the depths of the Great Florida Dream! As you might imagine, it has been a most remarkable journey.

I appear to have “taken the plunge” into one of the most truly singular of Dreams held close in the Human heart, one of its most enduring, generally incomprehensible, and epic living Fables.

I have indeed embarked upon a journey of sorts, and now pause for a moment to write and invite you to join me. I do hope that you might be able to join me, for a while.

Discovery is always much more fun, in the sharing.

 Along the Miami River.

SHOULD you choose to come along for the ride, we will cover a lot of ground and yet not really go anywhere, at least in terms of an actual destination. So if there is one single reason I have undertaken the considerable labor of putting together this illustrated exploration of an ongoing journey, it arises simply from my natural desire to share that which I most love.

(Though quite honestly, I have come to realize that only well along the path.)

Key Biscayne Trail

Key Biscayne Trail _____P. Crockett

MORE than anything else, then, this account is a personal celebration, and nothing would give your faithful correspondent greater pleasure than for you to simply enjoy it.


To look at the pictures.



Should you by chance happen to find any of the words or ideas herein worth the keeping, if only for further consideration, excellent.

Yet if you find here instead simply a few moments of pleasant diversion, I shall count my endeavor a great success.

Miami as “Playground”: a recurring theme for a City in search of its identity.

Yet in “selling” the promise of its very intimate, personal connections with this particularly flirtatious and elusive Siren, the City is far from alone.

Daytona Shores []

Gables Playground POSTFrom Coral Gables Today, 1926



SO please do enjoy. Oh, and Yes

allow yourself to just imagine.

It’s good for the soul.

The Miami River Rapids, late 1890’s, near the location of today’s 27th Avenue. People tend to think of Florida as completely flat, but in actuality early surveys measured Lake Okeechobee at a mean of twenty feet above sea level. Over the centuries the river’s mighty force had worn its way through the limestone “basin” of the Everglade’s edge at the Miami’s source.

From here the water came “tumbling out, falling 10 feet within a distance of 300 yards.” It was described as a spot of extraordinary beauty. Destroyed by dynamite, early 20th century. Entrance to Everglades, at Miami, 1908. (Below)


Poinciana (Still Proud)

Poinciana (Still Proud) P. Crockett

SO many marvels to consider…

PC 2 

If ever an antique photo might weep for its lack of color, this could be it. Just imagine the scene, above, when the Earth was so very much younger. 1908, Pictured Knowledge, an illustrated encyclopedia for children.

You’ve got to love a group of adults with the good sense to enjoy the simple pleasure of sitting together up in a tree. Coconut Grove, 1880’s. The “Hunting Grounds” noted can be seen on the map of the area, 1859, below.

The area would later become the site of Charles Deering’s home on the Bay, in the Cutler Ridge/ Palmetto Bay area.

Draining the Everglades Eugene Savage


Seminole, 1904.

Rarely has a tribal community served so constantly, so well, and so long for the projections of everybody else. We have never really known them at all, and cannot now presume to say different for their current ownership of a Hard Rock Cafe Hotel and Gambling Casino with an actual street address, in Hollywood, FL.

 A “Florida Western,” 1951. (Below) Here, the Injuns swim murderously beneath the “quicksand” waters, leap like screeching demons from the trees, and God-knows-what-all else.

My friend Jane Reno was of the opinion that the colorful and festive garb now so completely identified with the Seminole was essentially a protective adaptation, facilitated by the timely introduction of the sewing machine, distinguishing theirs from the Black community in the notably hateful and violent Jim Crow South.

I have not counted the number of images presented here, but it’s certainly been (easily!) enough to melt my mind! And the journey is just underfoot..

Please do not feel rushed, or any need to absorb it all at one sitting. Play with seeing what you might think you know from other perspectives or points of view, completely…

Sometimes even a different vantage point can offer forth an entirely new range of possibilities. You might want to allow some time in your life to pause and enjoy them, simply for whatever they might have to offer.

Just a little “dreaming” time.

Ocean Drive, Miami Beach 1912

 From Coral Gables: A Perfect City 1926

THEY have no other plans and should be around, if you feel like coming back for another visit. Any time of the day or night, really, is completely all right with them.

In fact, images love being appreciated, really seen, ideally being remembered in a good way. It feels to them even an important part of what they are here for; appreciation helps keep them proud and alive. Otherwise colors will start to fade, lines grow indistinct. Just a little, at first…


So please, drop on by whenever the idea might occur to you. You will find this a wonderful, private place to relax and just breathe.

It’s always cool in the shade here, and quiet. The sound of the fountain is like music, even if it is purely imaginary.

You are always welcome.

The journey will continue shortly.

Thank you for coming along.

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“Have You a Hero?”

 ONE evening a few weeks back, I heard Alan call out “Hey Paul, come see.  Your Liz is on TV again!”  I dropped what I was doing and sprinted in to catch a glimpse. “Never a dull moment with that one,” I mused of the one-of-a-kind Liz Schwartz, whom I felt so privileged to have served as a mentor in the practice of Law, aspiring to help and teach her as the extraordinary Richard Milstein had, me. “Never has been.”  As I entered the room, Alan turned to me quizzically.  “I’ll be damned,” I said out loud, “the time has come.”  I saw in an instant that Liz had made the fateful decision to share her true identity with the world, at last. Alan nodded slowly, in so innocent and solemn a manner I found it endearing.  A moment later, more or less thinking out loud, he asked “Damn, how many times is that girl going to come out?”  Standing momentarily transfixed in the glow of the TV screen, I replied slowly,  “As many times as it will take, I guess.”

 “As many times as it will take.”

leaf page

IT seems our unfortunate lot to live in the “Post-Hero Age.” When was the last time you can remember hearing anyone speak of having a hero, of any kind, in a tone of sincerity and/or gratitude?  For a number of reasons, it’s just not cool.  “Heroes” can fall off their pedestals and break your heart on the way down; there’s no such thing in the real world, so what’s the point of telling fairy tales, & etc.  The path of cynicism might be cold, barren, and bleak, but it is safe.  (And, guaranteed to be cool.)  This is what we are teaching our children, through lessons both spoken and learned in the living. And you may rest assured they are always listening, quite carefully, even if busily pretending they’re not, at all.

Why? Because there is something in the Human heart, deeper by far than reason, quite willing to await as long as it takes (and even unto eternity) the glorious hour of the hero’s promised arrival, at last! It may be a need neglected, but remains one that we all share.  And it is a noble impulse.  How are we to step forward into a world brighter and greater, less mean and more just and kind, without allowing ourselves even occasional glimpses of living inspiration?

In this respect we have forgotten something fundamental: that  “Heroism” is much less about “projecting our gold onto others,” and giving our power away, than it is celebrating the best in ourselves by recognizing in others the qualities we admire—something closer to whomever it is that we might like to be—and borrowing from them both inspiration and courage to act. To be a little bigger and bolder, so that you can step into that bigger world, waiting.

I see heroes all around and often, where many will simply pass them by exactly as if invisible, because I know that among the very greatest are those often least celebrated.  For example: those who awake to yet another cold morning, exhausted and very near despair, able to imagine no possible way that they will be able to “pull it all off” yet again, and do all that may be expected of them.  To make it through another day.

And yet they get out of bed anyway, and put on their socks and underwear, or pantyhose, and they move forward.  Surely the angels themselves must look down with humbled awe upon so great and powerful an everyday miracle.  They would have to.

leaf pageIF you have no heroes in your life, you really should consider finding some.  It’s fine to start with just one.  And if upon reflection it should dawn on you that any personal heroes brighten the days of your life, then for God’s sake, tell them!  Quite possibly they have no idea, and may be feeling deeply lonesome inside, or believe they have nothing left to give.  Go ahead.  It will cost you nothing, and quite possibly leave you both refreshed and deeply enriched.

Thank you.

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Around Villa Vizcaya: Panoramic Views of Front Entrance, Garden Spot

When perusing the Photography Pages of the Skyscraper Forum  there’s no way of knowing what all one is likely to encounter.  If you enjoy architecture, or history, or take an interest in world cultures, or happen to be passionate about any one or more of the great cities around the globe, past, present, or future, there will be something there for you.

Last night I happened upon an intriguing “thread” (or sub-forum), titled Worldwide Scrollable Panoramas Collection.  As the name suggests, I found there some “navigable” 360 degree photographs that I found fascinating, capturing every detail above, below, and in all directions.   The sites were all over the globe.  A search for “Miami” yielded  several awesome panoramas: South Beach, both deco buildings and jetty, a marina, Biscayne Bay, La Ermita de la Caridad  Catholic Chapel by the Bay, sharing the grounds of LaSalle High School off South Miami Avenue.

Pano 2Above, below: other Images from the Miami area.

Pano 1

And, much to my delight, a couple great ones of the current focus of my historical obsession and journey into historical research, Villa Vizcaya.

I’ve not even yet read the instructions on navigation myself, but what I have learned is, don’t be surprised if you spend some time at a giddy angle  in the sky above, upside down!  Take it slow; once you’ve clicked on the image it starts doing its thing, and the panorama almost moves itself.  Two “basics” about the controls: they’re very responsive, so a little goes a long way.  Second, they operate backwards.  So if you want to pan upwards, move the cursor downwards, and the same gos for left and right.  You’ll see.

Some things are easier just plunging in.  Maybe that’s why I never read the damn directions on anything until it’s too late!

Hope you enjoy them, as I did.

Vizcaya Entrance in USA

No. 2: “The Niche:” That Unique Portal Between Gardens, Vizcaya,


Vizcaya The Niche in USA

Thank you.

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"One Prayer’s Journey Back Home:" On the Sacred Love of Pets.

alan love hoppers DT

 WHEREVER Love is, there are quite often strains of Divine Grace in evidence, if one knows how to look, and almost without exception, mystery. A dear friend once shared with me an idea I’ve not forgotten, having to do with a special role played by pets in our lives. At the time, he was undergoing a Hellish torment, for his Mother had recently passed away, and she had meant the world to him. My God!  How he loved her! And how could he not, she who had taught this loving man so much of everything that he knew about Love?  His grief in the wake of her passing was almost too much to bear.

You may note that the word “almost” in the sentence preceding is quite obviously critical, and it applied to my friend, he explained in so many words, because of a cat he had loved.  She had been his first. “Paul, I’ve been thinking about something.  About pets, and why they come into our lives.  I know it’s for a reason, and there’s  definitely some deeper purpose behind it all. And I’ve realized that a big part of it is… they come to help teach us about death.  Because we love them, and… you know, their life spans are shorter.  So they usually die first.”

“So, through them, we experience the realities of love and death. And we learn.  Many times, it’s our first lesson.  And that knowing is not like something we can ever forget.  It. stays with us.”

Love LostMY friend had loved this cat for many years, well before I’d known him, and been loved by her.  She had been not just any kind of loveable cat, but one that seemed made especially for him. How she delighted him!  And even more she had stuck with him through thick and thin, like the bravest kind of soldier.  And that is saying a great deal, because in those days that dreadful uninvited guest known as AIDS had crept into the party to wreak its boundless havoc, and its dark and murderous shadow lay long and deep upon the land.

 Suddenly trapped like so many others in an excruciating Hell all his own, he wrestled in mortal struggle with its relentless and unpredictable attacks. Episodic illness would spring from the blue like a vicious predator, clutching him hard with cold bone fingers that burned like fire.  It was no fair fight; my friend was weakened already by raging fevers that unaccountably came and went, and often struggled to simply keep down any food or drink at all, before the explosive diarrhea would hit.  He survived some of these skirmishes only barely, the breath knocked out of him and feeling as if he’d washed up on some hostile alien shore far away from home, left with neither any energy at all, nor the first clue as to how he might begin finding his way back.

 There’s really no describing the horror of it, to anybody.  But the cat saw it all, serving as steadfast “witness.”  To one utterly alone that is itself no small miracle, but the gifts only began there.  She stood by him, always, in that subtle yet most definite manner of being “present” sometimes unappreciated by those likely to announce that they just aren’t “cat people,” who lack either the patience or willingness to understand.  Why overlook any form of love, ever?

Not once did this cat turn away, no matter what, and neither did she ever desert him in his most forlorn hours of greatest need.   When that shiftless dark shadow again moved in for the kill, merciless and meaning business,  she would not leave her station at his side until he had won another tentative round.  And there she would remain until he had fallen at last into that hard-earned fitful sleep belonging to the bloodied victor, too battle-scarred and exhausted at heart to feel…anything at all.  But still: a victor.


In those awful months, throughout those interminable and dreadful years, the night had never seemed so dark, nor its shadows as long and ominous.  But still the cat remained in place, zen-like, missing not a thing yet still purring gently, and soft to the touch. Somehow in her gentle way, without effort, she kept loneliness safely at bay from him as no other Human ever could have.

IT turned out that my friend, thank God, was one of the survivors.  But nothing lasts forever, and there came a day when the long-faithful cat had lived out all the days of a good, full life, and her hour arrived for a rest richly deserved.  And though by the Grace of God my friend was by then back on his feet with the sun shining above, the life force once nearly depleted within him once again strong and all around him, he felt sick at heart and weaker than even a tiny candle flame in a loud and howling wind.  And no one else could hear it, at all. 

It wasn’t so much that he wanted to die, when the news of the  cat’s condition began to really sink in.  Truth was, he was just tired in the heart of his heart: tired of fighting for his life, tired of enduring still more funerals, and all of the rest.  Really, he just wanted to go with her. He yearned so badly to protect her, to comfort her and keep her safe, to return in some small measure all that she had so freely given unto him.

But that was not to be, for her time had come.  There was nothing to be done.



 SO my friend took the opportunity to spend one last night together alone with her, there in the very bedroom where they had fought and played side by side, dreamed and prayed, and known love.  That evening his heart shattered like glass inside of him, once and then over and over again, more times than he would have imagined possible.   He wept and he wept until he could cry no more.  He cried out to the Heavens in a voice grown hoarse, he pleaded.  Finally words left him altogether and he could only whimper, broken.

And all the while, he touched his beloved tenderly, for she was by then in some pain.  He looked into her knowing eyes, helpless, and was comforted.  For even still she did not, would not turn away, and her eyes saw all, yet only smiled back.  Though her systems were surely forever shutting down, she was fully at peace, and could feel only blessed.  In her eyes, my friend saw only love’s light.

So there she lay in her usual place, exactly as if things were normal and she were not perched precariously on the keening edge of a bottomless dark abyss.  She stayed close-by as always, her bearing still regal and resolute, purring like a loud motor with her entire being.  But inside her poor tired body was falling gently apart, and he knew that tomorrow she would purr no more.  And neither would she be there by his side to keep vigilant watch over him as he slept, or greet him with joy upon his awakening.  The very idea was unthinkable!  But all that was tomorrow, damn it!

He took those hours to caress and to love her, to sing softly into her ears the old songs she loved best and had always known, some from the Soul of Cuba and others born on the charts in the USA. (Astonishingly, the cat was bilingual!)   He said his (“even if they AREN’T forever”) Goodbyes, and Adios, and expressed to her as much of his gratitude and love as he was able, and could humanly bear.

There must remain some mercy after all, because he finally passed outwhere he lay, utterly spent, his head next to hers.  Looking down at his tear-streaked face, she nudged in ever so gently closer to him. Just before passing into a deep sleep herself, with her last waking thought on that last evening, she prayed simply “Keep my Daddy safe, God. And comfort him, because he still believes that death means we’ll be apart.”   Her tail (grown quite thin) grew still and wrapped close about her as she shut her eyes and gracefully, quietly, gently, followed the one she loved into dreamland.



And it was exactly because he loved her so that the following afternoon she was set free, and suffered no more.  Yet it seemed that his had only just begun.  There was no measuring the depth of his sorrow.  The times most cruel arose in the very dark of night, when from  time to time he would dream of her, and feel her sleeping peacefully just by his side as before, happy, healthy and warm!  More than half-asleep, heart swelling with joy, he would reach out to pet and greet her…  but she was not there.  He found there only her favorite blanket, cold to the touch. In the ruinous desolation of such moments it seemed to him as if even its soul had likewise taken flight and fled away from him.

Sometimes he could only weep. He was inconsolable. No one was able to really understand, at all. And how could they?

Angel 2
IN that relentless way of happening that life sometimes has, it came to pass that within the space of eight or nine months his Mother died suddenly.  The huge heart within her breast gave out without warning, widowing the helpless husband of many decades who had lived for her, and utterly shattering yet again the tentative heart of my grieving friend.

You see, he and his Mother had shared a sacred relationship, always, too powerful by far to be captured rightly by any presumptuous words. One night he’d called me at 2:00 am with shaky voice, apologetic for the hour, but terrified by his high fever and body’s uncontrollable shivering. He asked if I would come pray with him,  hold his hands and sit, oh, it didn’t really matter, just come! He lived only a short drive away, and I was there in minutes.  His exhausted, sweet Mother met me at the door, and saw me upstairs to the bedroom.  She was short and heavy-set,  her shape almost circular, or oval.  And at one point I had watched her climb on top of her son, balanced upon the burning flesh of his chest in an effort to draw some of the killing heat away from him.

It was an unforgettable sight, and a blessing to behold.  To this day, I doubt that I’ve seen maternal love expressed more purely, under such urgent circumstances.  There was nothing she could do, really, but she was doing all she could.

I will always be grateful to have been there that night.  Because of it, I understood the real depth of the love they shared  just a little bit better, and thus its attendant loss.  There are times when such understanding might be the best one who cares really has to offer.

____________________.  . 

And though it was true enough  that in the wake of his Mother’s death he was devastated all over again, this time…  it was different.  He later told me, “If I hadn’t lost [La Gata] when I did, I just cannot imagine any way on Earth that I could have possibly endured the loss of my Mother.”  It was exactly as if his beloved cat, in her passing, had bestowed upon him some great final gift worth more than any treasure. Who can say?  The entire matter remains fully mysterious, as I suppose it must be. Besides, any “explanations” might well be completely beside the point, or even counter-productive.  Some mysteries are sufficient, left alone.

Ad yet: the miracle remains!

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