Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dogs Are a Woman’s Best Friend

The Kampong ficus tree sculpture
The ficus at the Kampong. 

Yesterday, I drove through one of my favorite areas of Coral Gables, delivering leftovers from a delicious saffron-infused seafood paella I had made over the weekend. First stop, my parents -- for whom I’m still caregiving -- and second stop, my sister's home.

I always take this detour to admire an amazing banyan tree. There are glorious banyans all over this tropical and lush section of Coral Gables, but this one in particular is like the Taj Majal of banyans – competing locally for that title only with other extraordinary Ficus benghalensis growing locally at Pinecrest Gardens, Pine Tree Park in Miami Beach, The Kampong in Coconut Grove and the Edison Estate on the gulf coast.

While driving, I saw a dog in the middle of the road, a rather dangerous place to be, as cars coming around the corner can’t see oncoming traffic right away. Drivers should steer cautiously here.

I’ve driven through this bend hundreds of times, but I had never seen this dog.

The scruffy, silver-haired dog was small, looking a bit worse for wear. I noticed a collar and I followed it to a dead end street, thinking it might be lost and that I would help return it to its rightful owner.

Or I rather like to think she led me to the dead end street.

As I got out of the car, she plopped down next to a bowl of water and some dog biscuits. And then the furry creature barked viciously at me.  “Uh-oh,” I thought. "Here’s an alpha dog protecting her property."

“Ok, sweetheart,” I said out loud. “I was just trying to see if you were ok.”

Within seconds, a wizened woman came out of the house. With whiskers on her chin and grey hair wrapped up in a ponytail, she reminded me of fairy tales, where I might meet an old crone in a forest of mossed-draped oaks, acorns, saw grass palms and magical banyans.

But despite her age, she was also in remarkable shape.  She had clearly been an athlete and a bombshell, to boot.

We chatted for about half an hour. A few minutes into conversation, the dog sniffed around my feet and licked my toes.  And the previously aggressive canine seemed to tell me, “Ok, you’re cool, you’re allowed here.” Then the four-legged guardian pawed a little area in the dirt and took a nap.

Was it new friends meeting or old friends meeting anew?

I would hear an incredible tale from this woman about how she used to live in Hawaii, not far from where my brother currently resides. What are the odds? She told me about how she won competitions in surfing and outrigger canoeing, the former a sport my brother practices. She was even a stuntwoman in film.  We discussed Kaneohe, the North Shore, the current economic state of Honolulu, shaved ice and Kahuku shrimp, double rainbows and mai tais.  We were both transported, she perhaps to another time, when it was all about marriage and kids.  Me, just an amazing vacation I had been blessed with when visiting my brother and sister-in-law.

I felt the aloha spirit, right here in Miami, where you least expect it -- a random moment in an afternoon filled with kindness, compassion, harmony, the breath of life -- all because of a dog and a tree.

I saw that aloha spirit in this widowed grandmother, in that wrinkled, toothless face.  I saw it in some of the most beautiful, lively blue eyes I have ever seen, beaming vitality.  I saw myself in her.  “Will I be like this when I’m in my eighties, forty years from now?” I asked silently.

It was challenging to let go of the conversation, but I had to leave. I asked her name even though I wasn’t sure if I would ever see her again. I knew I had made a new friend, all because of a scruffy dog who seemed to be wandering around aimlessly, but like a barking oracle, clearly had a purpose.

Maybe I was lost and it was guiding me.

Perhaps the trees really are magical in this enchanted forest.

And now this banyan means even more to me.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Living in Love Even When You're Single

Tropical Eagles
I drew this on the deck of a Windjammer sailboat in the Caribbean, oh so many years ago.

After a considerably long time in a state of celibacy, I met a great guy – very unexpectedly.

He literally walked into my life. I was perusing some artwork in a gallery I wasn’t even supposed to visit that evening. A friend brought me there on the way to a party. There I was, living in my own protective bubble – what I now call the “la la land of singlehood” -- and he just started talking to me like he had known me forever. It was as simple as that. So yes, ladies, love does happen when you least expect it.

At first, I panicked a little, because within ten minutes of our happy banter, he was twirling me around in a hilarious attempt to dance a tango, right there, on the spot, beautifully spontaneous. And the next day, we would dance more, looking into each other’s eyes, smiling brightly and shining in our souls, all of which led to an amazing first electric kiss.

I decided then and there to just let go of my fears and insecurities. No more protective bubble, no more la la land. I said yes to the universe. I took the risk. It was scary as hell. And wonderful as all that.

We would then continue this dance in the heart, body and soul space for three months. And like a true tango, there were moments of sheer elation as well as the inevitable tension of awkward push and pull. Although it seems that the man leads, he actually follows the woman, yet she must also be receptive to a lead that is generously given. And when the tango is perfectly balanced, ying and yang entwined, both hearts and bodies come to a space of mutual understanding and intimacy in the hectic and distracting pace of life.

We had that miracle … for a spell.

But sometimes, the dance takes a pause. The ballroom suddenly becomes resoundingly empty. Footsteps on the wooden floor become silent. Glasses no longer clink. Dance shoes come off, in exhaustion. The lights darken. Joy fades into memory.

Pain, past and ego gets in the way of love. It shouldn’t, love should conquer all, but there you have it. A very hard lesson for me to learn: a man and a woman can love each other and yet not be right for each other.

I'm grateful for what he taught me. I know I’m ready to love immensely. Not just in a tantric way for a sexual lover, but extending my passion to all aspects of my life, including charity. How can my heart be so full and expanded, even when it is hurt? Because love does that to you – it makes you grow in ways you never thought you could, even when he may not be the right guy for you.

Love isn’t just what he gives you, but the compassion, forgiveness and thoughtfulness that grows inside you. By avoiding love, I could never overcome what was holding me back from love. The ground was never fertile. And with him, I blossomed into the woman that was hiding behind a shield, the woman I always wanted to be, one capable of extraordinary love.

Love was always there, but I wasn’t open to it until I met him. It’s something bigger than me, but part of me.

This was the wonderful gift he gave me, for which I am very grateful.

Love is boundless, but sometimes you have to set boundaries. I’m human, after all, and I have to honor what is right for me in my particular circumstances. But damn it, I did give it a good go and I’m OK with that.

Being vulnerable to receiving and giving love is a huge risk, but one well worth it when you surrender to the idea that it’s your birthright.

No more celibacy for me. I’m ready for the one who is right for me.

So to all my single ladies out there, I say this to you: give yourself the gift of love, even if it means things might not work out the way you expected. We’re not all fated to have just one dance partner in life. So dance away that tango, even through the awkward push and pull. Give it a chance.

Don’t give up. And I don’t ever want to hear there are no men capable of loving, because the first one who has to be capable is you and you won’t know unless you try.

Live in a state of grace and love already, even before you meet the guy. If love is what you want, get out of la la land.

And when you do meet him, muster up that courage.

PS … I’m doing HeartCamp again next year. Save the date for February 2, 2013. I’m looking forward to Heart’s Desire being part of the event next year.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sex and the Beach Wins Best Art/Culture Blog!

Thanks to friends for sharing this special moment with me!

Wow, I am so very humbled and grateful. Thanks to everyone who voted for Sex and the Beach in the New Times South Florida Web Awards and extra love to New Times for nominating the blog!  Also, congratulations to the nominees and winners in other categories.

There are other many fine art/culture blogs in our community as well. Find them over on the blog roll at South Florida Daily Blog.

I just loved what New Times had to say about Sex and the Beach:
"Not to be confused with the ill-fated expo by a similar name (the blog came first), this off-the-cuff look at Miami living covers lots more than its namesake topic. From adventures at sea and Hialeah history, Maria de los Angeles has been repping the 305  for seven years and counting through in-depth observations and spot-on humor. (Fun fact: in true alter ego style, Maria also lives on as Twitter's own @ViceQueenMaria.)"
After seven years of blogging, now I'm inspired even more to keep at it!

See the slideshow from the party and read the recap at Cultist in Miami New Times.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Yo Soy Hialeah: Bargain Shopping

Part three of several stories about Hialeah.

bargain shopping miami hialeah
"Lizette" knows a good bargain when she sees one.

The third installment of Yo Soy Hialeah focuses on two iconic stores, Ño Que Barato! and Ño Que Caché.

Hialeah Bargain Shopping wasn’t easy to film, mainly because Miami native comedian Freddy Stebbins had us in stitches as we improvised. Stebbins, who is really from “Miami-uh” — that old-time southern city before the influx of Cubans — grew up during the influx, in a transitional cross-cultural setting, deeply appreciating Hispanic culture while living in a traditional gringo household. It’s this dichotomy that inspires his humor today and his love for Hialeah, a place where he used to go shopping as a kid.

"El Gringo" thinks he's ready for a night out in South Beach.


Click here if the embedded video doesn't appear.


Sex and the Beach interviewed Serafín Blanco, the owner and founder of Ño Que Barato and Ño Que Caché, over the phone.

Blanco left Cuba in the late 60s as a teen, landing in Spain before settling in Miami and reuniting with his parents in 1970. He left high school early to become a self-made entrepreneur, working in the then thriving Hialeah textile industry.

He married, made a family and worked hard, but things in the fabric world would eventually change. Pressure from manufacturing in China, South and Central America forced him to use surplus fabric to make his own clothes — batas de casa (housewife robes), tshirts, tank tops and so on. In 1992, he opened his first store Clothing Machine, which was right next to Dollar Machine. Eventually, this would become El Dollarazo, which the Blanco family still owns today.

Clothing Machine obviously didn’t have a catchy name.

Blanco opened Ño Que Barato in 1996, but at first it was just called Que Barato, which translates literally as "how inexpensive." Cuban comedian Alvarez Guedes, and the fact that many Cubans use the word coño pretty much in every sentence, inspired Blanco to add the loaded two-letter abbreviation ño next to the words Que Barato on the storefront wall, where he happened to have enough space for the now famous syllable.

The word coño isn’t easy to translate. It can mean many things I can’t publish here, including words starting with SH and FU. Just as in English we use those SH and FU words in myriad ways, so do Cubans use the C word in many positive and negative connotations.

In this case, it’s an emphasis word, meaning “[insert expletive here], that’s cheap!” If I had my way, I’d translate it thusly: “What a f*cking bargain!”

Today, the Ño stores are a landmark in Hialeah, still family owned and family run. Blanco’s daughter had the idea for Baby Caché, which opened in 2002 and is part of Ño Que Caché. This discount store offers a great variety of baby items for canastilla, the trousseau of sorts for newborns, as well as plentiful clothing options for men, women and children. Caché Fiestas next door hosts an entertainment facility for kid parties.

The story of Serafín Blanco is yet another great chapter in entrepreneurship from Hialeah. “We’ve had our ups and downs,” Blanco said. “But we keep moving forward.”

Hialeah Bargain Shopping was created in collaboration with Oscar Piloto. To reach Freddy, find him on Facebook.  We filmed Freddy as he was getting ready and warming up for his "Lizette" character. Click here for some hilarious out takes.

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Big One That Got Away

everglades national park fishing florida bay
Heaven for any Florida back country angler.  Frank Key near Flamingo.

Last month, I made a pilgrimage back to Everglades National Park where I first got hooked on fishing.  It had been a over a decade since I experienced the pristine and uncluttered environment of Florida Bay west of the Florida Keys, where I used to pore over navigation charts while Sir Fish A Lot steered our flats boat. I recognized the keys, channels and mazes of mangroves immediately, as if they were long lost friends.  I breathed a sigh of relief. I was home.

I met my guide, Captain Ted Wilson, just before dawn at Bud N' Mary's Marina in Islamorada.  I knew I was in good hands as he has been fishing and exploring the same body of water for 19 years and guiding professionally for 17.  He knows this vast expanse of skinny waters intimately.  And it's no ordinary body of water -- cradled by the Atlantic to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the west, Florida Bay is a unique ecosystem, with fresh water flowing in from the north.

After about twenty minutes cruising west, we stopped close to a mangrove with good current to cast net some bait.  And then I was reminded why I love fishing the area so much; it's not just about the fish, but also about witnessing nature first-hand, away from the high-energy distractions of urban Miami.

Man-o-war birds, cormorants and pelicans were gathered around their nests, waking up to the sun's gentle morning light.

Cast Netting for Live Bait florida bay captain ted wilson
Cast netting for pilchards in Florida Bay early in the morning.

florida keys birds nesting rookery mangrove
Scattered throughout Florida Bay and the park, these mangroves support much wildlife.

As we approached the Flamingo area of the park, we also passed by Frank Key where we tried to net more bait -- my guide actually gave me a mini-lesson in handling a boat! -- but the water was too shallow. We did spook some large sting rays that we could see clearly over the thick grass beds.

In 2005, Hurricane Wilma denuded the west side of the key and wiped out nesting areas for Roseate Spoonbills, so boat traffic and fishing is prohibited around the periphery of the key from November to April.

Near Flamingo, we looked for diving sea terns -- a sign that ladyfish might also be feeding -- so we deployed light tackle. Captain Wilson and I had fun casting for ladyfish although we did manage to pull up a few slimy, grunting catfish.  He told me about another client from Louisiana who would dehook them with his own hands, even though their spiny dorsal fins can prick skin, resulting in painful injury.

With a rod in my hand, all was aligned in the universe -- that moment when you know you're doing exactly what you love and your heart is in it completely.  That's what fishing does for me; it forces me to be in the present. I was beginning to connect with my tackle. I was beginning to bond with nature.  I was warming up unconsciously for what I never imagined would be in store for me this day.

After Captain Wilson was satisfied with amount of bait in the live well, we headed further west to East Cape Sable, which is closer to the Gulf of Mexico.  Here we saw dozens of majestic loggerhead turtles with sandy Cape Sable beach as a stunning backdrop.

Location Coordinates in Florida Bay
Even though we were out in the middle of nowhere, I managed to get my iPhone  to work.

We saw some tarpon rolling, so Captain Wilson quickly prepared the tackle. Using 30# conventional gear, we hooked a live ladyfish across the nose on a 7/0 Owner hook and then drifted it back behind a float with 10 feet of 100-pound monofilament for leader.  Within minutes, the much anticipated screech of the line told me I had hooked a tarpon.

Captain Wilson reminded me to "bow to the king," leaving some slack in the line when the fish jumped.  I'll admit I was a little nervous, although my guide was an excellent teacher. But with an estimated 80 pound tarpon at the end of my line, the heart started racing!  The silver king is a formidable fish and alas, after about five minutes, it spit the hook out on a jump.

We kept trying for tarpon but sharks were eating up the ladyfish bait and cutting the monofilament leader, so Captain Wilson put out an additional rod with steel leader and an ounce of lead with half a ladyfish on the bottom.

I had told Captain Wilson that I had always wanted to catch a big one and boy, I should be careful what I wish for.  I hooked two fish, the first was most likely a Black Tip or Bull Shark that managed to shear through the metal leader within minutes.

And then arrived my come to Jesus moment.

Another screech on the line, a rod in my hand and what felt like a Mac truck speeding away from the boat. What the hell was I thinking? Could I physically handle this challenge?  How would I muster up the strength? It didn't take long for my right bicep and left forearm muscles to start burning. I'm no tiny girl, but whatever was on the end of that line was decidedly bigger than me and that's over 200 pounds.

At one point, Captain Wilson put a rod holder belt on me and I remembered what Betty Bauman of Ladies, Let's Go Fishing taught me about reeling in big fish -- squat, tuck your tailbone in and don't muscle it.  But I was really struggling and doubting myself at this point. Captain Wilson coached me again and reminded me to not work the reel so hard. I let the fish run and then reeled in the line, but it was never easy. I had connected with a creature to be respected, monstrous in size.

Half an hour into this fight, when I had the fish so close to the boat, when my stamina was all but gone, it simply spit the hook and let go. We never saw it.

Not photographing my fish is the best conservation policy.  But here's what a sawfish looks like; the species has long rostrum.  Photo by p medved via Flickr.

Exhausted yet exhilarated, I wasn't sure what to feel.  It was frustrating, to be sure, but it was also a fair fight between woman and beautiful beast.  And even if I never spotted the amazing creature, I had done something I didn't know I was capable of doing, something I had never done before.  I may have "lost" the fish, but I "found" me.

What was on the end of that line? Captain Wilson made an educated guess. Based on the fish's behavior it was most likely a colossal sawfish of about 400 pounds.  We were targeting shark but sawfish do roam these waters.  Sawfish are a protected species and I was relieved that the fish let go without a hook.

Captain Wilson asked me if I wanted to try again but I was beat and wanted to switch to light tackle, so we headed over to Snake Bight, where the tide was low.  Roseate spoonbills were feeding in the shallow water.  A common mirage effect on the flats makes the birds look like towering giants from a distance.  Without much wind, the dead silence of the Everglades magnifies the high-pitched squeal of an osprey or the honk of a heron.  These are sounds I love.

We poled to the mangroves and cast for snook, using 7-foot spinning outfits loaded with 15# braided line, 3 feet of 30-pound flourocarbon for leader and 2/0 Owner hooks with live pilchards.  We caught and released several juvenile snook, which was a good indication that snook populations were bouncing back after the winter freeze two years ago that killed so many fish.

Captain Ted Wilson Poling the Boat in Snake Bight at Everglades National Park
Poling in the shallow waters of Snake Bight.

Captain Ted Wilson with a Juvenile Snook in Everglades National Park
It's good to see snook populations on the rise.  All fish were released safely using a dehooker.

On the way back to the marina, I reflected on how I had just spent half a day in one of my most favorite places in the world, the Everglades, my heart soothed by this contact with nature.  Even though fishing happens on the water, it's a very grounding experience. I was immensely grateful for the physical battle that taught me spiritually to trust my own strength and determination. The fish is a great and humbling teacher.

Flats Fishing Buff Fashion
Fishing fashion isn't particularly sexy but it's good to get back to port with minimal sun and wind damage to the skin.


Fishing is in Captain Ted Wilson's blood -- he has been doing it since he was a kid. He grew up in Florida and moved to the Florida Keys after graduating from the University of Florida.  This fishing guide lives in Islamorada with his wife and five-year old daughter. The little one is already learning to be a great angler and participates in kids' tournaments.  In fact, a week after my own trip, she won Championship Angler in her age group for the Keys Kids Fishing Derby.

Find Captain Ted Wilson online for additional information about fishing and nature tours.


Learn more about Sawfish protection and tagging studies at Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. If you do catch and release one, report it for scientific research.