Overture: Miami

Before I went to the Bahamas, I had to learn how to have open eyes – it’s a contradictory sort of preparation. My advisor and her mentor, Drs. Amelia Moore and Kenny Broad respectively, suggested the Ethnographic Workshop held for grad students at the Abess Center at University of Miami. I threw my trip together and, after a condensed week at Reed where hours were seconds and feelings sliced through my days like paper cuts, I left for Miami. I hadn’t quite considered the commitment I was making by traveling from the Pacific Northwest to the Atlantic Southeast. I left my dorm at 4:30 am but got stuck in Texas at noon: tornadoes and hail are not conducive to flight. 18 hours later I stumbled into the Freehand in South Beach.

speeding past glowing things on the boardwalk
speeding past glowing things – moon, neon, window- on the boardwalk

South Beach is all Art Deco and neon. High heels and tight skirts and white cuban shirts and a man rocking out to Shaggy on a toy sax. Me wandering up and down the boardwalk winking at tourist who all seemed to be eating pasta Alfredo or enough paella to kill a horse. The white buildings like sentinels along the boardwalk both designed a future in their form and provided a canvas for color, for people still on the street. A double-fisted futurism, making room for the people who painted the streets and filled hotel rooms with imaginations and capital as well as an answer for where their imaginings might go. Anyways.

The workshop was, briefly, extremely helpful if straight forward. The presenter, a researcher of Hooliganism in latin american sport and Brazilian climate scientists, gave a brief disciplinary history of ethnography, some horror stories, some models, and some ways to frame our personal approaches to our research. The sentiments of W.H.R. Rivers still resonate: the abstract should always be approached through the concrete, language is fickle, &c. I hope I can trust that if I listen genuinely enough, not just to words, I can tell a real story where I actually choose the framework (so some framework doesn’t just use me). Baby anthropologist here, sorry.

meowmi
meowmi

I spent most of my free time with a cold  hitting the streets with youthful energy and curiosity. I was encouraged to check out Wynwood, a “up-and-coming”/it already came/gentrified to the point of pricing out young artists, even/”Artists neighborhood” for its monthly arts walk. Propagated by the same clan that made SoHo chic, Wynwood is packed with galleries and gorgeous graffiti. The high quality graffiti is all part of a pattern of land speculation that I’ll write about it a bit. See the graffiti gallery below!

TW: Hella Fried Fish. Another afternoon I walked up through Little Havana to Versailles, a major hub for local Cuban exiles, tourists, and anti-Castro politics. I’d walked north to Calle Ocho from the Venetian Pools and stumbled in hot and flustered. Dissuaded by a long line I slid up to the take-out bar and grabbed a menu. A woman next to me in white shirt and fedora, a regular, tapped my shoulder. “Is that your natural color? What a great cut. Have you eaten here before? You have to have the snapper – this is real Cuban, I come all the time but only here for snapper.” In poor spanish I attempted a question about the size of the dish but apparently I just made the order: he came back with a huge brown bag. Around the corner at the bus stop bench I opened the container. I had overestimated. It was an entire fried fish. This poor bastard had been straight up dunked in a vat of oil on my behalf. My plastic fork was not going to cut it. I grabbed the Deep Fried Red Snapper with my hands.

lil H

What followed must have looked like a scene from Lord of the Flies. On the side of the city street I ate with my hands, lemon juice everywhere, no napkin was enough. Drivers’-by faces were twisted from confusion to horror. It was delicious. Optimistically, I am now deeply familiar with the anatomy of snappers.

I’m in The Bahamas now, about to do reading before fieldwork tomorrow, but I’m absolutely wiped. I still have a final to write but I feel like my heart and head are all over the place. I keep meeting men whose faces look like a shark’s. Until more sophisticated thoughts emerge, I beg patience.

Love,

Rennie

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