Category: Miami

Whenever I see the image of the Ebola virus, I hear the theme from Jaws in my head.






If you think about it, that ubiquitous photo  does have  a predatory aquatic quality to it.

But I doubt that’s why my mind relates the two.  I’m waiting for Time Magazine to annoint this “The Summer of the Ebola Virus.”  In 2001 the world, particularly the media, seemed to be convinced that suddenly sharks had begun preying on innocent swimmers worldwide. Shark attacks were front page news, experts debated why this was happening and how we might protect ourselves. Only thing was, there was no particular upsurge in shark attacks that year. In fact the year before there had been more attacks and more fatalities.

This particular “crisis” is just as skewed. Don’t get me wrong Ebola is serious. It’s a very infectious and deadly disease. But let’s put some things in perspective. With the exception of health workers who were brought back after contracting Ebola while working in West Africa, there have been two cases of Ebola in the U.S.  Thomas Duncan, who is the first Ebola victim to die in the U.S., contracted the disease in Liberia and traveled here before realizing he had been infected. And now one of the nurses who cared for him has become the first person in the U.S. to contract Ebola on American soil. This is troubling. But both these cases happened in one city, Dallas. The U.S. has over 317 million people and is 3 million square miles (that’s just the contiguous U.S.) I don’t think we need to head for the bunkers yet.

I live in Miami. A young woman yesterday called me concerned about whether she should take her child to the hospital because he might contract Ebola. She seemed to feel that Ebola was everywhere. I explained how Ebola is transmitted and why she should not worry at this point. But it got me thinking. How many mothers or fathers will wait or refuse to get medical help for a sick child because they fear Ebola? How many flu victims will be shunned and demonized because people worry they have Ebola?

The Ebola story is important and  has to be reported. But the constant speculation, fear mongering and 24/7 focus on the U.S. Ebola victims is doing a disservice not only to people here, but to the thousands of victims in Africa. Because ironically, about a month ago I saw a letter to the editor complaining about the U.S. sending troops to help with the Ebola virus. The gist of the letter was that it was a waste of American taxpayer money. This latest outbreak could have been greatly reduced if resources and people had been directed to the problem earlier.

When all this calms down, I hope the lesson we take away is that what happens in Africa, Asia, anywhere is no longer just “their” problem. Terrorism, disease, even wars now travel throughout the world. When we help, and I don’t mean send troops and guns, but resources and practical assistance, we’re doing this for our own benefit as well as the benefit of those at the other end.






Issues of citizenship, nationality and belonging have been in the news recently. The great ‘immigration debate’ rages as Americans try to wrestle with exactly when someone becomes “American”. But these questions are not just abstract legal issues or economic ones. They represent an essential component of how we define who we are. For the vast majority of people in the world, this poses no problem. But for some of us  – and our numbers are growing — questions arise.
Citizenship is a legal term, it refers to a country within which you, as a citizen, have certain rights and for whom the government has certain responsibilities. You can have, as do  I and many I know, dual, triple or even quadruple citizenship. You can get citizenship through birth, from your parents, from your spouse or through legal means such as naturalization. Citizenship is conferred differently by different countries. In some, it’s fairly difficult to attain. In others, quite easy.

Nationality is less precise. According to my American Heritage Dictionary, nationality is “the status of belonging to a particular nation by origin, birth or naturalization.” or “a people having common origins or traditions”. But what nationality are you if you’re born one place, of parents of another country and grew up yet somewhere else? Nationality can be defined by others. The Chinese government reserves the right to claim as Chinese nationals all ethnic Chinese from any community anywhere in the world, regardless of how long it has been since any family member has ever set foot in China. A friend of mine who was of Japanese descent – several generations ago – found it very difficult when she visited Japan because she found that there was an expectation that despite her foreign ‘citizenship’, upbringing etc. that she would continue to be fully and completely ‘Japanese’ including how she walked, talked and moved. She told me she grew tired of being criticized for how she stood while waiting for a subway.

For me, questions such as “Where are you from?” Or “What are you?” always provoked a feeling of discomfort. Where was I from? I was born in Brazil, spent little time in the U.S. growing up so certainly I didn’t feel as if I was from the U.S. But did that make me ‘Brazilian’? Not really. My parents were from the United States, I received a largely U.S. style education, and spent much of my adult life representing the U.S. overseas. So I must be ‘American’.

I spent only four years of my first 18 in the U.S., the rest I was in Guatemala, Cuba and Brazil. When I was a teenager I was so rabidly, wholeheartedly and fanatically Brazilian, that my American parents, fearing I would lose my American identity entirely, insisted in my returning to the U.S. to go to college. When they moved to Tunisia during my college years, I ended up with no family or roots to return to in Brazil, so I settled into life in the U.S. Ironically because I wanted to get back overseas, I ended up becoming an American foreign service officer and took as my job ‘explaining America’ to the rest of the world But I never relinquished my Brazilian citizenship and I always maintained a brazilian heart.

My latest ‘identity crisis’ was triggered by  the World Cup. The World Cup tested my national loyalties. I have now lived and worked in so many countries – in North America, South America, Africa and the Far East – that I have emotional ties to them all. When Spain faced Tunisia, who should I root for? When the U.S. faced Ghana? (Sorry, but I just had to root for the Africans on this one). What about when Brazil faced Ghana? How I envied those friends whose loyalties were clear.
But then I remembered two important points. First, while it may be confusing and at times lonely feeling no strong sense of belonging to one place, I get such great joy from feeling connected to so many places.  As the World Cup went on those who rooted so passionately for one team, lost so much after their team was eliminated. But I just kept finding a new team to which I had an emotional attachment.

Secondly my sense of belonging in the U.S. as a whole may be tenuous at times, but I do very much feel a part of Miami.  After all, Miami is  the community version of me. So many loyalties, so many identities, so many citizenships. I could hardly have found a more appropriate place to live.

And finally as I fret about my multiple identities I can’t help but be aware of the millions of refugees that don’t have any — no citizenship, no nationality, no home. So now I’ll stop worrying about my crisis of too many identities and  focus on ways — however small — I can help those who have lost all  of theirs.

Every once in a while I push myself to do something I’ve just been too chicken to try. A while ago I decided to skydive. I had gotten a pilot’s license (small single-engine planes) while I was living in Kenya. But I when skydiving came up, I would assert that I saw “no reason to jump out of a perfectly good airplane.”

Truth is I have a terror of falling and was sure I wouldn’t even make it out of the plane, much less survive the actual skydive (I’m not the most graceful or athletic). But one day a friend was talking about her skydiving experience and I found myself wondering if I dared.1916437_1190578448020_6490572_n

Before I could talk myself out of it, I called a small skydiving company in South Miami and booked myself a dive (tandem, of course).

I decided to make the trip down alone just in case I chickened out or made a total ass of myself. It was a perfect morning — bright blue sky, not too hot, not too cold.

As I crawled in the small, rickety, old plane that was piloted by a young man who I doubted was out of high school, I figured I had a better chance of dying from the plane falling apart than from the dive.

1916437_1190578488021_2487389_nWhen I got over the shock of flying with an open side door (I was sitting right next to it), the hard part turned out to be getting my legs to swing out in preparation for the drop. My head kept saying move, the legs were adamant that they wanted to stay right where they were. But eventually we were all set. 1916437_1190578688026_5500300_n (1)

Then my instructor and I were out the door free falling. What a sensation.

After a minute or so the chute opened. And we drifted peacefully over open countryside. There was no sound, no distraction, no fear. Just gentle rocking.


I had worried about the landing. But my instructor guided us in so carefully I barely felt my butt meet the ground.

The result: An amazing experience, truly the thrill of a lifetime.

The temperature is in the upper nineties here in Miami, the air thick with tropical humidity.
So today I dream of far off lands: Antarctica, the Lemaire Channel. P1000299

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce again Art Basel’s satellite fairs are invading Midtown, Miami (where I live).

Last year there were three main fairs with tents covering about four city blocks.

This year there are at least six.  Every open area (with one exception where I suspect exhibitors will be parked) is covered by a tent.Scope Exhibit Tent

Even the large city block park that lies between the condos of Midtown and the Midtown shopping area has gone under.

Dog park exhibit



Yesterday they invaded the little bit of grass where my dogs could play.

Today they blocked off one road to create a tented walkthrough from one exhibit hall to another.

By Wednesday trucks and workers will be replaced by people and traffic.

I anticipate not being able to leave Midtown for five days, but what a glorious glut of art I’ll have on my doorstep.

And to rest my eyes I’ll sit on my balcony, drink my wine and just enjoy the Christmas-Salsa-Jazz-Rap that wafts up from the tent city below.

The 2012 Miami Book Fair International

I love volunteering for the Miami Book Fair.

For one week I get to focus on reading and authors.  I meet authors I’ve long admired and learn about authors I’ve managed to miss.  And in the process I catch glimpses into the world of the writer and of the book publishing industry.

This year I attended a literary death match held at Bardot, a local trendy night spot.   Four new young, published authors read from their works and competed for the praise of the judges and the adoration of the assembled masses.  In the meantime, a pop-up book exchange allowed the crowd a chance to pick through older books to find unread treasures.  I ended up with a slim volume by Isaac Asimov and a paperback by Joyce Carol Oates.  Who says reading isn’t cool?

Couldn’t resist having my photo taken with Da Chen.

But my highlight was meeting Da Chen, a Chinese memoirist and novelist, currently living in the U.S.

Not only was I introduced to writing about China and Chinese cultural that is engaging and authentic,  but Da Chen himself is a delightful human being.  I am now savoring his latest novel, My Last Empress.  And enjoying the personal Chinese calligraphy he did for me in lieu of signing the book (which I managed to forget to have with me).

Miami is often dismissed as a city with “no culture” and a superficial, brainless population.   But in 1984 Mitch Kaplan, a local book store owner, started a modest book fair which with the support of the Miami-Dade Community College and the residents of Miami has been transformed into the largest book fair in the U.S.   Now authors and people come from all over to participate and enjoy what the Miami Book Fair has to offer.

The bad news is that it’s over for this year.  And like a child after Christmas, I hate that I’ll have to wait a whole year before it rolls around again.

In the meantime, I’ll just have to content myself with all the new reading I’ve lined up to do.