I wish I could take the best of Miami and bring it to Melbourne and the best of Melbourne and bring it to Miami.
Caribbean and Latin Food
Melbourne could use a few more people from the Caribbean and Central and South America. Then they could all set up restaurants and I wouldn’t miss Jamaican jerk chicken, Nicaraguan churrasco, Venezuelan tequeños, Colombian arepas, all those delicious plates that we share as Caribbean and Latin people such as rice and beans, yellow rice and chicken, carne con papas, malanga, boniato, fufu, tostones, tres leches, and, of course, all those Cuban delights – lechon, platano maduro frito, yuca con mojo, pastelitos, empanadas, croquetas, tamales, flan.
The Spiritual Community
In the greater part of the U.S., religion is closely tied to political views. People who are politically conservative tend to be religiously conservative, usually evangelical Christian, and religion informs politics. Miami is unique in that it is largely politically conservative, but religiously plural. Miami has a very large number of people practicing Afro-Caribbean religions such as Vodou and Santeria. It also has a vibrant Pagan community. Perhaps even more interesting is that many people participate in various religions. It’s not uncommon to find a person dancing the night away to the beat of African drums in the worship of Yemaya on Saturday night and praying to Jesus at Catholic mass Sunday morning.
Images of loa and orishas are seen in street art, the sounds of drums can be heard in the streets, offerings are left underneath sacred trees, new initiates smile as they walk down the street wearing white from head to toe, and Pagans dance around bonfires at the beach under a full moon. It all gives Miami a unique flavor that I miss.
I’m sorry, Melbourne. I know you think you have an amazing coffee culture, but your little menu of about five espresso-based drinks says otherwise. Your iced coffee, which contains ice cream, is tastier than our version of iced coffee, which is some variation of drip coffee or espresso with cold milk over ice, but drinking ice cream every day will surely pack on some pounds. Let Miami introduce you to Cuban cortadito, café con leche, colada, and that delicious shot of sweet rocket fuel we simply call café Cubano. Just walk up right up to one of the many take-away windows of the cafes that heavily dot the streets of Miami and lay down a couple of bucks.
Starbucks exists in Melbourne, but they are few. Melbournians don’t seem to enjoy Frappucinos and Caramel Macchiatos nearly as much as we do. Flavored coffee is unheard of. In fact, Melbournians seem wholly unfamiliar with drip coffee. At home, many drink instant. Sad, but true. Melbournians like to decorate their coffee though so +1 for that.
Melbourne is just as hot or hotter than Miami. There are few things better than delicious creamy ice cream on a hot summer day. Yet, sadly, Melbourne lacks great ice cream shops. You can buy ice cream at your local supermarket, of course, and I’ve seen kids emerge from milk bars with ice cream bars in their hands, but I’m talking about the classic ice cream parlor, which there is no shortage of in Miami.
We’ve got Carvel, Cold Stone Creamery, Ghiradelli, Ben & Jerry’s, and numerous independent shops. It’s a treat to enter one of these and build your own sundae to your crazy childlike delight. While I’m pretty boring – vanilla bean with caramel or cookie dough ice cream will do for me – if you want three scoops of rainbow-colored bubble gum ice cream topped with chocolate fudge and Oreo cookies on a waffle cone, you can have that.
Melbourne has some good gelato shops, but let’s face it, gelato is not ice cream. And like with coffee, the gelato menu is usually small and traditional.
Dear Melbourne, Sprite is not lemonade; it is a colorless, lemon-lime flavored carbonated soft drink produced by the Coca-Cola company. Lemonade is a refreshing uncarbonated drink made with freshly-squeezed lemon juice, water, and sugar. The frozen variety is especially nice on a hot summer day at the fair or park.
People in Miami have always ridden bicycles. Aside from tourists and beach locals riding for leisure, Miami is a city of poor working immigrants from countries where bicycling is common and bicycles are a cheap alternative to cars. As long as I can remember, I’ve seen older men hauling groceries in baskets on tricycles. On this trip, I’ve noticed many more people on bicycles – old men with groceries, young men going to work, some women running errands, a few students wearing backpacks. I’ve also noticed more new bike shops.
Nevertheless Miami is not a bicycle-friendly city. There are few bike lanes and fewer bike paths. Cyclists may ride on the street, sticking as far to the right as practicable, and follow the same traffic laws as cars, but considering how bad and hostile Miami drivers are, this is like playing Russian roulette. Many cyclists are seen riding on the sidewalks, which is legal here, to the dismay of many pedestrians.
Miami could learn a lot from Melbourne when it comes to bicycling. It could learn that bicycling is inexpensive, healthy, environmentally friendly, and can often get you to your destination faster than driving. It doesn’t require special gear or clothing (spandex is optional), provides a nice breeze on a hot day, and is easy enough on the body that just about anyone can do it. Miami needs more bicycle lanes, paths, and parking, and greater education as well as law enforcement to teach people how to share the road.
Mediterranean and Asian Food
What Melbourne lacks in Caribbean and Latin food, it makes up for in Mediterranean and Asian cuisine. Melbourne has the largest Greek population outside of Greece. Thank the Olympians that some of them, along with the Lebanese and Turks, have set up terrific eateries. I’ve had the best kebab and baklava in Melbourne.
Melbourne also has a huge Asian population and a walk down High Street in Preston reveals one small restaurant after another of delicious Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, you name it, and all very reasonably priced. Equally, there is an abundance of delicious Indian food. There’s good Indian food in Miami too, but there’s not enough of it.
Melbourne is served by a public transport system integrating rail, the largest tram network in the world, and bus services. Not having been in Melbourne long, I find the network confusing, but with a little research, it has always gotten me where I want to go. The trains, trams, and buses are fairly comfortable, clean, and mostly on time.
Miami’s public transport is abysmal. We have one rail that runs back and forth on one line. Recently, a second line that goes to the airport has been opened. We have buses driven by hostile drivers who are more than happy to leave you behind. Buses rarely arrive on time, largely due to Miami’s heavy traffic, and sometimes they don’t stop at all, leaving groups of people in disbelief at bus stops marked by graffiti and broken glass. Miami is a car city and buses are largely taken by the poor, the elderly who ride for free, and the homeless. They’re often dirty and smell foul. Riding a bus in Miami is not a pleasant experience.
I’ve written before about Melbourne’s wonderful markets and how much I love them. Every weekend, Melbourne hosts a number of markets. I love a good Trash and Treasure. Sadly, Miami fleas markets have all but disappeared over the years and those that are left sell mostly new junk rather than old junk/treasures. I also love all the arts and crafts markets. Melbournians appreciate unique and handcrafted design in jewelry, clothes, housewares, furniture, and more. And at markets like Camberwell, you can find a great mix of old junk (the good kind), vintage treasures, new handcrafted goods, and cupcakes (they’re all the rage these days).
Many expats observe that there’s a lot of officialness down under. Even Aussies will sometimes complain that Australia is a nanny state. There are a lot of rules and laws that are heavily enforced with fines. Some of it is annoying, but some of it is what helps makes Melbourne a pleasant and relatively safe place to live.
I’m told Miami has laws too, but people don’t follow them, and the police doesn’t enforce them. I’m generalizing and exaggerating, of course (though not by much), but Miami is a pretty chaotic place to live.
My sister told me just yesterday that her husband, not long ago, made some kind of illegal turn. He didn’t realize there was a stationed police vehicle just a few feet away and then expressed he hoped the officer hadn’t seen him. My clever 11-year-old nephew told him not to worry because the officer was probably having his donut or Snickers bar. Sure enough, my brother-in-law went on his merry way.
As she suddenly and quickly backed the car up and crossed two lanes to make the highway entrance she’d missed, a good friend once told me she doesn’t mind driving a little crazy in Miami. It’s really just keeping up with everyone else. Last week, I posted on Facebook that I accidentally drove on the left side of a residential road. Friends laughed and said that’s okay, it’s Miami, nobody noticed. It is all a big joke.
Red lights, stop signs, speed limits, pedestrian crossings – these are all merely suggestions. At roundabouts, the person with the right of way is the one who can make it there first and fastest. Hit and runs are a daily occurrence. Car registration and insurance are not really required. I mean, technically they are by law, but, you know, not really. Theft, littering, gun violence, rudeness – that’s Miami. Where are the (under-trained, underpaid, overextended) police, you may wonder? Ignoring emergency calls while they they have Cuban coffee.
What about you? What are some things you’d take from your native country and give to your adopted one and vice versa?