Cris Ramos

This is Little Havana

It’s 1:25 PM and we are in Little Havana.

A man in a tricycle is standing by our car. He looks irritated asking a tourist for money to take his photo. His mode of transportation is filled with objects like pots of plants, a mannequin head donning a helmet, sunglasses, something that appears to be a pipe, an American flag, old clothing, wires, a bottle of wine and a cut-out cardboard sign that reads, “4 Rent.”

As the two debate, I snap a photo.

We continue walking.

In Miami you don’t ask. I knew the woman was a tourist merely for the fact that she asked. Had she just taken a photo, no doubt our eccentric friend would have shouted at her, maybe even including some choice expletives, but he would have gone back to his usual business. That’s how it works here.

I was never used to this when I was young. Taking what you want and apologizing later was rude, but I eventually acclimated. I learned it’s better to apologize, or sometimes even not, I adapted to never using a blinker when switching lanes as it gives the person behind you time to speed up and block your passage, I even learned not to take it personally when people cut you off in lines at the grocery store, or just about anywhere. This is Miami.

We walk into El Exquisito, it’s a small restaurant on Calle Ocho I’ve never been to. Shamefully, I’ve never eaten in any restaurant on Calle Ocho. Ever. We’re here today because I need a change and this morning I woke up with anxiety. It’s not the first time it’s ever happened. You’d think a crowded street full of people certainly wouldn’t be the remedy to such an ailment, but appreciating a place people come to visit as special in my hometown actually began to calm me.

I never came here before because it took a long time to get used to navigating Miami. I had a small-town mindset despite being raised here my entire life. It took until college to toughen up and not take people’s shit. Sometimes I think I got a little too tough, but that’s a story for another time. Today is abut feeling better about living here.

In front of me is a laminated menu in Spanglish. Everything is fried and greasy and everything is under $12. Perfect. The older woman at the counter signals my boyfriend that she’s coming. She affectionally calls him papi and it makes me smile. The people here are warmer than they get credit for. Normally, we’d be eating at a place where the menu would include a key to translate the various symbols throughout the dishes: gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, etc, etc. That won’t fly here. This is a street run by people of another generation. The Clint Eastwood’s of the world who think young people are pussies and gluten intolerance is fake.

Our coffee comes right up and there’s nothing pretentious about it. No barista hand-prepared it letting us know where the beans are from or asked us which of the 4 types of milk we’d like. Here, the coffee is good and strong and the only milk they know about comes from cows. It’s comforting on a day like today where my thoughts are racing.

There’s a TV on loudly playing a game of some sort, all three waitresses are yelling, I can hear the woman behind me tell someone on the phone she’s walking into a movie and will have to call them back when she’s out. Outside there’s a tour right at the window that connects to the counter, the ventanita. It’s where they serve coffee.

The American man is translating this strange culture to a group of tourists. They’ve never seen anything like it. Unless you’ve been outside the U.S., you wouldn’t get it. Little Havana doesn’t come from anything American and yet, its patrons are among some of the strongest patriots you’ll ever find. They are more proud of being in this country than anyone I’ve ever met, even the last few actual Americans remaining in Northern Florida whose seasonal flag decoration is always confederate.

 

At first, the commotion bothered me, but after a while, it turned into background noise. I settled into it and hardly notice anymore. As we eat our greasy breakfast and thick Cuban bread lathered in butter, I giggle a little bit thinking of the alternative place we usually brunch at. Man, they’d find this disgusting. They’d probably have indicated its unhealthiness by placing warning symbols next to it on their menu. Full of gluten, grease and evil.

We pay for our breakfast and begin to walk. It’s a cool day by Miami standards. Easily 75 degrees and a little windy. My hair is only slightly curling and I can wear a light sweater. Various waiters greet us as we walk by their restaurants. The music gets louder and then it fades as we walk on. This continues for blocks. All the music is the same: Cuban trumpets with loud boisterous singing. It’s happy music I’ve come to appreciate. When I was young, I absolutely hated it. It was the hallmark of boring family parties. I just wanted them to play Paula Cole or Hole, but instead I got Celia.

It’s funny how things like that turn.

The art on the walls and small galleries also make me nostalgic. I used to like painting and drawing. There’s no time for that these days. I’ve had writer’s block for weeks and I’ve felt depleted. But here, there are bright colors and tourists drinking mojitos for the first time. I can’t believe we never come here. I haven’t appreciated Miami since I’ve lived here. I’ve wanted it to be somewhere else. I support bars that open up and feel like New York or Chicago. I love restaurants that are health conscious and fresh like California. I long for breweries that embody Colorado. And don’t get me started on wineries, Florida wine tastes like broken promises. I don’t even bother with it.

The same lack of appreciation I have for Miami or the moment at hand is the same source of my angst. I constantly imagine doing something different somewhere different. My mind is in a daydream instead of where it should be. Sometimes life doesn’t hand you what you want, but it gives you what you need. Miami has been that for me. It hasn’t been what I wanted at various points, but it’s ended up making me the person I needed to be.

Words by: Cris Ramos, Miami native & word artist. Find her work @ The Emerald Journal.

THIS MONTH AT THE GESAMTKUNSTWERK.

When I began working at the Gesamtkunstwerk, a building in Alapattah meaning a “total work of art,” no one knew about it. I would try to explain it, pronouncing the name in messy German, and then resign to saying West of Wynwood. Now, seventh avenue is being completely redone, more buildings are being purchased and there’s even a new “it bar” right down the street.

Just like that, the Gesamtkunstwerk– a once little known pearl in an up and coming area– is in the center of a burgeoning neighborhood. Living up to its name, the Gesamtkunstwerk houses a multidisciplinary group of entrepreneurs who had the foresight to set roots in a predominantly residential neighborhood full of mechanic shops.

The Gesamtkunstwerk project was designed to give a curated group of businesses and individuals, who were influential in the development of Wynwood as an arts community, with the long-term stability needed to continue their efforts. The building houses a diverse range of tenants that include Projektraum, Wynwood Radio, product/81 creative lab., Panther Coffee and wynwoodmurals.com.

This March 11th, come see the Gesamtkunstwerk as its creative tenants open their doors to the public for a tri-gallery event.

ON EXHIBIT AT #FORDISTAS GALLERY

GALT IS COMING & WHAT HAPPENS IN THE FOREST STAYS IN THE FOREST.

#Fordistas presents an immersive evening of art featuring several artists in two captivating exhibits. Join us for live music, art, drinks, bites & a patio party on March 11th 7 – 11pm @ the #Fordistas Gallery.

#GALTISCOMING
Preview the philosophy of objectivism – through music.

An immersive musical representation of Ayn Rand’s 1957 groundbreaking novel, Atlas Shrugged. Composed by the celebrated Peter J. Learn, and performed by renowned, Miami-based pianists, the story will unfold with accompanying visuals produced by #Fordistas.

What happens in the forest stays in the forest
A mixed media exhibition exploring ideas of the impermanence of the natural world.

Specially designed limited-edition tote bags benefitting the Rare Species Conservation Foundation will be available at the show for a suggested donation.

RSVP here for the free event.

ON EXHIBIT AT THE PROJEKTRAUM

JEFFREY NOBLE

March 11 – May 28, 2017, PRESENTED BY FRANCISCO DE LA TORRE

This series of paintings by Jeffrey Noble produced in 2015 highlight the overlooked esoteric languages of the street. Noble creates a mythology surrounding the reappearing symbology of manhole covers.

Each work originating as a mono-print lifted from the street itself, Noble continued to embellish these prints with abstract-expressionist like gestures and faux framing airbrushing techniques. This process resulted in a series of coded paintings that allude to lager networks of underground communication and conspiracy, such as crop-circles, ancient sacred geometry, and fictitious futuristic diagrams of other dimensional portals.

Join us on March 11 for the opening reception of “A Magnetic Shelter” by Jeffrey Noble as we also welcome Allison Matherly and their collaborative endeavor “Nice’n Easy”, to their new artist studio and exhibition space at the Gesamtkunstwerk building.

 

Gesamtkunstwerk

2930 NW 27 Ave, Miami, FL 33127

 

Words by: Cris Ramos, Miami native & word artist. Find her work @ The Emerald Journal.

GALT is coming: Music, Art and Objectivism

Dr. Mia Vassilev has played the piano since she was a young girl. It was never an option to do anything else in her mind. From conservatory school to college to her first career move with The New World Symphony, a fateful choice that would bring her to South Florida, she has never stopped speaking the language of music.

Vassilev has been a student, performer, teacher and non-profit pioneer of The Miami Piano Circle. She is the one woman show behind this musical labor of love.

“I wanted to do the projects I think are interesting,” she says furrowing her light eyes. “There’s so much being done that I think is the same.”

GALT is coming: Music, Art and Objectivism

She’s not wrong. Her latest concert GALT, at The New World Center on May 13th, will be a stunning musical representation of the novel Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

There has never been a musical piece produced around the controversial and complex teachings of Atlas Shrugged. When pianos come to mind, I like most people, think of ballets or operas, like The Nutcracker or The Phantom of the Opera. They are straight forward stories told deliberately and with the facilitation of language. To wrap our brains around objectivism, the philosophy espoused in all of Rand’s writings, is no easy feat reading–– to bring this to life without words, 10 grand pianos and a 5 screen setup of visual art is another triumph entirely.

Experimental performance is at the root of Vassilev’s distinct artistic choices. This performance will be no exception. With an original musical score developed by Peter J. Learn and accompany visuals displayed across panoramic videos produced by #Fordistas, GALT will be a an immersive experience in musical and visual storytelling.

“I’ve always had this book in the back of my mind because it’s one of my favorite pieces of literature,” she says. “I heard a politician mention it and I felt compelled to look into it.”

The heated political debate surrounding Rand’s philosophies were controversial in 1957, when she published the novel, and remain so today. A quick google search reveals the polarizing feelings surrounding the beliefs Rand conveyed over her lifetime’s body of work. Many consider it prophetic of our country’s present day political and ideological divide.

Rand’s philosophies are deeply rooted in individualism. Her most famous works, like Fountainhead, celebrate the person willing to stand to their own dreams and attributes, especially if it is not a popular choice. The late author was fiercely against collectivism. To gloss over Rand’s beliefs, however, can result in the quick dismissal of a radical capitalist. Though her ideas support a free market with little to no regulation, Rand is saying we must acknowledge and preserve our freedom of choice above all else–– even if that means nixing the altruistic credence of sacrificing for the greater good.

This is not to mean erasing charitable acts all together, as you have the freedom of choice to donate or give back. What she advocated for is the eradication of all mandates to do so. In other words, allowing us to decide how and when to be giving with our time, energy and resources. When we are forced to do anything, Rand argued, we go against the very nature and right of humanity. When we are robbed of choice, it will always result in resentment, laziness and the elimination of new ideas.

It’s a lot to convey in one musical score.

“I wanted to bring awareness to the material and bring it to a stage. It’s something people wouldn’t normally know about in a format that’s really unique. It’s interesting, fun and powerful,” says Vassilev. “We only recently added the 5 screens to this show about 2 years ago, which really gave it another dimension.”

GALT will have the most multiplex visually accompanying piece thus far. The #Fordistas produced screen art will synthesize the audience encounter with the deep nature of Atlas Shrugged.

“I chose Atlas Shrugged for two reasons. Individualism and being pure to what you do and your truth–– without letting anything influence you,” says Vassilev. “Secondly, it’s an unveiling of how the author had seen the United States during that time. She was paralleling what she was seeing here to what she was running away from, communist restrictions of Russia.”

Rand observed the social programs President Roosevelt set into motion during his presidency. Although the intention behind them was to help people and make our world a better place, in Rand’s eyes it mirrored the communism she escaped. Rand’s perspective: government enforced social programs force hardworking industrialists to carry the weight of the rest of the country. In her words, entrepreneurs at the time got “the short end of the stick,” citing they bore the responsibility of everyone in their effort to move the “motor of the earth” forward.

“A lot of people spin it that she was anti-philanthropic or against giving,” Vassilev says. “She was only saying people should have the choice to do this. It shouldn’t be built into the system.”

Another sharply divisive point in Rand’s novel is the notion that a society who doesn’t have criminals creates them; without criminals a government would otherwise have no role or situation in which to regulate. That’s a strong statement, admits Vassilev, but it’s at the core of Rand’s teachings; it’s about how government involvement has no right to insert itself in the very personal choices we have the right to make.

One thing can be said for sure, no ideology is one size fits all. With every belief comes a philosophy mired in questions. GALT is not a performance advocating for any specific viewpoint, it is an immersive journey exposing an interesting set of ideals.

 

For more information on Dr. Mia Vassilev, click here.

 

Words by: Cris Ramos, Miami native & word artist. Find her work @ The Emerald Journal.

#Fordista Makers Series: Cold Brew Station

It was a Sunday afternoon in Coconut Grove. One of those Miami days when the weather is forgiving and you can feign a need for scarves. Faux-winter attire and dog in-hand, we made our way to The Barnacle. The Mad Hatter Arts Festival was out full force and I was in the mood to experience the strange small town-ness Coconut Grove’s festivals generously impart. Local vendors, artists and artisans gathered in mutual admiration of Alice in Wonderland’s most famous resident.

That’s when I tried Cold Brew Station for the first time.

In true Miami form we knew two of the three owners from scattered social interactions. Six degrees of Kevin Bacon doesn’t touch the level of interconnectedness in Miami. But it wasn’t their familiarity that made an imprint–– it was the fact that they’re making something happen.

Now more than ever there is a rise of local makers. These artisans are people like you and me, creative souls with a desire to craft something beautiful and elevate South Florida’s collective culture. Down to every well-made coffee and thoughtfully curated snack menu, the love put into these simple details and passing pleasures allows us to make the choice to support our city.

So what goes into the best cup of iced coffee you’ll get off a truck in Miami?

Family Values

Cold Brew Station is a traveling iced coffee window that serves Relentless Roasters’ coffee. Kevin Gonzalez, Daniel Choiseul Paguaga and Andre Villarreal, the three dudes behind the business, have been good friends since college. After graduation, Paguaga travelled to Nicaragua to learn the family trade. Upon his return, he decided to bring it to the states. And thus, Relentless Roasters was born.

Cold Brew Station, the Instagram-announcing iced coffee mobile, is an extension of its larger wholesale parent.

A Guinness-kinda coffee

The trio’s most famous cup of java is without a doubt their cold brew infused with nitrogen. This coffee has a thicker consistency that cascades and forms a sturdy froth similar to a well poured Guinness. It’s less bitter than the average black coffee; the nitrogen infusion gives the beverage a heaviness that milk and sugar normally would.

“It was a way we thought we could transition people from your [average] Cuban coffee consumption that loads it with sugar, to just appreciating the coffee for what is was,” said Kevin Gonzalez, Co-Founder of Relentless Roasters, “It’s more approachable to the person who’s not used to drinking it black.”

In addition to refining locals’ pallets and appreciation for pure coffee, Cold Brew Station surprises its patrons with their least likely but best-selling drink– the Cold Brew Cooler. A twist on the Arnold Palmer, iced tea and lemonade, this unexpected beverage mixes the Awaken Cold Brew blend with lemonade… which sounds disgusting.

“It sounds kind of gross but our coffee is roasted lighter, so it pairs very well with the lemonade,” said Gonzalez laughing. “It’s refreshing and tasty. I get that same reaction 95% of the time. People doubt me and then never order anything else again.”

Kegs– they’re not just for college

“You know, it’s literally seed to cup from Danny’s family farm to us. We roast it, package it and deliver it,” said Gonzalez. “The biggest challenge we had initially when we focused Relentless Roasters for wholesale was that so much care and diligence had gone into the coffee process, but if you can’t brew it, you may as well drink burnt-to-a-crisp regular coffee.”

As a result, the Relentless Roasters keg o’ java was born. The kegging route ensures all the effort and TLC behind the process is preserved in the final product. All of their wholesale accounts get set up with the kegerator, tap and handle. The local roasters’ clientele is a roster of recognizable names serving solid cups of java in the city, like Miami Smokers, Graciano’s, Ms. Cheezious and Wynwood Diner.

Pinky up – Our local coffee culture is getting refined

The specialty coffee market in Miami is increasingly becoming more sophisticated. This evolution naturally lent itself to cold brew coffee’s newfound mainstream stardom. Gonzalez, who is a Sommelier, finds that the wine and coffee worlds aren’t so different.

“I didn’t know it, but that [cultured] world certainly exists for coffee too. You’re looking at not only the actual varietal of the coffee, where it’s from––not just the actual country but the farm–– how it’s processed,” said Gonzalez. “So many things parallel with wine and can affect the taste and the profile of that coffee.”

The flavorful profile of their own brew gives way to scrumptious food pairing options.

Collaborating with local makers

You’ll often find delicious snacks and treats to pair with your coffee sold on the truck from Miami businesses like, Sweetness Bakeshop, Honeybee Doughnuts and Cafe Curuba. For Cold Brew Station, the decision to support local is twofold.

“We don’t want to lose ourselves by trying to make our own sweets and snacks. And we also want to use the platform we have right now to showcase other local businesses, because we’re all after the same thing,” said Gonzalez. “We’re trying to put Miami on the map and develop into a more culturally and culinarily diverse city.”

Fun facts & insights

  • Cold Brew Station is Miami’s first iced coffee truck

  • The Cold Brew trailer used to be a Coca Cola truck. The bright red Coca Cola logo can be found underneath it.
  • Iced coffee is in fact stronger than hot coffee! Cold brew typically has twice the caffeine content of a regular cup o’ Joe. You’re welcome.

Follow @coldbrewstation to find out Miami’s most interesting cup of coffee is coming to an area near you.

Words by: Cris Ramos, Miami native & word artist. Find her work @ The Emerald Journal.

HOPPY CULTURE DESIGN: A curated beer & cider tasting

The discipline of understanding culture is a funny, sociological journey: How it comes to be, its innards and crevices, and eventually how to design the unique little zeitgeists that form when humans gather in clusters and interact with each other. There are a million different angles and approaches to begin culture design, literally hundreds of entry points into studying the aggregate deposit of beliefs, values, attitudes, theories of time, relationships, concepts of the universe and knowledge that ultimately creates our shared environment. None are as enjoyable or telling as the act of tasting beer.

A beer tasting has everything you need: community, spirit, hops, consideration, experimentation and attitudes. It’s as much an art in tasteful organization as it is a shared experience amongst soldiers on the playing field of life.

If you’re a Miami resident, enjoy this specially curated list of local and imported beers and ciders picked up at Mendez Fuel, your friendly family gas station with an unexpectedly sophisticated offering of beer.

HOPPY CULTURE DESIGN

Orange Blossom – Honey Pilsner

Orlando, FL

Details: An easy drinking honey beer made with 2.3 tsps. of Orange Blossom Honey in each bottle.

Tasting Notes: Not sweet, because of the fermented honey but crisp and clean.

ABV: 5.5 %

 

The Tank Brewing Co. – La Finca Saison/Farmhouse Ale

Miami, FL

Details: An age-old beer style that originated in the Belgian farmhouses of Wallonia.

Tasting Notes: A classic Belgian yeast strain is at the heart of this straw-colored brew, showcasing its fruity and spicy characteristics.  Crisp and exceptionally refreshing, La Finca is a perfect companion on a hot Xmas day.

ABV: 6.3%

 

Maeloc Hard Dry Cider  

Laga,Spain

Tasting Notes: Brewed using the original process for ancient Celtic ciders. Tannic notes, smooth, bitter and reminiscent of the astringency of beer.

ABV: 4.5%

 

Wakefield Brewing – Stush Sour Berliner Weisse

Miami, FL

Details:  Originally a popular homebrewer in South Florida, Wakefield opened up his own brick and mortar in Wynwood.  Berliner Weisse is a top-fermented, bottle conditioned wheat beer made with both traditional warm-fermenting yeasts and lactobacillus culture. They have a rapidly vanishing head and a clear, pale golden straw-colored appearance. The taste is refreshing, tart, sour and acidic, with a lemony-citric fruit sharpness and almost no hop bitterness.

Tasting Notes: Sour ale with a tart and refreshing lemon zest.

ABV: 3.5%

 

Rekorderlig Premium Passionfruit Hard Cider

Sweden

Tasting Notes: Made from the purest Swedish spring water, this refreshing drink has hints of ripe passionfruit and intense tropical flavor. Best served with a lime wedge.

ABV: 4.5%

 

Widmer Bros. Brewing Co. O’Mission Gluten-Free Pale Ale

Portland, OR

Details: This beer is gluten free because it is brewed with cereals, rice and sorghum.

Tasting Notes:  Bold and hoppy, this American Pale Ale is brewed to showcase Cascade hops.  Amber in color, floral on the nose this beer profile is complimented by a caramel malt body.

 

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. – Harvest Newly Developed Hop IPA

Chico, CA

Details: Newly developed varietals from Yakima Valley in California, simply known by numbers.  

Tasting Notes:  Copper Amber with compelling flavors of vanilla, chocolate, oak and orange.

ABV: 6.5 %

 

BraufactuM –  Progusta Indian Pale Ale

Frankfurt, Germany

Tasting Notes: American Citra and German Hallertauer varieties, sweetness remains after fermentation and forms a nice interplay with a bitter note.

ABV: 6.8%

 

Coppertail Brewing Co. –  One Love IPA

Boynton Beach, FL

Tasting Notes: Light amber color, sweet malts, smooth caramel, citrus and resin.

ABV: 6.5%

 

Boulevard Snow & Tell – Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy

Details: Scotch Ales are strong ales, also known a “Wee Heavy”.  In 19th century Scotland, they’d also be known as 160/-a nomenclature based on the now obsolete shilling currency. Scotch Ales traditionally go through a long boil in the kettle for a caramelization of the wort. This produces a deep copper to brown in colored brew. Compared to Scottish Ales, they’ll be sweeter and fuller-bodied, and of course higher in alcohol, with a much more pronounced malty caramel and roasted malt flavor. A low tea-like bitterness can be found in many examples. Best served in a “thistle” glass.

Kansas City, MO

Tasting Notes: Winter, oak aged, malty, toffee, caramel, smoked malt, subtle spices due to hopping including Chinook, Magnum and Styrian Goldings.

ABV: 6.3 %

WORDS BY: Cris Ramos

 

Moving yourself forward: 3 core concepts from Miami’s Masters of Tomorrow Summit

I woke up early to read before the day. It will be a long one. On the reading list, Sam Harris’ Waking Up. I sip my coffee and flip the page while trying to remind myself that my sense of self is in fact false. I’ve been trying to remind myself for a week now. It hasn’t worked.

This will be the only part of my day dedicated to calming down whatever stresses, real or imagined, reside in my mind. It’s November 30th in Miami, which means traffic has doubled from the visitors in town for Art Basel. There are more crowds than ever on the streets, there are deadlines encroaching and today I will be in the thick of it at the Masters of Tomorrow Summit. But for now, I am trying to dispel the illusion of the self to little avail.

My drive to the summit is restless as technology acts against me. I am distracted by the pinging of my calendar, text messages, emails and i’m trying to listen to a podcast while putting on lip gloss. Maximize every moment is what we’re taught. I should have meditated. The speakers at the summit are largely out-of-towners coming to bring their perspectives to our burgeoning metropolis.

At Masters of Tomorrow the crowds are bustling in true Basel fashion. Tech guys wearing sharp suits with bright shoes and women wearing boho chic attire. This is the Miami I know. The first speaking event on my agenda chosen specifically for its lack of tech: Designing for Mindfulness. I’m soon to have my bubble popped.

Ariel Garten steps up and the crowd cheers. She begins to talk about technology. Damnit. Garten has a soft voice that carries through the space as she talks about the intersection between technology and art.

Technology & Art are on a spectrum

While we must understand the nuts and bolts, she begins. We can never forget what makes things beautiful and delightful, things that intuitively elevate the human spirit. It’s the first time I’ve ever wanted to know more about science.

Garten continues to divulge that art and science are not a choice to be made. She rejects notions society places over us as children, like if you show promise for art, you will inevitably falter at science. The idea that this collective power of suggestion reinforces archaic beliefs is inherent in her tone.

My mind traces back to my childhood. I was great at painting and sketching, a talent that drove the assumption math would not be my forte. I wonder now how much of my disdain for numbers and logic come from this central idea. In later school years, I would continuously test better in math and be perplexed every time the scores came back. This has to be a mistake. I’m a right brainer. The idea had taken root and has since only firmed itself. Despite empirical evidence that I can navigate both worlds, I still refuse to do the tip on a receipt.

Moving yourself forward: 3 core concepts from Miami’s Masters of Tomorrow Summit

ELLE Street Art

We can only move forward by understanding our own mind

Garten has designed MUSE, a machine that hooks up to your head and measures your brain activity in an effort to facilitate meditation. The futuristic headband, a nod to her fashion roots, converts your brain activity into the sound of the wind. If you’re thinking too much, the winds will blow in your headset signaling you to try and focus more.

We must reflect with the self and know what’s going on inside, she says to the audience but I feel like she’s looking at me. When we understand ourselves we can improve our own mind and move our life forward.

I nod my head. I’ve drank the Kool-Aid. Curiosity exists because it is something we were put here to experience. We have questions because we must search for the answers. It doesn’t mean we will ever find them, that’s relative. But it’s in our unique search that the most beautiful parts of humanity are.

Make it a point to tune into NR –– Natural Reality

As Garten exited the stage, our Masters of Tomorrow host joins us again. I wasn’t ready to let go of all the concepts from her talk, until he asks us a poignant question: Please imagine yourself in a lake.

I quietly put my phone down and close my eyes. I’ve never swam in a lake, mostly out of fear, but there I am. I imagine the water murky, which is what turns me off about lakes, and I see myself paddling.

He asks again, how did you see yourself? I’ll bet you saw a picture of yourself like if you were seeing yourself from the outside. Although we experience from our own perspective and we should have seen the lake from our own eyes, not a full length image of ourselves swimming, we did.

Oh my God.

We are producers in our own mind, he clasps his hands. We are not experiencing. We’re designing. Tune into NR folks, natural reality.

How many memories have been an image projected onto the walls of the mind? How much time have we been a producer, planning our lives versus living them? We are not used to owning our power. We are so far removed from our own experience that it actually affects the way our memories are formed.

Can our sense of self be saved? The summit’s speakers seems to suggest yes, and with the help of an open mind and the tools available at our disposal.

Technology is not something to be feared. This is the idea that emerged. Like art, it rests on the same broad spectrum of human experience. It can drive us further from ourselves or bring us closer to our own physiology than we’ve ever been before.

Words by: Cris Ramos, Miami native & word artist. Find her work @ The Emerald Journal.

Photos courtesy of ELLE Street Art. Goldman Global Arts and #Fordistas unvieled the latest mural by ELLE Street Art at Masters of Tomorrow Summit, a female graffiti and street artist celebrating the role of women in science and technology.

When Form becomes Action: Experiencing Julio Le Parc’s first U.S. retrospective at PAMM

Dark space enveloped me. The only light was refracting off the mirrors hanging from the roof. Instinctively, my eyes want to find my face in the rows of reflective surfaces.

Someone passes by me holding a large piece of wood and some pliers and breaks my concentration. The art installation is still being set up. This is a preview.

Our curator, Estrellita B. Brodsky, a guest to the Pérez Art Museum Miami, begins to explain the artist, Julio Le Parc. A man ahead of his time whose goal is to make you question your architectural space. The mission of Form into Action, his first retrospective in the U.S., is to disrupt your senses and disorient your reality.

I begin to follow our guide while still catching glimpses of my eyes, nose and mouth in the mirrors that are now crashing against each other. The next room is bright white. Paintings of shapes surround us. If I stare too long at one it begins to morph into something else. It reminds me of those old school photos parents showed you as a kid, the pictures of simple objects with questions like, are these two tables the same size? No, of course not.

The misleading images make you wonder what the punchline is. Your mind is armed with everything you’ve been taught. You believe in the form, and then with one swift movement reality is broken and the truth is revealed: those two tables are actually the same size. WTF.

This is the audacity of Julio Le Parc. I already feel I know him a little bit.

We move on to the next room and it looks like a kaleidoscope of colors. “He is a master of geometric language,” our guide continues.

I am losing her again, this time for a rainbow drawing. My fingers follow the hues in the large overarching circle. Primary colors stand out as the crowd is straining to listen. I decide to explore, it seems Le Parc would want it that way.

The next room is what I imagine behind The Great Oz. A faint hum of machinery clicking plays in the background of another maze of mirrors. I go up to the long sheets of metal that are folding against each other. Nothing here is overly technical, though its effect is. Behind each elaborate little light show are basic parts repeating the same straightforward motions. It’s a lot like life, a series of simple movements that have the illusion of complication.

We continue into a half cylinder shaped room full of funhouse mirrors. Everything is distorted. We all crowd in and every one of us immediately tries to find their other in the wavy mirrored wall. Le Parc loves playing on the human instinct to find our own reflection.

His meticulous experimentation is apparent. No one else can make such simple parts and materials produce an installation so intricate to the human eye. “If nothing is fixed, everything is possible,” Brodsky reaffirms as we look upon our distorted twins.

The labyrinth of mirrors and flickering lights that await us already has my depth perception off. Our tiny group stumbles like we’ve had one too much champagne. The light plays tricks on everyone.

Prior to meeting the legend, I felt his choice of light was purposeful. After all, without it we would all be blind. We do not see the world around us, we perceive a reflection of it because of light. In that sense, our entire reality can be considered a mirror.

This is what I’m thinking as yet again my reflection finds its way back in front of me.

Form into Action is an installation purposefully made to be experienced. Le Parc, I’d researched, is firm on only one thing: art is not meant to be viewed. He is vehemently against the pretentious notion many big-name museums tout about its visitors not being sophisticated enough to “get it.” He’s been known to make famous museums pass out questionnaires to empower a person and get a viewer to actively participate in the experience instead of casually browsing paintings. Some parts of this installation more closely resemble a playroom than an art exhibit.

I like that about him and I like this choice for the PAMM. The museum reflects its community and chooses artwork that isn’t just popular but meaningful. It’s the first museum in the U.S. to showcase this retrospective and it’s in our own backyard.

Julio Le Parc is a provoker in the best sense of the word. His work is not meant to make you feel anything, but rather to question everything.

Le Parc’s experimentation changes the way you see the world, maybe even yourself.

 

Words by: Cris Ramos, Miami native & word artist. Find her work @ The Emerald Journal.

Photos courtesy of Aníbal Mestre Wong.

My morning coffee with Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee mentored me for a month in my living room. Although the idol passed away long before I was born, our paths crossed over the last few weeks every morning over coffee.

The famous Jute Kune Do master holds a special place in my father’s heart and just about any other man I’ve mentioned him to. When I was a child, not yet even 7, my father sat in open-mouthed fascination in front of our television set watching Bruce Lee films. My dad, probably my age at the time, was like a kid himself. He’d sit cross legged on the floor in his tighty whities next to me, the both of us eating a bowl of cereal as we saw bodies fly. Lee’s face is stitched into the folds of my childhood. Over time though, he and all the other action heroes my father played on our box-shaped television, faded into the background of my mind never to be thought about again… until now.

One month ago, I picked up a book that called to me. The Warrior Within by John Little was wedged between other books in the nonfiction section of a used bookstore in St. Augustine, Florida. Its cover features a smiling Bruce Lee who seemingly stared up in my direction from the shelf. Upon picking it up I reflexively set it back into its place before a phrase caught my attention, “to better understand the world around you.” So, this isn’t a karate book, I thought.

I flipped through the pages and learned that Bruce Lee was far more than a martial artist. After reading just a few of his quotes, he immediately resurfaced back into my life. We’re an unlikely pair Bruce and I, but over the past few mornings I’ve sat on my couch being spoken to by his archived interviews and essays. I read his teachings and I feel the presence of someone who was far more enlightened and interesting than I. I’ve even caught myself flipping through this book in search of his advice. Sometimes it literally feels like he’s talking to me; perhaps because his simple wisdom is timeless, or I’m reading all his quotes with a thick Chinese accent in my mind. He’s become the Gung fu master I never knew I wanted.

This was one of the first lessons I learned from Bruce Lee: the real meaning of Gung fu, which is total mastery of one’s craft. One can master anything once he masters himself. The term is used in the West almost exclusively related to martial arts. Just the words Gung fu signified something unrelated or uninteresting to me. I almost skimmed through the section merely reading the title, which revealed just how closed minded I can be.

Now, I want to be a Gung fu creator. According to Lee’s philosophy, I can get there. We all can. But the path isn’t easy. At first glance, I begin to put together his plan and apply it to my own life before I realize that is exactly opposite of what Bruce Lee believed. He believed in no style only the unique style of each human being. Our individual power within.

The seemingly contradictory advice of being present and aware yet not thinking. Thinking separates us from the moment in front of us, he believed. There is no “meaning of life” we should be searching for. There is only life. To first master ourselves, we need to convert ourselves into a state of statelessness. Purposelessness is the goal. However, deep awareness of the self is your only path to get there.

WTF? This one stumped me for a week. I furiously reread his passages and those of the great thinkers that influenced him, like Lat Tzu, while literally speaking into my book with frustration. How can I become aware if I don’t think? How can I stay in the moment if I have to analyze myself? And that’s how that week’s coffee dates went, until one day it fell into place.

There was no magic realization, I just let it go. In my not trying to understand it faded, and I was revealed to myself in the moment. It didn’t matter. In the process of seeking answers, I learned about my true nature. It reflects a very Western way of thinking: the need to label everything we encounter in order to place in into a convenient category. The problem with our approach is that we attempt to explain life as opposed to experience it.

At week 3, I began to speak less sternly into my book. Instead I read with a smirk. Bruce Lee, you devil you. I see what you did there. Although there is no particular order to learning things, his earlier lessons on the concept of Chi began to cement the lessons of self mastery.Chi is the Chinese term for the free flowing energy that makes up the natural world. It was his belief this boundless reservoir runs through us and when channeled precisely can help us achieve anything we want.

Chi, life and our bodies are all in a constant paradoxical state of changing changelessness. This coffee date blew my mind. In his words, he describes the millions of biological changes our body goes through to simply keep itself in a state of equilibrium. These self-regulating functions ironically work to keep us in an apparent changeless state. This miraculous process that occurs in all of us is also how life works around us on a macro level. We are one, and self consciousness only serves to create drama, unwanted pain and suffering in our life.

“To contemplate a thing implies maintaining oneself outside it, resolved to keep a distance between it and ourselves.” – Bruce Lee

In other words, in order to control your mind, to self master, you must accept yourself by going with your own nature, not against it. I stop and think about what that means. Everything in our society is about changing, self improvement, becoming the better version of yourself, you 2.0 baby! But here, Bruce Lee is saying that you will never change by forcing yourself against the grain, nor should you. Instead of opposing the forces of the natural world, flow with them. Bend with them. Be water.

“Let the mind think what it likes without interference by the separate thinker or ego within oneself. So long as it thinks what it wants, there is absolutely no effort in letting go, and the disappearance of effort to let go is precisely the disappearance of the separate thinker.” – Bruce Lee

This was a classic Bruce move. A seemingly incongruous concept only understood when felt not contemplated. Every time I banged my head against the wall rationalizing the irrational statements of changing by not changing, I’d come up short. It wasn’t until I accepted my thoughts as separate from me that I experienced letting go of them for the first time in my adult life. We in the West are taught that we are special. We’re taught that our thoughts are ourselves. We are not taught to flow with the world, we are taught to forcibly change it. In that moment I could not recall a single time in my life when I coercively took something and it was successful. Despite being an American through and through, and truly believing, knowing even, that I can tear into the world and take what’s mine, I sat there staring at his smirking face on the cover unable to produce one good example. It was apparent that everything good in my life had happened naturally. No forced moves. No fighting. It all came through acceptance of the current natural forces and a hopeful desire matched with dutiful dedication to myself.

We went full circle. Every dynamic of sensei-pupil relationship checked. First, eagerness to learn and copy. Then, frustration and anger over not understanding. Thirdly, grasping that only I can teach myself. Lastly, applying the philosophies that worked for me and being so open to life I could fly.

Had I not been open to a mentorship from the beyond, I would have simply been reading a book. Instead, I unlocked my soul to the philosophies of a person I admire and otherwise wouldn’t have had access to. Here’s what else it taught me: everyone in your life is a projection of you. Whether they are standing before you or speaking from the dead with their words in a book, we are on our own mini universe.

This truth allowed Bruce Lee to be who I needed him to be and ultimately the only person he could be for me and anyone else who came to know him: a deeper manifestation revealing my own true essence.

 

Cris Ramos, Miami native & word artist. Find her work @ The Emerald Journal.

Internet Inspirations: Don't worry if haters don't approve.: Simply say, I’m Me.

Haven’t we all been this little girl? Today’s internet inspiration comes in the form of fly dance moves and a fresh cut. It’s the best way to ward off the haters. The Spanish chorus, “Y no te preocupes/ Si no te aprueban/ Cuando te critiquen/ Tu solo di/’Soy yo,’” roughly translates to: “Don’t worry/ If they don’t approve/ When they criticize you/ You simply say/ I’m me.” We leave you with that today. Go be you!

Cris Ramos, Miami native & word artist. Find her work @ The Emerald Journal.

Inside the writers room: The Dan Marino Story

What about if we get Dan Marino to play Never Have I Ever? That would be ridiculous…

It’s 5 PM on a Thursday. All of our ideas have been scrapped because of budgeting, time limitations and all the other constraints you can imagine. In the 11th hour we cannot rely on fancy tech solutions or gimmicks. We have to dig deep to the basics: good writing.

A hot meal and two hours later, we have it. A road trip duo between Dan Marino and Yamil Piedra, our comedian. We revert back to a more primal form of creativity: what would be really funny? Two bros hanging out with the open road.

A CREATIVE TEAM’S LAIR

The writer’s room is no different than a circle of your friends on a Friday night. One of you latches onto a fictitious scenario, someone else jumps in with an even funnier place to take that story… and before you know it, it’s been an hour of everyone contributing the next scene. That’s what it is, except we are writing it all down.

Our finished product is an Ali G styled bro-trip between one of the nation’s most famous Hall of Famers and a local comedian with no inhibitions and perfect timing.

This will literally never fly, but we’re committing to it anyways. Because why not.

I leave for the weekend feeling at peace we’ve done our best. The ideas are solid, but what are the chances Dan Marino will go for it? Slim to none.

Staring at a tiki hut in paradise, a text comes in. We’re a go. Holy shit. Dan Marino is in.

I won’t even lie to you, there’s no experience more gratifying than watching an entire production come together based on your team’s script. Sitting in a circle reading through what jokes work and which fall flat is like getting to eat an entire cake without any of the calories.

Despite having the green light conceptually, we’re still nervous. Does Marino really know what he agreed to? Did he read correctly? Will he actually be up to the task of holding emojis in response to randomly selected words and concepts? Internet videos of Marino freaking out during past shoots swirl through the writer’s room.

You guys, take out any mention of the Super Bowl or John Elway.

And so we crafted a script that was still true to the humor with just enough land mines to make it juicy.

D-DAY

The day of the shoot we all sit in a circle with Marino and his people. Fifteen bodies at a table anxiously awaiting for what this pre-pro will bring. It’s the moment we’ve been waiting for: Marino reads the final script. With his reading glasses in place, he discerningly goes through it pausing to laugh ever so often. This is good. This is really good.

“Let’s have some fun,” he smiles. A wave of relief immediately liberates my shoulders from the hunchback-like tension they’ve been holding since our initial ideas were thrown out.

When someone has the fate of your creation in their hands, you develop a stockholm syndrome of sorts. It makes no sense and it’s beyond your control. So, I just can’t help but melt when Dan Marino smiles at us. When he does, his face softens and you only see his blue eyes. There are forces beyond me at play here.

He’s got that quality that makes you feel like he’s known you for years, like you’re the only person in the room. It’s a phenomenon that some people either have or don’t. He’s the random person who waves at you and makes you doubt for a moment if he’s confused. The warmth too familiar to attribute to politeness, so you respond in an awkward albeit courteous way.

The pre-pro is not the end of our fear though. At the bottom of every take we study Marino’s face to make sure everything is okay. Any frustrating notes in his frown lines send us into a panic. Let’s just scrap this skit comes up a few times.

IN THE END, IT COMES DOWN TO A PHONE CALL

The absolute culmination of our effort to make the jokes authentic yet gloss over the sore spots he’s already been asked a million times. In the bro-mobile, our sidekick makes a call to his brother-in-law. It’s the one part of the production not under our control. We want the phone call to be authentic and any preparation will lose the feeling of realness.

“If you could ask Dan Marino one question, what would it be? You have 5 seconds.” The entire production is quiet as the poor dude flails.

“Uhh.. well… man, you’re really putting me on the spot here.”

“You gotta hurry up, man!”

“That’s not a question!” Marino chimes in.

“All right all right… Dan, you are the best quarterback of all time.”

Don’t you say it.

“How does it feel not to have ever won a Super Bowl?”

You bastard.

Dan’s face scrunches up. My breathing stops.

Does he think we set him up? Is he going to bang the car with his fists? His huge, football player fists?!

“Hang up on him.” He says and his co-host nervously laughs. “No, no, no. It’s okay,” he continues. “Because you set it up so nicely, I’ll answer.”

His response is literally white noise to me. I walk around in a haze pacing from the production crew to coffee then back to our team. After dodging such a bullet, I don’t want to chance anything else. I sit bemused.

Somehow it ends and we’ve done it. Our ideas half sprung from delirium and hilarity. They’ll never let us do this with Marino quickly turned into Oh God, they’re letting us do this.

At the end of the shoot, I pack my things as Dan Marino walks out. “Thank you,” he says as he pats my shoulder with that familiar friendliness.

“Thank you,” I smile back with the same familiarity. After all, he has been all I’ve focused on for the past week.

I’m never washing this sweater again. Did you see how he looked right into my eyes?!

A passerby asks, “Hey what do you do around here?”

“Who me? I’m just the writer.”

 

Cris Ramos, Miami native & word artist. Find her work @ The Emerald Journal.