Friday, June 27, 2008

Perfume de Gardenia

Last Sunday I went to a birthday party for my friend Alicia's oldest son, Andre. They're part of a large Cuban-American family who all live in the general vicinity of Calle Ocho in Miami, so such get-togethers occur with amazing frequency (and I'm not even counting weddings, christenings, quinces, and other assorted celebrations). I was enjoying a plateful of arroz, frijoles, and yuca con mojo while practicing my Spanish with her dad when I happened to glance out the back window. I just meant to check on the rain (which was coming down in sheets), but my eyes didn't turn back to my food for a long time. There in the backyard, in full view of anyone sitting around the dining-room table, was the most magnificent gardenia bush. Aha! That explained the freshly cut flowers I had been getting drunk on a few minutes earlier...I'm nuts about their scent; Perfume de gardenia, perfume del amor, as the song by Rafael Hernandez goes. So, yesterday during the long flight south to Brazil, I would close my eyes and revisit that garden. The white blooms scattered among the deep green leaves, a perfect trio of reddish mangoes hanging from the tree, and a typical Miami summer downpour.

But what my daughter asked me to write about are my daily trips from her island down to the heart of South Beach in the comfortable, smooth-riding, air-conditioned Miami-Dade buses. In a nutshell, using public transportation in Miami is a colorful, rather exciting, experience; after a few rides, you sort of learn to expect the unexpected and the bizarre. Apart from the youngish, clearly not-quite-there woman who asked me, in earnest, if I was going to sue her for falling into my lap when the bus turned the corner, there was this big guy screaming profanities and racial slurs from the back of the bus (I was afraid he would become violent at any moment and kept wondering why the young female driver didn't use her radio to call the police). My favorite, though, has to be the old lady in a loose print shirt, large hoop earrings with dangling blue beads, and a baseball cap in the style favored by Iowa farmers while riding their combines. Having been yelled at the day before by a tall bird who informed me on no uncertain terms that he had a right to sit down (whereas I, I assumed, being merely a 64-year-old woman who was about to faint from the 87-degree heat, could ride standing up in the overcrowded bus), I got up and moved back as soon as I saw her boarding the bus. Lucky guess, Sheila: even though there were about six or more empty seats in the front of the bus at that point, she proceeded to say out loud in Spanish (to no one in particular, but waving a finger in the air) that this was HER favorite seat.

I confess that I've come back to a transportation system that's best described as disastrous. Buses in Rio are generally dirty, rattling, hip-dislocating, hot-as-hell in the summer, non-handicapped accessible, and driven by maniacs to boot. On the other hand, your fellow passengers, from school kids to professionals to beautiful girls on their way to the beach, aren't likely to provide you with stories at the end of the day. Unless, of course, your bus happens to be the unlucky one where armed robbery takes place or urban tragedy unfolds (as in route 174).

The gardenia pictured here is not from a Miami garden.


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