North America

Lufthansa A380 at MIA. Photo courtesy of Aero Icarus via Flickr.
Lufthansa A380 from Frankfurt landing at MIA

Despite its setting amid a flat, wildly sprawling car-topia, Miami International Airport is an aviation geek’s dream. Airliners from places as far away as Moscow and Buenos Aires or as close as Key West and Nassau, cargo planes all the way from China, the Airbus A380 – the world’s largest passenger aircraft – riding heavy over Biscayne Bay on its way across the Atlantic; if you look in the sky long enough, you’ll see it all. And unlike most big-city airports relegated to the boondocks, MIA is right in the heart of town.

TAM departing for Brazil
TAM departing for Brazil

Vantage points are everywhere: you can catch the afternoon arrivals from Europe at the LA Fitness on Northwest 12th Street, the planes so low you can almost touch them – Iberia, Alitalia, Virgin, Swiss, and British all in a row. Commuters on the Dolphin Expressway course alongside the south runway, sometimes racing TAM to Brazil, LAN to Chile, or Copa to Panama. Delta and United and Avianca and TACA and FedEx and UPS skirt the towers of downtown Miami throughout the day. But all-day, everyday, it’s American – old American, new American, big American, small American – it could be to Tallahassee or Tegucigalpa, somebody’s going somewhere on American.

AA dominates MIA
AA dominates MIA. They’ve been slow at repainting with the new logo.

Nearby Fort Lauderdale might have the most dramatic landings in the region, jets just barely missing the tops of the semis speeding up and down I-95. But Miami’s got the most diverse range of aircraft, airlines, landing patterns, and striking silhouettes of any city I’ve ever lived in.

Swiss airliner at MIA
Swiss prepping for the return to Zurich

So if you’re driving past the airport and see someone creeping along on the expressway at 5 miles an hour trying to snap a shot of a departing AirBerlin jet on their phone, it’s probably me. I really have to stop that; it’s just not safe.

Terminal J at MIA from Dolphin Expressway
Terminal J at MIA from Dolphin Expressway

Oh…and is anybody else but me excited that Qatar Airways will be flying here come next June?! Nobody? Bueller?

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This rambles, but…that’s the way love goes.

It may be gauche for an American to compare a distinctly non-American city to an American one, but indulge me for a moment, please. Imagine, if you will, New York in summer – without the iconic but overbearing skyscrapers or the ubiquitous scent of urine in the subways, but with the oft-stifling humidity. And the multiple, simultaneous music and cultural festivals happening any given weekend. And the walkable, energy-filled neighborhoods. And the intensely striking variation of skin tones and ethnic origins. And the taxed but generally efficient transport system connecting all the good stuff on offer. Comparing the place to New York would be the easiest, admittedly most half-hearted way to describe Canada’s second- and Quebec’s largest city, Montreal. So I’ll try to do better in the next paragraph.

During one oh-so-short weekend, I trekked up to the summit of Mount Royal, only to trek back down again and cool off at the rooftop pool of a nearby gym (pools are big in landlocked Montreal) surrounded by dozens of sun worshippers soaking it all up while they could. I ate spicy Lebanese sausage and yellow Thai curry and chicken shawarma slathered in hummus and brick-oven pizza and organic bread with unprocessed butter (tasted funny) and a heaping plate of that local French fries/gravy/cheese curd combo called poutine. I discovered my summer anthem (by British electro phenoms Disclosure) and twisted my foot fooling around to a Romanian brass band at the Jazz Fest and recovered in time for a romp at the Piknic Électronik, followed by an all-night afterparty with a clutch of new friends in a three-story rowhouse with a wrought-iron balcony. I asked “Parlez-vous anglais?” to Middle Eastern first aid responders (my foot, remember?) and black convenience store cashiers and Chinese-Malagasy waitresses and sweet little old white ladies in souvenir shops and received a “yes” (or a reflexive “oui”) and a smile every single time. I discussed American politics and Brazilian politics and Quebecois politics and the Quebecois independence movement and the Quebecois fascination with wintering in South Florida and summering in New England. I spent an afternoon marveling at the city with a fellow Murkin travel writer who had just spent a month in Paris and proclaimed her love for Montreal within a week of arriving in the Western Hemisphere’s largest French-speaking city. I responded to her with my own profession of love for Montreal.

Before last weekend, I didn’t know much about Montreal. I didn’t know that the city was as multicultural as it is, with all types of French being spoken by folks with roots all over the globe. I didn’t know that Montreal’s particular brand of French was so appealingly full-bodied, brash, and funky. I didn’t know that its people would be so unfailingly attractive, with Old World style, New World swagger, and a visible profusion of good genes. I didn’t know that many Quebecois do still feel a deep disconnect from the rest of Anglophone Canada as a marginalized people (boy, how I can relate to that!). I didn’t know that I could walk down the street in Montreal and fit right into the mosaic as if I belonged. I didn’t know I’d feel as if I belonged in Montreal. But I did, and Montreal smiled.

Forget Paris. Montreal, je t’aime.

Poutine (with pepperoni)
Poutine (with pepperoni) and a Coke Zero. Avoid empty calories.
Coccinelle cider
Coccinelle cider. It refreshes!
First aid station
My foot hurts and you laughin’, MF?!
Old and New Montreal
Something old, something new.
Montreal subway swag
Montreal subway swag.

Shaky video of the Piknic Électronik:

The Fly Brother Summer Anthem 2013:

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Miami Skyline from West
I’m living in that flat, kinda boring part in the foreground.

“He’s baaaack!” Yes, good people: Fly Brother has emerged healthy and unscathed from that electronic limbo called “Taking A Break From The Internets.” After December’s quick and last-minute escape from Europe because of the 90-day tourist visa rule, I ended up back in Florida to await the processing for my student visa to Germany, where I’d be earning my PhD. Subsequently, I ended up helping a friend take care of her autistic 7-year-old and unexpectedly landing a full-time university teaching position in Miami, two situations that, along with my freelance writing commitments, demanded total and complete energy and attention. As a result, the blog suffered.

As much as I love traveling at moment’s notice, there’s much to be said for stability. Re-hubbing in South Florida, a cultural mishmash with amazing weather and hordes of cockroaches, means rebuilding my financial foundation, recommitting to an intense workout regimen, advancing professionally—which includes working on the PhD remotely—, and re-entering American society after seven years abroad. There is, indeed, a lot about the US that remains unattractive—race relations, consumerism, traffic—but it’s nice to be back on familiar soil as I reboot, regroup, reconnect with myself, my family and friends, and my country.

Right now, I’m sharing a house with my friend and her child in the sterile flats of Broward County, but I hope to move a few exits down into Miami, capital of Latin America, in a few months. The commute to work is shorter and I don’t get the suspicious looks in Miami the way I do up in the United States (by that, I mean Broward County). Make sure you all give me a shout whenever headed this way. In the meantime, I’ll be posting the travel- and culture-related musings you used to get regularly here at Fly Brother. So, as they say down here in “The Bottom:” Lehgo!

PS – Recently, I was asked what happened to my dream city of São Paulo. In a word: inflation. I still love that place more than any other on Earth, and I plan to always have a presence there. Right now, though, it’s more expensive than New York and it’s just not the time for us. One day, we shall be together again.

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Last week, representatives of the US and Brazilian governments agreed to research the feasibility of visa waivers for Brazilian citizens. The US Visa Waiver Program currently allows citizens of 36 different countries—mostly in Europe, Asia, and Oceania—to visit the States for up to 90 days for business or pleasure without obtaining a pre-arranged visa. Brazil could soon be added to the list, which could mean a mix of positive and negative changes for American travelers:

1. Sustained Boon to the US Economy
In 2010, Brazilians spent $5.9 billion, around $5,000 per person, while visiting the United States. This kind of spending—mainly on luxury goods, upscale condos in New York and Miami, and electronics and household staples that cost three times as much back in Brazil—creates jobs and makes up for the fact that many, many Americans are broke as hell and aren’t really spending the little money they do have on these items. And while the vast majority of Brazilians who apply for visas to the US get approved, eliminating the hassle of scheduling an appointment and trekking to one of only four consulates to be asked annoying, invasive personal questions will surely attract even more upper-class (not middle…upper-class and super-rich) Brazilians to come and spend their money in the States.

2. Visa-Free Travel to Brazil
Brazil’s participation in the Visa Waiver Program would not only mean that Brazilian citizens could merely buy a plane ticket at the last minute and jet off to the States for a wee bit of shopping, but US citizens would regain visa-free entry to Brazil as well (we used to have it a few years ago).

3. Higher, then Lower Airfares
Brazil’s biggest international gateways—São Paulo’s Guarulhos and Rio’s Galeão airports—are overtaxed and inefficient, and both are subject to regulations that limit the number of routes and flight frequencies airlines can fly to and from the US. This will change as the “Open Skies” bilateral treaty comes completely online in 2015, allowing airlines to plan routes and schedules according to market forces. If Brazil is accepted into the Visa Waiver Program before 2015, increased demand for a limited number of airplane seats will cause already high fares to skyrocket before increased competition and decreased regulation theoretically bring down prices. Of course, Olympic fever and rickety infrastructure incapable of handling more traffic could prove me wrong.

4. Increased Number of Douchebags on Ipanema
With less hoops to jump through, every Tom, Dick, and Harry who fancies himself Snoop Dogg will be saving up a couple paychecks to go whoremongering on the beaches in Rio and Salvador. True, this happens the world over, but the unfettered increase in the amount of losers heading down to Brazil who’d rather pay for poon than use their natural wit and charm to attract women just makes for an unattractive atmosphere, in my opinion.

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Between July and December 2012, I’ve got five specific destinations on my to-do list. Being on the list doesn’t mean that I’ll actually make it there by the end of the year, but I’m going to try my darnedest. All of these destinations are new for me and I’m definitely hyped about discovering each one for myself!

Bangkok, Thailand
The Bangkok ticket is already purchased and part of my upcoming Whirlwind Southeast Asia Grand Tour 2012. Though I’ve been to the region before, I’ve never been to Thailand and I’m looking forward to dipping my toes into the exhilarating chaos that is Bangkok. I love Thai food, so there’s a start right there!

Copenhagen, Denmark
The Danish capital has been calling me for a while, and since one of my very good friends from Brasília will be moving there for graduate school, I’ve got no reason to postpone a trip any longer. I have indeed spent a couple of hours changing planes at the cozy-yet-bustling airport and I’m eager to see how the city measures up to my favorite Scandinavian capital, Stockholm.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
I have only heard amazing things about Addis from my friends that have been there, and I’m definitely looking forward to snagging one of the under-500 euro airfares to Ethiopia during the second half of the year. As my Ghana trip recently fell through, this would then be my first sub-Saharan African destination. I’m stoked just thinking about the ridiculous music scene there.

Toronto, Canada
Oh, Canada. Despite knowing mad-cool peeps who hail from within your borders, I’ve never visited you. It is time. I’ll be swinging through “Tron-O” in a few weeks to meet up with a good buddy of mine from my Colombia days who’s since gone corporate and has a couple of rugrats. My girl Oneika the Traveller says the T is off the heezy…only time will tell.

Esmeraldas, Ecuador
As part of a lengthy writing excursion to Ecuador, I’ll be popping over to the Pacific Coast and the verdant region of Esmeraldas (literally, Emeralds). Not only does the place lay claim to black sand beaches and a breathtaking coastline, but Esmeraldas is also the center of the country’s Afro-Ecuadorian community. Yes, it’s where most of the brothers on the Ecuadorian soccer team come from.

Make sure you stay tuned to Fly-Brother.com and get lifted with me.

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Images by: mr. Wood, hoangnt, Irene2005, Hanover Phist, and crocodile gena.

In an effort to see as many friends in New York as possible during Fly Brother Week, while simultaneously attempting to keep expenditures down to a bare minimum, I challenged some of my local peeps to take me to their favorite place for food and drink costing $10 or less. Several of my friends met the challenge handily, unveiling their neighborhood faves, serving up engaging convo, and helping me fill my belly at the same time. Here’s some of the highlights.


* Salacious Southern gul Uche of Hip Hop is for Lovers invited me to The Meatball Shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I had the succulent, spicy pork balls with creamy Parmesan sauce over pickled veggie salad for $9. Then I cheated and ordered a $2 cream soda, which tipped the scale over the price ceiling, especially with tax and tip. Stick with the free tap water if you want to stay on budget.


* Budding film producer and college classmate CJ of The Dream Factory Productions lured me over to the far end of Restaurant Row, near Times Square at 46th and 9th, with the promise of cheap and tasty Thai at Yum Yum Bangkok. Lunch portions of salad and beef Panang, with a Thai iced tea, clocked in at under $8 including tax.


* Another college bud and fellow Floridian, Amery (who doesn’t blog), took me to Café Au Bon Goût (276 5th Ave) near his job in Koreatown. Among the ample salad and hot food bars stocked full of tummy-filling goodness, I had a half rotisserie chicken, heapin’ helpins of veggies and sweet potatoes, and a canned soda for $6.35. That’s good eatin’.


* Art enthusiast and uptown girl Jenna of hrlm guide (and other endeavors) quickly whisked me up to Harlem on the A Train, where after bandying several options about, we settled on Doug E.’s (yes, as in Fresh, located at 2245 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd.) for chicken wings and fries, pretty much the only thing on the menu not over $10. I did indeed lick my fingers.

* Connecticut Yankee and former rowing coach (in fact, my former rowing coach), Adam of 3 Chords & the Truth enticed me with a thick, juicy, succulent, meaty, off-the-hook burger and sweet potato fries at Black Shack Burger in Murray Hill. There’s no picture of the food because, well, I forgot my camera, so you also get an old photo of me and Coach.


* Journalist and fly sister Stacy had me braving the student throngs of the East Village to dine at Mud, where I had a tasty half-an-egg-salad sandwich and salad. Needless to say, I was hungry shortly thereafter, but the intellectual sustenance I acquired during my conversation with Stacy tided me over until I was able to grab a slice uptown. 😉


* But the coup de grace of the whole shebang came from Bronx-native Brian (you rock, son!) of No Debt World Travel. This fool took me to Prosperity Dumpling in Chinatown, where I had ten scrumdiddlyumptious—and filling—lightly fried pork dumplings for TOO DOLLAZ! An older Chinese lady apparently affiliated with the joint insisted that I return the next day for more, especially since they’d been given an A rating by the city health department. Don’t worry, ma’am; I’ll be back soon. Shouts to Cat for gracing us with her effusive presence.

Stay tuned for Good Food in NYC for $10 or Less, Vol. 2, which will be posted in a few weeks, immediately following my next sojourn to Gotham.

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Just to be clear, folk, this is New York.

Very long story short, two hours before scheduled departure, my flight to Accra was canceled, with technical issues cited. With the possibility of getting to Ghana before Tuesday at the earliest now alarmingly slim, and with absolutely having to be back in the U.S. for a work project on July 1, I just couldn’t fathom flying all the way to Africa to spend less than a week there. Alas, my brethren and sistren, Ghana has been indefinitely postponed, this go round.

Now, it may look like that Fly Brother’s been knocked down for the count, first with Amsterdam not working out and now this, but don’t shed too many tears, good people: 95% of the trips I plan, I end up taking. Ghana being canceled, though, was a disappointment. Ah well. Next!

Fly Brother Week

On the brighter note, I found myself marooned in the glorious city of New York (above, formerly known as New Amsterdam) for the remainder of the week. This presented a challenge—how to see as many of my friends in town as possible and how to keep daily costs down to what I had expected to spend in, well, Ghana. A surprisingly simple solution arose: get my friends to take me to their favorite local cheap eatery (meaning meal + beverage for $10 or less) and I’d tweet and blog about it!

So, for the rest of this week, I’ll be tripping the light fantastic all over town, grubbing on the cheap with good peeps, and telling you all about it. Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Facebook for live updates and definitely stop by the blog next Monday for the Fly Brother Week Recap!

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Rob Bixby/Flickr

They used to say you can’t go home again—I don’t know what the youngins are saying these days—but for me, that’s only partly true. With all of the back and forth traveling and living abroad that I’ve done since leaving the nest at 17, I’ve always had a pretty decent time visiting my family. In fact, aside from occasional head-butting amongst the males in the household, there’s nothing unpleasant about going home. Going to my hometown, not so much.

Someone once said to me that she considered Jacksonville to be Detroit with better weather. Before anyone takes that too personally, realize that both places have some great people, but both places are also paeans to bad municipal management in the face of serious historic economic shifts, and have high crime rates as a result. What Detroit has on Jville is an unbeatable musical heritage, dynamic redevelopment effort, and a highly successful airline hub. We’ve got a decent-sized port, some decent beaches, a couple of decent golf courses, and great weather (which, sad to say, is the only thing the place has going for it).

Sometimes I bite my tongue before criticizing “the Bold New City of the South” in front of my parents because they were born and raised here, but it’s not even the same city I grew up in, let alone them. Throughout the middle 20th century, despite segregation and serious racial unrest from time to time, the black community in Jacksonville thrived with commerce and industry, even spawning a little beach enclave in neighboring Nassau County (as the local beaches were off-limits to culluds; see the movie Sunshine State). People graduated from high school, went off to college in Tallahassee or Daytona Beach, then came back home to Jacksonville to raise their children amongst a broad, but close-knit community. Today, my parents still get together with twenty or thirty friends they’ve known for almost seven decades. I get together with maybe seven people, if that.

Some of it has to do with the more divergent paths young black folks take in an integrated society. Some of it has to do with a comfortable complacency that takes root in a place shackled by low expectations and a low cost of living. Some of it has to do with the misguided consolidation of city and county government, leading to sprawling suburban development at the cost of a vibrant urban core and missed opportunities for the city as a whole. Some of it has to do with Jim Crow-era laws, corrupt police, inept officials, greedy businesses, and religious zealots in government (Good Ol’ Boys, allovem). Some of it has to do with willful ignorance on both sides of the color line. All of it is reason enough for me to minimize interaction with my hometown.

Only when I think of the values I learned as a Southerner, a Floridian, and a black man reared by parents who were both educators, am I certain that I wouldn’t want to have been raised anywhere else.

Well…except Hawaii, maybe.

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"Africa" by Lois Mailou Jones (1936)

Of all the famous painters you can think of, how many are women? Four? Five? Well, until my recent visit to the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, I could only think of two: Kahlo and O’Keeffe (which is just as well, as their paintings stand side-by-side in the museum).

Housed in an elegant, century-old former Masonic temple on New York Avenue in Downtown Washington and celebrating its 25th anniversary, the museum opened in 1987 as an outgrowth of the private art collection of Wilhelmina and Wallace Holladay, who noticed a dearth of women painters amongst the classical canon of artists revered and studied in America. Over 4,000 paintings, scuptures, and objets d’art from the 16th century to the present are on display or in the vault of the museum, the only one solely dedicated to the work of lady artisans from around the world.

"Rainy Night, Downtown" by Georgia Mills Jessup (1967)

As a man of color, I appreciated learning about how women had been kept out of the field historically, either by deliberately sexist educational policies, social convention, or financial limitations. I also appreciated the museum’s attempt at including the work of artists of color, like Harlem Renaissance painter Lois Mailou Jones, Pamunkey Indian Georgia Mills Jessup, and contemporary black artist Chakaia Booker. It’s a good start.

The museum’s temporary exhibitions are also eye-catching (when I visited, “Royalists to Romantics” honored French artists like the prolific portraitist Henriette Lorimier and impressively-named Adrienne Marie Louise Grandpierre-Deverzy), as is the unique sculpture garden running up the median of New York Avenue. What a way to infuse art into life!

"Self Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky" by Frida Kahlo (1937)

So, on your next trip to DC, guys and gals, make sure you stop through the National Museum of Women in the Arts and brush up on your artsy ladies.

Keep up on the museum’s happenings via their blog, Broad Strokes.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF WOMEN IN THE ARTS
1250 New York Ave NW
Washington DC 20005-3970
202-783-5000, 1-800-222-7270
www.nmwa.org

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1. The Skyline
Atlanta’s sparkling skyline stretches over two miles from Midtown to Downtown, a line of striking, gem-cut towers punctuating the Southern sky. Whether it’s heading towards the city along one of Atlanta’s interminable freeways, catching surprising vistas of the array peeking above the treeline, or ambling amongst the towers on a Friday night bar crawl, the commanding presence of the city’s skyscrapers asserts‬—physically and visually, at least—that as a metropolis, Atlanta ain’t no small potatoes.

2. The World’s Largest Hub
Delta Air Lines and AirTran (quickly becoming Southwest) call Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport home, but it’s Delta that is known for its mega-hub at ATL—the world’s largest, with 1,000 daily flights to 215 destinations around the world. As a Southerner, I’ve always been more than a little bit proud of not having to traipse all the way up to New York to access the rest of the globe, and as an airline geek, that’s just a cool fact. I love that Delta’s inspiring presence—“Fly Delta Jets” one vintage billboard reads—is felt throughout the city.

3. The Legacy
There was Selma, there was Montgomery, but Atlanta formed the epicenter of the American Civil Rights Movement that earned equal treatment under the law—on paper, anyway—for the black citizens of this country. The combination of a large and upwardly-mobile black professional class, influential black colleges and universities, and fearless campaigners like MLK set the city aloft as a beacon of black cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievement. It didn’t last (see: integration not exactly being the great societal panacea it was cracked up to be), but the historical legacy—and way more than a few black folks in Benzes—remains.

4. The Food
Say what you will about the healthiness of Southern cooking, soul food, barbecue, and what not, I have but two words to offer you: Waffle House.

5. The Accent
Many of us grew up with the clichéd dichotomy of Scarlett and Mammy informing us of what someone from Atlanta (or a plantation in the immeejit viciniteh might sound like), but anyone who takes the time to actually listen to the fashionable ladies shopping at Phipps Plaza or the round-the-way girls on the MARTA can perceive that native speech patterns include a little bit of both. Living abroad, urban Southern speech (NOT hick tawk, ya heah meh?) is one of the things I miss most about the States and it’s one of the first reminders that I’m back home. It’s just nice, like unlimited refills of sweet tea.

What are the things you like about Atlanta?

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