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Doing Little Havana a Lo Cubano

Submitted by on July 1, 2010 – 5:28 am5 Comments

Maria de los Angeles and Irish TV celebrity Daithi O Se in Little Havana, the heart of Cuban Miami.

By Maria de los Angeles

What does a redheaded Cuban-American, an Irish film crew and one hot TV celebrity make on a sweltering day in Little Havana? No, it’s not some kind of Celtic porn with pork and potatoes, it’s a segment for an upcoming series on Ireland’s TG4 network!

Route 1 will air in Ireland this October, with celebrity host Dáithí Ó Sé leading a travel show about driving all the way from Maine to Key West on U.S. 1. Production company Dearg Films made up the crew.

How the heck did I get involved in this? Well, Ciaran Gallagher, co-producer, sent me a very funny email last April. It started like this: “I hope you don’t mind this cheeky unsolicited email, but I was hoping I could pick your brain about all things Miami.” Ciaran found me via my blog and the work I do at Miami Beach 411.

Fast forward and I found myself meeting a crew of four self-proclaimed “Irish pasty guys” and one hot papi chulo from the Emerald Isle for a four-hour shoot in Little Havana. With the mic firmly adjusted to my bra — having the sound guy poke around under my dress was the most action I’ve gotten in weeks — Daithi and I improvised in front of the camera.

The goal here was to give the Irish audience a quirky and entertaining look at Little Havana: “drop their talk about the potato crop and make them spill their Guinness in astonishment,” as hilarious Ciaran put it in his original cheeky email. So, in the weeks prior to the shoot, I contacted a few businesses and came up with a loose schedule.

Here’s what we did, focusing mainly on the heart of Little Havana between 16th and 11th avenue:

1. Stopped at Maximo Gomez Park (Domino Park), where we talked about the importance of the park as a community hub and noted the signs that say “no cursing, no sweat shirts, no flip flops and no guns,” among other rules.

2. Filmed in front of the Tower Theater, where I explained its architectural and cultural importance.

3. Had Daithi sample a colada, a cortadito and a pastelito de guayaba (coffee and guava pastry) at El Exquisito, my favorite family-owned Cuban restaurant. I discussed the ventanita (little storefront window where coffee is served) as the space for political talk and local gossip.

4. Smoked cigars at Cuba Tobacco Cigar Company, a family-owned business that started on the island circa 1896 and has been making cigars in Miami for over 40 years. Unfortunately — or perhaps fortunately — I had to squeeze in a Monica Lewinksy joke.

5. Filmed at the Bay of Pigs Memorial on 11th Avenue, where I fielded some hardcore questions about Cuba and the exile experience.

I’m not sure if I turned Daithi — voted Ireland’s sexiest TV man — into a real Cubanaso, but he did tell me he learned a lot during the experience. And if any of my Cubanita vibes rubbed off on him, I’m sure he’s all the more sexier for it.

For the Florida segment, not only did Route 1 hang out with yours truly, they also visited with the Dolphins Cheerleaders (blah!) but made up for that with an exclusive interview of Burt Reynolds in Jupiter and the State Attorney of the Conch Republic in Key West.

This isn’t the first time Daithi and the friendly crew worked together. Previously, they shot two similar series, one covering Route 66 and the other Highway 61. They also made a documentary about country music legends.

Route 1 will air in October on Irish TV, some of which is broadcast in Gaelic. I’ve been promised access to clips so stay tuned! There are few more photos on Flickr.

Five Things To Do in Little Havana

Modest and unassuming, Little Havana is nonetheless the historic heart of Cuban culture in Miami.  If you’ve got a couple of hours to kill, visit the area and immerse yourself in a little Cubanidad. Start at Máximo Gómez Domino Park, where old-timers meet to play and talk politics, on famous Calle Ocho (Eighth Street) and 15th avenue.

1. On the last Friday of the month, take a free tour of the neighborhood with the affable Dr. Paul George, Miami’s expert historian. The tour typically meets at 7 PM in front of historic Tower Theater, which is located next to the plaza across from Domino Park.  Learn about Little Havana’s American, Jewish and Bahamian past, observe different styles of architecture and find out the story behind many homes.

2.  After the tour, linger a while on the streets, which are blocked off for a free festival featuring live musical performances, vendors, open art galleries and cigar shops.  If you’re in the mood for a smoke, check out family-owned Tropical Cigar Company for signature cigars rolled on the premises. Alfaro’s Lounge and Kimbaracumbara put on musical lounge acts at 10 PM.  For more information about the festival and the free tour, visit Viernes Culturales (Cultural Fridays).

3. Visit souvenir store Little Havana to Go, located next to Domino Park, and purchase a music CD by local Afro-Cuban funk band PALO! It’s much better than a t-shirt.  The catchy, percussive tunes, accompanied by the seductive and smooth voice of Leslie Cartaya, will bring some authentic Cuban flavor to your eardrums and hips!

4.  Try some Cuban coffee and a pastelito de guayaba (guava pastry) at the window of El Exquisito, located next to the Tower Theater.  The window, or ventanita, is a classic Cuban feature of every restaurant, where neighbors gather to catch up on news. This family-owned and operated restaurant has been serving traditional Cuban food at reasonable prices for over 30 years.  If you’re really hungry, sit down for a meal inside.  Tell them Maria sent you!

5. Order a coco frio from a real coconut for cool, refreshing from Los Pinareños on 13th Avenue and stroll through the Cuban Memorial Boulevard, a.k.a. Las Ramblas, one block east. The boulevard and its small monuments commemorate the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion by the 2506 Brigade, the Cuban wars of independence in the 1800s as well as other historical figures and moments in Cuban history.

Maria de los Angeles is a Miami-based freelance wordsmith. She writes for Miami New Times, Miami Beach 411, her own blog Sex and the Beach and a variety of other outlets. Her favorite topics are travel, social media, tech, humor, sex and of course food and culture — not necessarily in that order. Learn more at Wily Wordsmith.

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