In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Everywhere you turn, Wynwood is an original

“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.” — Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “Notes from Underground.”

A windy early afternoon and I’ve come to Wynwood, a capital of urban art and what’s hopeful about Miami, in search of inspiration — the lost words, as a poet might call them.

Or, perhaps, I’ve come to this unconventional corner of our city to reconcile with the endings marked by 2012 and transition into the New Year.

Probably both, but motive feels irrelevant now.

At first, the streets seem quiet, abandoned by the customary art fiends and the parade of local characters — rich and poor, ordinary and avant-garde — that make this a unique neighborhood.

An occasional car, a flock of roaming chickens, and the fallen brown leaves of winter swirling against the curbs are the only moving things.

As I come around North Miami Avenue, the side wall of a mom-and-pop sandwich shop appears in a splash of color and geometric design, and in black and white, words plead: “MAS PAZ” — more peace.

From this point, the signs of life at the heart of the district begin to appear like ants vying for a sugar cube.

Drivers hustle for a good parking spot on meter-less side streets.

People jaywalk across Northwest Second Avenue to view and photograph what has evolved during the last four years as an international art destination: The Wynwood Walls, a scattered and ever-growing assortment of extraordinary works by graffiti artists, both homegrown and from around the world, on just about any surface available.

A preppy young man, backpack strapped tight and ears plugged-in to his surely personalized music, studies the masterful “Vision of Wall Street Labyrinth” by Barcelona artist Liqen. He surveys traders who wear cockroach wings and office cubicles topped with shark fins and barbed wire.

A woman and her black shaggy dog bask in 70-degree weather at an outdoor bench at Panther Coffee, where beans from Nicaragua and El Salvador are sold by the pound and sturdy cappuccinos are served with foam artfully shaped into a heart.

Art, everywhere you turn, art.

Almost every business now sports the brushstrokes of an artist on their walls, including the motorbike shop, the therapeutic indoor children’s playground, and the gun shop (those are everywhere, unfortunately; here, in a decorative pattern of camouflage and a sign that warns: “No loaded firearms allowed.” Really?).

Agh. I defer that last thought — and savor the art scene.

One must.

Blink and you miss Miami, as it is, in this moment.

“Change is inevitable,” a friend counseled the other day. “We hate to see change, but sometimes you have no choice but to accept that the world changes.”

I’m not ready to accept change that wipes out the past, I think, as I make out some of the local artists’ tags on the painted walls. I’ve interviewed some of these once lost young souls who have found a purpose here. It’s these flashes of recognition that makes Miami home.

I remember another time, another place that flourished with the influx of artists then irrevocably changed with development: the funky, bohemian Lincoln Road, circa 1989. How we loved the Sunday stroll to the French café Lyon Frere’s to leisurely read the New York Times with an endless supply of cappuccinos and baguettes. How we loved to peruse the emerging artist studios.

It felt then, as Wynwood does now on a day when it’s not an international spectacle or the site of a fashionable art walk but a neighborhood, that we were the only ones who knew the secret life of paradise.

On that note, I embrace 2013 echoing the Wynwood wish for “ más paz.” Only I would add the foolish hope that the anti-preservation cretins in our city develop a little love for Miami, respect its history, and find harmonious ways, as has been done on South Beach, to build upon heritage instead of erasing it. Lincoln Road would not be what it is today without its Art Deco charm.

As I frenetically photograph the Wynwood walls to keep them forever in my treasure chest of memories, I sip my cappuccino-to-go and conjure Dostoyevsky.

I say let Miami go to hell, but I should always have my coffee.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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