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Traveling In Style : CORRESPONDENTS' CHOICE : STREET SCENES

March 01, 1992|Mike \f7 Clary, Miami bureau | Six Times correspondents from around the world offer brief portraits of fascinating streets in cities they have covered.

CALLE OCHO, Miami

"Ah," said my friend from Boston,stepping out of the car and inhaling deeply, "it even smells tropical here." We're in Miami's Little Havana, on Southwest 8th Street, which is known to almost everybody here as Calle Ocho--and at first I think this visitor is merely standing downwind of the exhaust fan at Malaga, the restaurant and flamenco bar we're headed for. But then I think, no, he's right, it does smell tropical here. And it's not just because of the heat.

On the sidewalk, in the cutout spaces where the dark olive trees grow up from the concrete, 30 years' worth of shredded tobacco and spills of rich Cuban coffee have percolated into the dirt. From the open-air fruit markets, the lingering scent of overripe mangoes and papayas mingles with the sharp perfume of fresh-cut carnations, and the bakers blow whiffs of sugary guava pastelitos out the screens. From dozens of cafes drift the aromas of roasting pork, simmering black beans laced with garlic and olive oil, peppery picadillo. When the man selling granizados-- cones of shaved, syrup-covered ice--spills the strawberry, that, too, gets tracked down the street and mashed into the mix.

Each year in March, a million people come to spend part of a weekend on Calle Ocho, to eat hot twists of fried dough called churros and drink beer and the refreshing non-alcoholic malt beverage called malta , and as they dance madly to the music of salseras such as Celia Cruz, their sweat drips onto the pavement and the body heat generated by that party remains long after the celebrants have gone.

And bitter tears fall on this street, too, every day. Around the Bay of Pigs monument, women mourn fallen martyrs, and men cry in anger and anguish over a homeland that seems so near and yet so lost.

Inside the restaurant, we sit stirring citrus slices in a pitcher of sangria while a small overhead fan stirs the space between the kitchen and the door. Everything that rises must converge, I think. Right up the nostrils to the brain.

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