Thursday, March 15, 2007

EDGE of PARADISE Episode 3

Men of Business

Miami is one of those half tourist, half business towns that wakes up late. The bars on South Beach stay open until 4 a.m. or later, so things are fairly quiet until 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning, even then it's the sanitation department or city workers who are milling around. South Beach, the southern most tip of Miami Beach has become a mecca for the young and beautiful. Wonderfully restored old art deco hotels line a mile stretch directly in front of the beach. An endless collection of trendy restaurants, cafes, and shops draws customers from an unending river of humanity that files by on the sidewalk that runs from one end of Ocean Drive to the other. Coconut Grove and Coral Gables have their respect as night spots, but the king or queen of the night, depending on your persuasion, is South Beach. Every language can be heard in the cafes that spill out onto the sidewalks and side streets, a veritable United Nations of party seekers, fashion models, movie stars, and perverts.
The respectful socially acceptable Miami is the downtown business district with its obligatory high-rise office buildings and banks. Just South of downtown is Brickell Avenue, some of the priciest real estate in the world. Here Miami's international jetset reside and work.
Many federal, state, and local government buildings are clustered together nearby. Julio Suarez, first generation Cuban/American and domino champion, begins his shift every morning as head landscapist for the federal administration and courts building near the Miami River. The federal building, built in 1927, has immaculately maintained lawns and landscaping. Julio has maintained the facility for 12 years. He has been offered other jobs in the past but he enjoys working downtown and, as a government employee, his benefits and insurance are excellent. Each morning the first thing Julio likes to do is trim the shrubs. It gets much too hot in the afternoons to work hard so he likes to get the more strenuous chores out of the way in the morning.
This morning as Julio trims the hedges next to the big buildings' front entrance he notices some damage to the hedge row. Julio can see that someone or something has trampled his hedge without much regard. As he surveys the damage he discovers that a complete section of hedge row has been destroyed and sitting in the midst is a startling find. Six white crosses, three feet high, are standing in a triangular arrangement like bowling pins. Each white cross is wearing a blue Metro-Dade police shirt. The uniforms look as if six disembodied spirits have taken to wearing clothes to give them at least some semblance of form. Julio is terrified and speechless. He notices a manila envelope pinned to the cross at the very front of the triangle. Printed in neat letters are the words, PLAY ME. Senior Suarez pulls the envelope free from the cross and looks inside. A shiny CD-ROM emerges from the envelope, totally non-descript.
* * * * *
Just south of Cuba lies Isle De Joven, Island of the Young. The island is a Cuban protectorate and is set 80 miles southwest of Guantanamo Naval Base and 200 miles north of the Cayman Islands. The island is sparsely populated and, for the most part, undeveloped. Along the southwest coast beautiful white sand beaches are draped in coconut palms that reach for the sky. The beaches, warm and deserted all year long, run for miles completely undisturbed by man.
The island has remained undeveloped primarily due to politics. Cuba hasn't had the resources to develop the infrastructure of mainland Cuba, much less invest in a small island. Plans were underway in the late 50's to build a luxury resort community near the beach. A development company, constructionnes De Joven, actually cut roads and cul de sacs into the jungle near Point Mar on the southwest corner, complete with driveways into future home sites. A large entrance way with stone walls and security check points still stand with the now rusty metallic letters which read Los Casas De Joven, Houses of the Young.
The project was headed up by a casino owner from Havana, an American who came to Cuba in the early 50's and capitalized on Cuba and Batista's liberal gambling laws. The fact that airplanes and ferry ships could move between Miami, Key West, and Havana made the prospect for gaming irresistible to Sam Gibardi. Mr. Gibardi built a respectful business for himself constructing motels and hotels in the booming Daytona Beach and Miami Beach areas in the late 40's and early 50's. It was assumed by many that he was a front man for New York mob interests. Many mob accountants were funneling profits from numbers, prostitution, protection schemes, and various criminal enterprises into legitimate business investments. These legit businesses gave the Mafiosos a way of retiring into a comfortable upfront lifestyle later in life.
Gibardi sold his construction business in Miami and moved to Havana with his family in 1955, subsequently building the Cordova Hotel and Casino along the waterfront. The Casino became immensely successful and Gibardi could be seen regularly driving his 1956 Eldorado Cadillac convertible while engaging a Cohiba cigar in a fitful fight to the very finish. Sam Gibardi and a number of his counter parts grew rich and obnoxious. Gibardi convinced a few of his friends that a luxury resort on the Isle of Joven with individual mansions, a golf course, and private landing strip would be the perfect retirement center for the fabulously wealthy and illegitimately gorged. Sam bought the land and built a great deal of the proposed accoutrements.
A choice home site on a small hill overlooking the beach and the Caribbean was his personal
choice for his own home that would also double as a model for others to follow. A well known Cuban architect, Juan Luis Diega, was hired to design what became a sprawling Spanish Mediterranean style villa with courtyards, circular driveways, separate guest and servants quarters. A large pool behind the home seemed to melt with the Caribbean below as a continuous body of water, an optical illusion designed by Diega known as an infinity pool. A large open room sandwiched between the main house and the pool served as a gathering place for Gibardi, his family, and occasional guests. The spectacular estate was very busy on weekends and holidays, but vacant during the week when the family returned by private plane to Havana
and the Cordova Hotel

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