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NOLA: The Big Easy beckons
“Up here! Up here!” Everyone on the balcony was shouting to parade revellers below, arms outstretched to catch beaded necklaces ﬂung up into the air. I wasn’t even there during Mardi Gras, but in New Orleans (also known as NOLA), there’s always a reason to celebrate and on Bourbon Street, there’s always spontaneous bursts of revelry and music.
But unless you’re a university student on break, don’t linger on Bourbon Street. Instead, walk a few blocks over to Frenchmen Street, a decidedly more charming and quintessentially New Orleans experience. This is where I found a poet-for-hire, moodily lit by neon, telling his tale of how he ended up in NOLA with his typewriter. But the live music was calling—a jumble of jazz and hip hop and rockabilly, spilling out onto the street and tempting me in. The Spotted Cat (spottedcatmusicclub.com) and Snug Harbor (snugjazz.com) are favourites among locals.
But my main goal was to eat my way through New Orleans—the best way to explore such a culturally diverse city with regionally speciﬁc cuisine. Char-grilled oysters are a staple in this town, introduced over 20 years ago by Tommy Cvitanovich, owner of Drago’s Seafood Restaurant (dragosrestaurant.com). I’m used to the fresh, briny scent of delicate raw oysters, so the smell of garlic, butter and cheese was inconsonant—until the ﬁrst bite. The rich sauce that bubbles over during grilling to create caramelized, chewy edges works beautifully with the Gulf’s larger, meatier oysters. Equally delicious but far trickier to eat are crawﬁsh. Seafood boils are a tradition in which crawﬁsh comes steamed in a bucket and dumped over paper in a heap on the table in front of you. Forget the cutlery, dig in with your hands. When you face your ﬁrst boiled crawﬁsh (it’s inevitable), remember this: pinch the tail, twist the head and pop the meat out.
Try Bevi Seafood Company (beviseafoodco.com) or Schaefer’s Seafood, which has been around for over 40 years. And don’t leave without trying a po’boy (traditionally fried oysters on baguette-like bread). On a hot tip, I ventured outside the French Quarter to Liuzza’s for her famous BBQ shrimp po’boy (liuzzas.com).
After all that seafood, wash it down with a frosé: frozen rosé. While these adult slurpees can be found in most restaurants throughout New Orleans, this sophisticated version is rumoured to have originated at Willa Jean (willajean.com), a contemporary southern-comfort-food eatery specializing in exquisite baked goods. The cornbread and tartines are just about as famous as the frosés. And if that’s not enough, try a beignet, a French take on a fritter, another sweet treat that NOLA’s known for.
The best place to walk off all this food and drink is through one of New Orleans’ hauntingly poignant cemeteries, nicknamed “cities of the dead”. The most famous is St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and its most famous vault belonging to the voodoo priestess, Marie Laveau, an occult and voodoo practitioner during the mid-1800s. Whether or not she had special gifts, she did hold great power over residents who both feared and respected her. Her inﬂuence continues today, evidenced by all the “X”s covering her vault. It’s rumoured that you can invoke her spirit by marking an “X” on the tomb, turning around three times, knocking on the tomb, telling her your wish, then returning later to circle your “X” and leaving Laveau an offering. If that’s too complicated, you can always buy a voodoo doll at Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo (voodooneworleans.com) in the French Quarter. Which is what I did. — Catherine Tse
MIAMI MODERN: Where art is hot!
Ah, Miami. It conjures hotness…as in beach, beach bodies and spicy Cuban fare, moves and music. And, yes, there’s all that. But there’s a hot factor in its art scene too.
The city has become a modern-art mecca, which Art Basel Miami shines a bold spotlight on. The see-and-be-seen party gets the glitterati out (think Leo and George and such), mingling, critiquing and buying contemporary artwork (this year it’s on December 7 – 10).
But to partake in Miami’s art scene all you need to do is walk through Wynwood Arts District (wynwoodmiami.com). Edgy and all things hip, this once industrial ’hood is now home to more than 70 art galleries, performance spaces, shops, bars and restaurants. And its crown jewel is the Wynwood Walls street-art installation (thewynwoodwalls.com).
Beyond those vivid walls are galleries within old warehouses, now showcasing museum-worthy private collections. Your mind may be blown at the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse (margulieswarehouse.com), housed in a 45,000-square-foot retrofitted warehouse that presents seasonal exhibitions from the vast collection of renowned art collector Martin Z. Margulies. Sample artwork: the spread wings of a three-ton sculpture by German artist Anselm Kiefer. Sprache der Vögel, or “Language of the Birds,” refers to 20th-century French alchemist Fulcanelli’s ideas on hidden truths and the transformative nature of alchemy. Stand beneath its massive wingspan and let its meaning soak in.
There’s more to ponder at the de la Cruz collection (delacruzcollection.org), in the nearby Design District (miamidesigndistrict.net). An extension of billionaire art lovers Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz’s home, it’s another massive (30,000 square feet) contemporary art space showcasing mind-boggling sculptures, paintings and installations. And it’s free to the public.
Also free in the Design District is the Institute of Contemporary Art (icamiami.org), which is all about experimentation in contemporary art. A new 20,000-square-foot exhibition space and 15,000-square-foot sculpture garden (yes, Miami likes to go big) open on December 1, 2017.
Still in the Design District, meander the pedestrian-friendly maze of shops and office spaces to find various public art pieces like Neo-Futuristic architect Buckminster Fuller’s “Fly’s Eye Dome,” which is…just that. A 24-foot fly-eye-like sphere that’s considered a green-architecture pioneer—an interactive sculpture that the artist called the “autonomous dwelling machine.” It connects underground parking to the sky and courtyard above (part of the Palm Court shopping centre and another must-see design project composed of glazed-glass fins by architect Sou Fujimoto), where you’ll find a giant bust of Le Corbusier by French artist Xavier Veilhan. Surreal.
Just south is the Pérez Art Museum Miami (pamm.org), Miami’s main art museum, which, besides the art inside, is set in a 200,000-square-foot showpiece by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron. Its simple-and-sleek three-storey slatted canopy, hanging vertical garden and expansive deck overlook Biscayne Bay—a celebration of the city’s tropical vibe.
And on the other side of Biscayne Bay is the Art Deco wonderland of South Beach, where there’s both eye and ear candy… Gape at the curvaceous shapes and pastel palettes of iconic architecture from the Rat Pack era and then have picnic in the park while listening to the New World Symphony (nws.edu) projected on the façade of yet another architectural masterpiece, this time by Frank Gehry. It’s Miami modern. — Barb Sligl
MORE: Check out miamiandbeaches.com