Another round over here

People never change. We're rushing toward the new millennium, having come such a long way in the past couple of thousand years, and what's grabbing everyone's attention? Piles of rocks. Way to evolve.

They worked for The Blair Witch Project, and now piles of rocks are enthralling Miami, which isn't an easy thing to do. This particular arrangement, plunk in the middle of downtown, was unearthed when the bayfront property at the mouth of the Miami River was being cleared for a $126 million development. Archaeologists believe it was put there, perhaps as a cultural center, perhaps by the Tequesta Indians hundreds, maybe thousands of years ago. Public pressure to preserve what has come to be known as the Miami Circle caused the Miami-Dade County government to say "Yoink!" and take the land from the developer.

It doesn't look like much, but the Circle has an armed guard at its fenced-in perimeter. His presence makes us hedge toward it like children who aren't sure whether shaking Chuck E. Cheese's hand is going to be fun or traumatic. People have made a shrine of this place: The fence is festooned with flags from many nations, religious icons from Kali to Jesus (who, in this rendering, looks a bit Robert Goulet-ish), and lots of lace and sunflower-patterned ribbons. It could be a lefty demonstration site sponsored by the Rag Bag Quilting Club. One sign says "Save the Circle," and beneath it there's a replica of the real thing. My friend Gwen thinks that's the actual circle; I have to tell her it's just a miniature. "I was gonna say," she admits, "all this fuss to save that crap?"

Circle jerk

The actual crap is a good deal larger. We're directed to a better view of it by Eduardo the security guard, who is all apologies over his earlier coldness when we asked him where to park. He gets annoyed, you see, by all the people stopping by, which is like Santa Claus saying, "This job would be fine if it weren't for the kids." He tells us the best view is on top of the parking garage, directs us there and says, "Just don't go over the fence," like a cop saying, "OK, but no looting."

The view is good. What we see is clearly a circle. The headline-making rocks, however, are wrapped in plastic like Laura Palmer. Theresa, the third member of our explorer's club, notes that the rocks are famous because they have withstood the elements for centuries -- and now someone seems to feel they require Hefty bags for protection. I think Trojan should sponsor the whole shebang.

It's kind of fun to imagine what it was to its creators all those years ago. One possibility described by the archaeologists -- a meeting place to exchange goods -- sounds like our equivalent of an outdoor mall. We don't have much of this in Orlando, but outdoor malls do exist where it's nice to walk, shop, stop in restaurants and galleries and just sit and enjoy the scene. In other places these are called "streets."

And if it were any other place it would be easy to imagine the Circle as your run-of-the-mill, old-timey tradin' post, with grubby people bartering ax heads for clay pots. But we're talking about ancient South Floridians here. This makes the Circle of speculation take on an entirely different cast.

Model display

Suddenly it seems impossible for it to be anything but a runway for ye olde supermodels who traipsed around it looking gaunt and bored while fashion critics furiously sent smoke releases about "a revolution in pelts" to bewildered tribes elsewhere. The Circle's set-up clearly denotes a stage, possibly used for drag shows. ("Put your hands together for Miss Dances with Wigs." ) Whatever the Circle was, it was probably renovated by some slick developer tribe from New York. When they got there it was just mud; it took a little ancient market savvy (and hiring the Drapes Drapes Drapes tribe to do some interiors) to make it into a circle of rocks where everyone wanted to see and be seen. After that, the proletariat primitives could go there and piddle with excitement upon seeing the Tequesta Gloria, Tequesta Sly and Tequesta Madonna trading stories about having to eject the Tequesta Mickey Rourke from their ceremonial after-parties.

Florida boasts the oldest city in the country, yet we're seen, even by ourselves, as trendy and transient, a state of strangers. The Miami Circle gives us evidence of a history, something solid, something that might give us a deeper image. It might even encourage us to treat our lives here as something deep and resonant, as opposed to cheap and fleeting.

Then again, a lot of us really like cheap and fleeting. Maybe this preservation business wasn't such a good idea.

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