Friday, January 23, 2004

South Beach blog.

Upon arrival in Miami Beach, I ditched my rented SUV in a parking garage and embraced more basic transport, my feet. I put several miles on them that afternoon. After I had lunch, that is. Come to Miami Beach and the cuisine of choice is -- Cuban? Seafood? Novelle Fusion Haitian Sushi? No, I stopped at Kim's Chinese, near the end of the Lincoln Street open-air pedestrian shopping mall, and had the "jerk chicken," a term I’d never encountered at a Chinese joint. Delicious, but not especially Jamaican that I could tell.

Walked south, toward the art deco district. By that time I knew that a festival was going on there, Art Deco Weekend. A long stretch of Ocean Drive had been blocked off to cars, and given over to pedestrians and booths offering food and crafts. I wandered down the street, eyed all the things worth seeing: dressed up buildings, dressed down women, oddly dressed buskers. In front of a Mediterranean-style mansion, it seemed that an unusual number of people were stopping to take pictures. I later learned that this had been Gianni Versace's mansion, and place of sudden death.

Spent some time on a bench in the park between Ocean Drive and the beach. The street on one side and the beach on the other were both fairly busy, but there weren't too many other people near where I was sitting. One person who was nearby, maybe 50 feet away, had the look of a homeless man -- a black man with long graying hair and beard, a tattered suitcase and some other articles stacked near him. He was standing right at the edge of the park, next to the beach, and without warning he produced a recorder and started to play. He was quite good. Perhaps he had a lot of time to practice.

I was floating along with that, but all at once another man approached my bench and started a conversation. I wasn't altogether receptive, especially since my enjoyment of the impromptu recorder concert had been interrupted, but I was civil. He was middle-aged and dressed for touring, and said he was in town from Connecticut, glad to be out of that weather, etc. He might have been trying to pick me up; this seems to happen to me every five years or so; but I can't be sure. After a few minutes, he wandered away, but by that time the black man had quit playing.

Not long after that, I joined a tour given by the Miami Design Preservation League, the art deco walking tour. The guide, a fellow named Jim, was knowledgeable as a good guide or docent needs to be, and took a cluster of about a dozen of us to see an assortment of art deco and Mediterranean Revival hotels, some in startlingly good repair, some a little seedy, some under repair. We even took a look the Miami Beach Main Post Office. Not art deco, but interesting -- a WPA building with a mural illustrating various Seminole wars, and a place where there had been a decorative water fountain. Inside the post office.



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