Saturday, February 7, 2015

Back in South Beach--Still the Strangest Place on Earth

I'm re-posting below something I wrote about South Beach, Miami, and especially Lincoln Road, back in September of 2011 when I spent a month here while awaiting the birth of first grandchild Amalia.   Now I've been back in her parents' wonderful art- deco apartment for some three weeks, this time with 3 1/2 year old Amalia along for part of it, and I've found changes--some for the better, some not.  I'll report on the changes in my next post.  But still, every day, walking up and down Lincoln Road, the pedestrian street full of restaurants, theaters and art galleries at the heart of South Beach , I'm convinced it's one of the most fascinating and, well, strangest, streets in the world. 

  South Beach—We’re Not in Kansas any More

I’ve now been living in South Beach, Miami, for over a month and I think it’s time to go home.  The other day I was walking on Lincoln Road behind a six-foot-tall curvaceous female wearing only a tiny black string bikini and very tall spike heels, and I took a good second look to decide whether she was a man or a woman. 
This is not such a strange reaction on my part, since nearby Ocean Drive swarms with gay bars and drag brunches in its elegant Art Deco hotels.   Absolutely no extreme or peculiar dress gets a second look on Lincoln Road, while back home in Worcester, MA, the bikini-wearing vision in front of me might get arrested, if she was walking on Main Street.
Lincoln Road, the heart of South Beach, was re-designed around 1960, by Miami Beach architect Morris Lapidus.  His design for Lincoln Road, with exotic gardens, bubbling fountains, raised “grassy knolls” for kids to play on and an amphitheater, reflected the Miami Modern Architecture, or "MiMo", style. The road was closed to traffic and became one of the nation's first pedestrian malls—stretching for eight blocks from Alton Road to Washington Avenue.
I’ve been here since Aug. 12,  renting an apartment in the same Art-deco building where daughter Eleni, her husband Emilio and my first grandchild, two-week-old Amalía, live.  (For an account of Eleni’s trials, tribulations and triumphs mastering the art of breast feeding, check out her blog post, “Say Yes to the Breast.”)
Every morning I set out to the nearest Starbucks, half a block away, past the optimistically waiting pigeons, to get my coffee and newspaper and then I walk up and down Lincoln Road, marveling at the rare and amazing  species of people, animals, flowers and birds.  This is surely the most exotic, bizarre and just plain weird street I’ve ever seen, and this is coming from someone who lived on Manhattan’s 14th street in the 1960’s and is familiar with Venice Beach in LA and Haight Ashbury back in the day. Skate-board champs, shirtless and covered with tattoos, somehow avoid running down Hasidic Jews and  bikinied beauties.
Every day you see the regulars—panhandlers and people who earn money as living statues (this one is Ghost Elvis)
or weaving palm fronds into baskets,
juggling or letting  people admire his pet lemur  (or whatever this is.)
There are a plethora of design stores and art galleries.  I loved this piece of art work—a dog excreting a long length of pink fabric—juxtaposed with the nearby Dog-pot.
If you are a seasoned Lincoln Road pedestrian, your accessory of choice is a small dog or a baby in a stroller, and your vehicle is a Segway, or a skateboard, a rented bicycle or a motorized wheel chair.
I think no street anywhere has the caliber of restaurants, food stores and cafes as those found on Lincoln Road. I’m trying to taste every one of the tartes at Paul’s, which is so French that both staff and clientele seem to speak French most of the time. 
I’ve already discovered my favorite flavor of ice cream at Kilwins.  (It’s Kilwin’s Tracks—they throw in bits of all their hand-made candies.)   
The Ice Box, which serves indescribable brunches, makes, according to Oprah, “the best cake in the United States”.  Good thing there’s no scale in this rented apartment.
All the restaurants lining Lincoln Road have tables indoors and outside, and most people sit outside, despite the sweltering heat.  Cooling fans and misting machines make it bearable.
Overhead are towering palm trees chock full of parrots and parakeets which squawk non-stop and sometimes come down to be hand-fed morsels 
Orchids  grow parasitically on many trees but the most famous tree on Lincoln Road is this “Orchid Tree” dripping with  blooms that look like orchids but bloom only at night.  Its proper name is Bauhinia Varigata.
Lincoln Road turns into an outdoor market every Sunday, selling every exotic type of fruit or flower or spice or Latin food that you can think of.

An atmosphere of sin hangs heavy over the street, especially at night.  There are party busses with smoked glass windows and advertisements for “No-Tell Hotels”. 

Every time I walk by the  “Vice Lounge” I wonder what goes on inside.  This is what the outside looks like.
 When you have exhausted all the pleasures and vices of Lincoln Road, you can continue to the end, where the Ritz Hotel offers the best Happy Hour food and drink around.  (Every single restaurant and bar has a happy hour every day, sometimes starting at noon.)  Or you can hitch a parachute right on the beach.
No wonder every time I walk down Lincoln Road I feel like Alice falling through the rabbit hole or Dorothy landing in Oz.   But like those two ladies, I’ll have to return home in the end.  Sadly I’m leaving South Beach and my new granddaughter in four days.  Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home”, but I’m here to tell you, home is no place like Lincoln Road.

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