Thursday, July 12, 2012

Miami On My Mind

Arriving in a stretch limo, South Beach-style.
Miami On My Mind
by Jamee Gregory

What could be nicer than a romantic weekend in Miami? Not much! Leaving Manhattan behind, we head for sun and fun, touching down Friday afternoon. Our luggage pops out instantly, but our driver is not to be found. The car service explains there is no space in the short-term parking lot. This sounds peculiar, but as we move outside, I understand. A giant white stretch limo pulls up; no wonder it couldn't park! Embarrassment aside, we jump in, surrounded by dancing multi-colored lights and a huge bar.

Oh well, when in Miami; why not arrive like J-Lo?
Our home away from home: The Tides, in South Beach. Tortoise shells decorate the Tides' restaurant wall.
Tides lobby.
Peter in a Tides suite
Off to The Tides, in South Beach, where passing crowds gape, disappointed to see us emerge! Having stayed here years ago, when the area was populated by models and Versace, things have changed. The hotel itself was refurbished and glamorized by Kelly Wearstler.

Tortoise shells line the restaurant's walls and the lobby is super-glam. Outside, things are different, to say the least. Steady streams of passerby march up and down, night and day, stopping for drinks, dancing and music on either side of the historic 1936 Art Deco hotel, built by Murray Dixon in 1936. I understand why my friend Blaine Trump questioned our stay in "Party Central!"
The Tides facade at night. Kelly Wearstler's Tides lobby re-design.
But we are rushing, briefly unpacking, meeting Dr. Kira Flanzraich and her husband, Neil, a couple at the center of Miami's cultural world, for a lecture on Dutch Design at the Wolfsonian, given by its creator, Micky Wolfson, himself. Seats are saved for us in front. A lively conversation ensues, as dynamic Wolfson, with a curator and a dealer, shares adventures, explaining the genesis of the collection.

Wolfson, a delightful man with twinkling eyes and a white moustache, captivates the audience. He has amassed over 125,000 objects in this seven-story former warehouse. His fascination for design and propaganda color the collections. On this evening, a group of young friends of the Wolfsonian gathered afterwards for cocktails and conversation.
A beautiful door at the Wolfsonian. Micky Wolfson, reaching out to the crowd.
Following our visit, we dine at South Beach's most enchanting location, Casa Tua, where we sit outside in the flower-filled garden. Our stone crabs, grilled snapper, and pasta are superb. We return late enough to hear only the last sounds of the transvestite dance contest next door.

The Flanzraich's tempt us with offers to see the Miami Heat play the Knicks or the Bulls. Maybe next time!
A typical South Beach bar. A South Beach live show.
Breakfast at the Tides, outside under green-and-white striped umbrellas is delicious. Fortified by skim milk Cappuccinos, berries, toast and eggs, we head to the boardwalk for our four-mile walk. How can I describe the scene? No more male models on roller blades, but hundreds of walkers and runners, speaking every language. There are Brazilians speaking Portuguese, in sleek tanks, alongside aging Russians on canes, Latino runners in Spandex, Orthodox Jews sprinting in knee-covering black skirts, teenagers on cells, in colorful jogging shorts. Older Floridians congregate in clusters, some pausing in the covered shelters alongside the beach.

To our right, the Atlantic Ocean beckons. Cabanas and life guard stations dot the sand. To our left, hotels from South Beach to Miami can be appreciated, as we pass the glamorous restaurants and pools of each, from the Settai to the gargantuan Fontainebleau. Restaurants offer access from the charming wooden boardwalk. The view is so interesting that we walk an extra mile.
The entrance of the de la Cruz Collection.
Finding ourselves taxi-less on the Ocean, we race to Collins, finally finding transportation to meet the dynamic, fascinating Rosa de la Cruz. We are mortified to be late, discovering that the hot new Design Center area, Miami's answer to the Meatpacking District, is not a quick ride. Traffic slows, but we arrive at a concrete structure with a small door, and are ushered into a dramatic three-story, 30,000-square-foot structure built by Rosa and her husband Carlos in 2009 to showcase their personal collection of international contemporary art.
A giant, majestic sculpture greets guests. Collector Rosa de la Cruz greets our group.
The first floor with its bold installation.
These intriguing mirrored panels travel and are placed on a wall covered with the local newspaper. Powerful sculptures, like this one by Thomas Houseago, are illuminated with natural light.
A work by Mark Bradford.
Rosa explains works by Rudolf Stingel, created by pressure on Oriental rugs. Rosa explains the painter's use of colorful textiles and colors used in flags to make a statement.
Open to the public, adjacent to their home, the museum's purpose is to provide education in the visual arts, showcasing the collection, organizing exhibitions, artist residencies, workshops, lectures and community outreach.

The uninformed may wonder about the meaning of strings of lights or piles of candy, but when passionate , knowledgeable Rosa de la Cruz explains her conceptual art, the process of her videos, points to works by artists like Rufino Tamayo, Nate Lowman, Sigmar Polke, Martin Kippenberger and Daniel Richter, her selections comes alive.
A Sterling Ruby stalagmite stretches to the ceiling. A floor-to-ceiling flower curtain by New York-based artist Jim Hodges, created specially for the space.
Untitled (Creek) 1974 silent film transferred to DVD, Ana Mendieta.
Gabriel Orozco's unique art works speak about inter-connection. The Ping Pond Table, with a live lotus garden by Gabriel Orozco.
Photography is well-represented.
A site specific installation by Aaron Curry. Aaron Curry, Dimensions Variable, 2010.
A video blog from the young Cuban Yoani Sanchez, who fights for freedom, hidden in Castro's Cuba.
Work by Kathryn Andrews with shirt worn by Brad Pitt during the filming of Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
Always following her heart, with her keenly educated eye, she has purchased extraordinary pieces and delights in being her own boss. There are no acquisitions committee meetings here. Following the lead of great collectors like Gertrude Whitney and Peggy Guggenheim, she has created a very personal statement, amassing a fascinating array of artists displayed in an exceptionally beautiful space. Tours are constantly offered, scholars and students welcomed, and the building itself is an anchor in this newly trendy area that will soon boast an Hermes and a Louis Vuitton boutique, joining this outpost of galleries and design stores.

The area's most glamorous lunch spot, Michael's Genuine Food, is closed on Saturday, so Kira suggests Mandolin, a charming outdoor restaurant that feels as if we are in the Aegean. After a feast of dips, pita, and Greek salads, we head for our next destination, the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.
Lunch in the garden of Mandolin's inviting outdoor dining space.
Indulging my love for gardens, Kira arranges a private tour with charming and energetic Bruce Greer, President of the Board of Trustees. Whisking us off in his open van, we are bowled over by the beauty of William Lyman Phillips' classic landscape design, as well as by the scientific, educational and artistic activities of the garden. (Who knew that Phillips worked for the Olmstead Group, designers of Central Park?) Since 1938, Fairchild has assembled a world class tropical collection, taxonomically arranged and documented, creating a significant resource.
A Robert Ryman at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
Scattered Ryman petals dot the garden.
A beautifully situated Ryman.
Robert Ryman's flowers are even more dazzling in this bucolic setting than they were on Park Avenue.
Beautifully maintained greenery .
Greer's infectious enthusiasm for these beautiful gardens is exciting. He shows us where a magnificent Butterfly House will soon stand and mentions the March International Orchid festival, sharing his delight that the 90-year-old Orchid Society is relocating here from Palm Beach.

We stop and see herons flying, children playing, Robert Ryman flowers dotting the ponds and landscapes, pausing while tours led by volunteers snake by in trams, describing over 4,000 Palms and Cycads. The eight acres are full of visitors, pausing to admire over 700 species of flowering trees.
A scene straight from the Everglades. Magnificent palms.
A lone Heron.
A vine-covered path.
An ancient tree trunk.
Greer explains the myriad of programs, from wine-tastings, to edible gardens, to rainforest visits, chocolate festivals and classes for all ages. He plans future outdoor concerts and events, to attract a wide range of visitors.

We can't wait to return next year for the grand opening of the Butterfly House, which will contain science labs, a restaurant with live butterflies, and an exhibition space. With Greer at the helm, anything seems possible!
The garden's energetic young director. Bruce Greer takes us though the construction site of the future laboratories where scientists will work behind glass doors.
The ceiling of the Butterfly House is up.
Kira Flanzraich, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden President Bruce Greer, and Peter.
Peter and me with the dynamic Bruce Greer.
Home to change, we head for drinks at the Fontainebleau, pulling up at the enormous hotel complex. We are shaken up by the lobby's lights and decibel level. This is action central! We check out the cool restaurants, Hakkasan and Scarpetta, wishing we had another night.

Instead we investigate the trendy W Hotel, where we dine at the hotspot, The Dutch. We ask to be seated in the beautiful garden, where we can hear ourselves talk. The lovely service and delicious food, from Locanda Verde's chef Andrew Carmellini, lives up to its reputation. I am ashamed to admit that I single-handedly devoured an entire blue crab pizza and a snapper in curry sauce! Afterwards we stroll down Collins, where things were just beginning to rock, around 11:30 PM. Unlike past trips, we skip the clubs. We are wiped out.
Checking out the Fontainebleau lobby. Fontainebleau swinging bar scene.
The inviting bar at Hakkasan, the Chinese restaurant.
W hotel lobby. The scene at The Dutch.
Sunday, a wind blows and we wrap ourselves in blankets for a cool breakfast. We walk, working up an appetite, before visiting the magnificent apartment of our pals, Pilar Crespi and Steve Robert. Views of the water, high ceilings, and chic décor make me want to live in Miami.

The four of us head to La Piaggia, a restaurant that closely resembles Club 55 in St. Tropez, with tables in the sand, colorful orange umbrellas, and waiters straight from the South of France. A host of attractive Europeans create a festive ambiance. Yummy pommes frites, rosé wine, and grilled fish and salads make this a favorite spot for long weekend lunches. Just as we hail a taxi, heading for the Bal Harbour Shops, it starts to pour.
Glamorous La Piaggia, at the tip of South Beach. Pilar Crespi, enjoying the scene at La Piaggia.
Indoor/outdoor greenery at the Bal Harbour shops.
Armed with Tides' umbrellas, we hit one of America's greatest shopping centers. We pound the pavement, undeterred by the rain, which waters the atrium but protects shoppers. My husband Peter rests happily, watching gorgeous Russian visitors try on dresses, while I check out Dolce and Gabbana.

Hours later we find a taxi and head for Versailles, the legendary Cuban restaurant where everyone from Bill Clinton to truck drivers stops for empanadas and mojitos. The place does not disappoint.
Peter patiently waiting at Saks.
Versailles, the famous Cuban restaurant.
Monday dawns, sunny and bright, just right for our beach walk. Time for just one more lunch, at the Soho Beach House's Cecconi restaurant. We dine under arbors of flowering branches, enjoying artichoke and avocado salads, pasta and local fish. The atmosphere is relaxed and pleasant.

Our last stop is he Lincoln Road Mall, where we have to see 1111, the fantastic parking garage/party space created by Herzog and de Meuron, cantilevered over the street.
Leaving the Tides for lunch. Arriving at Soho Beach House.
Beautiful Cecconi.
Lincoln Road Mall.
Lincoln Road.
Bikes for rent, just like Paris!
The amazing 1111 Lincoln Road, designed by Herzog and de Meuron, offers parking, retail space, luxury apartments, restaurants and vast entertaining space.
Before we know it, the clock says 4:00 and it's time to leave. We can't wait to return. There is so much to do in Miami and so many incredible personalities with great energy and vision. On the way to the airport we pass the new sports center and symphony space. More things to see in this vibrant and growing city!
The scene at the beach walk. Saying goodbye to Miami is not easy!