Thursday, January 29, 2009

A South Pacific Landscape in Palm Beach's North End

A South Seas escape in PB's windswept North End. On the left, a colossal Atingting Kon, a Vanuatu slit gong, a smaller ceremonial wood carving rests on the low stone wall and a Balinese Sphinx-like stone statue sits atop the coral stone entrance, surrounded by traveler's palms,or more familiarly, ravenala madagascariensis, flowering banana trees and sprays of bougainvillea.
By Augustus Mayhew

Bali Ha'i may have been only a dreamworld
immortalized on Broadway but for John C. Dotterrer the far-flung South Pacific is inspiration for his secluded Palm Beach landscape on the island's North End.

Today, the residential streets platted north of Wells Road between Lake Way and Ocean Boulevard resemble a manicured upscale suburban subdivision. With its ocean-to-lake estates leveled, lost is the once tropical tangle of overgrown banyans, coconut groves, guava trees and fields of wild roses, lilies and violets. "I do not wonder that people who get their first view of this tropical vegetation here go into ecstasy over the place," wrote journalist William Drysdale in 1891, after The New York Times had dispatched him to Palm Beach to confirm whether the barrier island really was the garden spot of Florida. But, alas, within a few decades of Drysdale's testimonial, the North End's primal habitats and the Cragin family's magnificent botanical estate, Reve D'Ete, were replaced with blocks of manmade landscapes, abandoning Olmstead's prescription for lush greenery; instead, embracing clipped hedges, decorative flower beds and courtyards modeled from imported Spanish villages and Tuscan villas.
In comparing a similar gong at The Metropolitan Museum of Art to the one planted in his front yard, Dotterrer said, "I like mine much better than the one at The Met. "The eyes on mine are more saucer-shaped; The Met's are more psychedelic," he added. A carved stonework depicts a tribal demarcation line on Sumba, one of the largest islands of the Indonesian East Nusa Tenggara region.
A large stone crocodile lounges on the bank of a small stream with various water elements; Melanesian still lifes nest among the plantings.
These Balinese ladies subscribe to the popular Palm Beach maxim, "Less is more."
Despite the island's pervasive allure for ficus and facades, Mr. Dotterrer, a Worth Avenue attorney, has amassed his own exotic island, reminiscent of what the NYT first described more than a century ago. After several Pacific expeditions took him through the maze of Coral Sea and South Pacific Islands, Dotterrer began transforming his North Ocean Blvd. yard into a private archipelago with small ponds, streams, bamboo, cinnamon trees, macadamias, banana plants, stone carvings and even, what he calls, a mango cocktail tree, a hybrid of seven mango varieties. And, although Palm Beach lacks tribal chanting, sorcery ceremonies, lava lakes, and an active volcano, the island's savages are known for their complex social rituals.

"I acquired the gong on North Ambrym, an island in the nation of Vanuatu, an independent sovereign being an archipelago of some 80 islands," said Dotterrer. "Before its independence, the islands were administered as a "condominium" compact jointly between the British and French, an unusual form of government that was sometimes termed a "pandemonium" by the denizens, subjected to conflicting laws, cultures and cuisines," he added.
On Dotterrer Island, the Lamborghini stands ready for that next trip to Publix, a stylistic complement to the owner's sleek-lined Mid-century Modern house designed by architect John Stetson. The welcome gong has replaced the traditional doorknocker.
The Vanuatu slit gong is carved from a breadfruit tree, creating a hollow chamber within the narrow opening where the musician places his mouth and begins making its own musical sound language. Considered among the world's largest musical instruments, the gongs are played at social and religious events, as well as an intercom between villages. Hmm, could the gong's drumbeats replace the cell towers atop The Breakers? The spiral motifs on the eyes symbolize the morning star; the vertical opening represents the mouth, or ancestor's voice, from which the music emerges.
It's all monkey business along the back wall with crotons and split philodendrons.
"There is an equine theme to the large Sumba stone carving in the front yard," explained Dotterrer. "On the island, wood statues and stone carvings have great significance, especially horse motifs."

The Pasola festival is a popular Sumba diversion, celebrated by opposing teams on horses throwing spears at each other, sometimes resulting in the loss of an eye or a life, all part of the game.
Above, left: In case the Lamborghini is in the shop, there is a backup.

Above, right: A wooden tribal Y-shaped pole with carved birds is positioned along the back property line where the morning sun casts large shadows of the symbolic totem on the lawn. "Bird racing is a popular sport and this tribal artifact represents their reverence for birds," said Dotterrer.
The Sumba adore their decorated horses.
Yet another museum piece, an Indonesian stele set in the sand amidst the traveler's palms. Seen coming up for air from a backyard stream, a Balinese mermaid admires the angel trumpets and makes sure her hair has just the right wave.
An Afternoon in Miami ...
The newly-opened ArnoValere art gallery is one of the latest additions to Miami's developing Design District, now several blocks composed of more than one-hundred fashionable venues, showrooms and restaurants, along with John Marquette's under-construction design for the de la Cruz Building, new home for Rosa de la Cruz's art collection.
Miami's Design District has become the South Beach I remember from pre-Pottery Barn days, an eclectic mix of International style and incomparable people watching. Last week was time for a seasonal lunch with architecture critic and author Beth Dunlop, editor-in-chief of Home Miami magazine, where I am a contributing editor, so we stepped around the corner from Beth's office to Michael's Genuine Food & Drink.

Even before NYT sage Frank Bruni proclaimed Michael Schwartz as one of America's best, his restaurant was booked with most of Caracas and half of Milan lined up for tables. During Art Basel, I introduced NYC art advisor Lacy Davisson-Doyle to Michael's where Baby's Key West coffee and Michael's maple flan with wood-roasted pear and gingersnap ice cream sandwich left us dazed with euphoria.
Sign at the entrance to a Design District antique shop. A magnificent golden tilefish undergoes Michael Schwartz's scrutiny, the prized catch seen swimming off Cape Canaveral just hours before, now looks like it will be on Michael's dinner menu in Miami.
The extraordinary Michael Schwartz, right, with James MacNeal, left, prep the next pizzanissimo.
This time, after Beth and I downed an encore of maple flan we followed it with a tray of simply sensational jelly cubes, blood orange, chocolate, lemon, pomegranate, Granny Smith and raspberry, among them.

From there, I was up for a browse at Books and Books in Coral Gable, where Mitchell Kaplan, co-founder of the Miami International Book Fair, stands guard. Then, a stop at the incomparable Versailles, a Calle Ocho landmark, for a taza de cafe before crawling back north in the traffic gridlock.
A Coral Gables institution for more than 25 years, Books and Books has a satellite on South Beach's Lincoln Road.
Scintillating titles line the shelves of Books and Books.
Cafe Versailles is the nerve center of Calle Ocho, home to more than a million Habaneros exiled for 50 years, counting the coffee cups until they return to Cuba.
Parking at Versailles can be an ordeal at any time, especially if Fidel Castro is rumored dead, which is every day.
The scenery inside Versailles is like nowhere else this side of Havana's Vedado district.
Along with arroz con pollo, pastries and talk of Old Havana, Versailles is all about Cuban coffee. Across the street from Versailles, La Carreta offers classic Cuban cuisine but without the don't-miss floor show at Versailles.
Seen parked and polished in Miami's Design District, looking much more waxed than many of its counterparts being driven on the streets of today's Havana.

Photographs by Augustus Mayhew

Click here
for NYSD Contents