Day 2 – 25 February – Art Deco, the News Cafe, a memorable Setai dinner and sunshine

The sun returned after yesterday’s storm. Clear, blue skies but strong northerly winds bringing cold air down from the north. Nonetheless, the day here always starts with a stroll on the Boardwalk and a nose around the beach. The Boardwalk is a walking/cycling/jogging/skateboarding route that runs between the beach and hotels on Collins Avenue. It’s a busy and pleasant walk nearly 4km long but a big surprise was finding an eruv established there. For those of a secular persuasion this is a line of posts linked with a line [often fishing line for practical reasons] that establishes an area within which Jews are allowed to perform simple tasks on the sabbath; in effect, an ‘inside’ area designated ‘outside’. I’m pretty easy about a religion having its own special practices so long as they don’t affect outsiders or non-believers and, to be fair, this doesn’t seem to make a difference to the enjoyment of the beach or the replanted dunes. I wonder, though, if the same degree of tolerance would be demonstrated by Judaism. After all, this is a specific religeous incursion into public territory. From personal experience I’d say not and I know that in California a similar installation – again along a beach – has caused a lot of concern due to rare birds that nest there flying into the line. The local Jewish community didn’t seem to get that point and was unsympathetic. Funny how these eruvs don’t seem to enclose wasteland or industrial areas which would have minimal impact on the rest of society but, then again, wouldn’t be an attractive walk on a Saturday either.

What was and always is an attractive walk is a tour of the Art Deco buildings in South Beach. The style dates from Paris in the 1920s although the term only came into common use in the 1960s. The buildings; they comprise houses, apartments, hotels and some shops, fascinate me as an architect but the cultural background – the ‘roaring twenties’, the development of Florida and Miami and the collapse of the dream in the wake of the second world war – is so engaging, something too lengthy for me to bore with here. The influences are Greek, Egyptian and, I’ve read, Mayan, and the idea of painting a building pink, pale green or turquoise might seem unthinkable away from here but add bright sunshine and a pervading laid-back atmosphere and it works so well. It’s a joy to experience.

We made the News Café and had breakfast outside, listening to cool jazz in the sunshine between a Cuban couple – he was smoking a huge cigar and ignoring his sultry, dark-eyed companion – and a British couple – he was reading The Sun and she was tutting over the Daily Mail. As always, the eggs and bagels were perfect. After that, Lincoln Road for shopping and then a gentle stroll back up the boardwalk [carefully avoiding collisions with tight-bummed roller bladders of both sexes] and a rest on the beach.

Being a birder can be a pain, both for me and anyone I’m with. I can’t relax in case anything turns up [don’t let on but some parts of our holidays are awful; we have nightmares about being asleep on the beach when something weird and wonderful flies over] and, if it does, we have to point it out in the hope that some of our enthusiasm rubs off on anyone around. Results in spreading the word, so to speak, have been mixed but the sight of a Great Black-backed Gull late today was quite something. These guys are rare in Florida and have a long way to come from Europe for the reward of picking over scraps of pizza on Miami Beach. It kept me out until sunset and freezing it was. The storm I mentioned before is sending cold air down and it was a frighteningly Arctic 13degC by the time the sun went down.

Dinner was one of those very special experiences. The Setai Hotel on Collins is part of an Asian chain that is both select and uncompromising. It has a huge reputation and it’s completely justified. Actually, it’s also bloody expensive but most things in life are double-edged swords. The food, from a variety of Asian cuisines, was simply excellent; we had tuna sushi and lobster to follow. The staff was well-organised, quietly busy and efficient and couldn’t have been friendlier – about all you could ask. We were privileged to have the executive chef, Jonathan Wright, visit our table and spend an inordinate amount of time with us. We’d read Michael Winner’s review in the Sunday Times a short while ago so it was interesting to have a further reflection on what has been an ongoing dialogue between the two. Nuff said. Jonathan is a charming and sincere bloke and made the evening very memorable. Highly recommended.


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