As it was dark outside when we arrived at the Catalina Hotel and Beach Club, http://www.catalinahotel.com/ on Collins Avenue in South Beach, I did not have my sunglasses handy when we sauntered into the lobby dragging army duffels full of used shoes and soccer balls behind us. Had I known about the giant glowing pink Christmas tree gleaming like a demon in a Steven King novel circa 1970s, I might have come prepared. Regardless, it was a funky eye-numbing display of over the top holiday magic that told this farm girl, she wasn’t in Kansas any more. And I couldn’t have been happier. Bring on the coconut eggnog!
Christmas in South Beach, a.k.a. Miami, is a huge departure for someone who’s Midwestern version of the holidays more closely resembles Ralphie’s in the Christmas Story. My standard memories of the holidays come laced with overcoats, mittens, evergreen trees and green bean casseroles. The closest I’ve come to shooting my eye out was with an actual be-be gun as opposed to a flaming pink tree. That Miami may be closer to the truth surrounding Jesus’ birth with its temperate weather, palm trees and succulent plants – glowing pink trees not withstanding – had always been just a notion to me until now. It was high time I got in touch with a warm weather version of the Christmas story.
An end of the year mission trip to Jeremie, Haiti prompted this short overnight stay in South Beach and my traveling buddy, Dave Duba, wrangled a $55 a night per room rate at the Catalina just one block from the beach. Surrounded by stylish art deco architecture and dripping with palms, it’s an eclectic little place with high walls of abstract art, yarn bombed balcony railings, a red bar and free drinks from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. Tip the British bartender in advance like my buddy, Dave, and she pours heavy. *wink*wink*
After checking in we went to find our wacky little rooms – which wasn’t as easy as it sounds as 120 followed 115 and my room, number 119 was one corner and about ten rooms more away. But it was worth the where’s Waldo fun as mine came decked out with all white furniture and bedding in a room with blood red accents and a subway tiled bathroom. Fortunately, they were also generous with the toiletries as I managed at least one shower and packed the rest for Haiti – a smart move since I sweated like a camel the following week and went through soap and shampoo like a squirrel in a nut house.
After dropping our gear, we went in search of food and fun, leading us to the Lincoln Road Mall a few blocks south and west. If I die tomorrow, I want to be cremated so little spoonfuls of my ashes can be scattered in various places I’ve come to know and love, for instance, my grandparents’ former place in Holland, Michigan, the river near our farm, the spot where the old goat shed stood on the farm I grew up on, any aisle at a Hobby Lobby, tool town at Lowes and – as of now – the outdoor seating at Pizza Rustica along the Lincoln Road Mall. Yeah, I know that sounds lame, but seriously, this place is cool. And I love Hobby Lobby.
We window shopped our way up Lincoln Road headed for dinner and enjoying the glittery bacchanalia of South Beach when the David Dubas – father and son – stopped in their tracks. What could cause two men to grind to a halt and drool in an outside mall? An overly aggressive Victoria’s Secret display? Beyonce shopping for shoes?
Nope. Just a pre-production version of Tesla’s Model S sports car sitting in show room, glistening like Santa’s sleigh if the fat jolly man were, in fact, Italian, computerized and totally electric.
Naturally we went in. Naturally we climbed into the car. Naturally we pushed buttons, stroked gear shifts and drooled on the leather interior. And naturally they had to pry us out with crowbars. Perhaps it’s a good thing my Christmas list was firmed up a long time ago and that deliveries for the Model S don’t start until 2013. I might be more than a little poorer otherwise. But, dang, what a stocking stuffer….
A half hour later with red lacquered stars in our eyes and more than a little dehydrated from drooling, we waltzed back outside and headed to Pizza Rustica. How do I love thee, Pizza Rustica? Let me count the ways, including supreme, barbeque chicken and quarto fro mage. Have I mentioned that food porn leaves me weak in the knees?
We grabbed seats outside, placed our order, sat back and took in the scene. We people watched. We chowed down on excellent food. We stared at palm trees decked out in Christmas lights. We chowed down some more. I could get use to this.
Afterwards we headed to the Peter Lik gallery, LIKMIAMI, http://www.lik.com/ just a few doors down from our dinner destination. If you’re ever in the area, go. Sure, check him out online – no doubt his images have caught your eye before. But there is no comparison. Seeing his work as it’s meant to be seen – huge, well lit, in a darkened room and framed – will leave you breathless.
If my discretionary income ever skyrockets, I know where I’ll be shopping first. Fortunately, Rey Borges was on hand to give us a tour of Peter’s work, and I grabbed his card for future reference. Rey has a treasure of his own – a necklace made from sunken treasure in the form of old Spanish gold – and he’s a delight. Take the time to seek him out and he’ll give you the behind the scenes story of what Peter went through to get some of his iconic shots.
We left the gallery and continued window shopping, coming to the western end of the mall. Crossing the street south, we worked our way back towards Collins Avenue, pausing for glitter and glam along the way. The weather was warm, the conversation fun and the surroundings exotic. Granted South Beach, Florida is an odd send off for a mission trip to poverty stricken Haiti, and I do appreciate the contrast. If anything, it gave me an interesting perspective on the week to come.
But one thing did occur to me as I tucked myself into my big sprawling bed in my funky little Catalina room.
I definitely want to go back.