The immigrant child carries with her a tangled ball of yarn. Pull on it a little and she’s flooded with memories of the home country. A little more and she’s forgotten it all, embracing the new, culturally almost assimilated, almost, but then pull again and she misses the old place, and then some more and she’s critical of it -- and so on and so forth. It’s a lifelong game.
But the immigrant child has this wonderful thing going for her: she looks at new places with interest and finds ways to like them.
Even Miami Beach.
Sunrise. I can barely see this – my window doesn’t acknowledge the sky, but something outside is turning brighter. Out I go. To the ocean of course.
Mornings by the ocean are my very favorite time there. The colors, the light, yes, all that, but also the people: morning beach people typically have interesting reasons for being there.
I come across, too, the older people who like walking in the hours when they cannot sleep. Me, I could have slept longer, but the AC and I were in a nightlong battle and when, belligerently, I finally turned it off, I felt that I had cheated no one but myself. So in the morning, I left it all and took to the beach.
(The fault is really not with the hotel which is actually very nicely staffed and pleasantly mod and clean, but with the room. They changed me today to the top (2nd) floor and it made all the difference.)
I’m at the southern most tip of Miami Beach and somewhere across the water I can see the towers of Miami proper, but I’m not going to make it there this time around – no time, no need – I have enough here, on Miami Beach, to fill spaces between conferencing.
On the walk back to the hotel, I came across Joe’s crab place. Famous, large, I mean, grossly large. These are terrible places for solo dinners. But I go inside because they have a storefront that opens in the mornings. So here you go, if you wanted to indulge in a dinner of Florida crab, you’d come here. But not with me. Not this time.
And now it is decently early (as opposed to indecently early) and I see that my little hotel is set up for what they call a (free) continental breakfast. I drink my con leche (a Cuban coffee that is good and strong and with just the right amount of milk) and I’m munching on a nice sweet pastry. Is it with guava? -- I ask. Cuban pastries are often with guava.
The woman behind the counter, a lovely person with a thick accent confirms. Noting my interest, she tells me – go visit my favorite café bakery. It’s just a few blocks from here. Behind the CVS.
This is when I started to like Miami Beach.
The corner café she spoke of has a counter opening to the outside too, so you can drive up, get your café con leche, toss around a few sentences with someone you know and keep going.
Or you can linger over your guava roll, or your plate of huevos at one of the handful of tables.
I could stand and watch for a long time the comings and goings in and around the place.
A long time.
But, my first conference session starts at 11 and I have a five mile walk before me to get to it.
A solid, good walk. First, through the quiet, colorful neighborhood north of the café.
Then eventually along the main drag of Miami Beach – Collins Avenue. Here, Miami Beach shows its true colors. Its big hotels, unique, yes, very unique...
But still, they are what they are: big hotels. The Family Law Section of the American Bar Association has chosen the Eden Roc for its spring meetings. The hotel is splendid, or awfully splendid, depending on how much you take to these kinds of places. Big and glitzy with rules about how you must dress when passing through the lobby. Myself, I don’t intend to undress here, but I’m of the mind that if a person in a bikini or one of those European skimpy speedos wants to pass through proudly, so be it. There are, by the way, a lot of Europeans in Miami Beach. French, Italians, Germans. True, their own sea coast is closer, but it’s not nearly warm enough there in April and besides, Miami Beach is just so American – in ways that make you feel like you’re getting a good look at how this country lives and breathes.
It fits the stereotypes, in a colorful sort of way. Like L.A., only with a more accessible beach.
I have just a few minutes to admire the beach area...
... and then I am sucked into the over-air conditioned interior for meetings and workshops – one after another until finally the morning morphs into late afternoon and I am done. Since these meetings bring together attorneys from all over the country, there is not a chance that I’ll know anyone – not this time anyway and so I back away from the social events. Tiki cruises are even less my style than Miami Beach without the Tiki cruises.
And now I face the long walk back to my hotel. I take to the beach this time, walking under suddenly very cloudy skies to the west, so that I am in complete shade, but with a view toward the blue skies in the east. Bright and dark all at once. With the usual umbrellas, lovers, sea gulls, etc etc.
At one point I come across an older woman sprawled just by the water’s edge, her face almost buried in the sand. I run to the beach umbrella people and tell them that surely she is nearly dead, but they assure me that she is in her normal repose, there every day, huddled by the water’s edge. They cannot touch her because it is, after all, a public beach.
Somehow I do not think we have adequately addressed the problem of homelessness and mental infirmity in this country.
It’s a long walk and I pass many many colorful umbrellas and beach scenes, but by the end of it, I know I am just this: very hungry. The small guava pastry and coffee feel as if they were from another day. A mere memory.
I stop at another Cuban-American institution of a place – Puerto Sagua. Since it’s early, around 5, it has mostly a mixed local crowd even as the place is right smack on Collins and very favored by guide books and, therefore, visitors. But they’re nice to everyone here --- outsider, insider, no matter. We all get the well worn menu, the bottles of spicy sauces, the ridiculously rich and delicious café con leche. I order, too, a fresh mango juice and a tortilla de camarones (eggs with shrimp).
Good, solid food.
And just then the clouds let out some drops of rain, but I’m fine with that. I’m almost home and I am certain that within an hour or two, this pretend rain will surely pass.
It does. And in any case, I don’t go very far for dinner.
I don’t know if it’s grand to eat outside because eight months out of the year I can’t do it, or whether it just is grand to eat outside. And if you’re a Floridian, is it boring? Like the exquisite new car that after a while, just gets you from point A to B?
No matter, I do love it and I look for places that have tables outside. Like the Locanda up the block from my hotel.
So it’s Italian. South Beach is littered with Italian eateries. Cuba, meet your cousins from across the ocean. You do rice and beans, they do pasta and tomatoes – it’s all comforting and good, no?
And this sets me thinking (and I think especially vividly because the nice waiter from Italy – oh yes, from Italy and he loved fishing on Lake Garda as a little boy, yes, indeed, in Gargnano too! – makes sure that my wine glass is never empty) – it sets me thinking – isn’t it fascinating how we’ve settled into loving the rituals of ingesting food? Ed, the holdout, is not quite on board with that – he would love to bring along a book to read on our dinners out, just in case neither of us has a good story to share. But he refrains, perhaps realizing that he is fighting millennia of pre-established etiquette.
So I eat. Squid ink pasta which, admittedly is not hugely Floridian, but still, the Italians have come here and they have had an impact and now I am eating their purple pasta and loving it, so there.
I’m in my hotel room now, finishing this text, liking the fact that I can open the window and keep the radio on and basically liking the fact that I am here... and that I’ll be home soon. Saturday. Right in time for my birthday.