It's nearly the end of their three-week Florida tour, so Bev and Warren sort out a babysitter and give themselves a well-deserved night on the town. But first it's time for something cultural...
An old University friend of mine, Ruth, lives in Miami and now works as an educational guide at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. She told us it was worth a visit and offered to give us a tour. Vizcaya is a lavish 34-bedroom Italian Renaissance-style villa and a 10-acre formal garden. It's a bay-fronted oasis of calm and stateliness, a world away from South Beach.
It was built in 1916 by agricultural industrialist James Deering, who decided to swap the icy winters of Chicago for the warmer climes of Miami after being diagnosed with anaemia. The house is packed full of furniture, paintings, tapestries, musical instruments and numerous other objets d'art collected by Deering and architect and artist Paul Chalfin. It encompasses several different artistic and architectural movements, with an English neoclassical library, baroque reception and the Renaissance-style living room. It also has a swimming pool, and a large terrace leading out to a stone 'pirate' ship, where Deering hosted many 'society' get-togethers.
The house has played host to the likes of Queen Elizabeth II, Pope John Paul II, and former US president Ronald Reagan, and was also used as a film set for Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. Deering stayed here in the winter months from 1916 until his death in 1925. After a hurricane struck Miami in 1926, the building was seriously damaged. It was handed over to local authorities in 1952 to be opened to the public as a museum.
We strolled through the gardens, through the coral-covered caves, and chased Freddie around the maze. As we toured the house, Ruth told us that despite laying on extravagant parties for Miami's high society, Deering was actually a shy man and had built a secret section within the house so he could sneak off during the parties and have some time to himself.
After our tour, we head back to the hustle and bustle of South Beach for lunch at Dolce, the Italian restaurant at the Gale, a newly-opened hotel just a block away from our hotel, the Catalina. The menu is contemporary Italian, with wood-roasted pizzas, home-made pasta and fabulous salads. The arugula salad has already got a big fan base. We ordered this, and a selection of other entrees which, to be honest, would have been enough. Freddie loves pasta, so was delighted by his enormous bowl of spaghetti. Of course he couldn't finish it so we took most of it back to the hotel in a doggy bag, rearranging the well-stocked mini-bar to squeeze it in.
The weather was glorious, mid to late 70s, so we headed to the beach. Like most of the hotels along this strip of South Beach, the Catalina has its own private section of beach with sun beds and umbrellas and the services of waiters. Ours were a distinctive red and white, while other hotels had different colours and shades. Annoyingly, we arrived to find that a voucher was required in order to claim our 'complimentary' sun beds, so I left Warren making sandcastles with Freddie and trotted back to the hotel to get them. Apparently guests are usually informed about the vouchers at check-in. The front desk staff were very apologetic.
We had arranged for Ruth's daughters to babysit that night and our plan was to tire Freddie out so he wouldn't cause them any trouble. We splashed around in the waves, lifting him up at the very last minute as he squealed with a mixture of terror and delight. By the time we got back to the hotel, we were exhausted too.
We showered and changed, fed Freddie the rest of the spaghetti, and got the room ready for the babysitters. Chocolates, crisps and TV remote in position, we all headed up to the rooftop bar for 6ish to treat ourselves to a cocktail. Alcohol is not cheap in the US but you'll soon notice that the measures are much more generous. My margarita was so strong I had to send Warren back to the bar for more mixers. After just one drink, I was already feeling very merry indeed. We shared a second, then Happy Hour kicked in. Happy Hour at the Catalina doesn't just mean half-price drinks, it means free ones - a choice of gin, rum or vodka with a mixer. It seemed rude not to take advantage. By this time, Freddie had spotted that the TV behind the bar was showing the Simpsons and had taken a pew on a bar stool. The glamorous bar girl served him a shot of orange juice and we just had to take a photo (don't show social services!!).
By the time Ruth and the babysitters turned up, we were schozzled and it took all of my concentration to get Freddie safely tucked up in his cot and give instructions about what to do if he woke up. Once mobile numbers had been exchanged and everyone was properly briefed, Ruth, Warren, myself and Colin, a friend from New York who was also in town, headed out to the bright lights of South Beach.
Now, I'd like to tell you all about our wonderful night out, but I have to confess it's all a bit of a drunken blur. Excited by the prospect of a chid-free night, and totally underestimating the strength of Miami cocktails, we had drunk way too much, too early, too quick, and didn't even make it to a nightclub as planned.
Based on what I can recall, and the photos on my digital camera the next morning, I know we walked up Lincoln Road, a pedestrianised street lined with pavement cafes and restaurants, and I know we ate Thai food, and I have a vague recollection of walking back through a park. I can remember having a rather bizarre conversation about weebles with the Russian barman in our hotel bar, so I'm guessing we must have had a nightcap there. It was fun, but I wish I'd never had that first lethal margarita.
The Russian barman, who's name I don't recall!
Wednesday, February 13, 2013