A Day In: Miami Beach
If you know, you know..
Happy holidays! Welcome to the 83rd issue of Place, AND our last dispatch of 2021! This year brought with it so many ups and downs, but if there is one thing for certain, this newsletter, its readers, and the community its created has been life-giving for us. We hope its brought you something similar. Since its inception, we’ve intended this newsletter to be a place of escape and wonder. A small corner of the internet that causes you to pause and think a bit differently about the places around you, how they shape us, and how we shape them. We’ll be taking the next two weeks off to rest and enjoy some much-needed time with our family and friends. We’ll see you in 2022!
And now, onto the meat and potatoes. If you enjoyed last week’s dispatch then this one will be a similar treat. Today, we’re bringing you another story from our ‘A Day In’ series, albeit from a very different part of the world than the historic Polish city of Krakow. Today, we’re headed to none other than Miami Beach – slap on something neon and come with us.
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The sign that greets us is neon, pink and blue, with flashing green palm trees. “Welcome to Miami Beach” it reads. It's a funny thing to have your expectations met exactly in a place you’ve never been to. To have in mind not faint ideas that are smudged out with the watercolour of reality, but fully formed images, drawn in black ink, coloured to perfection upon first sight. This is what it felt like arriving in Miami Beach, a place I’ve never visited, and truthfully, barely Googled before I travelled there. Although it was evening when I arrived, the neon welcome sign was a singular reassurance – that this was a place that knew itself so well that its projections, even to those that were strangers to it, were accurate messengers. That, to me, felt like pure delight.
In the morning, those images in my mind were filled out even more. The tall facades of hotels rose up around me from the humidity of the air above the sidewalk, coloured stark white, light pink, pale yellow. Straight and smooth lines, accented by geometric shapes, rounded corners, and zigzags, exuberant buildings that, once forward-looking in their time, had now settled into their identity, corners crumbling upon closer inspection. The positivity of the architecture was palpable, and made even a short stint standing on the cusp of a sidewalk an infused activity. Beyond this, were the sounds: vespas, their high pitched reverberations echoing off sunlit walls; escalades, black, booming out the intoned points of cuban music, getting louder and softer as they pass. Languages, Spanish, French, Russian, German, tourists and locals mixing like an estuary on the footsteps of lobbies, around golden luggage carts and slamming trunks. These were my first glimpses of the streets of Miami Beach, experienced through a quick onset of sweat.
Of course, not everything about Miami Beach was exactly how I had pictured it. As we made our way through the area around our hotel, I was surprised to see a plethora of Kosher delis and bakeries. Miami’s Jewish history, I would subsequently learn, vitally shaped the city seen today. A small but active population of Jews in South Beach in the early 1900s ballooned after the second world war, as Holocaust survivors and refugees made their way to relative safety. As the economy of Miami Beach subsequently rode the post-war boom, Jews played a large role in transforming the city’s architecture and tourism industry. Kosher friendly supermarkets and restaurants proliferated, as did temples and community groups. Miami earned the titles of ‘Little Jerusalem’ and ‘Shtetl by the Sea’, as many Israeli Jews likened it to the ocean-side views of Tel Aviv. During the Cuban Revolution, thousands of Cuban Jews sought refuge in Miami Beach. While the Jewish population has since dwindled, many hotels still have Shabbat friendly practices, and one of the city's most popular nightclubs even hosts a ‘Matzo Ball’ Christmas party.
While a large part of our mornings in Miami Beach were spent lounging by the pool, by afternoon, we would eventually make it out to the beach. Here, white sand stretches for miles in each direction, and is crowned by a sapphire sea of warm waves. Formations of pelicans glide by silently, while the hum of prop planes carrying large banners of advertisements draw your eye upwards from the sea. This beach is not a place of tranquility or stillness, but of playfulness and fun. Families and kids play in the surf, groups of friends lounge around buckets of cold Modelo to the soundtrack of portable speakers. Along the entire stretch of the beach runs a boardwalk filled with walkers and runners, more often than not in bikinis and speedos.
The joy of the beach continues on into the night, when, walking along Ocean Drive you are greeted by miles of restaurants, bars, and clubs, the music from each overlapping on the streets to create a sweet cacophony. Some eateries boast live performances of music to dancing to entertain you while you eat, while at others, white tablecloths and jazz music elevate the heat of the street into air conditioned elegance. The poolside restaurants of hotels drip out onto the boardwalk, giving you excuse after excuse to stop in for an extended happy-hour drink. Fast cars, forced to slow down, glisten in traffic lights. The brush of a stranger is warm, lingering.
One evening, we visit Joe’s Stone Crab, a historic eatery, and get a couple of crabs to-go. We carry them in paper bags across the street to South Pointe Park, which looks over a part of the city’s harbour, and sit down to eat. There’s a dog-meet-up of sorts next to us, and couples rollerblade by, dressed in bright pink and green. An enormous cruise ship, donning a waterslide which hangs dangerously over its towering edge, sails by us. We count its chandeliers and guess which room is the ballroom.
Here, in a part of a city I’d never thought I visit, I feel oddly at ease in a way that is sometimes difficult to feel on a weekend trip. Some cities feel difficult to get a sense of when you’re there for only a few days. They make you trek to each hidden cafe or secret neighbourhood to get a slight glimpse of their character, and even then, it can feel like you’re missing out on some inside joke. Miami Beach, though, has shown its full shining face. By the nature of me just setting foot within its territory, I have become a fly on the wall of a great house party. Unabashedly itself, this is a place that is impossible to ignore, that does not hide itself away in corners but says instead, through a neon sign, “You are here, welcome.”
A street funeral in Montreal.
Have a happy holiday. We’ll see you in the New Year!