NY Mirror

I could have sworn Miami Beach had peaked along with drag, butter, and breast implants, but it's still booming so fiercely that developers are scrambling to find new corners of it to exploit for voluptuous aesthetes and leather-faced guidebook holders. The open-air Lincoln Road Mall is now as wall-to-wall with tourists (and people) as Ocean Drive, and over the causeway, even Miami itself has enjoyed celebrity fallout, the Design District playing host to a mass of chichi furniture showrooms centered on a 40-foot high-heel-shoe sculpture intriguingly known as "the gondola."

The town is founded on a religion devoted to pure hedonism, rewarding beauty in architecture, weather, and pecs—in South Beach, it's The New Yorker, not porn, that comes in plastic—but it's all so seductive you gladly check your mind at the door for three days while taking in a variety of Volleypalooza marathons and white hotel lobbies. It's bizarrely fabulous, even if everything seems borrowed from other cultures and is so thrown together that the natural food market is adjacent to the Pleasure Emporium—you can get some arugula and a lap dance in one quick stop.

Celebrity spotting is feverish—"Look, that's Victor Alfaro's twin brother, Pablo!"—and the hotels and clubs use the star mania to lure you in. A dive called the Fiesta Promenade stations a sequined huckster outside, where he doles out free-admission wristbands to frisky pedestrians of his choice. The creature told me I'd get to meet Lou Bega (you know, "Mambo No. 5") if I went in, and I don't know what's more pathetic—the fact that I chomped at the chance or that I couldn't find him!

I was sent down by the Miami Film Festival, which is so press-friendly the reps will drive you to an after-hours strip club if you feel like it—they just want to promote Miami in any form. They even arranged a museum director's tour of the Wolfsonian—a stunning assemblage of modern objects imbued with messages about progress and politics—and luckily it was right next to Twist, a sprawling gay hangout filled with gyrating go-go boys. (The slogan? "Never a cover . . . always a groove.")

The fest's opening-night film, The Golden Bowl—which I saw only the second half of due to pesky flight delays—seemed lush and absorbing, though one woman was complaining, "There was no action!" Please—at least someone drops the bowl at one point. For Merchant-Ivory, that's practically an action thriller. At the party by the gondola/shoe, the action involved the film's Jeremy Northam working the room in that disarmingly dashing way of his. "Miramax was going to release the movie, but they got cold feet," he oozed, as I stood transfixed. "They dyed my beard black, but it never came off on my pillow," he added, my jaw dropping in admiration. "You can buy some coasters here," he quipped, as I continued panting, dumbstruck. I don't know if the guy's devastatingly witty or just plain gorgeous, but either way I'm in serious like!

Sobering things up, actor Germán Jaramillo told me he plays a writer who falls for a teenage hustler-killer in Barbet Schroeder's Our Lady of the Assassins—the festival's grittily compelling attraction the next night. "The film shows the contradiction between love and violence," he said, but I didn't realize those were two different things!

Love was harmless again in the fluffily Brazilian Possible Loves, which provides three potential scenarios for a guy's romantic life after his girlfriend disses him. (In one of them, he changes his hair and goes gay.) After the screening, I asked director Sandra Werneck if she'd seen the similar Sliding Doors. "I didn't like it," she said, bluntly. "It was cause and effect—'What if she doesn't go?' In mine, she just doesn't go. That's it."

And so I went—to hotsy totsy restaurants, like Mark's South Beach and Bambú, where you can taste the status; Gordon Biersch, which has crispy artichoke hearts and a wacky waiter who told me he was stunned when the owner of Level nightclub came in and ordered a cosmo with rum; and Tantra, which has grass floors, hookahs, "aphrodisiac shots," and a really cute chef. There, Ocean Drive magazine's Eric Newill did Bette Davis impressions, and former New York club kid Michael Tronn said he's happy promoting Sunday gay parties down at Crowbar because "guys are free to drop the butch act and let out their inner woman." Alas, mine's already out on parole and holding my inner muscle queen hostage.

After a hop over to the Parrot Jungle, an insanely enjoyable theme park where squawking birds ride bicycles on a high wire, I crawled back to the hotel, where they were casting some playlet at a Christian kids' group gathering. "Who wants to be my shepherd today?" the organizer asked, and I volunteered, needing to cleanse my soul after the highly debauched weekend. I lost out to some three-year-old bitch, so I promptly boarded my high-wire bike back to New York, where beauty lies not in your looks, but in your real estate value.

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