Swelter 26

Once more into the breach, another onslaught of rigorous fun, another year of hope triumphing over experience. The season, a heady brew of distractions and rough amusements, greeted with the usual mix of dread and delight. Miami's annual march through the winter solstice, the city primed to bask in the radiance of society, the merry waltz inevitably winding down to severe overexposure, fabulati burnout, earnest pledges to stay home and read something besides W and US magazine. But then, people need other people, especially when the idea of a quiet night at home is a thing akin to death.

Off and running to Turnberry Isle, driven by time's winged chariot and a sudden compulsion for three-nut salsa, for an 80th birthday celebration in honor of Robert Mondavi, hosted by the South Florida Chapter of the American Institute of Wine & Food. Dining in state with assorted foodies and wine buffs, the tables adorned with grapevine centerpieces and clogged with wine glasses, negotiating some seven courses of arcane cuisine: Allen Susser's roasted lamb with cumin-baked calabaza, Norman Van Aken's yellowtail with foie gras and drizzles of roasted plantain, Robin Haas's tolena-farmed quail, "various amuses" from other chefs. Somehow, good food takes the sting out of it all.

Settling in with a glass of 1987 Mondavi pinot noir reserve and a mouthful of wakame noodle salad, a very vital Robert Mondavi throwing out running commentary from the podium: "It's fun to play with wine, even aggressive ones, with the symphony of flavors we just had." Conversation, as it will, touching on this and that. Douglas Rodriguez leaving Yuca and opening a restaurant in New York, socialite Renee Weiss rueing charity-ball boot camp, given to slipping out after cocktail hour for pizza. Celebrity chit-chat with a social veteran, Jack Nicholson and Christopher Reeve showing up at an Aspen tennis tournament smoking joints, Bianca Jagger A of all people -- yanked out of a Miami Grand Prix parade car for her political views. Dessert consumed, our companion content ("I'm so full, I'm so happy"), the lights suddenly going down for a grand finale. An overture out of Rocky, searchlights sweeping the room, the chefs running up on stage like football players ("And here's Stormin' Norman") at a Super Bowl banquet. It really is a great town.

On to the slightly less luxe environs of downtown, gearing up on the ethno-culture scene at Stephen Talkhouse with mambo pioneer Cachao, appearing at this weekend's all-star Afro-Cuban Jazz Festival in Bayfront Park. Cachao's career embracing everything from the 1959 classic Havana Jam Session album to stints at Radio City Music Hall and local quince parties; legends, like everybody else, forced to take what comes in life. The old pro deconstructing the standards, flailing his bass at certain points, the percussionist "Patato" -- elfin, virtually expressionless, totally cool -- chanting along on lyrics like "I don't want to be your dog." Very Village Gate circa 1968, the audience in a trance of cubanisma, dancing in the aisles, chanting "Otro" and gushing a lot: "Excoose me, but cono man, this is too Cuban."

Talkhouse, in conjunction with the Rhythm Foundation and Cultura del Lobo, also presenting Inca legend Yma Sumac this past week. The rebirth of Sumac bringing to mind a thousand drunken gay dinner parties, the hosts rhapsodizing over the Voice of the Xtabay album, breathlessly recounting the roller-coaster rise and fall: from Peruvian country girl to international star, Sunset Boulevard cocktail waitress, and now, cult figure. In America, thank God, every life has at least two or three good acts.

Jumping with that crazy Latin rhythm, popping into Velvet for China Club Mondays, the other leg of the devil, as the Cuban saying goes. A good-looking crowd, models and such, promoter Tommy Pooch opening Spo-dee-o-dee, incorporating industry parties, jam sessions, and better yet, an "Up All Night" pizza parlor. Andrew Costas of Union Bar doing a cafe south of Chili Pepper with a Vargas pin-up girl theme, as well as a country-western bar off Lincoln Road. The city on its way to becoming a reincarnation of underground Atlanta, clubs and other glitz outposts sprouting up everywhere like renegade fungus. The Turnberry-meets-St.Tropez La Voile Rouge opening up in the old Egoaste space December 15, Mandy Fernandez doing the Savoy Cafe next door and a luxury-car leasing operation, perfect for those grand evenings on the town. Mickeys, the dance club-cum-Irish/Italian/Jewish-restaurant operating under the celebrity benediction of Mickey Rourke, debuting in late October with a boxing theme decor. The Impala Hotel on lower Collins, aimed at the money brigade, set to open November 15. Le Club and Le Drugstore already in operation, spreading the gospel of Le Lifestyle. Finally, a city that Versace can be proud of.

The voice mailbox bringing the usual seasonal tidings: the opening-night festivities for Phantom of the Opera at TOPA this week, the new United Foundation for AIDS doing a benefit cabaret show with the Phantom cast on November 7; a contest for aspiring Paco Rabanne couture models at Van Dome; an upcoming evening of "love, love & fashion" A wait, that's our story A with Sandra Bernhard at the Colony Theater. Debbie Ohanian and Kerry Simon hosting a series of small fashionable world dinners at Starfish, from Gary James's crew to Rony Seikaly and company. The restaurant opening for business October 15, Ohanian ready to "let the cash register ring." A sudden trip to California cutting the social calendar short, missing the press of events: Joey Goldman and Thea Qulick opening 638 Collins Friday night, the South Florida premiere of Naked Tango at the Raleigh. Set in Argentina, circa 1924, the movie following the progress of an immigrant bride trapped in a bordello, falling under the spell of an "enigmatic tango-gangster." Big names all around: Leonard Schrader as writer/director, Jane Holzer, of Kiss of the Spider Woman, as co-producer. Fairly steamy material, a faxed plot synopsis making our day complete: "Alba arches her back in surges of ecstasy...looks into Cholo's fierce eyes: 'The only thing sex is good for is cheating fools out of money.'" Truly, juicy stuff.

Holzer a true legend of the pop life, reared in West Palm Beach, going on to become "Baby Jane Holzer" in the early Sixties, the young heiress immortalized by Tom Wolfe as "The Girl of the Year." Cavorting with the Rolling Stones, plugged in to all the happenings, still on target: "It was so great; I loved every minute, laughed a lot. The scene is so different now, and I know I haven't had as much fun since then. Now I'm older, more serious, and I don't have as much time to play, goddammit. But let me tell you: I don't regret one breath of anything.

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