Swelter 45

Nirvana at last, all of us spilling out into the upper galleries, seeking drink and sustenance. Snob that we are, avoiding the simple fare we clawed our way out of long ago, making a beeline for arcane cuisine. Like the hors d'oeuvres, the human buffet studiously ecumenical, fellow South Beach veterans, those dirty little counter-jumpers, mingling with their financial betters. The rough enchantments of downtown paling, and alas, two and a half enemies on hand A out of our Rolodex, out of our life -- invariably getting underfoot in close quarters. Dear God, we know why the caged bird screeches.

Fortunately, a tasty sampler package of nice people -- Andrew Tobias, Jan Cowles, Max Blumberg, et al. -- also in attendance. Bixie Matheson, a woman of sense and sensibility, introducing us around as a gossip columnist, a billing that tends to put a chill on conversation. A sudden drop in volume, followed by Wolfson's disembodied and mellifluous voice, the Wizard of Oz introducing Manuel E. Gonzalez, Chase Manhattan Bank Art Program executive director, and Michael Holden, Chase Manhattan Private Bank Florida chairman, the bank donating two copper finials from its collection, architectural wonders that once graced the Woolworth Building in New York. From there, chattering through the chattering classes, eventually drifting into a heated discussion of protocol and ethics, assuring the societal labyrinth that blind items, no matter how pointed, are the last word in c'est publicite chic.

Hung over onto oblivion the following day, stumbling to the La Gorce Island home of Elizabeth and Alfredo Baracasa, the last word in jet-set hospitality. An agitated Spanish guitarist setting a tone of post-Ibiza abandonment, the gathering featuring Latin socialites, the Aspen crowd, mo' models, and a contingent of first-class-level stewardesses, whom the Baracasas had met on the flight from Venezuela. For no particular reason, save trashiness and provocative party theater, salsa dancing with a beloved friend -- not bad, despite his insistence on leading -- and running smack-dab into the immensely likable Prince Michel de Yougoslavie, Palm Beach icon and citizen of worldwide glamour. The Prince wearing jeans and velvet slippers, each adorned with little red devils, a scamp taking nothing seriously: laughing about his former fiefdom ("It still exists, although maybe a little smaller now"), the royal brigade ("Oh, we're all just no-account counts"), and the eternal whirl:

"Miami is so much younger and fun -- the junior set up there starts at 70. We're still old-line in Palm Beach: conservative, private, and reserved, with a bit more pride, perhaps, than some of the social people down here. How long would it take to make you the toast of Palm Beach society? In your case, it may require a considerable amount of time -- maybe even a week or two.

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