The consolation of philosophy, food, and art all came to us recently over a delicious meal of fried chicken and collard greens at our new favorite lunch spot, the cheery pocket-size Lorene's Cafe, contained within the bar-that-time-will-never-forget, the Satellite Lounge on NW 7th Avenue and 62nd Street. Normally a squalor-central neighborhood with limited entertainment possibilities (a JESCA branch office, a Chinese restaurant called Chop Suey Corner, and an Islamic worship center) would not be on our rounds. But the presence of Lorene's and the Satellite - beat up and wonderfully gloomy, with a thematic motif of luminous space-exploration paintings - makes it well worth the trip. Owned and operated by the very unaffected Lorene Brown ("This place used to be called the Savoy; it was white-only then. I started out at the bar 30 years ago when it changed hands and became The Satellite, and I been here ever since"), Lorene's has been brought to our attention by the impresaria, choreographer, and enthno-culture voyager Mary Luft of Tigertail Productions.
Over time, the points of the Luftian world culture universe have become precisely honed. Nena's Botanica on 27th Avenue. The Malaga restaurant for real flamenco dancing. Coral Castle. Bass music, so cutting edge you should only hear it in cars. Chez Julie, the Haitian nightspot. A house in the so-real-it's-hip Spring Gardens section of Miami, a section populated by, among others, arts promoter Ruth Greenfield and black activist H.T. Smith.
Lorene's is, of course, part of that whole mondo Miami scenario, as is all the Latin culture connection stuff that Luft revels in. Having "broken ground" with projects such as the New Music America festival and the New from the USA art exhibition she brought to South America last year, Luft is now closing in on her biggest project yet, a presentation of alternative art events at the prestigious 21 International Bienal in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The Tigertail exhibition at the Bienal (which opens September 21 and runs through December 10) was not an easy thing to coordinate. As always, support (from benefactors such as AT&T, American Airlines, and SONY of Brazil) was difficult to line up. And the actual events, such as the escalator-shaft sound installation by Miami artist Russell Frehling and the staging of John Cage's Europera 5, involved all the usual technical nightmares.
But at this point, lingering over a healthy portion of Toine's Bread Pudding, the edge is off. Frehling talks about watching Sam and Dave perform as the house band at the old Sir John club, and his own project at the Bienal: "It's going to be a complex drone, with two layers of sound, a resonant frequency and sound recorded at the site, minute frequencies looped back on themselves." And Luft, as ever, looks to the future: "For this `Miami Discovers Itself' festival I'm putting together in '92, there's going to be dance, all kinds of `sacred and profane' music, and a club tour, like the Colombian places with cumbia music. And I'm working on my first solo performance work since 1983, a monologue about geography, ethnic and border issues, with observations about Miami. Everbody talks about South Beach, but really, a lot of it is just a carbon copy of New York. All these other little neighborhoods around town are so much more interesting."
After a longish lunch, and an healthy dose of Luftian enthusiasm, Miami suddenly does feel like a interesting neighborhood again. And one of the more hopelessly perky signs in Lorene's Cafe ("Smile, it's the second best thing you can do with your lips") no longer seems quite so deranged.
A recent encounter with the Starn twins was kind of South Beach, kind of New York, and in the end, an interesting mix of two grossly symbiotic gestalts. Deranged would have been better.
At the Center for the Fine Arts opening reception for their exhibit on August 30, Mike and Doug Starn had come off as spectacularly successful but still amiable surfer-artists. Wearing baggies, T-shirts, and high-top sneakers, they obligingly posed beside their assault-the-collector art (incorporating sheets of used plywood, Scotch tape, and heavily tortured photographs) and mumbled assorted artistic manifestoes: "When we came along, photography really needed us. Everybody had gotten real uptight."
Later, at a very tasty post-reception dinner at Barocco Beach on Ocean Drive, hosted by owner Danny Emerman, the Starns appeared to be momentarily pleased by the prospect of finding themselves in such aesthetically correct surroundings. Barocco, the sister restaurant in New York also owned by Emerman, is something of an art world hangout. This being Miami, however, the fabulous gyroscope is completely out of synch and no one knows who the hell the Starns are.
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The table chitchat encompassed the twin busboys who were serving as valet parkers that night, other parties in the restaurant, and the nature of being a twin. Contrary to the Diane Arbus party line, twins, according to Mike Starn, are not much different from other siblings: "We work together, but we don't see each other outside of that very much. One time, right after high school, I went down to Sarasota for six months and washed dishes, just to get away from Doug. I don't know; for some reason, I had to be apart from him."
For some other reason, probably, it seemed insanely vital to get close to Gloria Estefan, who stayed eerily composed throughout her September 1st surprise birthday party in the very chic, very Euro-stark, Egoiste VIP room. It took a while, though. After a tour of the club with publicist Woody Graber, and a chat with the pleasant owner Mandy Fernandez ("The Tatou people were all down here this weekend from New York with some Japanese investors. They want to close in 90 days, but I want to get started on a restaurant and jazz lounge. They come up with the money, we'll do it their way"), we dodged a formation of Cuban aunts and waded in.
The crowd, composed of family, friends, band members, and apparently, every hairdresser Gloria has ever worked with, was greatly augmented by our own unwieldy but appropriately Latin entourage. Chase Manhattan Vice President Manuel E. Gonzalez, in town for some rest. The ultra-fun Norma Niurka ("Gloria is only star I know keeping up same soul, like they were ten years ago."), an El Nuevo Herald entertainment reporter. Socialite-Realtor Cristina de Cardenas. Filmmaker Hamlet Cassels, and the very Bohemian-looking actress Miriam Acevedo ("I am going to do cabaret at Les Violins; old Cuban songs, text. Mine and others. Not in modern style").
Gloria, as it turned out, was "surprised, feeling great, and loving this" and like Elvis, taking care of business. "We've been touring, working hard. Everybody is tired, but we're still looking for a place to do that Hard Rock Cafe thing. Soon as we get some time, we're going to do it.