By a very slim margin, art defeated artifice at Art Basel Miami Beach 2005. Dramatic visuals and environments easily surpassed the marathon of parties and decadence.

The December 2 party thrown by Perrier-Jout champagne at the Delano featured a fascinating fountain installation (with water, not bubbly) as well as a well-behaved gathering of people and animals. "I think the cooler weather and people subsequently being all dressed up keeps things civilized," mused WSVN-TV (Channel 7) anchor-pixie Belkys Nerey.

Nearby was Lisa Pliner of the Pliner shoe empire, who gained entry with her famous seven-pound Maltese, frequent model Baby Doll Pliner. "They tried to stop us at the door, but I told them Baby Doll was on the list," Pliner laughed. "In fact Baby Doll is on every list."

For The Bitch, synesthesia reached a crescendo when she spotted unmatched living legend Jim Reid of the fabled, influential Scottish indie band The Jesus and Mary Chain.

Yet there was disquiet in the waking Basel world. Charo Oquet of Edge Zones — a collective show in Wynwood — complained her phone number was listed incorrectly on this year's arts district brochure, which was printed for Basel. Oquet claims gallerist Marina Kessler, a competitor who collates the map data, misprinted Oquet's digits for the second year in a row. "This has become like an art war, and we are under an enormous invasion from outsiders opening spaces and outside artists coming here to compete," Oquet said. "It's bad enough that we have to struggle for attention against these people without our own resorting to the crabs-in-a-barrel mode to destroy each other in the process.... We have to unite or perish. What is going to eventually happen due to locals out to make money at the expense of us all is that we are going to end up a slum or ghetto. No one will pay attention to us because of the dirty infighting."

Kessler, who was cited on the Social Miami Website and in daily Basel press briefings as the official contact for Wynwood during the fair, said she did what she could to get Oquet's data correct. When the art-digging dog approached Kessler, the gallerist got downright catty, lacing into Oquet and calling her a "deadbeat who bounced a check on us for the listings. She is just upset over not having any sales."

South of the main madness, the much-awaited Dale Chihuly exhibit opened at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden on Saturday. The glass-blown Walla Wallas floating on Fairchild's lake were both childishly hallucinogenic and vaguely ominous. Fairchild is Chihuly's fifth botanical exhibition — among them is his current exhibit at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (United Kingdom). But this is his first tropical garden exhibit.

"This is the first show where most of the work is outside a conservatory," said the pirate-costume-rockin' Chihuly, adjusting the strap of his eye patch.

While some structures were strikingly obvious, like the engraved pink-and-white Czech glass Jerusalem Tower, the sighthound spotted other pieces hidden in a bush and sprouting from ferns.

And Chihuly doesn't just blow glass; he dabbles in plastic as well: "I don't use it too much, but I really like how the blue crystals look on the lake."

The 63-year-old artist is not only maintaining the display at Fairchild through May, but he is also working on a permanent collection for the Arts Center in St. Petersburg, Florida. (The Arts Center is the name of a condo project.) "It will be on the first floor of this new building," Chihuly said. But don't call it a museum or a gallery. "It's a didactic collection," Chihuly's publicist Janet Makela whispered into The Bitch's ear. "It's not an accredited museum." The Bitch hears it should be ready by 2009.

This Is Where We All Fall Down

In the days following Hurricane Wilma, Liliana Dones and her husband Santiago Villegas were dismayed to see the storm had knocked over two live oaks and six gumbo limbo trees in Coconut Grove's Blanche Park, known to most locals as "the dog park."

On November 1, Dones and Villegas reported the damaged trees to the City of Miami Parks Department. Within a week, a city parks crew had righted the oaks and was about to work on the gumbo limbos when it was called away.

The couple believed that the workers would return soon, and Dones considered drafting a thank-you letter to the Parks Department. But a few days later, on November 10, she took a walk through the park and discovered six gaping holes where the 30-foot-tall gumbo limbos had been. "I was shocked — those trees could easily have been fixed," she said.

Incensed, she called Miami City Manager Joe Arriola, who conducted his own investigation. "It looks like Solid Waste had hired subcontractors who decided to pad their load by removing trees that didn't need to be removed," Arriola fumed. "Was I mad? Let me tell you something, I got on the phone and I found out who these guys were, and I got them to promise to pay for new trees. We're trying to feed people and get them ice and water, and these guys are taking our trees?"

Turns out the Federal Emergency Management Agency was paying clean-up subcontractors by weight — the larger the load, the more money. In this case Grubbs Emergency Services of Brooksville did the dirty deed, Arriola said. The city manager doesn't know how much the company will be paying to replace the lost trees, but "needless to say, their asses won't be working in this city again."

Representatives from Grubbs did not return numerous phone calls seeking comment.

Um, Comcastic

On October 23, the day Wilma struck, The Bitch lost a 50-year-old mango tree, the front quarter panel of a Subaru, and Internet service from Comcast, the last inconvenience being shared — to this day — with many other South Floridians.

This past Saturday, finally and after many outraged phone calls, hours on hold, terrible technical support, and weekend trips to the office to, um, use the Internet, a Comcast crew showed up at The Bitch's kennel — cables, ladders, and splicers at the ready.

The crew of four assigned to Wilma Trouble Ticket Number 226,859 was led by Joe Leon, an affable, intelligent man from Houston contracted by Comcast. "Well, my first thought was that it's the modem, because, you know, at the service centers they're not too bright," Leon volunteered. "They're supposed to refurbish and test the modems before handing them out, but a lot of times they just put bad ones right back in the box and give them to people."

This wasn't exactly confidence-inspiring, but the crew was nice enough, and The Bitch and some of her girlfriends enjoyed chatting with the men about the screwed-and-chopped music scene in Houston and and made plans to go out dancing. Finally, not wanting to be rude, The Bitch scratched behind her ears and asked, "Um, so can you guys, like, fix the Internet?"

A rally of line-testing and cable-unfurling ensued, but no connection. "I just can't figure this out," Leon admitted to the nearly tearful dog as he left.

On Monday, The Bitch called Comcast spokesman Spero Canton. He said fewer than one percent of Comcast customers remain without either cable television or Internet service, but The Bitch is just going to say — based on anecdotal and observational evidence and the fury of any consumer asked about the Philadelphia-based cable provider — there's no way that can be right.

But the spokesman explained, "There might be other issues. They're just not obvious issues. We've replaced more than 100 miles of fiber-optic cable. We're getting two days' worth of phone calls every day, and our customer support people are operating at the max. We've doubled the number of people in the field; we've doubled the number of appointments."

So what does Canton advise the connectionless Comcast customer do? Use cuneiform tablets? Get BellSouth DSL?

"We're going to get to 100 percent connectivity," Canton assured.

Another tech appointment was unsuccessful on Tuesday. The Bitch will keep readers posted, probably through Morse code or smoke signals.

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