Sometimes it's embarrassing to live in Miami, and sometimes it's downright scary -- scary enough to make locals blanch -- turn white as sheets, even. Yet people are shy, if not subtle, about expressing such discomfort. Rather than simply observing the obvious -- that a lot of mostly young, mostly affluent black people like to come to Miami Beach and party Memorial Day weekend, and that, since this holiday is regularly scheduled and comes once every 365 days, year-round residents can just plan around it or deal for a few days -- temporary white flight is instead masqueraded as "escaping from the Beach."
Take, for example, the lead of Jon Warech's column "The 411" from this past week's Miami Sunpost: "It is that time of year again when locals cringe ... and possibly even skip town altogether. That's right. It's Memorial Day ... Holler!"
Even less oblique was an invitation (see the actual invite below) for an event at impenetrable Design District joint Grass devised by promoter Evrim Oralkan, who included in his e-mailed beckoning, in case you didn't get the gist of the concept, the following: "As you know, this weekend is the Memorial Day weekend, and as usual locals will prefer not to go to South Beach. We have a special party, Nuit Blanche, a White Affair. Enjoy the weekend in style, away from all the craziness of South Beach."
A postweekend story in the Miami Herald by Nicole White gave Grass and the nouveau separate water fountains craze a pass, completely avoiding the issue of or even the word race and allowing Oralkan to dismiss Nuit Blanche with a glib explanation.
When The Bitch passed by a White Affair herself, her unnatural pallor was perhaps for once of social assistance, allowing the nearly albino dog and her crew of pale riders to vault over the normally unassailable Grass door barricade. The event attracted what might be considered Grass's normal dining crowd, that being the cast of Cocoon V: The Shuffleboard Tournament and a group of younger, kind of preppy diners and bar patrons trying to inexplicably appear old beyond their years. It should be noted Grass itself, while irrationally discriminating in its clientele, has never been known to discriminate against would-be entrants based on melanin levels; some of its staff members, including one long-time door dude, are people of color. Still, throwing an event pointedly called Nuit Blanche just isn't smart or polite.
"People perceived the idea of the party very well, as Miami is a city which needs some upscale party concepts," Oralkan told The Bitch. The Beach itself seemed a bit subdued compared to last year, with The Man making his presence felt on bicycles and by handing out bottles of water. Adish Jain, owner of Guru Restaurant on Twelfth Street (where The Bitch likes to go to admire the orange walls and scarf down some palak paneer) thought the crowd was actually doing some self-policing. Jain, who keeps Guru open for regular business hours each Memorial Day weekend, observes: "The crowds have been coming for the holiday for some time now, long enough to realize there's a certain expectation for how to act on Miami Beach. Happily, people are rising to the occasion."
Not too long ago the sidewalk outside Objex Artspace was bustling with trendoids and art aficionados. The Bitch recalls being too awed to even woof softly to political iconography manipulator Shephard Fairey during this past December's Art Basel as he met fans and discussed his fauxsters, then hanging at the gallery. During the four years since it opened as a vanguard of the emergence of Miami's Wynwood Art District, the space with the green walls and glass-brick façade on 36th Street and NE Second Avenue served as home base to a clique of underground, consciously lowbrow artists, not the least of whom was owner Dustin Orlando. Sadly those days are gone.
The doors to the gallery are bolted shut by decree of the Miami-Dade Police Department, and what remains inside is empty space, not art space. An eviction notice is pasted to the door (well, it was until The Bitch snagged it) and workers are busy disassembling abandoned installations. Orlando's former one-bedroom apartment above Objex shows no sign of the California transplant. A box of his abandoned possessions sits curbside as neighbors rummage through it. One man finds a pair of red Adidas sneakers and trots off.
Orlando's onetime gallery collaborator, friend, and neighbor Karen Genetta tells The Bitch how she spent this past Wednesday sleepless. Though Genetta, a popular scenester photographer and nightclub habitué, denies hitting the cocaine, empty baggies overflow the ashtray beside her.
"Where's Dustin?" The Bitch asks.
"In rehab, where he needs to be for a long fucking time," Genetta replies.
The petite, attractive Genetta takes a swig of a Heineken as she monitors two online computers at her workstation, accessible through the gallery's back door. The phone keeps ringing -- people interested in hiring her. Preoccupied, Genetta's mind seemingly straddles the divide between reality and the hallucinogenic.
"You could make movies about the things that went on here," she continues, referring to nights of nonstop, drug-induced mayhem. "In the beginning everything was going great, but then [Orlando's] ego got out of control. He thought he was above it all. He thought he was above even running his own fucking gallery, and it crumbled," Genetta says with listless detachment.
The gallery's Website is still live, but the last update was April 12. "Apologies in advance for all the broken hearts," it reads.
The Bitch is normally much more interested in zoology than botany, but the passionate insistence of conservationist-photographer Rick Cruz persuaded her to check out his portfolio of some of Florida's rarest plant specimens. Cruz's new exhibit includes shots of the moss-loving orchid cranicus mucosa, recently rediscovered in Fakahatchee Strand after not having been sighted for more than 100 years.
"I really never was too interested in photographing [orchids]; I'm primarily a landscape photographer," Cruz recalls. "But when I went exploring with [Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve biologist] Mike Owens, we saw a ghost orchid, the most beautiful orchid I've ever seen. When I heard about the near-extinction of some of these plants -- which include bromeliads and ferns as well -- it triggered a need in me to document and show people our Everglades need further protection."
Cruz later found a trove of fifteen ghost orchids and a colony of rare air plants in a swath of the Fakahatchee -- known now as Cruz Slough in his honor. "My knack is to find what the average person would miss," the photographer says. The exhibit runs through June 27 at David's Café II, 1645 Meridian Ave., Miami Beach.
Does NOT Love the Kids
It's one thing when construction projects such as the MIA expansion or the Performing Arts Center blunder into the inevitable "cost overruns" that add millions and years to projected completion figures. But The Bitch is sad to see Miami's Bermuda Triangle effect causing money and time to slip away from a planned day-care center for children of poor families in Little Havana near the Orange Bowl.
In 2004 local entrepreneurs William Amaya and his wife Tania signed a lease with landlord Isaac Del Sol, owner of Isaac's Roofing. Under the terms of the deal, Del Sol agreed to renovate his commercial building at 2000 NW Second St. so the Amayas could open a day-care center. The Amayas collaborated with the Miami Rescue Mission and various neighborhood and charitable organizations to get the word out: Soon there would be a place to park the pups after school or during business hours, a service badly needed by the working poor.
Del Sol was to have the renovations completed by this past September. "He still hasn't handed over the property," says William Amaya. "First there were problems with contractors, then with the permitting process. I finally volunteered to help oversee the project, which I didn't have to do according to the lease, but I just wanted to get everything finished so we could open up." Then Del Sol demanded an additional $6000 to complete the project, according to Amaya. When Amaya agreed to give him the money only in exchange for a reduction in lease payments, Del Sol threatened to stop renovation.
"There's sort of a bigger picture here, and he doesn't seem very interested in that," says Amaya. "We could have been open by now."
On the advice of his attorney, Isaac Del Sol is not commenting.
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Leave Manifestos to the Pros
The Bitch received a long -- very long -- letter from the promoter convicted of ripping off children who had paid to see a Coconut Grove Christmas show in December 2003, and who is also accused of being a generally crazy fellow. Bearing a postmark from Miami's federal detention center, the document, which smells like cigarette smoke and contains among other things a short story and a demand that The Bitch return 35 copies of the document to the sender, is from David Essilor. As far as The Bitch can determine, Essilor's main point is he has applied to legally change his name to Prince David Not Guilty.
Beginning this week a new radio show will air talk radio on WMBM (1490-AM) featuring the cohosting talents of New Times writer Rebecca Wakefield. The show, called JWalkin', is hosted by opinionated loudmouth Jason Walker, whose day job is working for Miami city commissioner Johnny Winton. Other guests include attorney Marlon Hill and Basil Binns II (un otro Winton aide). The show airs from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday (at least until the good Bishop Victor Curry wises up). This week's topic is the New Miami, reality versus fantasy. In the latter half of the show, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz is scheduled to discuss the wildly optimistic vision he expressed in his recent State of the City address and take callers.