The Havana Club debut festivities last weekend: Johnny Ventura, a sea of tremendous hips swaying to insanely insistent Latin rhythms, the old Downtown club space converted into a Havana theme park -- canopies, tropical colors, an upstairs room with paintings of old Havana. At the Thursday night VIP opening, people like partners Peter Estrada and Lino Ponton, along with a few scattered familiar faces. Mostly Beach faces, the same faces that turned up at the South Beat opening that same night. The club, put together by music promoter Gaye Levine and restaurateur Ron Seitz, had another sweaty throng of VIPS (Betty Too Much, Howard Miller's mother, and Alicia Cooper of the Miami Arts Asylum, who will be presenting a piece on abortion at Hombre next Tuesday). Both openings had actual real-life ordinary middle-age people, people of our own kind: a strange experience.
Both were enjoyable enough, but having spent, as of late, a considerable amount of time with the flotsam and jetsam of clubland -- third-string hustlers, borderline psychotics, liars, thieves, the sexually mutated -- it seemed like a good idea to check in with a different set. Like the cultural world, which admittedly has its fair share of the aforementioned categories.
First stop, John Rothchild, author of the classic Up for Grabs: A Trip Through Time and Space in the Sunshine State, and the new Going for Broke, a detailed accounting of the rise and fall of Robert Campeau, who almost single-handedly devastated the retail industry with his acquisition of the Allied and Federated department store chains. Rothchild has taken a interest in financial matters ("It fascinates me that every time there's a big scandal, there's always a South Florida connection") and the Campeau saga -- involving Burdines, grotesquely overextended buyouts, and pure greed --
was a natural: "It was a good story, with a lot of hard numbers, but I think it worked out okay. All of the reviews have been good.
"Campeau is really a competitve man with an incredible ego. One time in a fishing tournament, he stamped his son's fish, made it smaller, so he'd win. He was always off getting sheep placenta injections.... It was a seven-billion-dollar deal that looked good on paper, but it could never have worked. My aim was to make some of these people uncomfortable, and I hope I succeeded."
Rich, triumphant, and worst of all, thin, Pat Booth was in town promoting her new book, Miami, which should be out sometime in January. Booth, who has previously immortalized Beverly Hills and Palm Beach, was looking rather snazzy in a black miniskirt accented with gold chains. A Palm Beach resident, she has the air of assurance that comes with having your own perfume (called "Miami," of course) and sense enough to always be hitting on the next good thing.
While the circumstances were not quite as lively as the party portrayed in the book ("This one looked like a Louis Canales/Tony Goldman special.... The waiters had clearly been recruited at one of the Suzanne Bartsch drag parties at Warsaw, the Beach's hottest club. Frenetic nightery entrepreneurs talked double-time into the faces of sweaty journalists. It looked...like Soho on speed"), the reality of South Beach is just fine with Booth: "It reminds me of the Warhol era. Of course, the humidity gets to your brain, and once in a while you feel like you just have to get out. But I like the fact that there are no rules here. Irreverence is the essence of the Beach."
Several of Roxanne Pulitzer's irreverent nights have made history of sorts: being part of the Limelight's Fallen Women theme party, the high life with the Kimberly's, working that trumpet/strumpet angle. Lately she's putting the final touches on her newest book, Facade, and dealing with personal matters: "I'm editing now, which is like the biggest nightmare. Oh no, you're right, I've already been through the biggest nightmare of my life. And there's all this trouble about Jean [Count Jean la Moussay, her current companion]. I never even went out with the man until nine months after the divorce was filed; everybody says I snatched him away from his ex-wife. Now she's using Joe Farrish, my old lawyer -- good luck -- and we're still waiting for the judge to rule."
Thoughout the socio-sexual-cultural whirl, there were the memories of the forever wonderful Miami Book Fair to sustain us through several trying weeks. Meg O'Brien of WLRN's Radio Reading Service, selling recorded tapes of the authors and full of the 411: "Some lunatic told Mitch Kaplan the fair has gotten really sleazy; too many lesbians and communists." The amiable Russell Banks, who captured the seamy side of Miami in Continental Drift, commenting on the city: "I write about all that squalor stuff, but it doesn't mean I like it. I'm over at the Hotel La Palma in Coral Gables. It's pleasant, you can walk around at night." Martin Amis, author of the new Time's Arrow, fending off passive-aggressive admirers ("I really liked your book, but then I had to go to a club for a party, so I couldn't finish it, you know...") chatting pleasantly and finally conceding: "I have to say I like Miami. I accept it; it accepts me."
One of the more illuminating moments came during the panel with a group of authors from Hometowns: Gay Men Talk About Where They Belong, with Andrew Holleran perfectly capturing the turmoil of the new diaspora -- gays leaving shattered cities and moving back to small towns. But then, as he pointed out, the terminal ambivalency, the search for a place of rest, acceptance, and fun, is universal: "Hannah Arendt said that the task of every man is to make himself a home. But then, I always think about what Turgenev wrote. `A good man does not know where to live.'