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Sundries
...a sweatshop of moxie

Thursday, January 25, 2007

South Florida Snapshots

I am starting a new travellogue tradition on Sundries, as of today.

Whereas before I offered up shots which sometimes were grainy at best, now you can see South Florida in all its elegant aquatints and overlooked corners, as it is in real life.

Now. --

You have to forgive this debut travellogue. It has more than the whiff of the amateur about it, rather than the original shots I think I proffered to you before.

As I aquaint myself with my new camera, with its many apertures, macros and hidden menus, it will yield more intriguing snaps, than these almost pro-forma shots below.

Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy this latest traipse around this mignon, "New Antique" city where I now live.

What I lack in proficiency, I think I more than make up for in enthusiasm!


SOUTH FLORIDA SNAPSHOTS -- TAKE ONE





We start our travellogue in Miami's most beautiful neighbourhood, the Mayfair or Park Avenue-equivalent called Coral Gables.

You know, it takes a visionary to imagine swampland, Banyan trees and dense humidity turning into anything as beautiful as Coral Gables, and that's precisely what it took.

Coral Gables was founded by a pioneer of the highest order, a Pennsylvanian named George Merrick.

It was he and his family who braved this mosquito-heaven that later became the soignée, Spanish colonial chocolate box of a planned community. And you know when that was?

Only in 1922.

Why, that's just two years older than the age of the current Pope! A mere eyeblink in history -- but for Florida, it might as well have been 200 years ago.

And you're staring at one of my favourite landmarks in Coral Gables:

The DeSoto Fountain

Named, of course, for Hernando De Soto, the Conquistador of Peru.

The DeSoto fountain right now is undergoing repairs, as you can see.

UPDATE: Via Stuck On the Palmetto, here is a picture postcard of the DeSoto Fountain as it was back in the day. Check out how suburban sprawl has blocked the view of the Biltmore completely.





In fact, many Coral Gables landmarks are having a major face-lift, which is no mean feat, considering that their express purpose is to look aged.

I recall that it was amongst the very first views I had of Miami, when I first came down here, and the mere fact that it is a traffic circle, as Americans call a roundabout, made me instantly less homesick.

Not that Miamians know how to negotiate a roundabout at rush hour, but never mind, at least the view whilst you wait, is delightful.





From the DeSoto Fountain, you hit the piece de resistance of all Coral Gables' landmarks -- the Biltmore Hotel.

I have a whole, complete travellogue planned about this magnificent edifice, so I'll just whet your appetite by saying that if you beg one of the hotel porters to take you up to the tower you see, right above, you'll see the "Duke and Duchess of Windsor Suite" in its full glory.

Presidents Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43 have all stayed in this Suite, which is closed to the general public.

Even the Brazil National Team with Ronaldo and Rivaldo were not allowed to visit it, but with my feminine wiles, I got to peek inside courtesy of my new bellhop friend.

I asked later, if there were any amusing anecdotes about the Biltmore, that they could tell me. There were.

Prince Philip's father, Prince Andrew of Greece and his brother, Prince Nicholas, both stayed as guests of the Biltmore Hotel when it first opened in the mid-1920s.

And being part of the rowdy Danish Royal Family, famous for its pranks and high-spirits, it was said that the Princes took to riding bicycles up and down the corridors, and inside the ornate lobby, nobody daring to stop them.

As for the Duke of Windsor, one of his old Palm Beach cronies (a grand lady who was my father's patient in the early 1980s) told me that at night the Duke would amuse himself, having knocked back a few Chivas Regals, take a shotgun, and blow out the lights in his suite's enormous, imported chandelier.

Being notoriously cheap, I wonder if he paid for the damages. Methinks not.

It's good to be the ex-King.





Just opposite the Biltmore, is the lovely Coral Gables Congregational Church, which has the honour of being the first church built within the city confines, in 1923.

Years ago, I attended a book signing there by Edvard Radzinksi, the eccentric Russian biographer of the Romanov Imperial Family.

When I went up to get my copy autographed, he said, "Vat is your name?", "Victoria". "Ahh, very royal name. Never change it."

Slightly taken aback, all I could utter was, "Thank you. I won't."

And with that, he gave me a little flourish, and a kiss on my right hand. As he bent down, his curly, red hairpiece nearly fell at my feet.

From that day onward, I have called it The Toupée Church. I'm sure it doesn't mind.





Congregationalists are all very well, but I am Roman Catholic and just a stone's throw away from the Biltmore and the Toupée Church is exquisite Church Of The Little Flower.

My whole family are devoted to this gentle, loving nun known as the Little Flower, St. Thèrése of Lisieux, who wrote that she could only offer to make the world better, one small step and gesture at a time.

She was the embodiment that you didn't have to live an amazing life to contribute to God's creations. You just gave as much as you could, paving a path known as The Little Way.

When her relics made their United States tour, I was there at this Church to pray next to the small, ornate but yet unostentatious ossuary, which holds her remains.

Due to my foreign birth, I have not decided where I shall be married, whether in London, or in my bridgegroom's hometown, or in the US.

But you can be sure, if I do marry here in South Florida, this is where my marriage will be consecrated.

I just have to plan the darn thing two years ahead of time, because that's as long as it takes to get a open slot, even during the unlucky month of May...





One thing's for sure.

If I do have the blessing of being married at the Church of the Little Flower, I won't have to hunt around for a suitably elegant reception hall.

Look what edifice is peeping from behind the Rectory.

I might even take a page from Prince Andrew, and bicycle over in my wedding gown.






As you have noted, Coral Gables and Spanish colonial are tied at the hip.

In fact, I have the fortune of being in love with the two dominant architectural styles this city embodies -- that and the Art Deco of Miami Beach. The lines are clean, dramatic but it is not ashamed to be ornate when it's called to be.

This is what this lovely tower represents to me -- the so-called Alhambra Water Tower.

Back when Merrick was building his homestead, there was no conduit to safe drinking water anywhere, but Lake Okeechobee, well over 100 miles away. As you can imagine, this was very expensive for a fledgling city.

So they built this Water Tower in the Moorish style, to provide sustenance to its small, hardy local community.

Many years later, and though its purpose has long been superceded, it stands there like a beacon to all in Coral Gables -- with all the cheekiness of a lighthouse, and none of its perilous drawbacks.

The colours in daylight are phenomenal, its minaret-style keyholes teasingly drawing your eyes to them, and though I took the snap at dusk, you can still see the burnt mustard glow and sparkle, just over the trees.






I often aimed for the Water Tower, playing on the 6th hole at nearby Granada Golf Course.

I usually missed.





But Coral Gables isn't all faked epochs and too-cute architecture.

The newer structures have more than a little bit of late 20th century muscle about them, which throws the more colonial elements scampering underneath the Señora's skirts.

Unlike New York City, we don't have a Flat Iron building.

For one, we don't lack space down here in South Florida, so we don't require its hunched elbow lines.

But that didn't stop the good people who built the jutting edifice known as the Alhambra Towers.





And for my money, it has the most beautiful lobby in all of the city, which specialises in pretty lobbies.





Night has fallen, and I traipse back home, deciding to make a detour through downtown Miami.

There will be more detailed travellogues about this oft-depressed area of Miami, which vibrates in the morning to the beat of a thousand bankers' footsteps, but dies a lonely death after 6 o'clock every day -- but just a glimpse for now, of my favourite theatre in the area.

The one, the only, the incomparable Gusman Theatre for the Performing Arts -- the recently re-named, Olympia.

Inside it's a real, honest-to-goodness American moviepalace, (seen here in daylight) complete with fobs, gold leaf, marble banisters and that unforgettable decor redolent of the 1920s, when movies were the best show in town.

Check out the old-fashioned box office kiosk which stands OUTSIDE the theatre, still the scourge of patrons during dark, rainy evenings when there's a show or Miami Film Festival movie on.

Of course, the best thing about it, is that Maurice Gusman, the millionaire whose cultural munificence to the city is without name, I recently read was a "rubber baron", whose main product were condoms.

He made a KILLING supplying the Army rubbers for American GIs in two World Wars.

It's wonderful symmetry this, considering how many children must have been conceived in the dark alcoves of many a moviepalace.

Hope you enjoyed our little foray into South Florida.

I know I always do.

FREEBIE: The Palm Court Fountain, at the University of Miami's main campus in Coral Gables, where I had a Dolce Vita moment once.

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17 Comments:

  • Yay, the return of Victoria's travelogues! Girl, you've been posting up a storm lately and I for one am grateful.

    And grateful for this view of Coral Gables. As a youth, living in South Florida, I had an Aunt and Uncle who lived in the Gables but I never got to see this part you've shown me. (And isn't there some kind of actual Coral Gables thingie that all the young Hispanic girls like to pose in front of for their quienciera pictures?) Wonderful!

    Will you consider requests for future travelogues?

    I lived in Opa-Locka until I was 6 and I'd love to see how that odd little community looks now. The strange Ali-Baba architecture might be of interest to your readers.

    And I remember playing in a structure of coral blocks at Crandon Park. Is that still there?

    And, finally, the Venetian Pool.

    Thanks for this post, Victoria. Well done.

    By Blogger Pete, at Thu Jan 25, 06:04:00 am GMT-5  

  • "As I aquaint myself with my new camera, with its many apertures, macros and hidden menus, it will yield more intriguing snaps, than these almost pro-forma shots below." ~ nothing wrong with pro-forma, Vicks. The idea is to present the image, right? Well, the images are great and we can figure out what it is you're presenting.

    As for where you will be married, why, My Pet, wherever you wish! Although there's a tiny, old church a tad north of where I was reared, in Pennsylvania, that would astonish you with it's dark wood, high stained glass panels, and gigantic brass key-holes.

    The family said Good-Bye to my great-grandmother there. ;)

    By Blogger benning, at Thu Jan 25, 07:53:00 am GMT-5  

  • Again with the excellent posting! The Alhambra Towers from that angle, sort of looks like the FlatIron building!

    The Toupee Church! Such imagery that creates! Someone pointed out a 'toup' to me that, he said, looked like Chewbacca had mated with a yalmulke! I also have a good toupee story...

    Is Sundries waiting to be betrothed by Simon Russell Beale? :)

    By Blogger Ron, at Thu Jan 25, 11:04:00 am GMT-5  

  • Yay, the return of Victoria's travelogues! Girl, you've been posting up a storm lately and I for one am grateful.

    Well, hang on, Pete, because I may have to slow down the chuck-wagon next week!

    Life interrupts, as they say.

    And grateful for this view of Coral Gables. As a youth, living in South Florida, I had an Aunt and Uncle who lived in the Gables but I never got to see this part you've shown me.

    Yeah, a lot of native Miamians don't go to these places, or very infrequently -- not sure why that is.

    I mean, even a New Yorker passes by the Flat Iron building, or NYC public library, every once in a while...

    (And isn't there some kind of actual Coral Gables thingie that all the young Hispanic girls like to pose in front of for their quienciera pictures?)

    Heh. That's Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.

    I have a whole travellogue on Vizcaya, in the can ready to go. :)

    Wonderful!

    Thanks, Pete!

    Will you consider requests for future travelogues?

    Please do, delighted. :)

    I lived in Opa-Locka until I was 6 and I'd love to see how that odd little community looks now. The strange Ali-Baba architecture might be of interest to your readers.

    Never been there! I love the suggestion and I'll try to see when I can go. :)

    (When I was growing up, my dad had an old Southern lady as his surgery's secretary. She lived in Opa-Locka and every day, she braved the traffic down to Miami, but said living there was worth it. Ever since, I've been intrigued by that place...though not enough to visit it ;)

    And I remember playing in a structure of coral blocks at Crandon Park. Is that still there?

    Coral blocks...Crandon Park...nope, can't say that I do remember that, but then it's been since 11th grade since I've been down there (it's 5 bucks to enter that mosquito pit! Not counting the 1 buck 25 to enter Key Biscayne proper).

    Are you thinking of Coral Castle? That place near Homestead built by a Lithuanian guy (IIRC), completely out of rocks?

    And, finally, the Venetian Pool.

    Heh. Also already in the can. This one comes next week!

    Thanks for this post, Victoria. Well done.

    Thanks for commenting and suggesting, Pete. I love it. :)

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Thu Jan 25, 12:52:00 pm GMT-5  

  • As for where you will be married, why, My Pet, wherever you wish!

    Is that a promise? ;)

    Although there's a tiny, old church a tad north of where I was reared, in Pennsylvania, that would astonish you with it's dark wood, high stained glass panels, and gigantic brass key-holes.

    Would love to see it, Benning. Do you recall its name?

    (I have a thing for churches, as you can see)

    The family said Good-Bye to my great-grandmother there. ;)

    Aww. Well, at least it wasn't a funeral home (nothing wrong with that, but when I go, I want to be mourned inside a church...).

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Thu Jan 25, 12:54:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Again with the excellent posting! The Alhambra Towers from that angle, sort of looks like the FlatIron building!

    Yes, it does. :)

    I happen to love both buildings a lot, but notice that the NYC one looks "industrial".

    But the Alhambra Towers look...cute. They even have that Coral Gables affectation, of having a little Spanish colonial tower up top.

    The Toupee Church! Such imagery that creates! Someone pointed out a 'toup' to me that, he said, looked like Chewbacca had mated with a yalmulke! I also have a good toupee story...

    Chewbacca with a yarmulke, oh stop...me stomach.

    Is Sundries waiting to be betrothed by Simon Russell Beale? :)

    As a black friend of mine says, Who Dat Is?

    A Grey Gardens Beale?

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Thu Jan 25, 12:56:00 pm GMT-5  

  • "FREEBIE: The Palm Court Fountain, at the University of Miami's main campus in Coral Gables, where I had a Dolce Vita moment once."

    Really, Vic?

    And how did that work out for you?

    P.S.
    Youksef misses you.

    By Blogger Kullrad, at Thu Jan 25, 01:45:00 pm GMT-5  

  • What do you wear to the Toupee Church, a Prayer Rug? BWAHAHAH! [duck snort]

    Mr. Beale...
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Russell_Beale

    A friend of mine has such a crush...she arranges her work load, just to fly to London to see a cycle of his plays...

    At the end of shooting what he thought was his last film scene ever , in Blue Skies, Fred Astaire took off his toup in front of the crew, stomped on it, and said, "I hope I never wear that damn thing again!" Needless to say...

    By Blogger Ron, at Thu Jan 25, 02:31:00 pm GMT-5  

  • A spot of humor few but you would get, sent via email to Sundries...

    ;0

    By Blogger Ron, at Thu Jan 25, 09:37:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Really, Vic?

    And how did that work out for you?


    Never mind me. Pity the poor fountain as I hadn't gotten round to use the loo.

    P.S.
    Youksef misses you.


    And I miss it, and especially you..., a lot.

    Right now, though, you'll have to wank your longings away, since I'm not "back" on USENET yet.

    But we'll always have Youksef. Here's looking at you, c--t.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Jan 26, 12:56:00 am GMT-5  

  • A friend of mine has such a crush...she arranges her work load, just to fly to London to see a cycle of his plays...

    I used to do that with Diana Rigg. Her Mother Courage was sensational. :)

    As for Mr. Simon Russell Beale, he looks VAGUELY familiar, from An Ideal Husband, and perhaps here and there.

    One of those Tim Piggot-Smith guys, who is an excellent character actor, but is sometimes sadly overlooked.

    At the end of shooting what he thought was his last film scene ever , in Blue Skies, Fred Astaire took off his toup in front of the crew, stomped on it, and said, "I hope I never wear that damn thing again!" Needless to say...

    Hee!

    Hey, today I read the best quote from Marilyn Monroe (from the beyond, as it were).

    Sundance (and outstanding British telly drama) film, Longford, has this line, which might amuse:

    Lady and Lord Longford are staring at porn mags, which horrifies His Lordship, but she says:

    "I'm afraid I'm with Marilyn Monroe on this. When asked what she thought about sex she thought for a moment and then said that she felt it was here to stay."

    LOL.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Jan 26, 01:04:00 am GMT-5  

  • Thanks my dear, Ron! I beg your and other's indulgence one more day.

    I will open up the email inbox tomorrow. If only you knew what a day I had today...

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Jan 26, 01:06:00 am GMT-5  

  • And I miss it, and especially you..., a lot.

    *blush*

    I bet you say that to all the girls.

    Right now, though, you'll have to wank your longings away, since I'm not "back" on USENET yet.

    Is this an enforced absence or voluntary?

    And if I wank anymore it'll drop off.

    But we'll always have Youksef. Here's looking at you, c--t.

    Quite.

    Here's looking at your c--t.

    By Blogger Kullrad, at Fri Jan 26, 05:09:00 am GMT-5  

  • I like Tallulah Bankhead's line on sex: "The missionary position is too claustrophobic, and everything else requires me to be a gymnast."

    By Blogger Ron, at Fri Jan 26, 06:37:00 am GMT-5  

  • I lived in Coconut Grove for two years. I saw Isabel Allende give a reading from one of her books (I think the cookbook) at the Congregational Church in Coral Gables. It is a lovely church.

    Coral Gables is beautiful, although I found it quite annoying that they put their street signs on the curbs. It made it quite difficult to find anything, but I suppose that was the idea -- keep the riff-raff out.

    I miss Cuban food...

    By Anonymous Class factotum, at Fri Jan 26, 09:05:00 am GMT-5  

  • Love your South Florida Snapshots!!!

    How about our beloved Freedom Tower next time you are in the area?

    By Blogger Jose Aguirre, at Fri Jan 26, 02:31:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Church of the Little Flower and the Biltmore Hotel pics.

    Have you heard about the Biltmore being Haunted? Scroll down to "Experience at the Biltmore Hotel." Warning, it's cheesy with really bad sound.

    That is one travelogue I don't expect Vicky to follow up on ;)

    By Blogger Renato, at Fri Jan 26, 09:10:00 pm GMT-5  

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