Miami Beach: Lost Souls and Sandy Shoals

A very Cuban or otherwise South-American domain. It was summertime in the long stretch of Art Deco and sand-covered concrete, between the secure private condominiums and the cheap or garishly upmarket neon-lit beachside hotels and restaurants which gradually fade in a Westerly direction to apartments and strange villas housing mysterious perversions, under the sluggish feet of the grazing tourists with their bulging wallets and the jaded yet cunning locals who ruthlessly entertained and serviced them, seen through the vacant stares of the elderly Americans whose retirement vista was Collins Avenue traffic from a long slow hotel veranda dream of white plastic chairs-in-formation, lived through the lives of young and reckless chancers and gangsters who would blow in from around the city or the world, their long lotus dreams and furious blizzard confusion spiked with nightclub cocktails and peppered with lost girls seeking their own forgetfulness in chemical trails, it was a long hot two weeks in the wild and alien world which they call Miami Beach. In some ways the Beach was like the concrete realisation of some collective mid-life crisis, an extended array of once-elegant and (now perhaps kitsch) Art Deco facades where people came to see and to be seen, for so many rich and famous to flaunt their wealth and fame, for the older men to parade their glimmering convertibles with scantily-clad and suitably awed young women in the seats beside them. I wondered about those convertibles and those Maseratis and those other expensive imported cars, I wondered about the girls in those passenger seats and contemplated the ways in which they were almost strapped to the bonnet as hood-ornaments and mid-life American Dream fashion accessories.

I had come to this extra-terrestrial world to try and find someone, a friend or perhaps someone once almost a friend or some semblance of something I had felt or seen or hoped for, or needed. She was there but she was not there, and in two weeks I never found her: walking restless along the warm pavements; agape in the nightclubs (in one there were only seats for the wealthy in a roped-off exclusivity I had never seen before but which I have come to understand is just the way America flatters her moneyed elite – where they can mingle with the upturned and adoring eyes of the partying horde and yet maintain safe distance and confident difference); alone in the poolside bars where the rednecks would sometimes gather and try to intimidate the newcomers who did not speak their strange and drawling Southern Florida dialect; the homeless and the poor walking these same pavements while the pimps secretly swaggered and the police gazed on in mocking omniscient sunglass stares from bicycle seats and in festival flocks standing cross-armed and confident in their critical judgement; bouncers and strippers and strange hooligans with hookers; flesh-coloured bikinis stretched across skin burnt to leathery tan by the searing sun (or by the unblinking flicker of some tanning salon); homeless kids with punk rock Latin crucifixes emblazoned in tattoos and ferrets on leashes held softly and seductively by beautiful girls on roller skates nursing silicon D-cups in tight t-shirts; ubiquitous impenetrable reflective sunglasses agitating and raking everywhere while everyone hid their anonymity and lusty voyeurism behind these reflective insect eyes and detached stoned stares.

Although I had travelled to Miami to find something in someone I never found but in a strange kind of way (by reflection or coincidental serendipity) I discovered that this was what everyone was doing here. Miami Beach revealed itself as a place where people came to live (and die) in the great pursuit if not of liberty then of the experience of some idealised aspiration of success and happiness. The happiness pursued was the dream: the fantastic desire for the shared cultural experience and the risk of the borderline exotic or dangerous seen close but still safe and distant like drugged tigers seen in remote cages; the craving for the expression of self-identity through the what, who and where you were or had been or seen or felt and the wild saturnalia with the hype and the rumour itself so fertile and alluring; the seeking and striving to participate in some vast festival and orgy of spending and being and experiencing the adrenaline and hormones and spectacle of everyone else there doing exactly the same thing; the humming frenzy of lecherous mosquitoes and the people like moths around the neon flames of nightclubs and bars; these the temples where they came to worship their ideal selves reflected back everywhere around them in the glossy sunshades and mirrored sparkle of the water; the water which licked the concrete beaches endlessly, erotically and whose ageless companion was the underlying emptiness and falsehood of it all.

The Beach had been almost certainly constructed with all its low walls and artificial sands like some military obstacle to a Cuban invasion, a defensive action which had evidently failed, and the only regret I had about my brief stay in that place was that I had not learnt Spanish before I arrived there as this was the lingua franca in that place, the main currency and language through which this place could be interpreted and, if possible, understood. Travelling to a distant place to discover some truth about yourself is an experience shared by so many; travelling to Miami I discovered thousands of people who were seeking to find themselves in distraction or excitement and I am not sure that they found what they were looking for any more than I did.

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