"the" Mrs. Astor

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

When I wrote that a poor person had a greater chance of being hit by a Rolls Royce while crossing a South Beach street than any place else in America, many sniffed that I am given to hyperbole. I am given to it, but on this particular point the Miami Herald backed me up today in this article.

It is hard to live here and really care about people like the Sweeper, a homeless, cantankerous, old woman who has chosen to sweep the sidewalks all day. Sometime back I chronicled her work down Washington Avenue on an early Sunday morning as she swept up the thousands of club invitations. I also photographed the highly paid City workers following her a block behind, enjoying the work she was doing for them. Life--and the justice attached to it--sucks.
Many of us, like the never-sleeping Thomas Barker, spend much of our spare time raising money for small organizations which fall under the radar of government help and barely cling on. Bringing them a gift certificate from Office Depot makes eyes water. And--speaking of gift certificates--both Mr. Astor and I realized that for the first time in either of our lives we actually know people--people we call friends--who are hungry sometimes. To all of them we gave generous Publix gift card. But, still, how did we as a nation come to this?
Everyone is saying how nice it will be when this most tragic of years is over. But will it be?
Oh, well. Enough of that. NYE is hurtling toward us and everyone will soon be attending to their outfits for Susanne Bartsch's party at The Raleigh Hotel (and later to Twist). We will once again be escorting Henrietta to the festivities, but in the back of my mind I will be wondering what bench the Sweeper will be celebrating on and how she got like that.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The end of this seemingly endless year of bad news and pain is at hand and there is probably going to be no better party to celebrate that than Susanne Bartsch's yearly bash. Her parties are legend in New York, being part circus and part study of sociopath behaviour. She is one of the main reasons I moved to this loony island; starting in 1990 she flew her stable of freaks down here regularly in winter to turn the place upside down and I photographed those parties at the infamous Warsaw Ballroom. I had witnessed hedonistic behaviour on a grand scale for some time in New York, but never with so many Latinos; it mesmerised me. Here were all these boys wearing as little as they could and having so much fun; I fell in love with the place.

There is always a trade in a situation like this. I gave up the culture so taken for granted in New York for the tropical weather, the super-relaxed way of life, and--of course--the Latinos. It wasn't so bad of a deal.

Susanne's theme of burlesque will assure all who attend and endless amount of visual entertainment.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

It was one of the most glorious days imaginable here today; the temperatures were in the low 80's and the sky clear and blue. We took our bikes out early in the morning and rode around the island along the beaches. There is an extraordinary amount of European tourists here.

There was a glimmer of hope that--maybe--it is not going to be as bad as is amagined.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

I had a charming lunch with The Baroness Seitzinger today; both of us moaned about how we don't get to see each other as much as we would like. She had completed a Walk of Shame this morning and was in need of telling someone close about the young waiter she picked up at our favorite gin hall, Twist. She had also been on a spending spree the day before and topped off a new wardrobe with a pearl necklace (someone has to prop the economy up). If there are two things which require an audience, it is a hot affair and a shopping spree.

And, yes, this is what I have to put up with. I awoke the other day to this photo prominently splashed in the pages of The Wire. There she is in all her glory: Mrs. Stuyvesant-Fish gnawing at my baby, Mr. Astor, at a holiday party that she crashed. There is no way to explain what it is like to be greeted everywhere I go with, "Did you see the picture?" And need I point out where her left hand is?

Mamie is away, probably having sensed that she was about to be run out of town for her self-proclaimed "battle axe behavior". For days she rampaged throughout the helpless town--from McDonald's to Ft. Lauderdale; no boy, man, or bottle of tequila was safe. We decent members of society have discussed just what it will take to stop her. She's too well-connected to simply bar from the country club, and we've tried locking her up under house arrest to no avail (she always finds a way to lower herself out the window).

There's every reason to believe that being hold up in Nashville with her conservation relatives--the ones that still think George Bush was right--that she will be as bad as ever when she returns. I can hear her shrieking now..."Your husband manhandles ME! I was minding my own business when he touched ME!" Something has to be done.

Friday, December 26, 2008

It's over and it has just begun. Season, that is. No one knows just how busy we will be this year, but there aren't many tropical destinations in The States. Sooner or later the cold gets to everyone.
Every available seat had to be found for our Christmas Eve feast. It stretched from the kitchen..
...to the dining room. Terry and his sister made a great roast beast dinner and I made banana cream pie and brownies.

We rode all around town Christmas morning; it was balmy with a strong wind off the ocean. The streets were full of European tourists. One of the more schlocky holiday items is the menorah made of sea shells on Lincoln Road...

...and--of course--a dradel.

After many toasts at Twist while watching I Love Lucy, we raced over to The Palace to make our date with The Queen of South Beach, Henrietta. We exchanged gifts and saw some of our old friends.

The relentless Thomas Barker really shouldn't have been out with a major benefit lined up for the evening, but--as I've noted before--I don't think he actually ever sleeps anyway.
We Shanghaied Henrietta out of there and brought her back to the holiday celebration at Twist. None of us remember very much of the second visit to Tommy Decker, but we did come away with some fierce gifts from le Compte La Mot and his lovely wife, Doris.

Today will bring some realignment of our forces as we ready to unleash an all out assault on the town starting tomorrow night and probably lasting through New Years. The week between Christmas and New Years is the official start of Season and, it is like a starter's pistol which signals everyone here to race--to the nearest party.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It is almost over; we will have to suffer through one, more holiday get-together--this time at our home--and we will awake from this tailspin.

On Monday night, we went to David and Larry's lovely apartment overlooking the ocean and were delighted to see Miss Tiffany perform. There aren't many performances by top-notch drag entertainers in living rooms anymore. Maybe tough, economic times will force at least some of the new talent to take on limited venues like this. To the best of my knowledge the fee is the same for a gig in a living room as it is for a club--and you get fed. (Note to self: If you play your cards right, this might be a new revenue point.)

Well, maybe it is not over... I forgot to mention that Thomas Barker is hosting another benefit for the South Beach Aids Project (SoBap) tomorrow night. It is being held in the glamorous new club, Louis, in The Gaansvort Hotel (located right under our gym). (Note to self: If we play our cards right, we can drink until 5 AM and manage to get into the gym when it opens at 5:30).

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Terry and I mounted a huge effort to decorate the house for the arrival of his relatives...ALL of them. The amusing thing about it all is that there is not one, real, living thing ornamenting the place. There is the rotating ball in front of the house which revolves and--with a spot light fixed on it--gives the impression of snow cascading down the front of the house and plenty of lights, wreaths, and ornaments filling every nook, ceramic monkeys festooned for the holiday, but not one, living--or recently living--thing. This is all fine for us, but if I remember correctly, Terry's sister always tries to sneak a real plant in. (I have one planted out back from two years ago that refuses to die.) We will also have to put up with an insane gift game where items are bargained and traded; after five years I still don't understand the rules, but I have complained loudly that the $10 value limit must be raised to at least $50 to make the game interesting. It's still $10 this year. They just don't get it: it is nearly impossible to find something for $10 on South Beach.
The artificial tree and color wheel have made their appearance.
Terry and Leopoldo are huddled under the tree.

Garlands have been hung above the diningroom.

The wreaths are back; the festively-lit one is up and over the outdoor deck.

The white wreath for the diningroom is back, too.

But the new addition this year is the feather wreath and it is probably the closest thing we have that is sort of real. I thought this was a bit too much in times like this, but it can be used as a hat in a pinch.

Today I will trot down to Pimpernel's Christmas get-together. Three more days of this and it will be over.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I have put my foot down and put a one-night end to the party train that is going on in this town. Someone has to have a grip here.
Last night, we hosted Carl for after dinner drinks at Da Leo. He showed me a fascinating silver piece, the size of a pocket watch; it was something a priest of the Catholic faith carried (although--for the life of me--I can't remember why). I simply loved the simple and gracious lines of it.
Whatever its original purpose, Carl uses it to carry his Vicodin and Ambien; that is probably why it came out in the first place. I think I had pain (or I couldn't sleep).

These are the last days of our solitude here; the first visitors start arriving later this weekend to initiate the official start of The Season of Visitors. They have several goals: Escape the cold of the North, dance on as many table tops as possible, and drink, drink, drink--til there is no more.

Hmmm...isn't that the reason I moved here ten years ago?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The ten days before Christmas Eve are driving us into the ground; today I emerged from the house not knowing what was going on. I had a glass in hand and a terrible itch.
Tonight we attended the Christmas parties of our favorite restaurant, Da Leo, and nearby Score. Everyone acted as if they would be so very, very happy if you didn't bring up any current news story.
We saw KiKi today and brought him a container of diet, doggie, cheese snacks given by our neighbors. He looked at me like I was from from Mars. "Do you really think I am going to eat something like this?", he asked.

Miss Vickie sent me this wonderful image of Mr. Big Stuff, himself, KiKi.
And, speaking of "two-fers", we managed to hit the Christmas parties of both The 11th Street Diner and the neighboring, Twist (we snubbed what was bound to be a tragic event at The Palace). I don't know which one had more freaks, but--in a world where freaks detract from the news of CNBC--both were extremely enjoyable. The ten nights before Christmas Eve are a circus of open bars which lead into the week after the 25th during which "season" officially begins. That week leads into the all-encompassing worry about where the best New Year's Eve will be held. It is our humble thinking that this will be at The Raleigh Hotel where Suzanne Bartsch will host a burlesque party. She called me on Monday to say that she is bringing an entire troop of freaks down from New York.
Ah...there we go again with freaks.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I guess I shouldn't be surprised in RuPaul's stunning "two-fer": his Christmas card where he portrays both Michele and Barak Obama. I've known Ru for just about twenty years and for nearly all of them he always had a vision of the road he was on.

CNBC's financial gurus left me with a knot in my stomach when they said today that--with the Federal Reserve lending money now at nearly 0%--the government has thrown everything they have into the mess. "There's nothing left they can do", one said. "If things don't pick up, it will be the end of history." With swindles and corruption mounting on a daily basis, one has to wonder just how kind history will be to us. The best idea around is that the dreaded Y2K had a hidden effect; it didn't stop the machines, it made us crazy with greed in an eight-year binge on bounty. It seemed all too simpler twenty years ago when it was just a binge on booty--Star Booty, to be exact.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Red must be the new pink this year. Leopoldo gave me an early present this week of a pair of Prada, velvet pants with a Prada red shirt; then he followed it up with two, more red shirts. I've always been a sort of blue-shirt person; it's something that works well with the eyes. I do NOT, however, believe that you can wear red in the early afternoon; I questioned the thinking of this woman.

I must admit to being bored enough this afternoon to provoking Mrs. Stuyvesant-Fish today; I texted her "Oink, oink" just when I knew her carriage was taking her back to The Beach. She bit and called, trying to pretend to be appalled. "How could you upset me like that?!", she bellowed. "Well, Mamie," I replied, "I just wanted you to be upset enough to either lose your appetite or turn to drink. That is a Win-Win Situation." She is a doll.

On our way--and, I'm getting tired of biking at 7 in the morning--to the gym, we went on our usual trip across the lovely promenade created along the 23rd Street canal to the David Barton Gym. Today, I noticed a marked increase of the people sleeping in that park spreading along the canal. Yes, it is winter in Miani, but you see this everywhere. Everyone chides me as being a Cassandra, so I won't go on.

I noticed today that--as I did some light gardening--the temperature was a little too high at about 80; I was sweating and mumbling that it seemed only two weeks ago that I was compaining about the bone-chilling 50 degree weather. It's hard to be content.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The long-awaited day finally came; KiKi turned eighteen yesterday and made the trip by cab with no problems. In addition to many treats, I baked him his own meatloaf and served it on my nineteeth century French china with gold trim. We did everything possible to make him feel like the special friend he is.

I know I obsess about this dog, but he has brought me so much pleasure over the years that it all seems so right. Unlike most other dogs, KiKi has never done anything wrong; he seemed naturally trained, never chewed up expensive belts or shoes, and displayed a unique intelligence. Of course, he does like to snap at fingers and toes, but he has never really trusted people he doesn't know. He was rescued from a woman who dowsed him with fluids and tried to set him on fire; she went to jail and KiKi went on to become a legend. When our former neighbors exclaimed that, at eighteen, it explained why KiKi is so "grumpy". "No," I replied, "He's not grumpy, he's just opinionated."

Before the birthday dinner began, though, he was awarded a medal proclaiming him "#1 Dog". (And, if I had thought of it sooner, probably could have had Mayor Bower proclaim December 14 "KiKi Day".)

The countdown has begun: the ten days of holiday parties until Christmas Eve (traditionally celebrated at Ditmar's, but since he moved to Ft. Lauderdale about as reachable for us as The North Pole). After KiKi returned home, we ran up the street with checks in hand to Barker's holiday fish fry/SoBap benefit. It was too late for the fish, but not for the Grey Goose.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Like every other "event" that has grasped this small town of big events, KiKi's eighteenth birthday party is creating a bit of a stir. Although we advised everyone that KiKi is in retirement and does not want more than a modest celebration, he was photographed by Hola Magazine leaving his apartment in Monte Carlo (trying to maintain some sort of privacy). "No pictures", he growled. The best thing was that Leopoldo and I finally found the gold crown for the party. It had jewels sewn on and said, "Birthday Prince".

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

If its December, its time to raise money for SoBap (the South Beach Aids Project); and who better to lead the way than the indefatigable, Thomas Barker. I really don't think he sleeps any more as no, one person could possibly lead so many fund raisers, vote registrations, and drink fests. His fish fry this Sunday is an amusing tactic; I think a fish fry is a very southern thing as the only time I've heard of one is in a hilarious song by Pearl Bailey and Moms Mably. (Leave it to Barker to turn our snooty neighborhood upside down with the low brow entertainment we love so much.) Last year Barker and our committee raised a great amount of money to help the underfunded SoBap continue; it is time to get out the checkbook ladies and gentlemen. Even if you don't eat fish, you'd better be there.

The passing away of Sunny von Bulow leaves the Newport stage with one less character of note; Sunny hadn't not been one of the active members, of course, but its another name buried in history. I still remember watching the daily murder trial of Claus von Bulow with my grandmother. It mesmerized a small town in a small state.

There's only a handful of the old Newport names left; two Vanderbilts occupy the third floor of The Breakers, Eileen Slocum still lives in the mansion nestled in a forest of trees, and Sen. and Mrs. Pell live in their home overlooking the ocean. Claiborne de Borda Pell was the senator from Rhode Island for nearly forty years, the chairman of the foreign relations committee, and an elegant, rich Newporter famed for his speech and manner. My favorite Pell story was of his leaving his diplomatic position in Slovakia in 1946 when the Communists took over; they had arrested and tortured in interpreter. As Pell and his wife were about to drive off, the just-released interpreter approached and asked if Pell could take him, too. Pell replied, "No, you know I can't do that. But I won't lock my trunk." At great risk, he drove the man all the way to Italy.

Pell and his wife, Nuala, were the consummate aristocrats in Newport; they are in their nineties now, with Pell suffering from Parkinson's. They posed in front of their 1944 wedding portrait recently for the Providence Journal. Growing old is a bitch.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Where does the time go? I've been consumed with planning KiKi's eighteenth birthday party next week; the hats have been found and beef, pork, and lamb purchased for the meat pies I'll make for KiKi and his friends. Somehow, I was coerced into watching the Victoria's Secret fashion show this week. Maybe I have been a little too secluded, but it seemed so very pointless and boring--more about entertainment that wasn't entertaining than perceived fashion. The choice of the glitzy Fountainbleau as its venue seemed appropriate, though, for the B-list celebrities in attendance.

As predicted, sales are down at Art Basel. With most of America having lost at least 40% of its wealth, there doesn't seem to be the stampede to own everything you see. But, the crowds still came. Miami in December isn't a bad choice, even if you are hesitant about spending.

The real worry about spending, though, is with the state government, and the fuse on that bomb is burning fast. Florida is a state that prides itself on no income tax, funds its way mainly by a sales tax, and that is not a bright spot in a time of reduced spending. Yesterday the family of former Governor, Lawton Chiles, threatened to sue the state if it tried to "borrow" one billion dollars from the Chiles endowment for poor children and elderly. Maybe they have some doubt that it will never by paid back, especially since the state still needs to find another billion just to break even. As Riley says, "Tick, Tock".

And--together with Mr. Astor--, I had a most enjoyable time with that pompous wind bag, Mrs. Stuyvesant-Fish, last night. Within minutes of our arrival, she had developed six more arms and was pawing at my husband, loudly proclaiming her love of our friendship, and cackling at her own jokes like some sort of pterodactyl magpie. Truly, I counted six "last drinks" before she trotted off into the night. She sported another one of those high flips in her hair despite my warnings that--like Baroness Seitzinger's bold jewelry--it attracted unnecessary attention from the less affluent. "Don't worry," she bellowed, "I throw drumsticks out the carriage window to distract the villagers following me with pitchforks and torches." We could only gently sigh and roll our eyes; as if she could part with a drumstick.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The temperature plummeted to 50 degrees early this morning and--although I know it is not the tragedy we make it out to be--it might have been the end of the world to us. For all intents and purposes, this morning's bike ride to the gym was a dog sled across the tundra. I am never prepared for this; where is that one pair of gloves or that one scarf?

The town is warming up, though, for the formal opening of Art Basel this afternoon. Everywhere you turn you find tents set up for the event and its satellites; entire hotels like The Aqua have emptied their rooms of furniture so that galleries can rent the space. The question still here is: Money, who has it, and will they spend it.

Astronomical amounts were spent last year (I think I read the figure $5 billion, once), but that seems like a long time ago (and also when $5 billion meant something). The wags around town predict a big drop in the purchase of ultra-contemporary art in favor of "names". Gone, they say, are the days when a recent graduate of art school became a millionaire in one of those tents or hotel rooms; but most of these attendees pride themselves in finding the new "name". Who knows what will happen any more? Still, on the ride back this morning--through the icy winds--we saw Cartier's globe-like tent in The Botanical Gardens.

Yesterday we saw tents in the Design District of Miami erected just a few blocks from the sad slums of Little Haiti; this is and always has been the way of life here. A poor person is more likely to be hit by a Rolls in Miami than anywhere else. And as our attendance at The White Party was criticized as a poor choice in poor times, the finger of shame can be raised at those who populate the lavish tents and galleries this week. Will it ever stop or be fair? Not in my life time, that's for sure. But, perhaps if I lived in any place less shallow than Miami Beach, any place more concerned about what goes on two blocks away while Cartier is handing out drinks in their tent...well, perhaps I could take all this so much more seriously. But, it won't happen in my life time.