JANUARY 7 The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, built in 1925 and restored in 1987, is a preposterous but wonderful heap of stucco and concrete, the kind of place that’s catnip to the moderately monied classes (i.e., those who can’t afford to buy a villa in Palm Beach). The first car that Mrs. T and I saw when we pulled into the driveway was a chauffeured Rolls-Royce. The restaurant in which we took most of our meals was located in a Moorish-style courtyard. The swimming pool is roughly the size of New Hampshire, and it’s not unheard-of for guests to smoke torpedo-sized cigars while sitting in their lounge chairs.
Not being anything remotely approaching a moderately monied person, I’ve spent next to none of my life to date in resort hotels, much less in communities whose climate permits swimming in January. Needless to say, I wouldn’t have been staying in this one were it not for the unlikely fact that GableStage, the Coral Gables drama company whose production of Adding Machine was one of the shows I came to Florida to review for The Wall Street Journal, is headquartered on the grounds of the hotel. At first I felt out of place, but after spending a balmy afternoon sipping cool drinks at poolside, I started to see the point of Florida. Or maybe not: I chose Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away as my poolside book, and spent one morning holed up in my room writing my drama column for last Friday’s Journal. Man cannot live by pleasure alone!
JANUARY 8 Mrs. T and I checked out of the Biltmore at noon, then satisfied a long-standing wish by driving to Miami Beach and lunching at Joe’s Stone Crab, a restaurant about which Ian Fleming wrote (he called it “Bill’s on the Beach,” but everybody knew it was Joe’s) in Goldfinger:
Bond followed suit and proceeded to eat, or rather devour, the most delicious meal he had had in his life.
The meat of the stone crabs was the tenderest, sweetest shellfish he had ever tasted….
With a slight belch, Mr. Du Pont for the last time wiped butter off his chin with his silken bib and sat back. His face was flushed. He looked proudly at Bond. He said reverently, “Mr. Bond, I doubt if anywhere in the world a man has eaten as good a dinner as that tonight.”
That was in 1959, but the crabs at Joe’s are still pretty damn good.
Our next stop was the Coral Springs Museum of Art, where we strolled through an exhibition of paintings and works on paper by Milton Avery that come from the collection of Louis and Annette Kaufman, who in 1926 bought the first painting that Avery ever sold. (They paid $25 for it.) I’ve written about Louis, the great Hollywood violinist, in this space and elsewhere, and last February Mrs. T and I had the privilege of spending a day with Annette, his widow, in Los Angeles, where some of the paintings now on display in Coral Springs were hanging in her Lloyd Wright-designed home. At ninety-four she remains alarmingly active, and has promised to come see The Letter in Santa Fe this summer. I wouldn’t doubt it!
At length we made our way across the Everglades (which look like Kansas with palm trees) to Fort Myers, where my presence was treated as news by a local weekly. I’m still trying to figure that out.
Here’s the money quote:
What I am trying to do in my drama column is let the readers of The Wall Street Journal know that you don’t have to go to New York to see destination theater, that you can find it where you live, or near where you live, or in cities that it wouldn’t occur to you to go to, to make a theater trip. Like Chicago. In my opinion, people ought to go to Chicago to see theater in exactly the same way that they go to New York to see theater. Or Los Angeles. Or Washington D.C., a major theater center. I’ve taken it as a personal cause to try to spread the word about regional theater…no matter where you are, there is theater of the highest possible quality that you would want to see.
Like all good things, our resort-hotel days had come to an end, and we checked into in a Holiday Inn just outside of the downtown historic district, not far from the theater where Florida Rep was about to open a new production of Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa, a masterpiece by the man whom I believe to be the greatest living English-speaking playwright. Holiday Inns and comfy B&Bs are more our speed, though it was fun to play rich for a few days.
(To be continued)