Friday, January 24, 2014

To The Lighthouse

Looked at the hop-on hop-off bus tour - not for us.  But there were great road bikes for rent at Miami Beach Bicycle Center, two blocks from our hotel. Had shorts, bought jerseys and jackets and we were off! Should have bought chamois cream - more about that later.

"We want to ride for a couple of hours" we said.

"Go to the tip of Key Biscayne" he said.  "It's about 30 miles round trip."  True - if you don't get lost, and don't get on the freeway. Our trip was a bit longer, and he forgot to tell us we'd be riding thru downtown Miami - at rush hour.  

The Venetian Causeway goes from South Beach over several small islands - San Marco Island, Di Lido Island (or as Wally called it, Dildo Island) thru sleepy neighborhoods of tropical flowers and 50's era bungalows.  
And then it dumps you in downtown Miami.  Think Mid-town Manhattan meets recess time at the old folks' home and you'll get the idea.  
I'm getting my courage up.

We had to stop to ask for directions - our map had few street names.  It was a map for people who knew where they were going. That was not us.
We had to negotiate several chicanes.  In heavy traffic.  Car traffic.  But eventually we made it.  The bridge to Key Biscayne is also known as Mount Miami - highest point around.  Here we are on the summit:
no oxygen masks required.  But the bridge bounces like a boat when the cars go by...something you don't notice when you're on your bike.  Couldn't wait to get back on my bike, the bouncing was creepy.

There is a beautiful harbor:
and a funky only-in-Florida restaurant.  Most people arrive by boat.  We took the waiter's suggestion and had whole fried snapper...
Good, but there is a perfume-y taste to the oil used in so many restaurants, and you smell it walking past the alleys, when it's not at its best.  I think I'm off fried for a while.  Yes, me.  Still we managed to do the fish justice...
On the way home we missed a turn and ended up on I 95.  Not recommended.  Took the first possible exit and ended up in gridlocked traffic on the way to Coconut Grove.  In the fast lane. Kept looking for a place to turn left...I learned from looking at the map later that there are no places to turn left.  Ever.  But Wally found a pedestrian bridge, and eventually we made it home.

We had left Key Biscayne early to miss rush hour.  What we didn't realize is that rush hour in Miami takes place between lunch time and nap time.  All those people rushing home to take a nap. 

And the high-rise apartments.  Parking garages for old people.

Got home as it was getting dusk.  Rode about 40 miles, on not the most comfortable bike seat.  Taking a shower was painful.  Peeing is out of the question.  But I should be able to sit down soon - say in a week?

Note to self: always pack chamois cream.  

South Beach

We took off before dawn
and were in South Beach as the sun set.  A cold late-in-the-day beach is a melancholy thing
even with cheerily painted lifeguard huts.
I think this is the South Beach equivalent of Fisherman's Wharf
with a little twist.  
Actually a big twist. 
He was gorgeous, and he could rock those heels!  Teenage girls wobbling along, take note.

It was a circus.  Don't eat there, but it's great for people watching...
We're staying right in the thick of things at the Lord Balfour (thank you Edward and Paula) in the words and wire hotel.  
Arthur Balfour was Prime Minister before WWII.  (Great Britain - this was before they lost the Empire.) Weak and ineffective as PM, he was a colleague of Clement Attlee who Winston Churchill famously called "A sheep in sheep's clothing."  Balfour gets more respect here.  His words are everywhere, on the ceiling, 
on the bathroom mirrors.  Art everywhere, everyone in the lobby on their ipads and computers.  Young.  Dressed in the Hip Techie uniform - all black.  It's fun.  I feel a hundred years old.  Off to find some old people - I know they're here!

Monday, January 20, 2014

What's Happening Now

Many years ago a woman asked me to walk thru her garden with her and consult.  I knew she was tightly wrapped, but I didn't know how bad it was until I saw her hellebores.  Every single one had been stripped of all its leaves, and the flowers looked naked and embarrassed.  I hate people who torture their plants.  And I wonder about people who are that tightly wrapped.

Reminded me of a Beverly Nichols piece on consulting on a garden.  After a very rushed cup of tea the wife walked him around, and shot down every suggestion for improvement (and trust me, there was a lot of room for improvement) with  "Oh no, Mr Gardener (or what ever the hell his name was) would never stand for that.  He is quite attached to his (fill in the blank - fishpond, hideous rock pile, or what ever ugliness was under discussion at the moment).  

As Mr Nichols was leaving, the husband made an appearance and asked about their progress.  

"I gather you have some strong opinions about what is to be done in the garden..." Beverly Nichols said to the husband.

"Who, me?  No, I don't care if she bulldozes or floods the whole damn thing.  What ever makes her happy!"

Truth will out.

The hellebores are saving my garden.  The freeze made straw of the grasses and the geraniums, the forget-me-nots and the Icelandic poppies - thankfully the forget-me-nots and the poppies have recovered.  Mostly.  And the daffodils are starting (and the paperwhites of course) but they are a bit simple.  I have been cutting them for the table - I have resolved to have flowers from the garden on the breakfast table every day we are home.  Check with me in August, but so far so good.

But it is the hellebores that make me smile.

I don't understand them as cut flowers.  Some stems last forever, some wilt immediately.  In the same vase.  From the same plant. At the same stage of growth.  But in the garden, they have won my heart.

They bloom when the weather is bleak (except for this year, when we could use a little bleak weather and none is coming).  They have volunteered in the gravel, where hellebores are not supposed to grow.  Pink and white together.
The whites light up the shade.
The dark pinks charm, shyly nodding their heads.

Their cups are beautiful, pink and green with shaggy stamens.  
Each plant is a mass of flowers, the leaves nearly obscured.

Some hybridizer must be working on getting them to hold their heads up - just like the guy who bred the Stargazer lily, the first lily to face up not down.  But for now, they all nod.

Did you know that before the Stargazer all lilies hung their heads? There is a myth about why lilies do this, something about Christ and being ashamed.  But gardening is full of myths (remember the guy who puts salt on his iceplant?  It's in my book) - and few of them are founded in fact.  

There is a new hellebore this winter, a seedling.  It has appeared in two places, and I hope it will be happy and stay.  It's called picotee when the edges are a different color.  I call it cheerful and am happy it's in my garden.  All by itself.  

What's blooming in your garden?  

Monday, January 13, 2014

How do you chose your hotel?

David Brooks of the NY Times wrote a great blog post recently about hotels.  How we used to want hotels that reflected the character of the locale - the grandeur of Vienna, the stiff upper lip and class distinctions of London...

The order and precision of Berlin.  The opulence and attitude of Paris...
The decadence of Venice.  
Then for a while we wanted uniformity - Hyatt was Hyatt no matter where.  Ditto Sheraton, Marriott...The comfort of the familiar (remember Up In The Air? With George Clooney?)  And now we want something different.  Something special, or at least something that makes us feel we have the boutique-ing of chain hotels.  More accurately, the chain-ing of boutique hotels. 

His post is called The Edamame Economy (you can tell he's a waaaaaay better headline writer than I am - but he does work for the NY Times).   And it made me think. 

He says boutique hotels "hold up a flattering mirror" and "offer edginess, art, emotion and a dollop of pretension."  Maybe more than a dollop.  Gotta love those people who are into the pretension thing.

I am derided by a family member for my hotel choices.  Actually by more than one, and for different reasons.  Not hip enough, not green enough, too old, too elite.  Too expensive.  Not expensive enough.  And the worst - Not Cool Enough.  

Bearing in mind that at my age I'd probably reduce the cool factor of the edgiest hotel just by staying there, I have never chosen a hotel for its coolness factor.  I'm not choosing a hotel for bragging rights either.  I want other things.  Like a great location and a view, maybe historic architecture.  A decent reading light next to the bed, fabulous silky sheets and down pillows, a dab of opulence - I'll take opulence over cool any day of the week.  We used to joke we wouldn't want to stay in a hotel that wasn't as nice as our house. Then we built a house - our house - and developed a passion for traveling in the third world.  So that's over.  But still...

At Christmas we stayed at an Ian Schrager hotel in SF.  Totally cool. But you needed a seeing eye dog to find the front desk, and a treasure map to find a cocktail.  GPS was not up to the task.  And the chairs - or lack of.  You would slide into a blob of plastic masquerading as a chair and find yourself at an angle that made working on the computer impossible, and standing up problematic. 

There was of course the large metal octopus seat, or the huge lucite chair - much photographed, never sat in.  But comfort?  Not in evidence. Apparently comfort is not cool.  

The noise level in the public spaces guarantees that the young hipsters will soon be as hard of hearing as people my age.  Except I didn't see any young hipsters.  Mostly I saw harried hurried middle-aged people trying to be cool (and if you're 41 you're smack dab in middle age, based on the current life expectancy of 81 for women.  If you're a guy you're old.  76 for you - middle age was 38).  

Our room was a collision of opulence and orange plastic.  Not a happy collision.  But interesting, and at least we could read in bed.

David Brooks also made the point that if the major chains are doing boutique - Hyatt has Andare,  Starwood has W, and Marriott has Edition - it's no longer cool.  Critics, are you listening?

So where do we stay next?  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"What's blooming in your garden?" my friend from the frozen east asked me, a note of despair in her voice.  

"I'm afraid I'll find out in the spring that my entire garden is dead - deep freeze frozen.  And I'm stuck in the house for days - the garden is under a mountain of snow."

I forget that most of the country doesn't have paper whites for Halloween, hellebores for Christmas, roses by May Day.  So I took my tea and my camera and went out.  

There were hellebores, from dark pink... fresh green and white.  
If they would only hold their heads up they'd be the perfect flower. 

I paid a fortune a few years ago for an almost black hellebore. While it would give me bragging rights (if I cared), as a flower it's a bust.  Not very vigorous, the flowers are so dark you can't see them in the garden.  Or in the house.  Unless you have your nose in them.  And a flashlight. They hang down in the garden, they disappear in the dark of the house. But Sloat Nursery has some fabulous double hellebores in all shades of white and pink, and one  white one that holds its head up...I may need to go shopping.

I finally found the right quince - the one I wrote about in Postcards From The Hedge.  the one from my childhood.
The bush is still tiny, and of course the flowers are all on the bottoms of the branches.  I don't want to cut even one piece.  I'm going to feed it like crazy this year and hope I can cut a few twigs next year.  And a whole big bouquet sometime in my lifetime.

Pansies spill over pots planted with daffodils planted cheek-by-jowl (but not yet not yet awake).
When the daffodils bloom they will come up thru the pansies, it's a party in a pot.  And when I put them in the garden the pansies will warn me not to dig there.  No more smashed bulbs.  

Paperwhites have been blooming since before Halloween.  I love the smell; my mom thinks they smell awful.  My sister tells me it's genetic.  Apparently my mom is more evolved.  No surprise there.
Under the orange tree are the true violets, their flowers nestled beneath the leaves.  
You have to hunt for them, but they're worth it.  Bring some in and they will perfume a room.  And speaking of perfume...
...the daphne is about to pop.  A sprig of this deserves a place on your bedside table.  I love waking up to its sweet lemony smell.  It reminds me winter will be over someday.  Hopefully not until we've had some rain.  

Summer snowflakes bobble on thin stalks.  Obviously someone is confused about the season - it's not summer - but I am happy to have their cheery green-tipped flowers.  And happy they are seeding about the garden.  Not dead-heading has its advantages.  I wouldn't try it with roses, but it's a huge success with Leucojum.  And hellebores.  I have a forest of seedlings.  Bring your trowel.
And of course there are daffodils.  Hooray for the daffodils!
I went back later with pruning shears and made little bouquets all over the house.  In the bathroom.  Beside my bed.  Next to the kitchen sink.  By the chair where I read.
Beverly Nichols said the best garden is one where there is something in bloom every month.  He gardened in England and just managed it - iris reticulata was his saving grace in winter.  I garden in California and there is something in bloom every day. I can't take credit for that; we have better weather.  

He was a far better gardener, and a fabulous writer.  If you haven't read him, you're in for a treat.  Especially if you live somewhere that's currently frozen.  If you can get to the bookstore, these are books better held in the hand.  Wonderful line drawings, lovely quotes, beautifully typeset.  But if you have to Kindle them, go ahead.  You can buy the real thing later - and you will want to buy them.  And gift them.  And read them - again and again.