I'm sitting here writing this on a balcony in Miami Beach. Just saying that brings a smile to my face. It is not even just the fact we are here, but the fact we CAN be here. We can choose to spontaneously go somewhere and do something different from normal routine, watching the shorebirds skim along the breaking surf below.
G and I suddenly decided on Monday evening earlier this week that we needed a break We had to get up at 5am yesterday to make an 8am flight from Kennedy, but three hours sitting on a Delta jet and here we are.
Miami is so attractive at first glance. Forests of pastel-colored skyscrapers, art deco architecture, and neon highlights. It has the palm trees and the ocean. A degree of culture too, a feel that Miami is slowly developing into a major world city.
We were out in South Beach last night. There is no sign of anything like recession or slowdown here, at least judging from all the crowds milling around and the full restaurants on Ocean Drive.
G said the atmosphere is like St Tropez, which is exactly right. Very beautiful, relaxed, quite wealthy.
But South Beach is no longer just a haven of models and the beautiful people, either. The procession of people passing by our outside table seemed very middle America, and mostly a bit overweight.
There is also something a little too hedonistic and shallow about it, perhaps. Or maybe that is just me thinking about what the epitome of South Beach local life is - the beach, parties, being seen at the right clubs, soft drugs, a suggestion of something harder-edged lurking in the other districts outside Lotus land.
We had very good food sitting outside at a restaurant on Ocean Drive, watching people pass by. I had a paella which was as good as any I had in Spain. The quality of food has leapt up around the western world in the last ten years. Many of those small details of life, the quality of daily experiences, are improving steadily. I'm drinking coffee from a Starbucks 'Via" packet, which is ten times better than usual hotel coffee.
What we choose to do on vacation tells us a lot about what we really want. Usually G and I charge around a place seeing every cultural attraction or national park within a few hours driving distance. That's what we did last time we were in this area, eight years ago. We did Everglades National Park, the Overseas Highway and Key West, Key Biscayne, Coral Gables and Miami Beach - all in about four days.
Yesterday we actually sat on a lounger on the beach for an hour. Very unlike us.
So what do most people come to Miami Beach for? The climate, of course, especially in midwinter. The deep subliminal attraction of the ocean, the beach, the surf, the waves crashing onshore. The good food and bright lights and parties - although I wonder how different that really is to most cities around North America on a Friday or Saturday night. It might have something to do with a feeling of membership, of being the kind of person with the tastes and sophistication to want to go to an "in" place. People are very good at self-grouping and clustering into cliques.
And there must be an independent attraction to variety and novelty, a chance to see somewhere new and do things differently to normal routine. I think that explains much of the reasons people jump on a plane for holiday. Although we also chose to come and stay in the same hotel we stayed at eight years ago. For nostalgic reasons, I suppose.
I'm very interested in what makes a city attractive and livable, why people choose to live in one place rather than another. I am not sure I'd want to live here. I don't know what we'd really do with a condo here, for example, although clearly many people do. And we are very happy with where we live in New York already.
But right now, sitting with a coffee on a balcony overlooking the ocean is perfect.
The sun is just rising, streaming from behind a cloud.