Monday, June 07, 2004

Art Deco

"It is not accurate to say that shabbiness lurks behind the facade of Art Deco: Art Deco is the facade. Art Deco is the most visible of architectural styles, arranged entirely for the eye - it's in colour! - rather than to be inhabited. Art Deco buildings are inhabited, of course, but whereas, from the outside, they look extraordinary, inside, the experience is fairly ordinary. But this is why the Art Deco style is so alluring."
- Geoff Dyer

I got an email last week, actually a reply email to be honest, from my old friend L., actually, to be honest, my ex-girlfriend L. "I am in Miami on business this week" she wrote, explaining why we couldn't meet, "and then meeting my college roommate, Janine, to go salsa dancing and eat Cuban food...just a little escape for the girls to have fun and enjoy each other." Salsa dancing and Cuban food - they must be in South Beach, probably staying in the Art Deco District, maybe one of those hotels on Collins Ave. It reminded me of a Geoff Dyer story, where he wrote,

"We checked in at the Beachcomber, a nice-looking place in the heart of the Art Deco area. That is a pretty meaningless remark, I know. Art Deco, after all, means nice looking, or, more exactly, not as nice as it loooks. Our room at the Beachcomber, for example, did not look quite as nice as the facade of the Beachcomber but it still looked pretty nice. An Art Deco lamp shade bathed the Art Deco sheets in an amber Art Deco glow. When we drew back the curtains the Art Deco spell was broken. The window was cracked, grimy, and the surge of dusty sunlight revealed a damp patch spreading across the carpet from the bathroom wall almost to the centre of the room. Then a mouse raced across the marshy carpet and squeezed, with difficulty, under the skirting board of the cramped and mouldy bathroom. Dazed stood on a chair and, with no trace of emotion, said, 'Eek! A mouse!'

'I'll deal with it,' I said.

'You mean you'll try to get a discount on the room?'


They switch rooms, but "it turns out that we were not the only ones to have changed rooms. The mouse had come too. It was in the wastepaper basket, eating dinner. We preferred to think that it was the same mouse because that was preferable, I said, to admitting the hotel was actually 'a vermin-infested rat hole.'"

In South Beach, Dyer notes, "the hotels - the Art Deco hotels - are the attraction. Effectively, the Art Deco experience is the hotel experience. Staying in hotels is a side effect of wanting to see them. In a place with so many hotels, it is the residents who are the tourists, who are not at home."

To illustrate this point, he concludes the story with a lovely description of "an old woman hobbling through the swarming, tanned bodies of the fit and young, the stoned trancers and tattooed bladers, the gay men all pumped up with protein supplements and power boosts, the pierced, slim, salad-eating women for whom Art Deco was an incentive to display and not a source of shoddy disrepair that could drive you to suicide. I admired the old woman's tenacity, the way she kept going, kept putting one arthritic foot in front of another. As she passed by she lurched suddenly forward - one of her knees must have given way - and almost fell over. She smiled at me when she had regained her balance . . ."

Tonight, somewhere in that fit and young crowd, L. and Janine are salsa dancing, two, if not pierced, at least slim, salad-eating women, flailing bare arms and shaking bare shoulders to Tito Puente, Celia Cruz and Ricky Martin.

I hope they don't find a mouse.

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