The Man at the Raleigh

Reads: 97  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 1

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Art shows in Miami Beach come and go. Some things are remembered, some not.

Submitted: December 02, 2011

A A A | A A A

Submitted: December 02, 2011



Miami Beach is a phenomenon, or should I say a mushroom. It pops up after a natural disaster such as a hurricane leaves it in shambles, after it dips down to a blighted sandbar due to a building moratorium. Sometimes crime and scandal turned it into a forgotten, forsaken place. Soon enough it would rise again, gently cradled by turquoise waves, snow white seagulls and endless sunshine. Vacationers, whether very rich or very poor, all found places to stay. The hotels and apartment buildings stood and stand shoulder to shoulder. There is little room for gardens or large yards. After all, the Atlantic Ocean is right there for those who need some wide open space to run, swim or just to sit and look at the sky. Yes, some people chose to live here on a regular basis. I was one of them. I moved back there when the blight was just lifting and I felt safe enough to trod its familiar streets once again. Then it happened.

Miami Beach became hot, the rage. Sleepy streets cluttered with thrift shops suddenly transformed into trendy spots where boutiques with names such as "One Hand Clapping" or "Now and Then" were the delight of international shoppers, famous movie stars and all kinds of discerning patrons. The world descended upon it. Art galleries of note opened branches and the general impression was that the trendy jet setters found it charming to visit a place that had the ocean, the fine hotels alongside the funky old buildings, old people, beach bums and all kinds of colorful folk not seen in other upscale resorts. They seemed to find this mix a big draw.

As the funky street artists were soon inched out by fancy art galleries. Rents began to zoom upward and many buildings were renovated, meaning the old tenants would have to go somewhere else. Somehow I was able to hold on to my little pad long enough to see a lot of the transformation. I began attending some of the art events and gallery openings, which were within walking distance of where I lived and they were a bright, positive looking place next to dark streets which were not yet ready for the new look.

Soon a mega art show hit the beach. Young men on roller skates would give slick promotional cards to the public and left them in all the stores, to be handed out. Liking art, I thought it a good idea to try to go to this large art show. As it turned out, since I had a job in one of those new boutiques, someone gave me a free ticket to this show. It was overwhelming to see giant spaces filled with paintings I had only seen in art books and whose worth must have been in the millions. There were beautiful installations and some not beautiful, but certainly significant and different. Works from all over the world were together right here, in this little place called Miami Beach.

As with most large shows, however, competition for space soon was at a premium and surely many deserving artists and galleries weren't included, or couldn't afford it, even if they had been given the chance to show. So after a couple of these mega-shows, there popped up satellite shows. The convention center where the largest shows took place faces Washington Avenue to the east. Collins Avenue, with all the oceanfront hotels is the next street east of that.

The Raleigh, one of the old deco hotels, the second wave, perhaps, of the Miami beach hotels (the first wave being hotels like the Clevelander, Penguin, Betsy Ross and Clinton, south of Lincoln Road), was an elegant crowd of medium size hotels on the Collins strip north of Lincoln Road. The third wave had to be the likes of Fountainebleau and Eden Roc, Carillon and Deauville - grand, gorgeous places further up - going from the upper thirties toward Seventy-ninth Street, mostly on Collins.

I suppose a fourth wave of vacation places was the fancy motel invasion - further up, way up on Collins. The Newport Beach was one - themed and fabulous to the max. Today high-rise luxury condos have replaced many themed hotels and motels, with traffic to match. The motels have fallen into neglect, but condos still rise, one larger and fancier than the next.

Somewhere in the nineteen-eighties, Miami Beach began to turn around after many years of stagnancy. Little by little properties were being snapped up by shrewd investors, at small prices and renovated. The Raleigh, a grand old medium size hotel not far from the Convention Center, was art decoed out by young talent who designed and hand-built its trendy furnishings.

Soon after the first super-size art shows came to town, the Raleigh hosted a satellite show, running concurrently with the big shows. Artists who either couldn't get into the big ones, or preferred something more intimate, found this a welcome venue.

It was night when I first attended this event, the first time I saw the interior beyond the chic Raleigh lobby. The rooms were modern and it still had the old charm of old Miami Beach, with a touch of a new spin. There were large, flamboyant orchid paintings that would look great in someone's oceanfront high rise living room. Viewers wandered the floors, entering hotel rooms where artists would display their works.

It was fun. The big shows at the Convention Center seemed impersonal in comparison. One had to walk long distances just to see a small part of the shows. At the Raleigh, we felt like honored guests at one of the old historic hotels of Miami Beach.

That evening happened a long time ago. I attended Art Basel this year and recalled those days on the Beach. Do I remember anything from those shows? Well, there were Duane Hansen's sculptures. He died some time ago. There was the famous love sculpture and many finely detailed, grand looking realistic paintings. There were Asian paintings, primitive works - so many visual images. Yet all of these can be seen at other art shows, or viewed online, or in beautifully colored coffee table books.

But what do I really remember? Well, at the time it seemed less than memorable at all. In one of the smaller rooms at the Raleigh, among sophisticated visitors weaving in and out of art-filled rooms, was one room plain in contrast. A man, a little past middle age, very ordinary looking, sat on a Raleigh bed. He had no starched shirt or linen slacks or even a beret. He wore an old suit, the kind an immigrant who had perhaps been a teacher or bookkeeper in the old country would wear. My companion and I said hello. I felt a warmth, as if this was my uncle who fondly remembered me as a child. He smiled, quite unlike the smile of an artist trying to present himself and his work to a client. He seemed almost oblivious to the fact that this was the famous Raleigh Hotel, and across the street was an even more famous art event. He could have been sitting in a parlor of a house in the middle of nowhere. In other words, he was just a man, sitting on just a bed, with just a wallet in his pocket.

Then, looking at me and my companion with a sparkle in his eye, he took out an old, unremarkable wallet out of his pocket, opened it and carefully pulled out a photograph or two. He told us photos of family become more real if carried close to the body for a long time. He explained this to us in calm confidence. My companion and I were drawn into his world, as if he was our long lost favorite uncle. His clothes were well worn, shoes comfortable, functional without style. In short, he was as ordinary as anybody walking down any street. It would be hard to describe him or point him out in a crowd.

His wallet was unremarkable, slightly curved from being in a pocket of pants that had been sat in, worn for years. Same pants, same wallet, same photos. Time was important to him Otherwise, why keep photos, clothes, wallets for a long time?

A wallet is a serious business kind of thing. It holds money, a significant card or license to drive. This man didn't look like he drove, nor did I notice anything official looking when he opened his wallet. Why did he trust us to reveal the contents of his wallet, sitting on a bed at the Raleigh? Why open a wallet, unless making a purchase? We were total strangers, yet his manner was that of a trusted friend who couldn't wait to share his life with us.

This man had nothing to sell. No art patron cared to buy what he had to offer. What did he offer, anyway? Yet, thinking back to those days, of all the art, art shows and artists I have experienced and met, somehow the man with the wallet at the Raleigh is the only memory of significance for me, one that grows in meaning through the years, much like those old photos in his wallet. 

© Copyright 2018 Liilian. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:




More Non-Fiction Short Stories