Last week I sent my Los Angeles Review of Books essay to a site that showcases pieces culled from various media outlets, and got an email back that said “Thanks for sending our way!”
That seemed like an encouraging response, but my essay never went up on the site. The exclamation point was simply the editorial equivalent of the trophy now given to the middle school kid who loses the game.
Yesterday I rode the train to Miami and had lunch at Brickell City Centre with a young woman I’ll call Vivian who took my travel writing class a few years ago. It was her first visit to the Centre, though she knew it well, having interviewed the developer while it was under construction.
Vivian announced that she was moving to the Pacific Northwest to get her MFA. Another bright young person leaving the city. She told me stories about the Key West Literary Seminar back in January, when she had met George Saunders, Billy Collins, Teju Cole, whom she drove around the Keys. She is a very well-read young woman but I was still impressed by her ability to hang with the literati. “The average age at the seminar was about 70,” she explained. “And I was more agile than they were.”
We finished lunch at American Harvest and walked through the Centre. “We’re the little people who were in the architectural renderings,” Vivian announced as we approached an escalator. Then she pointed to a woman walking a terrier. “And there was a dog in the renderings!”
Saturday evening I sat in the lobby of The Betsy angry and defeated. The concierge had told me that the poetry event we had come to hear had taken place Friday night. He had mentioned a crowd on the rooftop that had made me even more distraught. I had searched unsuccessfully on my phone for the email from my friend, one of the poets, telling me that the event was Saturday the 22nd. The message was only a few weeks old, why couldn’t I find it? It felt as if the world were conspiring against me, and I were a confused old man no longer capable of making his way in it.
We retrieved the car from the garage, found a parking spot on Washington, and walked half a block to Espanola Way. We had not been there in a long time and seemed to be walking through the filming of a commercial for the city: tables overtaking the sidewalk; people strolling under carnival lights, waiters singing Italian songs. We made our way one block west, to the non-pedestrian part, and took a seat at A La Folie. I craved a glass of cider. We sat at a small table at the edge of the sidewalk. Hania opened the menu and showed me that the buckwheat crepes were now gluten-free; she ordered one with Brie and pears. We sipped our cider and watched as tourists, residents, party girls passed by. A cat appeared in the doorway, also taking in the scene. We had found the coziest spot in South Beach.
A German friend emailed the other day to tell me that she’s going to Mallorca to celebrate her 50th birthday. She felt a little sheepish, she said, because the island is so popular with her compatriots that it’s sometimes called “the 17th state.” (She wondered if she were the only German who hadn’t been there yet.) This delighted me because it gave credence to my claim in The Joys of Travel that the Germans are the world’s greatest travelers. The closest thing we Americans have to a 51st state is not an island that we flock to but one that, as Doug Mack suggests in his excellent new book The Not-Quite States of America, we colonized.