Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

Miami, I want to love you, I do, I do

March 3rd, 2017
South Beach, Miami

I have a love hate relationship with Miami. I love it when I land and hate it by the time I leave. Strong words from someone who has a t-shirt that says Namaste and a top-secret mantra.

Miami is the ideal  long weekend break from my new second home, Manhattan – it’s a direct flight to clear blue skies and sandy feet. The city has great restaurants, throbbing nightlife, eye candy Art Deco buildings

The Cavalier Hotel, South Beach, Miami, Florida

and a whole cool Design District.


So what’s not to like? I suppose the woman in neon gold open-toed platforms, painted black toenails, glued-on lycra leggings, platinum braids and bubblegum lipstick on my dawn flight to Miami  might have something to do with it. Miami attracts all sorts of Americana, the good, the bad and the very tacky. I feel like an uptight alien or just someone who has lived in London too long. My existential crisis goes something like …

Who are these people?

Where are my people?

Do I have any people?

In moments of  panic, I seek counsel from Shomit Mitter who is much broader skilled than his therapist blog label attests. Nothing phases my West London-based guru who has degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge universities. I would recommend Shomit to anyone who has something troubling him (check out his on-line talks). Once I was so stressed out that instead of chanting my mantra, my gmail password kept popping into my head. Shomit’s instruction on how to be both “ruthless and obsessive” when stressed solved my problems quickly.


I emailed Shomit for some advice  on Miami, and here’s what he said.

 Everything has a soul, only sometimes it is very well hidden. The secret is to keep judgement out.

Hmmmm, I think I’d need longer than a four-day weekend to find Miami’s soul. I might be better off following  my boyfriend Stretch’s advice:

Don’t take Miami seriously. Miami is a place to go wild and crazy, throw caution to the wind. That’s what it’s all about. Frozen Margaritas in the afternoon, dancing on tables at night.

I think what Stretch really meant by going “wild and crazy” was what we actually did, namely Uber to the Everglades twenty minutes away, meet a total stranger in a gas station that sells big knives


and is surrounded by bored looking bikers, then have that stranger drive us to the shores of the Everglades where we meet another total stranger – Captain Ray – who then takes us out on his fan boat


for the next several hours to look for alligators. That’s what Stretch meant by going wild and crazy –  Fifty Shades of Green not Grey


Ever since we booked this weekend away, all Stretch could talk about was our Everglades Safari tour.


Meanwhile, I pretended it wasn’t happening. I even slept well the night before- that’s how good I am at pretending. Seeing alligators up close and personal has never been on my bucket list.

He’s got some serious teeth on him, says Captain Ray about Psycho Jack below.  I did not ask how Psycho Jack got his name. Funny, neither did Stretch nor his 15-year old son or teen friend.


Alligators can eat anything they can swallow whole. (this was supposed to comfort us/me) Now if that was a crocodile, we’d be in a whole heap of trouble.

A bit further on Captain Ray jumps into these alligator-infested waters to take  a photo of us.


My exact thoughts at the time:

Is he totally crazy? What happens if  Captain Ray gets snapped up? Where exactly are we? Stretch, do you know how to drive this boat? Does my cell phone work?

As usual, no one else on the boat seemed troubled. Or they’re all good pretenders, like me. I’m happy to report that Captain Ray did not get eaten. He jumped back on the boat, took us to another remote spot and then pulled out a knife. I wish I were kidding. He then started to trim some ‘sawgrass’ for us.

This here sawgrass, Captain Ray explained, the Indians loved it. They’d eat it like a Snickers bar. Here, try a bite. Stretch nibbles obediently


But this grass is real strong too. Its ridges are like a saw. The Indians, they’d use it to kill people.

At this point, it would be fair to say I wasn’t sure about Captain Ray.

But then he put his blade away and we went on a very pleasant boat ride home –  Home! Four letters I love. One thing I will give the Everglades is they are beautiful, vast and peaceful (if you can overlook what lies beneath).



The Everglades provide a welcome break from crowded South Beach.  It’s the largest subtropical wilderness in the US, a slow moving marshy river up to 60 miles wide, 100 miles long, flowing into Florida Bay.

Captain Ray may have scared me a tad at first, but once I realised he wasn’t going to kill me, I liked him a lot more and would recommend him and his tours.

Have lunch at century-old  Joe’s Stone Crab to complete the Floridian water-creature theme.

As soon as we got back to the 1 Hotel South Beach  I had a deep tissue massage at the zen Haybarn Spa, its first foray outside the UK,


to wash away any remnants of post-traumatic alligator disorder.

I like the 1 Hotel – its chic, eco-friendly (sublime wood surfaces throughout) and has an expansive fun roof terrace bar and a gorgeous pool.


My only quibbles – I was born with a silver quibble in my mouth – the hotel is too crowded (7am to reserve lounge chairs during peak times) and you need a PhD to work the elevators. But in my Goldilock‘s test of Miami hotels – the Edition too shiny white, Soho House too scene-y and claustrophobic, the 1 Hotel wins hands down.

Next on my wishlist is the Setai, which I have heard has good service and is the most serene of the South Beach bunch. The new Faena is super OTT opulent and exclusive. not to mention expensive. But if price were no barrier (Wouldn’t that be fun!) then the Faena would be fine, if only I could follow my daughter Kate’s advice;

Every time you see red imagine that it’s white.

and in the words of Shomit,  keep the judgement out.

March, 2017