Em and Stu do America part 9: Miami Beach

This is Miami. Even your bike has to look good.

This is Miami. Even your bike has to look good.

We’ve fled Florida and the Miami Beach we describe will be sadly damaged. Residents just got let back in to see their homes today. But we thought we’d do this post anyway to encourage – eventually – tourism dollars back to the area when the time comes.

We had planned eight nights in Miami and chose to stay on Miami Beach, specifically South Beach. Miami Beach is actually an island off downtown Miami and South Beach is the portion of it that the rest of the world imagines when it imagines Miami: the palm trees, Art Deco, fancy vintage cars parked on the streets, sun-bronzed people on rollerblades, neon and nightlife. We chose to stay “where the action is”, conveniently forgetting we are old farts in training who don’t appreciate “action”.

The deco district. A tourist trap, but such a pretty one.

The deco district. A tourist trap, but such a pretty one.

Miami Beach is expensive, and our inability to find somewhere close to South Beach within our budget led to our first negative AirBnB experience. We’ll save the hair-raising stories for home, but advise anyone needing budget accommodation in the area to search well in advance and take precautions. We would also recommend avoiding the Instant Book feature – take time to message the host first and check them out.

Miami Beach is scorching hot. Temperatures climbed above 37C by 10am. I have yearned throughout many muggy, cloudy eastern states for blue skies and white sand, a real summer holiday, but I realised that Miami, far closer to Cuba culturally than it is to the rest of Florida, is also a climate unto itself, with us arriving in the wet season, rather than summer as I understand summer.

Green lizard!

Green lizard!

Miami is exotic. Extreme humidity and frequent rainstorms allow for thick, lush vegetation, tropical flowers and palms everywhere, the smell of wet greenery thick in the air, lizards scattering at your feet; tiny ones, big ones, curly-tailed ones, bright green ones. There is a World Erotic Art Museum and gorgeous old art deco architecture everywhere, the preservation of low-rise heritage buildings throughout most of South Beach adding to the feeling that you have left the United States far behind. The famous South Beach itself is, to give credit where it’s due, the first Australian-quality beach seen so far in terms of white sand and clear water, though the water is very warm.

White sand, warm water, hot bodies.

White sand, warm water, hot bodies.

Looks are vital. The stores have big-breasted mannequins, and mannequins of little doggies to display the clothing choices for your doggy accessory. People-watching should be done in the afternoons and evenings. Before midday, empty streets are peopled by tourists, recognisable by their protective hats and clothing (residents walk around wearing as little as possible to prevent tan lines forming). We concluded locals have more in common with the lizards everywhere than they did with us – protected by their browned skins, they waited until the sun warmed their blood before hitting the streets each day.

But when they do it’s a sight to behold and they quite agree, taking so many selfies you’re as much at risk of collision on the sidewalk as you are on a street. They work out, half-naked, on full outdoor extreme gym equipment in the sun, doing one-armed pushups on baking rocks and sand. And bars and restaurants are all open virtually 24 hours, maybe to relieve the stress of looking so good. One Cuban we talked to, Jeffrey, said the women in Cuba were “needy”, explaining he meant expensive, needing a lot of investment in their hair and nails.

Where dogs are a fashion accessory.

Where dogs are a fashion accessory.

On Miami Beach we spotted lots of bare slow-cooking boobies, one skin-diver-suited man with a metal detector, one particularly gorgeous siren of a woman taking selfies with a full-on tripod and SLR setup, and of course, plenty of ‘boyfriends of Instagram’ situations, in which hapless men contort themselves trying to take the pictures their women require for social media.

One example was an older man in his 60s being instructed in photography by two girls in bikinis. Whether he knew them was unclear. Stu and I observed closely and are able to report for you the rules for looking hot in a photo (Emma models these in the gallery below):

  1. Pop butt upwards and forwards
  2. Somehow keep front knee bent?
  3. Ah! It’s by keeping feet together.
  4. Twist so boobs and butt face same direction
  5. Pout.
  6. Repeat until satisfied.
The only place I've ever seen a DD mannequin.

The only place I’ve ever seen a DD mannequin.

I also witnessed a hilarious ‘boyfriends of Instagram’ incident when I went kayaking around the Sunset Islands, four little islands in Sunset Bay off the main island. These are some of Miami Beach’s most exclusive addresses, home to the rich and famous. The immense, mostly Mediterranean-style homes are big enough to serve as hotels. Most are worth $15 million plus and one, the former home of Lenny Kravitz, sold last year for $25 million. It was a peaceful and beautiful time, me dragging my feet in the cool water, contemplating how much nicer it was to kayak past such a mansion on a Monday morning, instead of working to pay for one.

Presently I was joined by a man and woman on stand-up paddleboards. The woman gave the phone to her boyfriend to snap photos of her from behind. Geez, she looked gorgeous, slender and bronzed in a blue bikini, paddling between towering mansions, a Velcro strap around one tanned and toned ankle, blonde blow-waved hair shining as it fell past her waist.

Check out the size of the boats behind me!

Check out the size of the boats behind me!

Her boyfriend did his best to capture this moment on the phone as instructed as well as paddle to keep up with her. For my part, I tried to get my kayak as far to the edge of the canal as possible so that I wouldn’t wreck the shot.

My short kayak and I passed easily under the low bridge between two of the islands. The guy was busy checking he’d got the shot; the blonde, preoccupied, did not see the giant metre-wide pylons she was headed for and got knocked clean off the paddleboard, landing in the water with an almighty splash.

I managed not to giggle as I asked her if she was OK. I felt for her, losing that nice blow-wave, but I also knew that Miami Beach features “blow bars” where you can go and have cocktails mixed for you while people blow-dry your hair.

Super-chill Miami - the lovely bloke at South Beach Kayak skaeboards back and forth to the water with the kayaks.

The super-chill bloke at South Beach Kayak skateboards to and from the water with the kayaks.

But enough about the eye candy when there is food to be discussed. We ate and cooked as much Cuban food as possible: Cuban sandwiches (Cuban bread, ham, roast pork, cheese, pickles; Juji, it really depends on where you get them); Cuban espresso (Juji we couldn’t tell the difference between this and regular espresso).

We ate empanadas, linden flower tea, yuca fries, stuffed yuca, various meats with black beans and rice, guava pastelito (pastry), enormous avocados, tamales, cheap mangoes, street corner empanadas and plantains in all sorts of guises, sweet and savoury, including tostones.

We can recommend the Cuban and Cuban-inspired food at the Ocean Deli (cheap), Havana 1957 (mid-range), Puerto Sagua (cheap), The Cafe at Books & Books (expensive, but a great take on the Cuban sandwich, and the bookshop itself excellent) and Mas Cuba (mid-range).

Despite the use of non-regulation bread, or perhaps because of it, we found The Cafe at Books & Books was the clear winner.

Despite the use of non-regulation bread, or perhaps because of it, we found The Cafe at Books & Books was the clear winner for the Cuban sanger. That’s yuca fries in the background.

But the highlight was Moreno’s, owned by singer Jorge Moreno. It’s hard to find. You have to walk through the driveway of the Dorchester hotel and pass beneath an enormous twisty tropical tree that frames the restaurant awesomely but also shields it from the street. It outshone everything with its pastelito, its Imperial Rice – a must-have! – and its live Cuban band. A word of warning – it recently moved from its old location which has now been occupied by Mas Cuba, which has remarkably similar signage and styling to Moreno’s. We would urge visitors to ensure they seek out Moreno’s.

Another tip for tourists seeking nice bars and hangouts away from the hustle of South Beach – we found this No Nonsense Guide to Doing South Beach like a Local, invaluable.

Miami looks good, but it tastes better.

Miami looks good, but it tastes better.

The charms of Miami Beach take some time and detective work to uncover if you aren’t born to party and are on a strict budget. But once the place is back on its feet, we would encourage you to visit – it’s totally worth it.

StuMobservations: Miami Beach

  • The buildings are like an 80’s version of the future.
  • Rollerblading down Ocean Drive in shorts is acceptable if you have your own soundtrack.
  • $17US + tip for a bourbon and coke – not cool bro.
  • It’s like Bali but with black beans.
  • Do not put solids in my drink. #Mojito
  • Are selfies a hobby/sport/activity now?
  • I do not like pina colatas or getting caught in the rain.
  • Sex museums should have blank walls for time-outs/regrouping/safe eye-contact.
  • Miami Beach = 50% Eat and Drink, 25% Drink, 12.5% Eat, 12.5% Sleep.
  • Airbnb hosts ARE obligated to provide clean bedding.
  • Cuban food is now called Stuban food. (See Cuban Sandwich).
Stu with a $25 bourbon and Coke. We misread the menu. Note his forced smile.

Stu with a $25 bourbon and Coke. We misread the menu. Note his forced smile.

What we’re reading
Em: The Hostile Hospital, Lemony Snicket; French Women Don’t Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano; The Magic World, E. Nesbit
Stu: Blood of Requiem, Daniel Arenson

What we’re listening to
A southern crash course: Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers, Riders in the Sky, Elvis Presley

What we’re watching
Today we’re going to the movies to see IT! Very excited…

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Performance-enhancing book: Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans

the-tim-ferriss-show-podcast

Tim Ferriss and trusty steed Laura keep me inspired and happy through each and every commute. 

Just as with fiction I tend to fall down the rabbit hole, I get excited when I find a good resource covering one of my more “real” areas of obsession.

I find a new font of inspiration and information and sort of suck them dry like a vampire, until I have consumed everything they have to say and grown stronger. Hmm, perhaps more of a parasite.
Unflattering self-depictions aside, recent examples include the financial freedom blog of Mr Money Mustache (nearly 500 posts, worked through gluttonously and chronologically) and the 100-odd hours of The Minimalists’ podcasts so far released.
Eventually, I find, I absorb the message. I’m converted. I get it. I know the Minimalists’ stories and catchphrases so well I listen to them more like a soothing old bedtime story now than a source of excitement. I’ve done the projectsjoined the cult.
But a slightly different case is the Tim Ferriss Show,  the podcast in which optimisation junkie Ferriss conducts long-form interviews with the world’s top performers across myriad fields, deconstructing their habits and back-stories in an effort to find out what habits lead to success.
Ferriss is also author of business classic The Four-Hour Workweek, health hacker bible The Four-Hour Body and learning-method deconstruction The Four-Hour Chef. He is so adored it’s sometimes hard to tell who’s more star-struck, him or his famous guests.
(Imagine my delight, incidentally, when finally my nerd prayers were answered this week and Ferriss bowed to fan pressure to interview Mr Money Mustache in the latest episode).
This show never gets old and never runs out. You never learn it all. It’s the personal development equivalent of a gold mine that runs to the other side of the earth. You could never hope to read all the books recommended, follow up all the little side routes and innovations you hear about. I’ve read two of the books, bits of the others and listened to more than 200 hours of interviews and yet feel I’ve barely scratched the surface.
I have the books on Kindle, but am planning to buck my own minimalist trends and buy them in hard copy to keep for more easy and frequent referencing. And throughout the interviews, there are certainly common themes, but there is far more variation than there is repetition, and the recurrences are, in themselves, fascinating.

This was the reasoning behind the book, an attempt by Ferriss to capture and distill the best of all his interviews thus far, and draw the connections between them. I approached it with greedy anticipation, having bought it for myself as a Christmas present (though I had to get it on Kindle, the city bookstores having sold out).

It’s a diamond-hard read without an ounce of fat, and includes plenty of new material and insight into Ferriss’ personal struggles. But a word of warning: don’t bother if you’re not seriously into personal challenges and life-hacking. Otherwise it will quickly overwhelm. Even a medium-level devotee such as I found many of the concepts covered (it is divided into sections Healthy, Wealthy and Wise) too advanced for me, at least in terms of finance, exercise, diet and biomedical science. But even if you skim over parts, that, he says, is the way he intends the book to be read. More like a buffet than a three-course meal (my words, not his).
And it’s endlessly stimulating. I love knowing there is always more out there to learn, about people, the capacity of an individual mind and body to reach extreme performance. It’s humorous and fast-paced, and at 700-odd pages, you can skim the parts you’re not up for yet without feeling like you’re not getting bang for your buck.
Cool features include a comprehensive reading list from each interviewee, and a cartooned spirit animal for each based on how they imagine themselves. My advice is get it in hard copy, devour it for fun, then go back and drill down.
Happy nerding!

Hercule Poirot is alive and well in The Monogram Murders

hannah-monogram-murdersI was dubious when I heard modern crime writer Sophie Hannah was approved by the descendants of Agatha Christie to resurrect her detective Hercule Poirot, beloved by many.
So dubious I avoided it on its release in 2014. I read positive reviews, which mentioned Hannah’s chops as a crime writer, her love of all things Poirot and her faithful promise she  would cut no corners in dusting him off for a new case.
This was good enough for the family, but inexplicably still not good enough for me, so I just eyed it suspiciously in bookshops every time I passed it, stroking the cover creepily but still not quite trusting.
I love Poirot, OK?
Dipping my toe in, I assessed Hannah’s skills by reading her Kind of Cruel, which I found highly satisfactory, twisty and mucky like all good crime.
Finally took the plunge on The Monogram Murders and – ! – was not disappointed.
This has the wit and psychological insight Hannah clearly already commands, and that obviously made her an ideal choice for the project.
It’s also, more importantly, so spot-on rendition of Poirot that – and I feel disloyal, but – I just can’t tell the difference. I can actually hear David Suchet speaking the lines. The rhythm, the cadence, the humour; all perfect.
It’s uncanny, as though the Belgian detective, quirks, mannerisms, wardrobe and all, has stepped prissily from the yellowed pages of Agatha Christie into another woman’s book, where he is rendered in loving, lifelike detail and doesn’t even have the grace to look embarrassed.
Strait-laced young detective Catchpool makes a good solid foil, just the kind Poirot needs to shine. The murders, too are very Christie. Three corpses are found laid out in three different rooms of the same hotel, each with a monogrammed cufflink in his or her mouth.
The plot is full of classic Christie tropes and features, though I will not say what they were for fear of spoilers, and is quite as convoluted and macabre as Christie at her nastiest.
Yet nothing feels contrived or formulaic. It does not feel exactly like Christie and yet I could not put my finger on any difference. You can feel the confidence and the the fun the author has had, and it is infectious. A joy to read.
I’ve caught up just in time – the family must have been happy, too, because her second Poirot mystery, Closed Casket, is now on shelves. Hurrah!

Doctors return to court to force six-year-old’s cancer treatment

Oshin Kiszko's mother Angela says she wants him to have peace, love and fun times while he is still physically able to. Photo: Elle Borgward

Oshin Kiszko’s mother Angela says she wants him to have peace, love and fun times while he is still physically able to. Photo: Elle Borgward

The parents of a Perth boy with aggressive brain cancer are set for another legal fight with doctors from Princess Margaret Hospital.

The medical team will take Angela Kiszko and Colin Strachan to court again on Thursday in a bid to step up chemotherapy and introduce radiation treatment for six-year-old Oshin, while his parents want only palliative care for their son.

Read more…

Have you seen Stranger Things?

ST_ILLUSTRATED_ANZThis new Netflix miniseries is like the love child of Stephen King and Stephen Spielberg, living life to a soundtrack by Daft Punk, but confusingly, none of those entities have actually been involved.

It’s made by Matt and Ross Duffer, who are my new favourite people even though I had never heard of them before. It’s got American kids riding around on bikes, it’s got other kids with secret mind powers. It’s got animatronic aliens, Winona Ryder doing a bang-up job as a crazy mum, a smart smalltown cop, the best theme (sounds a lot like the soundtrack for the new(er) Tron movie) and an amazing 1980s soundtrack.

It’s Freaks and Geeks meets E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial meets Firestarter meets Aliens meets The Goonies. You won’t believe this wasn’t actually made in the 80s, so strongly will it transport you.

If you’re not curious by now, there’s no hope for you. I’m up to episode five and it makes me too excited to sleep.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Minimalism, Margaret Atwood and crazy mothers

 

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‘Books must pass from person to person in order to stay alive’ – Margaret Atwood (Photo: Dominic Ronzo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Pirsig’s Zen And the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

is not for the faint-hearted but complex, ambitious, moving and outstandingly original. Still groundbreaking decades after its publication, yes it actually has motorcycle maintenance in it and no that does not make it boring. It’s an impressive narrative device that both illuminates and speeds along this mind-opening mystery/travel memoir/work of modern philosophy.

Margaret Atwood’s On Writers and Writing

is actually a rounded-out version of a series of lectures Atwood gave on this subject, this is a must for anyone interested in Atwood, Canadian writing, or writing in general. Gives a rare and witty insight into the early life of one of the world’s most beloved writers, while musing deeply on the nature of books and the poor saps who write them. Packed to the gills with quotes – worth it alone just as a collection of quotes on writing. A fast, beautiful, inspiring and entertaining read. I got mine at Boffins. Was previously titled Negotiations with the Dead.

Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

I know, I am the last person in the universe to read everything and I should really just give up on back catalogues and read new stuff, especially since Winterson recently released a new work, a ‘cover’ of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. But I’m working my way slowly through the Winterson canon, one of the only bulk collections to survive the Curing of a Bibliomaniac. The most amazing thing was that I didn’t know until I’d heard this podcast interview with Winterson that the reason her books are crazy and awesome and unreal and Biblical in epic proportions, peopled with fantastically grotesque matriarchs, was because that was actually what her childhood was. And right down to the exorcisms, this book tells the story of her childhood and unbelievably crazy mother. If you’re a fan it’s required reading (and the podcast required listening). If you’re not, get out of my face.

Minimalism?

As you know, I’m always up for a new challenge and these books have just been given to my excellent friend Jess, who has just returned home bookless and footloose after time abroad, and who I thought of as I read every one of these recently. They’re right up her alley but the gifting was also part of the 30-Day Minimalism Challenge I’ve just embarked on with my brother and sister-in-law, to the general bemusement of everyone else, especially the poor Ministry, who guards like a dragon the few possessions he’s got left after I blitzed through his life leaving destruction and empty rooms in my wake.

Because I don’t know when to stop, I’m also doing Dry July with my awesomely supportive family. Donate to me (and thereby to support Solaris cancer support service in WA) here. Thank you! It’s a damned good cause.

 

My most inspiring podcasts right now

Podcasts: for Type A individuals who enjoy learning in their downtime.

Podcasts: for Type A individuals who enjoy learning in their downtime.

I’ve decided I can’t stand blog posts that make you wade through a bunch of personal crap before they get to the reason you clicked, so without further ado:

The Tim Ferris Show
My favourite podcast. Usually the top-ranked business podcast on iTunes, and iTunes’ “Best of 2014” and “Best of 2015.” Tim Ferriss is the author of the Four-Hour Workweek, the Four-Hour Body and the Four-Hour Chef. Despite how gimmicky these sound, they are intensive. A long-form show usually in intimate interview format, with diverse and fascinating guests, sometimes famous and sometimes not, dissecting their high-achieving lifestyles along with Tim Ferriss, who they are usually as impressed by as he is with them. Listen to this if you take self-improvement and learning deadly seriously.
Recent favourites:
Conversations with Richard Fidler 
Lovely 45-minute interviews that are reliably wide-ranging, humorous and touching. Recent favourites:

Chat 10 Looks 3
How could you not already be charmed by a podcast whose title is a quote from A Chorus Line? Annabel Crabb (Kitchen Cabinet host, ABC political writer and author) and Leigh Sales (famously tenacious journalist, host of ABC’s flagship 7.30) get way less serious in this podcast in which they bake for each other, eat the things they bake, name-drop, review books and TV shows and movies, and generally crap on about things they like. They are hilarious when bouncing off each other. If I could get paid to make a show like this I would die happy. Has recently been made into an iView show called When I Get a Minute. It’s completely unstructured, so just dive in at any starting point you like.

The Minimalists Podcast
The Minimalists talk about ‘living a meaningful life with less stuff’. If this topic doesn’t interest you, probably don’t start. If it does, hop into it, because these two are pretty much the faces of modern minimalism.
Inspiring and encouraging for anyone who feels like life is a bit of a rat race at times, and provide a sense of community. They repeat their own stories a shade too often, but I kind of like this, I find it weirdly soothing. They are a good team and bounce off each other well – they’re not preachy or overly serious.
If you’re looking at this for the first time, I’d avoid their more recent guest podcasts and the ones done live from cities,as these are all kind of filler episodes while they’ve been touring their new documentary. Yes, I have preordered the documentary and the six hours of bonus footage. I’m a sad lady.

Enjoy!