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MIA in MIA

Miami Beach, Florida: Is it the world’s largest retirement community for New York’s aging Jewish gangsters? Or…

Story by: Teo J. Babini - Images by: Muge Karamanci
©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

Miami Beach, Florida: Is it the world’s largest retirement community for New York’s aging Jewish gangsters? Or the home of Cuba’s conservative exile community? Or even the new destination for the hipster art scene during Basel? Probably a bit of all those, but my experience has created a unique relationship with the land of sand.

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

I lived in Miami for a bit as a kid in the nineties—in a pink/adobe building you can see from the beach on the far left, it was the tallest one around at the time and we had an iguana living on our balcony. Beyond that, I remember my father and I in our best Miami Vice outfits riding in a boat to school and feasting on croquetas con jamon y queso at Puerto Saugua.

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

Pitbull’s Miami has changed quite a bit since the cocaine-fueled hey-day alla Scarface, but I still grub on those good ol’ croquetas every chance I get, only now with hot sauce an’ a beer. Generally, I’ll stay in the Deco environs of the Park Central, unsuccessfully trying to avoid a sunburn in the knee-deep hot tub they call the ocean around there. Not big on the hooker heavy nightlife of the strip, I usually opt for long, neon-lit walks along the sea wit’ pops where the silence allows life to bubble to the forefront of conversation, like the foam on the cusp of a wave. Many a life crisis has been solved over smokes on such occasions.

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

My last visit, though, was a wholly new experience. My fiancé and I stayed with my adopted Uncle Henry in North Beach. He has a nice pad, with a separate guest room, on this gated peninsula full of very wealthy folk who’ve recently taken over the neighborhood. He has an electric car and loves to cook (Serious arepas!). He is the nicest man I have ever met, and his two boys are lucky genius kids.

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

A fairly expensive cab ride from South Beach (They are all hustlers, btw), we mostly took it easy. Walking to the local beach; void of semi-naked sun goddesses, “Coney Island White Fish” and Wet Willy fueled antics, where the Russians lay about peacefully like some kind of flash back home to Brighton. The water on the other side offers jet skis, tubing and canoe rides through strange jellyfish filled canals where one can admire tacky modern vacation homes and mini-yachts. We even had an all night poker extravaganza with the Hemingway-esque Armenian-New Yorker who had parked his sailboat on Henry’s dock for a spell.

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

As much as we enjoyed this more local experience, the warm moonlight called out to the madness in us and lured us out to trappings of Ocean Drive. From the skinny strippers and overprices mojitos of Nikki Beach to the cigar smoke and over-the-top Latin dancing of Mango’s Tropical Café, I can honestly say I harbor mixed feelings for the Miami most people probably experience.

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

Simultaneously better and worse than I thought it would be, it maintains some semblance of fifties charm infused with Caribbean comfort. Between the wandering eyed wolves and French tourists, local biker gangs and hopelessly homeless hobos, sloppy Southerners and Haitian hip-hop heads; it is just another Americana melting pot all its own. I think it’s the type of place I would generally hate, but somehow can’t bring myself to do so… Well, one thing’s for sure, it’s a helluva lot better than Vegas… Next stop New Orleans.

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

©Muge Karamanci

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