Q&A with Brian Antoni
1. So Brian, really great book. Fun but with depth, dishy but personal, exotic and at the same time familiar, cynical but tender, and at the end, a kind of unexpected love story and morality tale right smack in the middle of “Sodom on Biscayne Bay.” Who do you think the audience is for this book?
Well, I hope almost everyone will like this book for three reasons. First, the time and setting are unique and exotic and interesting to most people I talk to. I am constantly asked “What was it like to be in Miami Beach when it started it’s comeback?” or “Is it really like on Miami Vice?” or “Don’t you feel LUCKY?” There is a real curiosity about the place based on its exotic reputation, history, and prominence in the news. The second reason I hope that a lot of people will like this book is because the central stories are all very universal: love, sadness, friendship, passion, vice, tragedy, great movements, community activism, etc. It’s all there in the book, stuff everyone can related to. And while people love to get and inside peek at exotic and glamorous places and people. I think they also like to see that even the rich and famous and gorgeous are just like us in the ways that count. Emotions don’t vary much by wealth, residence or level of beauty. You can still love, hurt and die like everyone else. In my book, for example, there is a world famous fashion designer who has fallen for a penniless model. Not just fallen in lust mind you, but in love. But despite his wealth and power, it doesn’t matter, he doesn’t get what he wants.
The third reason I hope people will like the book is that they will like the characters. For the most part, I liked them too. I personally find it much harder to write about people I don’t like. So I write about people I like and I hope the reader will like them too.
2. You seem to have nailed the era and the place perfectly. Are you a Miami native?
No, my parents are from Trinidad and we moved tot he Bahamas when I was a baby. We always had an apartment in South Florida so i spent a lot of time in Miami. My favorite thing was the neon. I thought it was magic. We had no neon in the Bahamas. Then I went to high school in Ft. Lauderdale. So, I guess I’m half a native.
3. So when did you come to Miami?
I bought a home and my first apartment building in the center of South Beach twenty years ago. I named my home Chateaubrian and my apartment building was called the Venus De Milo Arms.
4. What brought you here to stay?
The first time I walked up Ocean Drive, I fell in love. I was in transit from the Bahamas to London and had some time to kill, so I rented a car and somehow ended up on South Beach. I parked around First Street and started to walk and by the time I reached Lincoln Road I knew I had to move here.
5. What attracted you to the neighborhood?
I don’t know exactly what it was. It is like trying to remember the first time I saw a lover. I remember seeing an old lady with the most beautiful wrinkles and she was wearing a pink bathing cap covered in pink flowers, like her head was wrapped in cotton candy. I remember she was caressing the arm of a skinny old man and I remember following her fingers to see a tattooed line of numbers on his forearm. I remember feeling a jolt in my heart as I looked away, out to the sea. Then, before my eyes, like a fantasy, a woman emerged from the water and in the sunlight, she looked golden. She was naked except for the tiniest line of G-string. Then two men in matching Speedos walked toward her and their bodies were so built and hairless they looked like huge erections. They both kissed the golden woman on both cheeks. I remember running and diving in the ocean and swimming out as far as I could and looking at the string of amazing rotting deco buildings, like incredible cubist sculptures. I walked back to my car, got my bags and checked into the first hotel, and I never left.
6. Where did you stay? What did you do?
I checked intio the Leonard Beach Hotel, a stunning Mediterranean Revival building, all crumbling breezy courtyard and Spanish tile. I was given the AIDS room. I later found out that artists were each provided a budget and a free stay in exchange for decorating the rooms. The walls were covered in bright orange flames and over my bed was a warning to wear a rubber and over the toilet was a count of the people who had died of AIDS to date. I remember at the time I knew very few people who had died of AIDS. A German developer bought the hotel and spent millions turning it into a club called Hell, which he kept open for a couple of months — and then he demolished that incredible building
7. What motivated you to write this book?
Well, I remember going to Puerta Sagua and sitting at the lunch counter and i noticed all the hippest young people and old Jewish retirees, and they were wearing the same style of clothes. The young people were buying the old people’s clothes from the thrift shops. Both groups had come to Miami to die, the old people and the young people. It was the time when people with the AIDS would sell off their insurance and then come to South Beach to party until they dropped dead. All these strange beautiful families were forming in these old Deco buildings that developers were trying to destroy so they could build high-rises and the old people were taking care of young people and young people were taking care of old people. I remember watching my mom sit all day holding the had of George, a new family friend, as he died of AIDS. In his dementia, he thought my mother was his mother. His family had turned against him when they found out he was gay and had AIDS.
16. Why does the time and place fascinate us so much.
17. If we send our readers to South Beach, what must hey absolutely NOT miss.
Every visitor needs to do at least seven things: 1. Walk up and down Ocean Drive on the beach side and look at the bathers, the colorful lifeguard stations and the incredible row of pastel art deco hotels that face the ocean. If you do that, you will understand half of what intrigues people about this place. 2. Stroll up and down Lincoln Road pedestrian mall one Friday night. You will see one of every type of human on earth and a lot of cool places to eat ad shop as well. 3. Even though it’s not on South Beach, go see Vizcaya, an old house that’s now a museum, on the mainland. That’s a whole different kind of wealth. In some ways, it’s still here, but you won’t see it. It’s just hidden away these days. 4. Also have some genuine Cuban food. Don’t worry about the menu, just tell the waiter to bring a traditional meal, but don’t forget a Cuban coffee and tres leches for dessert! 5. Drag yourself to an after-hours club on Washington Avenue at 4 am on a Saturday night and see what the cat dragged in. Just follow the club kids sucking lollipops and chugging water. 6. Go take a look at the Delano Hotel. It’s a little bit of old South Beach deco and a little bit of magic. 7. Come skinny-dipping with me in my black pool at midnight and stare up at the moon over Miami through the canopy of palm fawns. Trust me.
18. At the end of the day, for all the charm and mystique, are the people of South beach REALLY any different from anyone else, or are we just the same Joe Schmoes underneath?
Yep, you know what? We really are all just Joe Schmoes at the end of the day. I have been very lucky in life, growing up with privilege. I have had the opportunity to know a LOT of famous and glamorous people and I can tell you that, beyond any doubt, though they may have 10,000 thread count sheets and fancy cars, they love and lust and hurt and bleed and die just exactly like everyone else. I can also tell you that wealth and beauty do NOT make a person interesting, or at least not for more than an hour or two. There are interesting and curious people all around us all the time, they just don’t necessarily wear Dior. They might be small-time reporters, starving artists, drag queens, holocaust survivors or even trust fund babies whose trust funds have vanished. You just never know…
19. Any message buried in the book?
Well, there are many. I really am trying to show tolerance, show how people that might seem so strange on the outside are all the same on the inside. I want people to appreciate differences and to treasure the old, in people and buildings.
20. The period when the book is set ended 6-7 years ago. Will there be a sequel.
No, definitely not. I really think what was so unique about South Beach is over. It was the transformation that interested me. I was watching MTV’s Sweet Sixteen while I was drinking a SOBE soda and all those girls had these elaborate parties with VIP rooms and red ropes and I had to laugh and think, the whole country has gone South Beach.