Judging the States on brief visits to New York and Miami is like judging an extended family by having one night stands with two of the prettiest members. You have got a feel for it (so to speak) but you’re still missing out on all the normal day-to-day issues.
And it doesn’t help that New York and Miami are a typical of American culture in many ways. New York because it is so very diverse, a city that has inspired enough purple prose and invective over the years. A city that is all things to all men - a business metropolis, a city of slums, 5th Avenue and Harlem, the New Yorker and Sex in the City, Friends and Sopranos.
If you want to recreate the New York in the summer experience, take twenty strippers, thirty assorted religious ministers, forty crazy people, a goat for aroma, fifty feral pigeons and one coked-up DJ. Put them all in an tiny art gallery. Turn the music to loud and make the booze and drugs free. Crank up the heat and you have it; frenetic, diverse, bizarre and oddly intimate - ladies and gentlemen, this is New York.
We visit for July 4th, when the city is driven crazy by summer humidity and lit by fireworks and the streets are full of people. We have about as much fun as you can have in 24 hours - viewing the best of European history rebuilt in Cloisters, getting lost in art at the Met, relaxing in Central Park, fireworks and beers and the subway and buckets of iced coffees and food portions the size of my head - and leave exhausted, broke and over-stimulated the next day. Ladies and gentlemen, this is New York.
The next stop is Miami. Pretty much everything you need to know about Miami Beach can be summed up in one sentence. Instead of pigeons, they have peacocks and the mannequins have breast implants.
No really. Implants. Miami beach is lined by glorious art deco Mi-Mo buildings (that’s Miami Modern) filled with designer goods and massively mammaried mannequins. Flashy is something to be aspired to. The men are pinheads on pecs and glutes, the women lean with huge boobs and every tendon visible in their arms. There's less fat on them than on stick insect. I think it’s meant to be attractive, but they all look like rotisserie chickens to me, all skinny limbs, tight tendons and unnaturally plump breasts coated in a tanned and oiled skin. Looking good in Miami Beach is clearly expensive if you are not poultry.
Miami as a city is a little more diverse but retains that firey and flashy feel. Houses of the rich and famous back on to the water at Star Island (Vanilla Ice owns a mansion next to the guy who helped invent Viagra, Carmen Electra lives next to Ricki Martin and Jackie Chan’s back deck is covered in jetskis). As the first and final point of call for many Cubans it means that Spanish feels more like the official language than English, and Little Havana contains the world’s only Cuban Macdonalds, which is far more expensive than the surrounding - and much nicer - local Cuban-style places.
In the city, clubs blare hot Latino beats and R’n’B from midnight, with costly cocktails and chilled champagne being the drinks on the dancefloor. Want to sit in the VIP area? That will cost you. Mangos grow wild and peacocks crow from the roofs of houses in Coconut Grove. Pigeons are, possibly, just not flash enough for the rotisserie chicken people. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Miami, if you can afford it.
We’re can’t. So we are off to Guatemala and who knows what we will find on the roof at night?