All I Want For Christmas is a Penthouse






I have been blessed with a few luxuries now that I an impoverished old scribbler with one foot in the incinerator. Kind people have given me my first smart phone, a notepad, and a laptop, and my neighbor gave me the password to her Wi-Fi.

I did not beg for those things because I did not need them at the time, but now that I have them I do need them, and I would have begged for them knowing what I know now, having used them, on the principle that everyone born helpless is a beggar at the bottom of his being, so is shamelessly entitled to free gifts.

Christmas is coming up. I am not a religious person although I was acquainted with the holiday before I ran away from home to the streets of Chicago when I turned thirteen.

Christmas is for kids, I had learned, and it had something to do with Jesus, the only person who really loved me although I could not see him. He made sure that another person I had never met, Santa Claus, gave people gifts to celebrate his birth.

I learned not to expect free gifts no matter how hard one prayed to Jesus and his mom and dad, or to Santa Claus, for that matter. But now that people are giving me useful things, there is something I do want that I am asking for this Christmas, just in case a generous person is listening. All I want for Christmas is a penthouse in a tall building.

Now I did not know that I wanted a fabulous penthouse until I perused Elevate, a vanity real estate magazine published by Douglas Elliman. Kristen Chenoweth got the cover for her “Wicked Ways.” She appears to be hiding something, perhaps a joke on bewitched fans.

Bewitched Fans

Kristen is cute, but I have a crush on Sharon Stone, who recently exposed the naked truth about what every male sleuth has been dying to see since Basic Instinct. I did not care for Sharon’s hard look back then. She is wiser and much more attractive today. I would like to have her over to my penthouse. She can bring the kids and the dog if she likes.

if she likes

With all due respect to Kristin, it was the penthouses, the air castles of the wealthy therefore great that elevated me in Elevate.


Having eyed several penthouses at length, it was obvious that great people need a great deal of space. Big rooms with very high ceilings are a must. In fact, great people must have a space so voluminous that Communists would relish dividing it up into two floors with rooms for a dozen families.

I imagined winning $85 million in a lottery, using $20 million to buy a modest penthouse, and another $7 million to furnish it, including the small extravagance of a $1 million bathtub.

Tall Buidling Tribeca

Much of the furniture in the photographs looked awkward. It would not be easy to fill so much space with furniture without losing the attraction of the space in itself. Minimalism would maximize spaciousness.

What about a 40-foot long couch? I could sit down on it in several different places every day, wander around the space and sit for five minutes or so on the several chairs inside and on the terrace, write a short story, take a nap on my huge bed, give instructions to the housekeeper, then take the elevator to get elevated in the cocktail lounge.

I soon realized that my air castle would not be valuable in nonmonetary terms unless I showed it off to guests. I would have a half-dozen friends and acquaintances over for cocktails or dinner from time to time, for how beautiful could my penthouse be to me unless I showed it off to others?

Envy  my place best

I laid down Elevate, and looked around my studio in horror. “Good grief, what have I come to, how can I live like this, in this squalor, without cable?”

I always believed I was great, and would eventually be wealthy. I lost track of time and interest in material things, so here I am.

Oh, the conveniences are there: the sticks of furniture from the alley; the computer and monitor that friends gave me; the great used books that I got for $2 each because nobody wanted them. The electricity and the running water, the sink, rusted out bathtub, and especially the toilet, come in handy. The landlord’s refrigerator is on its last legs, barking like a dog sometimes, and he could care less, but is okay if I use ice to keep the bottom space cool.

I confess that millions of people would definitely envy me, and that gives me some little comfort. Still, my studio is much too small for a great person like me!

All I want for Christmas is a penthouse. I would settle for a spacious one-bedroom, or even a studio on a top floor. I do not need to own it. A life-tenancy would suffice, at which time the property would revert to the donor or be sold with proceeds going to a charity.

All right, if that is too much to ask for, a month’s residency would please me very much, and I promise I would not make a Leaving Las Vegas of it.

Not that I am unwilling to work for my abode. I could write stories for the likes of Elevate. My first article would outline a plan to house poor people in fabulous empty homes for a week, thus giving them an incentive to work harder to elevate their lifestyles.

their lifestyles

It with that in mind that I noticed a few nice apartments for rent in various high rises, from $3,000 to $5,000 per month. They spaces are small, but resemble penthouses. If Santa runs out of penthouses, I shall be glad to have one of those apartments with a view.



Notes from The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1853) by Adam Smith

“Of the Beauty which the Appearance of Utility bestows upon all the Productions of Art, and of the extensive influence of this Species of Beauty.”

The formal virtue of fine art, however, is simply to please the beholder at the sight of it whether he possesses it or not.

That a thing is well contrived for our use is a sort of beauty because we would be pleased to use it. That someone else may have the possession and use of the thing renders gives us cause for envy.

“When we visit the palaces of the great, we cannot help conceiving the satisfaction we should enjoy if we ourselves were the masters, and were possessed of so much artful and ingeniously contrived accommodation.”

The fact that something works at all for some useless purpose may cause us to deem it beautiful; that we do not need it does not make us want it less.

“How many people ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets of frivolous utility? What pleases these lovers of toys is not so much the utility as the aptness of the machines fitted to promote it. All their pockets are stuffed with little conveniences.”

A man desires the conveniences of his betters whom he may despise for having them.

“He sees his superiors carried about in machines, and imagines that in one of these he could travel with less inconveniency. He feels himself naturally indolent, and willing to serve himself with his own hands as little as possible; and judges that a retinue of servants would save him a great deal of trouble…. It appears in his fancy like the life of some superior rank of beings, and, in order to arrive at it, he devotes himself for ever to the pursuit of wealth and greatness…. For this purpose he makes his court to all mankind; he serves those whom he hates, and is obsequious to those whom he despises.”

He may obtain wealth and greatness, yet, “in the extremity of old age….in the last dregs of life…he begins at last to find that wealth and greatness are mere trinkets of frivolous utility.”

“The palaces, the gardens, the equipage, the retinue of the great are objects of which the obvious convenience strikes everybody,” while the convenience of “a toothpick, of an ear-picker, of a machine for cutting the nails, or any other trinket of the same kind…may be equally great, but it is not so striking, and we do not enter into the satisfaction of the man who possesses them…. To one who was to live alone in a desolate island, it may be a matter of doubt perhaps, whether a palace, or a collection of such small conveniences as are commonly contained in a tweezers-case, would contribute most to his happiness and enjoyment.”

A man does not imagine that the things themselves make their owners any happier because of the superior ease or pleasure they are supposed to furnish although he envies them for having more means to those ends.

“But in the languor of disease and weariness of old age, the pleasures of the vain and empty distinctions of greatness disappear…. Power and riches appear then to be, what they are, enormous and operose machines contrive to produce of few trifling conveniences to the body…. They are immense fabrics which it requires the labour of a life to raise, which threaten every moment to overwhelm the persons that dwells in them, and while they stand, though they may save him from smaller inconveniences, can protect him from none of the severer inclemencies of the seasons.”

A Lost Opportunity at Our Lady of Cold Spring Chapel

Cold Spring Contemporary 

Our Lady of Cold Spring


David Arthur Walters

Our Lady of Cold Spring chapel was built in 1834 to serve the West Point Foundry workers. Bishop Dubois consecrated the chapel as St. Mary’s, whereupon it became the first Catholic church in the Hudson area as well as the first one beyond Manhattan in New York. It overlooks the Hudson River at the South End of Market Street, Cold Spring, New York. The chapel, available to all faiths for recitals, weddings and special events, is presently operating as “The Chapel Restoration.” (845-265-5537).

Cold Spring is a quaint and lovely village where beleaguered New Yorkers and other in-the-know visitors find respite on weekends, enjoying the many bed-and-breakfasts and historic towns in the area during their sojourns. Others maintain second homes there; a number of local residents commute by automobile and by rail to jobs in New York City.

Since I did not have a car in Manhattan and had let my driver’s license expire, I always sought out pleasant getaways close to train stations for my excursions. I eventually discovered the secret of Cold Spring, that it was a perfect destination for a day trip. I would read magazines on the train and enjoy the views; sit beside the river after arriving; walk around the village; have a pint of ale and a sandwich at a pub; tour the old buildings; take photographs; have another pint of ale or maybe two; wonder what it would be like to live there; and so on; then I would head back to the train station for the return trip.

The chapel of Our Lady of Cold Spring is just across from the train station. I sauntered around the grounds during my last jaunt – the next Manhattan-bound train was not due for another hour. I had not the faintest idea of the nature or history of the place, but I was certainly enjoying it.

A woman wearing a straw hat came along the path carrying a large basket of flowers; she was a florist on her way to the chapel – a wedding ceremony was to be held there some time later. She was not alarmed to encounter a city boy decked out in a black leather jacket and cap wandering around alone on the deserted grounds. We struck up a conversation; I accompanied her to the chapel, wherein she left her flowers. We sat down on a step and gazed out over the dreamy Hudson, chatting aimlessly. Then I remembered my train – it was to arrive soon – so I excused myself and hurried to the train station, where I kicked myself for being such a fool to walk away from such a charming woman, obviously the woman of my dreams!

Opportunities are rare and I rarely seize them because I do not recognize them until it is too late. Now perhaps the gentle lady with the flowers was not the opportunity she seems to me in retrospect – but I imagine she was. And so was Cold Spring: I gave up my Manhattan position and took up residence half-way around the world in what I thought would be paradise, then realized I had left paradise behind. Paradise had been right in front of me – to wit: keep the job and the tiny rent-controlled studio in frantic Manhattan; buy a humble writer’s abode in Cold Spring; in short, have the best of both worlds. But for some strange reason, I could not be like other New Yorkers – I could not be like me! So here I am, lost in someone else’s paradise. Oh, woe is me… Hail Mary. full of Grace… but I am not a Catholic, therefore…

Cold Spring Lady

Our Lady of Cold Spring (1840) William H. Bartlett

…I have made this little page for myself to look at. I doubt whether anyone else will be very interested in my bitter-sweet secret or in the secret of Our Lady. In case someone does show up to enjoy this page, they might like the following account written by William H. Bartlett, an artist who painted the scene over a hundred and fifty years ago:

“The Hudson bends out from Crow-Nest into a small bay; and, in the lap of the crescent thus formed, lies snug and sheltered, the little village of Cold Spring. It is not much of a place for its buildings, history, or business; but it has its squire and post-master, its politics and scandal, and a long disappointed ambition to become a regular landing-place for the steamers. Then there are cabals between the rival ferrymen, on which the inhabitants divide; the vote for the president, on which they agree (for Van Buren); and the usual religious sects, with the usual schisms. The Presbyterians and Methodists, as usual, worship in very ugly churches; and the Catholics, as usual, in a very picturesque and beautiful one.

“It is a pity (picturesquely speaking) that the boatmen on the river are not Catholics; it would be so pretty to see them shorten sail off Our Lady of Cold Spring, and uncover for an Ave-Maria. This little chapel, so exquisitely situated on the bluff overlooking the river, reminds me of a hermit’s oratory and cross which is perched similarly in the shelter of a cliff on the desolate coast of Sparta. I was on board a frigate, gliding slowly up the Ægean, and clinging to the shore for a land-wind, when I descried the white cross at a distance of about half a mile, strongly relieved against the dark rock in its rear. As we approached, the small crypt and altar became visible; and, at the moment the ship passed, a tall monk, with a snow-white beard, stepped forth like an apparition upon the cliffs, and spread out his arms to bless us. In the midst of the intense solitude of the Ægean, with not a human dwelling to be seen on the whole coast from Moron to Napoli, the effect of this silent benediction was almost supernatural. He remained for five minutes in this attitude, his long cowl motionless in the still air, and his head slowly turning to the ship as she drew fast round the little promontory on her course.

“I would suggest to Our Lady of Cold Spring, that a niche under the portico of her pretty chapel, with a cross to be seen from the river by day, and a lamp by night, would make at least a catholic impression on the passer by, though we are not all children of St. Peter…” – William H. Bartlett

Tracey’s Madonna Between Matter and Spirit

Kimberley JPG

Painting by Darwin Leon

From Tracey Flagler, a Living Novel

By David Arthur Walters


Between Matter and Spirit

“I want to be part of the pulse of life, not a weird and ashamed outrider,” Tracey Flagler had scribbled in her confessional journal some time before she left South Beach for good. “I want to be proud of being here, knowing that I can be connected to the source and deliberately choose and control my focus just like I am doing right now with this pen and paper. I am proud of people with HUGE physical success, like Madonna, and that would make me proud of myself. I want others to be proud of my success as I teach them how to focus and get exactly what they want. I wish so much that I had physical proof of my power to create success. Why? So I could relax. Why would I relax? Because I had succeeded.”

If only I had known about my neighbor’s dire emotional strait before I had found her dead from an overdose in her apartment, I would have invited her over and channeled George Berkeley for her edification. Then she would have known that one does not have to die to get rid of physical obstructions, for physical objects do not really exist, therefore she could have remained alive and succeeded without such stuff once she was convinced that the goods she wanted were within her. She could have been a successful failure in material terms. Indeed, she could have been all-powerful and instantly successful without a thing to show for it. But alas, the foolish commonsense notion, that matter exists, and that plenty of matter or the money to buy it must be had to prove one’s worth in this great nation of ours, persisted in her mind, despite her transcendental inclination towards what she called the source, the source in which she supposed she would completely relax and enjoy in particular the absolute joy she craved so much that she would rather die without it.

Yes, Tracey thought she would have to cop a lot of stuff to make a buy; but deep down within she knew better. She knew that all the stuff in the world would not buy her the fix she really wanted, and in the end she chose the fatal alternative and left her world behind. While rummaging through her apartment after she passed, I found a dog-eared and heavily underlined copy of the transcript of Oprah Winfrey’s September 16, 2003 conversation with one of her idols, Madonna, wherein Madonna presented her new, post-cabala side. That the old, material-girl side persisted on the other side of the coin was evident in her apparent belief that stuff really exists:

“MADONNA. Basically, the idea is that I have all of these things that money can buy, but I realized that those aren’t the things that make you happy, that make you feel fulfilled, and – and that nothing in the material world will ever make us happy.”

The material girl noticed something was missing – her fans may be glad that she realized it after she got rich, instead of before: She was not in charge of her life. She was defined by her circumstances; she did not know what her place in it all was. In fine she was a successful shipwreck. And now she is finally getting her island together. The birth of her daughter gave her cause to wonder what she would teach her, and it dawned on her that she did not know what to say for sure. She found the popular version of cabala and she learned that people are personally responsible for everything that happens to them, whether for good or ill. There exists, Madonna informed Oprah, “an all-giving, all-loving force. You can –you could call it God…. When we disconnect from this force, we – that’s when we have chaos…that’s when we invite pain and suffering into our lives.”

Armed with this finding, Madonna decided to write stories that would teach children to identify with their good side and to consider their bad side as an opponent to be defeated. She would fain teach them “about the laws of cause and effect” and thus inspire them to do good deeds, to give them cause to share, with good effect.

Oprah tentatively approved. She thought the new Madonna seemed to be a gentler, kinder sort of person, and blessed her books on the air, augmenting the fact that whatever Madonna does will sell well.

What was the secret of Madonna’s physical success? I asked myself. Well, for one thing, she had a strong will, she was persistent, she never stopped dancing, even after she ripped her innards apart and was sewn back together.

I had no idea who Madonna was when I first saw her taking class at Joy of Movement on Broadway and Lafayette: “Don’t you know that song, Borderline?” a dancer responded after I asked, “Who’s that girl?”

Madonna let it all hang out, and I liked that. The only tool a dancer needs to do her thing is her body. Of course dance sells sex. What’s wrong with that? Aren’t we all sex buds? Isn’t sex the reason for our existence? That must be why sex feels so good. Shall we not unite one day in a gigantic eternal orgasm? Many of our parents said sex was bad, that we should not do it, that we should not touch our thingies. Naturally boys wanted to be bad and girls wanted to be naughty.

Madonna was your average girl, of average height and build, nothing really spectacular, and she had an average voice, but she put on a damn good show with what she had. She gave you the impression that the average girl could make it if she had the gumption. “This may be crap but our job as dancers is to make it smell good,” dance master Luigi liked to say. And Madonna made it smell great. I sympathized with her when the cheap shots found in the dumpster were used to deny her uppity housing at the Dakota: How absurd! Who would want to live where Rosemary’s baby was born, anyway? And what hypocrisy! Major dope dealers shared an apartment there.

There are dumb dancers but not all dancers are dumb. Some dancers become doctors of medicine and philosophy and the like, but bookish professional dancers are few and far between. Still, a good dancer has sufficient animal intelligence to survive and move ahead of the pack, and Madonna obviously had plenty of that. But now she wants the permanent wisdom that has somehow been occluded by the dynamic material world. She gave birth to a daughter and named her Binah, and she wants to do the right thing now, to do her duty for the sake of her child. She noticed something was missing. What could that missing something be?

Perhaps she lost her ethical self while winning the world, I speculated. I closed my right eye, rolled my left eyeball upwards towards my third eye, took a deep breath, and whispered as I exhaled: “O, my Spirits, I call upon thee. Pray tell, what was Madonna missing?” I felt my left brain going into a light trance as my alter ego became the medium for a spiritual conference: the spirits of Immanuel and Baruch showed up:

IMMANUEL: She was missing her Dear Self. Out of my own love for humanity, a love which is by definition ethical, I am willing to admit that Madonna’s care for her child is for the sake of her child and performed out of love for her child and a natural sense of maternal duty. But her love for another self, like anyone’s love for other selves besides their own, is essentially selfish. Anyone who loves another should know that she in effect loves herself.

BARUCH: Only the intellectual love of GodNature will liberate her from her bondage to limited selves. Once she understands her circumstances and accepts the necessity of her predicaments, her comprehension of GodNature will be assured and the cabala lore rendered moot. This is, after all, the only world possible, and as such it is the best of all possible worlds.

IMMANUEL: My friend, you are a godless Gottfried.

BARUCH: I beg your pardon?

IMMANUEL: All right, then, which is better: to be raped a hundred times by African pirates, to have one buttock cut off, to run the gauntlet in the Bulgar army, to be excommunicated for monstrous deeds and abominable heresies, to be whipped and hanged in an auto-de-fé, to be dissected, to be slowly smothered by glass dust, to be Sisyphus in Hades heaving his stone forever, to be a galley slave to eternity, or to sit around on your thumbs doing nothing and be bored to death?

BARUCH: Whatever happens to us, it is best to be reasonable and to accept it stoically instead of chasing after rainbows in hopes of finding pots of gold at every end. Our happiness and well-being are not in enslavement to the passions, nor in the pursuit of transitory goods that we believe will make us happy, or in related superstitions, but rather in the harmonious intellectual calisthenics of a perfectly consistent, systematic philosophy.

IMMANUEL: Nothing is perfect.

BARUCH: Only if nothing exists is it perfect. God is confessedly perfect, and therefore Nature must be perfect as well: careful reasoning informs us that Nature and God cannot be conceived as distinct things because then each would be limited by the other; God would have then contradicted himself with Nature, hence God would be imperfect. Wherefore God and Nature are one, as GodNature, and the infinite attributes we perceive are merely the innumerable modes of the perfect Nature of Supreme Being. In fine, the best we can do in the best of all possible worlds is to cultivate our intellectual garden.

IMMANUEL: Cultivating an orchard would be more fruitful, practically speaking. We have natural restraints beyond which our understanding, trained by nature, may not obtain. Metaphysics is impossible because the unknown is inconceivable. The ideal world is an illusion, and to dwell on it, no matter how logically, contradicts reality. The perceived world must exist in its own right; otherwise, we would be unsure of our own existence. Madonna would do well to cultivate her daughter and leave the metaphysical nonsense to the cabalists, or to historians who teach the history of the absurd.

BARUCH: The absurd may lead to her blessed enlightenment. One eventually learns that waiting for Godot or praying to God is to no avail. GodNature is surd or deaf to our pleas, for the world on the whole is already perfect, and when we realize the joke is on us, and laugh out loud, we are freed. I too believe Madonna should attend to her daughter Binah, but in both senses of the name.

IMMANUEL: What does binah mean, again? I know we have spoken on this subject before, about the ten sefirot, and about the belief of certain cabalists that it is our duty to recreate God.

BARUCH: Binah means between, the power to distinguish between ideas. Binah is the third of ten sefirot, the womb of understanding, associated of course with the power of understanding.

IMMANUEL: Aha, the analytic. And then Madonna may help others pick up the sparkling shards and put Humpty Dumpty back together again so the cannon may be set upon the wall to defend us from self-contradiction. Once this task has been completed by all, paradise shall be fully restored. However that may be, it is better to presume that God exists transcendentally and to do the 613 mitzvahs rather than sit on our thumbs and exercise our imaginations.

BARUCH: We do nothing on our own. Madonna along with the rest of us shall proceed as determined.

IMMANUEL: She shall do what is willed, whether that will be her own or not. At least I give individual liberty the benefit of the doubt, my friend. Unfortunately for the humanity I love so well, every one does what they will and no one really obeys the stern command of duty to do the right thing no matter what. The thing that Madonna feels is missing is her Dear Self, and the reason she misses it is because she, like everyone else, is basically selfish, but she has been preoccupied with performing for other people, the fans she loves, and that has distracted her from the real object of her love, her Dear Self. We shall find that her love for her fans is for her own sake, if we analyze it carefully enough and synthesize the results. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as virtue anywhere in the world, for every performance is motivated by what one wants for her Dear Self, whether she knows it or not. When actions are performed for one’s own reasons or causes, it makes no difference whether they are benevolently directed towards other selves or greedily directed towards one’s dearest self: in either case the actions are not, by definition, ethical, hence are not virtuous.

BARUCH: Immanuel, you are too cynical!

IMMANUEL: No, I’m realistic, a cool observer of the truth of the matter at hand.

BARUCH: So cool that your colleague Friedrich believes you are a deformed idea-crippler, not to mention a cold-hearted bastard.

IMMANUEL: Maybe he is your colleague. Did he call me a bastard? Then he is a selfish bastard, as far as I’m concerned, and his popularity proves my point. No matter what he thinks, duty is done only by those who act according to the rational authority of an impersonal moral imperative rather than pursuant to some private inclination of their own, including the barbaric lust of for power. Friedrich is irrational: he knows nothing of true virtue and thinks virtue lies in the will to power.

BARUCH: How can virtue be true and not exist? I think you have contradicted yourself. And what happened to saying of others what you would have them say of you? I would think you would appreciate the fact that he, like you, looked around and found no virtue in the world. Only his imaginary superman was capable of virtue.

IMMANUEL: Not Christian virtue, which requires a personal and humiliating crucifixion so the impersonal law can be fulfilled. God’s law makes no exceptions for persons.

BARUCH: But God’s love is in every person. The universal scheme is God’s love expressed.

IMMANUEL: Spoken like a true pantheist. Of course a pantheist is nothing but an atheist. At least the youth corrupted by Friedrich loved a charismatic superman in lieu of God, while your narcissistic youth love only themselves, thinking God is within each person of the plurality.

BARUCH: You mistake me as far as things go. I do not love things as if the deity were in them.

IMMANUEL: But do you love the thing-in-itself?


IMMANUEL: You know, the underlying thing, the unknown thing-in-itself, the Thingie.

BARUCH: Do I love the unknown? How would I know? I do know that daily life was so hollow and futile for me that I decided to discover whether or not the good life existed. By that I mean a life of continuous and supreme joy to all eternity. I found neither good nor evil in the things that I was anxious over. Along the way I discovered that self-esteem is the highest thing we can hope for.

IMMANUEL: There it is again – the Dear Self. And what is self-esteem?

BARUCH: Self-esteem is the joy of knowing one’s power.

IMMANUEL: Good grief. Neither good nor evil without, but omnipotence within is the thing.

“Gentlemen,” I interjected, “excuse me for interrupting, but may I say something? Harry Frankfurt, my professor of philosophy at Princeton, professed that there should be nothing shameful or unfortunate about our self-love, for we are told by an author of the greatest authority that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves, therefore self-love is not an enemy of virtue at all, but is rather its prerequisite. The ardent manner in which we love ourselves is the best model for loving others, so let us love them as enthusiastically as we love ourselves. By self-love Professor Frankfurt did not mean self-indulgence, for to serve the best interest of another might require self-restrain: merely indulging him might not be in his best interest. Is not this the way to go?”

My question put an end to the séance; the spirits fled, leaving me alone with my own thoughts. If only Tracey had not gone off to find her soul, if only she had fully understood that the material girl had become a spiritual girl because she had a soul in the first place, I thought, she would be with us today.

Heterotopia South Beach


Rendering of glass palace at 321 Ocean Enrique Norten




Is this reality? Does the artist’s rendering of a penthouse at 321 Ocean Enrique Norten in South Beach look like life on Earth for the most of us?

Who is the woman standing desolate at the world’s edge before a dazzling vista unhindered by human habitation? Where did she get this great fortune? Did she exchange her soul for the wealth so conspicuously displayed? Is she happy, or is she really lonely notwithstanding living large in exclusion of the madding crowd? Is she tempted to leap from the edge of her cliff into nothingness?

After all this climbing, this is the living end, a sort of utopia set off from the world, and it is indeed a lonely place, designed for ultra-high income individuals, the top 3% of the world’s population in monetary terms, located on the most affluent portion of the upscale South Pointe neighborhood.

Could that woman standing fully clothed on the extended floor slab be Sharon Stone, to this very day the sexiest woman in the world although she has lately had difficulty finding a single man to love her as she really is? Will I encounter her downstairs, at Starbucks?

The expected sale of the 321 Enrique Norten penthouse alone, for $25 million or more, was expected to more than pay for the stated $18 million cost of the entire development. Ms. Stone is well qualified with a hard-earned fortune estimated at $60 million, yet I fear she will be reluctant to plunk down half of that to own a glass box so divorced from reality even though any more than a million dollars is meaningless without love. Notwithstanding romance, her financial advisor would advise her not to board a ship of fools captained by fast-buck pie-in-the-sky artists.

HETEROTOPIA sky artists

321 Ocean Enrique Norten replaced a historic Art Deco building, the Simone Hotel, that perhaps Ms. Stone would have loved to shack up in when she was an aspiring model. It was destroyed by neglect so developers could eventually make a killing with a couple of big glass and steel boxes completely out of character with history.

Not only tourists vacationed in the old hotels on the beach; some people lived in them indefinitely as the area became a poor man’s paradise. I arrived when old folks mostly populated South Beach. Was I ever pleased when a forlorn porn star from Manhattan showed up at the hotel where I was the night manager after her sugar daddy dumped her in Miami.

The massive boxes named after star architect Enrique Norten is what Michel Foucault might call a “heterotopia.”

We would like to preserve history of one kind or another, to freeze time and find some comfort in the illusion that it does not pass as our mortal clocks run down. Historical preservation in the area known as South of Fifth Street in Miami Beach is not even an illusion. It is a farce unless it is the history of the progress of the wealthy who have historically led the preservation movement that preserves their tastes and wealth.

In ‘Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias’ (1967), Foucault observed that Time cannot be severed from space, yet we are more anxious over space today than time given the population explosion and consequent competition for resources including space. People vie with one another to exclude each other by hogging space, or to “live large,” as realtor Saul Gross advertises in Miami Beach, in minimally furnished or uncluttered, luxurious condominiums that constitute for ultra high income individuals little heavens on earth contradicting the brute reality of the crowded and cluttered urban pavements.

These high end condos are, to cite a notion coined by Foucault, “heterotopias.” Whereas “utopias” are imaginary “no places” conceived as constructive criticisms of real places, “heterotopias” are countercultural attempts to enact or realize utopias. “All the other real sites that can be found within the culture are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted.”

Foucault discusses “crisis heterotopias, i.e. privileged, sacred, forbidden places reserved for individuals who are, in relation to society and to the human environment in which they live, in a state of crisis.”   He mentions boarding schools and military service where young men live away from home and are initiated into their virility; honeymoon hotels where young women are deflowered; American motels where illicit sex may be hidden; brothels; rest homes for relief of the elderly; psychiatric hospitals where the anxious are supposed to find peace; prisons for the rehabilitation of criminals; gardens that recapture Eden before original sin; cemeteries with a box or crypt for everyone that can afford one. We may recall the withdrawal of the early Christians from the Jewish communities, the Puritan societies and Jesuit colonies, the monasteries designed by Joachim of Flora, and the various communes that set themselves apart from society and eventually failed.

We also have heterocronies such as modern museums and libraries where all times meet in one place. Whereas museums and libraries used to preserve times according to individual taste, “the will to enclose in one place all times, all epochs, all forms, all tastes, the idea of constituting a place of all times that is itself outside of time and inaccessible to its ravages, the project of organizing in this way a sort of perpetual and indefinite accumulation of time in an immobile place, this whole idea belongs to our modernity.” Similarly, we have theatres, where time may be reversed, and all times including future times may be enacted in one place in a short period of time. Add to that list ephemeral or absolutely temporal chroniques such as festivals on fairs on certain grounds.

“Brothels and colonies are two extreme types of heterotopia, and if we think, after all, that the boat is a floating piece of space, a place without a place, that exists by itself, that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea and that, from port to port, from tack to tack, from brothel to brothel, it goes as far as the colonies in search of the most precious treasures they conceal in their gardens, you will understand why the boat has not only been for our civilization, from the sixteenth century until the present, the great instrument of economic development (I have not been speaking of that today),but has been simultaneously the greatest reserve of the imagination.

“The ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates.”

Methinks the cruise liner is the heterotopia par excellence serving the purpose of the passenger to nowhere in particular, the sailor who sails effortlessly for the sake of sailing, perchance dreaming of utopia. Is not civilization itself a ship of slumbering fools with no one at the helm? Of course there is always the “Invisible Hand” upon which fate can be blamed.

We neoterics have vacation fantasylands like Disneyland or dude ranches and the like. And over the bridge from Magic City we have Miami Beach with its luxury condominiums in stark juxtaposition to what was once a poor man’s paradise and a soldier’s barracks now being rapidly renovated into a rich man’s ghetto, with all due apologies to the historical poor in the form of historical preservation of the physical features where they once dwelled and have since been evicted to preserve the historical progress of the rich who dominate historical preservation for the sake of their privileged class.

And where those physical features may not yield a great enough profit, they may be referred to abstractly. The abstract referencing of historic architecture is a modernist innovation in which the compatibility of the new and old is suggested by the reduction of composite form to abstract shape. The abstraction may be taken to such lengths that other than a roof line, if even that, is all that is left of history.

Foucault is right: although space may not be divorced from time, space is what is wanted nowadays. Everyone wants breathing room. We want more than breathing room. Everyone would like to persist forever without resistance, but that would not be existence. Utopia does not exist because nothing and only nothing is perfect. We want to live large, high off the hog, in Heterotopia. That would be the end of the world, in a glass box with a spectacular uninhibited view at ocean’s edge.

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Miami Beach 2015

The Ugliest Building in South Beach may be The Most Beautiful

UGLY header





“What do you think of that building?” I asked three nicely dressed teenaged fellows standing together on the curb waiting for their parents to return to their rental car, as I pointed at the Portofino, South Beach’s landmark building.

“It is an ugly building,” one said as they squinted at it.

“That is the Portofino. It was built by a German named Thomas Kramer.

“We are from Germany,” another said matter-of-factly.

“Kramer was an unusual German. He had a bar called Hell nearby, where he posed as the devil, greeting people in a red cape and black bikini bottom.”

The boys were interested, but were at a loss for words because they did not know what I was up to, so I continued.

“Kramer initiated the development of the south point of Miami Beach from a poor man’s paradise to a conspicuous display of wealth. Siegfried Otto, a tax evader, asked him to hold nearly two-hundred million dollars for him. He put half of it into Miami Beach real estate. Of course he burned a lot of it on parties and girls. He was unable to return all the money to Otto’s heirs, and went teats up.”

“Teats up?”

UGLY teats up

“Bankrupt, flat broke.”


So what do you all think of his building now?” I asked, thinking I might have altered their perception with my tale of the rise and fall of a German developer.

“I like the orange stripes, but it is an ugly building,” said the third teenager, and the others nodded in agreement.

“Around here, with all these newer steel and glass buildings, it is politically incorrect to appreciate the Portofino, to say even one good thing about the postmodern design. Rich people want to live in modern glass boxes nowadays, so developers have lots of money to pay off the politicians who say they are preserving local history, and the local people suck up to them too. I mean, what do you think of this new, wavy glass building?”

UGLY wavy glass buidling

“I like it,” one said.

“Very good looking,” said another.

UGLY said another

“Well, the curve is about the only arty thing to it. The Apogee over there has a slight curve in front. More of the same, a slatted look with slabs jutting out into balconies, and way too much glass.”

“Glass is good. You can see out. You have more light.”

“Look at that tall building up the drive there. It is called GLASS. Again we see lots of glass and slabs. Art is dead. We are left with a skeleton. It bores me. What do you think?”

They were unanimous in their appreciation of the “very good” design.

“The city has a board to preserve history here. A board member who badmouthed the Portofino said she was totally for GLASS because it is great.”

UGLY it is great

“She was right,” one brother emphatically confirmed.

“It is too tall so the architect said it will practically disappear because the glass is fritted and so on, and for residents it will be like living in cubes of water.”


“Yeah, a pattern is baked into the glass that is supposed to work magic, and there is kind of an upward design, so as you look higher the building is supposed to become part of the sky or whatever. I am coming to see it disappear when it’s finished.”

“Wow, I wish we could be here. We are returning to Germany next week.”

At that juncture their parents arrived. I advised the young men to become architects as they piled into the car, and wished them all a pleasant stay in Florida.

UGLY in Florida

I took another look at the Portofino, over my shoulder, as I walked home. I am beginning to like it more and more as I tire of the modern internationalist style. Maybe it is an ugly duckling that will become beautiful. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

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