January in London with its gruesome cold and darkness, gives way to the warmth and watery generosity of Miami. I arrived in Florida on what was essentially a dealers charter flight. Almost every dealer I know was on board. Fat cats up front. Healthy cats in premium and skinny cats in the back. I sat next to a charming guy called Steve who leads the world in Chinese export silver. He is an excellent travelling companion and we pass a painless 9 hours watching movies, eating disgusting food and modestly imbibing alcohol.
There is a clubby feel to economy class, as everyone moves around and chats and probably a few deals are done. We are all heading to a group of hotels on South Beach which are a few minutes walk from the convention centre. There 1000 dealers are about to swarm. The "booths" are cheap. The smallest costing $850. The key days are the set up ones. The trade gathers around as the goods are unpacked and deals flourish. Great treasures emerge and disappear into waiting vans and trucks. Many of these pieces will re-emerge at TEFAF or Masterpiece.
The next day in the chaos I find and buy a wonderful Austrian silver double magnum decanter. A friend kindly volunteers to take it up to Palm Beach where Mallett will receive it and hopefully sell it without it leaving Florida.
The energy in the Hall is amazing but it is only surpassed by the palpable excitement as everyone gathers at the Raleigh hotel for cocktails. Again everyone is here. So many of the Masterpiece crowd. They all look exhausted. Miles of aisles have been walked often several times. But purchases have been made and there is a general mood of satisfaction. No one stays up late though, and people imbibe modestly. Tomorrow is going to be just as hard, just as long.
I am staying at the Richmond. The rooms are clean and reasonably priced, but that is not the reason you stay there. The secret of the Richmond is Gus. He runs the kitchen and the bar. He has been at the hotel for 20 years. He is tall, upright, wears a Hawaiian shirt and a pork pie hat. He is from somewhere in South America and is discretely camp. He is on duty from dawn to way beyond dusk. In the morning he fries your eggs and brings crispy bacon. At lunch he will fashion a chicken club sandwich and in the evening he mixes the best mojito. He is always quiet, gentle and efficient. There is a sort of fawlty towers factor too, as the other staff are perpetually in a grump or something isn't working. The coffee machine broke on the first day. The computers weren't working and everyone including the staff piggybacked on the wifi from the adjacent hotels. I love it.
Coming out into the street on the second day we were confronted by tragedy. The road was blocked and police were everywhere. Circled with cones and chalk were two lone black shoes, basic trainers. We found out that the chef of the hotel next door had been run over and killed at 2.30 in the morning by a drunk driver. She had left her victim and driven home. However she had been spotted by another driver who had given chase and called the police. It was all over the news bulletins. The chef had a wife and children and the driver also had a family. As my friend Charlie pointed out as we looked at the sad forlorn shoes "all those lives ruined in a heartbeat" and all for driving drunk.
Behind the scene of carnage. About two blocks away the local Lamborghini dealership was launching the latest model. Two lines of very expensive cars and within the hotel the chime of clinking glasses and thumping music trumpeted the launch. It was spectacular if you like that sort of thing but we weren't really in the mood.
Back to the cold, in NY. I landed and headed in to meet with Tod who is considering becoming part of the Masterpiece family. He is always very dapper in a casual way. Always charming and has great stories to tell of adventures trading in far flung corners of the globe. He sells modern and contemporary furniture and is uber connected. I am trying to encourage him to join up but I am distracted by the menu. The fried chicken sandwich which arrives is decadence itself. Lovely sourdough bread cosseting within its folds crisp lettuce and a juicy deep fried slab of chicken. I lose my thread of conversation as this high calorie treasure roams around my mouth. Tod is elusive, he may or he may not join up. Never mind. I make a note "Peels" in the Bowery. Yum.
Bizarrely I am back almost to the same place for supper. A new restaurant called Circolo in Bond St. The owners are friends of Suzanne Demisch whom I have long admired for her fabulous book on Maria Pergay. Who is and was the queen of shiny metal furniture. Suzanne has helped with the look of the restaurant and it is warm and uncluttered and undeniably cool. The restaurant has only been open a few weeks and though their intentions are good, the food is a little disappointing. However they serve delicious brussel sprouts (now seemingly ubiquitous on menus) and one really fabulous dish which is grilled octopus with nut shards and a well-balanced hint of spice. This is all naughtily washed down with heavenly Brunello, ever so slightly tarnished by a strange pantomime the waiter went through of sloshing a splash of wine into each glass and then rolling each glass. I am sure it is good and correct for the wine. But it was weird.
Nicola and I went to visit the Winter show at the Armory. They have had a redesign and it looks much cleaner and brighter. I love the Armory and the restoration seems to be proceeding really well. The interiors by the short lived Associated Artists were a high Victorian aesthetic movement triumph from the design mavericks and pioneers Louis comfort Tiffany and Lockwood de Forest. However at some point, probably in the thirties the lush decorations were all painted over with gruesome greys and greens. Gradually the magnificence is re-emerging. And snippets are revealed in many of the administrative and formal side rooms. The fair is the bastion of Americana and painted furniture and decoys abound, a few formal furniture and decoration dealers lard the otherwise pretty repetitive offering. But it looks great overall and most of the dealers seem content with business. We bond as we walk, it is amazing how many people are actually excited and looking forward to Masterpiece. I am particularly touched by one couple who have children heading to ballet school during the run of the fair who are still prepared to do it despite the clash.
The day ends downtown in Duane st at the shop of Jonathan Burden, an Englishman who has carved out a clever niche for himself as a dealer and restorer. He has a loyal following, which is due in part because of his eclectic stock and part because he is ridiculously charming. You just want to buy from him, and I do succumb to an Art Deco side board which I now have to ship back to London. Oh well.