Walking towards the house from the car at 4pm, I could tell that we were arriving during the middle wave. Six wide stairs from the circular driveway’s approach put us at the impressive front doors. Before I could raise my hand to knock, they swung open and we were greeted by an older man dressed in a bartender’s vest and white shirt. A breeze pushed through the open door towards us, indicating that the entire house had been opened up and was full of alive air from the sea. There seems to be a slightly complicated system of when a host or hostess will open the doors and windows during a gathering, with its implications being specific and intentional. When the house is necessarily sealed, the temperature of the air conditioning is also used to say something about the house. In this house it was off, and the palms by the water made their late afternoon twists and bows. If the wind stopped the mosquitos would arrive, but it held steady and the coastal clouds told us that it would last throughout the night.
After Mrs. and I made the rounds and exaggerated how cold Boston was at that moment, she settled in with her cousins and their love interests by a tiled fountain to exchange news of children and drink the Cava that was going around. I always watch her face during her first sip at parties, looking for the slight occasional wince, or a subtle half nod for the drinks served, observations which are only visible to spouses. Since I have an amateur’s palate (with low standards), I take perverse pleasure in witnessing dissatisfaction from those who have particular tastes.
A small assembly of six played perfected hybrids of Cuban jazz and salsa, the piano forcefully directing the melody for the others, almost bossy towards the rhythm section. Far more structured and precise than jazz, and substantially less hectic than salsa can be, perhaps “Cuban cocktail” is the best way to describe it. It was breezy, clean, and crisp, and I was apparently the only one impressed by it.
I was invited to sit in one of the larger wicker chairs out by the water with several older men. Like a delightful cliché, I was offered Scotch and seated next to the host. The men discussed art collecting and their disdain for the Eastern smuggling-based markets, conversations which were intriguing but far out of my league. The youngest of the group was almost sixty, and I felt like a puppy laying by their feet. Like several events, the host had hired a cigar roller as novelty. He sat at a small table opposite the caterer’s bar and assembled cigars in all shapes, styles, colors, and strengths. Guests were encouraged to take whichever they wanted, and the torpedoes resting in the squared box-presses caught my eye.
I had one of the dozen or so ties in the entire place, but jackets were ubiquitous, save the occasional micro-knit shirt or two. There were well-defined styles between the Cuban, European, Jewish, and South American men, with facial hair and varying degrees of silvering hair differentiating the demographics, indicated by the degree of mustache/beard grooming detail. The women were all exceedingly well put together and the older ladies were almost intimidating in their disproportionate social gravitas, the way Europeans and South Americans are occasionally cultivated: manner and carriage being the bedrock of poise, not vice-versa.
The house was mostly white or tan marble and stone tiles, with wood trim and details. It had been built long before the others, and had been updated only with storm-proof windows. The piano player took pleasure in filling the great-room with his flourishes and sweeps, and the percussion players used tea-towels to muffle the sounds slightly.
Down by the water, davits and winches had the patina of disuse, and the beautifully tiled swimming pool was heated to about 80 degrees. Platters of iced ceviche and cold shrimp orbited the various rooms, and one of the waiters smelled heavily of pot. By the house's water-side, a large fountain was active, but had been somehow designed to be almost silent. Streams and sheets of water fell, but without the expected babble or gurgle, and I stared at it to figure out its design.
In an odd twist, the elderly host and hostess excused themselves quietly from the party because they “had tickets to see a movie in 3-D”. It was outrageous and gutsy, and something only the well-heeled seniors can get away with. Half of the guests also left, but we stayed on until the sun got lower, and the day caught up with me. On the drive home I learned that the cigar roller had sent my wife with a sampler of about twenty, the bundle wrapped in a band cut from a paper shopping bag. We went on to dinner in Coconut Grove, where we met up with some friends at the restaurant Jaguar.